Saturday, March 31, 2018


Of all the countries in the world, St Vincent and the Grenadines rounds out my top three “Countries That Sound Like Band Names.” I’m not even sure what the other two would be. But that doesn't matter now. And I say that knowing I’ve named most of my cats after countries/cities in North Africa and have come up with the best nick names in Neko Atsume. What do I know about naming things?  

The name St Vincent was given to the island by Christopher Columbus. It was named St Vincent after his crew had landed there on St Vincent’s Day (January 22, 1498). The Grenadine island chain was named after Grenada, the city in Spain. However, the Island Caribs who were living there already (who called themselves the Kalina/Carina) called the island Youloumain.

This island chain is part of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the southern section of the Caribbean. The island of Saint Vincent is the northernmost island (which is actually a volcano—La Soufrière is the highest peak) and the Grenadines are spread out south of it. Only the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines belong to Saint Vincent & and the Grenadines; the bottom third belongs to Grenada. The country is south of Saint Lucia, west of Barbados, and north of Grenada. In total, there are 32 islands and cays (but only nine are inhabited). Because it’s located in the Caribbean in the Hurricane Belt, it also has a tropical climate.
La Soufrière

The Caribs who were living there did everything they could to ward off the Europeans – but they eventually did come in 1719. However, Africans who were either shipwrecked or escaped slavery flocked to Saint Vincent; they were called Black Caribs and when they intermarried with the Island Caribs, they were known as Garifuna. The French were the first to arrive, but they handed over control to the British after the Treaty of Paris was signed. However, the French took it back for a few years until the Treaty of Versailles gave it back to the British. Things started to escalate between the British and the Black Caribs until the Black Caribs (with support from the French in Martinique) began an uprising against the British. The British responded by rounding up around 5000 of them and transporting them across the Caribbean to the island of Roatán (off the coast of Honduras) and dumped them there. The British did establish slave labor until it was abolished in 1834. The mid to latter part of the 1800s bought along waves of Portuguese (Madeira) and East Indian immigration. The La Soufrière volcano erupted several times during the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving behind devastation for the people who live there. For a while, the British tried to lump many of its Caribbean holdings into one country to be able to administer to it easier. Or so they thought because hardly any others thought that was a great idea. The island chain was finally granted its independence on October 27, 1979 (exactly one day before I entered into this world). Not only has Saint Vincent and the Grenadines survived volcano eruptions, but it’s also survived many hurricanes. 

Kingstown is the capital and located in the southwest corner of the island of Saint Vincent. With only 16,500 people, the city is nestled into steep hills that surround it. Interestingly enough, the islands are known for its breadfruit, and Captain Bligh (the same one from Mutiny on the Bounty) is credited with bringing the breadfruit seeds to Saint Vincent from the South Pacific. The city itself was founded in 1722 by the French, but the British ruled there for a little less than 200 years. Its botanical gardens are among the oldest in the Western Hemisphere.

Wallilabou Bay, where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.
Banana production is probably the biggest agricultural product, along with plantains, wheat, and manioc (cassava). However, damaging storms often wreaks havoc on crops and often causes hardship in crop production and sustainability. Part of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies was filmed on the islands, which has brought a few more tourists to the area. Tourism in Saint Vincent and the Grenadine still could be ramped up more, so if you’re looking to visit someplace less “touristy,” this would be a good option.

Over 80% of the islanders here belong to some kind of Christian denomination (mostly Anglican, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Baptists). There are a few other denominations represented as well. Because of immigration, there are some non-Christian religious followings as well, mostly as Rastafari, Islam, and Hindu.

While English is the official language, most people speak Vincentian Creole. Creole is spoken in the home, while English is used in the government, education, religion, etc. Vincentian Creole is an English-based Creole, with elements from French, Antillean Creole, Spanish, Portuguese, African languages (Wolof, Fula), and Garifuna.

