Friday, July 30, 2010

Mango Mania

Were you wondering how many pounds of Mangoes I ate at the just concluded Mango Festival?


Were you wondering if it is possible to get sick from seeing lots of mangoes but NOT eating them at a Mango Festival?

YES! …yes you can.

It was with much anticipation that I attended this year’s Mango Festival. Having missed the event last year, I was sure to pencil it on my calendar the moment I spotted the advertisement. The night before the event visions of eating many sugary-sweet, sticky mangoes danced in my head. Little did I know that I was to be tantalized and tempted by the sight of but not the taste of mangoes.

So here is how I envisioned my date with mangoes:

There would be chilled samples of diced mangoes - nothing fancy, just plastic cups with little cubes of mango. The type of mango would be written on the cup and  I would wear a HUGE complimentary mango festival bib because eating mangoes is a messy deal. Such was my conviction that I was going there to eat mangoes. My plan was to taste and cross off every sampled variety on my mango check list. Hell yeah I made a list. Laugh all you want. .

Okay so this is how it went down.

We arrived at 11:30am. and like a bee to honey I flew over to the first booth only to be told that the mangoes there were for display only. WHHAAT! Someone pinch me please I must be at the wrong festival. What do you mean I can't eat them?

On display are common, uncommon and rare mangoes. There was crowd and the booth was too small to accommodate us all. The gentleman from the Ministry of Agriculture was extremely fascinating and knowledgeable. Sure learned  a lot about mangoes that day. Too bad I promptly forget it all the moment I left the booth.

A brochure with all that valuable information would have been nice. Then I could take it home and read at my leisure. There was no brochure and I came back non the wiser about the question which was asked in my previous post. “How many mangoes are there in Trinidad and Tobago?” I think I may have heard someone say 48 but I can’t be sure. Sorry guys.

Here is the little of what I remembered. The Julie is the only true dwarf mango. The Ministry guy's job at one time had been to travel around the country looking for unusual and  rare mangoes. Cool. There was a detailed explanation about mangoes not growing true from seed….or something. But I had to move on as it was hot, it was crowded and I was wasting time. I was a woman on a mission. A mission called, Eat Many Mangoes.

Thankfully the Network of Rural Women Producers did not disappoint. The ladies here were charming and very generous with their samples. FINALLY,  I was eating! Click here to see Veronica who is from Grenada. She makes these mango fruit rolls.

She had some larger ones which she says could be used as an outer layer for wrapping cakes. I don’t know Veronica those look like rolls of salami to me. Who would want to wrap their cake in mango flavoured salami? Still in the interest of research I  tried them. I only photographed the minty mango but not the spicy mango since it looks exactly the same. I also tried the mango cheese (pâtes de fruit).

Man, oh man, that spicy mango is somethin’ I tell you. Forget the cake, I want to wrap myself in it! Reluctantly I tore myself away but not before I gave Vero ( my home and mobile phone numbers AND my email address). Girlfriend, call me we have to talk more about those mango cheeses (pâtes de fruit) drenched in dark chocolate! I like the way you think..

Next on the agenda were the mango beauty products.
Be sure to check out the creators of these lovely soaps here on my other blog. They call themselves the soap sisters. It must lots of fun to hang out and make soap together and these ladies were all smiles and laughter.
More soaps this time by Rachel.
soap collage
Doesn’t that jeweled cake of soap look like something you could eat? This reminds me that I am hungry. So where could I eat mangoes? Certainly not here by these pretty books made from the leaves of mango trees.
Gorgeous all of them but not edible so I move on.


After walking around in the sweltering heat we all needed something to drink. The bar was not ready and there wasn't any change to be had for large bills.  The mango ice-cream sounded refreshing but it arrived late and when the person was finally set  up - again, no change!. This was by far my husband’s biggest grouse about the entire event. It was advertised to start at 10:00am. Shouldn’t everyone have been set up and ready to go from 10:00am?

