The Language of Food (plus a giveaway)

I think James Beard put it best when he said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” In my travels across the globe there has been but one constant – food is the key to understanding.

Recipes are historical notations to the lives we live, a connection to those that came before us. A meal prepared and shared with others ensures that a piece of our story is passed on. On my recent trip to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board, I had the privilege to share a meal with Robin Lim Lumsden, author of “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining.”

Belcour: Jamican, French and Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining The title itself hints at what an amazing story Robin tells with food. Jamaican of Scottish, Chinese, French and English descent, who also spent time living in Chicago, Robin herself is the proverbial melting pot. Alongside beautifully photographed dishes in the book, you’ll also find family photographs going back generations. Some tell the story of her family’s contribution to the founding of Jamaica’s iconic Red Stripe brewery, others chronicle the journey that brought her to Belcour and it’s own transformation from estate to an organic farm that produces many of the ingredients found in Belcour Preserves.Yogurt and Stewed GuavaOver a dish of fresh yogurt topped stewed guava, I began to develop a bit of a girl-crush on Robin. She has all the swagger of Bourdain, the approachability of Nigella, and subscribes to a Hemingway-esque philosophy that any meal is made better with a tot of scotch – for the cook!

In every dish she made for us there were tales of love, notes of bittersweet memory, a salting of pride and joy, all with healthy sprinkling of laughter. With each bite, Belcour became a part of me. Leaving, even after having only been there for a few hours, was difficult. I know I will go back.

Lilly Pond at Belcour LodgeFor the time being, I visit Belcour by making some of the dishes in her cookbook. My family has a tradition of sharing Sunday brunch, most often at home. Honestly this is mostly so I can only cook once on Sundays! When I got back from Jamaica it seemed only fitting to make a Robin-inspired meal.

Ackee and Saltfish auicheThe book has an entire section dedicated to brunch!

My sister-in-spice, Julie Cohn from “A Little Bite of Life” and I want you to cook up a story or two (okay, all the stories) from Robin’s book. Below you can enter to win a copy of the award-winning, stunning, one-of-a-kind… “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining” And just in time for holiday entertaining season!

Be sure to visit A Little Bite of Life for extra entries AND my twist on Robin’s Crab Cakes with Mango. Yum!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board for a culinary trip around the island. All opinions are my own, I was not compensated for this post. I purchased the prize(s) myself, because I truly want to share them with you!  

Voluntourism in Jamaica

Inspired Travel: ‘Voluntourism’ in Jamaica

Jake's Treasure Beach Jamaica

Radiant white sand beaches, crystal, limpid waters that allow glimpses of flamboyantly-hued fish without the need to even get your hair wet…is it any wonder that millions of travelers flock to the Caribbean each year?  Umbrella bedecked tropical drinks beckon, and the Islands offer a perfect setting for relaxation and recreation.  But, for those who want a more involved vacation, a new type of  “All Inclusive” is taking hold, melding tourism and volunteering  – Voluntourism.

On a recent trip to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board, I was afforded the opportunity to explore the island beyond those stunning shores. The result was – to me – a deeper, richer, more inspired travel experience that sent me home with a warm feeling that had little to do with the copious amounts of rum that filled my checked baggage.

The Blue Mountains of Jamaica as seen from Strawberry Hill Resort
The Blue Mountains of Jamaica as seen from Strawberry Hill Resort

The Blue Mountains

Climbing the winding road up into the mist covered Blue Mountains is a surreal experience.  Here it is most obvious how Jamaica (Xaymaca) earned it’s moniker – The Land of Wood and Water. Lush forests bursting with vibrant flowers give way to rain-swollen streams that glisten in swaths of brilliant sunshine. The road itself is dotted with countless vendors, offering everything from peanuts to Red Stripe.

Did I mention the goats yet? Goats are everywhere. They rule the road with little concern for passing traffic.  In fact, I’d swear that more than one of them had a few choice words for our little expedition as we impeded upon their leisurely stroll down the center-line.

Overlooking the valley, with a view that stretches all the way to Kingston and the bay, sits a Georgian estate house built in 1805. Decorated with period pieces and bursting with historical artifacts, the house sits at the head of the Craighton Estate Coffee Trail. Along the twisting paths that lead to the gazebo overlook of this 400,000 acre coffee plantation, you can witness first hand the budding sustainability movement in Jamaica. 

An active member of the Certified Rainforest Alliance, Craighton Estate produces non-GMO coffee employing social and environmental sustainability best-practices. The result? A world-class product that is rich, smooth and has zero acidic aftertaste. Seriously, I didn’t even put sugar in mine and it was bliss. 

The life cycle of a Craighton Estate Coffee Bean
The life cycle of a Craighton Estate Coffee Bean

Along with the best coffee I’ve ever had (and I’m addicted a connoisseur)  Craighton also boasts a man beyond match, Alton Bedward…whom I’ve deemed, “The Most Interesting Man In Coffee.” Not only is he passionate about his fellow Jamaicans owning and bettering this already nearly-perfect product, he knows more about the global cultural and historical impact of coffee than I’d venture anyone alive today.

For example, before Alton I had no idea that marriage matches in Turkish culture are often effected by the prospective bride’s ability to impress her future in-laws with her coffee making skills. A visit to Craighton should be on the list of all who travel to discover.

Treasure Beach

On the undeveloped South Coast of Jamaica sits the aptly named Treasure Beach. Here farming and fishing remain a way of life, as they’ve done for generations.  In many ways this seemed to me to be  the heart of Jamaica. Perhaps this is because I was raised in a rural farming community where cattle roamed – though not nearly as freely the goats do here – even more bold than in the mountains.

