Breadfruit and Me: A Brief History of War

Hey hey!  I’m hot-footing it all across the interwebs this week–check out my post on how I started running (twice!) on Bridget’s awesome blog Pounding Pavement and Plants!

________________

I think I’ve discovered my vegetable nemesis.  Ladies and gentlemen,  meet the not-so-humble breadfruit:

This vegetable just will not let me be.  It haunts me and taunts me and very rudely gives me the vegetable finger, no matter what weaponry I throw at it.  We have a history of military squirmishes. I believe you could well call it a full-blown war at this stage.

Battle Number 1 (Fall campaign 2008) took the form of traditional Puerto Rican breadfruit tostones (fried slices of breadfruit).  It may not have been ripe enough, or maybe it was too ripe.  I also think I sliced it in the wrong direction.  The tostones lacked both the requisite crispy exterior and the creamy smooth interior.  Breadfruit 1, Laura 0.

Battle Number 2 (Spring campaign 2009) took the form of curried coconutty breadfruit.  I dutifully wrote down the directions from a coworker and stuck faithfully to the recipe.  The breadfruit stuck faithfully to the pan.  It tasted like Elmer’s glue paste with a sprinkle of bitter.  Breadfruit 2, Laura 0.

Battle Number 3 (Summer campaign 2010) took the form of a breadfruit salad that I tried to copy from my neighbor.  Mr. L raved about the neighbor’s delicious breadfruit salad, which was done much like a standard potato salad (mayo, onion, canned vegetable).  I should have known that I had no business dealing with 1) canned vegetables and 2) mayo-based salads because I just don’t do either.  I boiled the beast breadfruit, dressed the beast breadfruit, and (almost) bawled at the beast breadfruit’s refusal to pick up ANY kind of flavor (other than bitter). Breadfruit 3, Laura 0.

Needless to say, this frustrates me and keeps me up at night.  Why is it so hard to judge its ripeness?  Why is its texture/flavor combo so temperamental?  How can I tell what each particular breadfruit is best suited for?  Was breadfruit put on this earth to drive me crazy?

I’m not capitulating.  I’m not giving up.  Aw, hells no.  I’m gonna beat up on that breadfruit like I’ve wailed on caraili (bitter gourd) before. For heaven’s sake, I am Puerto Rican.  I should be able to tame a damn breadfruit in my sleep.

So on Tuesday, Battle Number 4 took place.  I armed myself with my weaponry:

  • Saltfish for me/veggie mince meat for him
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Trini seasonings (Scotch Bonnet peppers, seasoning peppers, chive/green onion, garlic, thyme, green seasoning mix)
  • Olives (which I didn’t end up using)

I worked some magic by stewing the above while I boiled the breadfruit into submission, then mashed it up with some sauteed onion, garlic, and herbs of the above varieties.  I then plonked the fish/meat down and covered with the mashed breadfruit to make a tropical (aka more feisty) version of a shepherd’s pie.  I shoved it all into the oven, crossed my fingers that it would turn out and that my oven would not turn against me, and prepared for the worst.

This is what emerged from the oven:

And this is what landed on my plate:

I held my breath and crossed my fingers before tasting it.  Guess what?  It rocked!  The breadfruit layer was not bitter at all and it actually took on the flavor of the bucketload of seasoning I put on it.  The bottom later of saltfish melded very nicely with the breadfruit and, with the bonus of a slightly crisped top, the combination worked really, really well.  The Mr. very much liked his vegetable mince version, too, which was seasoned the same way as my saltfish.

I  really, really can’t wait to make this again. I will not go nipping breadfruits from branches along the side of the road, no matter how tempting, to make this again.  I solemnly swear.  I don’t fight dirty like that.

Final verdict on Battle Four?  I win!! I therefore take the liberty of pronouncing this last battle the only battle that really matters in the outcome of our war, and declare myself winner.

Advertisements

Fabrics and Food Shopping: A Lesson In Obsession

Quick note-slash-big announcement:  I’m on Hollaback Health today in the first of a series of regular posts on how to improve your writing!  Head on over and find out why writing matters so much–and why I just NEED to get up on a soapbox and make us all better bloggers.

__________

This weekend, I confirmed a fact that I already knew beyond a reasonable doubt:  I am a Class A hoarder.

