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Friday, December 24, 2010

Feasting on Christmas memories - Xmas gone mad, part 1

Ackee & Saltfish with fried Plantains
Breadfruits roasting on an open fire
So, here we are again  the eve of the great day of the birth of Christ. The time I hear also for "Santa" to start checking the gear for his sled and the harnesses for the reindeers for world wide gift deliveries. If he passes by Jamaica let's hope his rotundus rear doesn't fall into another mango tree to bawl out, "Lawd wat a Chrismus tree".  Alas, enough about homie in the big red suit. Invariably it seems that most of us are here from somewhere else or we know someone from another country.  We've all invited them ourselves or been invited to partake in Xmas culinary delights, be it a figgy pudding, curried goat, black cake, sage pumpkin sausage stuffing, powda bone oxtail, tamarind glazed roast beef, bad bwoy herbed roasted goose, succulent glazed clove studded ham, truffled chestnut puree, potato salad with; eggs, sweet peas, onions, thyme, creamy mayonnaise. Oh hell, orange Fois Gras terrine with dehydrated raspberries sounds good too, let's throw that in as well.  Breakfast usually got the ball rolling and this wasn't until my grandmother and my two cousins, (Paulette and Maureen) that went to church with her, had arrived. I now find it incredulous that there was so much food around this time of year.  When granny arrived mama released the belly pleasers, but only after we set the table. Unless of course you're from an island paradise like myself,  indulging on the likes of the following could prove to detrimental to your health; boiled green bananas, sauteed kidneys and liver, ackee and saltfish, fried and boiled dumplings, steamed callaloo, scrambled eggs with tomato and sometimes saltfish, roast & fried breadfruit, hard dough bread wid some nice soft butter, chocolate (choklit) tea, blue mountain coffee....sclaaaaat!! and this was only 11:30, let the feast begin. I did say this was breakfast right because dinner still lef fi come. Not from Jamaica, you better recognize, mek somebady adopt you please. Yes sir, my Christmas food memories are in full effect.

Jamaican Christmas Black Cake
Ok, let me back up a second cause I man nuh waan you miss nutin zeen... Si, Xmas prep started about three weeks or so before when there was the annual pig string up -sounds a little more humane heh- where one of the pork shoulders was going to be cured for ham. That's right, mama made it all from scratch and I never saw a recipe book. When that shoulder was seasoned for curing with appropriate spices and wads of salt petre, wrapped in newspaper and burlap and refrigerated it was now time to ready the wine soaked fruits for cake baking. This meant if there wasn't enough in the jars from last year they had to be topped off, more fruits, more wine, more rum needed to be added. Raisins and prunes soaking in wine and rum with spices, marashino cherries and dried candied fruit cut up in another...shet yuh mout bwoy, what you kno bout, you is blaspheming I say. I mention this because it's my preamble to enjoying what I can now call my Holy Grail of kitchen confidential. And what is that you ask?  If I were to close my eyes and let myself drift away, even as a sit here in Marcia's Cafe on State Road 7 in Ft. Lauderdale finishing up some saltfish salsa wid crackers - don't hate, I know I can see that three stone fire place outside, embers popping off into the night, the criss-crossed metal rods outside my kitchen with hell a top, fire a bottom and halle-looooooo-jah in di middle..corn or sweet potato (pitata) pone anyone?

I can smell the fragrant aroma of varying spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, I can smell burnt sugar, melted butter and raw eggs.  For now I can smell the assembly of my favorite cake in the whole world, black Christmas cake. My lips and mouth tremble now because in as much as I loved and still love eating this cake, the prize for me was the ceremonial licking of that damn bowl..lawd jesam pees..nutin nuh sweeta dan dat yuh hear mi. If you have ever been around people that bake, the left over dough and batter is priceless for a kid or some unsuspecting adult. Yep I would lick it now if I could.  God bless you Mama, R.I.P.  Of course, how much I licked was dependent on the skill and dexterity of the index finger of the my mama the baker, and also how tired she may have been at 1 AM. So mama is up shaking and baking and after licking the bowl just like any hungry belly lad that just got a snack my eyes now have started to get dark, heavy and my body is now filled with lethargy. I am sleepy, I can't hang anymore, I am a late night early Xmas morning wuss. I must crawl into bed.  Lawd, is a wonder mi never get belly hot... Soon the morn arrives for then it will be time to give my mother that blue Xandu powder set and my papa that tie I bought earlier the day before. Of course papa is asleep for he will rise early to ride the company issued Honda 50 to go to sunrise service at church. Before he leaves though he will concoct his contribution to Christmas day.  He will make his famous Christmas guiness punch. He would warm that up when he came back and we would all have a sip..of course before granny came. Extras for me..

Ok, so I was talking about breakfast earlier because my granny and cousins are now at the house. Now hear this, Christmas is no joke because all the fine wares are out. Di good china pon di table, new curtains bought or made pon the window frame dem, new slip covers for the settees and hassocks and di nice chenille spread dem for the bedrooms are adorning the just pledge polished mahogany beds. After we have eaten and got caught up with stories and how everyone was doing - no we didn't have no damn telephone, email or fassbook - the dreaded aftermath looms in the air. With belly full the table must be cleared and reset for later. We the rented free labor related slaves must now wash dishes. Well my cousins will for I inevitably must find an excuse to rid myself of this task that I have done so many a night before. The ritis or the i'm your favorite cousin line gets digged out of the back pocket around this time.. Dirty rotten scoundrel I am. Hee hee he heh heh heeeeee!! 
I have thought many times about our Christmas food escapades since I became a chef but I never thought that the connection of Christmas and food was so important to me until now.  This was one of the few times if not the only time of the year I knew I would see most of my family. The day is not done yet for big tings lef fi come for in a few hours Christmas dinner will be served at the Sinclair's residence on Farm 2 in Caymanas Estates. Stay tuned for you must come back for the rest...You must I say..

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