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Mother may have been very creative in the kitchen and as I’ve written before on this blog, her necessity to feed her sixteen children was likely the mother (pun intended) of her innovations in the kitchen. The way I see it, then, it’s thanks to Mother that I’m creative in the kitchen. This is not to say that I haven’t worked hard on honing my ability through making up the close to 150 recipes I’ve shared with you on this blog, plus many others that I make during the week when the pantry is diminishing, my energy at the end of a long, hard work day is depleted, and my non-family needs dinner. But, I think there’s still something to be said for Mother and what she naturally passed on to me as a talent.

That being said, thank you Mother, this weekend, someone outwardly recognized my ingenuity in the kitchen. I won the Most Creative title at the Union Square Main Streets 2010 What the Fluff? Festival.  (http://www.unionsquaremain.org/) From among what looked like at least twenty – thirty entrants in the contest, the judges, among whom were two of my favorite local chefs Wil Gilson Executive Chef of Garden at the Cellar http://www.gardenatthecellar.com/home/and Jason Santos most recently of runner-up fame in the most recent season of Hell’s Kitchen  (http://www.fox.com/hellskitchen/)who is also Executive Chef of Gargoyles on the Square (http://www.gargoylesrestaurant.com/) chose my Fluff-n-figs (pronounced as if you’re swearing) as the Most Creative. While I didn’t win the title of Overall Winner, I think I appreciate winning the Most Creative title even more because, well, it’s what I strive for in the kitchen more than anything else. Plus, the dessert tasted damn good too, if I do say so myself.

As my readers undoubtedly have noticed, I’ve been M.I.A. I’ve been depressed about the blog. I wanted badly for someone other than me and my friends to say, “Great blog!” or “Awesome dessert!” I craved illustrious recognition. I try not to judge myself for wanting credit from the important people but when I was in the darkness, I beat myself up for wanting that too even though it’s a normal human desire to be rewarded and acknowledged by someone other than ourselves, friends and family for hard work, for being good at something, anything.

In reflecting and praying my way out of being down, I asked God to send me a prize, a win of some kind. To some, that may seem like a shallow prayer but as I learn more about my Higher Power, I understand the subjective, objective standard that governs my relationship. Allow me to explain briefly: while each person who so chooses can relate to whomever s/he chooses as a divine being, the manner in which that connection happens is an individual matter. For me, God is like a good friend and a caring mother who knows me very well and wants the best for me in every way, including even those little ways that seem silly in the grand scheme of things but subjectively are oh so important to me.

I imagine that my wanting to be noticed has some to do with winning things as a child, when being smart and talented brought at least some joy to my miserable household. I felt important too, for having something to give that was of me and made me happy too. If I sociologically analyze the Trinidadian people, because of our how tiny we are as a twin-island nation of 1.5 million, I would see us as the world saw our football team in the 2008  World Cup, Soca Warriors, a feisty, hard-hitting competitor, fighting to be known in the bigger soccer scene. I identify with this national spirit as a cook, a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen even against those who are considered professionals or who have more ability and experience on paper.

That being said, the win in the Fluff Festival this weekend gave me the boost I needed to get back to blogging about food, culture and identity. Maybe it’s because I felt healed of the wound of anonymity. I enjoyed putting together a unique meal and sharing it with you. The mashed green bananas, actually a version of a recipe my mom made for me when I visited this summer (surprising for my mother who is not usually adventurous in the kitchen.) She came up with a take on mashed potatoes made from another starch. The jerky I put in the chicken stew is the kind of ingenuity I like to exercise in the kitchen – shocking the eaters and the readers of the recipe with that secret, unanticipated ingredient that added some serious depth of flavor. Adding the mixed herbs and green peppers to the biscuits are also what excite me about treating my kitchen like a chemistry lab – you can take a simple thing like biscuits and turn it into something extraordinary. Dessert of course, is my award-winning Most Creative (yes, I am very proud of this; I don’t mean to boast) Fluff-n-figs.

Dear readers, I am sorry for staying away so long. I hope you’ll forgive me and join me in re-connecting in the joint creative experience of cooking, and musing about our individual and collective cultures and identities. I promise that together, we’ll make it to 52 weeks, maybe not back-to-back as I’d once hoped but in due time, bit(e)-by-bit(e) creatively.

To Good Eats and Creativity,

Kathy- Ann

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Green Pepper and Herbes de Provence Biscuits

Mashed Green Bananas

Chicken Stew (Crock Pot Recipe)

Fluff-n-figs

Brunchinner

Mother may have eaten whatever was available for her to eat at all hours of the day. I imagine with as many children and responsibilities she had when the children were young, Mother often had very little time to feed herself. I’m sure she did what many moms do in this situation, they just cram whatever is on hand and easy to prepare, best choices are those things that require no preparation at all, like crackers, leftovers, or fruit.

Moms, then, can have no neat categories for what constitutes breakfast, lunch or dinner foods. And, this for me begs the question: why do we have these categories in general? These categories are somewhat culturally determined, like for example, fried eggs are found on various Vietnamese rice, meat and vegetables dishes served on dinner menus. In certain parts of China rice is primarily what’s eaten for breakfast and in Nigeria, corn-based porridge is enjoyed by some for their morning meal. In Trinidad, lunch is the largest meal of the day, much like what those in the U.S. would have at dinnertime.

I am fascinated by social constructions about what should be eaten when. Especially, when those choices stop people from choosing to eat what they want to, when they want to eat it. It’s an infringement on individual freedom to be told that you can’t have roast chicken at breakfast or an omelet for dinner. I would think that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, people would cringe at the thought of having their independence curtailed in any way. But, I have never heard anyone complain that she couldn’t buy her favorite Thai dish at breakfast from a restaurant. What I hear more, when I share with someone that I had my leftover Indian food for breakfast is,

“Yuck! How could you eat that for breakfast?”

That’s why this week I wanted to play with mealtime expectations by serving burgers for breakfast, the more traditional breakfast choice, hash browns and even a dessert. I enjoyed the meal alone before church and had more than enough for my beau and his friend who was joining him that morning. His friend was at first a bit put off by the fact that there were burgers for breakfast but when he ate them, he sang another tune. The burgers were soft, creamy, sweet and a little spicy with the pineapple, cheese and chopped jalapenos that were mixed into the ground meat. The zucchini tomato relish with the poached egg meant that there were no condiments needed in addition for the burger. The tomato and onion hash browns were the perfect accompaniment, a bit tart and tangy, the chopped, fresh tomatoes and fried onions, complementing each other and bringing out the best in the burgers. Having brownies for breakfast may seem wrong to some but adding goat cheese to them makes it more breakfast friendly to even the most discriminating, I think. Plus, washing it down with a mango herb smoothie is not only good for you but combining an herb with fruit in a blended breakfast drink, was to me a nod to taking something traditionally used with lunch and dinner, basil and putting it into a more typical breakfast ingredient – mango.

Maybe one day, we can recreate mealtime identity and change food culture with brunchinner foods that can be served at anytime of the day, without criticism for being the wrong food at the wrong time. The following menu, then, would be a step in that direction, towards self-determination and food freedom for all.

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Tropical Burgers with Poached Eggs and Tomato Zucchini Relish

Tomato Onion Hash Browns

Mango Basil Smoothies

Goat Cheese Brownies

Mother may have uttered goodbye much more than I have given how much longer, thus far, she lived on the planet and maybe even more than most people, overall. She bade farewell to many of her brood of kids as they moved overseas to England and the U.S., knowing that theirs and her life would be forever changed by their transition to a new culture, country, and way of living. Sometimes, she would host a party to send them off and at other times, she wouldn’t. When we left Trinidad for the U.S., we had no such party, one reason being[1] we were secretly leaving Trinidad, my mom finally getting the courage to move as far away from my abusive father as possible. She wanted to start over in a new place, without the tangible memories of her past that came with seeing old haunts, coming into contact with familiar people and, face-to-face with always fresh no matter how aged, hurts. I think in general that people are bad at saying goodbye in this culture and that could be the case in others too. Our uncomfortableness with uncertainty and the “bad” feelings that come from grief makes us inept when it comes to facing what’s inevitable that people leave, times change and loss happens.

This week, my colleague in my department, had her second to last week at the agency. Her mother and best friend live in Florida and she wants them to be near by as she and her husband grow their family, having babies. So, our department had to figure out how to say farewell to her. My company often does a good job of this – having what a friend and former colleague less than affectionately calls, a “cake wake.” The culture of the organization is to celebrate a person’s moving on with a cake and an invitation to a company party to share the cake and memories about the soon-to-be gone employee. I’m not exactly certain of all the reasons why my buddy calls it a “cake wake.” If I remember correctly, I think her dislike had something to do with her feeling that the celebration was disingenuous, that sometimes an employee was leaving under a cloud of negativity so that having a celebration of this person’s tenure with the company seemed wrong to her. Even if that’s true, heck, I think the idea of formally saying goodbye, with a celebration, is as Martha Stewart might say, “a good thing.”

We didn’t have cake when my colleague left, she too, like our ex-colleague not liking the company’s tradition. But, we did have a send off for her in fact we hosted two! One was a company-wide get-together at a restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Bella Luna (I highly recommend this joint – they have this amazing peppery cocktail on their menu, Some Like it Hot and in their private party area there’s a wall-mounted extra-large version of the Connect Four board game that provided hours of fun) the other was a more intimate gathering at our boss’s home for the department plus a few others, which I catered and our boss hosted.

We had pork ribs (one of my colleague’s favorites) on the barbecue with hamburgers and store-bought sides and chips. I later paired up the leftover ribs for dinner for me and my daughter with a lightly flavored, filling easy peasie J peas and rice side dish, followed by one of my daughter’s favorite desserts: a crisp, shortbread cookie with a creamy chocolate center. As I prepared and cooked for this party, and even when I appropriated the leftovers, I reflected on what it means to say goodbye, and how much more we should memorialize such occasions with festivity, because part of human identity involves change, moving on and times of loss. For all of us, learning to do this well, better, makes us healthier as a people and improved individuals.

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Broiled Pork Ribs with Sweet and Tangy Sauce

Green Peas and Rice

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies


[1] The other part being something I’ve mentioned on this blog before, our unpopularity in mom’s family.

Mother may have had more patience than I do, although I am more patient today than I was some thirteen years ago, my daughter having taught me to slow down and smell the flowers, literally. When I spent those years with her as a mom who didn’t earn income/work outside the home I have vivid memories of her slowly making her way from the house to the car, from the car to the store (any store), to the library, stopping whenever she saw a weed, wildflower, insect or anything else that interested her. Smelling the flowers, picking them, taking them apart, petals, sepals examined, stamen plucked; observing the insects up close, asking questions to which I may or may not have known the answer about what kind of insect it was, was it a grown-up and did it bite.

But, even all my daughter’s on-the-job patience training can go right out the window when I am triggered by something that strikes me as grave social injustice, especially when I can identify with the person who is unjustly treated. I think this strong sense of equity is what Ms. Austin saw in me at five-years-old when she told my mom that despite my mom’s desires for me to be a doctor I was going to be a lawyer. Occasionally, I don’t find myself sympathizing with the oppressed, especially when I see someone (to paraphrase Mother), make they bed and lie in it. Most recently, this happened when I was having lunch last week.

I was walking around the neighborhood near my office looking for somewhere cool and fun to have lunch when I stumbled upon Canto 6 on Washington Street. On “that side of Jamaica Plain” where those afraid of brown people, cowed by the nonsense they hear on the news about “high crime” neighborhoods rarely dare to venture. Me, I’m brown-skinned, I rarely believe what I hear, and we’ve already established on this blog that I live to be adventurous. (Judging by my recipes alone, you should get that sense that I’m curious and daring.)

Canto 6 is a tiny, breakfast, lunch spot with amazing sandwiches with hip names like “Goat in the Road,” “Guac in the Park,” and “Peas on Earth.” The day I was there, I had the Goat in the Road, which had all the fillings/toppings I love (beets, onions, goat cheese, arugula and balsamic vinegar) on top nutty bread. I could eat this on a rubber slipper (flip-flops in the U.S.). While I was waiting for my sandwich (which took way longer than I expected, but was worth the wait) a young man came in. He, likely of Afro-something descent couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, but his truncal obesity made him appear older. Beneath his ball-cap, bill turned skyward, Rocawear shirt and multi-colored Nike high tops, he looked at least 40! I usually don’t care to make these kinds of judgments about people, especially when I am distracted by the wonderfulness of a well-prepared sandwich. But, when he asked about the tuna sandwich and left without buying anything because he said the tuna sandwich wasn’t “regular” (which I imagined meant white bread and mayo-heavy tuna with no vegetables) this really irritated me.

In Trinidad, thicker women with curvy hips and full thighs are (or at least used to be when I was growing up there) revered. Trinidadian children who weren’t lean were better than those who were skinny, something I’ve written about on this blog before. But, over the last three decades, this has not been true in the U.S., in part because childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled. More striking perhaps is that one-half of Black children are overweight or obese. It’s predicted that 1/3 of all children born after 1999 will suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or asthma. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, recently unveiled a nation-wide campaign, Let’s Move, to combat the challenge of childhood obesity. Former NBA-player, Will Allen, has been working since 1993 to bring good food, natural food, to those who usually live in what’s called food deserts – where they only have access to packaged, fast food and no fresh fruit and vegetables.

I think my awareness of these social, racial, cultural phenomena is what made me angry with my urban-brother at Canto 6. Here he was in an establishment that provides an oasis in a food desert on that side of the tracks, turning down a delicious, new take on the “regular” tuna sub, that had fruit and vegetables (both, if memory serves) on fresh, baked, whole-grain bread. I was incensed! I’m all for giving people, especially oppressed people, in this case, poor people of color, the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what’s socially constructed and out of their control. But, when I see, hear or have some experience with “my people” and one of them is making bad choices even when good ones are right before them, I have less compassion for him regardless of any institutional/societal oppression. Even though I understand, especially because I work with addicts, that habits are easy to form and hard to break.

At the end of the day (and I fear that I will sound like a Republican when I say this) we are all individually responsible for our choices. Whether it’s choosing a sandwich that’s a healthier version of one that we’re used to or taking the stairs instead of the escalator, taking the initiative to break out of habit is what helps us crack the shell of societal pressure to conform to, in the case of food deserts, what may not usually be in our environment.

This week’s menu challenges us to eat better, eat differently, but using a sort of what they call in the addiction world – a harm reduction model. The menu begins with a chicken salad made with B-vitamin laden tofu, followed by a meaty lamb with vegetables, and a lighter version of a frozen dessert, a rose lime sherbet. In making healthier choices, may we all at least try to modify what we choose to put in our bodies when we can, where we can. Feeding our children and ourselves healthy and well is the next civil rights frontier, I believe. And, I hope that we shall overcome our habits, despite the unfairness of oppression, we shall overcome some day, maybe today, using this menu.

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Tofu “Chicken” Salad

Mediterranean-Style Lamb with Rose-Scented Israeli Cous-Cous

Rose Lime Sherbet

Mother may have walked with me in this year’s AIDS Walk Boston. Even if her aged legs would not have held up for the over six miles, Mother may have been there to cheer on the sidelines, or would have donated what she could to support the fundraiser. I know that Mother was very generous with her time, talent, and treasure, so although I can’t be certain about the kinds of charities she would have donated to, I am sure that she would have graciously given me “ah little lagniappe” broadly translated, a little something for good measure.

Looking back, I see how specific pieces of my current identity began forming at particular points in time in my past. Take HIV/AIDS for example, it first entered into my life when my Uncle Robby was diagnosed some time in the 1990s. He was my gay, hair stylist uncle. (Who doesn’t have one of those, right?) He was one of  my mom’s brothers, the second to last child of Mother’s brood. I have very few memories of him but one of the things I remember most is that he always teased me about what I ate . He used to call my sister and me Orchard Orange Juice and Corn Curls, the product names of a watery juice drink and an airy, dry cheese snack my mom often fed us. It was one of few things we’d happily eat. We ate very little and infrequently, which probably (as I now understand food, appetite and general anziety) had something to do with our topsy turvy living situation and the constant contentiousness between our parents.

In the mid-eighties Uncle Robby moved to the U.S. around when I was ten-years-old.  Only occasionally did he return to Trinidad for visits bringing back trinkets for the younger nieces and nephews and crazy stories for his siblings about living in Brooklyn. Around 1993, Uncle Robby was deported back to Trinidad, a couple years before he died of complications related to AIDS. Ironically, about seven years later, HIV/AIDS became a part of my life story again.

I was walking by Langdell Library at the law school holding court with a friend, stewing about the heartless, soulless, hopeless, apathetic culture of the school, mirroring legal culture outside its ivy-covered walls. The sky dark, and the air was muggy and warm. My cell phone rang interrupting our conversation. My friend waved and excused herself, skipping up the stairs to the library doors. It was my sister on the phone, she said,

“Albert has HIV. I’m waiting for my test results.”

The contents of my stomach rose to my throat. I felt dizzy, certain that if I could see myself, I’d be green. Albert had been my sister’s boyfriend of roughly eight years.

Later, it turned out, my sister’s test was negative. Thank God!

As I look back on both Uncle Robby and my sister, I see that I was destined to work in the HIV/AIDS arena. Many working in AIDS service organizations have been closely, personally touched in some way by this disease. But, back then, it never occurred to me. In hindsight, both my Uncle Robby and my sister’s near brush with HIV were like carrots in my identity development, growing out of sight, the sweet, brilliant orange root blooming underground, plucked out from the earth later when they’re ready to be eaten.

This week’s menu was prepared the day before the 25th anniversary of AIDS Walk Boston. The meal celebrated this Walk and my identity, with succulent grass fed tenderloin (bought on the first day of and from my square’s farmers’ market), creamy kale, sweet basil/fig sandwiches and gooey, rich bars made with lots of carrots, reminiscent of how I think how HIV/AIDS became part of I am; an attorney in an AIDS service orgnaization who for the first time is proud to be practicing law because there’s plenty of what was missing when I was in law school – love, hope, honor and action. My only wish is that I had known that my Uncle Robby and my sister were secret ingredients to get me here – I would have landed at AIDS Action sooner. But, as Mother would say, nothin’ happen before its time.

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Goat Cheese and Basil Sandwiches with Fig Preserve

Encrusted Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Reduction

Creamed Kale

Carrot Cake Bars


Mother may have never celebrated Memorial Day. Given that this a day set aside to honor the soldiers who fought in wars on behalf of the United States, I wouldn’t expect that Mother even knew anything about it. But, Mother did know something about being brave, selfless and bringing people or ideas together. Mother left the country where she was born and started a new life, in a different country, where she raised a double digit number of children on a shoe string budget, encouraged and advocated for all of them to have an education beyond her grade school one and kept her family together while my grandfather, gallivanted around with a mistress for many years. I don’t share this to denigrate Daddy or his memory but only to share with you at least one of Mother’s challenges as a wife, one of the speed bumps that she regularly slowed down for as she worked tirelessly on family unity. It takes much courage to be a good wife, mother and a person who shows up for her family, especially when a spouse is cheating. Ask anyone who has lived this or who has been the philanderer, and they, both parties if they’re being honest, will tell you about the emotional and physical toll an affair takes on a marriage. My mom and I can both speak to this. Mother, to me then, is a soldier in her own right, by definition a person who sacrifices for a cause, which for Mother was nurturing family togetherness.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers. Prior to 1868, there were local observances of the day in several towns throughout the U.S. After World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of summer.

For me, and to share with you my readers, I wanted to celebrate the spirit of Memorial Day by honoring the bravery and sacrifice of all soldiers especially those whose courage and selflessness can sometimes go unnoticed because their battle occurs at home, out of the public eye, domestic relations warriors like Mother. Even the manner in which I chose to cook the food displayed pluck on my part, given that I had never grilled on an outdoor grill before and chose to do so this week.

Because the day began as a way to commemorate the service of those who fought for both sides in the Civil War, I thought about unity as I created this week’s menu. So with unity in mind, I created a veggie burger without mushrooms because I have a friend who is a vegetarian who hates mushrooms, which seems to be the meat eaters’ go-to for their vegetarian friends. My dear friend has had to suffer or be embarrassed when well-meaning hosts have prepared her a vegetarian dish with mushrooms. The veggie burger I prepared used her favorite eggplant as the base ingredient instead of mushrooms. Hopefully, then, this a veggie burger recipe that brings meat eaters and those who prefer no animals in their food together even more, then because not only is it delicious, hearty and easy to make but also without the mushrooms unifies even those vegetarians who seem to be outsiders in their already separate food universe (given how meat focused our food/menus are) because they aren’t fans of mushrooms. My fiancé, the hamburger lover, who eats hamburgers at least 2 – 3 times a week, ate at least two of these off the grill and one the next day for breakfast saying,

“I could eat these instead of regular hamburgers any day!”