Still we persevered…or rather my husband did as he looked after two very cranky kids while I tried my best to get me a taste of some of those curiously elusive mangoes.

Sadly no. It was not to be.

There was a lot to see  but not much for the kids to do. So we left early because they were hot and bored.. We bought some very hard, very green Buxom Spice mangoes and called it a day.

Right, so here is the short story for you lazy bums who skipped to the end of this post.

The good: The Mango Festival is a hugely promising idea with lots of potential. I would love for it to be better organized. This was only it's 2nd year and I  hope to see it grow and improve.

The bad: It could have been better organized with information brochures, a schedule of events and maybe a map of the layout to make navigating the event easier. Also am I the only one who thinks that a mango festival where you don't get to eat mangoes is just a crime of some sort?

The ugly:
Very little to hold the interest of children and believe me when children are bored it CAN get ugly.
The Festival itself was held on a farm and our ears perked up when it was announced that they could milk the cows. Unfortunately the groups were too large, the wait was too long and my kids got cranky.
Anyone else see the potential for fun that kids could have on a farm? Tractor rides anyone? I saw horses in the distance. How about a little once around on horseback? Maybe feeding the chickens and seeing the little baby peeps - my littlest would have had a time chasing after them.


*Wizzy was last seen sneaking around the neighbourhood looking for an ice-cream mango tree.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I’ve got a date!

Dear God please don’t let it rain, don’t let the kids get sick and put a cap on domestic emergencies of any kind so that I can meet my true love.

Which is your favourite variety of mango? How many kinds of mangoes do you think there are in Trinidad? Go on make a guess and leave it in the comments. I'll let you know what I find out at the festival.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunny With a Chance of Delicious

Close your eyes and think of the Caribbean. What do you see? I’m betting you conjured up clichéd images of perpetual summer, white-sand, beaches and cocktails with little pink umbrellas. It’s a pleasant thought, but I’m here to tell you the islands offer so much more.

Take for example our food. West Indian food is really, REALLY great. I mean, I know it hasn’t achieved the celebratory status of some other world cuisines and even has a bum rap of being very heavy on the carbs but I’ll talk about that in another post.

This past week I found myself sitting in one of the many American franchise restaurants that have sprouted up all over this island, The menu was uninspiring and consisted of little more than glorified over priced burgers and a few pasta offerings. Cheese was the star flavouring agent. It was over everything – even the shredded lettuce that masqueraded as a salad. I shudder to think that many people who visit our islands might go away with the impression that this type of food is the daily fare of the local population.

Once upon a time it may have been true that people travelling to a foreign destination were reluctant to try unfamiliar food. In an effort to make guests feel at home, restaurants offered a typically European or American menu. Luckily that is changing and more places are giving local cuisine the prominence it deserves.

I dare say based on the number of food blogs out there, these establishments are headed in the right direction. Travellers today are now looking for culinary adventure along with their vacation package and are a lot more daring. Okay so maybe not everyone is up for a fishy-smelling but chicken-tasting plate of curried iguana à la Andrew Zimmerman of Bizarre foods but I’m guessing that most would love the adventure of sampling local flavous.

So here is my challenge to you. On your next vacation to the Caribbean or elsewhere, take a holiday from the food that is familiar. Explore where and what the locals eat. Then along with pictures of your pretty sunburn you’ll take home the aromas of sunny days, tastes of briny seafood, the almost electric heat of local peppers and the delicate intrigue of fresh herbs.

Not travelling to the Caribbean this summer; that's no problem man. So long as you marinate your fish the night before I can get you there in 10 minutes with this adaptation of a Jamaican steamed fish recipe.

Jamidadian Stew Fish
Traditionally red fish (red snapper). This can also be made using King fish (King Mackerel) , Carite or Cavali. This dish is a fusion of Jamaican and Trinidadian elements and the name is a tribute to my second mom who is Jamaican but has made Trinidad her home. Jamidadian is how she describes herself.

