Saturday, June 16, 2012

Duck Girl

Jade Drakes in her St James shop, Duck Girl
I've known Jade for a long time - since we were teenagers.  But it had been easily 15 years since last I'd seen her, when she popped in at the sale of a friend of ours.  She looked much the same - dressed quirkily, wearing a very interesting ring she'd made.  It was a clove of garlic, she'd said.  Something for her mum.  She also said she'd just come home to Trinidad after many years rambling around the world, learning to make things.  She'd opened on shop in St James and I should come by.

I did - a couple of weeks ago.  And it was enchanting.  Jade is the kind of person who really should have been born during the 19th Century!  She's a collector and maker of things.  Her shop, which is called Duck Girl, is a little gem of a place - full of things she loves and has made.  I was thrilled to find it.

Jade recently started making aprons, using lace she has collected from all over the world.  She showed me an gorgeous antique apron, made of satin with embroidered flowers.  She has pieces of furniture and light fixtures that she's found about the place; tiny rings and earrings that she's made with beads she's been collecting, and little objects for sale which she thinks are beautiful and interesting.

Going into Jade's shop is a bit of a Looking Glass experience.  I was carried into her world of beautiful things, lovingly and carefully created, and it was a delight.

Some of Jade's aprons

Plants and containers

A collection of buttons and rolls of antique ribbons
You can find Duck Girl on the Western Main Road, on the corner opposite George Cabral Street.

Feeling Crafty!

A few months ago, I was given a hand-me-down couch.  I was thrilled!  I've been wanting a couch for a couple of years now, but buying a new one seemed prohibitively expensive and then too, I needed a two-seater as my living room is small, and I couldn't really find anything I liked.  The trouble with the couch was the upholstery!  A huge plaid pattern printed on a very synthetic fabric!  And it was coming apart at the seams.

I knew I had to recover the couch - but again, I didn't want to go to a professional upholsterer as that would have been expensive.  So I searched online for several days, trying to find a decent how-to guide for making my own slip cover.  I couldn't really find one that made it look anything but very difficult and time-consuming.  So, I ditched the internet searches, went to the fabric shop and bought five yards of cloth, 90 inches wide.  In truth, having decided to make my own slip cover, I figured I could go a little more expensive on the fabric, so I what I ended up buying was TT$80/ yard.

I brought the fabric home, took it out of the bag, and started pinning it to the couch.  And really, that's how I was able to make the cover: pinning the fabric in place, lining up the woven stripe, cutting, sewing and pinning again.  I felt as though I were draping fabric on a mannequin and constantly adjusting.  It came together over a couple of days, and I can't tell you how happy I am with the results!  Oh, an added benefit - the lighter coloured fabric has helped to deal with a dreadful mosquito problem at our apartment!

Here are my before, during and after photos!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Spreading the word. Buy local!

This morning I've been lolling around at home, reading the Guardian UK online and ruminating on various things, including, just what a delight it is reading British newspapers.  It's a different experience to reading them in the flesh, as it were (I mean holding a newspaper and turning its pages; spreading the whole lot out on your bed and having a cup of tea while you spend hours mulling over the different articles) but, as I've just discovered, different can be good.  For one things, lots of articles have hyperlinked keywords to allow readers to delve into a subject in greater depth.

So, while reading design-related articles celebrating the various works of designers I've never heard of, I was able to click on their names and immediately be directed to their websites.  And gosh, what delightful finds was I able to discover!  It made me realise that I don't do enough to spread the word.  I have two blogs now, and really should use them as a platform for sharing work I admire.  So I will be doing more of this in the future.  The thing is, we all need to take it a step further - especially in Trinidad.

We've got one of the largest per capita populations on facebook.  Fully a quarter of Trinbagonians subscribe to facebook.  Which is brilliant when you think that we're able to share what's going on about the place so easily.  But we need to go a step further - instead of just clicking 'like' when someone posts a showtime for a movie or creates a craft fair event, we need to consume - go out and spend some of our hard-earned money supporting local!  (And on the web, you don't even have to go out, half the time!)

