Trini Driving and the Pursuit of Old-Fashioned Oats

A confluence of unforeseen events conspired to bring me a day off from work today and, instead of being a lazy layabout like I thought I would be, I woke up full of energy and with a clear mission:  I was going to find some old-fashioned oats.

Now, let me just give a bit of context.  Like so many others out there, I’d prefer my oats not to have the texture of rubber cement, so I’m not a fan of quick oats.  You can pretty much turn a rock over and find quick or instant oats here in Trinidad.  Conversely, you can pretty much search every supermarket on the island in two months (like I have) and not find any old-fashioned oats.  I had to give up my hope of being rained on by plentiful thick oats.  I had to suck it up and take the drive through Port of Spain to West Moorings and, at the risk of doing like the typical rich expat housewives, go to West Mall’s gourmet shop Peppercorns for supplies.  Otherwise I’d be eating soft cement for the next couple of weeks.

So I fortified myself with cornmeal pancakes–with coconut, which I couldn’t taste, boo–topped with bananas (potassium is for patience):

Gulped down my coffee and some orange juice, and headed west, just me and my ride.

Now, driving in Trinidad is a bit like an old-school Nintendo race game.  You have only a certain amount of buttons to press and the button combinations don’t cover all the movies you need to keep yourself from crashing.  I actually kinda like the whole chaos and lawlessness of it, and take a certain pride in knowing that I can get behind the wheel and get from point A to B without landing in a rain gutter or in a tearful panic attack on the side of the road.  I’ve been told that driving in Africa is worse, and that driving in the Indian subcontinent is worse, but that otherwise this might be where bad drivers come to be reincarnated and unleashed on the roads.

There’s a whole set of driving practices that you need to accept if you’re going to drive here–practices that will get you pulled over and ticketed in many places of the world, mind you.  Today I encountered and did most of them, including:

  • Hand signals:  not the standard North American or European variety.  Oh no.  You make circles from your elbow and pat the air up and down and it’s all supposed to mean something. My default one is sticking my arm straight out of the car–it means stop/don’t pass me/I’m about to cut you off, so it covers all the bases I need.
  • Cutting drivers off: it’s cut off or be cut off.  No one honks their horn because really, if there’s ten feet between you and the car in front of you, you’re just asking to be cut off.
  • Speeding around trucks with badly-secured items:  I would rather risk an itty-bitty car scrape than have 500 unsecured metal party chairs flatten me and my Smurf mobile.  You bet I’ll go 80 mph on a 45 mph road to avoid that.
  • The aforementioned driving at 80 mph:  unless you want the car behind you to simulate some dirty Carnival wining upon your car’s bumper, you best get moving.  Once you realize that you have exactly half a foot between your car and the car in the next lane, zipping along at that speed isn’t so bad, is it?
  • Playing chicken with H-cars and maxi taxis:  H-cars have H in the license plate and act like taxis.  Maxi taxis are route taxis, big and white with colored stripes according to their route.  Both types of cars are driven by lunatics who would think nothing of driving against traffic on the highway or riding over your car to pick up or drop off a fare.  You must have balls with them and show them no fear–that’s the only way to put it and the only way to get anywhere around here.
  • Traffic grinding to a full stop because some idiot couldn’t pay the intersection-entrepreneur rastas fast enough for their peanuts:  happens all the time.  I pity the poor rastas who risk life and limb by selling at the highway stop signs–and love their dress sense of shirts with ties and wing-tip shoes.

So I did my Trini driving thing, that very special thing that makes my mother balk at handing over the car keys when I ask for them, and made good time to West Mall, which can be 20 minutes away on a good day or an hour and a half away on a usual day.  I clocked forty five minutes, which wasn’t bad for getting caught in a stanky truck party on Wrightson Road (trucks load, unload, dump junk, and generally make traffic impossible on that road during the day).

