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Jamaica In My Kitchen

 

 

 

I fell in love with the Caribbean long before visiting. In my teens I started dreaming about owning a business in a Caribbean place that was mysterious and unreachable to me. In my 30’s that dream became reality when my husband and I bought a business in Aruba. Aruba didn’t feel like the real Caribbean to me. Since tourism is its main source of income, it caters for tourists and I may as well have been in America.

Then I met the real Caribbean when I set foot on the sleepy island of Antigua. I took a day to sail around it in order to experience its full, unspoiled beauty. Here I was introduced to the ital way of eating. Ital is Caribbean talk for vital and it is indeed a vital part of rastafari cooking. A true rastafarian is pure in his way of life, is vegetarian and implements a peaceful philosophy in every way of life. The first branch was started in Jamaica in 1935 by Leonard P. Howell who preached the divinity of Haile Selassie. He explained that all blacks would eventually gain the superiority over whites that had always been intended for them.

I myself am not a great lover of doctrine, but I certainly love the healthy, pure philosophy behind Jamaican food and last night I decided to bring Jamaica into my Texan kitchen. I did not regret it. We were transported to the island immediately and even though I’ve never been to Jamaica, the wonderful flavors took us there for a few hours and I could have sworn that I heard the ocean and palm trees swaying in the evening breeze.

The dinner was simple. It consisted of rice and peas, ital curry (vegetable only) and jerk chicken. I carefully mixed the spice for the curry myself to ensure that the Caribbean curry taste is authentic. I made the jerk marinade from scratch and marinated the chicken for 24 hours. The recipe that follows calls for the chicken to be cooked on the grill outside, but since it is winter with a rather chilly breeze blowing, I decided to slow roast it in the oven for 3 hours. It was the right decision. I basted it with the left over marinade every 30 minutes and the flavors collided beautifully. The meat was fall of the bone tender and I doubt I will ever cook chicken on the bone any other way. Since I’m slightly wary of the Scotch Bonnet (Habanero) heat, I substituted with jalapeno and the heat level was just perfect.

I hope that you will enjoy the below Jerk Chicken recipe as much as I did.

Jerk Chicken

1 small onion quartered

3 green onions, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves

3 small Scotch bonnet peppers (habaneros) coarsely chopped. (I used 1 1/2 jalapenos)

1/3 cup grapeseed oil

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 tbsp orange juice

3 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp dark brown sugar

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

6 chicken drumsticks

Cooking spray

Method

Combine all ingredients except chicken and cooking spray in blender. Process until smooth. Place chicken in a large zip top plastic freezer bag. Pour marinade over chicken and seal bag. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Light one side of grill, heating to high heat. Leave other side unlit. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing some of the marinade to remain on the chicken. Discard remaining marinade. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray over unlit side of grill. Grill 45 minutes or until done, turning after 25 minutes. Let chicken rest 5 minutes. Serve with rice and peas and ital veggie curry. Makes 3 servings.

If you’d like to use my cooking method:

Preheat oven to convection roast 250 degrees F. Place drumsticks on parchment paper on roasting pan. Roast for 3 hours or until fully cooked, turning every 30 minutes, basting every time you turn the chicken with the remainder of the marinade. I checked for doneness every 30 minutes as my oven is very powerful. Cooking times may vary with various oven strengths.

Salmon On Fire

BELWOOD, Ontario. November 2008. It is minus 27 degrees Celsius. There is no power. I feel powerless. Since growing up in the tropics, I had never seen snow in all of my 38 years, let alone an ice storm of such enormous proportions. It started while I was sleeping. The ice had made tree branches heavy, which broke and downed the power lines in our lane. A noise woke me up during the early hours of the morning. The sound of the branches breaking sounded like gunshots and I felt a little panicked. I thought handguns were illegal in Canada. I switch on a light. Nothing. I lie breathless for a few moments and another branch breaks near the bedroom. I look out the window and realization starts to dawn. I am clueless as to how HVAC works, yet I know if I don’t make a plan, I’m going to be in trouble. We’re on a septic and well in rural Ontario and with no power comes no communications, no heat and no running water. An ugly, square black cast iron stove stands in the middle of an equally ugly unfinished basement. Have wood, will make fire. Six hours later the power is still out, the sun is setting and I’m starting to get hungry. My oven is electric and I’m petrified to drive in these conditions since I have no 4×4, have no experience driving in snow and ice and my husband is away for a week with the 4×4. An enormous Canadian salmon has defrosted and it is time for me to do it afraid. I light the fire in the basement monstrosity, load the salmon in a roasting pan and add some water, salt and pepper. I do not think to let the wood burn down to coals and shove the pan straight into the fire. Smoke starts to billow out of the belly of the beast. There is a knock on my door. I look out the window and in the driveway is a man on a tractor with a beard as white as the snow that he’s busy clearing off my driveway. He appears to be about 80 years old. An equally white haired woman stands at the door. She is my new neighbor. “Are you OK? It smells as if your house is on fire.” I explain. She giggles a little and tells me she has gas if I need to come over to cook. The guy on the tractor is her husband and he is as old as I thought. He makes his own wine from the maple syrup he taps from the maple trees in his back yard and I’m welcome to a glass while I cook. I decide to tough it out. Only way to learn. I pull the salmon out of the fire. It tastes delicious! When my husband returns he tells me the wood I used to make that fire was cedar. In my ignorance I home smoked that piece of salmon to perfection.

