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Pepper Shrimp – The Taste of Middle Quarters in Hackensack NJ

Pepper Shrimp - The Taste of Middle Quarters in Hackensack NJ

I’ve been eating pepper shrimps (or ‘swimps,’ as some of us call it), since I was in high school and I can still remember my first time (it’s the same every time).

Biting into one of these Scotch-bonnet-infused on-the-go morsels, my tongue is instantly in flames, my eyes watering, heat passing from my throat and warming my stomach.

I involuntarily pull in air, slapping my tongue against my lips and the roof of my mouth, to try to cool it. That doesn’t work; nothing does. Now, even my lips are on fire.

I take a few seconds then, my mouth still reeling, I bite into another shrimp – head and all – continue the delicious torture, which, by now, is causing my nose to run.

Pepper Shrimps, crawfish really, typically come from the Black River, the longest in parish of St. Elizabeth, one of the longest in the island.

The shrimps are cooked in a mixture of Scotch bonnet and spices and sold in little paper or plastic bags of about 6 or so by roadside vendors in Middle Quarters, Jamaica’s “Shrimp Country.”

The shrimps are small, no more than an inch or an inch and half so we eat head and all. Some people peel them skin off, other people (I’m one) don’t.

Most visitors to Jamaica stay on the northwest for the spectacular beaches. But those who make it to the south coast usually discover an entirely different side the island, one that is rustic as well as charming.

Here, small cook shops abound and vendors sell typical Jamaican fare, using fresh ingredients grown locally in St. Elizabeth, the island’s “Bread Basket.”

On my way to visit a friend in New Jersey few weeks ago, I stopped at Mac West Indian Restaurant in Hackensack to get some escoveitch fish. While waiting, I noticed they had peppered shrimps and asked the server to add a couple packets to my bill.

I was surprised to see pepper shrimp on the menu at any of the restaurants I frequent. Seeing them brought back memories of some pepper shrimps I bought in the Bronx in the 80s.

I remember Michael driving us back to Manhattan where we were staying and the two of us eating shrimp after shrimp, our mouths ablaze because Ting, the carbonated grapefruit soft drink that someone at the restaurant had recommended, didn’t calm the fire in our mouths. (Apparently, milk is better but I hate milk.)

Michael was swearing like a sailor while I laughed and called him a wimp for not being able to handle “a little pepper.” I still smile at the memory.

Though they weren’t crawfish, the pepper shrimp I bought in Hackensack took me back to Middle Quarters. I could almost feel the sun on my face as I bit into my first one.

Pepper Shrimp
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Ingredients
  1. 4 cups water
  2. 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  3. 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  4. 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  5. 3 fresh Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, halved and seeded
  6. 2 tablespoons salt
  7. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  8. 10 whole allspice
  9. 1 lb large shrimp
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a 4-quart heavy pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
  2. Stir in shrimp, making sure they are just covered by liquid, and remove pot from heat. Cool shrimp in liquid to room temperature, uncovered, about 1 hour. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl and drizzle some of cooking liquid on top.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/

Jamaican Coco Bread

Jamaican Coco Bread

It’s been years since I ate a coco bread, that soft, sweet, usually warm, folded-over bread that is the perfect folder for the flaky, spicy and usually hot, patty.

Perhaps it might seem redundant to marry a patty, a meat pie, with a puffy, buttery coco bread (one inventive student at my high school called the combination a coco-pat) but it works, somehow.

It’s like biting through layers of dough and finding a sweet spot — the spicy meat filling — the coco bread absorbing the heat that builds in the patties as they bake and tempering its spiciness.

The coco bread and patty combo is a filling, inexpensive on-the-go meal that is popular with everyone, from students to working people.

And because of its price, ubiquitous in Jamaica. Every fast food outlet and food shop sells it. The same is true here in the New York area. In fact, it is even sold online at amazon.com. Despite its popularity, no one I asked could explain why it’s called a coco bread since it’s not made from coconut or cocoa.

But coco bread shouldn’t be confined only to a meat filling. It’s delicious with cheese and, I would add, stews, even soup. And with its buttery flavor, it can even be eaten as is.

Yesterday, the distinctive fresh-baked smell of the coco bread tickled my nose and brought back such delightful memories, I stopped and bought one on the way to work. With a cold blast of winter air here in New York yesterday, instead of a patty, it made me feel for soup. Biting into its warm deliciousness took me momentarily back to the sun.