What I won’t do for my oatmeal…

After a speed visit to the supermarket (why hello, West Hi-Lo, so nice to meet you and your reasonably-priced local mushrooms!), the wine shop, two sport shops, a homegoods store, and the aforementioned gourmet food shop, I came home with goodies such as:

This brash girl loves herself some tempranillo, even if it's oddly-named for its origin country

Yellow curry makes me think of Montreal days, sigh--Thai three times a week

Mozzarella pearls for the Husband

The coffee of my people--so what if it's distributed out of NYC?

See? It's made to the Latin taste, not that I fall for demographics marketing or anything

As long as there are tortilla chips in the house, food journaling needs to happen

Please complete: "I know I'm a swimmer because....": I wore out my last swim cap! It's purple, like my hair when I was fifteen

Wait a second.  Where is the oatmeal, the old-fashioned oatmeal that Peppercorns has always had, every single time I’ve been in the overpriced shop?  Nowhere to be found, my peeps.  I asked.  I was told  “It doh have, just de quick tings”  (cashier points to mocking tower of quick oats).  I sighed.  I was surprised at not being too surprised.

Oh well.  I can see turtles any old day I want and I eat mangoes from my tree half the year round.  What’s a bit of oatmeal deprivation, anyway? Guess who will be eating more oat pancakes and omelettes in the coming weeks…  unless some poor kind soul decides to send me a Quaker care package.

So, rather than pull my hair out in despair, I’ll tell you about other goings-on of the day.

I wore clothes despite the boiling heat:

Same outfit as from this pic from one month ago--jeans Old Navy, shoes Target, shirt a hand-me-up from Little A

I attempted to put running shoes on over my badly-scraped toe (turtle-watching collateral damage) and it was a no-go.  Bleeding toe trumps a run every time.  Here’s to hoping the toe is healed tomorrow.

Oh, and I had a killer ham omelette with salad for lunch:

And I finally got around to making Moosewood New Classics’ Dixie Burgers for dinner:

A small army of burgers

A small bundle of goodness--burger, barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, whole wheat roll

These babies were nutritional superstars with their black-eyed peas, sweet potato, onion, pepper, garlic, spinach, and bevvy of spices (including allspice and thyme).  They will most definitely be making regular appearances on the blog (and my dinners).

I am also proud to announce that I worked the afternoon away with a sinkful of dirty dishes in plain view.  I did not wash them the second I saw them.  I wasn’t even tempted to do so until I was making dinner.  I think I’m going to be REALLY good at this work-from-home biznitch…

A Weekend of Trini To-Doings

It’s been a really great weekend around here!  Lots of rest balanced with relaxed fun things to do–had I been less stressed, I would have no pulse.

Friday night was all about the Thai vegetable spring rolls:

And pizza, this time chicken and roasted garlic:

All from Trader Joe’s in good ol’ brightly-lit MovieTowne Plaza (never ceases to amaze me that such fun can be had in a fake plaza of theme restaurants and garish colors).  I ordered my pizza cheeseless, as usual, much to the bemusement of the waiter, and his shock was such that I forgot to ask for tomatoes instead of the cheese.  Major m istake.  The pizza tasted good, but it was d-r-y.  Not impressed.  The leftovers were brought home for some doctoring (and came out much better with tomatoes and peppers on top when I reheated it on Sunday).

The foodery continued on Saturday, when I slept in SO late (11:00!  Can’t even remember the last time that happened) that oatmeal and sweet breakfast were out of the question, hence the egg wraps with salsa–not that I minded in the least, as these were delicious as always thanks to the local salsa:

We had planned to go to Mount St. Benedict, a Catholic monastery on a mountain in nearby St. Augustine where the afternoon tea is matched only by the gorgeous view (or so we’d been told.)  However, even the monastery was in the midst of drought-induced water issues, so they told us to come by in case they could serve us, but that it wasn’t a sure thing.  Very Trinidad indeed, but we took a chance anyway and figured we’d at least get a nice walk around the monastery if tea at the guesthouse wasn’t on.

