Keto Caribbean Christmas Dinner: YES we can!

Christmas day in the Caribbean is like Thanksgiving day in the USA: it is the biggest eating day on our calendar. It’s a time when families and friends typically come together and feast on extensive menus comprising old and new favourites. It is around this time of year that many people suspend diets and make allowances for what they will eat and drink all the while formulating those New Year resolutions that include promises to eat clean and work out. I will always say to each his own. But I’d also like to offer an alternative to the typical “stuff-my-face-on-everything-then-work-it-off-in-January” holiday eating stance. So what if I told you that you could still totally feast like a Queen (or King) at Christmas AND remain on track, perhaps even losing a pound or two in the process? That’s the beauty of this low-carb way of eating: it is 100% possible and doable!  Continue reading Keto Caribbean Christmas Dinner: YES we can!

In search of Poinsettias…or so I thought….

“There’s a lady on Church St with the loveliest poinsettias at good prices” she offered.

I was looking for fluffy, good looking poinsettias that wouldn’t  break the bank and a colleague at work tried to help. She too wanted some and we agreed to pay this downtown Kingston vendor a visit. She reassured me that I would get parking (in the JPS parking lot…she had business to do at JPS so we wouldn’t be lying) and that she would direct me.

So at the appointed time, we removed our jewellery (Downtown Kingston, DUH!), grabbed our tiny purses (no need to advertise) and headed out in my car. Traffic was heavy going up Duke St. The commercial district that is Downtown Kingston was a bustle with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. On a regular day, Downtown is a bargain hunter’s paradise. So everyone and their mother trying to maximize their Christmas spend was out in the brilliant December sunshine in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The traffic was sluggish and I decided to make conversation as we slowly made our way up the road. You see, my passenger/guide is my co-worker but we’re not close friends, if you understand what I mean.

“So what are your plans for Christmas dinner?” I enquired. Food is always a great place to start as far as I am concerned.

“Well…” she hesitated…“We would normally go to my in-laws, but for the past two years we’ve done nothing.”

There was an awkward pause. But not for long. I sensed a story.

“How come?” I pushed.

She sighed. “Two years ago my sister-in-law was rude to me at dinner, Kelly. I was hurt but I held it in. And I decided that I didn’t need to put up with that ever again.”

As I listened, I sensed that she was conflicted, that she responded the only way she thought she could have, but that she wasn’t comfortable with her own decision.

“So how do your hubby and your kids feel about your decision? Don’t they miss the jollification and family togetherness?” I asked gently.

Another sigh. “I’ve encouraged, I’ve begged them to go without me, Kelly, but they don’t.”

I explained to her that as mothers WE are the nucleus of the family, that everything revolves around us, and that if we aren’t happy, no one else is really happy. Then I felt led to share a story with her.

I told her about my friend Rachel Cunning. I met Rachel on Twitter. She was a thirty something professional who was suffering from Lupus when we met. She was a lively and engaging tweeter, posting links to interesting topics and offering witty comebacks up and down my timeline. She tweeted in passing that she was spending Christmas alone. Immediately I perked up. No one should be alone at Christmas unless they choose to, is my belief, handed down to me by my own mother. Now let me confess, I am not the most sociable person. I am no social butterfly who loves to entertain. Not me, no Siree. But Christmas has always been a time for family and food and fellowship and so I reached out to her. She immediately accepted my invitation to dinner. It was a bit of a logistical challenge for me as she was not mobile and she lived all the way in Portmore, miles and miles away from my Coopers Hill home. But I planned around it, picked her up early, and warned her that she would have to watch me cook and prepare and just spend the day with me. I got a bedroom ready for her in case she needed to rest and took out blankets and socks since Coopers Hill is delightfully cool at this time of the year. I fussed for nothing. Rachel fit right in with the family and we all embraced her immediately. Our other guests came later in the day and December 25 2016 was another warm, enjoyable, fun time.

One Wednesday in early October I spoke to Rachel. She was in hospital but was upbeat that she would be discharged on the weekend. I was supposed to call her that weekend to make arrangements to get something to her later that week or so. I didn’t call her. The weekend passed and on the Monday morning heading out I remarked to Nick that I had to call Rachel “today today today.” Imagine my horror when I saw “RIP Rachel” on my twitter timeline later that Monday morning. Two phone calls later confirmed the worst: Rachel had passed away in hospital the previous evening. 

“Life is short” I told my colleague. “At the end of the day, is whatever you’re holding on to really worth it?

By this time, we had parked and exited the car. All the nice poinsettias were sold off. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had the distinct feeling, almost certain knowledge, if you will, that the drive out for poinsettias was not really about poinsettias, but more about the delivery of a well needed, perfectly timed message to my colleague that could potentially impact her life and her family’s life for the better: something infinitely better than potted plants for my home.

