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Yummy Yellow Yam

Yummy Yellow Yam

Traveling through Jamaica’s rural areas is something I look forward with as much anticipation and excitement as a child waiting for a birthday or Christmas. It’s always a treat because I never know what I’ll see.

Several months ago, I was driving with three of my neighbors from Clarendon on the south central coast back to Montego Bay on the north west coast. Our trip took us through parts of Trelawny, St. Ann and Manchester – all well-known for different types of produce.

This particular Friday afternoon was bathed in the warm, golden glow of the setting sun as, at almost every turn, we saw farmers bringing their produce on donkeys and in small carts from the fields to the side of the road. Pickup trucks would take it the rest of the way to market.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Bringing yams from the field

There were mounds of yellow yams, mostly. But there were also otaheiti apples, Scotch Bonnet peppers, scallion, and thyme.

Most times we’d slow down just long enough for someone to stick their head out the window and ask, “How much a pound is the yellow yam?” or “Do you have any sweet peppers?”

Usually, price dictated whether we’d stop but when we saw this man with his son, something about him made us decide to buy. As soon as we found a good spot to park, all four of us jumped out of the car and ran across the road to choose a piece of yellow yam.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Yams for the market

They were weighing and sorting the freshly dug yam, the soil stubbornly clinging to each piece. They looked so delicious, it was difficult to know which to choose. So we let him decide.

Jamaica grows about eighteen varieties of yams, including yellow yam, St. Vincent, white, Lucy, and Negro. Yellow yam is by far the most popular. Trelawny, the parish we were in when we stopped to buy, accounts for up to 60% of the yams grown in Jamaica and almost half of what is exported — mostly to supply the growing demand in West Indian communities in the UK, US and Canada. (I was surprised to discover that Amazon sells yellow yam. [simpleazon-link asin="B00I12V9IQ" locale="us"]Roundleaf Yellow Yam imported from Jamaica (5 lb)[/simpleazon-link])

Yam adds potassium, protein, vitamins and folic acid to the diet and because it is packed with soluble fiber, it is suitable even for young children. Yams are also great for people with diabetes as it slows down the release of sugar into the cells.

Yams are denser in texture than the potato and can be eaten boiled (and mashed with butter, my favorite) or roasted. One of the things I look forward to on road trips is buying roasted yellow yam and saltfish from roadside vendors.

Most Jamaicans love yellow yam and have it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is even the title of a popular folk song, When wi roas di yellow yam. Take a listen here.

When Olympic champion, Usain Bolt, won gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, his father was reported as saying his speed was due to his diet, specifically the yellow yam. Not surprising as Bolt is from yam country, Trelawny.

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Expedia Brings Concierge Service to Montego Bay

Expedia Concierge Service

I don’t remember using Expedia, the online booking agency, to buy airline tickets though I’ve used it to compare prices. This time they had the best price on a nonstop ticket to Montego Bay. That clinched it.

A few days after I’d completed my purchase, I received an email from Expedia introducing my personal Jamaica concierge. Although I didn’t need the complimentary concierge service, which is provided by an Expedia Local Expert®, I was intrigued.

Expedia Concierge ServiceWhen I called the toll-free number in the email, Dania, Expedia’s Concierge’s distinctive Jamaican voice greeted me. Dania explained that she could assist me to book a transfer to my hotel and pre-book any activities I was interested in but since I didn’t need her expertise, I chatted with her instead.

Expedia, she explained, had partnered with Jamaica Tours, a local company, to launch the service, which started last August. According to its website, Expedia Concierge Service is provided by “knowledgeable” local experts in several locations including Hawaii, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

Jamaica Tours Limited, a 50 year old company, is the island’s largest ground tour operator and destination management company.

Although I didn’t need Expedia’s Concierge Service this time, I’m happy to learn that they offers it. There’s a lot of information about local attractions online, for example, but when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it’s helpful and reassuring to have someone who knows the scene help you find what you need so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Have you used a concierge service during your travels?

Jackass Corn

Jackass Corn

I heard about jackass corn when I was younger but I don’t remember seeing let alone trying it. Lacking any context, I imagined it was a variety of corn – one that jackasses liked to eat. I know that’s pretty literal but what else could I think?

I hadn’t thought of or heard about jackass corn until sometime last year when my friend, Sandra, and I walked into 14 Parish Restaurant, a small take out spot in Hackensack, NJ. The typical assortment of sweets  – rock buns, gizzadas, grater cakes – sat on display in a glass case on the counter but there was one item I didn’t recognize. Curious, I asked what it was.

Jackass Corn

J

I chided the young cashier for not knowing and he went back to the kitchen to ask.

“It’s jackass corn,” he said when he returned, his face still wearing a puzzled look.

Jackass (or donkey) corn is a hard biscuit made of flour, water, coconut milk, and nutmeg. It is rolled flat, cut into rectangles and baked. According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, it’s called jackass corn because when you eat it, it sounds like the sound a donkey makes when it’s eating corn.

Jackass Corn
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  3. 1 cup sugar
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  5. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  7. 3 tablespoons water
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, sugar, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the coconut. Add the water and mix, forming a very stiff dough that will not crumble.
  2. Roll out the dough on a floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into small rectangles. Place the pieces onto a greased cookie sheet and prick each one with a fork. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, or until brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool.
Adapted from Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen
Adapted from Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
Jackass corn used to be a popular snack enjoyed by school children as well as adults. It fell out of favor perhaps because it’s likely seen as irrelevant, or unsophisticated next to prepared snacks like potato chips and Cheese Trix.

