Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Trini Food Project

Sorry for the lack of updates for all three of you who read this.  I decided to give myself a challenge while here, to eat my way through Trinidad's local dishes (Ohh how I punish myself).  Thing is, Trinidad has a ton of foods that are either only really eaten on the island, or are from other cultures but have taken on totally unique forms in Trinidad.  So with that, I present a  list of foods I will eat my way through, living vicariously for you, the reader.  I consulted with the "Trini gourmet" to get a good, representative list.  My goal is to have each dish a couple of times before I post on it, but some of the things that are harder to find (oddly, like doubles) I may only try once before putting up.  So with no further introduction, here's the list, including a link to the first post I wrote on food :). 

As I try the things I'll come back here and update the list, and hopefully I'll make some of you want to come and visit Trinidad :).

1. Bake and shark/Fish (coming soon :))
2. Doubles
3. Roti and it's various forms, Dalpurie, Buss up shut, etc
4. Calaloo
5. Saheena
6. Aloo Pies
7. Pepper Sauce
8. Pelau
9. Sous
10. Cow Heel Soup
11. Corn Soup
12. Chow
13. Pholorie
14. Barfie
15. Macaroni Pie

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Short Story, how we snuck into the football game

Sorry for the lack of updates y'all (sorry my 8 hour layover in houston has given me a bit of twang), things were pretty hectic heading back and forth to CA for 9 days, which was filled with lots of work, friends, ultimate and red meat, and  getting back into Trini life with a whirlwind week, that was capped off with Diwali last night.  I'm slowly processing it all, and will have more to say soon. 

But I would like to relate one small story, in a similar vein to the previous small story.  This Wednesday  we decided to hit up the Hasely Crawford football stadium to catch the last home game for the Soca warriors and their long dashed WC qualifying hopes.  Cara and Rachel had an event with the TT Occupational Therapists Organization till 8:30 or 9:00 and the game was supposed to start at 10:00. 

Till they moved the game up two hours.  Causing  a flurry of replanning and advice that the presentations would be over by 8:00, so we wouldn't miss too much of the game.  This too was wrong, and the original times were correct, and we ended up scrambling out of the library where the presentations were held at nearly 9PM. 

Getting to the stadium presented the next challenge, as we had no clue where to enter the stadium.  We had vague instructions to park on Arapita (the main bar and restaraunt drag near the stadium), so when we saw parking on the road from the stadium to Arapita we grabbed it.  Now it was just a matter of asking  to ask the Mp5 toting security gaurd at the back gate where we could enter

After the fancy looking cars came through we explained the situation, and our goal to see the game.  In that classic Trini fastion he first questioned our resolve,

"Are you sure you want to see the game?  It's already past half"

Cara responded in that sweet way that she knows how, "Well it's the last game so, yea, we do."

At this point the guard told us to hold on, and started helping other people, we figured he had just decided to say screw the foreigners and stall till we gave up.  But no, eventually he got through the other people with queries, and grabbed a steward, I couldn't pick up much frrom the conversation except "Sneak them in."  which is exactly what the steward did for us. 

This ended up being very good, since there was only about 5 minutes left in the game at this point, with T+T up 1-0.  Our presense seemed to invorgorate the game though, and within those 5 minutes, 3 more goals were scored (1 by mexico and 2 by TT), and the game was tied, sending it into overtime.  The game ended up tied, and we were satisfied. Rachel and I consumed a total of three beers, but the combination of a long, work day and a complete lack of food left us unable to drive.  Cara stepped in though, and drove through stadium traffic for her first highway trip.  She did great, and is now driving nearly everywhere like a champ.

There were a number of similarities between this and the other small story, and I think they both really highlight how Trinidad works.  Sometimes this place can be really scary; the people often talk about a million miles an hour, and there's little signage or direction for those not familiar with the country, but if one is willing to step our of their shell, and make a connection with someone, even  total strangers here will go way, way out of their way for you.  That's something I've seen again and again, and something I really love about Trinidad.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Small story: The Pharmacist and the itchy caucasians.

