Sunday, September 2, 2012

BARBADOS: THE FOOD

My background noise today as I cooked was the rain bands from Hurricane Isaac that I could hear from the open windows. We needed the rain, even though we’re still behind what we need.  The smell of the rain put me in the mood to cook, and I was really excited to get started on this food.

My daughter mixing the bread dough, but really I think she's playing in it.
The bread I chose was called Granny’s Bajan Sweet Bread. I usually try not to do the same thing twice, so I was a little leery about doing another coconut bread (even though the last one from the Bahamas was sooooooo good).  However, this one was different: it included cherries, for one. Another was that there was no resting time required.  One of the optional steps in this bread was to pour in half of the dough, add in a coconut filling in the middle, then pour in the other half of the dough on top of it. It didn’t quite look like it was done, but a wooden skewer came out clean and tasted like a coconut unicorns and rainbows. In fact, I sent my husband to the store for artisan vanilla bean ice cream. Because what this bread needs is to be warmed up with a dollop of ice cream on top in a bowl. I know, Barbadians everywhere are probably thinking, ‘What are you doing to our bread?’ but really now, don’t question my motives.

I chose to do the All Inclusive Salad as a side dish. At first glance, it seemed like a regular tropical fruit salad of sorts.  I had to exclude some of the fruits listed, simply because I couldn’t find paw-paws or guavas. And there was apparently a recall on mangos. So, I used a golden delicious apple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapefruit (which I didn’t like in it because it has such an overpowering flavor), carambolas (otherwise known as star fruit), and I substituted a meridol papaya, but it also had baby cucumbers and a little bit of onion (which completely grossed my husband out). It was topped with honey and white wine (I went with an Australian reisling that got put in the freezer two days ago and forgot about. Yes, unlike vodka or gin or tequila or rum, wine DOES freeze.). It was really good once it was able to let the flavors meld together.


Next came the main dish: beef stew.  It seems simple and comforting enough, right? Beef stew is a dish that I associate with rainy Saturdays growing up, but more or less the kind out of a can with a side of last night’s corn bread (you know, a dad kind of meal when mom takes a day out by herself).  I’ve never made a stew from scratch before, so I was really sort of hoping this turns out well.  I sautéed the beef along with the spices and herbs (happy I found Caribbean jerk spice with no MSG!), some celery and onion, and a little pepper sauce. Once it was mostly browned, I added water and some beef stew seasoning I happened to find and let it simmer for 40 minutes. Then I threw in a bay leaf, carrots, diced beets, a little salt and pepper, and three of the greenest bananas that I could find. The last ingredient was what was throwing me. I really wasn’t sure how it was going to taste.  But you know what? Because they were green, the flavor was more subtle than if they were riper.  And really, once all of the flavors simmered for 25 more minutes, it created its own flavor.  In fact, my husband thought the stew was “fire” as he puts it. He even ranked it higher than the peanut stew from Angola (which still ranks fairly high with me still).

 
To me, this was a meal of trust, as in trusting that the ingredients on the recipe will not only mix well together, but will also taste so good, it’s “fire.”  I mean, cucumbers and onions in my fruit salad and bananas in my beef stew? Most would think those ingredients were misplaced on the wrong recipes, but the Barbadians knew what they were doing. And I’m glad I did it. But for now, I have a higher calling: sweet coconut-cherry bread and vanilla bean ice cream. And maybe some more defrosted wine.


 [I did get a new laptop, but it's not a Mac, sadly. Some features I could get to work beautifully on a Mac, I'm still having trouble on this silly PC, like putting captions on the photos. But it's a computer nonetheless.  I should be grateful for what I have; it's still easier to type on than my iPhone.]

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