Thursday, April 20, 2006

Portmore Gets Healthy

In other great news two wonderful new shops have opened in the Plaza where our office is located. The first is Vibrant Health, a health food store that has lots of dried nuts and fruits and even some rare finds like Tom’s of Maine Organic Toothpaste, seaweed, and miso paste. The other is Earl’s Juice Garden which is a new location of a vegetarian restaurant we eat at sometimes in Kingston. It is only two doors down from our office and tonight is the Grand Opening complete with Earl himself and a menu tasting. We are excited to attend but even more excited at the thought of replacing our boring PB&J with healthy veggie lunches from Earls. Jamaicans complain that health food is too expensive but to us a few extra dollars (Jamaican dollars) is definitely worth it if just for the Good Vibes!

- Kaelyn

The First Mango

Mango season has officially begun. I knew it was coming, ‘cause the last time I was in Kingston, the Friday before last, I saw someone eating one. However, there have not been any on sale anywhere and most people I have asked have said “mango soon come”. The trees in our neighborhood have definitely been hanging lower, weighed down by this wonderful fruit. It has really been quite taunting and I have been getting pretty anxious. Then Shane saw some in Kingston last Monday at a streetside vendor but he didn’t have any extra money with him so he couldn’t bring me one. That was pretty disappointing. When we were in St. Elizabeth we checked out the market in Santa Cruz but all we could find were some puny blackie mangos. Since I have been waiting for it so long I really wanted the first one to be good and those kind are pretty stringy so I decided to pass and wait a little longer. And boy was I rewarded for my patience. When we came back to work yesterday from our little Easter vacation our friend Randy surprised us with 4 mangos fresh from the tree in his yard. It was a thank you for the big chocolate bunny and KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce we had carried him back from the States. I made myself wait until I got home to eat the first one; I wanted to be able to document the momentous occasion and they are pretty messy so not really good for the workplace. I had it for dessert and it was fabulous – scrumdidleumptious in fact! What a great start to the wonderfulness of mango season!


Easter in the Fog

We spent the last week, from Wednesday to Tuesday at our friends Caitlin and Khaled’s house in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. Malvern has a much nicer climate than Portmore. Read: It’s not constantly hot, since it’s at a higher altitude. Instead, it is cool and the fog and rain roll in off the Santa Cruz Mountains during the afternoon. It’s also very calm and quite compared to the hustle and bustle of our Metropolitan Area.

We went there on a working vacation. Our goal was to relax, play cards, eat and drink, and work on the database and some grant applications. All of these were accomplished plus we even got to do a little site seeing. We ventured over to the local waterfall at the YS river and on the way got to drive through the famous Bamboo Avenue. YS falls was beautiful, although the water was a bit muddy. We couldn’t help but stare at all the tourists there, as strange as it sounds white people look a bit funny to us now, especially in big groups. Shane finally learned how to play Canasta, so now he can enter the Peace Corps Jamaica Canasta circuit and compete. We opted to skip the Yam Festival in Trelawny on Monday and instead attened the Easter Fest at a local school. There was a cricket match, fried chicken and even a Talent Contest. We took 3 of the neigbour girls and they seemed to enjoy it a lot. But most of the time we sat around, read, and went for walks in the hills of Malvern. Very chill!

Our friends should really consider opening a local bakery because the treats they made us were out of this world! The baked goods list included Dutch baby (a quick souffl√©) with bananas foster topping, √©clairs, biscotti, cinnamon rolls (with coffee and reading material, the ultimate breakfast), and banana cupcakes. There were also some really good dinners like pasta primavera with coconut cream sauce, soy meat loaf, and stuffed peppers. Luckily, we didn’t eat lunch usually so there was room for all the tasty breakfasts and dinners. Us city folk were in awe at all the garden goodies brought over by neighbors and we had lots of fun at the open air market in Santa Cruz. Buying your fruits and veggies at the grocery store just isn’t as nice as getting someone’s abundance for free or chatting with the market ladies. We did bring back a few local treats though, some lemons and a nice big bottle of St. Elizabeth honey.

It was a really wonderful time and with such great company, yummy treats, and a cool climate Malvern definitely tops our list of escapes from the hot, hot Sunshine City of Portmore.

- Shane and Kae

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bun and Cheese Update

Bun and Cheese 02
Originally uploaded by Shane and Kaelyn.
Here is my very own bun and cheese meal that I ate for breakfast the other day. As you can see, the cheese did not melt. But it did taste good. Also, check out this article from the Gleaner for more info about Jamaican Easter traditions.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bun and Cheese

Buns and small cakes are extremely popular in Jamaica. People eat them for lunch, breakfast, or a snack. They are basically a sweet bread with various ingredients to flavor them. Spice (they never tell you exactly what kind, but I think it's allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg), raisins, fruit flavor, and cheese are some common fillings. For Easter time, though, nothing beats the Easter bun and cheese.