I don’t hoard junk that would land me on those ridiculous TLC shows.  I just hoard non-perishable food items and fabrics.  You know, the usual stuff.

The worst part is that I know that I do it.  In fact, I recognize the process:

  • A fancy can of something interesting or an insanely bright piece of fabric (usually cotton–let’s keep it real) catches my eye.  I get so excited I have to buy it (usually because it’s both special AND cheap) and I yammer to the salesperson about it as I purchase it.  I can tell they all roll their eyes when I walk out of the store.
  • The purchase turns out to be SO special that I just can’t bring myself to open it or cut into it.  I set it aside for the right dinner/occasion.
  • The right dinner/occasion never comes.
  • Fast forward a few months/years and I’m unearthing eight cans of chickpeas and a jar of sweet and spicy jalapeno jelly/ X cuts of fabric from the depths of my kitchen/sewing mess.
  • Cue shame–but cue indifference, too, because by the time I dig it out I’ve moved on to other, more exciting finds.

And so it goes.

I usually don’t feel guilty for it, except for when I do, and today is one of those days, sadly.  So, in the interest of not humoring my compulsions, I hereby announce that I will refrain from multiple-can purchases of beans until I’m down to just two cans of chickpeas (two being the amount of cans that I end up using any time I use beans–helps me make leftovers).  I will also refrain from buying any more fabric until I’ve dealt with at least three of the cuts of fabric I’ve squirrelled away.

Honestly, inspiration has struck in a million different ways for each of these beauties.  I just have to simmer down and make a decision and get on with my bad sewing self:

Purple was purchased in April, yellow in February, red in May
Uh-oh: the blue on the right was purchased in March 2009, the green in September 2007 (!), and the one on the left in May

Clearly, I have a problem–and some sewing to do.

And yet…

This De-Hoarding Measure does not mean that I can’t evade my own rules by making bean-free dishes and chopping up my curtains to make my own Hostess With the Mostest/Trophy Wife version of this Anthropologie dress:

Convincing reasoning, no?

Are you a ruthless de-cluttering machine, or do you hoard things like the world is ending tomorrow?  What is your hoarding poison?

Foodie Fix: A Slice of South America In Trinidad

In a total Homer Simpson “D’oh!” moment, I realized that posting a Foodie Friday post at 10 pm on a Friday night kind of defeated the purpose of calling it Foodie Friday since, well, it would get read on the weekend.  Silly, silly me.  So from now on, you’ll be seeing Foodie Fix (and Trini Tales, too) appearing at their usual times, sans the day of the week added in.  It makes very little difference in the grand scheme of things, I know–but at least I feel like I got one over the tyranny of the days of the week. Tyrants…

________

Anyway, to the matter at hand…

Which is the eating of Venezuelan food in Trinidad:

A few months ago, Mr. L suggested a surprise lunch to a restaurant he’d recently heard of.  Our gluttony pushed us to brave torrential rains and, ever since, we’ve had to impose a limit on how many times a month we get to go to Taryn’s for lunch.   I swear I have an internal GPS and it only ever wants to take me there (23 Mucurapo Road, St. James, Port of Spain, in case you’re in the area and want to set your real GPS or map-skillz to it, too).

The first time we went, I had the pabellon lunch, which had stewed beef, fried plantains, black beans and rice.  It was delicious and I had to be wheeled to the car because it was so filling:

The second time, I went for something a bit lighter and, in the process, ignited a torrid love affair with the Venezuelan arepa:

I had it with the stewed beef filling and rice and beans on the side and was so appreciative of how tasty it was that I almost asked the lovely owner if I could work there full-time just so I could be paid in arepas.  Thank goodness I have a bit of shame.

This time, I figured that nothing in this world can’t be improved with the addition of a fried plantain or three, so I ordered the arepa with stewed beef and fried plantain (with the customary black beans and rice on the side):

At least this time I knew the dangers of its deliciousness and only vaguely considered making rash offerings of services in exchange for arepas.

It’s not just the delicious food that keeps me coming back.  The ambiance is homey and familiar with its low bar and woodwork and sweet table decor; it’s very much like the kind of Old San Juan lunch spots that I love so much when I go to Puerto Rico:

Please pardon the arm--there are only so many times a man will kindly move his arm before you risk losing your camera--and your plate.