Years ago, I started getting into coin collecting, and especially world coins. I mostly bought them off of eBay, but some I had held onto for years. So, I had bought some coins that were part of the Eastern Caribbean Dollars. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines uses this currency, along with five other island nations (Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Kitts & Nevis) and two British overseas territories (Anguilla and Montserrat). It’s pegged to the US Dollar, but based on the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, headquartered in Basseterre, St Kitts. The thing I find fascinating about looking at world coins and currency in general is the variety of shapes and materials they choose to use and what designs they use. US Currency is boring. It vastly portrays politicians in the common in-use currency (yes, there’s the Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollar coins, but people rarely use them). Granted, pictures of the Queen aren’t all that exciting either… unless you’re the Queen, I suppose.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, March 25, 2018


So, after what seems like a long couple of months off, I met my goal of finding a job in a marketing department. And I really like this job and the company I work for. However, it’s been decades since I had a job that is east of where I live, so now I get to enjoy driving into the sun on the way too and from work. (Funny, not funny.) And on top of everything, it’s finally spring, but you couldn’t tell from the eight inches of snow we got yesterday. (Lame.) 

Seriously, these are amazing with Nutella, and I'm glad that I added more cinnamon than called for.
The first thing I started off with were Fried Bakes (Floats). In a mixing bowl, I added in 4 c of flour, 4 tsp of baking powder, ¼ tsp of salt, 1 Tbsp of granulated sugar, and a little less than 1 tsp of cinnamon. After I whisked everything to mix it together, I rubbed 1 Tbsp of butter into the mix. I love this part; there’s something about squishing the butter with my hands into the flour that remind me of being a kid. Then I added just enough water to pull it together as a soft dough; for me, it was roughly about 2 cups, but I needed to add a bit of flour back into it to keep it from being so sticky. I kneaded it for a few minutes, rubbed it with a little oil and let it rest for about a half hour. Then I kneaded it again just a little and let it rest a minute before I divided the dough into ten balls. I flattened each dough ball with my hands until it was about a 4” disk. When the oil in my skillet was hot enough, I dropped a couple of the disks into the oil. They should puff up pretty quickly. Once it starts to puff up and turn brown, I flipped them so the other side could brown, too. When they were done, I took them out and let them drain on paper towels. I thought these were good; you can top it with whatever you want, but I preferred some Nutella, and it was glorious. The inside was fluffy, almost like a doughnut, but with a much larger crumb. However, the outside was a bit tougher than a doughnut, probably closer to a scone than a doughnut.

Who would've thought these flavors blended as well as they did?
Now comes the main dish: Green Fig & Saltfish Pie. It sounds like all of these flavors shouldn’t be put together, but I’m trusting them on this. Only because it’s practically the national dish, and it doesn’t get to that status if it’s horrid. First off, I must make a mention that when they say green figs, they’re actually referring to green bananas (fine by me, I’m not a huge fig fan). I tried to find the greenest bananas I could find, but by the time I was ready to cook, they weren’t all that green anymore. So, I just peeled and mashed them until they were soft, sprinkling them with some lime juice (to keep them from turning brown). As far as saltfish goes, I’m sticking with what I did the last time when saltfish was called for and using something else – this time I used tilapia. (Yes, I know it’s not what the recipe says. Yes, I’m ok with cheating on this one.) I lightly panfried the fish filets and flaked it when it was done. Now, I took out one of my pie pans, sprayed it down a little with some cooking spray and pressed in half of the mashed banana into the bottom. Then I spread half of the fish on top of that. The next layer consisted of sliced red bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, cheese, and black pepper. Then I layered the rest of the banana, added a layer of fish, and another layer of veggies, cheese and black pepper. To top this off, I poured in a ½ c of milk over the whole thing and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Then I baked this for 40 minutes in a 350ºF oven until it was a nice golden color on top. As odd as this seemed to be, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was somewhat surprised on this. The fish, cheese, and veggies gave it a savory flavor, but the baked bananas wasn’t as sweet as I imagined. It had the consistency of an eggless quiche. Definitely the surprise of the day.