Serves 6
2 1/2  lbs King Fish (King Mackerel or red snapper)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp Green seasoning  (I don’t mince on my seasoning I like anything from 3 to 5 tablespoons of the stuff.)
1 tsp Angostura Orange bitters
3 tbsp. Golden Ray margarine (or butter)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into rings
4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large christophenes (chayote), peeled, seeded, and diced
1cup diced West Indian Pumpkin (calabaza squash) peeled and diced
1 cup carrots (diced)
10–12 allspice berries
1⁄4 tsp. minced scotch bonnet peppers (optional)
* absolutely no swapping with jalapenos please. The flavour is vastly different. You can substitute with a ½ to a full teaspoon of any Caribbean pepper sauce. We’re cooking Caribbean today not Mexican:-)
1⁄2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and crushed (this is called fever grass in Trinidad)

Season fish with salt, 2 tbs green seasoning and 1 tsp orange Angostura bitters. Leave in the fridge to marinate overnight.

The next day chop all vegetables. Melt 3 tbsp. Golden Ray margarine (or butter) in a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat and lightly sauté, garlic, onions and 1 tbsp green seasoning. Add the chopped veggies and all spice berries. I used christophene (chayote), pumpkin, carrots, ginger, pepper and lemon grass. You have free reign on the vegetables for this as any combo of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, beans what ever is in season,) can be added. Add just enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Cook for 5 mins.

Place fish on top of veggies. Cover pot. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, until fish is cooked through, about 5 – 7 minutes depending on thickness of fish slices. Adjust seasoning. Discard lemon grass before serving. Serve over rice.

Close your eyes and inhale. The warm scent of allspice and the subtle zing of citrus should transport you.  Now taste. What do you think? Are you on the beach yet?


Friday, July 16, 2010

Save a wife with Angostura bitters!


Look at what I found! It's my mom's old Agostura® recipe book. The cover is missing so it is difficult for me to ascertain exactly when it was printed. Coming to think of it, I don’t remember it ever having had a cover but  my guess would be that it was printed in the late 60’s or mid-70’s?  The recipes contained within are for the most part  unimaginative but there are a few quaint recipes for turtle stew, lappe and salami d’agouti. Finally there is a chapter with the amusing title of Wife-saving recipes! I can only imagine the ad campaign:
.Are you a wife? Are your meals dull and boring? Then you need saving. You need the magic touch that means so much! Alrighty then, so I won't be quitting my day job, any time soon.

Angostura® bitters is known the world over as an indispensable bar ingredient but did you know that in Trinidad, home of this world famous concoction it is a much used cooking ingredient? According to the official website it is the hallmark of a good cook!

Does it make your food taste bitter ?

No. Like the website says, Angostura® aromatic bitters is not bitter when added to food and drinks. It works by enhancing the flavour of other ingredients without masking the personality of other ingredients; it adds a unique but subtle flavour of its own.

In my experience when you cook or even bake with bitters, what you get is an increase in what the Japanese call umami or the savoriness of the food. This taste has no direct translation except to say that the dish has a level of deliciousness that goes beyond the ordinary. In local parlance, it gives your dish that sweet hand taste. In Trinidad a good cook is described as some one who has sweet han’ (sweet hands) meaning that what ever they cook is “sweet too bad” - sweet here not meaning sugary but lip- smacking go back for second goodness.

Trinidadians cook with Angostura® bitters all the time. So much so, it has become almost a reflex motion for me to put a dash of it in soups, stews, marinades, on ice cream, in pasta sauce as well as in my drinks. So ingrained is it into our cooking culture that it is rarely mentioned in recipes because it goes with out saying that it’s in there.


So tell me do you cook with bitters or am I the only one who finds it to be almost as necessary as salt? Maybe you use another ingredient to give your dish that magic touch. Do tell.

My next recipe will of course feature Angostura bitters. I just hope that my Jamaican readers don’t slay me when they see what it is…. Stay tuned.