Alongside the burgers, I prepared a Mediterranean-style potato salad, a nod to the notion that Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. An activist at heart, when I take something typically understood as all-American and add some Middle-Eastern flair to it, I feel like I’m creating peace on a plate. For dessert, I offer something that’s more of a preparation than a recipe, a way to take something store-bought like a pound cake and jazz it up with jarred, shelf-stable butter and dried fruit. Because when you’re being brave, sacrificing and working on unity/peace, you sometimes need to take it easy and why not do so with dessert like this one, which I think undermines the age-old adage you can’t have your cake and eat it too since, in a way, you can have this cake from the store, enjoy as a fabulous dessert without much too much work. Lord knows, warriors like Mother and all those who fight hard at home, for their families, deserve rest!

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Veggie Burgers (No Mushrooms)

Mediterranean-Style Potato Salad

Grilled Pound Cake, Hazelnut Butter and Dried Bananas


Mother may have worn white on her wedding day. Not sure that she had a formal, typical ceremony but if she did she likely wore white. I don’t remember seeing any pictures of Mother and Daddy on their wedding day, nor were there any celebrations of their anniversaries. The only partial story I recall hearing about Mother and Daddy getting hitched is that they married as teenagers, Mother around 15 or 16 years old and Daddy, not much older. I don’t know if they got married in Dominica, where they were both born or in Trinidad to which they emigrated. Could theirs have been a proverbial shotgun wedding, my Uncle Ra (their first-born) a love child? I’d think that it would be very untraditional if Mother and Daddy didn’t have some sort of wedding ceremony back then. But, who knows, as I like to muse about on this blog, and what I have shared with you as something that came to me only after Mother passed away is that Mother and I are very similar. And, I consider myself quite nonconformist, which is why I was shocked to find myself in a line with several other brides-to-be at the Priscilla of Boston Sample Sale for close to 2 hours on Saturday May 22.

I don’t want a white dress. There’s no reason to pretend that I’m virginal (the popularly believed rationale for white wedding gowns) when I have an almost thirteen-year-old child. She’d have to be Jesus reincarnate for that to be true. Trust me; she’s no Christ-child. I don’t want a traditional gown. In fact, I’ve been toying with the idea of having different pieces of my ethnic heritage reflected in my bridal wear with an Indian choli, a West African iro, with Arawak jewelry and a bouquet with clovers – that almost covers them all. A combination I would never find at a wedding dress sample sale. But, I’m cheap. My daughter teases me that $1 is my favorite price for just about anything so the thought of spending thousands of dollars on a one-day dress doesn’t sit well with me. I’m also curious, like an anthropologist, keenly interested in studying the behavior: physical, social, and cultural, of humans. Brides, then, fascinate me as a study in human behavior. Being in a sample sale with a group of them provides me the ideal occasion to observe them in one of their natural habitats, so to speak. Plus, I was avoiding cleaning the apartment and doing laundry that sunny, warm sample sale Saturday and shopping with brides beats housework as far as things I hate. I really, really hate doing dishes, sweeping, washing clothes, dusting…

Queen Victoria launched the enduring bridal trend with the white gown she wore in1840. At the time, brides in the U.S. had been wearing a plethora of colors including brown and grey but rarely white. Blue, not white, was the symbol of purity in the Middle Ages, expressed at wedding ceremonies by a band of blue ribbon worn by both bride and groom, which likely inspired the “something blue” rhyme that endures to this day. In Medieval times, the wealthiest brides could afford dresses in red, purple and even black. And, around the world today, many wedding dresses in China, India and Vietnam are red, the traditional color of good luck and auspiciousness.

Interestingly then, the “requirement” of wearing white is not an obligation after all but a socially, culturally constructed rule that women have identified with, without question, the notion that a white dress is a must-have when in actuality, it’s not.

My mom never dressed me in the requisite white gear for what would be considered life-transitioning events like Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation (religious rites of passage in Catholicism). For my Baptism ceremony, I believe I wore yellow, my First Communion dress was baby blue chiffon overlaid with tulle and on Confirmation day, I wore a cream cotton dress covered with flowers in different colors. Some pieces of Trinidadian culture, like my mom, makes traditions their own, giving it its own Trini-flavor, like Trini-Indian curry, Trini-Chinese sweet and sour meat, Trini-Middle Eastern food, and Trini-Creole rice and beans. I don’t know for sure that Mother was Trini-minded when it came to weddings but if I had to guess I’d say she was probably more apt to modify what was societally mandated than she was to follow it, and she may have done so even when it came to something as entrenched in societal mores as the choice of wedding dress.

That being said, though, this week’s menu is all about honoring white. Yes, despite all my counterculturalness, I thought, maybe what’s going against the grain for me, this week, on a menu is to do it all in white, off-white or as white as possible dishes. Plus, as I began thinking more deeply about what is convention, I came to the realization that convention is something one creates, which others follow and keep doing it over time. With that in mind, I encourage you then, to try out this week’s recipes and put them in your regular meal-making repertoire. For a quick mid-week meal or in preparation for your busy workweek ahead, try my Ravioli Parsnip Cauliflower Casserole – a thick, creamy, soulfully satisfying somewhat healthier version of a casserole that was like lasagna The salad I served alongside it can be made with Bosc or other pears more common pears if you can’t find Asian pears in your market. It was refreshing and light, and cut the richness of the casserole, balancing it out. The frozen marshmallow dessert rounded out the meal with its extra-sweet flavor, with melted dark chocolate, and crushed graham crackers, if you wish to recreate something reminiscent of s’mores and you’re not wedded to white, pun intended.

Despite the whiteness of this meal, its flavors were nothing close to pure or virginal. A regular party of tastes that took white to a completely new level, then. Here’s to white, then, in wedding dresses or food – may white become associated with much more than one notion of wholesomeness!

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Ravioli, Parsnip and Cauliflower Casserole

Asian Pear, Cucumber and Mushroom Salad with Onion Lemon Vinaigrette

Marshmallow Frozen Yogurt


Mother may have not been familiar with strawberries given that she lived in the tropics. I have some vague memory of hearing stories about her going to visit my aunt in England where she tasted and loved strawberries. If strawberries had been available to her, I’m certain that Mother would have used them, but how? In Mother-like-manner, she likely would have made sure that they never went to waste incorporating them into just about anything she could to prevent them from spoiling.

I think the first time I had strawberries was when I was seven and my mom took my sister and me to Canada to visit her childhood best friend who lives there. Bursting into my mouth and flooding my taste buds with their sweet, juicy, floral, semi-tart flavor. I couldn’t eat just one, devouring an entire pint on my own.

The California Strawberry Commission says that a serving of strawberries contain more Vitamin C than an orange, and about 5% of the daily recommended allowance of potassium with no fat and little sugar. Maybe another reason Mother may have used them in her recipes – they’re good for you.

When my daughter was a little tyke, I’d ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she’d say, “When I grow up I want to be a strawberry.”  I wonder what made her say that. Could she have been motivated by her love of the fruit’s taste, its beautiful color or its abundance in our kitchen when they were in season?

This week’s post pays respects to the wonderful strawberry in her glory. In large part because I had subconsciously been buying them canned, jarred, frozen and fresh in such large quantities that it started me thinking about the ways in which one might use them in the kitchen if there were too many. Culturally although Trinidadian culture is one of plenty (you only have to look at Carnival costumes (see Family Photos page) to see how over the top Trinis can be) it is not a place of waste. In Mother’s and my kitchen, this is true too. Plus, I identify with my daughter’s toddler desire to be a strawberry when she grew up, considering how beautiful, delicious and good for you strawberries are. I might want to be a strawberry when I grow up too – beats being a lawyer on most days!

On to the food: I served this meal for a Saturday lunch but you can of course do so for dinner too. The salad with which we began the meal was fresh, crisp and slightly sweet – much like biting into a strawberry. The chicken wings were sort of crisp yet juicy, the sauce like a sweet and sour preparation with heat from the jalapenos. I tried to eat only three but devoured about five with the rice pilaf that the beau said tasted like it was too good for him to eat. The strawberry chocolate chip sorbet was the perfect ending to the meal, creamy yet light like a good sorbet should be.

To you and yours, I hope that this meal gives you something to do with all those wonderful strawberries you’ll pick up at your local farmers markets this summer or in your grocery’s produce department. Of course, given my interest in culture and identity, I also wish that your knowing the adaptability of the strawberry as an ingredient may make you think more about your own culture and identity – how many things were/are in your culture that impact who you are and how versatile the concept of identity can be no matter who you might believe yourself to be as a grown up.

Good Strawberry Eatings!

MENU

Radish, Iceberg and Mint Salad with Strawberry Mint Dressing

Strawberry Chicken Wings

Orange Green Onion Rice Pilaf

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Sorbet

[Links to recipes coming soon! Can’t wait? Email me at mothermayhave@gmail.com]

Mother may have put together many meals that included some sort of salad, broadly defined. Mother may not have thought that she was a salad revolutionary, exploring all manner of salad in her kitchen, but she was. Her salads were not limited to those you might have before the main course at a steak house, lettuce, tomato, onion, maybe cucumber or shredded carrots and a dressing. She would make salads of sautéed vegetables, local ground provisions (like yams, cassava, dasheen, and eddoes) and sometimes even salads out of a can, fruit cocktail, poured over ice-cream for dessert.

Salads, historically, can be traced to the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks who enjoyed salads of greens and vegetables with oil, vinegar and salt. The traditional dinner salad (as I described above) were popular among Renaissance folks. Today, salads are (and have been for some time now) thought of as more than a first course or side dish, enjoying a place on the table as a main course. When I think about the variety and versatility of salads, over time and in various cultures, I think about the social construction identity, particularly about motherhood. (Could it be that part of why I am reminded of motherhood is that salads are also associated with dieting and losing weight, which by and large seems to be something with which women are obsessed? Hmm…) I belong to a small group for moms only at my church called “Mom-to-Mom.” Almost all the moms in the group are married and Christian. We get together once a week to pray for each other and support one another. I love being with these women most of the time but, I have to admit that there are times when their homogeneity, or probably more accurately, their desire to be homogeneous drives me insane.

Personally, I was once a married, Christian mom (like my small group buddies), a mom who worked exclusively as a homemaker, a mom who was a graduate (law) student. Now, I’m a divorced mom, a working-outside-the-home mom and a soon-to-be (in šāʾ Allāh) a married-again mom in an inter-faith marriage. My understanding of motherhood, thus, is informed by my diverse experiences, which leads me to believe that one-kind-fits-all does not apply to being a mother. Just as there are all kinds of families, there are many options when it comes to being a mother and a good one too. In my day job, representing clients in the family courts, I see all kinds of mothers, some of whom do things that harm their children. Not all of them intend to do harm, some are addicts, for example, who by definition abandons themselves to their “drug of choice” and neglects their children. Are addicts bad mothers? Here’s how I’d put it, mothers who are addicted cannot make good decisions for themselves, let alone for their children, when they are active in their addiction they cannot be good at anything really, especially not good at mothering. But, this begs the question: are addicts good mothers, then? Maybe I’m an idealistic sucker, but I’d say they are potentially, that they may be able to become good mothers in the future if they can stop acting on their addiction.

It seems to me that there are all sorts of ways to be a good mom, much like there are all kinds of salads. And, this idea, like the entrée salad, to be enjoying resurgence. In my moms group, sometimes the unstated notion of being a good mom involves martyrdom, sacrificing one’s own personal sense of self to take on the moniker mother and with it the sense that you are no longer Ann, Barbara or Carol but that you are now solely defined by being Abigail’s, Brian’s or Caitlyn’s mom. It’s as if once the dressing of motherhood is poured on, the salad beneath ceases to exist. As most chefs would advise about salads, don’t overdress them, you want to taste of all dish’s ingredients. So too, I’d say about motherhood, while it’s a wonderful dressing (I know I love it) try to not forget to pay attention to the rest of one’s identity, what else makes you, you.

This week, I pay homage to Mother, motherhood, women and the salad, in honor of all of those things and in keeping with Mothers’ Day as celebrated in the U.S. this year, on Sunday May 9. By choosing to explore through making various kinds of salad, ones that Mother may have made and those that Mother may not by virtue of her culture, her generational identity, and her access to the ingredients (like the Waldorf salad); and in challenging the idea of what is a salad by serving a fabulous store bought roasted vegetable pie from an acclaimed local bakery (http://www.petsipies.com/) and in topping of the dinner with an iced tea with mint leaves, afloat and even in the bread pudding, I attempt to take the idea of salad even further. Questioning: Does having mint leaves floating in a drink, resembling salad greens make it a close enough to be considered a cousin of the green salad? Does adding mixed fruit to a bread pudding qualify this dessert as a salad – one that no longer has the bread on the side but mixed in?

In any case, whether you agree with my avant-garde ideas or not, I hope that, in making this menu and in reflecting on it, that those mothers who fit the traditional definition of the word “mother” as ones who gave birth to and raise children, as well as those for whom that definition is far too restrictive but who for whatever reason are considered or consider themselves mothers, that like the new-ish place that salad holds on our plates, they all come to appreciate a revival of their understanding of motherhood: as the main course of what keeps us full as a society, while not losing who they (we) are as individuals.

MENU

Hard Boiled Eggs and Artichoke Salad with Avocado Dressing

Classic-ish Waldorf Salad

Mixed Fruit Bread Pudding

Mint Iced Tea


Mother may have never used tarragon in any dish she made. I have no memory of her using this herb and no recollection of tasting its mild, earthy sweetness in anything she made. She was more a bhandhania lover, an herb markedly different from tarragon but found as present in Mother’s dishes as the tarragon was in this week’s menu for me. Mother used bhandhania in soups, beans, rice dishes, with ground provisions, meats and curries. Bhandhania grew naturally along moist, shaded parts of the land surrounding Mother’s home. When I was a child, making mud pies (pretending they were baked cakes) with my cousins at Mother’s house, the bhandania leaves were what we would use at times on the cakes. The plants, found objects that we’d at first discarded as we focused on packing and stacking the round, cylindrical patties, then being used as decoration all over the slabs of wet earth. Mother was always supportive of our outside play, admiring what we’d constructed.

I don’t know where Mother found the energy to even notice us in her uber-busy day but she did. I know that I have been feeling quite stretched recently, especially last weekend when our house was taken over by the artist fiancé for Somerville Open Studios. I try to care about nurturing his artist-self, really, I do but last weekend I was looking forward to a little R&R after the week I’d had and the week ahead. Between getting my daughter ready for a weekend retreat leaving from Boston to Ithaca for the weekend, facilitating the co-sponsoring of a Stand Against Racism event between my workplace and an organization where I’m on the board, and having several court appearances for clients all I could think about for my weekend was how much sleep and lazing around I wanted over the weekend. Instead, what I got was more work – prepping and serving food to the Open Studios visitors. And, while I do so enjoy cooking and feeding people, I was tired. To quote and paraphrase a portion of The New Testament, my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I kept replaying the old tag line from those shower and body wash commercials, Calgon, take me away! Without Calgon, I had to settle for tarragon. When life gives you tarragon instead of Calgon, make tarragon cream. (Doesn’t have as much of a ring to it as lemons to lemonade but hey, this is not a post /menu about lemons.)

In Trinidadian culture, and as far as I can tell in all developing countries the people generally have a natural “talent” to make things work despite and sometimes because of their limited circumstances. When you grow up without, as I did by and large, you become resourceful. At the time, this never seems like a blessing, only later does resourcefulness become a trait that you appreciate, a positive description for your resume, something you can draw on to figure out how to buy cheap textbooks in college so you have more money for partying, a way to make your legal services salary support you, your daughter, a dog and two cats. But, when you’re a kid and your friends have more than you do, having to make up for what you don’t have by being creative with what you do never seems like it’s a positive.

This weekend’s menu was a testament to making do with one ingredient, using tarragon in three ways, from appetizer to main course to dessert. There’s something peaceful about the simplicity of having to incorporate the one ingredient. As if in being limited, under-complicated, the complexity of life disappears, tarragon, then, did take me away from the stress and pressure I had been feeling all week. I hope that tarragon or some other one-trick wonder of an herb, spice or other ingredient can do the same for you.

MENU

Crab Tarragon Faux-Sushi

Seafood Casserole

Peach Cake with Tarragon Cream


Mother may have only been married once but her most her children have not had the same fate. Three of her daughters are married today, one of these three is on her second marriage, three are never-been-married single moms, and one, my mom is divorced (twice engaged) and currently single. I am certain that some the difference between Mother’s and her offspring’s experience generational, in other words, the culture of an era. But, I am also sure that not all of what happened to them can be understood just by looking at the dawn of feminism, the changing roles of women in the workplace and no-fault divorce laws.

I can personally attest to having conflicted feelings about marriage. From a clinical, almost academic perspective, I question what keeps us attracted to marriage in a culture with almost twice as many divorces as successful marriages. For me, looking at my own history once being married at nineteen, having a child at twenty-two, and divorcing in my late twenties, I’m not surprised that I can be cynical about marriage. And, when you add my aunts and mom, it would be shocking if I didn’t have negative feelings about the institution. But, there is a hopeful, less cynical side of me that says like Marie Antoinette but not for the same reasons, “Let them eat cake!” I love a good wedding party and if two people are happy about the prospect of being together forever and want to share that with their family and friends then, so be it.

When I reflect on what made and broke my first marriage, I can’t help but see both sides. It is hard for me to saint one of us and vilify the other. There are things that were, well, no-one’s fault. Suffice it to say that some of those things include, being too young, being somewhat clueless about who we were together or and having no clue about who each of us was apart. We were, to give it a politically correct nomenclature identity-challenged. Plus, culturally we were both from divorced, abusive homes where domestic violence was the norm. Like a bad marriage of culture and identity then, we may have been sadly, but realistically destined to divorce.

This weekend, my beau of five years proposed to me. In Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts at a rustic, intimate bistro style restaurant, Gypsy Apple, he had the ring come out alongside dessert, a fabulous pear cobbler, lavender biscotti and vanilla ice cream the classic, unique ring, bezel-set canary diamond surrounded by yellow gold on a platinum band (see, Family Photos page) was presented. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was up to something because he spent most of the evening vacillating between grinning like the Cheshire Cat and looking anxious. When he asked, I said yes, no question, plain and simple affirmation. I am as sure as I ever will be that this is a man I want to marry. Is he perfect? Nope. Is our relationship rock, solid? Not exactly. But, are we committed to each other’s growth as individuals, and to making us work as a couple? Hands down, the answer is yes!

After our short weekend getaway, I returned home to an almost empty refrigerator but I still managed to put something together for dinner for us and for you, my readers. After all, I am committed to you too, to growing my understanding of the connections between food, culture and identity with all of you along for the multi-course journey. Thus, this week’s meal is all about committing to “what you got.” I had some fennel, onion, peas, celery pasta, a couple pieces of chicken thighs, vinaigrette, chocolate, coconut cream and at least one item I had brought back with me from my trip (goat cheese from Goat Rising farm in Charlemont, MA: http://www.goatrising.com/) along with some other ingredients that were leftovers and yet others that are pantry and refrigerator staples. With these found ingredients, I was surprised by the depth of flavor I was able to get in the first course soup, the earthy, satisfying pasta entrée and the creamy, chocolate crunchiness of the wanna-be Oreo dessert.

In the spirit of celebration of my impending, I mean forthcoming (impending makes it sound like a hurricane or other natural disaster) wedding/marriage, I’d like to propose an online toast to all of you out there who are married once, like Mother, twice engaged like me and my mom, or single ladies like my three aunts, may we all love what we have, who we are and where we have come from. Cheers! Salud! [Insert your own cultural “toast word” here!]

MENU

Fennel Coconut Soup

Chicken Pasta with Wasabi Chive Dressing

Oreo-Style Cookies


Mother may have loved pork and pork products. I do remember her, like most Trinidadians especially touting their love of pork around Christmastime. (Something I’ve wrote about before on this blog.) But, I have had a pork deficit in my life thanks to my Muslim boyfriend whose dietary restriction I try to uphold. We generally have a pork-free household. But, this weekend he was away so my daughter and I decided to live it up with a no holds barred ode to the pig.

I feel like pork gets a bad wrap in many ways.  Pigs were once considered wicked and dirty, but science has helped to shed light on the depths of their remarkable cognitive abilities and to extend a greater appreciation for these often maligned and misunderstood animals. Ecologists, zoologists and naturalists now remark on their impressive ability to survive and adapt to different environments around the world. Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s famed prime minister, was fond of pigs and reportedly said, “Cats look down on you; dogs look up to you; but pigs look you in the eye as equals.” As food, many lean pork cuts are similar in fat to a skinless chicken. And, pork producers have enhanced feeding and breeding practices to deliver leaner options for today’s health conscious consumers. In religious circles/cultures it’s not only Muslims but also those who keep Kosher or who are culturally Jewish often too frown upon the pig for similar reasons.

I didn’t grow up eating too much pork (except for the cured ham at Christmas) because of fear of trichinosis, due to undercooking pork. Today, infection is now rare in the developed world. From 1997 to 2001, an annual average of 12 cases per year was reported in the United States. The number of cases has decreased because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw meat garbage to hogs, increased commercial and home freezing of pork, and the public awareness of the danger of eating raw or undercooked pork products.

