It’s still April and #NationalPoetryMonth! So for hungry, quarantined readers who are stuck at home sheltering from #COVID19, it’s time to look deeper into your kitchen. That’s where you will find food poems by top African-American and Caribbean writers who can satisfy your cravings. Food is their metaphor and main ingredient. Continue reading “Top 5 Black Poets on Food”→
Back to food is a return to love and family. My parent’s Brooklyn brownstone was on the “over-ground railroad.’ How America’s largest migration happened was “over-ground,” according to The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. Recently I asked my brother if he ever wondered why all of those people lived with us when we were growing up. “I thought it was normal,” he said. Back then, in the 50s and 60s, it was normal for strangers to stay in your home. Racial segregation was lawful. Black folks rarely stayed in hotels or ate in restaurants! We used the Green Book to find safe places when traveling. My paternal grandmother’s Rockaway summer resort ‘The Cherokee,’ was listed in that directory! Click here to see samples.
Ms. Wilkerson’s book helped me realize the moral, historical and political context of my parent’s humble home. Their Southern and island hospitality was about love and caretaking. For years we welcomed many hopeful travelers—from the Deep South, Caribbean, Central America, and Africa. My Guyanese maternal grandfather sponsored several of our foreign student boarders. We even adopted a few white radicals from Ireland! Me, my siblings and parents crowded into rooms on cots and bunk beds to accommodate elders, married couples, artists, maids, porters, nurses, teachers, and assorted extended family—‘cousins of your grandmother’s best friend, and your aunt’s white husband’s cousins from Ireland.”
At The Table: Everything centered at the dining table. Our galley kitchen could feed an army but seated only a few. My Mississippi father was a professional baker. My Trinidadian mother was a serial entrepreneur: SuSu banker, daycare center owner, tailor, and caterer. She also held a day job at a local hospital. Southern and Afro-Asian-Indo Caribbean Diaspora food was our general menu. Besides eating, the dining table was a place for storytelling, activism, celebrations, doing homework, and more. I wish today’s youth could benefit from the daily meals and conversations my generation experienced! The dining table was also where we learned culture and home training–table manners, discipline, proper order, behavior and language.
Cooking Genes: A seat at our table was a boisterous, multi-lingual place where West Indian English, Ebonics, Spanish, Chinese, Patois, and Louisiana Creole were spoken. Jazz, blues, Gospel and classical piano and vocals, Calypso records, folk music, tap dancing, radio shows, and Red Fox comedy albums, were normal sounds at home. Our home was also a rehearsal studio with four pianos, an extension of my paternal grandmother’s Harlem music schools. Those colorful, diverse long-term guests shared food, tall tales, talents, garden tips, health remedies, and a strong work ethic. Food aromas were constant. Everyone seemed born with cooking genes. Callaloo, Curries, Rotis, Buss-Up Shot, Gumbo, Beans and Rice, Potato Salad, Peach Cobbler, and Sweet Potato Pie, were standard fare. Every bowl of food provided a history lesson about slavery, colonialism, migration, and immigration. Each cook owned their unique culinary skills, techniques, and preparation styles. I have eaten many types of fried chicken, gumbo, beans and rice, curries, pies and cakes. ‘Soul’ food deserves more respect in the cuisine world. For a fresh perspective on cooking genes, check my friend’s new book called #TheCookingGene by Michael W. Twitty. Click here for more information.
Cooking Lessons: Sometimes our guests cooked their own tribe foods. But most times my parents, both home chefs, cooked daily meals. My Trinidadian cousin Sandy and I learned to cook by doing. We grated coconuts to make real coconut milk. We made thousands of Jamaican meat and veggie patties! We used upside down teacups as cookie cutters to make the pastry patties that were filled with deliciousness. As a baker’s daughter I grew up playing with dough. I learned to cook Creole Southern and Chinese-Caribbean meals by observing and assisting in the kitchen. We were a loud, crazy-mixed-up family that attracted nosy neighbors. They were happy to receive tasty bribes to go away! But they always came back for more.
Happy Tuesdays: Back to earth! With anxieties about hurricanes and immigrant children getting deported, I need Tuesdays– my new happy day! That’s when my local CSA- Community Supported Agriculture, kicks in (blue tent in photo). For the next 10 weeks, Farmer Pedro & Family @LaBarajaFarm will deliver produce from their land in Goshen, just fifty miles away. A recent delivery included: carrots, beets, red onion, celery, potatoes, corn, kale, tomatoes, lemon grass, and peaches!
To learn more about CSA, click here. Actually, we are taking in too much food for two people. So, my husband and I share with friends and family. In addition, we get more food from my local senior center. They offer veggie bags for $8! Thank you to Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President. To learn more about NYC senior veggie bags, click here.
