LittleFoot, or, Where Did I Go?

I've literally spent twenty minutes deliberating what best to title this blog post - "What I've Mostly Been Doing These Past Few Months"/"Where Did Caribbean Go"/"Been A Long Time" (..."shouldn't've left you...without a dope beat to step too" (whoops, got a bit carried away there)).  In the end I decided to simply title it "LittleFoot" - because that, or rather, he, has been my occupation for the last ten and a bit weeks.  

Who is LittleFoot?  He is my darling dumpling of a son, and he is right now taking a nap, which means there are a few minutes for me to frantically run around shoving milk-stained muslins in the washing machine, throwing together the basics to make tonight's dinner as quick as possible (compromising as little as possible on taste...more on this later), grab some breakfast (yes, I am aware it's 3.30pm), reply to e-mails and type this up (whilst constantly checking the monitor to make sure that he is breathing!).  Oh, I forgot that I needed the loo too, back in a sec!

Anyway, as LittleFoot and I have come to a compromise (that he seems to often renege on) and have started to work out a bit of a routine, it has been so nice to start dipping my toes, very daintily mind you, back into work.  And quite fittingly, as the weather begins to hint of Caribbean promise (I wish!).  So look out for a few special events and supper clubs over the Summer, along with other exciting news.  And also more regular blog posts and recipes - as Caribbean-inspired as ever, but now with a definite focus on quick and simple, reflecting where my life is now.

You may well question the existence of said LittleFoot (as you will see I rarely ever post any snaps of him in my social media), so I'll leave you with this happy face, just this once!

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2015: The Experience

Although I've been back to the motherland (Trinidad) pretty much every year since I moved to the UK, I've never been back (as an adult) to celebrate Carnival, the highlight of T&T (Trinidad & Tobago)'s social... actually scrap that ... THE highlight of the T&T calendar, period!  Carnival, the last Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday brings in reflection and fasting for the Lenten period, is about bacchanal* and misbehaviour, kind of how in the UK you would have Pancake Day, the last 'jolly' before Lent's self-discipline.  This is our slightly amped-up version!  Whilst the strict time boundaries of this are now somewhat blurred (Carnival 'warm-up' now begins as soon as Christmas finishes and continues to 'cool-down' (yes, I mean party) on the beaches of T&T for a week after Carnival), the concept remains steadfast.  This year, I went with 9 Brits and a 'Frenchie', close friends who, in the past, I've inundated with my Trini culture, soca music and of course, food, all eager to experience it, first hand.  After all the hype I had fed them (pun intended) for years, I really hoped they would come away loving T&T every much as bit as I do.  

J'Ouvert Morning & Carnival Monday and Tuesday

J'Ouvert (a derivation from the French for "day break") signals the opening of Carnival and starts at 3am.  It takes us back to basics, celebrating sans constumes, instead its all about the mud, paint and clay!  We arrived in Trinidad, happy and excited (my friends completely without expectations) on Sunday evening, en route back to my Uncle's home we stuffed our face (and messed up our t-shirts) with the obligatory pit-stop street-food Doubles (more on this later), followed by home-made Bake and Shark (more on this later), went for a nap at about 10pm and awoke (admittedly, it was an epic struggle) at 2am to head into Port-Of-Spain in our wee mini-van!  

We were greeted by hordes of revellers and pumping loud soca music and it began.  Big trucks with even bigger sound systems blaring and leading the walk around the streets of Port-Of-Spain to lead us back to our starting point at 8am.  Yes!  6 hours of chippin' (dancing and walking), winin'* (purposeful gyration of the hips), drinking (the bar is also a mega-truck...as one of my friend's said, "I have never had to walk to keep up with the bar") and..... being pelted with paint, covered in mud and smeared in clay.  And, the more you try to run away from it, the more someone seeks you out and hits you with it (I speak from experience!).  It seems like a long time to be partying, but it went in a heartbeat.  I cannot describe the warmth and friendliness in the mass crowd, everyone is dancing/wining with everyone else, without any suggestive inkling.  There is certainly an ethos of "wine and go" as some of my male friends (Al, left high and dry!) discovered.  

