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The Red Telephone Booth

The red telephone booth was ubiquitous in the Jamaica I grew up in. You’d find them outside post offices in districts and towns across the island. There was one outside our post office too. It stood like a sentinel at the intersection of the two main roads that dissected our district, looking square at the Anglican Church on the opposite side. To its right were the parish council office, shops, a movie theater, gas station and the market that was active from Thursday to Saturday and where we Anglicans had our annual Maypole Dance.

The phone in the red telephone booth was our district’s only connection to the world where it had sent scores of its children – to the ‘Big War’ (World War II), to England, Canada, the United States and beyond.

Iconic Red Phone Booths
Red Telephone Booths, near Burlington Gardens, London

When the phone in the red telephone booth rang, anyone nearby would answer, ask the caller to call back at an agreed upon time then rush (or send someone else) to deliver the news to the family. (One of the good things about a small community is that everyone knows everyone.)

To make a call, you gave the operator the number and she (it was mostly young women) would place the call for you and tell you how much to deposit into the coin slot for the first 3 minutes. Public phones took only coins then so you had to have a pocketful in case you exceeded the time. If you were calling a private number, you would tell the operator to ‘reverse the charges,’ that is, have the person on the other end pay for the call.

Because it was illuminated, the red telephone booth attracted moths and young people – and some older folks too. During the rainy season, children (as many as possible) would cram themselves into the booth to wait out the rain. It was near the phone booth that my first boyfriend broke up with me on a Sunday afternoon after church. I was devastated and convinced that my world had ended.

Red telephone booths, London
My cousin in a telephone booth in London. Notice the homeless man?

I never thought much of the red phone booth beyond its use as a means of communication until I saw one in the Cotswolds that had been repurposed as a defibrillator. I wondered what had happened to the booth that had occupied such a prominent spot in our district and our lives.  

A little research on Google revealed that the red telephone booth was the creation of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect who also designed Waterloo Bridge. There were several versions over the years and even the red color, BS381C-B539, was defined. The design, or an adaptation, was exported to the colonies, which is how they got to Jamaica.

Repurposed red telephone booth, The Cotswolds
Repurposed red telephone booth, The Cotswolds

Our telephone booths had 4 large panes of thick, clear glass on each side that were framed by red strips. They were not soundproof so people nearby could hear your conversation if you were a loud talker and during the day, they got quite hot.  

I don’t know when the red telephone booth was removed (it was still there in the 1980s when I took a photo of it), but it sure occupies a special place in my memory.

 

Linking with Travel Photo Thursday and The Weekly Postcard.

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A Hole In My Shoe

Seeing Jamaica on Television

Jamaica had a fantastic few weeks on American television when two reality shows, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Bachelor, filmed some of their episodes there. Although neither show appeals to me, I swallowed my distaste and allowed the storyline to take a backseat to the view unfolding on my television screen. I ended up catching more of The Bachelor than of the Housewives. Here are some of the places they featured (not in oder):

YS Falls, St. Elizabeth

The show centers around a young man who’s trying to find a marriage bride. In the episodes that were filmed in Jamaica, the prospective groom travels with one of the two female finalists to YS Falls. Located on a 2,00-acre spread in southwestern Jamaica, YS Estate and Falls is a former sugarcane and logwood tree (a natural dye) farm and privately owned stud farm. YS has its own waterfall – seven, to be exact – that reach to 120 meters with several natural pools.  

Seeing Jamaica
YS Falls

The area surrounding the falls is lush and green. Visitors can swim, do canopy rides or just relax. There are also activities for children.

YS Falls, Jamaica
YS Falls, Jamaica
#TPThursday: Falling for YS Falls
Falling for YS Falls

Good Hope Great House

I saw only a part of the episode that was shot at Good Hope Great House. When I tuned in, the couple was standing outside the house. Although the grounds are beautiful, I think the interior is even more stunning.