And gosh, was it beautiful, despite the dry mountains:

There were tons of families at the monastery, liming (hanging out) with cool drinks and snacks, plus a group from a wedding party taking pictures.  After taking in the scenery, we went knocking at the guesthouse in search of tea and sweets.  Luckily, there was enough water to do tea.  We were the only ones having tea on the verandah, so we had the entire porch–and the birds–to ourselves:

Methinks I might be braving the vertiginous, winding drive up the mountain more often for this:  lovely setting, very nice tea, and coconut sweetbread and pork pow (Chinese bread buns with savory stuffing) on rattan furniture:

After tea, I remained in the mindset of a lady that does tea, which went just fine for the night’s entertainment theme of Southern pomp and circumstance, with an all-night screening of Gone With the Wind punctuated by shrimp creole during the intermission–because ladies should not countenance the wonders of Scarlett O’Hara with a bowl of food in their laps:

Ladies also should be careful not to leave an entire Scotch bonnet pepper in their shrimp creole lest they become unladylike in their fanning of their fiery mouths and slurping of endless glasses of water.  Yep, it was a victory over me for Scotch bonnets everywhere, and I was humbled (and well hydrated all night as a result).

As for Sunday…. The usual:  farmer’s market and sewing and lazing (with a bit of Scarlett-inspired simpering, for effect), interrupted by a little housekeeping interlude of manky fridge cleaning.  I will not give details of how filthy the fridge was, nor will I admit the great degree of shame I felt while scrubbing the damn thing out.  I will, however, concede that I need to do better at having a clean fridge, and I’ll leave it at that. Or I could leave it like this and do the full-disclosure, as I always end up doing:  I don’t think Scarlett O’Hara herself had to scrub her beloved Tara as much as I had to scrub my fridge.

And might I add how having a clean fridge even manages to put a bit of zip in your cooking?  Trust me, it’s true!  I made a many-ingredient bunch of black bean and sweet potato quesadillas tonight:

Call me dorky, but I smiled every single time I opened the fridge to get something out or put something in.  I’d rather think I appreciate the small pleasures in life.

My dears, my eyes are shutting as I type.  I guess that’s what being a relaxed person does, so I’m taking my relaxed rear to sleep.  A big run is in store tomorrow morning and I need my bravery sleep for it.

How was your weekend?  Did you get up to anything interesting?

My Weekend and The Matter of Good Hair

I have two whole rest days scheduled back to back this weekend, no beach trips.  So, because I had a bit of time this morning (and the humidity has been tolerably low), I decided to do something I haven’t done since around Christmas:

I blow-dried my hair straight.

It’s not just that I’m lazy, or that my exercise schedule makes copious hair-drying time impractical, or even that I am committed to shiny un-fried hair.  Those are some of the reasons why I don’t blow-dry daily.

It’s also that I feel awkward and strange and quite freaky with straight hair.  It takes me back to middle school battles and high-school memories that, frankly, I’d rather not remember.  And, despite the fact that no one really cares anymore, it’s an assertion of being myself and of not complying with certain Puerto Rican expectations about beauty and appearance–expectations that call for all girls to have straight, smooth, preferably very long, hair.

Want to see for yourselves?  This is what baby Laura had on her head:

And this is what three-year-old Laura had on her head:

Smooth much?  Of course–not just because my curls released a bit, but because they were meticulously dried straight by my mom.  And so it went for all of my childhood.  Now, I don’t accuse my Mamalicious of trying to hide my hair’s texture or any such thing–she was just making me prettier, as far as little girl hair went.  Pretty little Puerto Rican girls did not leave the house with frizz and flyaways, and in those days every little girl whose mama (and aunts and grandmas) loved her knew what it was like to sit still for the thrice-weekly attack with the hairdryer and brushes.