The service is extremely friendly, the cast of regulars is reassuring to see, and the prices are really, really good considering that you are paying for a crispy-exterior, soft-and-meaty interior slice of heaven on a plate.  Oh yeah, and I get to hear and speak Spanish, which always does my little scrawny heart great good.

Someday, I’ll manage to resist the arepas and order some of their other Venezuelan specialties, like the shepherd’s pie-type dishes with plantain and fish or plantain and stewed meat (which are much more familiar to my Rican-girl palate).  Someday, pigs might fly straight into my mouth, ready-roasted, too.

Until then, I’ll be trying all of the arepas on the menu.  I’ve tasted the cheese ones (which are made with a salty white cheese and which would totally rock my dairy-free world, if they could):

I’ve yet to try the ones stuffed with pork, chicken, fish, or shrimp.  I’m afraid of what would happen if I did, because then I’d be ordering several arepas per sitting and that would just not do.

Oh Venezuelan food, where have you been all my life?  (Oh yeah, you’ve been seven miles from Trinidad and quietly chillin’ in the Trinidad Northern Range where the Spanish in Trinidad lived–and in St. James, too, apparently.)

If you are tempted to have an arepa adventure this weekend (as I may well be), check out the recipe on Food Wishes (you can use any brand of masarepa cornmeal–note, it’s not the same as masa harina!) or the recipe on Venezuelan Food and Drinks.

Buen provecho!

The Trouble In My Kitchen

The trouble in my kitchen is actually that the kitchen is quiet these days.  Dead, dead quiet.

It’s not that there is no good dishing up going on around here.  I haven’t fallen prey to packaged foods and, truth be told, it’s not even like I’m eating the same things every single week.  The food I make still tastes mighty fine to me (and to those who eat it, or so they say) and it’s still nutritious and balanced and all that nonsense.  And it all still manages to look pretty enough on the plate, see?

French toast with starfruit

Black bean and rice burrito bowl a la Chipotle

Caribbean bean burger on salad, breadfruit salad, avocado slices

But I’m just not dying to get my hands on my knives and pots and spoons, as I used to be.  Check me for fever–this has never happened before.

I have to confess that I was feeling pretty uninspired before I left for Buffalo.  However, the prospect of North American summer produce (I’ve never met a squash or a berry I didn’t want to make out with) and North American supermarkets and specialty food shops was enough to keep me afloat, food-wise.  I had a whole long list of stuff I wanted to make while I was there, some of which got made (grilled zucchini, corn on the cob, all kinds of kooky salads, pork and pork and more pork) and some of which is now on the list for next summer.

However, I was not pushing people out of my way to get into the kitchen during my visit home.  And now, I wish someone would come and cook for me, because despite having picked up a new cookbook and psyched myself up for the triumphant return to my kitchen (where I know where everything is and belongs), I’m still not feelin’ it.

I know, I know:  you’re thinking I have no business griping about fresh produce when I live in the tropics and can get my hands on all kinds of crazy exotic goodies.  Well, yes, I can.  But the problem with having just one season is that you have the same things year-round, for the most part.

It’s pretty tempting to hold a pity party for one in the dining room while I wistfully look at my kitchen and then beg for sushi takeout.  However, it’s probably better for me to analyze the problem and the issues at hand which have led to this sad culinary state:

Dietary issues:

  • I miss my dairy, full stop., and I’m fairly sure the cows miss me.  I don’t want to eat a whole cow’s worth of cheese, but it wouldn’t go amiss on a salad or on my greens or on, well, anything.
  • I also realized, while in Buffalo, that indulging in ricey and wheaty ways to the extreme leads to grogginess and the need to kill someone for a baguette in the extreme, which narrows down my lunch options quite a bit.
  • And let’s not even talk about nuts–I’d trade a year of my life to try any of those fancy  new nut butters or savor a macadamia.
  • To add to the maelstrom of malaise, I try to keep both the man and myself happy at dinner.  Ideally, I’d be eating vegan vegetable, bean and grain feasts with a hunk of pork on the side, topped with shrimp; he is more into the pasta/potatoes/cheese/slight veggies on the side kinds of meals and, quite reasonably for a vegetarian, would not garnish his meal with pork.  Needless to say, it’s a most wearisome juggling act sometimes, even with his valiant assists on meal-planning.