In my personal life story pork has played, at least in my mind, a pretty interesting role. I learned how to make Puerto Rican style pork chops, served along red beans and rice from my ex-husband’s maternal grandmother. He loved this dish and I’d make it all the time for him as something special. Now, I am dating a Muslim whose response when I told him about my pork fiesta over the phone was, “You better not use my pans to cook it!” (Of course, I was not using his one large skillet with the wobbly handle!  Especially when I just bought a new extra-large cast iron skillet, which I’m in love with.) Maybe I was running away from all things ex-husband related so my subconscious made sure I dated someone who couldn’t have his favorite dish. Anything’s possible!

In any event, pork fest was a great success.  I even made bacon ice cream, which my daughter has been requesting for months now but once made she complained that it tasted too much like bacon. Hmm… I love the creamy, richness of the ice-cream butt I can’t (read: should not) eat it all myself. I shudder to think of how many calories are in an egg yolk based, whole yogurt and milk ice cream with bacon. Yikes!

Coincidentally, in addition to the ice cream I also had a plethora of baked goods in my life this weekend because we hosted a food blogger sponsored Great American Bake Sale (http://gabs.strength.org/site/PageServer?pagename=GABS_homepage) to benefit Operation Frontline’s Share Our Strength (http://strength.org/) dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the U.S. Despite the cold, grey weather and the competition of free food at the event that hosted us, we raised over $100!

Like with the pork festival at our house this weekend, and the bake sale against the odds, I guess the lessons I’ve learned this week about myself, about food and about culture are pretty simple, and I’m sure they’re lessons Mother discovered too: to take life as it comes, appreciate the unappreciated and the seize the moment, you never know who you might help. Heck, you may just get to help yourself to some decadent ice cream too in the process.

With Earth Day this week – April 22 – bringing these lessons to the forefront seems particularly important when we all think about how to appreciate the only planet we’ve got!

MENU

Green Eggs and Ham

Egg and Ham Salad on a Hearty Country Loaf

Pork Burgers with Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Bacon Ice-Cream


My dear readers,

I promise to post soon!  Sorry, I’ve been super busy.  Two posts and two menus by next Monday – I promise.

Blessings,

K

Hi there,

Please support Massachusetts food bloggers this weekend at our first bake sale to support Operation Frontline Share Our Strength, an organization that works to end childhood hunger in the U.S.

The sale is being hosted at a community, food-based event in East Somerville, hosted by East Somerville Main Streets (www.eastsomervillemainstreets.org/)

DATE: Saturday April 17, 2010

TIME: 1 pm – 3 pm

AT: Cross Street Senior Center – 165 Broadway Somerville, Massachusetts

Come out and buy some yummylicious baked goods!

Mother may have been nearly ninety years old when she passed away. Or, as I like to think of it, she was about to celebrate the 65th anniversary of her 25th birthday. In Mother’s day birth records were hardly routine, especially for the less well-to-do in rural areas so Mother never knew her actual birth date which, leads one to question, age – what’s in a number? Practically, it’s a way to measure time the individual collection of the years on the Gregorian calendar that we have spent from today’s date back to the day on which we were born, which for me was April 14, 1975.

This day would be relatively unremarkable but for my imbuing it with meaning based on the whole entering the world thing. The date itself could have historical meaning. For example, in 1912 April 14 was the date that the Titanic hit the iceberg. Lincoln was shot in 1865 and, annually it’s the day before income tax filings are due in the United States. And, as if all those less than pleasurable associations with the day aren’t enough, it’s also my parents’ anniversary. I was their first anniversary present; I think Hallmark recommends a clock or something made of paper.

Maybe for people with loving, pleasant feelings about their parents and their marriage, being born on a wedding anniversary might be seen as a blessing. They might think about themselves as bringing new life into their marriage. For me, as I think about my parents f-ed up relationship, there’s a mustard seed-sized part of me that feels this way like I was one of the first good things to come to their relationship, before the onset of the abuse that would tear them apart, at least one part of what contributed to their break up in addition to individual, unhealed brokenness, carried with them from their childhoods into adulthood, without being mended, melded onto the marital selves. Identity has a way of developing when we’re making other plans. The impact of all the things that happen to us seeping into our flesh, imprinting on our souls, packaged into our being, stuffed bundles of experiences, lessons, hardships, joys, sometimes neatly wrapped, at other times loosely tied together.

Of course, as I’ve written about many times on this blog, much of our identity is socially constructed, influenced by the culture around us too and birthdays are no different. The traditions surrounding and the manner of celebration are determined by our meta-culture. In Trinidad and in the United States, birthdays are partying opportunities. Gatherings of family, friends, acquaintances too come together to commemorate the anniversary of one’s birth.

This weekend (April 10, to be precise) I had such a gathering at my home. Ten of us sat down to a multi-course dinner for me and for a cause I believe in, reproductive health. (In hindsight, it’s ironic that I chose to support the mission of child birth on my birthday. I had not thought about that connection in advance, I swear. Sometimes our sub-conscious makes more mindful decisions than we give it credit for.)

My guests were invited to donate to an organization I believe in NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, specifically to NARAL’s chocolate fundraiser – http://www.prochoicemass.org/events/chocomad.shtml. (Heck, what kind of food lover would I be if I didn’t support a chocolate fundraiser?!)

My dearest friends sat down and broke bread (well, in this case paratha, store bought frozen but still quite homemade tasting) with me, enjoyed tossed salad, slow roasted chicken, curried veggies, tropical fruit sorbet and a birthday cake, which for once I didn’t make myself. Thanks to my wonderful friend KL, who I’m hoping will share the secret to her awesome chocolate cardamom torte that complemented my meal oh so well. I chose to do an eclectic Indian-style dinner because I am part Indian and I think many would describe my friends as an eclectic bunch, diverse in all kinds of ways, race, ethnicity, age, gender, class, sexual orientation, career…

Passion fruit both began and ended the meal – used as a dressing for the first course and in the sorbet/palate cleanser at the end. Ah, passion fruit, of which I have the fondest memories, Mother mixing up juice for Sunday lunches, super sweet and tart. Passion fruit to me, representation even in its name of how I feel about food, how I try to live my life, how outsiders often view Trinidadians, zealously, desiring to pour all of me into comprehending and loving who I am through loving preparation of food. All the bad stuff that in the past happened on my birth date be damned!

Happy birthday to me, may I live, really, truly live, to see many more anniversaries of my birth, I mean, of my 25th!

MENU

Mixed Greens and Fennel Salad with Passion Fruit Vinaigrette

Fruit, Nut, Veggie and Cheese Curry

Tandoori-Style Chicken

Indian Spice-Infused Rice

Passion Fruit Pineapple Sorbet

Chocolate Cardamom Torte (Guest Recipe)


Mother may have prepared thousands of lavish Easter Sunday meals. In a Catholic household, in a predominantly Catholic country, Easter is high priority. After all, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is Christianity’s most important holiday. Mother’s Easter Sunday spreads likely included some combination of stewed meat (lamb or beef), macaroni and cheese pie, rice, beans, ground provisions, green salad, potato salad, passion fruit juice, and homemade ice cream. This smorgasbord of goodness devoured by the entire immediate and extended family, their significant others, children, neighbors, friends and friends of friends.

Easter to me, historically and culturally then, is about large gatherings. It was also the day on which I celebrated the end of a Lenten season where I would have given something up like sweets, meat on Fridays and when I would cease pondering the death and resurrection of Christ as required in my school’s Religious Knowledge classes.

This year, I embarked on a 40-day journey like Lent with my Christian nondenominational church called the Leap of Faith. Unlike the Lent of old, the focus of this faith experiment was to partner with God on finding our calling. Choosing to give up something by fasting or abstaining was welcome but not required and the lens through which Jesus’ death and resurrection was framed was more life giving than the way I looked at it in my Catholic childhood.

Interestingly, speaking of religious difference, this year the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant/Catholic Easters happened to fall on the same date — April 4. So, it might have seemed a perfect occasion, particularly in the spirit of this blog to celebrate the turning of the season with a Greek Easter meal. For me, though, doing that would have been nearly sacrilegious not because I am a religious purist (come on, you should know me better than that by now!) but because my best friend is Greek and we usually celebrate Greek Easter with him at his parents’ place. Greek Easter is his, theirs and for me a time to appreciate his culture with them. Doing a Greek/Mediterranean meal on my own in celebration would make me feel like I was stealing in some weird way. And, while I’m almost always one for melding just about everything for the sake of inclusion, sometimes, keeping things separate does not make them inherently unequal. It can even make them more special.

I didn’t hear from my bestie this year and I’m not sure why that is. I wonder if his parents decided to have someone else, (maybe his sister-in-law’s parents) play host this year – they’ve done that on occasion in the past. Or, if there’s some Grecian code of conduct that prescribes as follows:

When one has a best friend, and one is male, and she is female, one may invite such best friend to one’s parents’ house for Greek Easter. However, if one acquires heretofore a girlfriend (in a romantic sense) one may not invite one’s female best friend to one’s parents’ house for Greek Easter.

The jury is out on whether the above rule applies. There’s something democratic about a rule like this, one girl friend per male and democracy is after all attributed to the Greeks, no? Best Friend, if you’re reading this: Call me!

Without a trip to the Greek quasi-family this year, the non-family launched a small, yet mighty celebration complete with picnic and walk to Spy Pond in Arlington. On the menu were homemade roast beef wraps on lavash bread with an olive spinach tapenade, lettuce and red onions. The sandwiches were herbaceous and fresh accompanied by lightly truffle-salted asparagus; a vegetable that I believe is a U.S. Easter Sunday requirement. For dessert, we had trail mix popcorn balls thanks in part to my daughter who accidentally making way too much stovetop popcorn on Friday night. The balls stuck together best when they were cold so if you’re going to take them on a picnic walk, store them closest to the ice or chill packs. I’d also thrown into our picnic backpack some fresh fruit for good measure along with chopped pieces of cooked, unseasoned meat and dog biscuits for our darling doggie Emily.

As I reflect on this past Sunday’s picnic, I realize that sometimes it’s okay to say, “Tradition schmadition.” This year, we had the first non-family Easter picnic on the shores of Spy Pond and hopefully, we will repeat it next year too. But, if not, heck I’d be up for a new game plan in lieu!

For you, maybe reshaping this menu is where you want to start making it into something unique for you and yours. You can turn it into a meal to be served at home, on the table, the roast beef with the asparagus alongside, and a crusty baguette schmeared with the tapenade, followed by the popcorn balls, which can be enjoyed while watching a movie. At the end of the day, here’s my cross-cultural, identity-building wish for all of us: that we resurrect food traditions, around the holidays (maybe even more especially at Easter, Resurrection Sunday on the Christian calendar) which by definition means breathing new life into them, culturally uplifting them by making them our own.

MENU

Roast Beef Deli Style

Spinach and Olive Tapenade

Roasted Asparagus Spears

Trail Mix Popcorn Balls


Mother may have been poor but she always made sure that she prepared a hearty breakfast for her family each morning. Some kind of bread, fruit and hot beverage made up her breakfast spread, a typical Trinidadian breakfast. From what my mom says and Mother when she was still alive confirmed, my mom hated to eat what Mother prepared, instead she would toss a handful or so of sugar in her mouth, wash it down with cold water and pick up some preserved or curried mango or other such snack on her way to school; with Mother screaming after her on her way out about eating her bread and breaking de wind[1] by drinking something warm.

When I was a child, my mom would never let me not have breakfast, yes, the same woman with the sugar water and cooked, spicy fruit snack breakfast weakness. Ironic, maybe, but not so much really, when I think about what motherhood brought out in me, a more evident connection to my mom, childhood and a desire to nurture. Plus, by the time my mom was raising us, much more was known about the importance of breakfast, especially for school-aged children. Recent research has even correlated having breakfast with improving student behavior, not just test scores. (See, http://www.frac.org/pdf/breakfastforlearning.PDF)

For me, in my early twenties, I would wake up early, ravenous and devour a lumberjack breakfast (eggs, cereal, toast, juice, coffee, and fruit) around 7 am followed by a mid-morning snack of more fruit and/or a muffin at 10 am. Today, as I near the 10th anniversary of my twenty-fifth birthday, I find myself needing at least a walk with the dog before I can stomach more than a piece of fruit plus toast at that early hour. Although I have been known, truth be told, to have left over Indian food as my first meal of the day. A decision I sometimes regretted later on in the day when my stomach would retaliate from this preemptive strike before dawn.

This weekend I returned to my college, The University of West Florida – UWF – (http://uwf.edu/) to receive an award. I was honored as The (2010) Outstanding Young Alumnus. I walked around the campus on the Sunday following the award ceremony and dinner, reminiscing about when I was younger. I remembered married me, pregnant me, mother me, student me, sauntering under the fauna and flora of the Florida nature preserve, inhaling the jasmine (at least I think that’s what I smelled) wafting gently to my nostrils. In ways that I hadn’t previously understood while I was there, the benefit of hindsight, UWF to me was much like breakfast is for a day, a beginning. UWF was a fresh start, satisfying, warm and bready with of course the requisite fiber of a piece of raw fruit. It launched me on a journey to loving learning again, something I had lost when I was more occupied with fitting in and mending my newly cracked bi-cultural self in high school. And what’s learning without a bit of challenge, an eat your vegetables (or in keeping with this week’s analogy fruit) component?

Thus, this week’s meal consists of a breakfast I served to my non-family on Friday morning before I left the temperate, twenty degree Northeast for the seventy degree sub-tropics. Most of the items were prepared the night before. The scones and hash can likely even be frozen a week ahead. The baked apples were not only good tasting but made for a earthy, sweet air freshener too. I’m not sure how Mother made cocoa tea but adding the cocoa powder and sugar to the coffee in the coffee maker mellowed out the pungent French Roast, giving it a milder flavor, kinda like the tea that I remember Daddy drinking.

In the beginning, it is written in the Genesis, the first book of today’s Bible, God created the heavens and the earth. Well, last weekend, I made the breakfast menu below, not godly, in comparison but heavenly to taste.

Give these recipes a try and let me know if your little angels < insert smirk here > liked it as much as mine did!

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Mixed Berry Scones

Shepherd’s Pie Hash

Crock Pot “Baked” Apples

Cocoa Tea



[1] It’s what Trinis say. You can probably guess its meaning, has to do with what has likely accumulated in one’s stomach overnight or when they’ve gone too long without eating, gas.

Spring has sprung

Mother may have lived only in the tropics where there are not four seasons, only the wet season and the dry season, when there are fewer days of rain than during its counterpart so she would not have formally experienced spring as a meteorological event. But, everyone everywhere has a time when things change in their natural environment. In the Caribbean, for example, there are certain trees like the flamboyant that only bloom during a certain time of the year, from on or about May – September, signaling the longest school vacation period. The leaves of the poinsettia plant turn from green to red, or white, or pink, in time for Christmas. And, the national flower of Trinidad & Tobago, the chaconia, (also called wild poinsettia) is a flaming red forest flower that blooms right around August 31, the date that marks Trinidad’s independence from the British Empire.

In North America, this weekend, specifically March 21, marked the beginning of spring, associated with newness, a time to start over. In beginnings, there is a tendency to want to forget the past, or at least solely focus on the present. During the service at church this weekend, our worship leader/pastor spoke between song sets about his experience raking away the leaves in his garden, and appreciating the colorful bulbs peeking out between the brown of sticks, dirt and fallen, dead foliage. There’s a tendency to in times of rebirth to want to ignore death, paying attention instead to the beauty of what’s alive.

I want to give voice to slightly different thinking on spring as a time of celebrating both the new and the old, the so-called dead and life. In the world of food I generally navigate towards what’s fresh and in season, partially, because as I’ve written before seasonal foods are cheaper and taste better, plus as I’m sure those who’ve read about the benefits of local food buying know, local food is also environmentally friendly because it takes less fossil fuel to get from source to consumer. But, this is not a hard and fast rule for me. I’ve been known to deviate especially when the price is right. For this week’s meal, the reasons for not following my own food rule were at least two-fold. The broccoli, zucchini, cabbage (summer to fall vegetables in these parts) and the potatoes (winter fare) were all on sale (half-price) in the discount produce section of the store. Lamb to me, marks spring as much as tulips and crocuses protruding from freshly April showered soil and the snow pea stems definitely signal the incoming season. Plus, in hindsight, there was another great rationale to have tossed out my local food rule (more like a standard) this week. The entire non-family devoured so much of the food that we felt like were in a food haze, with my daughter most notably so enjoying the zucchini side dish that she had another one of them after having two desserts.

The meal I put together this week was celebration of the old and the new, complete with one of my favorite cakes, red velvet, which is the only thing I craved once when I was pregnant with my daughter. I haven’t thought of this before but maybe I, thus, associate red velvet cake with growing life. Hmmm…

U.S. or maybe even more broadly western civilization/thinking tends to be unable to hold two apparently contradictory things as true. For me, then, this week’s post and menu challenges us (me included) to approach the spring season with an outlook towards the winter past that’s more appreciative of it. For without the old, if there were no cold, harsh, winter, if the leaves don’t die, if there was no way to mark the end, to see something change in nature around us, we couldn’t fully appreciate that spring has sprung.

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Red Pepper Spread on Crostini

Zucchini Stuffed with Broccoli Cheese Spread

Spring Lamb and Vegetables (in a Crock Pot)

Red Velvet Cake with Fluff Cream Frosting



This year, as in prior years, Operation Frontline’s Share Our Strength has hosted or had hosted on their behalf, bake sales around the country to raise money for the eradication of childhood hunger in the U.S.  I am wondering if any of you food bloggers or readers would be willing to participate in one of this year’s bake sale fundraisers!  I am hoping to host one in Massachusetts.
Thus far no exact date, time and place has been set. The only details right now is that the sale will be held somewhere in the metro Boston area at some time during the April 16 – 18 weekend.
Let me know if you’re at least interested and we can go from there.  Thanks in advance for your participation and support!
Blessings,
K

Mother may have had many dinner table etiquette rules but I only remember one. The one saying I recall was more liberating than it was restrictive. But, before we get to that, the back-story.

I was not a good eater as a child, or so everyone used to tell me. My mom was always harping on how much I wasn’t eating. Mom’s family would make jokes about how skinny I was.

“Mosquito!” They’d call me.

I didn’t eat large meals, preferring small ones. And my mom always had junk food, so between meals I’d load up on cheese balls, preserved/sweetened mango, salted prunes (it’s an acquired taste) and biscuits (cookies in the U.S.). So, when I sat down to eat at mealtimes I was essentially full. It didn’t help that the family would also make derogatory comments every time I was in the middle of eating, or not, as the case might be.

But, what Mother said when I didn’t finish all that was piled on my plate was,

“Is alright, she jus’ leavin’ some for manners.” Her words untied me from feeling bound to the food on the plate, to finishing something I didn’t want to, to forcing my body to take in what it was rejecting. Culturally, both in our family, in Trinidad and at this point in child-rearing history, Mother’s response to my “wasting food” was outside the norm. Probably then, it was something that came uniquely from her, who she was, how she came to be Mother, my grandmother.

At my house, the one rule at meals is that you can’t say, “yuck or gross.”  You can say, “I don’t like this” or “I’m having something else.” When my daughter was younger, I made this rule to free her from having to eat everything on the table, empowering her to express her food feelings in an appropriate way; at least, that’s what I hope it did. Once, to one of my friend’s surprise, when my daughter was four years old, my friend served the adults cucumber and seaweed salad at a dinner party, and my tiny tot loved it more than the adults did.

In my albeit limited experience with kids, parents/adults, and food, more often than not, when I hear people say that children won’t eat this or when parents comment that they can’t get their children to eat period, the problem usually lies with the parents or whoever are the adults in the home. Kids palates are still developing so, in theory, they should be open to eating more things than adults. I don’t write this to pass judgment on those in this predicament. I merely offer an, as I qualified when I began, an unscientific observation.

This week’s menu plays with the idea of creating things that may sound yucky or gross, and making them yummy. The peanut butter chicken and jelly waffles were a light and playful take on the traditional fried chicken and waffles. My BF, whose tastes generally run to the childlike, preferring burgers, fries and chicken fingers commented that it was a dish one might want after a workout.

“Light, flavorful and satisfying.” I believe was what he said between licking his fingers.

The warm bean salad balanced, complimented and rounded out the sweet and salt of the entrée. Followed by a dessert made from tofu; it always shocks those unfamiliar with this ingredient whenever I make a dessert from it and it rocks. This dessert was no different. A tiny bit sweet, not too much and every bit as scrumptious as the tropical fruits I had as a child growing up on a Caribbean island.