Easter bun and cheese is the quintessential food for the holiday. Now, I used to think that it was only eaten on Easter weekend. But I was wrong. People eat it for up to an entire month before Easter. And some people eat it everday. The bun is basically a sweet, dense bread, with raisins and the aforementioned spice. There are different kinds, but I have found the HTB brand (Haflway Tree Bakeries) to be very good. The cheese has to be Tastee cheese, which is pasteurized process cheddar that comes in a tin. You open it with a can opener. It is very hard and, unlike Velveeta, will not melt no matter how long I put it in the toaster oven for. I actually like the bun and cheese, and have had it for breakfast and lunch.

You can order your own Easter bun and cheese here.


p.s. Isn't it funny how they have Easter Bun in Jamaica and in the States we have the Easter Bunny? I think they must be connected somehow, perhaps the lack of bunnies in Jamaica explains it.
- Kaelyn

Monday, April 03, 2006

Fun Citi

I spent the past Saturday helping out at a Kid's Day celebration for about 300 kids living in youth homes around southern Jamaica. It was sponsored by Food for the Poor, one of the largest charitable organizations in the Caribbean. A number of Volunteers serve with Food for the Poor, and one of them was organizing this day of fun. Fun Citi, in good old Portmore off Port Henderson Road, was the venue for this event. It started at 10 AM and the kids left around 6 PM.

There were many activities for the kids. Sports like soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Swimming was the most popular, as the facility is located right on the beach. There is a skating rink. I helped kids put on their roller blades and tried to teach them to skate. A number of boys preferred just wearing one skate and racing around as if they were on scooters. There was also an old plastic electric motorized car (pink, with no batteries left) that kids would push each other on and then ram into the walls and trees around the skating rink. Hours of enjoyment.

My favorite thing, and the scariest thing, was the hand-operated ferris wheels, of which there were three. I operated the largest one, with six carts and standing about 15 feet high, for quite a while. It sat on railroad wheels, and so used to be towed around on rail. But it was sunk into the ground with poles at each corner of the platform. To operate, you pulled the wheel on either side (sometimes easier with two people) and loaded the kids into the carts, which had a safety bar the kids were supposed to hold onto. Then you would keep pulling down on the wheel to spin it, the kids shouting "faster!" until one of them wanted to come off. The scary part was when kids would try to climb on before it had stopped moving, or climb down from one of the top carts. At one point one of the carts flipped all the way around, but the girl inside was able to hang on. Towards the end of the day, a safety pole came off of the cart. That's when we realized it was time to stop, and we made everyone get off. I had to play the role of the boring adult, always worrying about safety, but it wasn't too bad.

The kids got their chicken and rice lunch, which took about four hours to feed them all. Before that, there was hot dogs, snow cones (I got one), Chubby brand soda, and popcorn for snacks. The talent show at the end was fun, just like Rising Stars, with dancing, singing, and poetry. At the end, I got a free red stripe, chocolate bar, and Bob Marley shirt. The kids had fun. I had fun. A day well spent.


A Trip to the States

We just got back from our nearly two week trip back to the USA. It had been nine months since we left for Jamaica. Was the readjustment shocking? Not too much, but there were certain phenomena that gave pause. For instance, the first taste of the US was the airports (Miami, O’Hare, and Kansas City, for those scoring at home) and every other person had a Starbucks. Coffee is not that popular in Jamaica, and most people drink instant if they drink anything. Wow, people in airports are very caffeinated, unless it was decaff. Getting into Chicago was when we remembered the Midwest. The scene: lots of large white people – again drinking Starbucks. But it was colder than Miami. It was snowing outside, and most people had coats on because it was cold in the terminal. What, are the O’Hare Fat Cats trying to cut down on the heating bill?

The rest of the time being in the States wasn’t too weird. We saw our family, including the four nieces and one nephew that belong to Shane’s siblings. There was lots of eating out (Mexican, Thai, pizza twice, Indian, Pittsburgian chicken, subs, Central American, brewpub) with some good beer. The Jayhawks lost. Taxes were paid. Shane gave a presentation on Jamaica to his brother’s class. They liked it, especially the candy – bustas, coconut drops, and tamarind balls. Family, friends, and food was the order of the day. What more do you need?

On the way back, we happened to sit next to someone who works at Peace Corps Jamaica in the Miami terminal. We were able to hitch a ride halfway home with her, a lucky break. Being back in Jamaica was a harder adjustment than going to the US. Was it really that hot before? Answer: pretty much, but it might have gone up a few degrees since we were gone. We brought back a chocolate bunny for our co-workers. Nothing says Easter more than that. Kaelyn carried back an infectious disease. Luckily, she has now recovered. Shane brought chunky natural peanut butter (Oil separation is natural). Two possible scenarios that greeted us when we returned to our home:
a)A neighborhood welcome banquet was held upon our arrival (false).
b)We ate Thai noodle soup and trail mix from the States while watching cable (true).

Back on the island . . . The Red Stripe is brewed right down the road. You can’t take your grocery cart outside the supermarket. The nut man’s piercing steam whistle fades away into the distance. A large cloud of smoke from a grass fire obscures the setting sun, grey mixing into the pink and orange.

-Shane and Kae

P.S. Thanks bunches to all our friends and family for their wonderful hospitality. We already miss you guys but now we have new memories to cherish until we see you again at Christmas. You're the best!