The Lazy Sunday Taskmistress: Reporting for Duty

For once, you may find me all wordless–or rather, as wordless as I get.  You see, I’ve been tinkering away at something really big (hint:  it involves the blog!) and have spent way, way, WAY too much time attached to the trusty Toshiba over the last few days.  It’s totally zapped my powers of speech.  Unbelievable, I know.

Worry not, though:  I managed to live a little, too!

Here’s the abbreviated, almost-wordless take on the weekend:

Hunkered down for the heavy rain on Friday

Went out for a post-rain Friday night movie and snack of beer and potato wedges

Hoped against hope for disappearance of ominous clouds on Saturday

...Because I spent Saturday at the Caribbean 20-20 Cricket final

Cheered as Trinidad won third place and eliminated Jamaica

...And witnessed Guyana winning the final against Barbados at midnight, which set off a storming of the field by Guyana supporters

Ate a fittingly-late Sunday brunch chez my table--southwest scramble with avocado salsa and tex-mex cornbread

Performed the inevitable weevil check of the dry pasta before dinner--'tis the season for bugs

Dined on pasta with eggplant sauce, sauteed plantains, avocado slices for dinner

See?  I can be quiet sometimes… only sometimes.

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!

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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.

Trini Tale Thursday: When It Rains…

It REALLY rains here.

You’ve probably seen me mention the rainy season and wondered why I had my panties in a twist about it, unless you’re Trini, in which case you know all about the rainy season and how to deal.

But, for those of you who haven’t seen the madness that is a tropical rainy season, let me tell you ALL about it and how it affects your entire life–your food, your workouts, and your hair.

Basically, Trinidad has two seasons–dry and rainy.  During the dry season, it’s 93 F with zero humidity and it rains once in a blue moon.

During the rainy season, it’s 93 F with 90% humidity and it rains constantly.  It pours. Buckets and buckets and buckets.  No sweet April showers here, folks; we get black skies and heavy, low-hanging clouds:

Why, is that a fat rain cloud posse in the distance?

See that cloud? It totally soaked me and all the other wonderful Emancipation Day festivity viewers

Oh yes you CAN get rained on at the beach--and I did

The rain is absolutely torrential–you could wash your hair under a downpour in less time that it takes using a good-pressured showerhead, I am certain of it:

I'm taking cover on my porch

A curtain of rain hanging down from my roof

The rain most certainly brings things into bloom.  They look so pretty that I usually don’t mind how it takes two Zyrtek, two doses of eye drops, and two doses of nasal spray each day to keep me from ripping my face off from seasonal allergies (which last–you guessed it–all rainy season long).  See how gorgeous?

I want that red flamboyant tree, and I want it BAD.

I'd like these, too

However, the rainy season also brings power outages (which would not vex me nearly as much if they didn’t mean being fan-less and sweaty) and floods, like the ones I had to wade through on my way back from the airport last August (thanks again, Mr. Neighbor with the Pickup Truck for hoisting me and my goods onto the back of your pickup truck and getting me home safely!):

Yuck.

The rainy season also brings the scourge of bugs all up in your kitchen business, nibbling away at anything in a bag and therefore surprising you when you open the rice and find bugs and rice dust.  It also brings the scourge of mosquitoes all up in your joint, nibbling on your legs and other tasty areas (but mainly my legs–freaks) and inducing general paranoia about dengue fever in the bitee.

I had dengue when I was ten.  It sucked.  Can’t they just move along?  (I tried as hard as I could to get a picture of my currently-mosquito-colonized legs, but I’d rather not have readers passing out from grossness).

Of course the rainy season makes your skin nice and glowy, but it also makes your hair resemble a nest of sloppy crackhead birds.  No, I’m not showing you a picture of my frizzy head because you might not come back to my blog.

The rainy season also makes a Blindy McGoo driver like me terrified of being caught out on the road when the skies open up (and, of course, of getting my hair and feet wet when I eventually get out of my car).  Traffic stops when it rains heavily.  The wipers can’t handle it.  It’s a bonafide acceptable excuse for being late here.

And that, of course, means that getting to the pool becomes rather difficult–should it even be open on a very rainy day, since the slightest threat of thunder is enough to send the lovely pool-managing dudes running back home and hiding under their tables (or just not letting me or anyone swim if a thunderclap was heard in the last twelve hours).  Thank goodness for Core Fusion DVDs and Zumba at home, or my fitness would take a serious hit from the weather, sheesh.