Frankly, I had NO idea that my hair was anything but what you see above until I got a short bob in seventh grade, at which point my mom told me I was old enough to dry my own.  One girl inexperienced with the fine arts of hair drying + one short blunt bob = frizzy, tear-inducing disaster.  I couldn’t understand why my hair was so freaky, and I was resentful (in a sullen twelve-year-old way) at my mom for not warning me before I chopped off the necessary length to keep the newly-discovered rat’s nest under control.

Eventually, I learned to dry it tolerably straight, and I was even recruited to dry the hair of subsequent sisters with the same “problem.”  Little A had smooth hair in the back and a kinky mess in the front (which was affectionately called “pasas,” or raisins, probably because it was crinkly like said food?), Minxy had hit the genetic jackpot with pin-straight black hair…. and Baby Bel had a mass of ultra-thick, tightly-curled  hair.  The mere suggestion of having to sit the child down for half an hour to de-kink her head was enough to induce tears on a bad day–for me if I was dragged into doing it, and for her if someone DIDN’T.

University days were straight hair times.  Grad school was a half-and-half proposition, as I was pressed for time and patience and some nice wavy hairstyles came into fashion (or whatever).  Slowly, I stopped drying my hair straight and felt incredibly liberated by not doing it.  It was ok to admit to frizz, and I didn’t want to be complicit in the kind of ideals for Puerto Rican girls that demanded hair halfway down the back, gently highlighted, and smooth.  I felt a frisson of naughtiness when I left the house with wet hair–and gained a half hour in the morning!

After that, I never looked back.  The misty English weather during my four years in Coventry kept me curly, and the heat and humidity of Trinidad have conspired to ensure that I’ve dried my hair straight exactly five times in the year and a half  that I’ve lived here–and that’s counting the time I dressed up as Sarah Palin for Halloween.

So that is why I keep myself curly/wavy/messy.  I like my hair to look as loopy as I feel.  And, once in a while, I’m pleasantly surprised at still being able to smooth things out:

Just not too often.


When a girl has blow-dried hair in Trinidad, she avoids doing things that make her sweaty and bothered.  I mean, this hair is newsworthy.  So I kept all cooking low-key.  On Saturday, that meant potato, mushrooms, and egg scramble with toast:

Apple and peanut butter sandwich for lunch:

And taco salad (taco-seasoned lentils, lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers, tortilla chips) for dinner:

With such straight hair, you are also more prone to wardrobe changes, going from Old Navy shorts and sister hand-me-up T-shirt on Saturday:

To a Sunday combo of Little A hand-me-up blouse (I think it’s from Charlotte Russe, but I took the label out because it scratched so I can’t be sure) and Old Navy denim shorts:

Orange juggling in action

On a Sunday of good hair, especially when said hair is attached to a head that aches from two measly pints of beer the night before, things are kept low-key in the kitchen with apple and dried cranberry oatmeal, plus strong black coffee to power me through a trip to the farmer’s market and supermarket:

And, for lunch, easy scrambled egg and salsa wraps–because stirring requires little energy expenditure and minimal risk of frizz:

And, since we’re talking about minimal expenditure of effort, I made an easy provisions soup with cassava, taro root, and carrots in an herby onion, garlic and celery broth, plus cornbread (which I’ve made so many times I could do it with my eyes closed) and a red pepper that looked pretty scrumptious:

As for the activities of the weekend…  Sewing mania, folks, sewing mania:  much buying of fabric, mad bookmarking of styles to make, putting together of patterns, cutting of test items and general mess-making.  Had I not fallen victim to my ridiculously low drink tolerance, there would have been actual sewing results, or at the very least pictures of the fabric, mais non–all I can offer up for now is this, the mess and process of Saturday’s pattern-cutting:

After which came Sunday, spent on the couch with a book, some zzz’s, and Michael C. Hall/Dexter.

But I’ll come back soon with some fabric evidence for you to savor, tomorrow, when my head stops hurting and my hair returns to its natural wavy texture.