Locals will later tell me that those type of temperatures are unknown for that time of the year and it is the worst ice storm they’ve experienced in the history of the town. The power was out for two days and I was forced to learn to cope under circumstances that had me completely out of my comfort zone. After this incident I made sure that I understood the workings of the HVAC and learned how to make a proper wood fire. I learned to drive in snow and ice with great care and have since learned to cook a salmon in a more refined manner by glazing it with maple syrup and putting it on a cedar plank on the grill in a more controlled environment. Maybe not as exciting as my first attempt, but no less delicious and I’m still exploring different ways to make salmon taste great.

The recipe for the maple glazed cedar plank salmon can be found in my book Have Food Will Travel, available on Amazon and at:

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Have-Food-Will-Travel

Conch, Coconut & Kalik

 

NASSAU, Bahamas. A Bahamian walks into a bar: “Too much Kalik at Junkanoo. Now mi no sleep en da mony, problem!” Barman at the top of his voice: “Drive until you fall asleep en den yo’ no mo’ mony problem.” Bahamian: “Yo ‘tink it says ‘conch’ on dis forheed?!!” The whole bar laughs. I’m enthralled by all this and as I take a sip of my Kalik, I miss my mouth. Perhaps too many Kaliks. It’s time to eat.

We’re staying on Junkanoo Beach, off the beaten track, away from the tourist traps of Atlantis & Cable Beach and sitting at the Bikini Tiki Bar, dining toes in the sand on Bahamian fare. Most everything is fried and there’s conch in every way, shape and form. Cracked conch, conch fritters, conch salad, conch curry, conch stew, (I include a conch fritter recipe below. If conch is unavailable to you, substitute with shrimp). I find delight in the form of blackened grouper bites, not fried. There is Bahamian spiny lobster and Stan eats fall-of-the-bone jerk chicken. We will have to come back to this bar for him to get some more of that.

Tomorrow I will feel the after effects of Bahamian beer. A woman opens a coconut with a machete and with the help of fresh coconut water straight from the coconut, I’m a little more hydrated. I recover and that night we dance under the moonlight outside to the beat of a Bahamian artist. He is no spring chicken, but he strums that guitar like no young man can. Someone at a coconut & conch bar sits with two machetes in his hands. These are not used as weapons. He makes music with them and is so slight of hand that I have trouble capturing on film what he’s doing. The rhythm is out of this world.

We’re only there for 4 days, so we make the most of it. We eat a lot. We drink a lot of beer. Wine lovers, forget about it. Wine is almost non-existent. It is a beer and rum punch world, but be careful of the rum punch or soon you’ll be lying on the beach! We walk 16 hours in two days and see the entire west coasts of New Providence Island and Paradise Island on foot. We experience the extreme cerulean blue of the Bahamian waters and the intense white of the sand. On our way to Paradise Island, we walk past the harbor. A man pulls up with a boat with freshly caught conch. He shucks it and makes conch salad right there to purchase. It does not get any fresher than that. While walking, we realize we made a good choice not staying in the tourist areas. The Bahamian people are happy and friendly and the beauty of the ocean, beaches and tropical plants add to the magic of a laid back culture.