As for the beach–ha.  You pack up your car, you hope for the best, you drive an hour to get there… and if the rain starts pounding down:

Oy vey

At least you can be grateful for a bit of cover at the beach’s bar:

Why yes, that is indeed a makeshift ladder contraption with a man on it, back left

Where you can enjoy an awesome beach lunch:

The best stewed chicken, macaroni pie, salad, rice, and callalloo lunch ever had by woman, from Las Cuevas beach last Sunday

But do I complain?  Nope (well, except for the mosquito bites).  I’ll take biblical downpours over wimpy British misting and butt-freezing cold any day.

Back In Business–A Playlist To Beat Laziness

I almost gave in to laziness and fear and sleepiness and ridiculousness this morning–but I didn’t.  Ladies and gentleman, I went for my first post-Buffalo Trinidad run!  And to celebrate the occasion, there’s a new playlist involved…

When the alarm went off at 5:45, I was all “Hells no.”  I hit snooze.  When it went off again, I hit snooze, wanted to cry at the prospect of leaving my cozy bed, and negotiated with my half-asleep self that I’d run in the afternoon instead.  When it went off the third time, I decided I was not going to feel any better about this first run back in Heat Central, shook off my ridiculousness, and went out for the damn three-mile run.

One word for it:  amazing.

I thought the heat would be unbearable, as it was when I left in May, and I was concerned that the sun would be a bit much for my late-ish start.  No such thing.  It was sunny but not frying weather, there was a breeze (which was actually cool!), and the mosquitoes weren’t nearly as nippy as I expected them to be.  I broke a sweat before I was even breathing heavily and was practically exuding a river as I ran, but it actually felt great to sweat so quickly; it was like running in my own personal shower bubble.

So yes, I had to sacrifice about twenty seconds per mile of speed compared to my Buffalo times, but it didn’t matter in the least.  It was too awesome of a run for me to care.

And did I mention the scenery?  It was breathtaking on my route, now that the rain has pounded the island and greened up the mountains and trees and bushes, and I could smell all kinds of seasonal flowers all along the way.  It was as idyllic as running in Trinidad gets.  This picture is not of the route, but you get the idea:

Those are the mountains I see on my morning run

Misty gingers of the kind I see on my morning runs

So, in honor of today’s awesome run, I’ll give you my Guaranteed Laziness-Busting Playlist, which is sure to generate big-time badassery at even the ungodliest hour of the morning:

  • Rihanna–Hard
  • Bajah and the Dry-Eye Crew–Laba Laba
  • MIA–Stepping Up (*her entire new album kicks and thumps, I can’t recommend it enough)
  • Mapei–Public Enemy
  • Anjalie–Boom
  • DJ Waxfiend/Busy Signal–Sound of Sirens
  • Lazerproof–Tigerlily
  • Lady Gaga–Dance In The Dark
  • MIA–Born Free
  • Bajah and the Dry-Eye Crew–Bondo Kallay
  • Thunderheist–Jerk It

There’s no way you’ll be able to sit still through this mix, I promise.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Girl Gets Home

I woke up this morning to the sound of pounding rain on the ceiling.  Gosh, I love Trinidad rain!

So yep, I’m back in the tropics after having a ball in Buffalo.  In fact, those two extra days (thanks for making me miss my flight, NYC-area thunderstorms of July 13) made me feel like I’d done everything I wanted to do while I was in Buffalo and left me happy as could be to get back to sweet T and T.

So, as I drifted through the clouds for those 1500 or so miles from JFK to Piarco airport, I was dreaming of my Trini home and all its creature craziness:

  • Doubles and sada roti
  • Maracas beach and bake and shark
  • Band launch season (carnival 2K11, I’m lookin’ right at you!)
  • Mangoes from my tree
  • Making friends with a fresh new host of summer iguanas and lizards
  • Sewing and gawping at gorgeous fabrics
  • My kitchen, my market, my mostly meat-free existence (though dang, my mom and sisters make me a happy carnivore)
  • Tuesday Law and Order SVU marathon (no USA network at my mom’s house)
  • The dog
  • The man
  • The chill life (well, the sweaty life, but you know what I mean)

And if the charms of Trinidad wane, I just need to remember it’s twenty weeks till I go back at Christmas.

I’ll be back on Monday with tons of energy and sass and pictures, I promise!  Until then, I’ll be sleeping and swatting mosquitoes and sipping cold drinks on my porch–total bliss…

Trini Tales Thursday: Slang… And Sushi, Too

When I first moved to Trinidad, I was a bit worried about understanding the accent here.  I had listened to some Trini radio online before and, well, sat there dumbfounded while trying to figure out what was said three sentences ago.

It took a bit of time (and quite a few embarrassing repeated “What?/Say that again?/Sorry?”) to get it down, but I can understand most people now.  However, what I’m still amazed at is the extent to which Trini slang differs from anything I’ve ever seen before–and how easy it was to fall right into using it.