As awesome as our day at Maracas was, it left us with a few dozen unpleasant souvenirs, sand fly bites.  These little buggers started driving us crazy Saturday night.  Sand Fly bites have a strange property where they don't itch at all, till long after the initial bite.  This caused some confusion as to WHAT THE HELL IS BITING US IN BED.  Being New Yorkers we immediately assumed bed bugs, but thankfully the mattress was clear.  After some research we found out that Sand Fly bites take a while to start itching, so we were relieved that it wasn't Bed Bugs. Any sense of relief was soon scratched away by the intense itching on our legs.

Our roomate Teresa and I headed to the drugstore in search of relief for the house, we had some recommendations as for what to take, but couldn't quite remember the name, so we asked a woman behind the pharmacist counter, who looked like a manager of some sort. She came out, and asked if it was bad, being a man who uses fake machismo, I told her it wasn't too bad.  She took one look at our fly bitten legs, and gasped  audibly (For the record, I think she would have fainted had she seen Cara's legs, as mine were not nearly as attractive to the sand flys).  She then ran behind the counter and started looking for any medicine she could find, settling on a prescription antibiotic, Hydro cortisone and an antihistamine that had been recommended to us.  The Pharmacist meekly protested to this cocktail though, "This is prescription only, do they have a prescription?"

The manager looking lady replied, "Have you seen their legs?  Look at this, it is TERRIBLE."
Teresa and showed our legs in unison to the unimpressed looking pharmacist, as a few curious shoppers glanced over their shoulders at us.

"You know you can't give them that without a perscription."  The pharmacist insisted.

The Manager lady then struck upon a solution, "It's fine, there's some extra scripts in the system we can use!  I have a refill on this antibiotic that I don't need, we'll just fill that and give it to them!  Wait, let me just cross off my name on this prescription."  She proceeded to cross her name off 3 times, missing a 4th print out of her name on the bottle itself.

Teresa, Rachel, Cara and I have developed a kind of look we flash at each other when something happens that would only occur in Trini.  Teresa and I used this look multiple times in the course of this conversation, but in the end we walked out with one elicit topical antibiotic prescription, a hydro cortisone creme and an antihistamine that may or may not skirt prescription laws.  I'll let you know if all these drugs do anything more than the oatmeal Spackle treatment my wife and Roommates have been using

Sunday, September 27, 2009


With the goal of getting fresh tan lines for Cara and our roomates, and adding a few freckles to my ever growing collection we piled into sunny (our rental car) and started heading for Maracas Bay. I remember going to Maracas Bay when I was here about 14 years ago. Then it was a cold rainy day, and I had a shark and bake, the shark fishy, and the bake falling apart from too much tamarind. I don’t remember really liking it, and I remember being a bit disappointed at this rainy grey beach.

Oh my, how things change.

This time we arrived to see it start raining, but being fearless travelers, and strong swimmers, unafraid of riptides and big waves, we stowed our stuff in the car and headed for the ocean. Not without Happenstance stepping in.

Have I mentioned how Trinidad is small? No? Okay, Trinidad is small. Even as a larger Caribbean island, you run into people you know regularly. So it’s not that strange that it took approximately 5 minutes for us to run into Nick, who I had played Ultimate with not 4 days ago at queen’s park Savannah, and his wife and kids. I introduced him to Cara, Teresa and Rachel, and he kindly offered us the use of his tent to store our stuff, and a disc to toss with (I’d brought one of mine too, of course).

Finally having shed our towels and clothing to the relative safety of the car, we headed into the sea, it’s waves of clear water, washing over us. Even in the rain the water was a perfect temperature. As we jumped, swam, dunked, and frolicked we were approached by Victor, the Venezuelan. Victor, being a pleasant sort of fellow with good intentions and a desire to practice the English he came here to study, brought along his 4 friends. Quickly, our group of 4 became a group of 9, and we hung out with them all day.

Playing in the water worked up an appetite, one that our small breakfast of chow and donuts could not satisfy. Being hungry at Maracas means one thing, and one thing only. Shark and Bake. This time around, it was much better, the bake held, and the tamarind did not dominate. I’ll explain later what makes this fried fishathon special, but let me assure you, it is very special.

