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Archives for April 2014

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Traditional Dances at the Sakura Matsuri Festival

The arrival of cherry blossoms usually signals the start of spring but with cool temperatures here in New York City over the last few weeks, I was surprised to see that many trees were still in bloom at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s 30th annual Sakura Matsuri Festival on Sunday.

The Sakura Matsuri festival is billed as a weekend celebration of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture, including Ikebana, tea ceremonies and as temperatures soared to the 70s, attracted thousands of adults and children. Thankfully, the lines into the festival moved quickly.

Several women turned out in colorful kimonos, many people were also dressed as anime characters. I also spotted a few samurai – probably from the samurai sword demonstration earlier in the day.

As I entered the Gardens, I noticed stalls selling books, footwear, handmade totes created from Japanese newspapers, wall scrolls and vintage kimonos. Just beyond them, a magician entertained a tent full of very animated kids.

I followed the crowds towards the Cherry Esplanade. I was searching for the traditional dances, which according to the program would begin about 15 minutes after I arrived. There was still time to get in some photos as I walked the grounds and people watched.

The Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York performed many of the dances. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good spot for most of the hour-long performances, so I didn’t get many good photos but I didn’t miss the dances. One of the crowd favorites was the hanagasi odori, the flower straw-hat dance. The other was a dance that is traditionally performed by men — I’ve forgotten the Japanese name and forgot to ask my friends.

Here are some of my photos from the Sakura Matsuri festival:

At least two other cherry blossom festivals are scheduled to take place in the New York area this weekend but with all the rains today, I’m not sure there will be blooms left.

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

A Plate of Tropical Fruits

I had several ideas for this week’s FoodieTuesday but this photo of a plate of tropical fruits captured my attention. I stared at the fruits for several minutes, remembering the breakfast that it accompanied, the people who shared the table, the laughter, the view and even the activities we did that day. The colors, in particular, reminded me of the sun and warm temperatures.

A Plate of Tropical Fruits

Slices of cantaloupe, pineapple, lime, paw paw (papaya), mango and banana

Cantaloupe: Though not native to Jamaica, local farmers have been experimenting with and growing cantaloupe. But production is relatively small. Only about 2,000 metric tonnes are exported annually.

Pineapple: It’s difficult to tell from the photo what variety of pineapple this was. You can find at least three different types growing in Jamaica – cowboy, sugar loaf and Ripley.

Lime: Almost every Jamaican has a lime tree in their backyard garden. We use limes to make lemonade (limeade), in cooking and baking. We also use the leaves to make tea.

Paw Paw: Paw paw as we call it here is the reddish orange fruit on the plate. It is probably native to the West Indies. The fruit that is popular now is smaller than the variety I remember (the one I didn’t like as a child). According to the University of the West Indies website, there are 45 species of papaya and the “trees” reach fruit bearing age after only a year. The “Solo” type, with pink flesh was introduced to Hawaii from Barbados and Jamaica in 1911.

Jamaica exports the “sunrise” variety which has a deep red flesh. We started exporting in the 1980s, with more than half of the fruit going to the US. A smaller percentage also made it to markets in the UK, Canada and Holland.

Mango: It’s difficult to say which type of mango this one is, since we have at least 21 different varieties. From the size, I’d guess that it’s either a Julie or Bombay.

Banana: I can say for sure this was not a honey banana, but beyond that I can’t say which type this was as we have several varieties in Jamaica.

Which tropical fruit is your favorite?

 

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Toronto: Revisiting a Favorite Haunt

Even though I’ve visited Toronto countless times, I always look forward to each new trip. So when I found out that this favorite haunt was in my work future, just the thought of traveling there made returning to the nine-to-five world attractive. I couldn’t wait to start so I could get on the plane.

In addition to seeing family and friends, I’d be staying downtown – something I hadn’t done since my days at university when I’d crash at my aunt’s and roam the city for hours. I had done that so often, I felt I knew that part of Toronto like the back of my hand.

Time has changed the entire downtown façade now and nothing is how I remember it but I was eager to see if I could find something that I recognized, something I could share with my aunt, who returned to live in the UK more than 20 years ago.