So, in honor of me steupsing in traffic, giving cut-eye to bad parking jobs, and going bazodee at sushi today, I thought it might be time for a Trini slang lesson.  Get your notebooks out or I’ll ketch your tail….

  • cuteye/stinkeye–fairly self-explanatory; to give a mean look.  Example:  “I gave cuteye to the pervy man on the bicycle who was staring at me during my morning run,” or “the cashier gave me stinkeye when I asked her to pack my groceries into reusable bags.”
  • steupse (pronounced “stoops”):  a sound made by sucking your teeth in disapproval or dismay.  Example:  “Every time I see the price of strawberries, I steupse.  I’m not paying US $6 for a pint of berries.  Steupse.  Steupse. Steupse.”
  • ketch your tail: to get someone in trouble or give them a good telling-off/hiding.  Example:  “Next time I see the water pump repairman thiefing my mangoes, I’m gonna ketch his tail REAL good.”
  • hear dis nah: a way of prefacing a story, preferably a salacious or gossipy one; like using “so….” or “you won’t believe this.”  Example:  “Hear dis nah:  I saw the neighbor kissing her gardener, and her husband was in the house!  Yes, girl…”
  • bazodee (pronounced “BAZ-uh-dee): going really, really, maniacally crazy for something or someone. Example:  “I go bazodee for nacho-flavored Doritos.”
  • bacchanal: any general or specific craziness.  Example:  “The start of the Clico 5K race was total bacchanal, people  lining up anyhow and taking off before the whistle.”
  • macco: to gossip about others.  Example:  “I have no patience for people who go to the pool to macco and not to swim; they take up my lane and I want to bop them over their gossipy heads with my swimming board.”
  • bamsie/bumper: the booty.  Example:  “If I do my Core Fusion for a month, I’ll have a REAL nice bamsie for so…”

So go forth and spread the good Trini word…  and, if you don’t, at least do a little steupse at anything that bothered  you today.  I guarantee it’ll make you feel much, much better.

Missed previous Trini Tales Thursdays?  Check out Office Life–insights on air conditioning, tea, and the correct way to open a door with a buzzer…

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Foodery today included an out-of-body experience with the new oatmeal (steel-cut oats after weeks of quick Quaker crap?  Be still my heart!):

Plus grapefruit, coffee, and email catch-up

And a green monster with about 1/3 cup of coffee added in (which, oddly enough, blended with the banana, soymilk, and spinach to  turn my smoothie into a refreshing mix  of chocolaty green goodness):

Green monster and water--all beverages enjoyed from bottles due to my bad tendency to spill EVERYTHING around my electronics

However, the key foodery event du jour was the sushi at More Sushi on Ariapita Ave. in Port of Spain, for which I dressed thusly:

Dress by me, finished five minutes before heading out the door; shoes Target; earrings were a sister gift; necklace is granny bling

And, speaking of that meal, Lord have mercy! I wish I could go around flaying fish for every meal, but until then, More Sushi will have to do–it was a pile of crazy, but a supremely inspired pile of crazy with chunky tuna, jalapeno, cucumber, some kind of roe, and a spicy chili sauce on top:

Trinis are great cooks, no matter the cuisine they make.  How they manage to improve on regular ol’ sushi is beyond me, but boy oh boy… Trini cooks have a sweet han’ fuh so (great touch in the kitchen).  May I live and learn…

Food Pilgrimages: The Bulk Shopping Excursion

Remember when I went on a wild goose chase for real oatmeal last month?  Today, I went on another pilgrimage, braving traffic and rastas selling all manner of cheap goods on the highway, straight across the island and out west…

This time, to Pricesmart.  Because today was ALL about the canned tomatoes.

Let’s back it up for some context, shall we?

Though my student days are over, my cheap budget days never will be.  I used to be motivated to penny-pinch by shoe lust; now, it’s fabric-mania and Target trip lust that keeps me and my wallet on our toes.  So, when I moved to Trindiad, I was more than ready to do as I had done everywhere else, and shop in a few different places to make sure I got all my deals.

In Trinidad, that means:

  • Sunday farmer’s market (at least twice a month):  for 90% of my veggies, plus fruit
  • Dodgy roadside veggie man:  for mid-week vegetable top-ups or for full veggie shopping on weeks when I’m too tired/lazy/hungover to get up early on a Sunday
  • Supermarket: for basic dry goods, eggs, etcetera once a week (if I’m organized).  I vary between two:  one has lower prices and frozen spinach/berries and HUGE lines to park the car, get through the damn store, and pay, plus I always seem to catch them on Very Surly Cashier Day.  The other one is closer to home and I don’t usually have to wait for a parking spot, but it has terrible selection and lots of freezer-burned items; also, they really hate packing my stuff into reusable bags (but get most surly if I try to pack them into the damn bags myself.