The area emits a provincial warmth that permeates every corner. Friendly locals and expats gather at the diner and sit in the open-air upon makeshift picnic tables, enjoying Blue Mountain coffee from a mismatched collection of mugs that accompany the amazing breakfast and ardent Sunday Football discussions.  A proud farmer walked us through his fields, beaming as he displayed the beet crop  he’d pulled fresh from the ground for our inspection.  Yes, in a land of dazzling beauty, Treasure Beach is a gem. 

Surrounded by the same beaches and waters that draw so many to the resorts down the coastline, Treasure Beach has much to offer. Among those offerings is the opportunity to ensconce yourself within the community through many voluntourism activities. Such as those provided by Breds – The Treasure Beach Foundation.

Jason a Generational Farmer in Jamaica
Jason – a generational farmer in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica – shares his story and freshly harvested beets.

Breds was established by local hotelier Jason Henzell and Peace Corps volunteer Aaron Laufer in 1998.  Their focus is on fostering community empowerment through programs designed to enhance the education, vocational training, recreation, and livelihoods of the Treasure Beach community, while also ensuring the sustainability of the environment that nurtures it.

Breds also provides a mutually beneficial connection between the tourism sector and the community. They offer many avenues for visitors to explore, gain understanding and contribute – all while having a great time! 

Fishing in Jamaica

Resources for Planning Your Voluntourism Visit to Jamaica

Youth and Environment: Breds Foundation. They can help arrange your visit and tailor activities that fit your skills.

Health: Issa Trust Fund. The mission of the Foundation is to provide a system of prevention, health promotion and education, community health improvement and other services to promote well-being and development for the people of Jamaica.  As the mother of a child who suffers from asthma, their recent inhaler campaign was near and dear to our family. 

Environment and Education: The Sandals Foundation

The very best resource in planning your trip is the Jamaican Tourism Board (JTB) itself. They have a unique program called, “Meet The People” which offers visitors a chance to explore beyond the resort and experience the Jamaican way of life.  The program is available at no cost to individuals and families. Whether you want to bump up your dance moves by learning to dance to a reggae beat, delve into the Jamaican art scene with a local artist, learn from Rastafarians the story that led to the rise of this religious form, or master the art of making traditional Jamaican dishes, the JTB staff is there to guide you.

In fact, they set me up with an amazing local chef and cookbook author and I can’t wait to share the tastes and history I learned with you! Post and GIVEAWAY coming soon!

On Veterans Day

Susie Sailor girl.. age 19
Susie Sailor girl.. age 19

A rare and welcome cool breeze wafted through the gray cinder-block corridor, carrying on it the faint, distant notes of a nameless, yet familiar holiday tune. The sun had yet to rise which may have contributed to the vague notion that December – at least for the moment – had arrived in Florida.

I was nineteen, an entire coast away from everything I knew to this point in life, and homesick. Basic training was in full swing and it had barely paused to acknowledge the holidays.

That winter the meaning of Veteran’s Day began to transform for me. I’d yet to understand how much my life would change, that soon our Company Commander would arrive with a team of MPs to remove the drill weapons that stood silent century in the center of birth we’d come to call home. That war would be declared in Iraq, or that 25 years later the same surreal mixture of pride and fear that my own mother must have felt would be visited upon me. 

I’ve often written about what my time in the Navy meant to me, the honor of serving alongside so many selfless, heroic, determined brethren.   Many times I’ve climbed upon my infamous soapbox in support of those who came before me, and those who continue to take up the gauntlet of service.  Today though, Veteran’s Day comes to me with new meaning.

It was another December day, oddly enough the same, rare cool breeze wafted off the San Diego bay. This time it carried on it the equally familiar hymn of Marine Corps. In a sea of hundreds of young Marines, all dressed alike,  all standing at rigid attention, I easily found my son.

He is mine.

That day a pride like I’d never known filled me, bringing along with it an ever-present undercurrent of fear. He will serve, no matter where or when. Those who hold his fate in their hands can never know how important, amazing… irreplaceable, he is. 

He’d volunteered for this.  Worked for it. Earned it. 

That will forever bond us to each other in the same fashion that the invisible umbilical chord always will.  We have served. Willingly, with pride.

When you stop to thank a Veteran today, keep in your thoughts those that love them, for they serve as well. 2013-12-05 12.32.07

it doesn’t have to be October

Here in Maryland the fiery glow of early fall is giving way to tobacco hued piles of fallen leaves. The color of autumn is starting to fade. Soon the pink of Breast Cancer Awareness month will start to pass into memory as well. 

There will be fewer pink-clad products on the shelves at stores and NFL teams will take back their home colors. Profiles of courageous warriors will get less airtime, the media move on to the next month’s story.  Breast cancer won’t be going anywhere though. It will still be stalking millions.  It doesn’t limit itself to October and neither should you.

Sharing my story, and Tami Scovitch’s, earlier this month was just the start of the journey. There are still many paths to be taken.

Unless you’ve been off the planet all October long, you’re pretty aware at this point that breast cancer is out there. The challenge now is to stay aware, keep ourselves educated, follow early detection recommendationsand fight for a cure!

I asked the folks at Saint Agnes Breast Center to give me some information to share that help us all take the awareness October has brought and turn it into action. Here is what they shared…

(click the image to enlarge the font)

Saint Agnes Facts

 Remember, it doesn’t have to be October for you to take care of yourself and those you love.

I have four kids and an opinion.