Friday, January 30, 2015

Tipi Tombo and Two Toucans

I'm sitting up in bed in our little cottage in Trinidad, writing this post. One of the things I find so amazing is that there is no glass in the window behind me. A bat just flew in and flew out the french door at my side. I'm inside a mosquito net in a sleeveless gown, barefoot and very comfortable after a shower. It was a bit warm today, maybe up to 85 or so, but we rarely felt it since we are under the canopy of large trees and our deck is on the north side of the house. I painted out there today while Yata wrote a song in the study, a room with another glass-less window overlooking the plains and mountains to the north. This sort of lodging wouldn't be for everyone; in fact, Nick, our son, asked me how we kept the rats out. Actually, we have a resident guard cat Lulu and two dogs besides. There are too many dogs in our neighborhood, a common problem on many of our trips to less developed countries. But regardless of the bats, and such, we love being in such comfort and submerged in nature. We spend about an hour a day bird watching still. One day while I stood at the kitchen window doing dishes I looked up and there was a pair of Toucans or should I say two Toucans. Also saw a pair of parrots.

Alert! Food blog next.
So we've been very adventurous with food here. We actually live in an area that is mainly inhabited by East Indians who came historically as indentured workers. So there are Roti shops and Trinidad is famous for the Doubles that they make. A roti is a fluffy wrap filled with choice of meat and a mash of yellow lentils and spices (I think.) Double are really great too. Again a bread pocket (two/double) layered with mashed chick peas and topped with various pepper sauces or chutneys. Another food item Trinidad is known for is the Bake and Shark most famously served at Maracas Bay beach on the north shore. This is deep fried bread pocket filled with fresh deep fried shark or Kingfish and then you have a bar of condiments to smother it with: shredded cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, onion dressings, hot sauce and a tangy sauce made from a local tree fruit the Cythry (this may be spelled completely wrong). We've had Sorrel, a drink made by steeping the pods of the Sorrel bush in hot water and sweetened. I even enjoyed a Sorrel Shandy. These are all things we've tried out of our own kitchen but we've been adventurous on our own as well.

I go shopping with Rory or Bunty our hosts and they know of my interest so they'll point out a new item at the green grocer and say something like, “ these are the Tipi Tombos, and they are only available during this season. They are a lot like waterchestnuts.” So I bought a pound or so not really knowing exactly how to prepare them. They look just like little new potatoes. I boiled them longer than potatoes and then found that they were much harder to peel due to their tough skin, much more so than a new potato. Inside the 'meat' is just like a water chestnut. Next time, I'll pass and buy a can of water chestnuts. Another challenge was the Chataigne, or Breadnut. A green prickley looking fruit about the size of a cantelope, again Bunty said, “these are really good”. So I bought one and did look up a bit of instruction online to have some idea of what to do with them. Chataigne, by the way is french for Chestnut and I think the french named the plant thus since it reminded them of their Chestnut back home. You tear the fruit apart to find these nuts, about 50 to a fruit. You then boil the nuts to remove the fibers around each shell. Then you have to remove the hard shell which breaks and peels fairly easily, but the final paper thin layer that clings to the one inch creamy nut is the pain. Since I thought the flavor was like artichoke heart, I made some into a semblance of that artichoke heart dip that was so popular for a while, with the mayo, cheese, garlic and baked.
Pretty good but a lot of work....

Monday we took a trip with our friend and driver Shammy to the north east coast of the island. It was beautiful and a fun day. We had a lunch at a little local cafe: stewed chicken with noodles and callaloo.
Calalloo is another food that is typical of Trinidad. It is considered Creole food. It is made from the young leaves of a particular plant along with okra and coconut milk into a stew. It's really yummy and in fact tonight I made a quick supper by putting shredded chicken and cassava root into the callaloo and heating that up. Speaking of cassava. I've always heard of it and so had to try this 'Ground Provision' as they call the root crops here. It's shaped like a yam, is harvested this time of year and is pretty much like a potato. You could use it in all the same ways. The skin is tougher and a bit harder to peal than a potato.

While on our trip to the north coast I noticed a fish market so we stopped and bought a couple of fresh fish. A Carite and a Kingfish. Both excellent. I did my traditional fried fish with lemon butter sauce, made a ceviche out of the odd parts like the tail fin sections and then made a stock from the scraps and heads with bay leaf, garlic and onion. I later made an Asian broth from this by adding lemon grass from our garden as well as soy/ginger sauce, more garlic, mushroom and fresh ginger root. I served the broth over fresh thin sliced green pepper, the Tipi Tombo (water chestnuts) and noodles.

As I've mentioned before, we live in a four acre tropical garden and this climate is ideal for growing fruit so we have an endless supply of grapefruit, lime, banana and these wonderful oranges called Portugals. They are dark green but inside they are similar to a mandarin orange in texture. Very seedy but the juice is great. I contend that it is the only citrus juice in which you can actually taste the flavor of the orange blossom. So instead of lemons in a recipe, for example, I would use Portugal juice, awesome!

Well is that enough food for one post? One more thing. Today on the way to the Wild Fowl Trust we stopped for fresh doubles, a street food to try at home some time. On the way home we stopped at the grocery with Shammy and he helps us understand some of the food customs. For example: we bought a hunk of tea chocolate. It is mixed with cloves and nutmeg and other spices. You grate it into boiling water. Strain the tea and serve with milk and sugar. Cocoa is a native tree of Trinidad so we've had some great gourmet chocolates from CocoBelle a local chocolatier who combines the chocolate with the local fruit and spice flavors such as sorrel, passionfruit, coffee, etc.

Enough about food, onto birds …. again! Yes we went to to the Point a Pierre Wild Fowl Trust, on the site of a huge oil refinery on the west coast. Yes you read that right, an oil refinery. When you are at the trust you don't even realize there is a refinery near by. It is a beautiful sanctuary, oasis for the wild fowl like the Purple Gallinule, the Wild Muscovy Duck and many more. We languished there for a couple hours walking slowly around the body of water at the center, painting, taking many pictures, bird-watching and being educated about the local trees by Shammy. A nice day!

We just booked a flight to Tobago for next week. We'd like to see it and maybe do a little bit of beach time. They're supposed to have a good snorkeling reef I'm looking forward to.

Little Blue House at Blanchisuesse, 16 x 20 acrylic

The Pan Man, 36 x 36 acrylic

Violaceous, 36 x 36 acrylic

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