I think this was probably the best dish. The carnitas was a good idea.
I picked a couple of side dishes to go with this. I picked a dish called Petit Piton (most likely named after the Piton mountains on the island, and it’s also the name of a local beer). In a large saucepan, I mixed together a little bit of diced potatoes, parsley, mirepoix mix (carrots, celery, onions), mixed vegetables, diced onions, minced garlic, celery salt, marjoram, and pulled pork (I used carnitas meat). I basically just heated everything up until it was warm and then poured a little lime juice on top of it. I was going to make some white rice to go with this, but I was tired and forgot. It didn’t need it anyway since it was fine the way it was. I thought I could’ve backed off the celery salt a little, but my husband told me it was perfect the way it was. Quick and easy – I like it!

A little on the dry side, but otherwise not too bad.
And finally, I made Baked Plantains. I know I’ve made baked plantains before, but this one is a little different of a recipe. The recipe wasn’t extremely descriptive, but I took two plantains, cut them in half and peeled them. I placed these in a glass baking dish and heated them for 15 minutes or so in a 350ºF oven. That was a terrible idea because it just made them hard. So, I threw them in a skillet with a ton of butter and half sautéed them and half steamed them to soften them. It worked a bit, but it blackened the outsides a bit. Then I mashed them as much as I could and added in an egg, some salt, a little bit of peanut butter, a little bit of minced onion and celery, some breadcrumbs, and a little bit of milk. Once everything is completely mixed together, I put it back in the oven for 25 minutes. Because I made this first, I had to put it back in the oven to heat it back up, and it dried it out a little too much. The flavor was ok; I liked it with the peanut butter flavor. It gave that West African taste to it, I think. But I think if the plantains were just a little bit softer, it would’ve almost had a dressing feel to it.

Overall, not a bad meal. My husband and I really enjoyed it at least. The kids, not so much.
As I started a new job and talked about this blog, I didn’t quite realize just how long I’ve been doing this. I’ve certainly still got quite a ways to go, but when I added it all up, I’ve been at this blog longer than I’ve ever held any job. I thought about all the people I worked with in the past who practically screamed, “Bread is terrible! It’s the devil! You’ll never lose weight if you eat bread!” And I’m sitting over here thinking, “I have a blog based on bread.” I guess I’d rather be a little chunky and happy than skinny and miserable knowing I couldn’t ever eat Julia Child’s French bread ever again. Life’s too short for that. Eat up!

Up next: St Vincent and the Grenadines

Saturday, March 17, 2018


The music of St Lucia is a mix of African musical traditions, European styles, and native Caribbean music. Children learn music from an early age and often use music throughout their lives. 

Some of the instruments you’ll hear in St Lucian music are string instruments like the fiddle, the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, and the cuatro (a 4-stringed instrument similar to a guitar or lute that’s popular in the Caribbean and South America, although sometimes it’ll have more strings). You’ll also find a variety of percussion instruments like the chak-chak (a type of rattle) and bones (yes, actual bones in most cases -- I found a video about North Carolina folk music teaching how to play bones that I included below), tambourines, various types of drums, and a gwaj (scraper). There are also some wind instruments like bamboo flutes and the baha (a kind of wooden trumpet). Vocal music is also quite a strong tradition, and there are some folk styles composed entirely of vocal music. 

Folk music in St Lucia is highly integrated with folk dancing. It’s really pretty hard to separate the two. One type of informal musical style performed at social events like dances and wakes is called the Jwé. There are several different parts to it, but essentially it’s a form of comedic improv where the lyrics are often cutting, almost like a roast, maybe. The Jwé is a very important part of the St Lucian culture. The Kwadril is another style, roughly based on the European dance of a similar name, the quadrille. Compared with the Jwé and other music/dances, because the quadrille that it’s based on grew to be a dance of high society, this one is completely choreographed and memorized; improvisation is not encouraged with the kwadril. Bèlè is another traditional music style that is mostly performed at funeral wakes. There are also two rivaling societies that meet regularly to sing and/or play instruments and are based on the rivalry between the colonial powers: La Rose is English side, and La Marguerite represents the French side.