We had been listening to the music since January so were up to date with the soca music (as is the done thing), so hearing those familiar anthems, in such a setting, with such people.  Perfection.  Utter perfection.  It is certainly a 'bucket list' event!  And just when you think that you may be defeated by exhaustion, the sun rises, it is the most surreal sunrise I have ever witnessed, everyone paint-splattered and in some happy, dancing trance, packing out the streets, the sun shining down some unseen Carnival-party-energy that keeps you going for another couple of hours, when you finally return to the starting point.  It is all about that energy that is passed around by the crowd.  And maybe there is something to be said about the free-flowing rum.....

Some of the gang looking bright (literally) and chirpy at 10am after 8 hours of partying

Some of the gang looking bright (literally) and chirpy at 10am after 8 hours of partying

The next day, that is a couple hours later that Carnival Monday morning, you head home and shower the paint out of your hair (there are still tinges of green in my hair as I type this, talk about a need for intensive conditioning), get 'dolled' up and into your pretty costumes to play 'mas (masquerade).  It certainly is a 'prettier' event.  And you do the chippin', winin' and drinking all over again, but in the hot blazing sun, looking beautiful.  The costumes are all moving and dancing works of art, bright colours of celebration, being skilfully shown off by the Carnival players.  The occasional truckload of steel pan players passes and the scene is rich with colour and a waterfall of sound, that warming and vibrant 'gong' of the steel pan is the quintessential tropical orchestra.  Oh, did I mention the bodies?  Athletic, muscular and toned, to jubbly, soft and to use a phrase coined by Beyonce, "bootylicious".  If anyone was body or self conscious, believe me, it did not show. It was a perfect celebration of the body, in all its form!  On Monday evening, family joined us on Ariapita Avenue (affectionately referred to as "The Avenue", the place to be for the night scene, limin'* capital of T&T, and if you are there for that, you go "pumpin' up the Avenue") Then on Carnival Tuesday you wake up and do it all again!  And the energy never dies.   (Although it did, a little, for our group, we obviously didn't do enough prep beforehand and by Carnival Tuesday we all were looking a little more than worse for wear, but still smiling!).

feathers and not much else at the savannah

feathers and not much else at the savannah

beautiful mas' costumes and fried chicken heaven at the savannah

beautiful mas' costumes and fried chicken heaven at the savannah

'Cool Down' & Tobago

Wednesday is Carnival 'cool down', where (instead of heading to church for Ash Wednesday mass!) the revellers head over to Maracas Bay to party and lime* on the beach with Bake and Shark and ice cold Carib.  Sadly, we were unable to stay (travel arrangement woes, I'm hopeless with these things) and instead headed to Tobago for our version of 'cool down', starting at Pigeon Point.  This is a stunning national heritage site and stereotypically white-sanded and azure-watered.  You can take a boat out from Pigeon Point to Bucco Reef and snorkel and see the stunning coral and a rainbow of fish and then continue onto Nylon Pool to swim in crystal-clear (or nylon clear) waters that apparently make you years younger (I have done this several times and am still awaiting the results....).

pigeon point rum punch pose fail

pigeon point rum punch pose fail

Crystal waters at nylon pool.  apparently it makes you younger... im still waiting...

Crystal waters at nylon pool.  apparently it makes you younger... im still waiting...

There is certainly more to see than just the spectacular beaches, including the Fort, in Tobago's capital, Scarborough, and its breath-taking views!

A stunning view from fort george, scarborough

A stunning view from fort george, scarborough

I took the group to Englishman's Bay for the final day.  It seemed entirely appropriate, and what a final image to stay in the heart's and head's of us all of this incredible, colourful and once-in-a-lifetime experience (I say this but we all know I am going back next year!) trip.

Could this get any more beautiful?  the final beach visit for the englishmen and the aptly named englishman's bay, tobago

Could this get any more beautiful?  the final beach visit for the englishmen and the aptly named englishman's bay, tobago

 

*glossary of common terms, taken from "Côté ci Côté la: Trinidad and Tobago Dictionary" by John Mendes.

"Bacchanal" -  "...Big Fėte.  Confusion.  Bacchus - Roman name for Dionysos, Greek mythology deity of bacchanalia -religious wine festivals."

"Chip/Chippin'" - "A peculiar dance/walk shuffle, associated with J'Ouvert.  To step in time with music, with your weight mostly on the toes."

" Fėte" - "Big party.  Loud music.  Lots to eat and drink, dancing into the wee hours..."

"Lime/Limin'" - "When a small group of persons engage in a sometimes pre-arranged pleasure activity."

