Whenever my husband Martin and I go on holidays, we are excited to try new food experiences. The last few years in Jamaica we have been lazy and relegated our enthusiasm to within the walls of the resort. We did enjoy trying local fruits, and traditional dishes like curried goat, jerk chicken and gizzadas (coconut tarts), but this year I wanted to kick things up a notch and rub elbows with some local foodies. I did an online search and found Zimbali Retreat, a small property in the hills above Negril that offered a demo cooking class and tour of their organic farm garden. It seemed right up our alley! I was excited and invited a couple we know who are also foodies. They had shared our Vegas experiences so I figured they would like this taste of Jamaica. We had no idea just how much fun we were going to have…
We arrived at the gate after a bumpy ride up a narrow road that bordered sugar cane plantations and an old stone church. Martin was afraid we were going to have to carry the car or abandon it if the potholes got any bigger or the road got any narrower. The sugar cane stalks knocked along the side of the car as we drove through plantation land, and as we mounted the hill a local dog lying at the edge of the road didn’t even look up. It was only a half hour drive, but I felt as though I’d been transported to another place. A short walk down a palm-covered pathway revealed mahogany beams that covered a cozy kitchen and airy sitting room, all overlooking the farm below. I felt a bit like I was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson on their deserted island! We were served a refreshing sorrel ginger drink while we cooled off. Just as we finished our last sip our tour guide arrived.
Clifford, who has been at Zimbali since the beginning (9 years ago), led us over much of the 6 acre terrain, stopping every hundred steps or so to show us another plant, most of which provided some benefit for the kitchen. We saw banana and coconut trees, pineapple plants, Caribbean oranges and grapefruits, June plums, star fruit, lemongrass, annatto, turmeric and ginger roots, breadfruit, all kinds of pumpkins and zucchini squash, beans, and then the crowning glory – noni fruit. This fruit is highly regarded as having great healing powers; the juice is said to be a cure-all. The bees on the farm love it too, said Clifford. Noni bloosom honey is his favourite.
Clifford showed us the right way to crack open a coconut (hit the 3 corners of the outer shell), and he told us about using cinnamon leaves in cooking. We learned that the bark of the mahogany trees was used to make the rich reddish-brown dye still common in Caribbean textiles. He showed us the massive African tulip trees taking over wild sections of the jungle, and how the rain brings on mango season (in May), when the fruit is so plentiful it sits in piles by side of the roads! The gardener in me was trying valiantly to remember everything he said as I tasted and smelled and strained my neck to see in every direction, absorbing every detail.
On our return from the tour we met the owners of the resort, Alecia & Mark. Alecia grew up in these hills, and learned much from her grandfather about the land and its secrets. She is a Rastafarian and has been all her life. Mark grew up in a military family and his travels as a youth gave him a desire for understanding cultures and experiencing life on a more simple scale. Both of them are “living the dream”, existing almost off the grid with solar power and the harnessing of rain water, not to mention that the farm provides about 70% of their food. This is not just an agritourism resort, it is a lifestyle, and their passion and sense of inner peace is evident when you talk with them.
We returned to the lodge dripping in sweat from the humidity. It didn’t matter. A quick splash of water on my face and a few sips of water and I was ready to get to the kitchen. Zimbali’s two chefs, Raymond and Rudolph, were already hard at work of course, and their counter was almost overflowing with the bounty from the farm. We were truly spoiled as it was only us and our friends there that day. We saddled up to the bar to watch, learn and eat.
The first course was a breaded fritter that was juicy and delicate, green in colour. It was served with an escovitch, a Jamaican pickle made with onions & peppers in a chili vinegar brine. Raymond asked us to guess what kind of vegetable he had used on the fritter and we thought we had it – zucchini! Nope, he said, guess again. It was the person in the group who is least a foodie who nailed it – green tomatoes. Not as firm as our green tomatoes and not as tangy, rather velvety soft and slightly sweet in contrast to the pickle. The sorrel reduction that garnished the plate was the crowning glory, refreshing and tart.