One of my missions while here is to spread ultimate, I wasn’t totally sure how to, but now I had 5 Venezuelans, and 5 Americans, all 5 North Americans (with a Nicks wife being a sixth, watching the kids) being familiar with the game. After a short circle toss Nick and I explained the rules (Does anyone know how to say endzone in Spanish?) and beach ultimate began. Surely our legs felt like Sisyphus pushing against that sand to get a little sprint, again and again. But we ran and ran, we threw caught, we scored, and won and lost. The Venezuelans had heard of the game but had never played it, and seemed to enjoy it. A few even had some natural aptitude, with lateral cuts from soccer that I had trouble following, or forehands from 10 minutes of play that looked like mine after my first year of team play.

Under that hot Caribbean sun we played, til we had to take a water break, which took a new meaning. Little water was drank on a water break, instead we simply went, and layed out on the ocean, letting that cool water wash over us. Refreshed we went back to it, throwing, bidding, sprinting, and sweating under Apollo’s gaze, which was no longer hiding behind storm clouds. Even with the ocean’s cooling effect, we couldn’t play longer than 40 minutes till we retreated to the shade and cold drinks.

And so we sat, relaxing, napping, and liming until our new friends from an international rival headed back to POS. Most of them will return to Venezuela in November, where they will spread word of the humble friendliness of Americans, and the joy of the sports they play with plastic discs. The stories of us shall spread through the country, till the reach the president’s office, where he will reconsider his views, on US Venezuelan relations, and relations between our countries shall improve. Mark my words, come 2010 when America and Venezuela sign a new trade agreement and Chavez ratchets down his rhetoric the seed will have come from Maracas Bay, Trinidad in late September.

Okay, definitely not. Sorry about that, I just read a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and I think I picked up some of Dave Egger’s writing habits. Now if I could just pick up his aptitude for alliteration and other literary devices. Bottom line, it was a great day. I had planned to talk about why Maracas is awesome, and a place worth visiting for those traveling, and how it shows how Trinidad could be a great place for tourists, but those ruminations will come another time, as I’m already over 800 words here, and I’ve barely described how awesome the day was, and what great people Nick and his wife are, and how delicious Phlourie is.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Spirituality, community and the high holidays.
              So this post gets a little religioulous, keep reading at your own peril.

           Shanah tovah everyone, even if it is a few days late.  This has been my second Rosh Hashanah as a Jew and my first away from family, friends, and over a million other Jews in close proximity.   Trinidad’s jewish community is very small, there’s no synagogue on the island.   One of the wonderful things about small communities is how tightly knit they are, but sometimes small communities are very insular, and trying to find them can be difficult.   The community in Trini isn’t insular, in fact they are welcoming and friendly, some of the friendliest people on the island. This is a very friendly island.
Finding them was another matter.   There’s no real central organization, contacting them was a challenge..  Like most things in my life though, I trusted in google and was rewarded.  I found this article, http://jta.org/news/article/2007/09/16/102939/trinidadjews, which led me to Sarina’s blog on Caribean Kosher Cooking. Sarina connected me to Barbara, who normally organizes such events in the community.  Barbara is spending/was spending the holidays out of the country though, so she pointed me to Nicholas who introduced us to Sonia for Friday night and opened his home to us on Saturday night. 
              The community reached out to us, and helped us find places to celebrate the high holidays at. We spent the Rosh Hashanah at Local homes, ate dinner, said blessings and performed a few readings.   There were No full services, and this was my first time also missing those as a Jew.

  I learned a few things from this experience.

1.      Services are boring, but I missed not having them. I especially missed hearing the shofar blow.
2.      I need to learn more about customs outside of reform Judiasm, and the prayers that are part of it.
3.      Spirituality and community are not two faces of judiasm, they are intertwined and inseparable. 

During the conversion process, I had a lot of discussions about the culture vs. the spirituality of Judaism.  While treating those as separate entities made understanding simpler, it tended to obfuscate the truth, that spirituality brings community together and community enhances spirituality. 