But one of the unforeseen and unintended impacts of migration is that Jamaicans, like other immigrant communities, cling to the traditions that keep them connected to home. One of the many food items they hold on to is jackass corn, which explains why it would be available for sale in a small restaurant in New Jersey.

As I expected, the owner said he sells mostly to people of a certain age. Since I’d never tried them, I handed over $2 for two biscuits which came wrapped tightly in plastic. My aunt couldn’t believe it when I told her what I had found.

I couldn’t bring myself to eat my treat right away and kept the jackass corn for almost a week before finally ripping off the plastic. I tried the first one.  It was slightly sweet, with a hint of nutmeg, crisp but not as hard as I expected. I made a cup of tea, fresh mint, and had the second one. You can also have jackass corn on its own as a snack.

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For more recipes, check out Lucinda Scala Quinn’s cookbook, Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Kitchen

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Knutsford Express Went Above and Beyond For Me

Knutsford Express

I was exhausted when I got home. We had spent a long and exhilarating day driving more than 200 miles to visit heritage sites in St. Catherine, Jamaica and all I could think of was crawling into bed and getting some sleep.

I was about to turn off the lights when I remembered that I still hadn’t booked my ticket on the Knutsford Express for my trip to Falmouth the next morning. I logged on quickly and was thrilled to see that a bus was leaving Montego Bay at 7:30 a.m. I could sleep a little longer, I thought, as I completed the purchase.

I was ready before my 7:15 pickup but as I closed the gate to my house, I panicked. The bus was leaving at 7:30, I should be at the station at 7:15. I called Eton, my taxi driver.

I’ll be right there, he said. I’m only a few minutes away.

Eton drove like a bat out of hell, collapsing the trip to less than 10 minutes. Thankfully, of seven traffic lights only one was red.

Knutsford Express

Andre Johnson

Walking up to the Knutsford Express counter at 7:25, I told the agent that I had a ticket for the 7:30 bus to Falmouth.

“There isn’t a 7:30 bus to Falmouth,” she said. “The bus left at 7:00 a.m. and there isn’t another one till 9.”

“But I have a ticket,” I protested.

She peered at her computer screen and said to no one in particular, “The computer messed up,” picked up a phone and walked away from the counter.

On any other day, the 9:00 would have been fine. But this was the first day of a three-day historic preservation seminar I helped Falmouth Heritage Renewal to organize. I couldn’t afford to be late.

I pulled out my phone and punched in Eton’s number.

“Yes, Miss,” he said.

By the time I put my phone back in my bag, the agent returned.

“The Negril driver will take you to Falmouth,” she said.

I was stunned. The least I expected was that they’d give me a complimentary ticket but to take me to Falmouth? Wow, that was going above and beyond.

Before I could cancel my taxi, a tall young man with an engaging smile approached.

“Are you the person going to Falmouth?”

He led the way to his bus, a regular 40- or 50-seater. I couldn’t believe my luck. Actually, this was more than luck. This was a gift straight from the gods. How else to explain a bus that materialized right when I needed it?

I took one of the seats directly behind the driver’s and we pulled out of the station.

The first thing I asked was his name. Andre Johnson. Laughing, he added that both his names are common in Jamaica.

I told Andre my story and thanked him for agreeing to drive me to Falmouth. He said he had just come in from Negril and was about to leave when Keisha, the agent I spoke with, told him what happened. I felt even more grateful. The timing was pure serendipity.

I’ve been taking Knutsford Express to Kingston for at least five years and have always been impressed by their reliable and on-time service, friendly and efficient staff, comfortable and clean buses, even the chilled complimentary bottle of water they provide each passenger.

Now, thanks to Andre and Keisha, Knutsford’s stock has increased several fold in my book.

Andre, a 28 year old (he was impressed when I guess his age correctly) father of an adorable little girl and another child on the way, told me he’s been working with Knutsford Express for about nine months. Prior to joining the Knutsford team, he had also worked as a mechanic for a transport company.

Many of the Knutsford’s drivers, he added, are experienced auto mechanics so they know when something is wrong and can tell the company’s mechanics exactly what and where the problem is. Hearing that made me feel more confident in the company.

As we pulled into Falmouth, I asked Andre if I could take his photo for a post I planned to write about my Knutsford experience. He adjusted his tie and struck a pose.

I was smiling all day as I told almost everyone I met about my experience. Everyone was surprised at my good luck.

The next day, as I waited for my return trip to MoBay, I shared my story with Alexia, the Knutsford Express agent in Falmouth. She didn’t seem surprised by how Keisha had handled the situation, adding, “the error was ours.”

Fantastic, I though, Knutsford’s agents have the latitude to problem solve.

A lot of us, especially those Jamaicans who’ve lived elsewhere, are quick to bemoan the service we receive from many of the island’s companies. I can’t disagree: the majority of employees could use customer service training and be empowered to resolve issues as they arise.

And many local companies need to realize that bad service drives customers away. Clearly, Knutsford Express understands this and provides consistent, first-rate service. (The other company, in my experience, that also gets it is Flow.)

So I’m taking this opportunity to ‘big up’ Knutsford Express, Andre Johnson, Keisha, Alexia and the entire team for the service they provide. They really do take you from city to city in comfort and style.