So, as far as modern music goes, I did happen to find a few bands on Spotify. The first one I listened to was Tru Tones. This was some true disco music. I’m not a huge fan of disco, so I thought the only thing that would make this better would be to turn it into some deep house track. (House music got its start from disco anyway.) However, I kind of question whether what's on Spotify is the same as I found on YouTube. Here's a video showing a little different side of their music.

I also listened to a band called Disturbing Joan. They sing in English, and their style in kind of a mix of rock and funk with some reggae layered on top. I really liked what I listened to, and I’m willing to bet they give a good live show.

Ricky T is a soca musician from St. Lucia who has won numerous soca awards for his work. The thing about soca music is that it’s so upbeat – like I can’t listen to it until its warm, I have an entire afternoon free, and I have a drink in my hand. And I believe soca musicians can and will make a song about pretty much anything, though.

I thought I added the music of the St. Lucian musician Prolifik to my playlist. However, upon further research, I found out I added another rapper who goes by the same name. There are actually a couple of rappers who go by that name. And all I could find was a grainy video from ten years ago. But there are many other musicians from St. Lucia, but I have a feeling many of them are local or underground. However, there are also several steel bands that have earned some kind of notoriety. And the island hosts a huge jazz fest every year.

Up next: the food (finally!)

Sunday, March 11, 2018


The island provides an incredible backdrop of inspiration for artists. The colors, senses, and textures make for a great area to work on your next pièce de résistance. Traditional arts include a number of wood carvings that is not only made of local wood but other natural materials (shells, reeds, etc.). These days, wood carvings can be seen in tourist craft shops, decorating hotels and other buildings, and in galleries. One of the more well-known wood carvers on the island is Joseph Eudovic, who is based in the city of Castries. 

No doubt the most prominent artists is Sir Durstan St Omer. He had spent a lifetime dedicated to art and was the designer of the Saint Lucian flag. His public murals are found across the island, and he’s created some in churches as well. St. Omer was even recognized and knighted by the Governor General on behalf of the Her Majesty the Queen for his accomplishments. 

Luckily in St. Lucia, there has been a general support for the art from the government, especially after gaining independence. On occasion the government works together with the Folk Research Centre (an NGO) on certain projects. Local businesses have also began to sponsor artists as well, which not only supports the artists but gives the businesses a way to exhibit local flair in their offices.

For such a small island, St. Lucia has produced two Nobel Prize winners. The first was Sir Arthur Lewis who won the Nobel Prize in Economics (1979), and the second was Derek Walcott, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature (1992). Walcott was known for his poetry, plays, and essays. While he trained as a painter and was quite accomplished, he leaned more heavily on his poetry. He wrote of his Methodist upbringing and saw poetry as a form of prayer. As far as influences go, he was drawn to several American and British poets, such as T.S. Eliot (even becoming a recipient of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2011), Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop. Wolcott passed away just about a year ago at his home in St. Lucia.