 

The Breadline Challenge: Days 5, 6 and 7

Friday

8am:  I have a packed day today, some prep for an event on Sunday, a meeting and some work that I have been putting off all week!  I grab a banana and a cup of tea and crack on.  I’m not feeling hungry, so this should be fine.

 11.15am:  Time has marched on and I have to leave to head to my meeting.  I eat one of my ‘energy’ banana and peanut butter flapjacks, pop the leftover lentils, spinach and caramelized onion oatcakes into my bag for lunch and off I go.  Full and content.

 1.15pm:  I’m starving post-meeting, so I become one of ‘those’ people and eat my leftover oatcake lunch on the district line back home.  I still have £1.32 to spend so I decide to pop into Sainsbury’s to see if anything special has cropped up in the ‘reduced’ section.  Alas, nothing really, except for coke and cider, and I don’t need to go there just yet!  I do manage to get the lovely lady at the deli counter to cut me 25g of Ticklemore cheddar (the cheapest cheese available).  She moans a bit, but in the end cuts it bang on!  I also cave and buy chocolate bourbons for 25p.  I still have 89p for a final splurge tomorrow.

 3.45pm:  Finishing off a little of my flapjack with some peanut butter spread on top.  Hunger pangs are kicking in ….

 6pm:  I meet an old friend who has just come from NYC in a local pub.  He orders a glass of red.  This is definitely the toughest temptation that has presented itself to me this week.  It is Friday, everyone is buzzing and happy, unwinding and drinking.  My friend offers me a sip of his wine and I think about it for a good 10 minutes, no kidding.  “No one will ever know”, he says, like the naughty voice in my head.  I think I have come so far and with just the weekend to get through, I would never forgive myself.  I am to close to the end now…

 7.30pm:  Ravenous and feeling totally deflated, as you can imagine after watching someone enjoy a glass of wine when you can’t, I head home and whip up a delicious and comforting Welsh rarebit with some of the malted granary bread that is a little stale now.  Just 46p, but it tasted pretty marvellous and I am super content. 

9pm:  A decide to go ‘all-out’ and enjoy 4 bourbon cream biscuits dipped into the second to last of my emergency hot choc sachets.

 Saturday

7.30am:  Cup of tea in bed, at 3p, an almost perfect Saturday morning (just missing that warm croissant, jam and brie!).  I have a lot of prep to get on with this morning for tomorrow’s big event.  I also manage to squeeze in a Tabata class.  Bonus.  I pop out for a few more ingredients and decide to spent the remaining 89p I have leftover.  I don’t need anything for the next two days so I am going to be reckless and buy things I want.  Apparently today that’s chocolate coins, a banana and baked beans.  Way to go me!

 12.45pm:  Brunch time.  Fry-up!  Including fried bread bits from some of the leftover stale malted granary bread.  That baked beans purchase, smart!  This typical Saturday indulgence cost less than 60p!

3pm: Bourbon cream biscuit time…. 1, 2, 3 and a half!

 6.30pm: Oddly, I am not at all hungry but craving something sweet.  I whip up a roast pepper soup for under 40p and wolf it down, just to give my body some goodness before making this monster:  baked banana, slashed down the middle and stuffed with smashed gold coins, bourbon cream biscuits and peanut butter.  I pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes and pop it into one of my banana split dishes.  I’m thinking how wonderful it would be with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream…  Anyway, I plop myself onto the sofa and am eating it in ecstasy, it could almost be a usual Saturday night.  Oh and did I mention that it is less than 30p. For all that decadence!

10pm:  I head to bed early, because I have an event tomorrow to cater for.  Also, what I am going to do on a Saturday night that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, snacking…  Just one more day to go!

 Sunday

8am:  I get up early, indulge in a cup of a tea, a large bowl of porridge and the leftover malted granary bread that I toast … and burn … dammit!  About 7p for breakfast (I didn’t include the toast…).  I get on with the last bit of prep for today’s event.  It is difficult show self-control with all this beautiful food being made.  Just not for me!

 6pm:  Like most event/pop-up days, I don’t really eat during ‘service’.  I am home and starving!  I have leftover baked beans and kidney beans that I through together, along with the leftover sausages, eggs and onion that I slow caramelised this morning.  I really couldn’t be happier with this Sunday dinner.

8pm:  I devour the remaining chocolate coins and a couple bourbon cream biscuits.

