An Unexpected Gift

Jamaican Breakfast Soup – A taste of things to come? 


My dear friends, ’tis the season for giving. Our Menu for Hope hosted chez Pim has broken the $12,000 $13,000 $14,000 mark, and with another last push before Friday night we just may reach our $15,000 target, an amount of money that will no doubt impact many, many earthquake survivors’ lives. If I could give you one more little nudge to head over there and donate another five dollars – and perhaps select one of the many fabulous prizes that have recently been added to the pot – we’ll be one step closer to our goal. [Update: We have now raised over $17,000!!!]

It’s also the season for receiving, and the winds of good fortune have been busy in blogland, first bringing Shauna the cookset of her dreams, and now, as it turns out, smiling on me. To explain my own good news, I’ll start by introducing you to my favorite British magazine: Food and Travel. It’ll have to be a verbal introduction, since the magazine’s website is currently undergoing renovation (update: it’s finally up and running!). I can’t comment favorably on their technological competence, but I can tell you how wonderful the magazine is. I ran across it the first time at Heathrow Airport while waiting for a connection, and all it took was one flip-through to fall in love. It combines my two great loves in a sleek and stylish monthly that can best be described as a cross between Condé Nast and Saveur. Sample content from the October issue, a particularly important issue for reasons which will become clear in a moment, include an article on the history of tea in India, the people and food of Turkey’s Black Sea coast, gourmet getaways in Switzerland, Spanish country cooking, and lots of other tidbits on great places to jet off to for a weekend or what to do with the produce currently in the market. And did I mention the photography? Food and Travel certainly excels in its location photography, but what constantly has my jaw dropping is the food photography. I’d go so far as to say that they possess the best food photography of any magazine I have ever bought, anywhere. Hopefully they’ll have their website up and running soon so you can test out my claim, but for now you’ll have to take my word for it. The only unfortunate thing about Food and Travel (besides their internet problems), is that the magazine can be difficult to find, at least in this part of the UK. It may be more widely available around London (where it is published), but after only being able to find it at airports (including ones on mainland Europe), I took out a subscription.

Anyhow, like many magazines, Food and Travel often sponsors competitions, sometimes for a physical prize like a crate of champagne, and sometimes for a travel prize like a long weekend in Prague. These competitions are usually more like prize-draws than contests of knowledge or ability, as the entry requirement will be nothing more difficult than answering a simple question or two. I suppose these easy competitions are a way of tempting people into buying the magazine, or at least that’s what I’ve always assumed as I breeze right over the them on my way to the meatier articles. When the October issue arrived, however, I noticed right away that something was different. The competition this month wasn’t based on dumb luck; it was based on writing ability. Specifically, entrants were asked to write a short piece about Caribbean food – what makes it unique, for example – and submit this to the magazine by the end of the month. The promised prize was more than tempting enough to get my pen scribbling: a two-week, all-expenses-paid gourmet tour of Jamaica, and upon returning, the chance to write an article about it for publication in Food and Travel. Not one to waste an opportunity for what might be the career break of a lifetime, I sat down to write, and re-write, and scrunch it up and write it all again. In mid-October I submitted my piece, and crossed my fingers. By the beginning of December the deadline for winner notification had come and gone, and despite feeling slightly deflated (though naturally I hadn’t let my hopes get too high), I just assumed someone else had won and got on with things.

But, well, it seems their website is not the only thing this magazine is a little behind schedule on. Last Friday morning, just as I was on my way out the door to work, I was surprised by the phone. I was even more surprised to have the editor-in-chief of Food and Travel on the other end. "I have some good news for you," she began, "can you guess where you’re going?" I believe she must have thought she lost me – it took me a me a full thirty seconds to reattach the connection between brain and mouth, such was my dumbstruck disbelief. "We loved your piece," she told me, "and we look forward to reading about your adventures for the magazine." I honestly don’t remember much of what I said to her, and when she asked me what I did I babbled on about too many things, including this website but stupidly neglecting to tell her the name. I did make sure to let her know my husband and I would also love to submit photographs along with the article about Jamaica, to which she heartily agreed. I also remember hanging up the phone in a state of shock and then giving in to the irresistible urge to jump up and down for a full five minutes. It was a good day.

So there are still a million and one details to be worked out with the Jamaica Tourist Board (the competition’s other sponsor), but sometime before the end of June we’ll be jetting off to the Caribbean. Supposedly we’ll be visiting Blue Mountain coffee plantations, touring rum distilleries, attending cooking classes, meeting local chefs and shopping at markets all over the country. Between now and then I have a lot to learn about Jamaican food – not to mention I have to start building up my tolerance to those fiery scotch bonnet chilies that show up in everything, so I’m told. I got myself started (and in a nice tropical mood) over the weekend by preparing a recipe I used to make quite regularly, a kind of smoothie in a bowl I adapted years ago from a recipe in Sheila Lukins’ All Around the World Cookbook. Although I can’t remember whether its origins really lie in Jamaica (the book is in storage, unfortunately), something about the combination of the banana and coconut, the lime juice and cinnamon evokes some kind of sun-drenched exoticness. You don’t even have to add the rum extract, but it does help to complete the illusion. And though it may not seem like it, it’s a perfect Christmas recipe – light and healthy enough to combat the excesses of the night before, and tasty and unusual enough to serve as part of a larger brunch spread to visiting overnighters.

And as this will be my last post before Christmas, I’d like to take the chance to wish each and every one of you a wonderful holiday. Whether you have snow or sunshine, mulled wine by the fire or cold beers by the barbie, I hope you have plenty of good food and drink, a chance to relax and unwind, and lots of laughter shared with good friends and family. And of course, I hope you get everything on your list, and more! 

Jamaican Breakfast Soup

Serves: 2 as part of a bru
nch (easily multiplied)

2 ripe bananas, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 small lime
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
about 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste (amount depends on whether your yogurt is pre-sweetened)
a few drops rum extract (optional)
1/4 cup dried (desiccated) or fresh grated coconut 

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Spread the coconut in a baking dish and toast in the oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set aside to cool. Combine one of the bananas with all the other ingredients except the toasted coconut in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the sweetness with more honey or the tartness with more lime juice. Stir in the slices of the second banana, ladle into shallow bowls and top with plenty of toasted coconut.