The next course was a sort of cake, like a crab cake but made with vegetables again, said Rudolph. Again we were stumped – cassava? No. Yam? (They had real yams as well as sweet potato on the counter, two very different things, and both used often in a Jamaican kitchen. Sweet potatoes are orange, yams are white – more fibery, not as sweet.) No. They gave us a few hints and we finally figured out it was cauliflower. It tasted much richer than I imagined cauliflower ever could, and was served with a banana purée and a sort of tropical succotash of corn, peppers and tropical fruit. It was delectable.
We were able to choose our main course, and I picked jerk shrimp, while Martin chose escovitch fish. Our friends had curried shrimp. They were all intensely flavoured and beautifully tender, and were served with a quick coleslaw, veggies in a seasoned coconut milk and a green plantain and banana rosti (shredded and pan-fried in a patty). Everything was prepared as we watched, even the coconut milk – we saw the coconut opened, the meat cut out and then shredded in the food processor, and the milk squeezed through a strainer.
But wait, there was dessert too! I groaned under the weight of lunch, but my enthusiasm kicked in. How could I miss out on a slice of Raymond’s banana rum cake with caramelized melons & papaya? The cake had no eggs but was not heavy, rather silky with a hint of Jamaican spices (allspice, ginger, nutmeg). Raymond explained that he had long ago mastered baking without eggs, as he doesn’t eat them himself. His skill was evident in the finesse of the final product. It was the perfect end to a real gourmand afternoon.
We hugged the chefs to show our appreciation and thanked our hosts profusely for their hospitality, all wishing we could return to stay and soak up the relaxing vibe. (I think on my next visit I might like to stay and experience a massage, yoga class, and a Rasta Tour!)
We hardly noticed the bumps in the road on the way back, being lulled into a sense of total relaxation after our retreat visit. Rain drummed on the car windows as the scenery went by in a blur. By the time we returned to our resort I had my second wind and was happy to tell anyone who would listen (and a few who didn’t seem to care) about what fun we had. I felt I had sampled a true taste of the tropics along with a healthy dose of Jamaican hospitality and respect, and having enjoyed it I was proudly displaying my enthusiasm like it was a diploma of achievement.
Martin and I spent a couple of days in Vancouver last week, catching up on our foodie fix and thoroughly enjoying a concert – we got to see Sting and Paul Simon on stage together. (Remember, I did say I like to make the most of life in general!) I thought I would share some of our highlights.
We stopped at IKEA on the way into town – a great stop for any foodie who wants to be funky without breaking the bank. Serving dishes and linens for entertaining, nifty Swedish condiments like lingonberry jam to jazz up Sunday dinner, and candles of all shapes and sizes are there for the taking. Oh, and if you have kids, they have hot dogs for less than $1 and a play room. So now you have no excuse 🙂
Staying downtown was important if we were to cover as much ground as possible in a short visit. We found a boutique hotel that was central, but without parking with in Vancouver is a real hassle so I would recommend one of the larger places that offers on-site parking if you drive to Vancouver.
I used Trip Advisor to give us some suggestions as to funky places. Checking the reviews and filtering the complaints with a grain of salt is a good way to give us a short list, I find. Then we discuss what we feel like and we head out! The first night we chose a place called Twisted Fork Bistro, and although the usually great Trip Advisor Guide app gave us totally wrong directions we managed to find it before the rain got too heavy (it’s on Granville Street, NOT on Robson as the app says, if you’re looking).
My feet hurt by the time we arrived, but it turned out to be worth the effort. If you like mussels, you have to visit this cozy little long bar. If you want small servings or sharing plates, it’s a fantastic choice. If you like wine, they offer BC wines on their list, and they have a fun choice called “just a glass” for a great price. The serving staff will tell you about what is featured that night, and even if you go for a name choice the prices are competitive and the choices excellent. We also shared a “roo loin” – yes, I will eat adventurous food. It was delicious with the balsamic glaze, sauteed green onions and watermelon cubes. The watermelon was also inspired with the Bacon Brussel Sprouts we ordered! Mussels are served with frites piled over top, in a cream sauce. It was like a continental French poutine – decadent for sure.
The good thing about appetizer portions is that it tends to leave you more room for dessert. The chef here is a pastry chef so don’t miss out if you can help out. We had the chocolate terrine, but all the choices sounded delectable.