10pm:  I go to bed full and excited about tomorrow morning!

It's not too late to donate, any amount is so helpful for this wonderful cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=ShiviReuter 

The Breadline Challenge: Day 4

Thursday

11am:  I had an early morning meeting and had to rush out of the house this morning.  I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t feel bad.  I’ve just got home and I am now pretty famished.  I whip up smashed banana pancakes (made with banana, milk and egg) and eat it with melted peanut butter.  They taste divine and are packed with protein and cost under 25p/portion.  I am feeling full!

Smashed Banana Pancakes with melted Peanut Butter

Smashed Banana Pancakes with melted Peanut Butter

2.30pm:  Home after a busy morning, that included taking my remaining £1.45 up to the high street to splurge!  The splurge ended up being a solitary carrot, but all ended well after I popped into Wholefoods to pick up dinner bits for Hubbles and they obviously were feeling the Thanksgiving spirit as they were giving tasters of their Pumpkin Pie (naturally I indulged) and were also giving away chocolate coins.  I took 2 of the latter and showed self-control by not eating them there and then.  I have an idea of how to use them…  I am now boiling my carrot and roasting garlic for my lunch.  Roasted Garlic Carrot soup, under 16p!

Creamy and smoky Roasted Garlic and Carrot Soup.

Creamy and smoky Roasted Garlic and Carrot Soup.

 4pm:  I melted one of the chocolate coins and drizzled it over a flapjack.  Heaven.  I am in actual heaven!  ... I ate it too quickly to take a photo of it and anyway it didn't look very pretty, but it tasted pretty amazing!

 7.30pm:  Hubble actually was jealous of my sausage dinner yesterday so wanted a casserole tonight.  Whilst that is bubbling away, I make absolutely wonderful little oatcakes from lentils, spinach, caramelised onion and oats with a makeshift ‘ketchup’ (really a puree) from sautéed peppers and paprika.  I can imagine given a storecupboard of spices that you can really go mad with flavouring these oatcakes.  Mine were simple but tasty and just 45p for a portion.

Lentils, spinach and caramelised onion oatcakes with pepper and paprika 'ketchup'

Lentils, spinach and caramelised onion oatcakes with pepper and paprika 'ketchup'

9pm:  I break into the second of 4 of my emergency hot choc sachets, at 25p, it is Thanksgiving after all and I am thankful that a) I got a bit of give-away pumpkin pie and some freebie choc coins, and b) the Breadline Challenge is just for one week and I am fortunate enough to not have to eat on such a small amount.

(Here is how I did on Wednesday: http://www.shiviramoutar.com/blog/2014/11/27/the-breadline-challenge-day-3)

It's not too late to donate, any amount is so helpful for this wonderful cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=ShiviReuter

The Breadline Challenge: Day 3

9am: I have a late breakfast of toasted malt granary bread with peanut butter and a cup of tea, coming in at under 11p, as surprisingly I am not too hungry this morning!  I am feeling a little under the weather, there is definitely a cold or flu lurking, but I feel that this has been coming for the last month.  I have lots to do this morning but feel full enough to tackle it all.

Humble peanut butter on toasted malt granary bread and tea.  11p

Humble peanut butter on toasted malt granary bread and tea.  11p

3pm:  I have had the most productive morning and have even managed to fit a Barre class in, but now am ravenous and want something quick.  I whip up a Green Omelette (ie jam-packed with spinach) sprinkle over paprika and a little salt and it is delicious, coming in at under 42p.  Just what the doctor ordered.  I feel that I am getting on ok with the Breadline Challenge, provided that I am able to plan ahead and think if I am out for meetings that day.  But I do have, quite possibly the biggest sweet tooth in the country and I am really feeling my sugar withdrawals.  I know that this is really a good thing, but for me, life is too short to not have the odd, naughty treat… just not so great when you can’t afford it!  I use my head and realise that I have oats, a banana, peanut butter and oil, at least some of the vital ingredients for flapjacks.  I whip up a flapjack batter and pop it into the oven whilst I enjoy my omelette.  Fingers crossed it’s a good recipe…

Green Omelette (packed with spinach and sprinkled with paprika), under 42p.

Green Omelette (packed with spinach and sprinkled with paprika), under 42p.