Good Hope Great House
Good Hope Great House
A Photo Review of 2013
Good Hope
Counting House, Good Hope Great House
The Counting House

The Blue Lagoon

When they showed the couple at the Blue Lagoon, also called the Blue Hole, the popular local destination was unusually devoid of people but still recognizable. Located between the parishes of St. Ann and St. Mary, the Blue Lagoon, was not quite ready for international visitors when I visited a few years ago. It’s possible that the show could have rented it for filming. 

Blue Lagoon

It was great to see the Blue Lagoon on television. I was a little sad though as it’s one of those places that, given the choice, I’d keep for local use.

Blue Lagoon,

Do you ever go out of your way to watch a show that featured your country?

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday that Nancie of Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations

 

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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 https://insidejourneys.com/

 

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 https://insidejourneys.com/

 

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A Quick Stop at Columbus Park, St Ann

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

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.
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Coconut Drops

At the end of a birthday dinner a few weeks ago, the servers distributed small parcels containing coconut drops. Since we’d already had dessert, I decided to take mine home but having it in my hand, I couldn’t resist breaking off a piece and slipping it into my mouth. It was so delicious – just the right balance of spices and sugar – that pretty soon, the package was empty and I was feeling a bit guilty for finishing it.

Coconut drops or just plain drops are a traditional snack that’s very popular with young and old Jamaicans. The name comes from the way that drops are made – by dropping a hot mixture of diced coconut, ginger, spices and sugar onto a flat surface, traditionally banana leaf, to cool. Of course, if you don’t have a banana leaf, a greased cookie sheet will do just fine and because you spoon the mixture, you can control the size of each drops.

Since its such a simple recipe, coconut drops is one of the snacks almost everyone knows how to make, and did I say how tasty it is? In the days before packaged snacks, like banana or plantain chips, were what students reach for, it’d be one of the treats vendors always had for sale just outside the school gate.

A few years ago, one of my friends made coconut drops but she used only about half the sugar the recipe called for. Surprisingly, less sugar didn’t compromise the flavor.

Here’s a recipe for Coconut Drops from Enid Donaldson’s The Real Taste of Jamaica.

Coconut Drops
Yields 12


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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups diced coconut
  2. 1 tbsp powered ginger or 1 tsp grated root
  3. 1 tsp vanilla
  4. 1 lb brown sugar
  5. 1 pinch salt
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients adding about ½ to ¾ cup water to cook coconut. Boil about 20-30 minutes. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls onto a greased tin sheet.
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
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Crown and Anchor, Jamaica

I was leaving the Accompong Maroon Festival last year when I saw a man standing proudly before his game board. He seemed to be daring everyone to try their luck. I wasn’t sure which game it was then but the colours caught my eye. I was curious. I also wanted to see how this game was played. I wondered if I could beat the dealer. But I didn’t have time to try, my ride was waiting.

I’ve looked at the photo from time to time, trying to figure out which game it was but always came up blank. It didn’t look like any of the ones I was familiar with. Finally, I asked my neighbor. She emails me back – crown and anchor. Of course!

Dealer
The Dealer

Crown and anchor is a dice game that’s been around since the 18th century. Apparently, it’s quite popular with British sailors who likely brought it to Jamaica though I’m not sure when. I’ve noticed that this and other games of chance are played at festivals and around holidays, like Christmas and New Year.

Crown and anchor is played with three six-sided dice, each having the following symbols – crown, anchor, spade, heart, diamond and club. The board also has the same symbols. A player bets on one or more symbols on the board then throws the three dice. The player wins if the symbol he bets on comes on one or more of the dice.

As with most games of chance, the crown and anchor banker has the edge but I’ll still be on the look out for an opportunity to try my hand. He can’t win all the time.

What game of chance would you play?

 

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to stop by and check out more photos and stories from around the world.

Soursop, The Sweet and Sour Fruit

I blame the names because despite not looking or tasting the same, it took a long time for me stop confusing soursop and sweetsop and I love them both.

While the sweetsop is about the size of an orange, the soursop is large – about 6-10 inches long — and can weigh up to 12 pounds. Both have names that end in ‘sop’ and green skin but that’s where the similarity ends. The soursop has small spikes covering its entire surface and its milky pulp tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana.