Toronto: Revisiting a Favorite Haunt

My suite at 1 King West

Unfortunately, the trip that I envisioned did not materialize. I’ll tell you why: the weather. The temperature went up and down about as often as the elevator in my hotel. When they started talking snow, I was ready to pack my bags for someplace warm. Believe me, I was not happy.

The bright spot during the trip was my hotel, 1 King West. Located in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, it is close to my office, the Eaton Center, the Bay and Yonge-Dundas Square. And from my suite on the 31st floor, I had an unobstructed panoramic view of the city.

I saw the sun as it broke the horizon in the mornings painting the sky streaks of red, then in the evenings as it slipped quietly away, giving space to millions of beads of streetlights and headlights to try to match its luminosity.

I spent the first few evenings just looking at the sunset. When I finally made it to the Eaton Center, Toronto’s largest mall, I was so overwhelmed by its 330 stores, I wanted everything and nothing. Nothing jumped out at me and I walked out without buying a pin.

Realizing the mood I was in, I gave up and followed the signs to the extensive food court on the lower level and let my nose take over. I settled for an Indian dish of chicken curry that actually sounded and had a better aroma than taste. But get this, they served it on real plates! I opted for real silverware too. Plastic is also available. Unfortunately, most of my meal went into the garbage. 

As I walked back to the hotel, I tried to remember Yonge Street as it was during my early visits. Except for the name, I could have been in any city anywhere. I should take some photos for Auntie, I thought. But where would I start?

Further Reading:

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Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

 

Cooking With My Mama

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of my mama, who I lost 13 years ago today. Mama baked almost every Christmas but she cooked only on special occasions so most of my experiences with her in the kitchen center around baking.

Those memories are so clear in my mind, they’d practically overshadowed her visits when she’d commandeer my kitchen and take over all the cooking. It never ceased to amaze me how the same woman who only cooked at home when the “spirit moved” her had the energy and enthusiasm of someone younger once she landed on my doorstep.

Mama would have a meal ready for us every evening except Friday when she’d use whatever was left over to make something new. On Sundays, she’d prepare dinner, as well as dessert.

It was during one of her visits that I asked her to show me how to make escoveitch fish. Although I was confident about preparing most of our staple foods, the thought of making escoveitch fish left me feeling a bit incompetent. Mama was surprised that I didn’t know but eagerly agreed to show me.

That weekend, we bought red snapper and as soon as we returned, Mama set to work preparing it. Mama was nothing but thorough and even though they had cleaned the fish at the market, it wasn’t up to her standards. She found scales they had missed and trimmed any fins that weren’t properly cut. Then she washed the fish thoroughly in water mixed with limes.

Next, she patted them dry with paper towels and set the fish aside on more paper towels to absorb any remaining water. Since we would be frying the fish, she wanted to make sure there was very little moisture left. (You can also coat the fish lightly with flour to avoid having the oil pop.)

Once that was done, Mama measured and mixed salt and freshly ground black pepper. She scored the fish on both sides and rubbed in the salt and pepper mixture. She also rubbed the mixture on the inside of each fish then set them aside to marinate.

While she waited, Mama cut up onions and Scotch bonnet peppers. She also Julienned some carrots and set that aside too.

After she fried the fish, Mama put them in a Pyrex dish. She poured vinegar into another saucepan, added onion and Scotch bonnet slices and pimento berries and let them simmer for a few minutes.

The pungent aroma of vinegar, onions and Scotch bonnet can be an assault on the senses so it’s best to open a window or turn on a fan.

Once the onion had wilted, Mama turned the flame off and poured the vinegar mixture over the fish and let it marinate overnight. Leaving it in the marinade overnight allows the fish to absorb the flavors of the vinegar and pepper.

Mama’s Escoveitch Would be a Hit for Easter

Thousands of pounds of escoveitch and fried fish were eaten in Jamaica between Good Friday and yesterday, Easter Monday.  Easter is just not Easter without it or the ubiquitous bun and cheese.

 

Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  –

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