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Double-Bean Salad

Peanut Butter Chicken

Tropical Jelly Waffles

Tropical Tofu Pudding or Tofu Ice Cream

Mother may have prepared, now and then, fancier dishes than her usual everyday family fare. I believe she made my mom’s wedding cakes, three tiers, neatly iced with royal icing flowers piped onto each layer. If memory serves she also made cakes for several other children’s weddings, tea sandwiches for grandchildren’s birthday parties and all kinds of other festive goodies. All, I imagine on a budget only slightly greater than usual.  She was almost always a frugal woman.

Being conservative with one’s spending can be meta-cultural. Mother may have been informed by the fact that she was born in 1917, at the end of World War I and came of age as it were in 1932, when she and my grandfather started a family. The 1930s was generally a period of instability around the world, and the Caribbean was no different. One thing that Mother may have learned in order to adapt to this uncertainty in the world around her was to as the Scouts motto states, “be prepared” especially by making certain that she didn’t over extend her resources.

I, too, am a child from this mindset, “poverty minded” some may say pejoratively. On most days, I prefer to think of it as economical, especially when it comes to food. I was once a recipient of food stamps and WIC (http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/) so I know first hand what it’s like to be on a restrictive food budget. However, I do remember splurging at times, if you can call it splurging when one buys organic baby food for her child and occasionally produce at the local food co-operative. There was also a time when we lived in Trinidad, right before packing up for the U.S. that my mom was going bankrupt. It’s only recently that I’ve come to this realization as I reflect on that time in my childhood. We sold almost everything in our house, including most memorably the fridge, and lived out of a cooler for 3 -6 months, that’s what my child’s mind recalls any way. We had little to no meat and juiced our lime tree for anything other than water to drink, subsisting mostly on rice and beans, with seasonal vegetables and fruit relatively cheaply obtained from produce stands in Trinidad.

I also went through a time when I had practically unlimited resources, as a junior associate at a large, fancy law firm especially when it came to food. The firm was always feeding us. There were firm-sponsored 3-course lunches and dinners at 4-5 star restaurants in Boston in the summer months and all year free catered (by Sodexo) buffet-style dinners every night in the firm’s cafeteria. Not to mention the cookies, sandwiches, chips, drinks and coffee present at all firm meetings and gatherings. Often, too clients would celebrate a matter’s success by taking the lawyers out for a celebratory meal. You get the picture. The firm had a culture of food abundance with which many of us, even if we weren’t used to it before, quickly came to identify. When I think about my relationship with food, I have had (like in many other areas of my life) a variety of experiences that span the spectrum.

This week I had the opportunity of Friday to provide the vittles for a local art gallery’s opening night of a show (http://www.galateaart.org/) and on Sunday, the 82nd Academy Awards was presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, two reasons to prepare some fancy food. The gallery only paid me for costs so on a budget I prepared what I called Creamy Cheese Sandwiches and Fudge, three varieties of each. Both were a hit. People kept guessing that the most exotic ingredients were in the sandwiches when they were primarily made from cheese and mayonnaise. Parents often made these tea sandwiches, called cheese paste sandwiches for birthday parties when I was a growing up in T&T. Of the three varieties of fudge, the experimental honey thyme was the big hit. Those who tasted it commented that the sweetness was nicely complimented by the hit of thyme at the end. Then, on Sunday, after purchasing some relatively expensive truffle salt, which was not nearly as expensive as fresh truffles, I decided to spice up a pasta with veggies dish, which I think may be the best pasta salad I have ever tasted. Sounds arrogant, I know but give it a try and let me know what you think.

Fancy food, as Mother knew and I’ve discovered, doesn’t have to cost a fortune and well, you don’t need to have it all the time so, sometimes treat yourself, your friends and your family even if you’re the one picking up the tab.

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Creamy Cheese (Cheese Paste) Sandwiches

Pasta with Truffle Salted Roasted Vegetables

Honey Thyme Fudge


Inspiration Perspiration

Mother may not have thought of herself as being inspired or as inspirational in the kitchen or anywhere else for that matter.

What does the word inspiration mean?  In its broadest sense, I think about what moves someone to do something; anything that persuades a person to take an action that she would not have taken on her own. Inspiration is an animating force. To me, then, Mother was the embodiment of inspiration when it came to her children and in the kitchen.

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about her inspiring me to do this cooking, culture and identity experiment. There were other ways in which she was inspiring too like when it came to her children and their education. From her humble beginnings in a rural family from Dominica, Mother wanted more for her children, creating opportunities for them to get what she thought they deserved through education.

One of her sons won a scholarship to a prestigious university in England. My mom did not shine as much as he did academically but Mother saw her drive and determination to be a success. So Mother skimped and saved to send her to a private school in Trinidad. Free schools were free to those who were what the U.S. might call “gifted and talented.”

Something outside Mother’s lived experience led her to create an environment where her children had a strong will to succeed. To me, this is inspired behavior and inspirational too, no? I’m sure that’s where my mom pushing me to always do my very best in school comes from, in part, and why my daughter was grumpy with me tonight for making her study with me for her Spanish test. The inspiration to succeed at school passed down through the generations from a meta-culture where the literacy rate is 98.7%.

But, I don’t think, as you may have already guessed, that being moved to do something great is entirely culturally determined. Inspiration can come from anywhere. From seeking it, or unbeknownst to you from somewhere, someone, sometimes when you least expect it. Of course, being inspired is “the call” part of a “call to action.” The second piece, of course, is doing something – what in this post, I will refer to as perspiration.

In a couple weeks, I’m being honored by my college as the 2010 Outstanding Young Alumnus. The award requires that the person being honored be a catalyst in her the community in which she lives in some way, or that she has made a difference in her college community or her career. So, I guess someone thinks I have been inspirational too, like Mother. I can tell you that it has been hard work to get here so there was and still is, quite a bit of perspiration too.

This week’s menu, thus, is all about inspiration and its close cousin, the other “iration” but first a confession.

I went to Christina’s Spice & Specialty Foods in Inman Square in Cambridge to seek out some food item to inspire me this week. I tend to be relatively adventurous when it comes to food so it took me a while to find something that was unfamiliar. I settled on a large bag of white melon seeds, which tasted like slightly sweetened sunflower seeds. I roasted them and they perfumed the entire apartment with their odor, like biting into a cantaloupe or honey dew melon that first waft that tickles your palate before you taste its mild, fresh goodness. I chopped up the roasted melon seeds, sprinkled them on the Thai-like papaya salad, and then discovered, um, you can’t chew the husk of the seeds. This is my confession – that my inspirational ingredient did not work well in the dish that it inspired. Who said inspiration always has positive results? The recipe below, then, is a modified version that I think will work out very well.

Moving on, in other encouraging news, I had many, many pounds of head on, tail on shrimp in my freezer, compliments of my fish share. They needed to be cleaned and cooked. The cleaning job was the daunting part but, when it was done, I had the tastiest local shrimp for my shrimp, rutabaga curry. Who said inspiration can’t be born of sheer need?

In coming up with the mandarin orange dessert recipe, well, they were on sale at the supermarket. Who said inspiration should require lots of money? Not Mother and not me.

This week’s blog post as well as I suppose this blog in general, hopes to call you, my readers to action – to find inspiration through exploration, desperation or your financial situation – whether you’re filthy rich or broke, even when you don’t know how it will turn out.

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Roasted Melon Seeds

Papaya Salad with Creamy Coconut Curry Dressing

Shrimp and Rutabaga Curry with Dahl Puri Roti (Trini-style)

Mandarin Orange Sherbet


Mother may have been a fan of the new, growing local, sustainable food movement. She bought local food that couldn’t have traveled thousands of miles or else it wouldn’t have been as inexpensive in Trinidad. She regularly shopped for her fish from a guy on a bicycle with a cooler attached to the handlebars and a horn to announce his arrival. Tooting loudly and repeatedly when he’d arrived at her garden gate with fish that he would bring in from the nearby docks at the Gulf Of Paria. The fish wrapped in gazette paper (old newspapers) which Mother would open and inspect, sniffing it for freshness. Did it smell fishy or like the sea? If the latter, she would buy a couple red snapper, grouper or other. Later butchering it herself with a cheap knife, yet somehow cleanly filleting and neatly chopping it before stewing with ground provisions to make a thick concoction with ground provisions for her and Daddy to sup right before going to bed – blogo they called it. Or she’d put it into soups, the fish infusing the broth, yams, dasheen, green bananas, breadfruit and the homemade dumplings with their ocean freshness. Her produce came from de market, what here in the U.S. we call a farmers’ market. Every Saturday she would walk to the one in Couva, near her home or take a taxi to the larger market a few miles away in Chaguanas, haggling with vendors and selecting the only the best fruit and vegetables. I remember going with her on several occasions. For some reason, the following exchange, one that likely occurred when I was no more than nine years old is one that I remember best:

“What a pound for the zabocah?” She asked a man, stooping down to pick up and inspect his wares, which was generally frowned upon, the farmers disrespected by such boldfaced skepticism.

“Dollar a pound.” A farmer/vendor responded.

“But dey look hard.” Mother replied. She didn’t believe that the avocado (known as zabocah on the island) was ripe yet.

“Not harder than you.” The feisty vendor retorted, half in jest.

They both laughed heartily. She paid him less than the dollar a pound he tried to fetch. I guess the joke was on him in the end.

Chickens, duck, and eggs (from chickens and ducks) sometimes, but not always came from poultry Mother raised, which today would be considered free range because they roamed around the property, sleeping in the mango and guava tree when dusk fell, the roosters crowing to welcome the morning from their lofty perch. Daddy raised goats. I don’t remember him slaughtering them for meals but maybe he did. We did eat fresh goat meat on occasion, curried or stewed, succulent and thick, dripping with fresh seasoning, from a local herb, wildly growing only near running water, called bandania loaded with numerous other spices and tastes, like the island’s inhabitants a true melting pot of good eats.

I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s (probably best known for The Poisonwood Bible, a national bestseller and Oprah Book Club selection) Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (HarperCollins Publishers, May 2007) Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, this book  tells the story of how the Kingsolver family spent one year of deliberately eating local food in a sustainable way. It’s been pleasurable read for the most part, but it’s also led me to question the definition of sustainable, local food, a movement that’s taken off and is growing about as much as the organic movement once did before it was corrupted by capitalism that destroyed its spirit by undermining its meaning.

In typical U.S. fashion, local, sustainable food seems to be defined narrowly as food produced in the place one lives, as close as possible to one’s home. Mother purchased food grown this way but not because it was better for the planet or farmers but because it was cheaper. She was not the acclaimed author matriarch of an upper-class family living in Virginia so cost was much higher on her purchasing pecking order than saving Mother Earth. (No offense to the Kingsolver family.)

That being said, it’s not that I’m anti-local sustainable food. Heck, my first job in law school was as a legal intern at The Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture where I became sold on the value of saving family farms. Plus, I plain like the taste of locally grown better. I belong to a community-supported fish share too, as I’ve previously written about. What bothers me about the local, sustainable food movement is that for all its good qualities it’s classist. Poor people will not and cannot pay twice as much for their tomatoes even if they’re better for their family and for Massachusetts. I’ve taught cooking classes for low-income families through Operation Frontline’s Share Our Strength program, (link to the Massachusetts chapter: http://strength.org/operation_frontline/mass/)  in which I try to encourage those with young children (under 5) to use their W.I.C. coupons at the markets and that’s about as much as I have been able to persuade them to do.

Because I believe in inclusion more than, well, almost anything else, I’d like to suggest that we expand the definition of sustainable, local food to include recipes, culture, and families, in this way, poor people will not be left out. In my experience as a diversity consultant, when people feel more included they are more encouraged to participate. Who knows, maybe as Barbara Kingsolver proposes, they may then want to splurge once a week on those pricey greens and onions at the farmers market, eating at least one meal a week that’s from a source close to home, significantly, thus, contributing to cutting down on our fossil fuel dependence via our food supply.

East Somerville Main Streets, an organization dedicated to developing community initiatives and events that reflect and promote the true character of East Somerville, Massachusetts recently produced a fantastic recipe book. In it, recipes of local families and business establishments are shared alongside vignettes about the recipe and/or the contributor. In this way, ESMS has contributed to sustaining not only the longevity of the recipes but also the local ethnicities in East Somerville, its long time and new family-owned businesses in a community culturally composed as a historical matter, working class immigrants and now of new, young middle-class to upper-middle class families and couples. What an innovative way to promote local and sustainable food by expanding the concept while simultaneously being more inclusive!

This week’s menu borrows one recipe from their recipe book – given to me as a Christmas present by a reader and dear friend. Thank you!  I chose this recipe, in part, because it was from a woman from a large family, like Mother’s and mine to some extent, who all grew up and still live in East Somerville. The drumsticks were simple to make yet full of complex flavor. The dessert recipe I borrowed from the makers of Fluff, founded in Somerville, Massachusetts (as I’ve written about in previous posts).  The chocolate fudge basically disappeared over a game of Trivia Pursuit on Saturday night. I made up the fish and cold cabbage recipes. The fish was from my fish share and the cabbage not from a local source but seasonal and on sale for 99 cents at Market Basket. I may consider, if do this blog for another year, writing a local, sustainable version of it, of course on my terms using my definition, which will inclusively encompass the definition of the current movement too.

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Janine’s Chicken Wings

Oven Fried Fish

Cabbage Salad

Chocolate Fudge


Mother may have lived in another year when all these holidays met on the same day as it did this year when Dimanche Gras (marking the start of Mardi Gras), Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year all fell on Sunday February 14.  I did a little searching using Google to see if anyone knew when this might have happened before but I couldn’t find anyone or any post with the data. (If you know, feel free to post a comment.)  When holidays from three different cultures, which may have some or no place in an individual’s identity, sandwiched together like this, it poses a unique opportunity for someone like me who is fascinated with drawing parallels between things, ideas and people who seem to be vastly dissimilar from one another. Thus, this week’s post and meal were born out of a desire to tie them all together in some way drawing upon cultural history, reflecting on today and what it might all mean to who we are today based on my own identity/experience, while of course somehow finding a way to bring it all together using food as the great uniter.

For all the popularity of Valentine’s Day today, as evidenced by the almost $14 billion dollars in sales recognized by retailers on this day, history offers little in the way of clear understanding about the holiday. This reminds me love in general. Why? Well, a few years ago, I became fascinated with love and its meaning; ironically, this happened when I had just separated from my husband. I read and re-read the recently released, All About Love by acclaimed author bell hooks. In All About Love bell hooks argues that for all we think we know about love, it’s not something that we, as a society actually understands, thus, she embarked on an academic deconstruction and construction of love. All About Love was the first in a trilogy of books for hooks, including Salvation and Communion. It starts with a working definition of love as a willful act to facilitate the growth of oneself or another person, and continues to discuss what love is, what love isn’t, and how to become a more loving person. hooks makes the excellent point that the search for love is often so difficult because we have neither common language, nor training or examples in how to truly love.

Love, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras (called Carnival in Trinidad and some other countries) share then, some similarities in that their cultural underpinnings and meaning have become confused or confusing over the years.  Like Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras according to some historians began as pagan holidays turned Christian by the Roman Catholic Church. The early church was forced to adapt many ancient feasts and festivals, originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods, to Christian beliefs or else they feared that the church lose supporters.

Similarly, the origins of the Chinese New Year celebrations were born out of fear and legend. Fables spoke of the wild beast Nien (which also is the word for “year”) that appeared at the end of each year, attacking and killing villagers. Loud noises and bright lights were used to scare the beast away, and thus, Chinese New Year celebrations were born. Chinese New Year itself, like Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras has no specific historical starting point, however, like in the West, celebrating the dawn of a new year is a time to refresh and start anew.

A couple days ago, I watched an episode of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie on hulu.com (http://www.hulu.com/watch/85507/gourmets-diary-of-a-foodie-china—one-billion-foodies) called China – One Billion Foodies. This episode celebrated China, the world’s oldest continuing culture, lauding China’s food as integral to its culture and all its peoples. I think a quote from a Chinese journalist and food writer featured in the episode sums it up he told the following story,

“In the Sung dynasty, the second emperor asked one of his officials what is the finest foods in the world.  He replied, ‘There is no answer, good food is not only what is served to an emperor, it can be made in the poorest of homes. If it tastes delicious and gives you joy that is good food.’”

In reflecting on Valentines’ Day/love, Mardi Gras/”good times” and Chinese New Year/rebirth, this quote reminds me that it’s not how much someone has that determines how good, valuable or happy she is. It is in the making the best of it, whatever it is, that brings gladness.

Thus, this week’s very simple menu of hot and sweet red beans and rice, sweet and spicy brown stew chicken, fried plantains (more of a method than a recipe, in part, for my dear friend who’d called me about how to make these), savory corn bread salad and sunshine yellow lemon bars (made for my sweetie as a Valentine’s present) showcases that yummy food does not have to cost a fortune. A well-prepared meal, especially one made with/in love, can make one feel renewed, loved and be a celebration of good times. At least that was the sentiment around my dinner table this weekend when we shared this week’s menu.

Try it and let me know if your experience is the same!

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Brown Stew Chicken (Trini-style)

Red Beans and Rice

Fried Plantains

Corn Bread Salad

Lemon Bars (Quick and Easy)

Mother may have never been to New Orleans, but like the city, she too had French Creole roots. Born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, which France claimed as its own in 1635, Mother was at least one definition of French Creole, of French Caribbean ancestors. She also spoke a form of French Creole patois.

Much of what I’ve heard and read about the city of New Orleans reminds me of the Caribbean. New Orleans may have more in common with the French-speaking Caribbean but its connection to Trinidad, an English-speaking island is pretty clear too. From Mardi Gras like Trinidad Carnival (see photos on Family Photos page) to the prevalence of Catholicism, the large numbers of people of African descent, and its oil refining and petrochemical production (Trinidad is the largest oil producer in the Caribbean) New Orleans and Trinidad have much in common. It tickled me when I heard about the Saints chant, “Who Dat?”  In part because, that is exactly how Trinidadians pronounce the word “that” in Trini-speak, yet another way in which the island and the Louisiana are alike.

One of my Legal Department colleagues at work is from New Orleans, her best friend is married to a guy whose parents are from Trinidad and her in-laws as of last year are now living and working for an oil refinery in the southern part of the island. She seemingly embodies, thus, the links between the two places. But, it’s not only this relationship (my colleague’s or my own less personal connection) that led me to root for the New Orleans Saints in this year’s Super Bowl.

First off, let me share that I almost never watch football. Until last week Wednesday, I had no idea that the Super Bowl was on Sunday. But, once I heard that the Saints were in the Super Bowl, I felt compelled to watch the game and cheer for them. For one thing, New Orleans was not the favorite, having never won the NFL title, and nine times out of ten, I support the underdog. When I was a little girl, my favorite paternal uncle was the black sheep of the family. I remember being a teenager who risked being friendly with the new girl at our tight knit all-girls secondary school who everyone said smelled like pee. (She did have a rancid odor to her.) As a young adult, I think one of the reasons I was drawn to my now ex-husband is because I felt he was misunderstood. Without putting all his business out there, one example of this is that in his senior year of high school, he was kicked out of his house by his step-dad and lived out of his car.  Of course, his attendance at school was poor.  But, the teachers and school administration believed that he was just being lazy and careless. He failed out and had to repeat that year. The other reason I had to support the Saints was Hurricane Katrina, which brought to light the plight of the people of color and the poor in the city. The city needed a win. After all the catastrophe and devastation, some of which still plague the city and its environs, the city, heck the entire state, could use a pick me up, to put it mildly.

Plus, in my biased, selfish opinion, as a foodie Louisiana has better food than Indiana does. I’ve enjoyed a good seafood gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish boil. Not so much these days in cold New England but more so when I lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in Pensacola where I attended college at The University of West Florida. The spicy, hearty goodness of Louisiana Creole cuisine is most similar to that of Trinidad. Trinis do like it hot!

So, in celebration of my support of the New Orleans Saints this weekend, on Super Bowl Sunday I made a shrimp boil and corn bread. Bean dip, to my limited knowledge is what people eat when they watch football so I was glad to have had some left over from the day before (from the Mothers Who Create II show). Mine was made with edamame, basil and chives and people at the show commented on its fresh, clean taste.  It was the favorite of the hors d’oeuvres. The banana split cake I served was also left over from the day before. But, what’s a Creole celebration without cake. Or for that matter, what’s a Trinidadian party without cake. (A cake that by the way, won a Cake Off competition a year ago.)

To New Orleans, Louisiana, the Saints, all those who support the underdog, and everyone who tries to find connection to/with others, their culture or identities, through food I say,

“Laissez les bons temps rouler, avec gateau!”

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Bean Dip (Edamame)

New Orleans-Style Shrimp Boil

Vegan Banana Split Cake

Mothers Who Create Too

Mother may never have thought of herself as a culinary artist but, as I reflect on who she was, particularly in the kitchen, with food, she was the definition of artist. From dictionary.com, artist, n. a person whose work shows exceptional creative ability or skill: You are an artist in the kitchen.