Ingredients:

  • Did I say I’d kill for nuts?  Scratch that.  I’d commit various Class-A felonies for berries, squash, nectarines, and all kinds of seasonal produce.  I love the range of tropical produce, but range does not equal variety if I’m eating pumpkin twelve months of the year.
  • I could get some seasonal goodies at the supermarket or at Pricesmart–I’d just have to swear off buying everything else for the month, because those things don’t come cheap (or even reasonable).

Inspiration:

  • I can’t get inspired.  I try to read foodie blogs to get inspired and feel uninspired.  I try to NOT read foodie blogs and let it happen naturally but it doesn’t.  I buy cookbooks to peruse and end up asking myself why I spent $20 on a book whose ingredients I cannot find/afford/eat.
  • See above.  It just bears repeating.

So I guess my only solution is to have a piece of Martha Stewart’s brain (or, better yet, Nigella Lawson’s brain) transplanted onto mine.  It’s the ONLY logical way out of this.  Until then, I’m not going to stress about being stressed about cooking–and I’ll wait for all your wonderful comments/suggestions/instructions to get out of this funk.

Have you ever had a cooking rut?  How did you deal with it?  Share and help a girl out, please!

Shhh! Don’t Tell Anyone, But…

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but… I think I am a (gulp) clean eater. (And still chillin’ like a villain in Buffalo–I head back to my tropical home tomorrow, fingers crossed.  Just an aside.)

I’m really not the kind of person to categorize what I eat and how.  Yeah, I was vegetarian for three years, but yeah, I gave it up for pork chops in baked beans and chorizo–all in the same day.  I also eat vegan at home 90% of the time, but that’s down to lactose intolerance.  Present me with a steak (or better yet, a piece of pork–I am, after all, a good Puerto Rican girl!) and watch me be your best friend for the rest of the day.

However, a friend was asking me the other day how I eat since I decided to give healthy eating a go (and my old size too-big-for-my-frame pants a miss).  To be honest, I struggled to answer.  The best I could do was, “Well, I don’t eat as much bread as I used to, and I eat lots of vegetables, and… Uh, I don’t know.”

And then she said it:  “So, mostly clean eating!”

And she was right.  Since I’ve replaced the bulk of my intake of bread and rice and pasta with more complex carbohydrates, I’ve felt a million times better.  Ramen noodles and cookies do not make this girl run fast or want to don a bikini (or a carnival costume).  I started to eat less processed food about a year ago now and,  after the initial adjustment–and a vast improvement in my vegetable prep skills–and planning, I just don’t give it a second thought.  Wanna watch me snooze the afternoon away?  Give me a plateful of rice and beans and meaty stew and some plantains and you might just get your wish, now that said meal is no longer a lunch mainstay.

However, I’m not about to start waving a banner about clean eating (because what’s clean for me may still be too processed for others) or categorize myself as such.  I WILL eat hot dogs at family cookouts and I will most certainly partake of my mom’s lemon cake.  If I do this every day, though, I’ll probably spend more time clutching at my disgruntled stomach than telling you about how tasty that hot dog and that cake were.

So yes, my habits have changed.  And, despite my best efforts to eat the way that I eat back in Trinidad while I’ve been in Buffalo, there has been entirely too much of… well, a sweet here and a bagel there and a sandwich with chips at lunch.  This is not about weight (in fact, my clothes are looser since I arrived here six weeks ago)–it’s about bloat in my belly and bounce in my step and a beastly craving for toast at all hours once the two-toasts-for-breakfast line is breached.

Therefore, today’s lunch was a welcome respite from all things wheaty and meaty (and believe me, I’ll take belly blahness for my mom’s and Baby Bel’s cooking any day).  I found myself home alone and with poblano peppers and soft corn tortillas.  Need I tell you what comes next?

Tacos with black beans and green salsa!  Full of vegetable and bean goodness and enough spice that my eye stung like crazy when I accidentally touched it after chopping the pepper.  I present you with today’s saviors, courtesy of Wegmans and Goya:

(I should have shares in Goya.  I probably also should have shares in that most awesome supermarket chain that is Wegmans–but I worked there through college and though it was bearable enough, I’ll give it a pass.)