CONCH FRITTERS

1 quart oil (for frying)
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
1⁄2 cup milk
ground cayenne pepper, to taste
red pepper flakes, to taste
seasoning salt, to taste
salt, to taste (optional, the conch is naturally salty)
ground coarse black pepper, to taste
1 cup chopped conch
1⁄2onion, chopped
1⁄4green bell pepper, chopped fine
1⁄4yellow bell pepper, chopped fine
1⁄4red bell pepper, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
DIPPING SAUCE
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, no subs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Pickapeppa Sauce
DIRECTIONS
Heat the oil in large pot or deep fryer to 365F. In a bowl, mix the flour, egg and milk. Season with cayenne pepper, seasoning salt, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Mix in the conch meat, onion, red & yellow & green pepper, celery and garlic. Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Remove the basket or with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. In a bowl, mix the ketchup, lime juice, mayonnaise, hot sauce, salt & pepper.
Serve dipping sauce on the side with the fritters.

For more Bahamian recipes, see my book Have Food Will Travel by clicking on https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Have-Food-Will-Travel

 

The Lamb Shank Debacle

CHRISTMAS morning of 2017 started out rotten. Literally. I had visions of braising lamb shank in pomegranate juice. The shanks would naturally make stock in this process and later I would make a rich roux to thicken the stock for a savory pomegranate gravy to serve. Normally I cook the shanks in the slow cooker until the meat falls off the bone, but this time, I wanted to serve it on the bone for our friends Marlee & Bryan and for the sake of presentation, so a braise would be better. I did a three day mise en place and was very excited about my dish. The Dutch oven with the shanks had to go into the oven on a low temperature at 8 am in order to be ready for serving at noon. I cut open the shank wrapping and the stench of rotting meat nearly knocked me onto my butt. I felt about ready to burst into tears. My gorgeous dish and three days’s mise en place down the toilet. It’s not unusual for me to be faced with such a situation. While living in third world Africa, blue bread and green meat was almost a daily occurrence and not a day went by where I didn’t have to be resourceful in what I made to eat, so I packed my knives, went for a shower and came out with a plan. The whole Christmas menu had changed. Not as rich, hearty & home style as I would’ve hoped for, but not too bad either.

The whole situation took me back to the time we lived in Botswana. We were bikers and each of us had a Yamaha FZ6, a light monster of a super bike that got you places in a jiffy. On weekends, we often used to go riding to interesting spots and one Saturday morning early we were sitting on our farm house veranda, overlooking the African bush, having coffee, when I said, “I’m bored. I feel like doing something exciting.”

Husband: “Let’s hop on the bikes and ride to Vergelegen for lamb shank.” Now, Vergelegen is a boutique guest house in Kakamas near the Augrabies Falls on the brink of the sublime South African wine route. The guest house has an amazing restaurant that makes the best lamb shank I’ve ever eaten. (It was the memory of these shanks that inspired the Christmas shanks.) This means a seven hundred kilometer iron butt bike ride, crossing the Botswana border into South Africa to eat the lamb, spend the night and ride 700 kilometers back on Sunday morning so Stan can make it back in time for work. “Let’s do it!” I said excitedly.

This is Africa and good ideas can quickly become nightmarish. Suddenly, we’re lost. It’s almost 700 kilometers later and we’re in a town we do not recognize and nowhere near our destination. It was the days before GPS and we were struggling to find our bearings on a map, because of roadworks everywhere and the sign posts for detours were non-existent. “Do you want to turn back?” asks husband. “No, I don’t like going back,” I say, so we pull into a gas station to ask for directions. “You have to do another 300 kilometer loop to get to where you want to be,” says the attendant. Oh well. 300 kilometers forward is better than 700 kilometers backward, so back on the bikes we go and as the sun starts to set, we arrive, just in time for our shanks and a great bottle of red. We parked our weary thousand kilometer iron butts in our dining chairs, ate and drank with great gusto, fell into bed, woke up early and back onto the bikes we went for the 700 kilometer ride back to Botswana.

Thousand Seven Hundred Kilometer Bike Ride in Two Days Completed for Lamb Shank? Check. My Instagram profile says I will travel for food. I mean it! Happy 2018.