This morning she came in late and came straight to my desk. She was beaming and bubbling as she pulled up a chair.

“I know you were disappointed about the poinsettias, Kelly. But I have to tell you, I think the reason for our little outing was bigger than poinsettias.”

She shared how late into the night she wrestled with the challenge I offered her. She felt compelled to reach out to her sister-in-law to resurrect family dinner on Christmas day. She had discussed it with her husband and children and they all eagerly encouraged her to reach out. They were in full support. She eventually Whatsapped her sister at 7:30 this morning and almost immediately her phone rang. Sister-in-Law was on the other end, happy and eager to pick up where they had left off two years ago. My colleague told me that she felt a great weight off her shoulders and lightness in her heart. She was excitedly working out menu plans and best of all, the family was going to be together for Christmas. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had done the right thing. I have a feeling that this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for that family.

Is there a fractured relationship that you need to address? Christmas is as good a time as any to deal with it. 

Is there a lonely person in your circle that you can include in your plans? Christmas is a great excuse to intrude. 

Are you the lonely one? Are you the hurt one? I am sorry for your pain and hurt. I encourage you to reach out. You’d be surprised at the welcome waiting for you at the end of that call or text message. 

Here’s to an abundance of love and happiness this Christmas. 

Courtesy Marion Ann


 

Beige for Christmas

I got a beige pedicure this week.

Four days before the climax of the Festive Season and I did my toes beige.

I actually took up a bottle of a deep, beautiful red, but then I put it back. I was not feeling red. I was feeling beige. And I was and am cool with it.

No, I am not depressed. Nope, I’m not even sad. This year went by in a mighty rush. At least that’s how it felt to me. It feels as if it was just last week I was here struggling to set my quantifiable targets at work for me and my team  and now here I am doing the same thing over again for a brand new year. This year saw opportunity after opportunity for me to grow professionally (note: I did not say challenge after challenge. Perspective, right?). From building my team in the face of strong internal opposition from all directions, to digging deep to challenge and change systems to support organizational objectives, some of which I agreed with, some of which I did not agree with, to mastering new technical skills, I have had a humdinger of a year here on the grind. And 2016 crescendo-ed dramatically with my organization enacting significant structural change, bringing with it personnel changes, the expected heightened uncertainty and feelings of personal vulnerability.  So here I am at the end of 2016, content to get off the merry go round, if only for a few days, to simply breathe. Inhale 2-3-4, exhale 2-3-4. Repeat. Repeat again.

Today is my last work day for 2016. I go off to cook Christmas dinner with the help of my husband and children this weekend. We’ll light candles and open gifts and share dinner with a small gathering of extended family and friends old and new on Sunday.

And I give thanks. I give thanks for opportunities to earn, to learn, for my beautiful and loving and healthy and extremely supportive family, for good friendships. I give thanks for rest and respite. With my beautifully beige toes.

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength…” Isaiah 30:15

The Ugliest Pie Ever!

Toni’s 11 year old daughter wowed us with a simple, healthful creation of  ripe bananas seared in coconut oil, caramelized with added honey and finished with cinnamon and nutmeg. Yummy! I decided right then and there to make a banana pie for Christmas day dessert.  I grew up eating my Grandma’s banana pie: think apple pie, but with firm, ripe bananas. Ripe bananas are sliced, layered in a a pie crust lined pie dish, sprinkled with brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg, sealed with a cover of crust and baked until golden brown. Enjoy this bubbling, fragrant pie – warm, with a scoop or three of vanilla or coconut ice cream.  You’re welcome.

But let me get back to me and my desire for banana pie. I decided to make my pie from scratch.  You see, I am not really a dessert person, but I have a weakness for anything in pastry: think patty, meat pie, fruit tart, fruit pie…ahmagawd… I felt that a bought pie crust would not give me that buttery, flaky finish that I was craving. So mi ah go dweet miself!!! I called Mummy in Grenada, got confirmation of the methodology that her mother used and felt ready to proceed. But here’s the rub (pun intended): pastry making is a precise science.  Yes, a science. Proportions have to be precise. Everything has to be cold. And pastry has to be handled deftly, with a light touch. Now please note: I don’t possess a kitchen scale. I consider myself to be a reasonably good cook. But I eyeball every single thing. I stir. I taste. I compensate and adjust. Apparently you don’t get this leeway with pastry.