And then…. There’s Pricesmart.

The first time I went with The Most Fabulous S, it was love at first sight.  How could I have lived without a 10-lb. can of corn before?  And how did no one tell me that the way to buy beer, toilet paper, and deodorant was by the dozen? Oh, be still my heart.  We walked out of there like we’d just seen the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus all rolled into one and they’d commanded us to shop till the back of the car dropped.

However, after subsequent visits, I realized that buying my vanilla creamer in liters was not exactly cost-conscious, unless I planned on drinking it straight up with every meal before it went off (or didn’t mind using three-month-old creamer, beating the lumps out, and risking food poisoning in the process).  Nor was buying 25 apples that went mushy AFTER I ate them raw/in oatmeal/in cobblers/in muffins/in my sleep.  And the corn?  Let’s just say that a ten-pound can (or ten one-pound cans) were actually the same price as buying (cue gasp) ten one-pound cans at Freezerburnmarket.

WHAT?

Yes, my friends, I was a victim of the Blind Bulk Buy Syndrome.  EVERYTHING seems like a deal when it’s in army-feeding size—but it not always is.

Since then, I taken a very good look at what I buy in bulk by weighing the cost difference between the bulk and smaller packages and by asking myself if, really and truly, it’s worth plunking a big amount of money down for a product I may not use all that much or really even need.  I’ve finessed my cheap-girl, bulk-buying habits to a beautiful, artful science and I even did enough math to make my head spin and reach for a whiskey to show you!  I’ve listed TT amounts; if you’re curious about how much that is in USD,  just divide the TT amount by six.

  • Canned tomatoes (10 14-oz cans for 56 TT=7 TT a can, as opposed to 11 TT a can at the supermarket.  That’s a whole 54 TT less at Pricesmart.  54 TT gets me enough fabric for a skirt—a very nice one.
  • Pasta:  32 TT for four boxes of any pasta, or 8 TT per box.  Much better than 13 TT per box at the supermarket.  Twenty TT gets me enough phone credit for a month (I don’t talk much, granted) or two lovely, bright n’ garish nail polish bottles.
  • Olive oil:  A gallon goes for about 120 TT.  A half gallon goes for that much at the supermarket.  120 TT gets me enough fabric for a shirtdress with a flouncy skirt, or a manicure (should I ever go back to the mean yet competent manicurist).
  • Shampoo:  same case as the olive oil.  I get twice as much of a good brand as I get of the paint-stripping cheap kind I (admittedly) buy otherwise. I told you, I’m CHEAP.
  • Cranberries:  Same as olive oil and shampoo.
  • Oatmeal:  OMG, I hit the holy grail today!  Steelcut oats, in flood-protecting-sandbag size, was finally found.  The price doesn’t even matter.  I’d give away my future firstborn (and my favorite red wooden platform sandals, the ones I can barely walk in but still kiss each day) to have non-mush oatmeal again.

All in all, I went in with the definitive list and came out with a few extra great deals (did I mention wine?  Decent wine for the price of the grape juice fermented in a microwave that passes for wine at the supermarket?  Yeah, I got wine!).   Best of all—I didn’t make the back of the car drag down low:

The Most Fabulous S would be proud indeed.

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In other happenings around here:

I had a pretty good 4-mile run!  I didn’t die, didn’t swallow any mosquitoes, and even ran into a few friends on the way.  Might this be a signal that 5 miles are coming soon?  And should I just keep that to myself so I don’t set myself up for embarrassment when I make it into the local papers for fainting/biting a dog/drinking out of the rain gutters from run-induced desperation and mania?  Oops.  Y’all know how I can’t keep these things to myself… So yes, expect me to log five miles soon.  (Just don’t expect me to live and tell the tale).

I tried my hardest not to look like a West Moorings housewife (read: expat white, filthy rich, deathly bored) by going channeling Puerto Rican charm (I hope) in a ruffly and booty-hugging getup today:

Blouse Kohl's, jeans Old Navy, shoes Target, earrings from street vendor in Salamanca, Spain

And I reveled in the freedom of working from home by making muffins this morning—apple and dried cranberry, full of (quick) oaty goodness:

Muffins plus mango. Plus dog--Umbi ALWAYS has eyes for breakfast.

So what if I forgot the sugar?  I gave them the slightest swipe of maple butter and that was more than enough.  It goes to show that most recipes call for WAY too much sugar (for my taste, anyway).

And, for the grand Cinco de Mayo dinner, an old favorite came out:  Drunken Bean Tamale Pie!

Carib beer isn't Corona, but it'll more than do...

So tasty.  It’s been too long, my old friend.

How do you food shop?  How do you determine what’s worth getting in bulk/paying more for/traipsing halfway across the city/state/island to get?