A native of the Caribbean, Central and South America where it is known as guanábana, the soursop is packed with several vitamins, including C and B6, thiamine, riboflavin, protein, carbohydrates and trace minerals.

Mixed with condensed milk or freshly squeezed lime juice, the pulp of the fruit can be made into delicious juices. The condensed milk makes it thick, like a smoothie, lime juice gives it a light consistency which is perfect especially on days when the temperature soars to 90 degrees and beyond. (When I’m in New York and get a taste for soursop juice, I mix pineapple juice with condensed milk.) Soursop also makes ice cream, sorbet and smoothies

The leaf, fruit, seeds and stem can be used to heal infections and there’s anecdotal evidence that a tea made from the leaves, stem or bark is an effective cancer fighter. Soursop is also credited with lowering blood pressure.

Soursop doesn’t travel well so the fruit is not usually exported. However, you can find the juice in supermarkets that sell ethnic foods.

Soursop Juice


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Ingredients
  1. 1 large soursop
  2. 1 can condensed milk (or, for a lighter drink, use the juice of 10-12 limes, to taste)
  3. 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  4. 1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
  5. 3 cups of water
  6. ½ cup of ice
Instructions
  1. Wash the fruit to remove dirt or foreign matter. Remove the skin by hand and place the fruit in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add water then squeeze the fruit to remove the seeds.
  3. Pour the fruit and water mixture into a blender with the ice and vanilla. Puree the mixture.
  4. Remove the pureed juice from the blender and sweeten to taste. Pour into a glass then sprinkle grated nutmeg and serve.
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Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Jamaicans love bread, it’s a staple of our diet, and we have several types. Our hardo bread (hard dough) goes with everything from condensed milk to bully beef, and creamy Anchor butter. The soft, buttery coco bread seems even tastier when it’s enveloping a hot and highly spiced patty.

Peg bread does well with a mug of tea; duck bread is a must at Christmas time, and bammy (cassava bread) and gratto bread aren’t complete unless they’re accompanied by fried fish – especially sprat with the gratto.

When my aunt visited us a few Christmases ago, she brought a list of the foods she had to have while she was home. It included otaheiti apples, gratto bread and fried sprat.

Jamaica: Gratto Bread
Freshly baked gratto bread

I hadn’t seen gratto bread in many years and when my aunt mentioned it, I thought immediately of my childhood and my grandmother who would buy gratto from a bread van that passed by her house with breads and other freshly baked goods a few times a week. But I wasn’t sure where I’d find gratto so I checked with my neighbor.

You’ll have to go to a bakery (rather than the supermarket), she said. It took us a few days and a few bakeries before we found one that sold gratto bread. (One of my aunt’s friends brought her otaheiti apples from her garden but we didn’t find sprat until the evening before we drove her to her next destination.)

What’s Gratto Bread?

The word gratto (sometimes gatto), according to the Dictionary of Jamaican English (Cassidy and LePage), is from the French, gateau. I haven’t been able to find out more about the French connection or the origins of this bread, which the dictionary says “is rolled out flat, folded over, then folded again to produce four layers which are then boiled (or usually) baked.” It seems only a few bakeries still make it.

When the gratto finally arrived, it didn’t look familiar and no matter how much I searched my brain, I couldn’t retrieve an image of the one my grandmother used to buy. This was square, the size and shape of a small sheet cake. There were holes on the edges and in the center, likely to vent it while it baked.

It didn’t look familiar to my aunt either. The gratto bread she remembers had a cornmeal filling. Goes to show that even on an island the size of Jamaica, foods can vary between regions. Despite not recognizing the gratto bread, my aunt was so excited to try it, I barely had time to take a photo before she cut a piece off.

It tasted slightly sweet but the texture was similar to the dense, hardo bread that we normally eat. Although it didn’t have the cornmeal filling that she remembered and she didn’t fried sprat to go with it, my aunt enjoyed her gratto bread and I felt very happy that she was able to cross that off her list.

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