I’ve had acceptable outcomes with pastry in the past though, so I approached this pie making task with a small measure of confidence.  So while the ham was baking Christmas eve night, I got busy with my pie crust. See it here now…remember I craved a buttery finish? I think I added too much butter in relation to the flour. Warning bells went off when that breadcrumb finish that I expected after combining the butter and flour was more like a sticky mass. Have mercy. Panic levels rising, I hastily added more flour. Woi mi bathy! I managed eventually to get everything into a a semi solid ball. I was almost in tears by this time as I replayed the amount of (man) handling that I had inflicted on my pastry mixture to get it to this stage.

I sighed. I cussed. I did everything except what I should have done at this stage: turn the darned thing into dumpling mix and fry up dem suckers to go with the ackee and saltfish that Little Master was going to prepare later that evening. But no. I am a hero and I was going to have banana pie made from scratch. So I took that “pastry” ball and wrapped it up in saran wrap and placed in the fridge. I was sure that in the morning, it would be firm enough to roll out and make my pie.

So at the appointed time Christmas day, kitchen smelling like heaven with all the other savouries being baked, simmered and seared, I trepidaciously removed my pie crust ball from the fridge. It was hard as rock. You see, all that butter had behaved like butter does in the fridge: it got hard. I dropped the ball with a thud on the kitchen counter. My shoulders dropped.

“Rachael.”

Yes Mummy?

“Rachael! Please come here.” I was standing as still as a statue, head bowed, shoulders drooping.

She runs into the kitchen.

What ,Mummy? What happen? What’s wrong?”

“Rachael. Feel this.”

I rolled the ball of pastry along the counter to her. She touched it. She held it in her hand and looked at me with eyes and mouth wide open.

OMG! What you gonna do? Maybe you can soften it up in the microwave.

The microwave, People. Pastry. My breath was coming in shallow, ragged gasps. I struggled to hold back the tears.

I waved her away. By this time she is doubled over with laughter asking me the same damned question repeatedly: “What you going to do?

KMT. I am going to make and eat banana pie. Hook or crook. We had other dessert options you know: Christmas cake, red velvet cup cakes and ice cream. But. I.  Wanted. Banana. Pie. Made. From. Scratch. Awoe.

I gave the cannon ball 10 minutes to chill out (ha!) and then I squared my shoulders and went to work. I pressed out that sucker. I added flour. I rolled it like I was laying asphalt. I managed to line the pie dish. I gloated: HA! GOTCHA!  I sliced, I layered, I sugared and sprinkled. Yes, indeed… I was halfway there.  Grandma’s method calls for complete covering of the pie with pastry, small vents snipped to allow steam to escape. Could I get a uniform, continuous sheet of pastry to do this? After rolling and recombining and rolling again 3 times (can someone say dumpling?) I decided to make a lattice top. Lemme stop here. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s the finished product: the Ugliest Pie Ever.

The Ugliest Pie Ever

Needless to say, when dessert time rolled around, I didn’t present this finished product.  My kids were like: “Don’t worry, Mummy…I’m sure it’s delicious.” I sliced up that sucker in hiding, plated and presented with flourish. Hallelujah!!! It was DELICIOUS!  The crust was flaky and buttery. The filling was perfect. I had only this pie with a little ice cream for my own dessert. I think the others agreed with my delicious verdict too:

What was left of the Ugliest Pie ever at the end of Christmas Day

All in all, Christmas day dinner was a success. I felt more confident dealing with the entrees and had no issue whatsoever presenting:

Christmas Dinner

So…where do I go from here?

Option 1: buy the damned pie crust next time.

Option 2: Buy a kitchen scale, look up some tutorial videos on YouTube and become a pie making champion. I hate losing, and I hate the idea that anything in the kitchen if off limits to me.

Option 3: Outsource the entire pie making activity. Toni’s daughter or my niece Ileanna are one hundred miles ahead of me in this department.

I’ll put this whole sordid affair out of my mind for at least three months then… well…we’ll see…