4pm:  FLAPJACK TIME!  I can’t contain my excitement, they look nice, smell nice, I even had the patience to let them cool a bit on the wire rack.  Anyway, I sit down and sigh in anticipation, I take the first bite.  You know, it is actually quite nice.  It is never going to be like the usual, as this has no sugar/honey/maple in it at all, so it is far from saccharine, but there is a pleasant, subtle sweetness from the banana and a nuttiness from the peanut butter.  I am happy, this will do, especially as my tastebuds can't quite remember what sugar is like anyway!  In retrospect, I would have waited until the banana was a little more ripe (and sweeter), but I was too impatient.  I made 4 generous-sized flapjacks from 4 ingredients for under 24p.  Not bad.  This will definitely be relied upon for energy dips in my days.

Banana and Peanut Butter Flapjacks.  Yum.  And just 24p for 4 generous squares.

Banana and Peanut Butter Flapjacks.  Yum.  And just 24p for 4 generous squares.

7.45pm:  Still full on flapjacks, I prepare Hubble’s tuna steak and noodles, and start to puree my tomato and peppers for the base of my soup.  I finally add a little full-fat milk and chopped sausage.  The soup tastes wonderful and actually doesn’t need the sausages at all, but I thought I would pop them in for protein’s sake.  47p/portion. 

Warming bowl of creamy tomato and pepper soup with cooked sausage stirred through.  About 47p.

Warming bowl of creamy tomato and pepper soup with cooked sausage stirred through.  About 47p.

10.30pm:  I go to bed happy.

(Here is how I did on Tuesday: http://www.shiviramoutar.com/blog/2014/11/26/the-breadline-challenge-tuesday)

It's not too late to donate, any amount is so helpful for this wonderful cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=ShiviReuter

The Breadline Challenge: Day 2

8am:  I wake up starving, I knew I would!  I need to get my hungry backside to the supermarket this morning to pick up some more carbohydrate-based bits to keep me going through the day.  I would like to get to the gym at some point today too, I didn’t have enough energy yesterday.  The supermarket hasn’t had any sweet potato delivered yet, dammit!  I will have to come back for that.

9.30am:  I walk and feed the Yorkie and make breakfast.  Peanut butter-swirled porridge.  Not quite my usual quinoa-rridge, but actually I enjoy it immensely.  The peanut butter sweetens it and makes my breakfast even more engery-laden.  It comes in at under 5p/portion!  I am so happy with it that I forgot to make my tea.  I think I will save this for later, it seems unnecessary now.

Peanut Butter Swirl Porridge, under 5p/portion, delicious, warming and filling

Peanut Butter Swirl Porridge, under 5p/portion, delicious, warming and filling

3pm:  I have just finished my lunch.  Roasted pepper and chickpea hummus (with olive oil and paprika) with warm, crusty malted granary.  It was so delicious, heart-warming and nourishing.  I am quite thrilled with it really, I may have it again this week.  Did I say that it comes up to under 36p/portion!  I ended up having a late lunch, because honestly, I was still full from breakfast, even after going to the gym!  And still no need for tea yet. 

Fantastic home-made roasted pepper and chickpea chunky hummus, olive and paprika with warm malted granary, under 36p/portion.

Fantastic home-made roasted pepper and chickpea chunky hummus, olive and paprika with warm malted granary, under 36p/portion.

7.30pm:  Eating with Hubbles tonight.  Just taken out a chilli and garlic salmon fillet from the oven that he will have with a brown rice stir-fry.  I on the other hand, will be enjoying baked eggs in a spinach and tomato sauce.  And I will actually be ‘enjoying’ it as I do usually eat these normally.  I am quite hungry now so it can’t come out of the oven any quicker.  It is filling, and warm and I am happy and it comes under 53p/portion!

All about internal heating this week and this baked eggs with spinach and tomato hit the spot at under 53p/portion!

All about internal heating this week and this baked eggs with spinach and tomato hit the spot at under 53p/portion!

9pm:  I enjoy that cup of tea that I didn’t have for breakfast, I am once again not full, but not starving.

(Here is how I did on Monday: http://www.shiviramoutar.com/blog/2014/11/25/the-breadline-challenge)

It's not too late to donate, any amount is so helpful for this wonderful cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=ShiviReuter

The Breadline Challenge

What would eat if you had £2.10 a day for food, for an entire week?  Here is my food diary that shares how I felt and what I ate, to raise money and awareness for Food Cycle:

The weekend before ….