One of the most memorable ad-campaigns for me as a teenager in Trinidad was Hi-Lo's buy local drive. We were in recession, loads of products were on the negative list, and we had little choice but to support local.  Local manufacturing really thrived during this period.  But then, as we came out of recession and moved into a period of boom once again, I was dismayed to notice that local products were being sidelined in favour of foreign - pushed to the back of the supermarket shelves.  It's as though what Hi-Lo meant was, buy local because we have no choice, but as soon as we have a choice, buy foreign!!  In truth, this seems to apply to all service-related industries in Trinidad.  In video, for example, local ad agencies will gladly employ local production companies to produce commercials.  But as soon as we went into boom, like clockwork, the foreign production companies and directors were brought in.  This is demoralising and insulting, and proof to me of just how little self-respect we actually have. 

There are gorgeous things being made here - good products that can stand up.  Certainly, if I wanted to buy some olive oil, I'd buy an Italian or Spanish brand.  They are delicious and we don't produce that here.  Nor am I suggesting that we buy sub-standard brands simply because they are local.  But when I tell you it irks me when I go to the supermarket and can't find locally-made pita bread, which is just as good, if not better than foreign.  Instead of buying the sugar coated Kellog's Raisin Brand, try the Sunshine Raisn Oat Bran.  It's just as good, if not better - I promise.

And too, it irks me that shops like DH Gift, Rituals and others don't seek out quality local products.  My friend, designer Marlon Darbeau, has been designing some exquisite products.  He's soon to launch some beautiful salad servers and other things he's designed.  It was a real delight to me to get Marlon's things for my mum at Christmas - not only because they were local, they were also truly gorgeous, good quality, and the work of a friend and fellow Trinidadian.  Yes, it's great to 'like' something on facebook, and to share a link with your networks (which is something we should all make a habit of doing) but we must also take the next step - we must become our own best consumers.

Here are Marlon's beautiful salad servers! And while you're at it, check out these brilliant things:
Arc Magazine, The Caribbean Review of Books, Trinidad Lookbook, The Cloth, Draconian Switch, Del Mano, Janice Derrick Jewellery, Jasmine Girvan Jewellery, Barbara Jardine's jewellery, Lupe Leonard and her delightful delices as well as her Niysa line of accessories.  You see?  Not bad, eh?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review of Chaud Cafe

Chaud Cafe at One Woodbrook Place in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

To my mind, Khalid Mohammed is the best chef in Trinidad.  With his interesting fusion of Caribbean and European foods, he packed in the customers when he was head chef at Batimamselle restaurant, disproving the notion that no restaurant in St Anns can succeed.  With his ultra luxurious, Chaud, at the top of Dundonald Street, he broke a vicious blight cycle on a building in which every business that has made its home had failed.  Chaud is incredibly successful, and despite its prohibitive prices, it always seems to be full or nearly there.

Mohammed has been growing his sophisticated food empire, and now in addition to Chaud, there's Chaud Creole and Chaud Cafe - the latter of which I went to for the first time tonight.  I went with my high school friend, Radha.  We've not seen each other in over a year, and I decided the event was special enough to warrant a trip to the cafe, which, could have been very expensive.

My partner doesn't like going to restaurants with me anymore.  I'm super critical, and I know this.  I look at the service, at the food at the prices.  But it's the price you pay for being a good cook.  When you can make delicious food yourself, it can often be frustrating and disappointing to go out to a restaurant and pay good money for a meal you could have made better.  But I have always relished the rare opportunities for going to Khalid's restaurants, as the food is always delicious and often adventurous.  The service is good but borders a bit on the maniacal as uber efficient waiters whisk your plates away too soon and top up the water in your glass before you've had a chance to ask for anything.  That said, it's a refreshing change from what often prevails in restaurants here where one is ignored.  Anyhoo!  I'm rambling.