The Miraculous Journey

 

 31 DECEMBER 1998 – 6 Months earlier. “NEVER!!” “No man will tell me what to do!” He accepted this and said to me he loves me enough to be willing to be my best friend until death. Over the next few months, I started to re-think my belief slightly. I looked how he was with his son Craig. So tremendously tender and loving. He was always hugging him and always had him on his lap and the love just shone out of him. I looked at how he treated me with love, kindness, tenderness and respect and how he tolerated all my imperfections, mistakes and anger. Then weird things started to happen. We would be on a pathway walking next to the beach late at night, streetlights off and as we pass each light it would switch on. At first I – ever the cynic – thought it to be coincidence. Then we would stop and walk no further and wait, carry on walking to the next one and the light would switch on. We would walk separately to the next one and it won’t switch on. We would come back together, hold hands, walk and the one who won’t switch on would switch on as we walked by. Then we would wait longer/shorter for the next one and it would once again switch on when we walk by together. We walked like this for the entire pathway and together, we switched on all those lights without touching a single one. We looked back and the whole pathway was illuminated. It was amazing.

Then the engagement ring in my dive bag appeared. No one knew how it got there. To this day, we still don’t know how that ring got into my bag. This was the time when I felt strongest about not getting married and it was on this day that I realized there are so many signs along the way that I better open my eyes and take what is given as a gift to me. Still I did nothing, until that one morning I woke up with a bang and knew. This is the guy I should marry, but I feared that I had already ruined it for us and this is why I figured it is time for me to step up and ask him to marry me. Another weird thing happened. I didn’t tell him that this was my intent. I just gave him a call and asked him to come over, as there is something I would like to discuss with him. He said nothing (as is his way), but he came to my apartment early from work. In his hands he held a little cooler with bottle of champagne. I’ll never forget that the cooler was red. I didn’t have the courage to outright ask him, so I had written him a letter. I thought nothing of the champagne in his hands, but after he read the letter, he handed the little cooler with champagne over to me and said, “I knew that this was going to happen today and I took the liberty to bring the champagne.” “How did you know?” I asked him and he said, “I just knew.” He went immediately to buy my ring. He asked me to come with him to choose it, but I said no. I want to accept what he would like to give me. Then the next weird thing happened. He came back with my wedding ring and we took the ring that we found in the dive bag and had it fused with the wedding ring, because I said I want the dive bag ring attached to my wedding ring as an engagement ring, because I never want to forget how we became one. The jeweler then said: “I don’t really want to do this. This procedure is going to break the bands on the rings and even if I do manage to get them together, the rings will break within a month, if not sooner, because the heat of the fusion would’ve weakened the metal.” It is 19 years later and those rings are still holding together without any sign of wear and tear, not even the normal sign of rings rubbing on fingers and becoming thinner as the years go by. I’m so grateful that I didn’t ignore the signs because of fear. This has been a miraculous journey for me. One that I didn’t think was a journey that I would ever walk.

The greatest miracle of all is that I inherited my three children from my husband. They accepted me unconditionally from the first moment and have always treated me with nothing other than love and respect. I am grateful. I love you.

 

Smoked Salmon Pizza

Smoked Salmon Pizza

GABORONE, Botswana. “Craig, what would you like to eat?” “The Bomb.”

We’re in an Italian restaurant in Gaborone, Botswana. It is the best restaurant in town and they make phenomenal pizza and pasta. I’m not sure why they called this pizza “The Bomb,” but every time we asked our son what he wanted to eat, he asked for this pizza, loaded with smoked salmon and sour cream.

Today I was plagued by this food memory from the time that we lived in Gaborone, so decided to throw it on a plate for lunch. It is so simple that it took me about 15 minutes to put together, exactly how I like lunch prep to go down as life is busy. Instead of using a pizza base, I used hand-sized naan breads. I was only supposed to eat one, but ended up eating two. It is delicious. Here’s how simple it is:

Place a pizza stone in the oven and pre-heat oven with the stone inside the oven to 400 degrees F. It is important to heat the pizza stone with the oven, or the stone will crack when exposed to sudden heat. Make sure your pizza base, or naan bread in this instance, is at room temperature, so that a sudden chilled element doesn’t crack the stone. Brush the naan with some good extra virgin olive oil and crushed garlic. Grind some fresh black pepper and pink Himalayan see salt all over and place on top of the stone with a pizza paddle. Switch the oven off immediately and let it stand in the oven while you prepare the topping. Slice the salmon into thin pieces. Drain some capers & thinly slice a sweet, white onion (Vidalia) until you have enough slices for your taste. I like a lot of slices. Remove pizza stone from the hot oven, using oven mitts. Leave the naan on the stone to retain heat while you place the topping. First place the salmon, then squeeze the juice of a quarter of a lemon all over the salmon. This acidity helps cut through the richness of the oil and cream. Place dollops of sour cream all over the salmon and top with capers and sliced onion. Add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Drizzle a little white truffle oil over the top. Remove naan from hot stone with pizza paddle and place on a warm plate. Enjoy every bite.