Unfortunately, Derek Walcott’s feat kind of overshadows any other Saint Lucian writer. However, I came across a mention of a book called Neg Maron: Freedom Fighter by Michael Aubertin (he’s the former Director of Culture). You can read the synopsis on the post for Saint Lucian literature from the blog A Year of Reading the World. I’ll let her do all the heavy lifting on this one. However, if you are so inclined, you can order a book on Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: An Anthology of Reviews on the Folk Research Centre’s website.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Ah, it’s good to be back. And yes, I found a new job. What’s funny was that at my interview, I was talking to a woman about the blog. However, as I was trying to remember what exactly was next off the top of my head, and once I figured out it was St. Lucia, I realized I didn’t even know the correct pronunciation of it, so I took a stab at it (and of course I pronounced it wrong), but she quickly said, “Oh, I went to St. Lucia a while back and it was gorgeous [pronouncing it correctly as “LOO-sha,” not “loo-SEE-uh” like I have my whole life.].” While I was happy I was talking to someone intelligent, I made a mental note of it and vowed to always Google everything before I speak. This is how I’ve been fooling people into thinking I’m smarter than I am since 1998. 
The French, who were one of the island’s first European visitors, gave the island its name. It’s named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse and is the only country named after a female. The legend goes that the French sailors were shipwrecked on the island and since it was Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13), it seemed a fitting name.
Located along the Windward Islands in the Caribbean (part of the southernmost chain of islands), St. Lucia is a teardrop-shaped island located just south of the island of Martinique and north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s also northwest of the island of Barbados. It has a tropical climate, with a dry season from December to May and a rainy season from June to November. St. Lucia was formed as part of an active volcanic system (the most recent activity was around 2000-2001).
It’s thought that the earliest people here were the Ciboney people, but there is mixed evidence for that. There’s far more evidence showing that the Arawaks were the first major group of people to live on the island. They called the island Iouanalao, meaning “land of the iguanas” after the large number of iguanas found there. Later, the Caribs moved in and took over. The Caribs were far more aggressive than the peaceful Arawaks. During the mid-1500s, the French arrived. And then the British. After both countries started seeing the advantage of “owning” a bunch of islands in the Caribbean once the sugar industry starting taking off, St. Lucia was often passed back and forth between the two countries many times during the 1700s and 1800s. For the most part, St. Lucia remained as a British colony. Slavery ended in 1838, and at that time, those of African descent outnumbered those of European descent. When St. Lucia stopped being a colony, it joined the West Indies Federation when it gained full independence in 1979. Over the years, a number of films had been at least partially shot in St. Lucia.
The largest city is the capital of Castries. Located on the northwest side of the island, Castries was built on what’s called reclaimed land (“Reclaiming my land…”); in other words, it’s when cities build up swamp land with cement and other materials so that they can build on unbuildable land. The city is also an important port city as well as a tourist hub. As the center of government, it’s also the center for transportation, media, and commerce.
The first time I saw bananas growing was in Brazil. They grow upside-down from what I always imagined!
St. Lucia has traditionally depended on a certain amount of tourism, but since the recession of 2008-2010, tourism has dropped and has been slow to regain. They do have a thriving economic driver in fruit cultivation (mainly bananas and plantains) and beer production as well as petroleum oil. Because St. Lucia has an educated workforce, many foreign countries have chosen St. Lucia for foreign investments, and offshore banking is one of St. Lucia’s key sources of revenue.
Almost two-thirds of the people practice Roman Catholicism (left over from the French) while nearly a quarter adheres to Protestantism. There are smaller numbers of people representing other religious followings such as Rastafarianism, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Judaism, and Baha’i.
The official language is English; however, the vast majority of the people speak Saint Lucian Creole French. It’s a subgenre of Antillean Creole, which is used in literature and their music. It’s kind of a combination of African and Carib sentence structure with French-based vocabulary. Not really understood to French speakers, it’s more intelligible to other French-based Creoles. Even at that, St. Lucia is still considered part of the Francophone (countries that speak French).
I ran across a story about St. Lucia’s volcanoes. One in particular is known as Sulpher Springs. It was created as lava and steam wore a crater into the surface over 400,000 years ago. The water is black because of a reaction between the iron and sulpher. So, as tourists began flocking to the island to see this, they used to practically be able to drive right up to the edge. However, in the 1990s one of the guides fell through into the hot boiling water (I’m guessing this didn’t end well). So, now they built a platform a few hundred feet back. (Smart move.)

Up next: art and literature