My Fondest Christmas Memories: A letter to my Family

Happy Christmas Family!
As I was driving home from work earlier this week, the hosts on the radio talk show that I was tuned in to, started reminiscing on their fondest Christmas memories. That started me thinking…what are my own fondest Christmas memories?  I smiled as I recalled them and thought that it would be nice to share with the Circle of Truth and my own children. 
So I’ve just dressed the ham and popped it back into the oven. Rachael and I have done a callaloo quiche and made red velvet cupcakes, Nicholas and I cooked ackee and saltfish, Dave seasoned a roaster and jerked a chicken for Christmas Eve snacking, and I’ve cut up and seasoned some sirloin for beef and pineapples tomorrow.  So while I wait for everything to cool before I close the kitchen for the night, I figured that this would make a great time to write.
When I think of Christmas, my absolutely fondest memory is of Christmas morning service at Holy Innocents church in La Digue, Grenada. We went a few times I think…as visitors to the island at first, and later when we lived there.  Christmas mornings were damp and cool and dark. That Grenada smell, that La Digue smell…cocoa, nutmeg, wet grass, served as the back drop for this Christmas morning experience.  We got hot cocoa and off we went to this beautiful chapel with the outstanding acoustics. The chapel had a real bell that was rung. Greetings were friendly and familial, offered in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the peace of Christmas morning.  We sang traditional carols and recited the liturgy. There was something majestic yet comforting about the rituals in this Church of England, encouraging reflection and worship. I loved everything about Christmas morning at Holy Innocents in Grenada.
Right alongside my fond memories of Christmas morning in that old chapel in Grenada are my memories of the annual Jamaica Defence Force carol services. The open air carol service in Up Park Camp, Jamaica, held on the polo field, under a canopy of light bulbs strung end to end across the field marked the beginning of Christmas for us. The military band transformed those old standards into anthems and we sang along lustily. Soldiers, some nervous as hell, did the readings. We laughed at the errors they made, and squirmed anxiously awaiting the grand climax at the end: the singing of “Silent Night” when all the lights went out leaving only lit candles and the stars in the heavens as our light. It was so beautiful. It was so regal. I really felt lucky and privileged to be there. And the moment the final benediction was offered,  we children scrambled to collect programs left behind. The winner was the one who collected the most programs. Simple fun, moments that became part of the kaleidoscope of my own life’s experiences.
The best gift I’ve ever received was that Christmas when we got scooters. “We” consisted of Jaimie, Abby and me. Joe, Anna and Sam weren’t born yet.  I had no idea that we were going to get them. I remember jumping on that thing in my red and white long nightie Christmas morning, hair flying behind me as I scooted by.  What joy! I can’t remember ever receiving another gift that matched that one in my opinion (except for a Princess Leia doll that Auntie Maggie gave me…I loved that doll for many, many years.)
Christmas eatings were always a huge production. I suppose coming from such a huge family meant that this was inevitable. Recollection of the details are hazy.  We always had ham, rice and peas and a whole heap more dishes. We drank sorrel. We shelled gungu peas from Daddy’s garden until our fingers were black.  We cleaned sorrel again from Daddy’s garden, our poor little hands prickly for hours after with the fine hairs that came off the sorrel flowers. The shelling and cleaning were done in the days leading up to Christmas in a circle characterized by a whole heap of talking and joking, sometimes while watching TV.
    
Grandma baked her special fruit cakes. Fruits were soaked for weeks prior.  On baking day she solemnly took down the yabba. We children were pressed into creaming butter and sugar. If I close my eyes now I can bring to mind the smells of her baking: the fruits, the rose water, the spices… I am not a fruit cake/Christmas cake fan, but Grandma’s cake… ah boi…
And there was Sgt. Riley’s Christmas cake, which sat in all its glory on the sideboard, begging to be cut every time we walked past. This Christmas cake, encased in Riley’s special royal icing, was eaten over the course of weeks from December to January. It was the never ending cake.
I remember the crowds. Yes, crowds.  Even as a child, I found dealing with my large family stressful. Seriously. I think this is why I can’t remember Christmas dinner details. The thought of the work associated with staging this family dinner brought on instant fatigue and an overwhelming desire to just lock myself in my room until it was all over.  And you know that the guest list was never confined to just family.  Mummy and Daddy always had an extended guest list: officers under daddy’s command, the unattached and less fortunate people from the church.  Our parents set an excellent example of extending one’s self, one that, to be truthful, I haven’t really emulated. I remain firmly in my own comfort zone of small gatherings at Christmas, unwilling to take on the stress of hosting huge affaires. I’ll do better, guys…maybe J 
I took a break just before the paragraph above to sample the ham. We all did! Delicious as expected. I’m back. Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast: callaloo quiche, mushroom frittata, ham, ackee and saltfish, waffles, coffee and orange juice.  Then we’ll have dinner.  Mrs. Mac, Dianne and JJ, and my former colleague and friend Claude will round out the guest list. We’ll have ham, roasted chicken, bread and bacon stuffing, sweet n sour beef, curried shrimp, roasted veggies, salad, candied sweet potatoes, green gungu rice n peas, roasted beet and corn salad.  It will be fun.  The children will open their gifts. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get a gift too! Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven’t done such a good job at teaching my children to extend themselves at Christmas.  I hope that they have fond memories of Christmas and create traditions of their own too.
Well, it’s almost midnight. Off to lock up the kitchen and put away stuff. Happy Christmas, Guys.  I love you all. 

Kelly
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