The Boat & The Bathtub

CRASH! The tea hangs suspended above the cup for a few seconds before slopping all over the pillows and mattress. If the dog’s muzzle could form the perfect “O” in surprise, it would’ve. I let out a little yelp. Our bed just broke. Oh well. Let’s have breakfast, go for a power walk and deal with the mess when we get back. By the time we get back, the power is out, there is no AC in this heat and no hot water, so I can’t clean up the mess and can’t have a warm shower after the sweaty walk. The little alarm box beeps incessantly, warning us that there is a power failure and when husband tries to take the battery out to make it stop, the box dropped to the floor and cracked. It became a Sunday of a comedy of errors and to stick it to this day, I decide to have a cold shower and enjoy it. While doing so, a memory of Aruba ripples through my mind. We lived in a pretty little rental house close to the beach. It was brand new, but it had no hot water. Since we lived hand to mouth and depended on Stan’s tips for our daily food, we couldn’t afford to install the small heater that would give us hot water. There was no bathtub in the house as the climate required showering. I love to bath and could do so in any climate, so I missed hot water and a tub terribly. Then I became innovative. Anyone who knows boats, knows that after being out on the ocean, you hook it up to a fresh water tap to flush the system to ensure the engine doesn’t rust. The engine gets turned on while the fresh water runs through the system and boiling hot water comes out on the other end. We had two boats with two engines each. I acquired two buckets and after a day out on the ocean, caught this hot water from the running engines in each bucket and took them into the shower. There I lathered up in the one bucket of hot water and rinsed off with the other bucket. I sort of had a bath tub, but I definitely had hot water. Most of the time, there was the faint smell of metal and gasoline that clung to me like a desperate infant, but I was clean otherwise and had a tremendous amount of fun. This scenario makes me appreciate the simplicity of a hot shower and a tub every time I get into one. Sometimes, tough times can teach you to turn a negative situation into something positive and to be grateful for what you have. It taught me to never despise the day of small beginnings and that Aruba was just another place that introduced me to a new culture of food.

At first glance, the food of Aruba is not really unique. The island’s main source of income is tourism and they cater heavily for North American tourists. Only towards the end of our stay did I discover some dishes that I could faintly call Aruban. I fell in love with Pastechi, the Aruban take on an empanada, but they baked it instead of frying it. Then there was the Dutch influence. I’m a sucker for a crepe and here in a small coffee shop in Oranjestad, I discovered the Dutch pancake. It is an enormous, plate sized crepe filled with ham, pineapple, cheese and dusted with powdered sugar. This I ate until I felt nauseous.

The recipe for the Pastechi can be found in my book, along with a recipe for Keshi Yena (a delish dish born in Curacao) and a pretty dessert called Sunchi. The book is currently for sale at:

https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Have-Food-Will-Travel

 

Aruba to Canada

MY ONTARIO. It is 3am and brutally cold at minus 27 degrees C. I just woke up to a fairytale world with a smile on my face. There are no curtains in front of the windows and we’re dirt poor, so we’re sleeping on a mattress on the living room floor as we have to buy furniture, drapes, etc. as Stan earns a living. The mattress is also too big to get up the staircase of our tiny cabin in the forest on 13 acres. I grew up in the tropics and this is the first time in my 38 years that I’ve seen snow. Big fat flakes come falling from heaven like manna. There is no wind and the world is quiet and surreal. It is a sight so beautiful that it almost drives me to tears. There has been a lot of tears. It is 2008 and we had fallen victim to the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). A few months ago, we were still living on the island of Aruba as business owners of an ocean tour company. We had incessant problems with work permits and couldn’t sustain the constant stress of trying to turn our lemon into lemonade while fighting to remain on the island. The last straw was when I found myself on the floor of the shower one night, sobbing into a towel, without any idea how I got there. It was time to get our lives back, so it came as a great relief when Stan received a job offer in Ontario, Canada. Our Canadian work permits came through in record time and we found a buyer for our company in record time. As we sat in the accountant’s office signing the documents, the buyer receives a phone call. His bank in the USA fell by the wayward side. His loan was gone. He had lost everything. Our plane tickets to Canada were purchased. With the buyer losing everything, we lost everything with him. Stan’s pension, our investment property in the Bahamas, our parents’ money, everything. I arrive in Canada with the clothes I’m wearing, my little dog in her baggie and a change of underwear in my purse. It is not the first time we’re starting over with nothing, but it is late in life and it is a tad more scary than ever before. I am astounded when I walk around our rural farming community and notice that people put furniture on the side of the road with “free” signs on them. It is the beginning of many miracles for us. I walk every day and pick up furniture. A chair here, a side table there. I collect dusty antiques and restore them to their former beauty. The house is dilapidated and in dire need of renovations. I start renovating bathrooms while restoring antiques. New skills are born and there’s a certain soul and spirit of hope that start to appear in our little house in the woods. Later we will be able to afford a contractor that will cut a window in the wall of our upstairs bedroom so that the mattress can go up to its appropriate place and we will sleep like normal people in a bed in front of a window with an amazing view, sit on a couch in its appropriate living room and eat at a table in the kitchen. I manage to sell the last assets of the business and we buy a car and have a small deposit to buy the house. Two years later more miracles will happen. Stan will get a promotion to Calgary, Alberta. We will sell the rustic cabin at a decent profit and with this money and Stan’s relocation allowance, we will make back the money we lost to the last cent. How can this NOT be a miracle?