The next morning we headed for Granville Island Market, the place we used to meet for breakfast when we were first dating. Saturday morning donuts, fresh fruit and coffee is a family tradition for us. Lee’s Donuts and JJ Bean Coffee didn’t disappoint. Donuts just glazed and still warm, and some of the finest roasted beans I have ever tasted made me feel like I could take on the world!
Shopping for dinner is the other fun activity at the market, and there are many offerings for every taste. We like Seigel’s Bagels (Martin is from Montreal; need I say more?), and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese (try the Abondance from France – it’s divine! They will help with wine pairings too, if you like). Choose your veggies ruthlessly, and ask the experts to help you with seafood and meat – they love the compliment and you won’t regret it. If you just want pâté or cured meats, check out Oyama Sausage Co. – they have it all. And if you want fresh pasta, Duso’s is my go-to place – their butternut squash ravioli is divine 🙂
An aside here: You have to train if you’re going to embark on this kind of foodie day. A lot of walking helps, but you want to psyche yourselves for the notion of basically eating non-stop all day. Tasting is the key – don’t look to have large portions, as variety is the objective here. You will be full at the end of the day, for sure, but a good workout for the next few days afterwards will get you back in balance. It’s worth it, trust me.
From the market we went to see a friend who has a wonderful business on South Cambie. Tracy Kadanoff has been a pastry chef for years and she developed an allergy to gluten. So what did she do? She made lemonade – she opened a bakery where she could still do her beautiful work, Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery.
Not only does she do breads and cookies, she does fine cakes and pastries, all from gluten free recipes. You certainly won’t feel like you’re missing anything here! We got goodies for friends who eat gluten free, and we treated ourselves to a salted caramel chocolate tart that we had later that evening. Then across the street I even managed to find treats to take home for “the troops” (our dogs) at Three Dog Bakery.
Time for lunch! I wanted a stroll at English Bay, especially since it wasn’t raining on a February day. So we decided to eat the food of the ‘hood, and go Mediterranean. I know it sounds silly, but we really did go to the Falafel King, on Denman Street. I have to tell you, my first ever restaurant job was in a Lebanese place kind of like this in Calgary, and this place was just as authentic and equally as tasty. If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see the reviews!
We sat on a park bench at English Bay and nibbled our lunch – my falafel was divine, and Martin’s shawarma was delicious. I thought of my Dad, whose ashes were strewn over the waves there years ago, and wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and warmed us up.
We enjoyed the heat, and the view, and we relaxed for a while. Then we thought. perhaps we should see about a little something sweet 🙂 So off we went down Denman Street. We window shopped and wandered, and eventually found ourselves at an old haunt, True Confections. Martin used to run the kitchen here, so he knew just the thing. A pie of Mud Cake was just what we needed. It’s dense, with an equally dense chocolate fudge icing. We shared a piece as we walked back to the car. If you’re going, I would also recommend the Devil’s Food Cake with marshmallow icing, or the Lemon Heaven Cake with its lemon mousse and sponge cake layers covered in white chocolate glaze.
Time to rest up, as the day was not over yet! We headed back to the hotel to change shoes (lots of walking – it helps work off the calories!). After a couple of hours, we headed out for dinner. We wanted to go to Chambar, but they were full. I should have known, as this is a very hip and popular spot. But this was an evening more for something spontaneous, so we wandered down the road. Gastown is full of little eateries, so we weren’t worried.
We found the Revel Room, not full and yet bustling with an energy that we liked. The retro light fixtures and old concert posters gave a cozy feel to the place, and we liked the menu from the first glance. Success! I thoroughly enjoyed the New Orleans Fix, a house special made with bourbon, citrus juices and homemade pineapple syrup. Martin had one of their craft beers and we shared their Chili Shrimp and their Polenta Strips. They were the perfect snacks before our concert.
Being “of an age” we have amassed a number of memories and many of them are wrapped in music. A chance to see two legends together, intertwining their classics by sharing voices and bands was a truly magical evening. I was a huge Sting fan as a young adult, and Martin’s first concert was the Police. My parents played Simon & Garfunkel all through my childhood and Martin named his dogs after Paul (a Doberman) Simon (a German Shorthaired Pointer). We didn’t get up and dance, but I swear I worked off a few hundred calories in my seat!
