Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I know this is a blog about food and related things, but I was going through my photo albums this afternoon, and I came across these photos of the sensational bromeliads I found in Costa Rica when I went there on holiday with my great friend, Rachel, last year.

We stayed all over the place, but our last day was spent in the city of Alijuela, at a beautiful guest house on top the hill. The view sort of reminded me of Port of Spain. And the gardens at the hotel were quite spectacular. Here are just a few of the photos I took:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making soda bread with Pauline and Leah

Baking bread is one of the great mysteries of life to me. In form one at high school, Mrs Cumberbatch tried to encourage us to make sweetbread, knotted bread and rock cakes. In retrospect, home economics class (taught at an all-girls school) seems like such a 1950s, sexist thing; a course to prepare us ladies to become heads of households and home-makers. But I digress.

Even way back in form one, I knew bread-baking was not for me. My dinner rolls came out like rocks that could give someone a buss-head if pelted hard enough. In my first season of Sancoche, I made the mistake of scheduling hot-cross-buns as a segment of a show. Well - after the kneading, raising, proofing, kneading and raising, it took us almost two days to shoot the damn segment. Never me and yeast-containing baked goods on tv again!

My great friend Michele's mum, Pauline, is from Ireland. Every time I go over to Pauline's house, I am plied with food and grog: "Oh come on, you must have a glass of wine!" And there is invariably a jug of milk going sour hanging around on the kitchen counter. This may seem a curious thing, but because Pauline habitually bakes soda bread, she's always in need of her home-made version of buttermilk (something it's impossible to buy in Trinidad.) She adds a little yogurt to a jug of milk, and leaves the milk out for 24 hours to sour and thicken.

Soda bread is so-called because it contains baking soda as a raising agent, rather than yeast. It's full of really good things like whole wheat flour, wheat germ and bran. You can also add dried fruit and nuts and a little sugar, if you like.

The other day I was liming by Pauline and noticed another jug of souring milk on the counter. She said she was going to be making a batch of soda bread and I asked if I could come over to help/ look on. She said yes, and we made a date for the following day.

By the time I arrived, Leah, Pauline's 3-year-old granddaughter, had already sifted all the flour, and with Granny's help, measured all the ingredients. She was determinedly mixing the whole wheat and white flours in a bowl. Pauline went about adding the balance of ingredients: salt, wheat germ, bran, olive oil, the soured milk, bicarb of soda and baking powder. She mixed everything up until it formed a fairly wet dough.

And then, without leaving anything to raise or proof or set, she divided the mixture up among three loaf tins which she put in the oven to bake. Punto finale!! Yay! And the smell! Wow, there's nothing like having the smell of baking bread in your home to make you feel completely safe and loved!

The bread was absolutely delicious. Heavy and toothsome - after eating a slice you felt full. Not at all like the store-bought breads you get here which are just like cardboard. Richard and I nearly came to blows over who would get the last piece. As it was, I carefully rationed the bread so that we could get two and a half days of enjoyment from it. I'm going to have to get the recipe from Pauline so that I can make it. It's too easy to make, and too delicious not to!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My father's books

I miss my father's home. Although Daddy had lived in Jamaica from 1997 until he died, and I only lived with him there for a year, his home was always my home. It was unpretentious and very comfortable. There were always his hundreds of books on shelves scattered around the house and in his study. His copies of Nabokov and Naipaul novels, his collection of plays and poetry from Borges to Walcott, Tony Mc Neil to Robert Frost, his biographies of famous writers, thinkers and politicians; he had books on the Mayans and Greeks, the world wars and the Nazis. They lined the shelves of every book case of every home I've ever known him to live in. They were always organised by genre and then alphabetically by author. Just like a library, even though he would never have called what he had a library. He would have thought that pretentious. They were just his books which went with him wherever he went.

The bookshelf in my Dad's study.

When my sister and I were sorting through his books after he died, I started considering them a 'collection'. But then, that's not the right word. A 'collection' suggests something that's a deified entity, that is stored carefully and rarely touched - revered for what it represents rather than its actual content and meaning. Daddy's books were very much intrinsic to his creative life. He read constantly. His favourite novels he read several times. And most of his favourite poems he knew by heart. All of his books bore the signs of having been read - they had faded and curling pages, many of them were covered in his annotations and underlinings. Some of them had ancient library stamps and the names of other owners scribbled onto their pages.

Even though no doubt over the years he lent out many books that were never returned, he still lent his books to friends and students, often recommending a particular story or poem that would reveal some truth that was specific to the person to whom he was lending the book.

The way he was with his books was exactly how he how he approached his life. The books weren't precious objects to him. They were only useful in-so-far as they were well-written or interesting. He didn't care a fig if he owned books that were rare or autographed. They were what he used everyday, to learn, to relax, to delight, inspire and to educate.

When my father found out that he was dying, all he did differently was to eat more ice cream and cake. He was exactly himself - writing, reading, teaching, sailing when he could, laughing, agonising: living. He told my sister and I that until you die you're alive. I think his one indulgence was to tell someone, "Fuck you, I'm dying!" when they suggested he stop smoking. His life was not more precious to him than his ability to live it.

Dad's books are all over the place now. They will no longer line the bookshelves of his home. They belong to me and to Saffrey. To his dearest friends and to strangers. There's a part of me that's confused about the dilemma nostalgia creates. Do we keep everything because it belonged to him once? But then, that would be to make those things exactly what he never did: relics, 'libraries' and 'collections'. What's the point of keeping an autographed copy of a shitty book, when there would be less space for something you might actually want to read?