All these things go through my mind as I sit at a beautiful, serene lake in Texas, counting my blessings. Miracles do happen. Never give up hope. All you have to do is believe.

 

Zimbabwe & Zambia

A finger jabs me in the sternum: “Stop. Jab. Crying. Jab.”

My fear turns to anger. I do not like being jabbed and the crying is so involuntary that I have to hold my breath to stop. This same finger will soon push me off the bridge. I have an irrational and inexplicable fear of heights and have tried everything to overcome it. Jumped tandem out of a plane at 10 thousand feet with a 60 second free fall before the parachute opened. Rappelled down a cliff with a 60 meter free fall next to a thundering waterfall in Oribi Gorge, South Africa. Went hot air ballooning. Flew tandem in a flex wing trike. Did a zipline course high in the trees of Antigua. Did a rope course with my husband and son in the tree tops of Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada, but this jump was the worst ever and I have since given up trying to overcome the fear.

We’re staying at a gorgeous lodge in Zimbabwe where the food is authentically African and the wild animals roam around free in the gardens. It was another iron butt bike ride, crossing the border from Botswana into Zimbabwe. We walked across the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia to go and do a bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge overlooking the raging river below. We were supposed to go white water rafting, but there were floods up at the river’s source and the river was a raging torrent. The white water outfitters weren’t operating, so we opted for the bungee. This is the highest commercial bungee site in the world and the bird’s eye view from the bridge is spectacular and so frightening that it takes my breath away.

They secure all the ropes and protective sponges around our ankles. I want to go first, because if I see my husband jump, I will immediately chicken out and I just want to get this over with. This was after all, on my bucket list of things to do before I die. Everything’s tied and I have to bunny hop to the edge where I put my arms out crucifixion style and close my eyes. This might be my last day on earth. What was I thinking? Before I can think any further, the finger jabs me between the shoulder blades and I fall over the edge. I am not a screamer, but the air pushes out of my lungs, out of my throat, out of my lips in a blood-curdling scream that leaves me hoarse for days. The rope pulls tight around my ankles and whips me up into a standing position in mid-air. This must be over now, but it is not. I fall forward again. This time my eyes are open and the raging river beneath me looks like it is going to meet me head on. It doesn’t, because I’m whipped back up again into the weird mid-air standing position. “Oh dear Lord,” I pray. “Please make this stop. I don’t think I can take another fall.” I fall again and I take it. This time when I whip upright, there is someone next to me. They winched down a recovery person that wraps his hands around my waist. I cling to him like my life depends on it and for the first time, I understand how someone on the edge of drowning panics and could potentially drown their rescuer, but it is only air that surrounds me and my rescuer is safe. They winch the both of us back up to the bridge. My legs feel like Jell-O and I hyperventilate for a few seconds. I sit down on the little metal bench, refusing to look down. Someone asks: “Would you like to go again?” “Are you !@#$%^ kidding?!!”

There are many people who enjoy this experience and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. Each to his own. I’m not sorry that I experienced this, but I will never attempt it again and have since made peace with the fact that I will fear heights for the remainder of my life.

