Friday, March 25, 2011

6 days to the Big 3-0

As if the Bronx wasn't culturally diverse ( and sometimes shocking) enough, I decided, as a Sophomore in college, to go to Jamaica.

Now, I know what you're thinking-- who cares, a lot of college students go to Jamaica for spring break.

But my trip was vastly different. Instead of staying in a resort in Ochos Rios or Negril, my group stayed in a dorm in Kingston.

This trip was not about lavish beaches, tanning by a pool, or dancing until the early hours in the morning. This trip was about serving others.

Fordham University had a student run group called Global Outreach, whose main purpose was to organize volunteer trips during winter or spring break. I liked the sound of that, and while I wasn't brave enough to apply to the trip in India or Africa, I did muster up the courage to apply to Jamaica.

After a series of interviews, I was chosen to spend two weeks of winter break in Kingston with the eleven other students who made the "team". To prepare for the trip we met once weekly to talk about things we would encounter, to reflect on our week, to pray, and to organize the details. Only one girl had been to Kingston before, and she offered all the advice she could give.
But nothing could really prepare us for what we'd see. Jamaica is a third world country and was, at that time, engulfed in civil unrest. ( In fact, ours was the last trip to Kingston, as the city is too dangerous).

But amidst the crime, the poverty, images of starving children in the streets, and the sweltering heat, was one of the most touching moments of peace and beauty in my life.
We were blessed to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kingston, and just seeing how these sisters devoted their lives helping the poor was overwhelmingly beautiful.

The residents in the Home for the Dying and Destitute were mostly older people, picked up off the streets and brought in the shelter for their dying days. But instead of fear and dismay, the walls were filled with love, laughter, and songs.

In addition to the Missionaries of Charity, we volunteered at a grade school, helping the teachers and principal with the lessons.
To thank us, the teachers threw us a dinner party, full of Jamaican favorites, including Akee and Saltfish, the dish they were raving about for days before the dinner.

As we were getting ready for the dinner, I remember feeling guilty for even having a party. It seemed odd to me to want to party after all we had seen there. When I told this to our group leader she replied, " you need to accept the gifts you're given."
So I did.

ACKEE AND SALTFISH (COD) RECIPE- Photo and recipe taken from here

Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica's national dish. This recipe is Americanized but still delivers great taste.


Serves: 4

1 Can of ackee, drained
1/2 lb boneless salt cod
3 tablespoons oil
2 onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper skin finely chopped up
1 small tomato, chopped
3/4 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 sweet pepper chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Recipe by ©

Soak the salt cod in a pot of water overnight to remove most of the salt. If the cod is still very salty, boil in water for 20 minutes. Drain cod and cut or break into small pieces.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, thyme and scotch bonnet pepper, tomato, tomato paste and green peppers. Stir for a few minutes. Add the cod. Stir. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the can of drained ackee. Do not stir because this will cause the ackees to break up. Cook for a few more minutes then sprinkle with black pepper.

Best served with bammy, roast breadfruit, fried or cooked dumplings, or fried or cooked plantains, cooked yams and Jamaican sweet potatoes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

7 days to the big 3-0

I turn 30 on April 1st- but it's no laughing matter. Even though I've started an official countdown with this post and part of me is looking forward to my thirties, another slightly larger part of me is dreading it.
After giving it much thought, I realized why.
I loved my twenties.
I mean really really loved them.
Obviously there were the big things: graduations, career accomplishments, marriage. And these milestones really made my twenties shine.
But I can sum up the essence of my twenties in one word: travel.

My twenties took me to places I dreamed about ( ahem, Roma) and other places I'd never thought I'd go (Hello Minneapolis) so I've decided to dedicate this countdown to some of the places near and dear to my heart.
Of course, I'll include the food that will always always always take me back to that place:

So we'll start in a place where probably none of you want to go- but that I dreamed of as a teenager: The Bronx

I moved to the Bronx when I was 18 to attend Fordham University, and though I wasn't yet in my twenties, I did start the decade there, so it's only fair to dedicate at least one post to the "Boogie Down".

Unlike other freshman, I was armed with knowledge- my brother Joe went to Fordham four years earlier, and gave me the best brotherly advice possible- "Go to Pizza Mike's".
So while other freshmen sat in the cafeteria on our first night, I led a small group of new friends down Webster Avenue to get what would be the first of many Sicilian slices.

But any Fordham Alum will tell you that most late night- vodka infused debates stemmed from one topic-- who has the best pizza?
While Mike's is a strong contender, Pugsley's usually wins in the end.
A quick Google search confirmed that both are still in business and, as this is a Thursday night, I'm sure some undergrads are frequenting one of the local bars and trying to decide which pizza to consume at 3,4,or 5 am.
Even though I always preferred Mike's thick pizza- which was the main culprit of the notorious freshman fifteen that I packed on ( and didn't lose until my mid twenties)-- Pugsley's stole my heart for an entirely different reason: their chicken rolls.

Picture this folks: a chicken parm wrapped in pizza dough and baked in the oven. Enough said.

And while I don't have a recipe, or a photo, you can use your imagination on this one. If by chance you ever find yourself in the Bronx, you might just want to make your way to Pugsley's for one. Just take the D train to Fordham Road and follow the hoards of students, they'll steer you in the right direction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March is Madness

Hello lovelies!
I signed on this morning and felt the need to apologize for my month long unintentional hiatus. I meant to post more in February- it was actually written in on my planner each week, but like many things that month, I put blogging on the back burner.
So what have I been doing?
Mostly I've been grading and lesson planning- I actually forgot how time consuming teaching can be. Really, hats off to all you veteran teachers out there. I don't know how you do it year after year. It's only been half a semester and I'm ready to throw out my red pen and call it a day.

I've also been obsessively checking email lately ( which also takes time away from grading and, therefor blogging; its a vicious cycle of procrastination). The reason for my new behavior is that I have currently have five agents reading my book, and I'm waiting to hear what they all think. I'm an emotional eater, so, needless to say, I've been doing a lot of mindless snacking. Right now there's a jar of almonds sitting next to me which I keep reaching into.

It's sort of a good thing that I've been snacking lately because I actually haven't been cooking all that much. That's what working 4 nights a week will do to you. But don't worry, next week is spring break and I plan to spend most of it in the kitchen and at this computer.

Until then...