Chaud Cafe is nicely designed, and has a large external dining area which I appreciated.  The service is not as efficient as it is at Chaud, but actually, given the afore-mentioned gestapo-type service at Chaud, it's nice to be in a place that in its decor, food and service is a bit more laid back.

Onto the food.  I found the menu overly pretentious.  Why would you, in Trinidad, write "garbanzo beans" on the menu, when EVERYONE says channa?  Even if you're concerned that your ex-pat clientele might not know what channa is, this can easily be clarified by some brackets.  And then, why would you call a banana fritter a beignet?  Again, not necessary.  I don't think calling a fritter a beignet makes it any more interesting, especially when what you end up with is a fritter.

I ordered toast with mushrooms and spinach, Radha ordered chicken liver pate and the two of us shared an order of fried squid.  All of these, by the way, came under their 'small plates' section, and cost between $40 - $80 each.  We ordered exactly the right amount of food.  The portions weren't massive but were ample, and given the prices at Chaud, I was happily surprised by the cost of things.

I'm not a fan of soggy bread.  I struggle with trifles and can only just about manage tiramisu.  So I was a bit disheartened by the utterly soggy slice of bread that arrived in front of me.  That said, the mushrooms and spinach were completely delicious, and I was able to forget about the bread.  Radha's pate was velvety and smooth, with a sweet red onion relish that I enjoyed.  I would have liked it if there had been some slices of fresh tomato on the plate, as I love that combination.  The squid was good but unremarkable.

In terms of dessert, my beignets were ever so slightly burnt and quite lack-lustre.  Radha had a chocolate and coffee mousse which was creamy, light, airy and thoroughly yummy!

All in all, I enjoyed the Chaud Cafe experience, and I'd suggest it to anyone.  I'd also happily go back there again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yumminess at La Cantina in Tobago

Okay - I have to admit that despite my lifetime of going there, I don't know Tobago very well.  I mean, I know the beaches I like, and I know Pennysaver's, but, I suppose because I find so much of Tobago geared towards tourism, I rarely eat out when I go there as it's just too expensive.

But for years, friends have been telling me about "this fantastic pizza place".  It's called La Cantina, and it's in the Royal Bank plaza right outside of Crown Point.  I've tried to go there a couple of times over the years, but somehow my timing has always been wrong - closed for renovations, or closed on the specific night I went.  But on my most recent trip to Tobago - a speedy three-day sojourn with my great friend, Rachel - the stars aligned, and I was able to finally sample La Cantina's fantastic brick-oven baked, thin crust pizza.

So of course, this is one of the things that makes the pizza so good - it's baked in a proper brick oven.  Then there's the fact that the crust is rolled nice and thin, so it gets crispy when it's cooked.  Then too, this place actually serves pizza with anchovies - one of my favourite toppings.  The portions are handsome and sharable; by Tobago standards, the prices are reasonable (upwards of TT$70 for a pizza that was more than adequate for me and Rachel) and the service is spot-on: informal and efficient.  The location is the only downer - it's hardly what one would call, "idyllic"!  And diners look out onto the scenic view of a car park backed by a busy main road.  But these notwithstanding, La Cantina served up probably the best pizza I have ever eaten in Trinidad and Tobago, and is definitely a place I will visit whenever I'm in the sister isle!

An i-pod snap of Rachel at La Cantina.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pretty spot but junky food

So, I have been meaning to go to this new spot on Ana Street in Woodbrook, Maria's Bakery. I've driven past it many times, and been really pleased by the appearance of the place - welcoming and unpretentious. I was in the wine shop around the corner last week, picked up a flier for Maria's and headed over to the relatively new bakery/ cafe. First impression was really good. Pretty interiors, with lots of fresh baked bread, which was covered in a light, mesh fabric to ensure the warm bread doesn't sweat. There's a take-away bakery on one side of the space, and a small sit-down cafe on the other side. The menu in the cafe comprises various simple salads and sandwiches (made with fresh hops - a definite plus for me) at prices that, although a little on the high side, are by no extortionate. The servers were friendly enough and fairly efficient. But alas, this is where the problems begin. I've been to Maria's twice in the past week and tried two different things. I'm always excited by a new place where I can eat good food that's affordable, hence my giving the bakery two chances.