We finished the evening off by sharing the tart from Lemonade Bakery back in the hotel room with a cup of tea… the perfect end to the perfect day.
Our trip ended on a high note, with a family breakfast at a funky diner called The Red Wagon. Martin’s daughter Chloae joined us for good old-fashioned hearty morning fare, along with some of the best diner java I’ve had since eating in Harlem. It might sound weird, but pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels-spiked syrup are really good, as is Brisket & Eggs. I went a bit more traditional with Eggs Benny, but they did have pulled pork instead of ham. It was a sublime meal. We all took pictures of each other’s food, and hummed as we ate 🙂
I know I have rambled, but I wanted to share every delectable moment. I hope you have the stamina to enjoy at least a few of these moments on your next visit to Vancouver; if not, perhaps this article will inspire you to start training.
If you have any foodie trips or moments you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for new horizons!
When I travel I love to gather recipes and even just ideas for food combinations. When I lived in France, I gathered so many ideas I turned them into a cookbook, in large part inspired by a friend I had made who was from Lebanon. His Mediterranean recipes are still many of my favourites, and hommous tops the list.
You might be wondering why I would even bother to make something that is so readily available in plastic tubs in every deli section of every grocery store in North America. Well, I can tell you I’m old enough to remember a time when things like hommous were not as common as peanut butter, and I am also a devout fan of homemade versus store bought goods whenever possible. Hommous was inexpensive and simple to make, so it was a great place to start my ethnic cooking experiments.
Over the years simple hommous has become a trendy food, being made from all kinds of vegetables. It seemed to lose some of its cachet in the excitement, but now like many food trends hommous is returning to its Mediterranean roots for a more rustic presentation. The rendition I offer up here is one I tried recently in London with my good friend on a girls’ lunch date. We were at a place that serves dishes with harmony and grace – recipes with humble roots being taken to a new level while still retaining a beautiful simplicity. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Beak Street in Soho called Polpo. If you can get in, it’s worth the wait. If you aren’t planning to get to London anytime soon, their cookbook is most inspirational. I was fortunate enough to get a copy as a gift from my girlfriend. 🙂
Polpo serves everything on small plates, so you can share and sample as a group. Their rendition of hommous when we were there was a crostini, a delightful cacophony of crunch and smoothness that made my tastebuds wake up to the range of flavours available from only 6 ingredients. Paired with the house Prosecco it was truly a divine experience. I loved learning that the restaurant owners were devoted food lovers, and they opened a year after the crash of 2008. Their restaurant has been packed since day one, and deservedly so. I know my kitchen is always full of happy souls when I make hommous!
Anchovy & Chickpea Crostini (makes 10 pieces – spread will keep up to 1 week refrigerated. Bring to room temperature to serve.)
1 – 400 g tin chick peas
10 brown anchoy filets, plus some of their oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 handful of flat (Italian) parsley leaves, chopped
1 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
about 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and roughly chop the anchovies. Mix together with the lemon juice, parsley and tahini. Add 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper. Pulse in a food processor, with a little anchovy oil from the tin or bottle and enough olive oil to create a chunky paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning (there is no need for salt with the anchovies).
Toast baguette slices under a broiler or in a toaster oven just until golden. Spread paste roughly on the crostini and serve. (If you want a gluten-free version, serve the paste on cucumber slices or wedges of sweet pepper.)
Today is my goddaughter and namesake, Julia Kristin King’s 21st birthday. In honour of that auspicious occasion I wanted to post a commentary on how food is such a rich part of our memory banks. Traditions form part of that, with classic dishes at holiday time and family favourites forming a part of your young palate. As you grow and travel, more flavours are added, and the experiences you share around a table throughout your life become a very important part of who you are. If you’re like me and other gourmands, those memories become something you cherish and work to share as a passion. My trip to South Africa many years ago when I first met Julia and reunited with her mom, one of my first travel companions, is one of my favourite experiences for many reasons, food being a major one.