I’ve observed that women, once they become mothers are generally unable or unwilling to conceive of themselves as anything more than mothers. Partially, this might be because, as I’ve noticed especially when the kids start attending school, everyone refers to you as so-and-so’s mom, rarely by your God-given name.

Next weekend I’m being featured in a show at an art gallery in Lynn, Massachusetts.  It’s called Mothers Who Create II and its being held and sponsored by The Little Gallery Under The Stairs (TLGUTS).  (See, http://www.tlguts.com/) This is TGLUTS’ second exhibition of artwork created by mothers, grandmothers, and maternal figures, displaying the works of over twenty artists. The gallery itself is owned and operated by a delightful mother of three, Jocelyn Almy-Testa. For this weekend’s opening reception, I am the culinary artist whose art gallery food fare those attending the opening will enjoy. I’m excited and nervous so wish me luck!

In reflecting on this upcoming weekend, I am aware of all that I’ve created in my life, from a now pre-teen child, to meals, to numerous makeshift hair thingies, and all manner of creative scheduling for all the needs of our household members (as of last week including Emily, our dog.)  All mothers know this. Our lives are so busy with creating for and fulfilling others’ needs that we can scarcely create room for our own artistic pursuits and ourselves. This busy-ness was a factor in how my culinary artistry developed.

Yes, there was Mother, and some familial, generational way that my culinary talent is hereditary. And, there is growing up in a family where we were poor and had to be creative with what we had. Plus, when I became an divorced mother who had to leave her overly demanding law firm six-figure position where I’d gotten used to catered meals and client-billed dinners at four- and five-star restaurants, I had to, upon leaving the big law firm, figure out how to please my daughter’s and my developed palate on my legal services salary.  Mashed into, layered on top of, or folded into this is how busy I am, how pulled in too many directions.

In the kitchen, then, I try to find ways to make good food, fast without too much fuss, much as I believe Mother may have had to do too. This week’s menu is very much a reflection of this approach. My weekend was jam packed with a “to do” list that still has an unchecked box next to laundry. (sigh) I had an appointment scheduled at the vet’s for Emily on Friday late afternoon, a needed dinner date with the boyfriend on Friday night, Saturday guitar lessons for Katraya in the morning, a party on Saturday night and a friend coming over for lunch on Sunday with the usual Sabbath obligation before that. Plus, I had a mountain of work from the office, for clients, that needed to at least be touched if not completed before the new workweek rolled around. I didn’t have time to do any special shopping for this week’s blog menu so I had to make do with what I had on hand. Because of the Sunday lunch plans with my friend and financially not being able to do dinner out on both Friday and Saturday, I had to be efficient with my cooking. So, I made some items for Saturday night dinner that would store and reheat well the next day. The fruit salad and the lentil loaves (from canned lentils) were just as yummy alongside Saturday’s dinner as they were for Sunday lunch. The mostly store bought jelly cups were, if I do say so myself, an innovative use of ingredients I usually have on hand. Feel free to do with them as you will, using whatever is in your kitchen and of course, write me and let me know how it goes!  I’ve mentioned before that I’m in a fish share so I always have whole fresh fish on hand. The green sauce I created to pour over the fish that I served on Saturday night was made from frozen veggies and can probably be mighty tasty atop other proteins like tofu and chicken.

The upshot of this week’s menu and thoughts, are that in the world of food, my cultural background and my identity as a mother have an effect on my culinary artistry. I think in U.S. culture we often think about artists as those who are wealthy enough to buy the products to make a fancy something for all to admire. But, artists can be borne from lived experience too. Artistry can rise up out of nothing as much as it can be molded from a lot. I would wager that lots of poor, working class people have had to be innovative with the little they were given to create whatever they can. To me, that is embodiment of an artist, making something from nothing using hard work and creativity.  Mother, as are most mothers, may have not have considered herself an artist. But now, through me her granddaughter, I am appropriating this, re-appropriating the word artist and putting back in its place, where it belongs, of, by, and for the people, the mothers.

To those of you here in Massachusetts, I hope to see you this weekend and share some of my culinary creations in Lynn at Mothers Who Create II!

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Broiled Fish with Okra and Green Peas Sauce

Lentil Loaf

Cucumber and Cantaloupe Salad

Jelly Sugar Cups

Mother may have liked to meet the newest member of our non-family, Emily our dog. (For photos, see Family Photos page) Mother too had a family dog of sorts.  What might be called in U.S. culture a yard dog.  His name was Tevelle.  He went to dog heaven a long time ago. I don’t know where Tevelle came from or how he came to be at Mother’s house. He might have been a rescue dog in a way, minus the red tape that usually comes with getting a rescue or shelter dog. Trust me, I should know. Notwithstanding the fact that the organization from which I adopted Emily, Boston Rescue Dog was the least exacting of the ones I encountered, the search for a pet dog was grueling, the trips from shelter to shelter, circling back to the same shelter at times, falling in love with dogs only to discover that the dog you so want to bring home has some grave physical issue like hip dysplasia, or psychological problems like stranger anxiety leading it to attack bystanders at random.

The process highlighted for me how much the adoption of a pet as well as the care of and concern for it is culturally determined. Tevelle was the family’s dog but the way in which they got him along with the facts that he lived outside, ate scraps and never, ever saw a vet was not in my experience atypical from other Trinidadian families.

My dad used to keep dogs for hunting – mostly hounds. Some of whom over the years he let me name and pretend that they were mine. In fact, I’ve been told that when I was about four-years-old, I composed a song, my first, about one of these dogs that had died,

“Poor Sparkle dead and gone. Leave me here to sing this song.”

It seems that despite the meta-culture around me, I cared about dogs differently. I didn’t see our four-legged friends as utilitarian, as my dad did for hunting or like others for home security, guard dogs, or as an animate object that you kept in the yard.

Emily has been with us for close to one week now. I’ve been identifying with her as if she’s a new child. I’ve been waking early to feed her and have my daughter walk her, sometimes hand feeding her when she refuses to eat her morning meal. (Yes, I know I need to stop doing this.) She has premium dog food that I mix with organic, plain yogurt. Emily my boyfriend has said half in jest, has taken his place in my priorities. Likewise, Emily bumped you, my readers too.  Sorry, for the lateness of this week’s post! 😦

Because of my dog adoption, and because we have started to run immigration legal clinics at the office, where several Haitian nationals have asked about adopting children of deceased family members, adoption and priorities in the immigration process, particularly for orphans of the Haitian earthquake has been on my mind.

In reflecting on the challenges and joys of incorporating Emily into our non-family, a term I coined to help my daughter deal with the challenges of navigating two families/households – her father’s and mine.  I call our home a non-family because I think it helps her keep it light as she is given the time and space to settle into whatever/however she might want to conceive of us. Much like I think happens in families where there are adopted members- quadrupeds or others like children, she and the family needs time to adjust to the change.

Thus, the recipes in this week’s menu alters of some of my childhood faves because as I think about our adopting Emily I’m moved to also reflect on those adopting or who will adopt orphaned Haitian children, and in thinking about children, my own childhood and that of my daughter. My childhood love of dogs, and the issue/process of adoption, thus, comes together in this week’s meal and musings on food, culture and identity.

I used to love corned beef and macaroni. When I was a little girl, this was a dish that I’d ask for regularly. The stuffed shells recipe, with corned beef, is meant, then, to take my old, childhood favorite and in the words of famous chef Emeril Lagasse, “kick it up a notch.” My beau and daughter found the sauce especially tasty, sopping it up with the herbaceous breadsticks after devouring the pasta. Bugs Bunny was my favorite cartoon character, so I had a fondness for raw carrots. The carrot side dish pays homage to this memory. In Trinidad, I’d purchase from street vendors a scoop of shaved ice in a paper cone, with flavored syrup and condensed milk poured over it. We called it Sno-Cone. It’s similar to the Italian ice with which U.S. children may be familiar. The coffee granita I served for dessert is a grown-up version of Sno-Cone, served with peanut butter cookies because peanut butter was yet another snack food favorite of little me. I’d scoop out spoonfuls at a time, licking it off the spoon like a lollipop.

While I can never be certain about where Mother may have stood on adoption or if she and I would fully see eye to eye on how to love and care for animals, Mother may have agreed that we, humans, have a duty to care for each and be good stewards of the planet (people, animals and fauna) that has been given to us.

To that end, even though Emily can’t read this, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Emily as a welcome, loved member of our non-family. May we be blessed by her presence and may her life be enriched because we chose to take her in.

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Stuffed Shells Reuben

Carrot Coins in Fennel Infused Brown Butter

Twisty Breadsticks

Coffee Granita

Peanut Butter Cookies (Made Easy)




Mother may have been the color of a café latte but her kids, grandchildren and great grandchildren are of various other colors too.  From so light that they could “pass” (for White that is) to my mom who was the darkest of Mother’s female children, which led to her being teased and ostracized by her brothers and sisters,

“Black Zing fly away come again another day.” They’d taunt her when they didn’t want to include her in their group play.

Last week I wrote about color, as in paints, fabrics and rainbows.  This week I’d like to write about color of skin, in part because of certain comments made by Senator Harry Reid about President Obama but also in light of the catastrophe in Haiti.

My most personal connection to Haiti is that, whom I like to call my First Artist Boyfriend, is Haitian (let’s call him Fab for short.) We dated when I was a junior in high school after being good friends for a year or so. As adolescent relationships go, it was an okay one for two sixteen year old immigrants from the Caribbean.  He with his constant need to fit in leading him to skip school regularly with his Haitian friends and me doing everything in my power to shed my accent and learn the all-American ways of the most popular kids at school, most of whom were White. We shared a struggle, then, but dealt with it very differently.

One thing we did understand similarly was the role that color of skin played in both our home cultures (when I say home culture I mean both the islands where we were born and our families.) I remember us talking about skin color classification on more than one occasion. He was light-skinned with freckles, looked like an octoroon. But he didn’t qualify as such by the historical categorization of that term. He was more than one-eighth black since both his parents were half-black. In any event, the numbers aren’t necessarily important. What I think is more telling is a conversation that Fab and I had back when we were “just friends”. He told me about another girl who he had dated briefly – a beautiful milk chocolate brown Haitian who he liked a lot. His father admonished him for seeing her, citing specifically her complexion as the grounds for Fab not continuing to see her. It was one of the reasons his father took to me, my golden brown skin tone.

Interestingly, when I was crowned Homecoming Queen in high school, a friend (Caucasian) offered to be my date. When his father found out I was a black girl he refused to give him any money to take me. My brownness, then, no free pass for being white enough as it was with Fab’s father.

This week as I’ve watched the news about Haiti, listened to some of the reporting and reflected on the state of the country – the colonized world’s first black republic – it is hard for me to view the crisis and not think about skin color (and race too, as it’s often bound up with color) especially given the language used in the news media as well as some of the comments made by certain prominent Christian preachers allegedly speaking on God’s behalf. (For a good article covering race and recent journalism on Haiti see, http://racerelations.about.com/b/2010/01/17/haiti-earthquake-coverage-falls-short.htm)

But, getting back to Senator Reid and his comments, in my experience, skin color is much more complex than Senator Reid miscommunicated in his poor choice of words. Skin color is more than what we see on outside of a human being’s epidermis. It’s an amalgamation of history (personal and societal), nationality, present cultural understanding (or the lack thereof), personal identification and others’ identification (sometimes misidentification) of you.

This week’s menu in all its colorful glory is intended to capture this complexity; from the rich, mixed chocolate molten cupcakes (Shout out: Happy (belated) Birthday to my friend for whom I made these!) to the glossy, lip-smacking pink strawberry vegan cake, the fall foliage colored quiche and the crimson pomegranate dressing on the salad, I hope to showcase using my usual canvas, food, that when we think about color and people, it is truly as multifaceted as the colors of the dishes on this week’s menu. And, like the food was, all good!

To my Haitian brothers and sisters, my prayers and thoughts are with you. I think this is an appropriate Kreyol saying properly written and quoted I hope, “Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” Little by little the bird builds its nest so too, shall Haiti be rebuilt.  Mother would have said the same; somehow, even without her being here on the ground with us, I know that to be true.

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Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Quiche with Fennel and Onions

Chopped Romaine, Fennel and Apple Salad with Pomegranate Orange Dressing

Molten Chocolate Cupcakes

Vegan Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Frosting

I heard this on the radio this morning and it led me to reflect more deeply on my post this week.  It’s not about color in fabric or paint but about skin color/tone and race.  I may have to do a follow-on post next week…

Take a listen and let me know your thoughts:

http://www.thetakeaway.org/media/player/mplayer.html?file=/xspf/2010/jan/12/shades-blackness-skin-tone-matters/&autoPlay=true

Mother may have had a favorite color. I think it was blue, or, maybe it was yellow, the same as mine. I wish I knew or remembered but I don’t. I do recall that she was choosy about what she wore. If the housedresses my mom bought her were too loud or too frumpy (in color or otherwise) she’d politely receive them, then bury them. When she passed away, my mom and her sisters rummaged through her closet, where they found new dresses folded between worn ones, hidden among old photographs, newspaper clippings and government issued documents. Piles of paper and fabric, remnants of a life fully lived, secreted away in her large, heavy mahogany wardrobe.

My clothing wardrobe consists of many bright colors. Yellow is my favorite (as I mentioned above) like the stripes on the buses of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) buses, wrapped around the perimeter of the vehicles as they transport travelers to their destinations. Recently, I’ve developed a penchant for purple. I got an indigo coat on sale at Target, two dresses at a fantastic boutique in Brooklyn that was going out of business – one casual with long sleeves with rose pink color blocking strips, forming a diamond shape, to whittle the waist and de-emphasize my hips. The other much more risqué – a ruched, shimmering violet dress with a jeweled appliqué that meets right at the bosom and highlights it – very sexy. I can probably only wear it on a Friday or Saturday evening if I go out dancing.

In clothing color and in other ways, navigating my professional and personal selves can feel like an awkward dance, a back and forth between partners who kind of know each other but are still quite different. Last week on my way out of the office my supervisor, the General Counsel commented on what I was wearing, which was my Target coat with striped, multicolored mittens.  I was also carrying my fuchsia purse, which I had just bought compliments of a Christmas gift card from my mom.

My boss said, “You know you’re an attorney, right? What’s up with all this color?” I don’t think that she intended to be rude. She and I have a good relationship – much less hierarchical or formal than most supervisory relationships. We rib each other a lot.

But, her comment got me thinking about color. The role of color in how one constructs one’s identity, especially as it relates to what one may or may not choose to wear as well as the part color plays in culture.

I come from a country where vibrant color, in about every way you can understand those terms, is a way of life, very much in that clichéd way that the Caribbean is portrayed on postcards and in travelogues. Carnival costumes are one example of this. When I was a child, my mom, a schoolteacher wore tasteful, tailored suits (it was cheaper to do it that way in Trinidad) of hot pink, Kelley green, robin’s egg blue, and all kinds of floral prints. From looking at my mom, then, I learned that being professional and sporting colorful work gear are not mutually exclusive.

I know that I don’t, as my Irish-American supervisor pointed out, see other lawyers dressed as I am but really, I don’t want to be like other lawyers (not only in the sense of clothing but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Color is all around us and like food is a matter of taste, which is of course directly correlated with the meta-culture in which we live and who each person believes s/he is individually. Color can be what we use to identify with a certain group or not. I had a conversation a couple years ago with a Korean-American friend who felt ashamed that she’d painted her living room a shade of peach when her Caucasian friends from her suburban neighborhood came over. She was worried, she said that the color made her seem juvenile, which I think was code for, “I feel like I’m being judged for this paint choice.”

Color in our wall paint or otherwise can be an expression of who we are and I believe it’s important for all of us to make peace with what we like, whether that’s pink, aquamarine and sunshine yellow, or navy blue, beige and grey, or some combination of those two ranges on the color wheel. “Doing,” as Randy Jackson is known to say on American Idol, “our thing dog!”

In this week’s menu, I’ve gone in the opposite direction as far as the color palate to which I’m usually drawn. The menu is composed primarily of pale and dark colored foods, delicious all the same. Proving at least in the world of food on this post, this week that good food is good food, regardless of its hue. My daughter who is not a big fan of any salad dressing that’s not white and creamy like ranch, ate her salad first even though the caramelized onion vinaigrette, as you may imagine, was the furthest thing from cream or white in color.

Mother may have agreed that even though we eat with our eyes first, we taste with our mouths and how it’s prepared and seasoned is much more important than whether the food spans the color spectrum. Reminds me of that tired cliche, it’s what on the inside that counts. There’s a Trinidadian saying that people deliver when they have enjoyed a meal, they say to the cook,

“You have sweet hand” meaning (an urban translation) that the cook “can throw down in the kitchen!”  My mom said this to me for the first time a few months ago when she came to visit.  Of Mother, I am confident that people said the same.

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Potato Soup with Fish Stock Base

Beet and Celery Salad with Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette

Shrimp and Cheese Biscuits

Gingerbread Squares with Creamy Lemon Glaze

Hello Readers,

Please vote for my black-eyed peas and rice entry at the following:

http://www.leftoverqueen.com/forum/index.php/topic,1535.0.html

The recipe and its formal title are posted on my blog as well at:

https://kkhart0414.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=746

Thank you!

With a Little Help…

Mother may have had a patisah, as she used to say in patois, which I think strictly translated means having a bias. But, Mother used the word to mean a close companion, or a best friend. My older aunts may know who Mother’s patisah was. But, getting this kind of information out of them is like trying to de-seed a strawberry.

So, I’m left to wonder what Mother’s best friend was like, if she had one. Was she a woman like Mother with kids in the double digits? Was Mother’s best friend from Dominica? Did Mother, like me, have a best friend who was different from her as far as the typical identity markers?

This weekend was my best friend’s (for anonymity’s sake, let’s call him Calvin) birthday. I gave him food presents and prepared an appetizer for his birthday party. The recipes are in the menu below.  But, before we get to the eats, I want to muse out loud, on paper about friendship, about how it has evolved culturally and the role that friends, best friends and close friends have played in shaping who I am.

As my mom and Mother used to say, “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”

In the last few years, I’ve had several difficult conversations with my daughter about friends and friendships. She has had a deep longing for a best friend, like a patisah in both Mother’s and the strict definition of that word, someone who’d be partial to her, favor her. She doesn’t yet have a best friend, which can (depending on her mood/hormones – she is twelve after all) cause her much anxiety and pain. When she is at her lowest about this, all I can do is comfort her when she cries, later sharing with her that my own best friend journey has never been a smooth one, that I’ve had several very close friends and my best friend today comes the closest to being the kind of friend I’ve always wanted. (No offense to former friends with whom I had wonderful relationships.)  There are at least two ways in which my friendship today differs from those I’d had in the past. One difference is the level of honesty. Not brutal but gentle honesty, caring enough to deliver our truth in a way that challenges the other person but doesn’t hurt his feelings. And, we spend the face-to-face time it takes to invest in another person’s growth.

Sometimes I wonder if friendships like ours will be extinct in the evolving culture of Facebook and text messaging. In the future, will my daughter and her peers build friendships over chat abbreviations and email? Is her current grief about not having a best friend a symptom of a larger issue – one that calls into question our ability to bond with each other, truly connect because of technology?

But, when I think more deeply about the issue, I realize that maybe technology is only a part of the challenge. For me, pre-IM’ing, friendships have historically been challenging, both building and maintaining them. I remember my best friend when I was nine-years-old, I’ll call her Celia. Often, found huddled together, whispering in each other’s ears, swapping secrets, she and I in our matching uniforms, green apron overalls with white, short-sleeved button-down shirts, our bond as thick as the sweltering heat rising from the asphalt paved play yard.  I don’t remember what happened but one day she just cast me aside, deciding to befriend another girl.  I was not welcome to be friends with the two of them. They made that abundantly clear by shunning me and spreading lies about me to the other girls.

More recently, four years ago, I had a close friend (let’s call her Susan) who burned me similarly in that out of nowhere she stopped talking to me altogether while I was in the throes of my divorce. A friend with whom my daughter and I often spent weekends, cooking up fried rice and steamed lobster with her boyfriend and on weekdays would vent about our jobs over lunch at least four times a week. One afternoon, after what I’d consider a mild disagreement over the telephone, Susan never spoke to me again.

Naturally, Calvin and I have had disagreements in the almost ten years we’ve known each other. But, always we’ve been committed to talking through it to each other’s satisfaction, if not coming to a resolution, agreeing to disagree. A fight no real threat to our continued relationship.

What creates the capacity for this kind of friendship? As I was speculating previously, the larger culture has something to do with it. Another piece has to be who I am and who Calvin is either as a reaction to or against social constructions outside of us.  Calvin and my differences based on typical identity markers don’t matter all that much – that he’s a guy, I’m a woman, he’s White, I’m not, he went to The Roxbury Latin School and I to public school. As far as I can tell, there’s one essential seasoning to our friendship and that’s help. Friendships are one part being there for each other, to helping one another with a heaping dollop of having the desire to help others as a core individual ethic. (Calvin and I are both in helping professions: he’s a teacher and my domestic relations representation is exclusively on behalf of HIV+ clients.)