Friday:  

After a 6am breakfast of quinoa and chia seed porridge be-jeweled with berries, cocoa nibs and maple syrup, I spent the morning cooking jerk-spiced pork shoulder and a host of tropical salads for a private lunch I catered for.  I’ve just got home from the gym and am enjoying a delicious Chicken Katsu Curry that I picked up from the High Street.  It has only now dawned on me that after the weekend has passed, my budget of £2.10 a day won’t quite stretch to my morning ‘super-crop’ habit!  And with that goes my smooshed avocado with chilli on rye, (another of my favourite breakfasts)!  Actually, how the hell am I going to survive each day on less than the amount that I spend on my mid-morning Starbuck’s Chai Tea Soya Latte sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon?  (And I guess by now that you can see that my life totally revolves around mine, and other peoples’ stomachs!). 

The remainder of the Weekend:

In no particular order: tasting menu dinner at The West House, accompanying wines, lemon meringue pie slices, chocolate fondant and ice cream, afternoon tea and cakes, roast tatties, cauliflower cheese, Sabrina Ghayour-inspired 7 hour lamb, more wine, curry, chocolate coins, orange juice, marmalade on toast, chorizo, more wine and FEAR (and fullness) as my head hit the pillow on the Sunday night!

The Breadline Challenge week..

Monday

8am: I wake up excited and ready for the week ahead, still full from the weekend’s excesses.  I realise that I have a few urgent bits of work admin to deal with so decide to get on with that for about an hour after which I am ravenous and head to the supermarket.  I had already written a provisional list the week before, but when actually faced with the choices (brown bread for 10p more, or another tin of tomatoes) it all becomes so tough because the decisions I make now, will affect what I will be eating on Friday, I honestly spend about an hour ‘umming and aahing’ in the aisles!  I am normally a last-minute shopper, I decide what I want to eat on the day, I can’t plan ahead.  But I will have to learn.  

11.22 spent in total.  

11.22 spent in total.  

10.40am: I’ve walked and fed the Yorkie, completed some house-work and have staved off breakfast as long as I can.  I make a cup of tea and eat two soft-boiled eggs with steamed spinach, sprinkled with paprika and salt.  Breakfast coming in at under 50p/portion.  I love breakfasts that are like this, warm, nutritious, spiced, I just wish I had some rye bread to eat it with.  But its ok, I can do this!  No problem!

Soft-boiled eggs and steamed spinach with salt and paprika and a cup of tea.

Soft-boiled eggs and steamed spinach with salt and paprika and a cup of tea.

12pm: I’m ravenous, I would have normally had a mid-morning snack by now.  I knew I should have brought that white bread for 40p that I was contemplating for 5 minutes (no kidding) in the supermarket, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it!  An email has just popped up and I am reminded that I have a meeting in half an hour in Central London.  I am already going to be late so I scramble out of the door without a second thought!  As I get to High Street Kensington tube station I turn to nip into ‘Pret’ to grab their Christmas sandwich, then I remember that I can’t afford that this week, obscenities dribble out of my mouth, I am too energy-less and grumpy to shout.  I am starving and I can’t buy anything to eat on this budget!

 5pm:  I finally get home (ravenous!) after the meeting runs over and having had to drink litres of hot water to placate my stomach (and use up more energy with the inevitable trips to the loo).  Due to my inability to concentrate on anything that was being discussed, I was at least able to dream up my dinner.  On the sausages go, they are taking forever to cook….or maybe it’s just because I am so damn hungry.  I make a lentil, red bean and sausage one-pot, with peppers, spinach and garlic.  It tastes incredible, it is nutritious, heart-warming and wholesome and I am, once again, very happy.  It comes in at under 65p/portion.

Sausage, lentils, red bean one-pot with spinach, peppers and garlic.

Sausage, lentils, red bean one-pot with spinach, peppers and garlic.

8pm: Hubble gets home and I cook him linguine with a tomato, crayfish and chilli sauce and as I grate over fresh Parmesan I become insanely jealous.  What a good wife I am, I think!  It has been a day of very little calories so I feel that I am allowed to break into my emergency hot chocolate stash (I bought 4 sachets) coming in at 25p.  Usually around now, I would be tucking into something like a brownie or a cookie, but the hot chocolate is a bearable substitute. 

11.00pm:  Bedtime.  I’m by no means hungry, but I definitely don’t feel full.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's eating...