South Africa is a nation rich with food history, being a conglomerate of so many cultures. Its position as a central point in the Dutch spice trade in the 17th and 18th centuries enhanced its exotic nature, as ships brought all manner of foodstuffs to the settlers who had come with their own cultures. Europeans from the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Germany came and contributed their food and wine cultures full of cream sauces, stews, roasted meat and more. Then there were the Malays with tastes reminiscent of India, full of aromatic spices and hot curries. The abundance of seafood combined with the range animals settlers encouraged provided a rich bounty and the cuisine flourished with all manner of flavours.
I tasted cured meat called biltong, a variation on our beef jerky that is wonderful. I had fish that I had never seen or heard of before, under a starry sky that contained constellations unfamiliar to me as well. Such is the thrill of eating in another hemisphere. I savoured Cape Brandy Pudding at the top of Table Mountain, and felt as though I had received a worthy prize for my efforts indeed. I also had the simple Milk Tart and could imagine the simple life of early Dutch farmers working the land.
Even picnics were incredible in a new country – I had pizza and local wine on the beach at Cape Town and dipped my toes into the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Food on a paper plate never tasted so good! We went wine touring as well, and had a picnic at Boschendal wine estate, on sprawling grounds with ponds, geese and beautiful shade trees.
Of course, anyone who has travelled and eaten a special meal knows of what I speak – the same food never tastes as magic as it does in the midst of that memory. But the thrill of new memories sends us out again, back to old haunts and in search of new ones.
I shall see my pal and my goddaughter again this spring, when I visit them in the U.K. for Julia’s 21st birthday party and her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Nearly 30 years of friendship across the planet will also be celebrated, and I’m sure I will have more recipes to add to this collection!
I love getting comments and feedback from fellow bloggers and readers, and I was thrilled to see a comment from The Redhead Chronicles that they had nominated me for a Liebster Award! It’s great to connect with people and know they liked what you had to say. (Perhaps I just enjoyed discovering a fellow rambler!) In the interest of sharing, I am answering the five questions that are a part of the process…
1. What inspires you to write?
Well, it can be just about anything. Sometimes even a lack of an idea can inspire me… it makes me think of the mundane everyday activities and how they can be important.
2. Tell me about a time when your life changed, for better or for worse.
Only one? Okay, here’s one that had better and worse. My Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Satchmo went blind and I felt horrible – she was only 7 years old. But I found a great vet that specialized in eye treatments and once she got a glass eye and special drops for the other eye, she was right as rain. Satchmo taught me more about enjoying life in the remaining 8 years of her life than anyone else I know.
3. Describe one of your favorite things, only using adjectives. Put the name of what it is in parentheses afterwards.
Peaceful, breathtaking, rejuvenating, joyous, warm, soulful, friendly, welcoming, happy (Rabbit Hollow, where I live)
4. Chinese food…or Mexican food? The world needs to know.
Tough one – there are so many variations of both. I think because I am a warm climate lover though, I have to say Mexican. I love the roasted chilis and the cilantro and mmm, garden fresh tomatoes.
5. What’s one thing you wish other bloggers knew about you that they don’t?
Gee, I’m not sure. I have a tendency to spill my guts about things that I care about, so if they read my blog other bloggers probably know a fair bit. I suppose I wish they knew how much I would love to post more often, but can’t seem to get away from the work that has to pay the bills to write for fun.
And, because I like to ramble, I’ll throw in the questions I thought were cool from Redhead’s list…
train, plane, bus or car? – I’m not fussy if I get to go somewhere new or interesting! I just love to travel. Trains are nostalgic, though, for sure. And I have always wanted to try out a hot air balloon.
top 5 destinations for your bucket list? – I want to go back to South Africa – with my husband this time, and I would love to scuba dive & drink wine in Australia, and Morocco was on my list from the beginning (who doesn’t want to say they were at “the Casbah”?!). Then there is Scotland, to check out my roots and another trip to Europe for the food (I can’t just limit that to one country).
So, is that enough random rambling for you? Have I provided you with at least one idea for dinner conversation? I promise I’ll come up with something more cohesive for my next post. Please feel free to leave your comments!