This week’s menu embodies friendship in this way in that readymade grocery store products helped me make them. I took a little help from the store, as Rachel Ray is known to say. Plus, in the spirit of friendship, I shared them with Calvin and his friends at a birthday party he threw, and gave some of them to him as presents. The drink, Ponche de Crème was a kind of cultural gift – it being a traditional Trinidadian cocktail (mostly enjoyed during the Christmas season) given to friends, acquaintances, neighbors and strangers, who to Trinidadians are merely those who have not yet been become friends.

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Argentinian-Style “Tacos” (Steak Strips, Fry Bread, and Chimichurri Sauce)

Biscotti with Orange and Nuts

Ponche de Crème (also known as Punch-a-Cream)


Happy New Year: To Light!

Mother may have said,  “What in the darkness must come to light!”  A Trinidadian saying about things that are eventually uncovered, despite efforts to keep them hidden.

I know my mom said this many times during my adolescence when she suspected I was keeping something from her. Of course, I concealed things from her; I was a teenager so naturally there was stuff I didn’t want my mom to know. Plus, I had much to hide about my family and life at home, generally. Until now, I have kept some of these things secret from you, my readers, but in 2010, I intend to come out about most if not all of them.

Christmas this year, I visited my first and second cousins in New York. I grew up with these first cousins who lived at Mother’s home. My second cousins, their children are all under six. Being with them gave me an opportunity to observe and reflect on the all-too-human desire to be open, to know and be known. For each of them, it was important to be seen as the special little beings they are. Adults too, want similar recognition, that’s one of the reasons I write this blog and enter cooking/writing contests. Wanting their otherwise buried talents to become visible to and credited by others, escaping the fear of being powerful, as author and renowned speaker Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Culturally, in the macro- and micro- sense, meaning outside our homes and inside our families, we are sometimes encouraged to let our light shine, while at other times we’re discouraged from doing so. With my second cousins, two of whom are sisters eighteen months apart, I observed that the older one got much praise because she was eloquent, cerebral and a natural performer, engaging the adults with her charm. Her younger sister was much more emotional, sensitive and less verbal, for which she was scolded. But, another approach could have been to praise her for being in touch with her feelings and expressing herself in a way that her sister didn’t.

Reminded me of one of my sisters (the one three years my junior) and me. I was the one who received many accolades for being me while my sister went mostly unseen.  She was creative, shy and perceptive, able to sense the world and people around her, skills that went unnoticed both at home and at the accomplishment/grade-focused, all-girls Catholic schools we attended. A few years ago, this sister was diagnosed as bipolar and has been in and out of mental health/rehabilitation institutions ever since. My mom is not proud of this fact but, when I reflect on it, my sister admits herself when she feels unstable so another way to view this is to praise her for taking good care of herself by using the institution as an asylum, which by definition is a retreat or safe haven.

The menu I prepared this week to ring in a new year contains at least one dish that Mother may have prepared for New Year’s black-eyed peas and rice. I made it my own partially because I wanted to enter a cooking contest (http://www.foodieblogroll.com/royalfoodiejoust) for which the ingredients that had to be used are champagne, mushrooms and oranges. I challenged myself even more by using all the ingredients in my salad and main courses, and two of the three (oranges and champagne) in my dessert course. Having tried and failed in the past to replicate Mother’s black-eyed peas, I also wanted to see if I could make peas that I’d like as much as Mother’s and I did.  Well, truth be told I liked it nearly as much.  No one can beat Mother’s black-eyed peas, as we say in Trinidad, “in my book, that’s how it is.”

In creating this week’s recipes, I discovered that champagne, mushrooms and oranges are ingredients that are so light in flavor that they can sometimes get lost in a dish. To bring them out, in keeping with what I’ve written above about my little sibling cousins and my sister, I had to use multiple techniques, sometimes using them to perfume the dish as with the rice and the pudding, at other times more boldly flavoring with them, as I did with the chicken. Either way, they tasted delicious!

I also visited the Museum Of Modern Art (MOMA) while I was in New York. There I saw a piece by artist Glenn Ligon, whose work has been acquired by President Obama. Untitled (Stranger in the Village/Hands # 1, see image below, not the piece that the Obamas purchased) considers the failure of words to communicate about race and identity.

To some extent I agree with Ligon, thus, this blog uses food to help us understand culture and identity bringing to light what may be dark to us or to others. In 2010, I promise to continue to write even more deeply and fully about food, culture and identity bringing to light what might otherwise be in the dark recesses of your past and mine, highlighting what is alive and present to you and to me today, thereby forecasting our individual and collective futures.

MENU

Mushroom Mixed Greens Salad with Orange Champagne Vinaigrette

Chicken Breast Roasted with Oranges and Mushrooms

Black Eyed Peas with Orange and Spice-Infused Rice

Quinoa Pudding with Orange Infusion and Chocolate Cinnamon Topping


Mother may have been one of the most joy-filled people on the planet, quick to see a bad situation through rose-colored glasses she was uniquely able to manage the many challenges that come with a super-size family in a developing country. But, even Mother had days, particularly when her husband passed away, when I was told by those closest to her at the time (circa 2001) her spirits were low. Likewise, the holiday season contains a similar mix. It brings with it expectations of rejoicing but, as many know all too well, feelings like sadness and loneliness can be equally as present. Let me suggest that if food is not a loaded, emotional or psychological issue (e.g., eating disorders) it can be a powerful tool in combating these holiday blues.

Today, particularly as the culture of the workplace becomes more demanding, there is less and less time devoted to eating and preparing a good meal. For me, good eats equals a happier me and crafting a meal (as I’ve blogged before) is a creative venture. So, that’s one way I’ve worked through icky feelings.

When I first moved to the U.S. from Trinidad, I was super-depressed, probably clinically depressed, if we’d had the money for mental healthcare I may have been so diagnosed. The American kids at school made fun of me because they said I talked funny. And, because I was a good student, the teachers were fond of me, endearing me even more to my peers (NOT!) Every day after school for at least the first semester of the 10th grade, I’d come home and cry into my pillow until dinnertime.

We didn’t have much back then.  Well, that’s an understatement. My mom worked three jobs that brought in maybe $250 a week. Not enough (by a long shot) in the 90s for the breadwinner of a family of four with no outside means of support – not even public assistance. Nonetheless, I looked forward to my mom’s rice and beans with chicken if we could afford it, followed by a Pop Tart, my new favorite food addiction. Or sometimes she’d make a box of macaroni and cheese, which was comforting even if not entirely familiar.

Both Trinidad and the U.S. are over-commercialized, which is most evident around the holidays. (A Trini- friend’s Facebook message bemoaned the traffic jams in the streets and throngs of shoppers at the malls last weekend.) With increased societal emphasis on buying things and doing stuff come unrealistic expectations of individuals to meet these demands during the holidays, which can worsen individuals’ moods.  But, each person has the power to change this by identifying (if s/he can) less with societal expectations. A bumper sticker on my car says it best.  It reads, “Regime Change Begins at Home.”

That being said, the offerings on this week’s menu are sure to not only please the palate but lift mood as well. There’s fish recipe, and if nutritional science is to be believed (see, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20060303/in-bad-mood-eat-your-fish) eating fish should help mental outlook. And, because it’s sweet it tastes like you’re eating dessert for dinner. Who couldn’t love that? The color of the green rice side dish alone is calming – green is soothing, like nature in the spring or summer. Plus, the dish comes with a ringing endorsement from my meat-adoring BF who as he was devouring the fish and rice said,

“Wow, I really like this rice.  What’s in it?”

I know that fruitcake has gotten some bad press. But, this one filled with antioxidant-filled blueberries and mangoes, and Vitamin C packed strawberries is one for the books if I do say so myself. Try it, write to me and let me know if it dispels those naughty fruitcake myths floating about.

No matter what spirits you’re in this holiday season, and maybe I’m biased because I love food and write this blog, but to me food rules! So, I encourage you to eat up and eat well! While you’re at it (at the grocery store, that is, shopping for all the awesome food) to make your holidays even less stressful I’ve come up with some last-minute food gift ideas that will not only bowl over the giftees on your list but leave you with money in your pocket for some yummies of your own.

If you’re shopping for presents other than food, feel free to pick up a little something for yourself.  Maybe Michael Pollan’s hot-off-the-press book (I saw it at Borders) Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual – a set of simple, memorable rules for wise, healthy eating (http://www.michaelpollan.com/).  Because after all isn’t giving to ourselves the best thing we can do to feel better when we’re down?

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Sweet and Sour Fish (Trini-style)

Petit Peas and Basil Rice

Not Mother’s Fruit Cake


BONUS: Last-Minute Gift Ideas

(write me at mothermayhave@gmail.com for details)

1) Orange Shortbread Cookies and Brownies

(because orange and chocolate just go together)

2) Apple Loaf Mix and Mulled Wine

(snowy day mix)

3) Easy Pasta with Leftover Veggies and Fruity Pastry Pockets

(for those nights when dinner can’t be a production)

I was listening to a sermon in church a few weeks ago where the pastor, a Chinese-American woman spoke in part about the role that pork (dumplings, in particular) played in her childhood memories of Christmas.  Since I live with a Muslim who doesn’t eat pig I rarely cook pork. And, if/when I do I either get scolded if he’s at home or can smell it if he’s been away.  But, if he’s out of the country or when I’m at a restaurant without him I take full advantage of filling up my pork deficit.

Pork (ham to be specific) is a staple in Trinidadian Christmas and like it is for my Chinese-American pastor, a part of my childhood memories.  Mother often prepared a big smoked ham, simply rubbed with brown sugar and served for breakfast on bread, lunch and dinner alongside other Trini-Christmas good eats.  Sadly, then, since my Muslim beau will not be away this Christmas I will not be preparing any.  So, I am inviting one of you to cook up some pork, write about it, and in the spirit of this blog generally, tailor your entry so that it’s about food, culture and identity in some way.

For your amusement/inspiration, the below are the lyrics and a link to a classic Trinidadian tune (from the parang genre – basically Spanish-influenced Trini-music) often sung all over the island at Christmas time.

I look forward to hearing from you! Contest entries should be sent to mothermayhave@gmail.com by Sunday December 27, 2009. Winner gets a check payable to him/her for $100!

Piece Of Pork – by Scrunter

I done start to prepare cause I know the time is near
I feel a change of climate moving through the atmosphere
Christmas season come parang groups get in the line
I hope Santa bring me exactly what I have in mind.

Chorus
I want a piece ah pork (3)
For meh Christmas
I don’t want no manicou
You could keep the callaloo
Ah want a piece ah pork
For meh Christmas

If you doh have it in stew ah piece of ham will do
Yuh could put it in pastel ah eating that as well
Ah reach in Toronto ah pass through Mexico
Doh care wherever ah go one ting ah want yuh know

Chorus
Ah put in meh order early cause ah doh wah get leave out
When ah drinking meh babash ah want pork meat down meh mouth
Yuh have a purse buy the case, yuh could bring rum by the keg
All that will go to waste once I get meh pig leg

http://www.westindiantube.com/videos/2151/scrunter-want-ah-piece-ah-pork-parang.html

What’s Traditional?

Mother may have thought that she was traditional. She was an at-home mother of sixteen whose work was caring for her family and home. But, when Mother’s children were all grown, she opened her own convenience store business – that’s anything but traditional for women from her generation especially in Trinidad. Reflecting on myself, I see that I like Mother have blended the traditional with the nontraditional. In one season of my life, I was a mom who worked exclusively inside my home, caring for my toddler daughter and then-husband, in another I’m an attorney, divorced with a twelve-year-old, finding a way to work my love for food and writing into what I do because it feels like who I am too.

This weekend I saw Disney’s newest animated film, The Princess and the Frog (http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/princessandthefrog/), which blended new characters, an old theme, with traditional hand-drawn animation. It’s the first Disney animated film to feature an African-American woman (Tiana), from a working poor family, who’s working hard to save for her own restaurant in part to honor her deceased father’s dream. She first turns into a frog, before becoming a princess, after kissing a prince-turned-frog who has been cut-off financially from his family because of his lazy, lady-chasing ways.

As you may have guessed, if you’ve been following this blog, I identified with Tiana’s character in many ways. Like Tiana, much of my work ethic was instilled when I was a child, but unlike her, I didn’t learn from watching my father, who was in- and out- (mostly out-) of work. My mom was and continues to be the breadwinner in my family, going from below minimum wage nanny/maid to six-figure earning nurse. From mom, I learned that realizing a dream is about doing everything in your power to achieve it. One thing she rarely mentioned was the role that fun and rest play. Enter (in The Princess and the Frog) Prince Naveen who encourages Tiana to dance. Reminding her that even in pursuing her dreams, she shouldn’t forget what’s important, that life is too short not to do things that bring joy.

Speaking of joy, this weekend was Christmas in our house. Our new family tradition since my divorce is that in those years when, as we’ve agreed, my daughter’s father has her for Christmas vacation, we celebrate on a different weekend in December. We eat (lots as you’ll see from this week’s menu below) we go see Urban Nutcracker (http://balletrox.org/urbannutcracker/) a nontraditional take on the time-honored ballet and we do the conventional present exchange under a Christmas tree. Thus, in our home like in Disney’s newest princess movie, the nontraditional and the traditional are melded together.

Culturally, outside of our house, there seems to be trend away from solely defining traditional as what has been done in the past by one’s grandparents (no offense Mother). The traditional is now, not only what’s historic or custom, it’s also what you do that you or family will remember, regardless of whether you did it just once or year after year. Because of this, traditions today are less about obligation and more about creating quality memories. And, I being in a non-nuclear, multi-cultural, multi-national, cross-faith home/family appreciates this tradition-in-transition trend!

Let me walk you through the extensive (not-traditional-to-me) menu I have laid out below as well as offer you some ideas (not requirements) for serving the dishes that were part of our Christmas celebration. On Friday night, when as the Christmas song lyrics do, “the weather outside was frightful,” it was below freezing (somewhere near 5 degrees Fahrenheit without factoring in the wind chill factor) we ate the soup and cornbread schmeared with the chestnut butter. (And, my daughter said that I also need to let my readers know about the drink recipe for the kiddie cocktail we had with Friday dinner. She added fresh lemons, limes, and their juice to store bought fruit punch, which made it taste like the all drink’s fruits had been fresh squeezed.)

On Saturday, we had a brunch spread of goat cheese brie, roasted nuts, the pate, candied kumquats, fresh fruit, grape tomatoes, lemon wedges and the rest of the chestnut butter.  I toasted some day old brioche, cut into triangles, which we used to create our own little plates.  I liked, for the savory option, topping my toast point with the pate and a piece of cheese, with a couple of the kumquats, tomatoes and lemon wedge on the side; for the sweet, a bit of the chestnut butter with some roasted nuts was divine!  I think these dishes can also be served as hors d’œuvres.

Dinner on Saturday night was steak, potatoes, and beans done different, followed by a blueberry sorbet that was delectable on its own, or for a creamier option that tastes like a blueberry pie a la mode, serve one scoop of the sorbet with an equal part of vanilla ice cream.

I look forward to hearing from you (via post or email) about your own holiday traditions (stay tuned for a Mother May Have contest opportunity), and if you decide to incorporate some of mine, as we say in Trinidad, “better fête” loosely translated, good times!

MENU

Chicken Gizzard and Corn Chowder

Chestnut Honey Butter

Candied Kumquats

Chicken Liver Pate

Espresso Encrusted Filet Mignon

Buttered Wax Beans

Herbaceous Mashed Potatoes

Blueberry Sorbet

ARE THE KIDS REALLY TO BLAME?

Author: Anonymous (approx. 1969-71)

We read in the paper and hear on the air
Of killing and stealing and crime everywhere;
We sigh and we say, as we notice the trend,
This young generation…where will it all end?
But can we be sure that it’s their fault alone?

That maybe a part of it isn’t our own?

Too much money

Too much idle time
Too many movies of passion and crime
Too many books not fit to be read
Too much evil in what they hear said
Too many kids encouraged to roam
Too many parents who don’t stay at home

Youth don’t make the movies

They don’t write the books;
They don’t paint the pictures of gangsters and crooks.
They don’t make the liquor

They don’t run the bars
They don’t make the laws and they don’t sell the cars.
They don’t peddle the drugs that addle the brain,
That’s all done by older folks, greedy for gain!

“Delinquent teenagers!”

Oh, how we condemn the sins of the nation and blame it on them.

For by the laws of the blameless, the Savior made known, who is there among us to cast the first stone?
For in so many cases, it’s sad but it’s true…
The title, “delinquents” fits older folks, too!

Mother may have been proud of me when I recited the poem above for the second round of competition on a nationally televised children’s talent show in Trinidad, 12 & Under. Or not, she like most Trinidadian adults may have thought me out of place for challenging adults.

In my day job, as a lawyer, most of my practice is domestic relations – divorces, annulments, child custody/visitation, guardianships and the like. I don’t represent children directly but I often advocate for their interests, which frustrates me. I worry that no matter how much I try to secure what (as the legal standard states) is in their best interests, that without their actual voice being heard, I am somehow complicit in perpetuating their oppression.

Children, like people of color, the disabled, and others similarly disempowered because of societal mores, are left out of majority culture. Their concerns silenced, their culture: sub-, beneath and, therefore, not as elevated as those who are perceived as more valuable.

When I was a child, I felt this pretty strongly. In part because of, as I mentioned above, Trinidadian culture. Another reason why I felt this way was less societal and had more to do with me individually. I was what one might call gifted and talented. In class rankings, I was routinely in first place. I was always cast as the lead in school plays and my peers year after year voted me class prefect, the equivalent, as you may have guessed of class president in the U.S. (I don’t share this to be boastful, but merely to describe a formative part of my childhood identity.) Plus, as the oldest child in my family, where my mom was being beaten by my father, and with them separating for significant periods, I shouldered a lot of responsibility at a young age.

For example, in one of my earliest memories, I am maybe four years old stooped down next to my mom, who is seated cross-legged on the floor, my arms are draped over her shoulder.  Mom’s cheeks are wet and smell like freshly fallen rain on asphalt.

I remember comforting her saying, “Don’t cry Mummy.  Everything will be alright.”

My mom was weeping because my dad had beaten her. I don’t remember any details of their fight, only that she was sad and that I consoled her. (Again, I don’t share this story to make people feel sorry for me.) It’s a powerful example, I think, of how children are disempowered by virtue of being less than grown-ups, subject to the environment adults around them create, while also being powerful in their own way by making sense of and growing up in a world over which they have little or no control, a miracle of sorts.

Reminds me of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. The Jews cleaned and repaired a temple that had been destroyed during the fighting, and when they were finished, they decided to have a dedication celebration, lighting a menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, eventually locating a flask that actually contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.

This week’s menu celebrates this miracle by offering several dishes cooked with or in oil. It’s also a kid-friendly menu but not one that children may be entirely familiar with, taking foods that kids usually love like fried chicken, potatoes, sweets and applesauce and giving them a twist. Because, while I believe that kids have a right to be heard as children, it’s our responsibility as adults to broaden what they can speak about; so that in the future, their grown-up voices can be as diverse and inclusive as possible.

To my Jewish friends beginning their celebrations later this week:

Happy Hanukkah!

MENU

Oven Fried Onion Chicken

Tempura Fried Okra

Root Vegetable Latkes

Wax Bean Salad with Apple Sauce Dressing

Guava Pie

The Mother of Reinvention

Mother may have been a master of reinvention.  She probably reinvented meals to stretch her food budget, handed down clothing from one child to another, and turned all kinds of items into others. My mom, for example, remembers that she wore the same white dress to church every day on Sundays, a dress that may have been made from curtains.

In last week’s post, I wrote that my daughter, boyfriend and I planned to volunteer to be with a senior citizen on Thanksgiving. We did; through an organization called Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly – http://boston.littlebrothers.org. The woman we met, I’ll call her Bethany, spent most of her seventy-four years on the planet reinventing herself. She was a housekeeper, nanny, laundress, and a childcare provider. She’d always wanted to be a missionary but never had the opportunity to do so. Yet I got the sense that this unrealized dream had not caused her to think any less of her life. She embodied joy and contentment.

I am a lawyer by training. I went to Harvard Law School. Prior to law school, I worked as a bartender, server, restaurant staff trainer, housekeeper, babysitter and afterschool teacher. Today, in addition to practicing law and (as you undoubtedly know) being an avid cook who muses about culture, identity and its connection to food, I’m a diversity consultant, and a member of a law school’s faculty. Like Bethany, I have worn many hats career-wise. Personally, there’ve been many transitions too from a single young woman, to a married woman (at nineteen), to a married mom, a single/divorced mom, from a foreign national, to a resident alien to a citizen of the U.S. In thinking about those transitions, I’m reminded of the old adage that the only thing constant in life is change.