 It's not too late to donate, any amount is so helpful for this wonderful cause:  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=ShiviReuter

Caribbean Food: Season All not Seasonal

When the Sun is out and the mercury is rising, we bring out the barbecued fish and accompanying salsas (usually mango or pineapple), the jerk chicken, fritters of any persuasion (usually saltfish) and the rice ‘n’ peas.  Our stalwart ‘core’ Caribbean familiars that we love so much, bringing out the tropics to celebrate those rare British moments of sun-drenched weather. 

But what happens when the Sun decides to go away, when bare legs need to be ‘tighted’ and ‘jeaned’, or as a friend put it, “where does Caribbean go when Summer is over?”

photo taken from ongulfshores.com  © Elkins Development & Management

photo taken from ongulfshores.com  © Elkins Development & Management

 Well firstly, for me, Caribbean food isn’t only about those pack-a-punch-in-flavour marinades, spice rubs and sauces, like the beloved jerk, adobo and sofritos (that have evolved from our rich, vibrant and multi-cultural history), but also simply about the inspiration that commonplace, everyday Caribbean ingredients may give me to pull together an everyday creation, like watermelon for a simple salad, avocado to create a spiced avocado gazpacho, crab used to make a savoury biscotti, coconut oil to pour over blackened coconut prawns.

 Away from these more Summery creations, but in the same vein, the abundance of different vegetables (some as familiar as aubergine, pumpkin, sweet potato, corn and broccoli) can create some perfect ‘internal-heating’ foods for when the temperature drops.   Think of a hearty corn soup, fortified with lentils, coconut milk and carrot, (a famous Trinidad street food for post-partying, like a healthier Caribbean version of the ‘stumbling-back-home-bleary-eyed-and-slightly-sozzled’ British kebab, no joke!) a warming and spicy pumpkin and chickpea curry (UK is a curry-loving nation, so extending our affection to Caribbean curries is an easy step), the aubergine, roasted and mashed with garlic and coriander, to make a choka, served with warm flat bread, roti, and the sweet potato, roasted with orange zest and ginger and served with your favourite hunk of meat.  See, simple but heart-warming creations from a beauteous range of versatile veg.

Autumnal coloured sweet potato and beetroot

Autumnal coloured sweet potato and beetroot

But there are also specific Caribbean dishes that have ‘Comfort Food’  written all over them: Pepperpot – originally from Guyana and traditionally using any available meat (usually pig’s tail, or cow heel) and made with ‘cassareep’ (a thick, molasses-like liquid from the root of bitter cassava), to which different islands over time have added their own flair and flavour to it.  I cook mine with lamb and I add aubergine and potato and flavour it with the usual cinnamon as well as orange zest, to make a one-pot, meaty cuddle-per-spoonful (it reminds me a little of a tropical-inspired Lancashire Hot Pot);

Callaloo – another hearty one-pot, like a thick soup/stew combo, made from callaloo leaves (I use spinach when I’m in the UK) simmered with okra, coconut milk, herbs, scotch bonnet and salted meat;

Pelau – a rice-based dish, brimming with beans, vegetables, chicken and pig tail (I use ham hock often) and flavoured with caramelised sugar, eaten with hot pepper sauce (scotch bonnet-based)…  

I could go on listing all the deliciously warming dishes like a seductive M&S advert, but I think you get the picture (and I am getting hungrier by the minute writing this!).

Warming Callaloo 

Warming Callaloo 

Salt Beef Oil Down with Green Banana

Salt Beef Oil Down with Green Banana

Curried Crab and Dumplings

Curried Crab and Dumplings

How did we end up with such a rainbow of spirit-lifting dishes in such hot climate?  Without going into a full-on history lesson, the Caribbean, it’s people and it’s food has come to be the way it is because of it’s colourful history: the influx of a wealth of races; the indigenous tribes, Europeans, Africans, Indians and Chinese.  At the time when the sugar plantation system across the Caribbean was in full swing and the slave trade was heavily relied upon to support it, the African slaves were given a small bit of land to grow their own crops, like sweet potato and yam (these foods are now generically called ‘ground provisions’, because, well, we take them out of the ground!), they were also given measly rations of salted meat and general leftovers from the plantation owners.  Due to the extreme physical demands and little free time it was important that the slaves were able to get high-calorie food and with only an iron pot, a wooden spoon and a pestle and mortar, all the ingredients were cooked up together to make incredibly thick (thickened usually by the ground provisions and okra) ‘one-pot’ meals.  As the ground provisions and leftovers could be bland, these one-pot dishes would be heavily seasoned with an array of herbs and spices, or the meats were marinated, to enhance flavours.  Even after the abolition of slavery, this way of cooking still influenced the new cultures and races that came into the Caribbean, but they of course gave the recipes their own twist, and so created new ‘comfort-food’ dishes, like Pelau, which is inspired by Middle Eastern, polow.