At a later point, we take our son to Oribi Gorge to go and do a gorge swing. “Why don’t you do a swing with me,” he asks.

“There’s not enough money in the world that will make me do something like this again,” I replied and we went to lunch. Food is a better adventure!

This week I’m focusing a little more on healthy nutrition. Take a look at the Healthy Nutrition section of this blog. Today’s recipe is a toad in the hole with a difference. Tomorrow will be a fragrant and nutritious low fat Lebanese potato salad and who knows what the rest of the week will bring along the lines of interesting healthy recipes, so be prepared for some healthy cooking until Friday.

Also take a look under the Foreign Lands section for a link on Segovia

Tuna In The Caribbean Leewards

“YOU WILL EAT THIS!!”

“I WILL NOT!!”

Thirteen pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly. We’re doing a ten hour sail from the island of St. Martin to Nevis. Nevis to me is the epitome of what the traditional Caribbean is like. It is sleepy, lush & tropical with a gorgeous landscape and the sound of heavy reggae comes from everywhere. The sail is incredibly beautiful on an azure ocean with the perfect wind at our backs. We’re moving along rapidly and our captain – Luke – had thrown a line overboard and caught an enormous tuna. He promptly cleaned it, cut it into bite sized slivers and threw it into some soy sauce.

I have never eaten raw fish and if I was going to save face with these 13 American teens, I’m going to have to cowboy up and swallow it down. I pinch my eyes shut and swallow the first piece whole. Wait a minute! This flavor is amazing! I took another bite and this time I chew and close my eyes in ecstasy. The fish has the texture of silk and the fresh taste of the ocean plays with my senses. I see ocean all around me. I feel the spray on my face. I smell the fresh watermelon smell of the water, I touch the warm ocean next to the catamaran and now I taste the sea as the flavor explodes on my tongue. Thus begins my taste journey with raw fish and in time I will learn to sear the perfect tuna.

At the end of my contract I will spend 2 weeks on St. Maartin with my husband. There I drag him to an obscure little restaurant so small that I can’t remember its name. Linton Kwesi Johnson plays on the jukebox and I know I’m in the Caribbean. I want to introduce Stan to the delights of the raw fish, but like me, he is hesitant and pulls a face. Never! Come on, just a small bite from mine. He relents and his reaction is the same as mine and we will continue to eat tuna like this on a regular basis.

I’m working for three months teaching scuba to American teens on a 48 foot Leopard catamaran based in St. Martin. We’re sailing and diving the 6 leeward islands and there are some challenging moments for me. I’ve never lived with so many people in such a small space. Thirteen raucous teens and three staff members. We do have our memorable moments though. In Saba we climb the 1062 steps to the top of Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Caribbean. In Nevis we have a beach party and dance around the bon fire with the kids. In Gustavia, – St. Barths – we eat burgers at Jimmy Buffet’s Hamburger in Paradise. In St. Kitts we visit an old fort with a gorgeous view. We dive some unspoiled sites that commercial outfitters don’t visit. We sail into gorgeous little bays, see incredible sunsets, full moons and interesting sites. I learn how to walk again on land after being on a boat for too long. It is a strange sensation. My legs feel like rubber and I feel a little seasick and long to get back to the boat. Every night the 3 of us cram into a small space to have a quick overview of our day and to plan the following day. We’re about to get to the island of St. Eustatius (Stacia) to visit a marine biology center that does turtle research and conservation and we will be doing a hike through the crater of an inactive volcano. Chris told the kids what our program will look like the following day and Jesse looks seriously concerned: “What if it erupts?”

“We will give everyone steel umbrellas,” deadpans Chris.

Jesse believes every word and is appeased. I laugh until my tummy hurts and the journey continues. At the end of the trip, we all gather in a circle to play our last game. A line gets thrown to the person you feel you learned something from. Jesse throws me the line and says with a big smile on his face that he learned from me that even though you’re an adult, you can still behave like a child and enjoy it. I feel surprised by this, as I’m not sure what I had done to make him see this. It also makes me grateful that perhaps I’m not always as serious as I feel and that there is some frivolity lurking behind the serious me. Unbeknownst to me, the kids had taught me to let loose my inner child and I enjoy the notion that an adult can learn something from a child.

By the end of the trip I realize the Caribbean and an insistent captain gave me raw fish. I cherish the moment.

If you’d like to know how to sear the perfect tuna, click on the Recipes section of this blog for tips.

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