 First order - fresh zeppole-type donuts dusted with sugar. I love a donut. Having lived in England as a teenager, on a high street in south west London with a decent little bakery, and consumed there umpteen jam donuts, I also think of myself as a bit of an afficionado. But you know, I tend to believe that you don't have to be a specialist to know what you like. But I'm digressing. I purchase my donut for six dollars, leap in my car and head off to the office. I bite into the donut and it's delicious. Not too sweet, not too light. Bite number two... yuk! Raw dough in the middle. Completely raw. Okay. Everyone makes mistakes. I turn the car around and return to the bakery. Now - this is where I lose patience. As a customer, if I tell you that the donut is raw on the inside, your job as a server is to a. apologise, b. offer to refund my money or give me another donut, c. apologise again and thank me for coming back. You're not supposed to eye me with deep suspicion, mutter to yourself, head off to talk to the manager (you'd think I was returning a Tag Heuer watch!), and then, the worst part of it, the manager is not supposed to come and correct me, insisting that it's not in fact raw, and that's how the donuts are "supposed" to be cooked. Bear in mind, it's still a $6 donut we're talking about. Harumph. Eventually, I get my replacement donut, which is pretty good. 

Experience number two: the sad hops. Oh, the dying art of baking hops bread! As I've already mentioned, there was a beautiful bread display covered in fine mesh fabric. Lots of hops breads. I was excited! Among the sandwich options was one made with coronation chicken: an old favourite of my Granny's. So, for sentimental reasons, and because it's been years since I had it, I ordered a coronation chicken hops to go. It was about $22, again, on the expensive side, but, I've been searching for good hops experiences, so I was prepared to pay a little more to insure it. Arrive at the office with my lunch of coronation chicken hops and bite into it with great eagerness. The chicken is delish - creamy and mild curry taste. The hops, a total disappointment. To me, the perfect hops is as good as, if not better than, a baguette. It's crispy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. Maria's hops was soft on the outside and heavy and dense on the inside. Ack! Such a disappointment. That's it for me and Maria's for now, I'm afraid.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Room with a View

I can sit here and look at my aunt's garden for hours. Her dining table, which is where I have set up my computer, looks out onto her patio and the garden beyond. It's early summer here, so the roses and peonies are in bloom; violet irises and lavender-coloured clematis, which creep their way up and along a wooden trelis. There are large trees at the back of the garden which sweep and swoop in the breeze, and a little ornate bird bath, into which all sorts of birds splash around with gay abandon. A couple of days ago, a giant, pale pink poppy opened and soon others will follow. Like I said, I could look at her garden for hours.

I remember in E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View" being amused by the fuss at the beginning of the movie (saw the film before I read the book) over Lucy and her chaperone's not being given a room with a view at their little pensione in Italy. There was one helluva kerfuffle (and that's when Lucy ended up meeting George, her love to be) over the fact that they had been promised a room with a view - a promise which had been reneged on.

But now I understand what all the commotion was about. A view is everything. It's what liberates us from the smallness of the spaces we inhabit (both physically and mentally). A view is full of possibilities for lives going on out there - where there's room to move and to breathe. Everyday, I look at at my aunt's view and it both calms and inspires me.

There was a house my sister and I lived in, as adults, in Jamaica with our father. It was a tiny house with only two bedrooms. But it had two magnificent silk cotton trees in the front garden (I actually angled my bed and kept the curtains open, so that when I opened my eyes in the morning, I did so to the dappled green light of the silk cottons) and a wonderful view across the valley on the other side of the house. This was probably the first house I can remember my father not having a room called his "study" in, because the room didn't exist. So he set up his work place on the dining table. My sister and I set up his computer so it faced the kitchen, he changed the whole arrangement so that he could work at his computer and look out at the view across the valley. Again, I was both amused and a little irritated by the kerfuffle. "What difference does it make?" I thought. But now I know.