Okay, Half baked spirituality is coming through, you better watch out. 

Over time I’ve come to believe that god is shaped by our individual beliefs about him/her.  That whatever the higher power is, how we interpret a higher power is more important for our everyday life.  When bringing community together, especially a diverse crowd you get all these different ways of believing in god, in essence you get a form of god for each person in the room.  I find it creates an energy that prayer alone can’t generate, and I find more context and meaning to the blessings.  I think that’s why services feel so meaningful for me sometimes, even if the prayers and songs sometimes feel never ending.   
I’m obviously not the first person to realize this, as many Jewish prayers require a minion, though I think my take has a certain “CA Hippiness to it.”  Plus you are all reading this, so I get to subject you to my mental meanderings.  I also like my interpretation, because it explains why having a people from other religions makes the experience more intense, since they bring even more varied beliefs to the communal table.  I appreciate very much their presence, especially the Catholics, who risk either eternal damnation (according to some grandmothers) or a school bus full of nuns (according to the creators of family guy).

.  There’s more fun travel blogging, maxi taxi’s ultimate Frisbee, beer, and cooking on the way, so I hope I didn’t scare anyone away with my heavy “GOD BLOGGING.”

          Happy 5770 everyone, I hope you have (or had, since Yom kippur has passed since I updated this post) a good, easy and meaningful fast.  Also, a huge thank you to our wonderful hosts for Rosh Hoshanah, you made the holidays warm, welcoming and wonderful for us. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Picka a Peppa, any peppa

What follows is Not a secret: I love hot sauce.  Vinegary, peppery, it can liven up any food, with a bit of brightness and that selson tingle across my tongue.  Eggs,  potatoes, pasta, beans, veggies, pretty much anything it'll work on.

This next thing isn't a secret either: Trini's love hot sauce too.  They aren't shy about it either and put it on on nearly everything.  From Trini dishes like Doubles, Roti, and various curries and stews to less traditional hot sauce landing pads like pizza.   When they have a landing pad that big, they are sure to land a freaking Chinook of hot sauce on it.  

The stuff isn't just abundant, it's good too, and varied.  I have a softspot in my heart burned thumper for places that make their own condiments, and nearly every Roti shack, doubles stand or fine dining establishment has their own variation.  I love this, and I get a little excited seeing those big unmarked plastic bottles, and knowing that the contents inside are going to be a spicy surprise.  At nicer restaurants there will be a little silver container with a small spoon, generally made of some heat resistant metal so as not emerge from the sauce bent from the heat.  

I've found that you can make a relatively reliable snap judgement on an eatery based on the quality of the pepper sauce.  Searingly hot sauces that glop onto food and overwhelm it means,  that the join is either supremely confident in the sauce, or that they need something to cover up the quality of the food (or some combination of the two).  Other places have sauces that excel at adding both heat and interest to food, giving you new flavors to explore in your smoldering mouth.  Do I detect some cumin, cilantro and curry  bubbling underneath that fiery fruity blanket of habanero peppers?  I believe I do, and I like it.  

This is a bit of a secret: Trini hotsauce knocks me on my ass.   I'll watch Trini's pour it on, as I gingerly dot my food with it.  Thankfully, I can control it, and i can make it as hot as I want.  

Here are a couple of recipes for ya to layer on, 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

cout<<"hello world";

I hate introductions. Everyone reading this for the most parts knows Cara and I, you already have strong opinions on our quirks and habits. You have probably studied with me, tossed a disc to me that I couldn't quite catch, or stuck a plasma grenade to face. So if your here, you know we moved to Trini for Cara's fieldwork, I'm continuing to work from home when we aren't out trying new beaches, foods, transportation sports and meeting people.

We've only been here about 2-3 days so far, so things have moved pretty fast, we've already had car problems (a flat from nearly being run off the road), massive sunburns (right through SPF50), and a thoroughly american experience in a foreign land (Going to the movies and watching some aliens asplode).

So there's already a ton to talk about, and this is mostly just a non introduction-introduction post. Cara's working on pictures now, and we'll have them up on our website.