Reinventions may sometimes seem unsettling because their very nature, leaving the old for the new, they create uncertainty. However, they also provide an opportunity to capitalize on what came before and maybe even to become something or someone better, more suited to your authentic self. Not everyone gets to do this so, to me, reinventions are blessings. Although, I am also mindful that, as I heard someone once say, reinvention can seem like an a.f.g.o. – another f&%$ing golden opportunity.

We recently went through both here in Massachusetts in the Governor’s race and nationally in the Presidential campaigns, elections that showed that change was what the people needed. Through casting their votes, U.S. citizens expressed their need to leave the old behind, retire tired ways of doing politics, remove the previous, ruling political party, and some may say get rid of the old, White ways in the form of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, here in Massachusetts. Change and reinvention, then, often proceed from similar catalysts necessity.

After Thanksgiving, you may be motivated similarly, to transform our old food into something new – to have turkey but in some more creative way than in a sandwich, a pumpkin dessert that’s not pie, to use up our left over fresh vegetables before they go bad.  This week’s menu, thus, give readers delightful, delicious reinventions but not all the recipes are ones that I invented. Purposefully so, because as I’m sure you’ve heard said before, it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Mother, with the demands on her time, coupled with the fact that she would’ve had to be inventive with the little that she had, may have agreed.

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Turkey Patties

Vegetable Curry with Paratha Roti (Trinidad Style)

Pumpkin Date Cookies[1]

 

 


[1] From: Cookies! A Cookie Lover’s Collection,  Janice Cauley (Editor). During law school, in the fall, I made these on a few occasions for friends.  Six years later, some of them still ask (read: badger) me to make them!

Hi,

Please vote for my Date and Almond Torte with Fruit Tea Infused Simple Syrup in the:

Bon Appétit Blog Envy Bake-Off

I’ve entered it in the pie, pastry etc. category.  Pretty please and thank you!

Here’s the link to vote:

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2009/12/blog_envy

 

~ K

Mother may have celebrated Thanksgiving if she hadn’t lived in a country where there’s no such holiday. Trinidad has no specific Thanksgiving Day but there were (and still are) plenty of opportunities for gathering friends and family to celebrate with food, Trini-style. In fact, the way in which Americans have identified with and the cultural underpinnings of Thanksgiving in the U.S. have not always been the same through the years.[1] The Thanksgiving of today has more to do with unifying the national identity than with the Pilgrims, Indians and Plimoth Plantation.  Today’s celebration began with the letter writing campaign of a determined magazine editor and author (of the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb among other writings), Sarah Josepha Hale, whose 17-year advocacy for a national holiday that would bring the country together after the civil war culminated in the passage of federal legislation (signed into law by President Lincoln) in 1863.

This week I’m celebrating my tenth blog post. I read in a blogging guide that before starting a blog, bloggers should have at least ten posts preplanned. Of course, I read that after I started my blog, with only that week’s post planned.  So, I’m very excited that my blog has made it to its tenth anniversary! What’s even more thrilling is that it, a food blog about unifying culture and identity, has reached its tenth week around Thanksgiving.

“Is a sign!”  Mother may have exclaimed. She, like Trinidadian culture, superstitious.

Well, Mother, I’m crossing my fingers that it is a sign of better to come. Lord knows how I’ll be paying for my daughter’s college education without some kind of windfall – an advance on a blog-to-book deal comes to mind. Until then, one week at a time.

The menu this week, as alluded to above, celebrates Thanksgiving and the blog’s tenth anniversary with items of various national origins. There is a version of an Italian panzanella salad, which I’ve called a Green Bean Bread Salad. A side dish that appealed to me as one that Mother may have prepared because it’s one of those recipes that uses day old bread, which is less expensive if purchased at a bakery or creates a use for already bought bread that may otherwise be thrown away.

“What don’t kill does fatten.” Mother was known to say about making sure to use “old” food; Mother hated to waste.

The turkey I prepared was to me, characteristic of all-American Thanksgiving cuisine, simply seasoned with lemon, butter, salt, pepper, and slow-cooked in a crock pot – a U.S. invention. Sweet potato pies are generally considered a southern, African-American thing. And, on Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes are served as a side dish or a dessert. The recipe I’ve offered this week is only a tad sweet, so it can be served either way. We chose to eat it as dessert. My daughter said that she wished it was sweeter and that she preferred her dad’s, made with canned yams and marshmallows. (Thanks, sweetie!)  For my BF, and me my pie was perfect, better the next day as the flavors continued to develop.

Speaking of food that gets better overnight, Mother used to make ginger beer – a drink that takes at least 24 hours to brew to fiery perfection. She made batches of it, mostly at Christmastime, so making it at Thanksgiving was a way of connecting Mother and me, unifying two people, countries, cultures, and celebrations.

On the day of Thanksgiving this year, we intend to celebrate with a friend’s family (plane tickets to my mom’s in Orlando, Florida were too expensive) and to volunteer, delivering a meal to and eating with a senior citizen. I am thankful for the chance to connect with family, although not mine, and the opportunity to give back. Reflecting on what else I’m grateful for, this blog comes to mind. It has been my dream to provide a forum for sharing my thoughts on creating a culture of inclusion between different people and within individuals/their identities.

I hope, then, that I have encouraged you to reflect on what you can do to use food to connect cultures (defined in your own way) and your identity, as you best understand it today. Mindful that as it develops, identity, like Thanksgiving in the U.S., evolves over time.

Thank you for reading. Have a happy Thanksgiving!


[1] See, http://www.history.com/content/thanksgiving

MENU

Lemon Pepper Turkey Breast and Thighs with Brown Stew Gravy

Green Bean Bread Salad

Simply Sweet Potato Pie

Ginger Beer

The Essence of Conflict

Mother may have become a trained mediator, if she’d had the opportunity. In the neighborhood and in her family, Mother was often in the middle of disputes because she was, in the words of negotiation experts[1] good at getting people to yes. More than that, Mother had the ability to see all parties’ truths as well as their untruths. Even in the most difficult of arguments like when my crack-addicted uncle and his father would get into it, Mother was a gifted mediator. She encouraged each of them to take a closer look at himself, his role in the fight, as well as putting himself in the other person’s shoes, beginning, thereby, a process of healing for each disputee and making it more likely that the issue would be fully settled in the future.

When I think about conflict, I think of Rwanda and the 1994 genocide. Last weekend I saw a play entitled The Overwhelming.[2] Set in Rwanda around the time of the 1994 genocide, the play depicted the story of the Rwandan genocide; no person, party, bystander, or participant whether presently in Rwanda at the time of the killings or those who previously occupied Rwanda (like the Belgians) was innocent. This is the essence of conflict; all were responsible in some way. Which begs the question, shouldn’t everyone, then, be a part of the solution?

This holistic approach, consistent with my current attitude to conflict resolution, is not what I see in the U.S., particularly in legal culture. In a lawsuit, for example, lawyers take sides, either defending or advancing clients’ positions and undermining that of the other side. To approach a wrongdoing as an opportunity to see things from all sides and come up with a mutually beneficial solution is antithetical to litigation.  Even the alternative dispute resolution models recently found in the field of law are hardly therapeutic. They are (as alluded to above) about getting parties to reach agreement. But, agreement is not always remedial. It might lead to a cease-fire. However, ending an argument is not the same as resolving a conflict.

Married couples are familiar with this phenomenon – a fight with a spouse might end on one day, seeming to signal that the conflict has been resolved, but the next month they could arguing about the same issue again. To stop this cycle, spouses must make peace with themselves individually and with each other. Moving out of combat and into collaboration requires that each party settle into a personal understanding as well as an appreciation of the other spouse, and an acknowledgment of what’s at stake for one another.

I didn’t always identify with this way of being/fighting. When I married to a man who also grew up in a violent family culture, we agreed never to argue. In hindsight, it makes sense to me why we established these terms. What we learned in our childhoods was that with anger and disagreement come physical violence. Without finding safe ways to argue with each other, however, we set our relationship up for failure. Failing to disagree (like the mere cessation of an argument) also does not equal dispute resolution. Holding one’s tongue cannot lead to airing out problems, which of course is at least one part of, sometimes the first step to bringing parties together.

It’s intriguing to me, then, that today I have a curative outlook towards conflict. The way I understand this is that sometimes one’s identity develops as a reaction to and not as a consequence of one’s personal experiences. A part of me also believes it was passed down to me from Mother, like a genetic trait.

Having this kind of attitude towards conflict resolution takes as the saying goes, a strong stomach; reaching a fuller, deeper resolution of a dispute and even setting that as a standard, requires not only better negotiation skills but also perseverance.

So, from the proverbial to the physical, the dishes on this week’s menu all contain an ingredient that has been associated with settling the stomach and calming the nerves, certainly prerequisites to being able to staying a challenging course. From the succulent pot roast covered in a cracker crust, to melt-in-your-mouth lemon shortbread cookies for dessert, each item on the menu calls to mind what it takes to mediate the essence of conflict.

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Graham Cracker Encrusted Pot Roast

Okra, Onion, and Corn Bake

Lemon Ginger Shortbread Cookies



[1] Roger Fisher, a Harvard professor and co-author William Ury wrote the dispute resolution bestseller, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

 

[2] http://www.companyone.org/ – The play is running until November 21, 2009 in the Plaza Theatre on Tremont Street in Boston, MA.

Mother may have made the world’s greatest pelau (pronounced, pä-lou’) the Trinidadian version of the one-pot rice, meat and legumes dishes found across the Caribbean, Cuba has arroz con pollo, Puerto Rican’s make arroz con gandules, and Haitians, diri ak pwa. I’m no anthropologist so, I don’t know what socio-cultural history contributed to the spread of pelau and its relatives but, if I had to guess, I’d think that it had something to do with colonialism. (To those who know something about colonialism and post-colonial theory: feel free to comment.)

Here’s what I do know:

Colonialism, broadly speaking, is an expression of dominance. In the context of world history, it was one country using its power to oppress another, which it perceived as less powerful. Like oppressed people everywhere, those with less power empowered themselves. Food, being at least one thing over which they had some control, likely became something they used to overcome their circumstances. What’s fascinating to me is that in all these countries the combination of ingredients was the same.  Could it have been because they were indigenous to the Caribbean?  Or, was it because the colonists for their own gain made them readily available?

Regardless, a plate filled with steaming rice, beans, and chicken continues to be soul food, which by definition feeds more than our stomachs. And, because this particular meal is found in many cultures, it seems to connecting groups of people in a way that’s spiritual, beyond their understanding. One example of this took place when I moved to the U.S. and started high school. I tended to identify more with those of Caribbean heritage than with those with other backgrounds. My New York-born Puerto Rican and Dominican buddies were the crowd with whom I felt most included, despite the fact that I was excluded when they spoke to each other in Spanish, which they frequently did.

When I was growing up, my mom cooked all the time but she doesn’t like cooking. For her, it’s more a chore than an opportunity for creative self-expression. But, even she relishes both the preparing (and, of course the eating) of a good pelau. To this day, my mom frequently tells the tale, to anyone who will listen, about how my ex-husband ate a whole pot of her pelau, a bit of an exaggeration but it makes for a better story that way. Pelau, then, to my mom is a food that showcases a side of her that one doesn’t always see, my mom the culinary artist basking in her creative accomplishment.

For me, potato salad and ice cream are in the same family of food as pelau. Accordingly, I included them on my menu this week. They’re not only foods that Mother personally would make for Sunday lunches and other special occasions (like birthdays and baptisms) when the family got together; they’re universally comforting. A good potato salad calls to mind memories of backyard barbeques, family gatherings, and other times when people get together to bond with each other around some commonality. And, ice cream, I believe Voltaire captured its decadence best when he said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal.” Coincidentally, the ice cream recipe on this week’s menu is the French variety, made with egg yolks. It tasted very much like the creamy, custard ice cream Mother made. But, I believe she may have made hers differently, using Bird’s Custard Powder, a British product, a vestige of Trinidad’s colonial history.

With the world moving faster and faster, our lives becoming more compartmentalized and technology (like this blog) linking us to one another, feeding ourselves is more important now than ever; and I don’t just mean the act of eating. Mother may agree with me that through food we can and should find ways to further identify with one other and nurture our individual sense of self, even if we don’t all come from the same place, have the same lived experiences or speak the same language.

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Pelau

Potato Salad

Custard Ice Cream


Mother may have wholeheartedly taken part in Halloween. In my last, lingering memories of her when she was alive, she’s at my mom’s, dancing to calypso music and asking for a cold Carib beer.  I had never before seen Mother dance or drink beer, clearly, there was a party lover side of her that I did not know. A hidden piece of who she was, unknown at least to me, until that day she was cutting a rug in my mom’s living room. Based on this, I’m guessing she may have enjoyed the Halloween, a time when people can be something or someone else for a night while dancing the night away should they so choose.

It may seem weird but Halloween also reminds me of domestic violence. You see, my mom is a survivor; my father throughout their almost fifteen years of marriage abused her. He used to call her names and hit her, open fist, closed, wielding heavy objects, and with sharp ones too. Once, when I was less than five years old he sliced deeply into the flesh on arm her with a machete (or cutlass as we call it in Trinidad) in an altercation. She was cut because raised her hand to protect herself.  To this day, the scar remains on her forearm, a bulging three-inch long reminder of that night.

As a child witness to domestic violence, I spent several years repressing memories, hiding that the abuse was happening beneath being a stellar student, putting on a brave face to the world, dressing up my feelings, masking at least one piece of my daily reality.  It’s what I had to do to survive, at least that’s what I learned in therapy many years later; denial, a remedy that I had to give up as an adult so my grown-up self could truly get well.

Mother’s home was an escape for us, a place of respite between abusive episodes. My parents’ relationship on and off like a switch. Not that Mother was necessarily supportive of my mom leaving her abusive husband.  She nearly always sent us all packing, back to my father when he’d arrive and demand our return with professions of his love and of course his hollow apologies.

I never spent much time thinking about what Mother did, denial and repression being the order of the day for me back then. Today, I believe I understand Mother’s behavior. Her reaction may have been more culturally inspired than it was heartless or ignorant.  Trinidadian women are more valuable when they’re married than if they’re single, and certainly divorced with children puts them closer to single, unmarried women with children on the female sociological hierarchy. I suppose Mother just wanted what was best for her daughter, to be a good, respectable woman in society by staying with my dad.

Yesterday, October 31, was not only Halloween, it marked the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the U.S.  A holiday that’s about scary things and costumes should mark the end of a month dedicated to domestic violence, serving as a reminder of an experience that’s clearly frightening where the abused (the witnesses of the abuse and even the abuser) hide beneath the cover of who they believe they should be, want to become to the world outside their homes, protecting themselves from further shame and scrutiny.

In keeping with the Halloween/domestic violence theme, this week’s menu has recipes with hidden ingredients. The black radishes that I discovered at the Drumlin Farms [insert link] stall on the last day of my neighborhood’s farmers’ market were grilled into crispy, ghoulishly good chips, like potato chips but were nutritionally better and much tastier than store-bought chips.  The pumpkin gnocchi hid the pumpkin in the folds of the rolled potato and flour dough but I laid it on a bed of smashed pumpkin, making the unseen in the pasta visible. (We eat with our eyes first, right?) For the end of the meal, the Ghost Pie made from tofu and goat cheese piled into a pretzel crust was a surprising combination of ingredients for a dessert.

If Mother were alive today, she may have said that she was proud of me. Because, I now understand that sometimes bad things happen, very bad things, and for a time all we can hope to do is hide out until it gets better. Then we emerge and move forward.

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Black Radish Chips

Pumpkin Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Ghost Pie


Where’s the Beef?

Mother may have had traditional views on gender. My mom remembers that when she’d complain to her about something my father did, that Mother’s standard response went something like, “He’s a man; they’re different – that’s how they are.”  Mother’s attitude was probably generational. I grew up post-feminism, where views on gender are generally much different and I think better. I tend to question what men do or don’t do and expect that women, including myself, will be all that they can be. Of course, gender is much more complicated than this. For example, in encouraging women not to limit themselves, it’s important to make sure that women get the message that they are good enough as they are, especially since women tend to want to please others (read: everyone) without taking proper care of themselves.

Speaking of complexity and gender dynamics, I was once in a four-day workshop on diversity and inclusion, in which gender was the inclusion challenge. Men and women got the opportunity to learn about how being a man or a woman affects the way in which they navigated the world.  It was eye opening. I left that four-day with a new perspective on gender relations. I thought about it as a culture as well as an identity that can be as great a divider as race or ethnicity.  A culture, by definition, because each gender is a group with ways of living built up and transmitted from one generation to another.

Maybe because I like to test myself, my best friend is a man. He’s also from a different part of the world, is a different ethnicity, and of a different religious background. We’ve been friends for nine years and trust me; there have been plenty of challenges because of our culture and identity difference. I think there’s been many good things that have come out of us being different too. A couple that come to mind for me are celebrating Greek Easter every year with his family (I love that roast lamb) and learning about heterosexual men in romantic relationships. It’s as if I have an insider’s view of the male mind and heart. (Trust me, as great as having this kind of insight is, it’s quite scary too!) Most important is that because of the relative absence of my father from my life, my best friend has been a positive male role model for me. He’s a man for whom I have a whole lot of love and respect.

In the last few months, he’s been in the most serious relationship he’s ever been in with another woman who loves and respects him. I think it has been hard for her to figure out how to understand his relationship with me, particularly given her belief (that’s not been articulated as far as I know) that men and women aren’t usually “just friends.”

This weekend I decided to reach out to her by cooking a meal and sharing it as a double date with my boyfriend and me as the other couple. I decided to make it pretty high protein, in some ways as I reflect on traditional gender stereotypes, high protein meals are considered male. I wanted to show in my selection of foods and recipes that high protein meals are for both men and women. Plus, I thought doing a high protein meal for both, questioned the beef that is presumed to exist between the sexes.  (The book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus comes to mind.)

I chose quinoa flour as a replacement for most of the recipes that would use all-purpose flour because of quinoa’s high protein contest and I decided to do a play on surf and turf with the surf portion (the fish fritters) served as an appetizer, yet another play on the separation between the genders. I unfortunately chose a tough cut of meat for the turf but the recipe below corrects this.  For dessert, I not only used quinoa flour but also added peanut butter for even more protein content.

I consider my self a proponent of human rights, which includes feminism. I believe, as I read on a bumper sticker, that women are people too.  And while it’s sometimes harder for me to say this, I do in my heart of hearts, think the same of men. Mother may have been able to hold this less-than-traditional view too, if it meant celebrating men and women as individually special, but not so unique that they don’t share any similarities.

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Mackerel Fritters

Beef Tenderloin with Side Salad

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Hazelnuts

Mother may have believed in holism. I remember that when there were hard feelings between her children, she’d say, “Doh mine dat!”[1] As though whatever their individual feelings toward each other, those could not be greater than the bigger picture, that they’re family.

My mom and one of her sisters (let’s call her Aunty Em) have a history of fighting with each other. Aunty Em’s children and I, however, have had better relationships. In fact, this weekend, when my mom told me that one of them had a daughter in the hospital with severe pneumonia, I called immediately, offering words of support on the telephone, telling her that I would pray for her and asking if she wanted me to come to New York. No bitterness between us at all, she and I have always been there for each other. Several years ago, when I was separating from my husband, I spent many weekends at this cousin’s home, escaping the tension of my broken marriage, my well-being, my wholeness in the midst of my collapsing life at that time clearly more important to my cousin than any animosity between our mothers.

Valuing holism for me, thus, comes from personal experience. It is also informed by the history and sociology of the culture of my birthplace. For one thing, Christopher Columbus named Trinidad after the Holy Trinity, the Christian doctrine that teaches about God as three parts, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a holistic concept. God being greater in sum than each of these is individually. Following Columbus’s “discovery” of the island for Spain several other European conquerors, the British, Dutch, French, and Portuguese all fought for control of the islands (both Trinidad and Tobago). The colonizers brought people of African, Indian and Chinese descent to work the sugar plantations, adding an additional set of ethnicities to the national identity. Yet, today, being Trinidadian is more than these individual ancestries. Trinidadians think about themselves as a whole people, not limited to an identity rooted solely in their European, African or Asian past, they are Trinidadians.

Likewise, the recipes this week are representative of holism – whole chicken and vegetables cooked on one pan, with a dessert made from torn, stale bread melded together with an egg custard, coupled with a coffee that broke boundaries between caffeinated drinks, combining tea flavors with coffee. In a weekend where not only did I get news of brokenness in my family, but on the appliance front my dryer and kitchen disposal stopped working, this meal reminded me of the culture of holism, that probably permeated Mother’s life and certainly has been piece of mine. The meal was a like food therapy, nurturing my body and soul, helping (in part, if only for a short time) to put the fractured pieces together, creating a whole experience that transcended each bit of news  I’d gotten about things that were falling apart.

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Whole Roasted Chicken with Radishes and Onions 

Crock-Pot Mango Bread Pudding (with Orange Syrup) 

Like-Chai Coffee


 


[1] Translation: “Don’t mind that!”