So you see, Caribbean food really isn’t just for Summer at all, but hosts a wide array of dishes that are simply perfect for this nippier weather, as well as ingredients, some that you may know and the some that you mayn’t, to create your own Caribbean-inspired Winter warmers!  Maybe the next time you go looking for the perfect toad-in-the-hole, or shepherd’s pie recipe, perhaps consider how Callaloo (see recipes) could cosy you up.

Shooting my debut cookery book...

Ever since I was in my single-digits, transforming the kitchen into a bomb-site of experimentation, it was my dream to invent tasty recipes and bring them to life.  A few years on (plus some… (but less about that)) I am currently half-way through my debut Caribbean cookbook’s recipe shoot and what an experience it has been! 

Speed demon Poppy attacking the okra

Speed demon Poppy attacking the okra

Firstly, I feel quite redundant, almost a nuisance, as I watch the wonderful food stylists, Lucy and Poppy, with wand-like utensils, sauté, whisk and chop away in the kitchen magic-ing up my creations.  (Secretly, it is quite nice to be out of the kitchen … makes a change from the norm!).

I am truly besotted with the bleached azure blue boards, whitewashed wood, plates that look like they have stories to tell and other marvellous props that the incredible Pene has conjured up for the shoot.  Now, when I look inside my own humble kitchen cupboard it feels incredibly sober and lacking in colour.  It really is all about mis-matching crockery and I am seriously contemplating ‘nabbing’ a few items that I’ve particularly fallen in love with, (shh, don’t tell Pene).

Some of Pene's beautiful props

Some of Pene's beautiful props

My obsession with pineapple plates continue ... determined that this gem features somewhere...

My obsession with pineapple plates continue ... determined that this gem features somewhere...

We tend to get about seven to eight shots in a nine-hour day.  And that is before photo editing.  I know that sounds like so little, but the amount of work that goes into making each photograph look mouth-wateringly scrumptious, have-to-cook-right-away perfection is immense.  I tell you, it is an art, nay, a skill to make plates of food look beautifully natural.  A lot of love goes into the ‘natural’ placing of the fried egg on top of the gorgeously, but oh so simply plated and prepped corned beef and cabbage, the grains of rice underneath placed exactly in an inexact manner.  Then let’s not forget the lighting, saturation, balance, focus and all those other sophisticated words that come into actually capturing the look and story of each dish with a click of a button.  And that is simplifying things immensely!  Watching food photographer extraordinaire Kris and his wonderful assistant Faith in action is mesmerising and seeing the shot, even in it’s unedited form is incredible and makes me smile every time.  Dreams become realised!

Lucy 'natural-ising' while Kris sets up the Jerk Pulled Pork and Salted Watermelon Salad shot

Lucy 'natural-ising' while Kris sets up the Jerk Pulled Pork and Salted Watermelon Salad shot

Kris reviewing the Banana Tarte Tatin

Kris reviewing the Banana Tarte Tatin

The most difficult part of this process, for me, was shooting the cover.  I won’t divulge much as hopefully it will speak for itself, but thanks Poppy for making me laugh (mostly at myself) all the way through! 

It has been marvellous starting the shoot in the height of Summer (shorts, flip-flops and sweat) and finishing in deep Winter (boots, umbrellas and chills, yes, I admit that I’m being a touch melodramatic, it is only mid October but I am a creature of the warmth and it’s pretty cold in my books!). 

The cincher for me is really that, after testing my recipes tens of times, feeding friends, family and myself the same revolving menu for months and months, I look at the finished shots, in all their glorious, comforting, sunshine-drenched simplicity, salivate and decide that I am going straight home to make them for dinner that night.  Result!

Caribbean Modern: Recipes from the Rum Island, published by Headline, will be out in June 2015

Curried Duck and Buss Up Shut composite

Curried Duck and Buss Up Shut composite