Jamaican Coco Bread
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Ingredients
  1. 2 packages yeast
  2. 1 teaspoon sugar
  3. 1/4 cup warm water
  4. 3/4 cup warm milk
  5. 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  6. 1 egg, lightly beaten
  7. 3 cups flour
  8. 1/2 cup butter melted
Instructions
  1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in water then stir in milk, salt and egg.
  2. Add 1/2 of the flour and stir, continue to add flour until you have a dough that can be turned out of the bowl.
  3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until smooth but firm.
  4. Oil a clean bowl and turn the dough in it until coated.
  5. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise for 1 hour
  6. Cut into 10 portions and roll each piece into a 6-inch diameter circle.
  7. Brush with melted butter then fold in half.
  8. Brush with more butter and fold in half again.
  9. Set breads on a oiled baking sheet and let them rise until they double in size.
  10. Preheat oven to 425 F set a pan of hot water on the lowest oven rack.
  11. Bake for about 12- 15 minutes or until golden brown (on upper rack, set to middle).
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/

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A Quick Stop at Columbus Park, St Ann

Columbus Park

According to the history books, Columbus landed in Discovery Bay, St. Ann in 1494. Later, we learned that it wasn’t Discovery Bay but a spot a mile west, at an area known as Columbus Park, now an open-air museum located just off the north coast highway and overlooking the beautiful, expansive bay.

You’ll find several interesting artifacts including a bell from the last steam locomotive used by the Jamaica Railway Corporation, a replica of a Taino canoe, a section of an aqueduct, and a waterwheel.

Columbus Park

Aqueduct at Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park – Planet locomotive

A Quick Stop at Columbus Park

Mural of Christopher Columbus

A Quick Stop at Columbus Park

View of Discovery Bay from Columbus Park

Though you can see a little of the park from the highway, I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by it without stopping. Usually, I’d be on my way to some other destination and don’t have time. But in June, I decided it was time.

I was quite surprised to see the park and the number of artifacts there. In speaking with a few locals they said there were plans to turn the park into a heritage site. It seems this plan has been in the works for some time, however I haven’t been able to find out what exactly is planned and when work will begin. Still, it is an interesting display. I doubt there is another similar site on the island.

In addition to Columbus Park, St. Ann can claim a strong connection to the Italian explorer. He spent a year in the parish in 1503 after a ship wreck. It was during this time that the first Spanish settlement, Sevilla la Nueva, was established. Near Seville, as it is now known, is the only statue of Columbus on the island.

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Following Emancipation, the colonial authorities in Jamaica looked as far as China and India for workers to replace the formerly enslaved Africans.

Between 1845 and 1917, nearly 40,000 Indians arrived in the island looking for a better life. More than a third were forced to stay after their period of indentureship as they couldn’t afford to pay their way back and the government thought it wasn’t cost effective to repatriate them.

The Indians brought not only their talent and skills, they brought their food and spices, specifically mango, tamarind, jackfruit and several plants. They also gave us curry.

Another of the culinary gifts the Indians gave Jamaica is chutney, mango chutney to be specific. Chutney, a condiment, can be either wet or dry and can contain a combination of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

It’s been several years since I’ve had the kind of mango chutney we make in Jamaica and hadn’t thought about for almost as long. Then a couple of months ago, I got an unexpected treat when I attended a celebration for a longtime family friend.

They served the typical Jamaican fare – mannish water soup, curried goat, escoveitch fish, jerk chicken, rice and peas, etc., and at each table mango chutney along with salt, black and chopped Scotch bonnet peppers.

Having not seen mango chutney for so long, I wasn’t sure at first what it was. But an older cousin, who sat at our table tasted it, a smile slowly brightened his face. This tastes exactly like what my grandmother used to make, he said.

The mango chutney was equal parts sweet (from the raisins and mango), tangy (ginger and vinegar) and hot (Scotch bonnet pepper). When I added it to the curried goat, the flavors danced in my mouth.

When we were ready to leave, I noticed one of the servers packing up left over mango chutney, coconut drops, and suckling pig. I wasn’t shy about asking if I could take some of the mango chutney home.

In talking with her, I found out that her mother had made the chutney. Her mom, she said, had learned the skill from her mother. She introduced me to her mother and I thanked her for the chutney. I had it with crackers, chicken, even fish. I wished I had some now.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney
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Ingredients
  1. 6 lb. mangoes
  2. 1 1/2 bottles cane vinegar or white wine vinegar
  3. 2 pounds sugar
  4. 1 ounce Scotch bonnet peppers, minced
  5. 4 ounce ginger, diced
  6. 1 lb. dark raisins
  7. 1 lb. golden raisins
  8. 4 cloves garlic
Instructions
  1. Combine cut up mango, raisins and peppers, add to vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, onions and other seasonings. Boil all ingredients together gently until chutney is thick and brown.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  -

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