Mother may have been a fan of foods that could masquerade as other foods, like the way mashed parsnips can pose as mashed potatoes. There are many benefits to this substitution in particular. For one thing, from a health perspective parsnips are lower in calories and higher in fiber. Parsnips add variety to one’s diet, which nutritionists recommend as essential to regularly maintaining good health. They’re also sweeter and some might say tastier than potatoes, so they appeal to different tastes. Similar to swapping like ground provisions, Mother may also have been drawn to dishes that could be used in multiple ways, like a breakfast item that doubled as lunch, and a baked good that might be dessert or served with breakfast. With as many people as she had to feed, I’m sure she appreciated dishes that could be made once and used twice. She probably liked it even better if she could make something seem like it was another thing altogether, doing more then than just warming up leftovers.

This Sunday I went to my first same-sex marriage ceremony, which reminded me of interchangeable dishes and multipurpose meals.  Why? Allow me to explain.

Because same-sex marriages are new and because advocates fought for their place alongside heterosexual marriages, same-sex marriages have underscored the importance of marital relationships in general, highlighting the distinction between the public and private ordering of domestic relations. One of the officiants at the wedding said something like people could recognize always their relationships privately if they wish but marriage is special. It has not only has historic significance in granting those who wish to enter the institution unique rights, privileges and obligations, but comparing marriage to its other domestic relations counterpart civil unions, it’s just plain better. Civil unions, to those being denied the ability to enter into marital unions are considered inferior to marriage – they’re separate and unequal.

I’m a heterosexual, so I know that I’m in the culturally privileged group on this issue.  I’ve married once and I’m now divorced so my view of domestic relations are probably not the same as same-sex couples getting hitched for the first time. While I agree that marriage is different and special, so is the death penalty. I’m just kidding, sort of.

From a civil rights perspective, I know that marriage rights are human rights. Given my cultural and personal identity as a single, Black, female immigrant I know first hand about being what anthropologists would call “the other.” It’s not fair to be treated as less, to be perceived as not as good, to be given less. However, I also know what it’s like to have the government enter into my relationship only in the beginning and at its end, dictating the rules of engagement and disengagement without being there in the most difficult phase, during the relationship. I question, thus, whether there’s an actual benefit to the law regulating domestic partnerships at all, whether they’re marriages or civil unions – tomato, tomahto, mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips.

Like this week’s menu, one way to think about civil unions and marriages is that they can be twice as nice, if we (both those who are homosexual and those who identify as heterosexual) agreed that they are valid and valuable options like frittata for breakfast or lunch, mashed parsnips in place of potatoes and an apple loaf as a breakfast bread or for dessert when topped with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce.  All partners could, then, choose between the two based on their taste, whether they wanted marriage, a civil union or not. In this way, (as idealistic as it sounds) civil unions would not be a masked, lesser form of a government-regulated relational state than marriage but a complementary substitution. Mother and I may have seen eye to eye on this. She may have believed that adding another piece to the relationship regulatory regime makes it better. Personally, increasing the number of options would have been especially good for her beloved son, my Uncle Robbie who was gay and died of complications related to AIDS in 1995. About same-sex marriage and civil unions Mother may have said, in the words of Trinidad’s most famous singer, The Mighty Sparrow, “De more, de merrier.”[1]

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Peas and Pearl Onions Frittata

Mashed Parsnips

Apple Loaf



[1] Translation: “the more, the merrier;”  song lyrics from The Mighty Sparrow’s Frenzy album – see,: http://www.mightysparrow.com/Frenzy.htm

Mother may have said a million times, “Who don’t like it, lie down by it.”

It was what she’d say when she prepared something for the family and somebody refused to eat it. Her version of take it or leave it.

In this month’s (October 20009) Boston Parents Paper (http://boston.parenthood.com/) there was an article entitled, “What’s for Dinner? Feeding Kids Right Means a Lot More than Quelling Hunger.”  At least one of the bits of advice was that if you make whatever children request for their meal, in place of what you’ve cooked, then you set them up to expect that you will cater to their needs at the expense of encouraging them to try new foods. What’s recommended is a little less harsh than Mother’s adage. Don’t force the kids to eat the dish they may not like but, offer something already on hand like cheese, fruit and bread.

“Who don’t like it, lie down by it. And while you’re there, have a fruit and cheese plate.”

It’s not just with food that this sort of advice, Mother’s or its modification can apply. Several times, I could have used this advice, when there have been race/ethnicity tensions for example. I can think about times when I’ve wanted to speak my mind, not preparing anything special to say to the other person of a different background, leaving what is said out there for them to take or leave as they please.

A few weeks ago when I was asked point blank, in the middle of a group meeting with almost all other White people who are members of the same organization, to what I would call, “speak on behalf of my race” to tell them about the organization and its relationship with people of color.  A part of me wanted to respond by saying, “I won’t speak on behalf of an entire race of people” and leave it at that. A bit harsh, yet it might have alerted the person asking about how offensive the question was; possibly increasing her awareness of her blind spots when it comes to race relations.

We all have racial biases. It is an inherent part of the human condition to hold negative opinions or attitudes toward groups of persons. Our lack of awareness of the negative opinions or attitudes is what’s at the heart of the problem. Not that becoming aware automatically makes us unbiased; it does free us, however, because knowledge is power.

What I said to the woman asking the question was, “I will not speak on behalf of my race but I can tell you that I have had a good experience here.  Sure, I’d like to see [this organization] grow in numbers of people of color, particularly Black people both on staff and in membership but I admire that [the organization] is committed to change.”  I offered her the fruit and cheese plate. As an ivy-league educated woman-of-color, who was once a corporate lawyer for an international law firm, I have learned that the more palatable option (the honey and vinegar saying comes to mind here) in the world of the dominant culture is to give them something else, while still speaking my mind.

Some might say that they don’t care for this week’s stuffed fish recipe because I already posted one in Mother’s commemorative meal, just a few weeks ago. To them I say in the words of Mother, “Lie down by it.”

For those who are game, the menu features a wild rice stuffed whole cod, from a fishery in Massachusetts.[1] The baked fish was firm, flaky and flavorful, infused with a compound butter that I’d inserted into the flesh. The stuffing was a world apart (literally) from the one I made in September, since the wild rice stuffing is not at all like pigeon peas one – the former reminiscent of fall in New England, where I currently call home, while the latter is most certainly Caribbean, like my birthplace. The cauliflower was a simple twice-cooked recipe and, pun intended I took pride in using the compound butter again, carrying over the flavors and, maybe more important to me, using all of it up right away. I hate waste, as I imagine Mother may have, although I wonder how much there could have been to throw away in a house of eighteen (plus) on a working class budget.[2] I am certain that if Mother had made a butter with parsley, lemon and green onion butter she would agree with me that it’s doubly as nice if it can be used more than once in the same meal. Dessert was less about Mother’s wisdom. Using egg roll wrappers filled with two different kinds of filling, I think I appealed to different tastes. My boyfriend preferred the coconut to the clementine, and I vice versa. I topped both with chocolate, an ingredient about which it has been said, “nine out of ten people like and the tenth person always lies.”

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Stuffed Cod with Wild Rice Stuffing

Twice-Cooked Cauliflower

Clementine Chocolate and, Coconut Almond Chocolate Pastry

 


[1] I share a fish share with another couple through the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association – http://www.gfwa.org/.

[2] There was one income, my grandfather’s and he was a mason and carpenter.

What the Fluff?!

Mother may have used marshmallow fluff in her cooking had it been available to her or had she known about it. She may have been drawn to it because of and despite its reputation as a feisty ingredient, that’s what attracted me.

Last year, I began entering the “What the Fluff?” Recipe Contest, part of the “What the Fluff?” Festival! that’s held every year in my ‘hood, Union Square, Somerville, Mass., the 1917 birthplace of Fluff.  The festival is a whimsical celebration of marshmallow fluff where, in addition to the recipe contest, people compete to create the best fluff hair-dos, and a Fear Factor Fluff Contest (where one spin can lead to eating sardines and Fluff on a cracker). There’s the crowning of the Fabulous Pharaoh of Fluff, who takes an oath to, among other things, “promise to uphold the sweet lovable nature of fluff, by remaining a pal to peanut butter…and to uphold and honor the delicate truce established with jelly.”

Anyone who has ever used Fluff can attest to the challenge of coaxing what on first glance looks like a harmless, gooey, soft substance. Fluff is actually a beast of an ingredient, difficult to work into in addition to highlighting it in a recipe. That being said, this year I entered my Peanut Butter and Fluff Bread with Fluff Jelly, developed based on a quick bread recipe for Peanut Butter Bread that I borrowed from Paula Deen[1] and the words of the fluff oath (as spelled out above). I desired to unite peanut butter, fluff and jelly – a Holy Trinity of Fluff as it were. But, alas, I lost again; foiled by the avocado mallow ice cream, which won Best Overall.

My bread and jelly didn’t stand a chance against what the judges commented was an ice cream they were certain would be found in grocery store freezers in the not-so-distant future.  Last year, my Fluffsmorepie made entirely from local ingredients (Taza Chocolate, Market Basket Graham Crackers from its Tewksbury, MA factory, Chang Shing Tofu, Inc. and of course Fluff) also failed to capture the attention of the judges and their palates. Of course, I am disappointed that I didn’t get a Fluff trophy two years in a row but there’s always next year, right?

What I have taken away from my experience with Fluff is that strangely, in dealing with Fluff, I’ve been reminded of attending high school for the first time in the U.S. Let me explain:

On my first day of school in the U.S., everything was new. For example, in Trinidad, I wore a horrible uniform to school, bright blue plaid bib overalls with a short-sleeved, button-down white shirt. Here, I could wear whatever I wanted but it was clear from the outset that my choice of pink balloon pants and matching black and fuchsia floral top, was not what my peers were wearing to school. The girls, at least the ones I first encountered on the bus, that I took from my stop historically Black neighborhood (a term I would come to know later) wore their bedroom slippers to school, with relatively nondescript shorts and tee shirts. The clothing was my first faux pas. When I arrived at school on that day, a high school with over 2000 students, four times (or more) the size of my former secondary school, I remember having to locate something on my schedule labeled “Homeroom”. I had no idea what Homeroom was as well as no clue of where to find it on the multi-building campus. Selecting classes was equally as confusing since, for example, I wanted to continue taking both Spanish and French, as I had been in Trinidad but there was an unwritten rule/policy that students only took one foreign language at a time. The Guidance Counselor eventually let me take both with the caveat that I could drop one should I choose. I dropped Spanish in my junior year.

Fortuitously, on that first day of school, I had some help. I met not one but three students who also hailed from Trinidad. Fariyal, a woman I randomly and casually approached while she was sitting on a planter helped me find my Homeroom. (In conversation, I discovered that she was from Couva, where as I’ve mentioned before my maternal grandparents lived.) Initially, I approached her because she was the student who looked the most like me, an Indian (both native and East), Latino-looking, caramel- colored woman with curly hair pulled back in a ponytail. The other two students I met were Trinidadian-Chinese – the Wong brothers, Stephen and Nick. Stephen was in my French and Spanish classes. When I heard him speak, there was no mistaking his Trinidadian accent. Stephen introduced me to Nick his older brother over lunch, in a cafeteria with several picnic-style tables. This too was novel to me. In Trinidad, pupils ate in the classroom at their desks.

Eventually, I became intimately familiar with the cultural idiosyncrasies of my U.S. high school, both through making my own way, mistakes and all, as well as from what Fariyal, Stephen and Nick taught me. In my senior year, 1992 – 1993, I became so identified with and well-known at school that I was voted Homecoming Queen, the first student-of-color to hold that honor in the school’s seventy-year history. One day, I hope to win the What the Fluff? Recipe Contest too, coming to know Fluff when it was once foreign to me, far removed from my own experience, by learning from others as well as capitalizing on my own trials and errors, sooner or later convincing judges to vote my recipe as a winner.

Like me, Mother had similar personal identity and cross-cultural learning both in and outside the kitchen – teaching herself to make pizza and hamburgers as well as starting a business venture, a convenience store (in Trinidad called a parlor) when she was over sixty-five years old and had no more than maybe a high school education. I sometimes sat with her in the parlor. She would ask questions of her vendors so that she better understood their products. On her own she came up with ideas like reselling used magazines, not too long past their publishing date, at a discount, which didn’t turn out to be as great as selling razors that her children who lived abroad provided her, gratis. Toiletries like razors were at that time quite expensive in Trinidad. Mother, thus, was able to sell them at a comparable price with 100% profit to her.

This week, I tweaked the recipes from the ones I actually used because: the original Stewed Beef with Carrot Dumplings recipe taught me that the kind of and quantity of beer could make a significant difference in reducing the sauce in a stew. From the Green Beans and Avocado Salad, I learned (from my daughter and boyfriend) that what’s fine heat wise for me might be too hot for other palates. And, my newest Fluff creation, a Poached Pears on Fluff Bread dessert inspired by the leftover Fluff on my kitchen counter as well as a desire to continue coming up with recipes for next year’s contest captured for me the lessons of high school and Fluff, as well as the wisdom that may have come from my grandmother. Namely that personal success (measured by the fact that the entire loaf of Fluff bread is now gone) can be as satisfactory as public recognition.

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Stewed Beef with Carrot Dumplings

Green Beans and Avocado Salad

Poached Pears on Fluff Bread



[1] http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/peanut-butter-bread-recipe/index.html

A Meal in Memoriam

Every year, on the anniversary of Mother’s passing, on September 11, 2006, I celebrate her life by preparing a meal in her honor. This year, thanks to the bodega in my neighborhood, I was also able to include a celebratory drink on my in memoriam menu, sorrel, which is often brewed only on special occasions in my home country – Trinidad.[1] When I was a child, the family would meet at Mother’s on Sundays and she always indulged us with copious Sunday lunches that included macaroni and cheese pie. The one I prepared for her memoriam included broccoli and leeks, in part because my friend Beth was coming over on Saturday night and I wanted to serve her a hearty vegetarian meal and, of course, because broccoli and leeks are in season. I had tried several times in the past to recreate my grandmother’s macaroni pie but, it never turned out right. Adding the sauteed vegetables was the magic that made it perfect, reminding me that making something one’s own is the key to success. The pie was herbaceous, rich and satisfying.  There was enough food at Mother’s Sunday lunches for at least another meal the next day.  And, that’s exactly what I did with the left over pie, served it the next day alongside stuffed whole tilapia to my meat-eating family. For me, the stuffing was the highlight of that meal. My pre-teen daughter, my biggest supporter and worst critic said,

“You should stuff everything with this!”

I resisted the temptation to retort,

“Then I can’t wait to use it to stuff your mouth when you’re rude to me.”

I used pigeon peas instead of breadcrumbs, which resulted in an extra-moist texture and earthy flavor.[2] I’d been toying with marshmallow fluff recipes, preparing for the upcoming “What the Fluff?” festival in my neighborhood, where marshmallow fluff was born. Figs were plentiful and on sale at the fruit stand in downtown Boston, next to my office so, I decided to experiment with figs and fluff for dessert, folding it inside a thawed pastry crust. The result was a pastry pie that oozed semi-sweet, creamy goodness.

For Mother, I hope that this seasonal, filling meal if not one you may have made, partially because  it was not served exactly in the way you would have done it, i.e., on Saturday and on Sunday, would be one that you would have delightfully eaten:

MENU

Stuffed Baked Fish

Broccoli and Leek Macaroni and Cheese Pie

Fig Pastry Pies

Sorrel (drink)


[1] If you can’t find sorrel, experiment with any dried or fresh fruit, that has a tart flavor and that’s red in color.

[2] In place of pigeon peas, feel free to use any beans you like or can locate at your local market. I suspect cannellini beans or garbanzo beans could be a great substitute.

Mother (my maternal grandmother) may have had a lot in common with me but I will never know all that we shared. She passed away on September 11, 2006 before I knew that there was much of her in me, prior to me realizing that I wanted to know who she was in life. Or maybe her death was what I needed to be inspired to begin to understand my multi-cultural self, to start to peel back the onion layers of my complex identity.

One thing I do know about Mother and me is that we are/were both home cooks.  My fondest memories of Mother are of her in the kitchen, her hair wrapped in a headtie, her dress dotted with grease stains and dusted with flour, stirring a cake batter or tasting a soup.

I cook because I love it. For me, the kitchen is my creative sanctuary.  For Mother, the mother of sixteen children, grandmother of over thirty and great-grandmother of more than twenty, many of whom she raised as well, feeding her family may have seemed like it was more about necessity than it was about making art.  Mother may not have been able to conceive of herself as an artist but I believe that she was. To my knowledge, she didn’t use recipes, so, like an artist she created something from nothing using imagination, inspiration, and perspiration.

For the next year, this weekly blog will honor Mother’s memory by sharing meals that I believe she may have prepared based on who I think she was, her identity, our shared culture, understood through my own identity lens, who I am as similar to her (because of our shared familial history) and how I am different from her (given my individual personal story).

Fluff-n-figs

1 17.9-ounce snickerdoodle cookie mix (+ ingredients for making cookies as on pkg.)

7 – 8 ounces marshmallow fluff

8 ounce block cream cheese (cut into 1-inch cubes)

2 pints fresh figs (about 10 of them cut into ¼ inch pieces)

zest of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat oven according to the cookie mix package.
  2. Line 12 to 18 cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.
  3. Prepare cookies somewhat according to package directions except, if your directions say toss dough in a sugar and cinnamon packet, mix it in instead.
  4. Preferably chill the dough in a ball on a floured surface or you can use right away if you flour your hands.
  5. Pinch off golf ball sized pieces of dough and roll into balls.
  6. Place each ball in the middle of a lined muffin tin cup.
  7. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool on a cookie rack – each ball should sink a bit as it cools.
  9. Press lightly in the middle of each as they cool before removing liner.
  10. Combine cream cheese and fluff in a medium pot and melt together over medium heat.
  11. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  12. Fold in cut up figs and spoon 1 teaspoon into each cookie cup.
  13. Sprinkle a pinch of zest on each topped cookie cup.
  14. Using a kitchen torch, sear the top a bit.
  15. Then, cut a whole fig in half and decorate each cookie cup with ½ a fig.
  16. Sprinkle another pinch of zest over each cookie cup for additional taste and garnish.

1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut into quarters; seasoned with salt and black pepper)

3 tbs. olive oil

2 cups crushed tomatoes

¼ cup red wine

1 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. dried parsley

1 tbs. granulated sugar

1 tsp. honey

8 ounces fava beans

1 large zucchini (cut into ½ inch slices)

2 medium to large carrots (cut into ½ inch slices)

1 medium onion (cut into 1 inch slices)

1 2-inch piece beef jerky or other dried/smoked meat

½ lb. farmer’s cheese

Parmesan cheese (optional)

  1. Heat 1 ½ tbs. of olive oil over high heat in a large saucepan.
  2. Sear and brown chicken in batches if necessary for not crowding the pan.
  3. Toss carrots, zucchini and onions with 1 ½ tbs. olive oil, chili powder, and parsley.
  4. Place into Crock-pot with jerky.
  5. Add chicken.
  6. Mix crushed tomatoes, red wine, sugar and honey.
  7. Pour over chicken.
  8. Add fava beans.
  9. Cook on high for about 3 hours.
  10. Sprinkle farmer’s cheese over top and cook for 10 more minutes.
  11. Top individual servings with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you desire.

Mashed Green Bananas

3 green bananas

8 – 10 ounces chicken stock

1 tbs. minced garlic

1 tbs. olive oil

2 tsp. parsley

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Boil green bananas in chicken stock and garlic until softened, about 10 minutes.
  2. Drain and mash thoroughly with a fork.
  3. Add olive oil, parsley and salt and pepper.
  4. Serve warm.

2 cups Jiffy baking mix

2/3 cup milk

½ cup finely diced green peppers

1 tsp. Herbes de Provence

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all ingredients together until all dry ingredients are moistened.
  3. Drop by tablespoons and 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake until lightly brown – about 10 minutes.
  5. Cool on a cooling rack for at least three minutes before removing from sheet.
  6. Continue to cool on cooling rack.

Mango Basil Smoothie

¾ – 1 cup simple syrup (1 part water to ½ part sugar, dissolved)

10 ounces chopped frozen mango

2 cups milk

2 tbs. fresh basil (roughly chopped)

  1. Add simple syrup, mango, milk and basil to a blender.
  2. Puree until thoroughly combined.
  3. Serve cold.

2 potatoes

1 tomato

½ yellow onion

2 – 3 tbs. bread crumbs

1 egg

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 tbs. dried parsley

1 tbs. fresh basil (rough chopped)

1 tbs. vegetable oil

  1. Heat oil to medium high in a large frying pan with oven-proof handle.
  2. Preheat broiler.
  3. Combine all ingredients except fresh basil in a large bowl.
  4. Press into pan and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes.
  5. Broil for no more than 5 minutes or so, until golden brown.
  6. Sprinkle with fresh basil before slicing and serving.
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