Into said tortillas (which were warmed on the stove until they were hot and starting to crisp on the sides) went black beans, a handful of lettuce, tomatoes, poblano peppers, a sprinkle of red onion, and a good dose of Wegmans green salsa.  They tasted the way heaven must taste, spicy and crunchy and just oniony enough that I tasted the onion but wouldn’t knock a passerby out from onion breath.

I Tweeted yesterday that the reason I must have missed my flight was to finally watch a movie in peace with my mother.  Don’t tell her, but I think these tacos were the real reason I had to miss my flight.  Karma owed me these suckaz, plain and simple.

When In Rome…

Now, don’t go getting too excited!  I’m definitely not in Rome.  But, I am taking the “when in Rome…” mentality VERY seriously when it comes to eating during this visit to the US.

Basically, here’s what that means: if I can’t get it in Trinidad and/or it’s made with love and secret recipes by a family member or from food establishments tasty and dear to my heart, I will be eating it.

So I’m going to town on all the tasty stuff I can’t get back in the tropics, such as munching plates with goat cheese, pepperoni, and the nubbiest multigrain sandwich bread ever:

Salads with grilled zucchini, asparagus, arugula, mint, and feta cheese:

Dark chocolate-orange mousse with a healthy slosh of Grand Marnier (well, Gran Gala, which is the same but less pricey):

Hot dogs grilled with love and pesto pasta salad made with love by Baby Bel and her tall one:

And jicama salad with black beans and pulled pork burritos:

Yep.  With food this yummy, I won’t care if my jeans get a smidge tighter over the next few week.  I have all the time in the world (and none of the bread) in Trinidad to get myself ready for Carnival in March next year!

Can’t wait for the weekend’s munchies–there may be sweet potato salad, more grilled dogs, and a whole lot of corn on the menu, plus a non-food surprise that I’ll divulge when I’ve fully digested the marvelousness of it all and can contain myself for long enough to actually write about it.  Sorry, y’all!  You’ll have to wait and see…

__________

I haven’t forgotten the Ride for Roswell Skirt Giveaway!  I’m still  tallying the last few pledges, but I promise it’ll be just a few days until that goes on.

How to Exercise Control Over Food That Makes You Go Bananas

This post should really be called “how I managed to survive the weekend without demolishing the jalapeno pretzel bits” (while alone in the house and buried under blissful piles of sewing, which would be a whole other post.)

Pretzels left as of Monday night!

This is no mean feat.  This is a clear triumph over some evil food demons.  I actually had to take a moment to let it sink in.

Here’s how that bag is still around…

The thing with doing your own food shopping is that you generally control what goes into your shopping cart (unless you have children or significant others tossing chocolate chip-hazelnut cookies and apple soda into your cart) and into the realm of calm and good feeling that should be your kitchen. And there are things that you know will drive you into food frenzy.

I’m not talking about those things that you nibble out of the box mindlessly or feel like you could do without. You know what you can and can’t have around the house lest you eat an obscene amount of said goody in one hour.  You do, really, if you think about it.

See, there’s a scientifically-proven system of reasoning, deduction, and fear that goes into maintaining composure in the face of your most hellacious temptation items of food, whether that be in the grocery store or in your own kitchen.  Go on, get your notebook, I’ll wait….

Got it?  Good.  Now, in order to avoid situations that lead to extreme food inhalation of the third degree, you need to:

Identify your kryptonite:

These are the things that make you go koo koo for cocoa puffs.  Mine are tortilla chips, Reese’s peanut butter cups (the mini ones), and jalapeno-flavored ANYTHING (I’d probably eat tire chunks if they were coated in powdery fake jalapeno goodness).

Determine how psychotic the food can make you act:

Be realistic.  Could you have it around the house and eat it in reasonable quantities at reasonable intervals?  Would you inhale the thing before you even made it home with it?  Would you knife your housemate if they took it from you?  For me:

  • the Reese’s CAN be in the house without me eating all of them (though I would eat more than I should of them)
  • the jalapeno-flavored pretzels/car tire bits would earn a housemate a stabbing if they were so foolish to thief them from me
  • the tortilla chips would not make it home, other than as crumbs in my hair (and I would not be able to stop thinking about them if they did manage to make it through the front door)

Determine a plan of action to counteract the psychotic behavior that might be induced:

This one can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.  It’s about strategies and coping mechanisms that will prevent you from doing the unholy things to that food that you may do, were you not so reasonable as to have developed a plan (or, in my case, so foolish that I brought certain dirty little items into my otherwise zen, peaceful home).  In my case, this is how I handle it:

  • Reese’s mini cups: I buy one SMALL bag, even if it’s cheaper to buy the bigger bag; cheaper is good, but off my thighs is better.  I’ll therefore happily pay the proportional larger cost of the smaller bag.  My sanity is definitely worth that much money.  I also put them WAY back in the fridge so they’re not in my face whenever I open the door, and I can live with the fact that these are eaten only AFTER dinner, with the Husband (who will definitely eat more than me, making them disappear fast).
  • Jalapeno devil-bites: I buy one bag at a time, ever, even if they’re on sale; if they were” buy one, get one free,” I’d have to give my free bag to the cashier to ensure sanity on my part.  When I get home, I put them out of sight and hopefully out of reach.  When they need to be eaten, I portion them out into a pretty plate or bowl and daintily nibble from there.  Because vengefulness is not something to indulge, I also try to be out of the picture when the Husband finishes them because I would be compelled to violence if I sniffed them and knew he’d eaten the last ones without offering any to me.
  • Tortilla chips: Mercy on my soul…  I try not to buy them unless it’s completely necessary–as in, guests are coming to dinner and one of them has specifically told me that the only thing they can eat without going into anaphylactic shock is tortilla chips.  Other than that, there are practically no good reasons for me to keep these around.  Should they be purchased (for the poor food-limited guest) and leftovers be, well, left, I ask the Husband to hide them.  Another option is putting them so high that you can only reach them with a six-foot stepladder or, bar that, a chair and a long wooden spoon.  If and when I scale the heights of high shelves to get them, I try to portion them–and woe befall whoever even looks at my portion with an eye to steal one–and eat them s-l-0-w-l-y so I can enjoy every single niblet of processed salty deliciousness.

Implement your plan:

Easy to do.  And warn those around you about what the plan is, or how to handle you if you try to wheedle them into helping you access any kind of stash (or stuff Reese’s down your pants at the supermarket).  In my case, the Husband knows that he should not, under any circumstances, hand me the tortilla chips unless I’m holding the house machete to him (yes, I have a machete–but every respectable household in Trinidad does, and no one uses it for tortilla-hostage situations, so it’s fine, trust me).

Should the plan fail….

Do NOT let yourself feel guilty.  Yeah, you just stuffed six mini-Reese’s into your mouth at once, but it’s not the end of the world or reason to commit hare kiri.  You won’t see them on your thighs unless you did it for a whole week didn’t get up from the couch to  drink water/relieve yourself/have a life.  You planned and just because it didn’t work this time (and you ate a whole five-pounder bag of jalapeno pretzels) doesn’t mean it CAN’T work or won’t work the next time.

In fact, right now (when your stomach is churning and you think you will smell jalapeno for the rest of your life) is the time to rejig your plan.  Maybe you need to re-evaluate the level of crack that your particular crack provides and change your approach to it.  Maybe you need to put things higher up.  Maybe you need to face the fact that you just can’t have, say, tortilla chips in your house for a while, until you sort out the madness behind your insane and unreasonable obsession.

I would not assume, however, that the person responsible for hiding the offending item should be made to hide it better.  This is all on you, baby girl, so just accept it and move on.

So, the fact that this is still here:

Is  a pretty big accomplishment.  I think I deserve a nice fabric to make a cute skirt for being such a calm, virtuous person.

_____________

In things of the kind that I don’t need to ration or develop anti-psychotic plans for….

I got gussied up (ok, wore clothes and non-flip-flops) for most of the day, which involved a nice tough swim in the afternoon:

Sister-gifted blouse, Old Navy shorts, Target shoes

And I had two meals anchored by beany goodness–one of which was leftover sweet potato and black-eyed pea Southern burgers on salad (for lunch):

And lentil tacos for dinner (lentils were boiled, drained of most water, then simmered for a bit with a taco seasoning packet before being piled into tacos):

The irony of eating corn tacos today, when I’ve expounded on tortilla chips.  For some reason, corn taco shells don’t require exorcism.  Strange, isn’t it?

What are your kryptonite foods?  And how do you deal with them?