To see what I’m cooking, check Silvera88, my Instagram page, and SilverGingko, Food is Culture, my Pinterest page. I try to embrace a full food spectrum: food is love, food=culture, food is medicine, food social justice, gardening and sustainable agriculture.
In the Garden: I’m grateful that my tiny garden, assorted containers on the roof, is alive with growth. A surprise bloom, buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies, chirping birds, wild weeds, are simple things that inspire me. Jamaica Kincaid’s book ‘My Garden Book’ is one of my favorite garden books. To check it out, click here.
What are your favorite books about gardens, food, or farms?
For Black History Month this year, I focused on Diaspora Afro-vegan cooking. Since adopting a plant-based diet, I was happy to discover that vegan versions of my favorite West African dishes – Groundnut Stew and Suya— can be delicious and satisfying. These are quick and easy recipes perfect for lunch or dinner. Everything you will need is probably there in your pantry. African staples such as rice, yams, pumpkin, black eye peas, peppers, peanut butter, and ginger are probably in your kitchen too.
Background: Groundnut is a common African word for peanut. Groundnut stew or groundnut chop is one of many chop dishes in West Africa. For instance, there is also palm oil chop, made with palm nuts. While it’s still February and cool outside, this creamy, peppery, nutty veggie stew will surely warm you up!
Suya is a poplar West African shish kebab treat sold by street vendors in many African countries. Traditionally, beef or goat strips are seasoned with spicy, peppery seasonings, threaded on skewers and grilled outdoors. Street vendor chefs in Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroons create their own unique Suya spice mix. The specific peppers, oil, and the way peanuts are prepared is based on regional traditions and techniques.
These basic Diaspora Afro-Vegan recipes are packed with flavor, moderate heat, and have lots of soul. Enjoy!
Diaspora Afro-Vegan Groundnut Stew
(Serves 4-6, prep-10 min.; cook-25 min. Total-35 min.)
2 yams (medium), peeled, cubed
1 Kabocha pumpkin/squash-peeled, cubed
3 small carrots-peeled, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tablespoon, ginger, fresh, peeled, minced
½ cup of grape tomatoes
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, 28 ounce
1-cup vegetable broth
1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper, kept whole.
1-cup black eye peas (frozen)
½ cup peanuts, roasted, unsalted
5-tablespoons peanut butter, creamy, unsweetened
1-teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon paprika
Sea salt, pinch
2 tablespoons canola oil
(Note: Almonds and almond butter can be substituted for peanuts and peanut butter.)
Sauté onion, garlic, ginger, bell pepper in oil for 7 minutes. Add cumin, cayenne, paprika, mix and cook, 1 minute. Add yam, pumpkin, black eye peas, mix and cook 1 minute. Add broth, tomatoes, peanut butter, and peanuts, mix all ingredients together, cover, and bring to boil. Add whole Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper, and cover halfway. Reduce to simmer for 25 minutes. You may substitute other vegetables and beans. For instance, I use this same recipe to cook Caribbean vegetables such as calabaza (Jamaican pumpkin), yautia, batata and pinto beans. Some cooks add collards or other greens. Adjust sauce thickness with extra broth and nut butter. Stir to desired creaminess. Serve in a bowl with brown rice-quinoa blend, other vegetable side dishes.
Diaspora Suya Spice Mix
Ingredients (serves 4-6, prep 5-10 min.)
1 cup peanuts, roast, unsalted
1-tablespoon coriander seeds
1-tablespoon cumin seeds
1-teaspoon whole Allspice berries (also called pimenta)
1-teaspoon chili red pepper flakes
1-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-tablespoon ground ginger
Sea salt, pinch
Preparation: Toss whole seed spices into small skillet, heat on medium until you smell fragrance, about 1-min. Remove from heat. Let cool for a minute. Pour spices into a paper towel, fold to contain all items, pound into a powder with a mug. Bam, bam bam, done! A coffee grinder is very effective too. I separate the nuts from spices. Buzz small batches for 10 seconds. Done. A pestle and mortar is the best way to grind these ingredients. This method takes about 10 minutes. After grinding the nuts, add to ground spice powder. Store mix in glass jar. Total time- 5-10 minutes.
Peel and cut 2 parsnips, 1 yam, 2 large carrots, ½ pumpkin; 10 Brussels sprouts cut in half; 1 bell peppers, 1 onion. Cut all into bite-sized pieces; 3 tablespoons Canola oil.
Preparation: Place bite-sized veggie pieces into large bowl, drizzle oil, hand mix. Add 1-2 tablespoons of Suya spice mix to veggies, mix about 2 minutes. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place seasoned veggies on baking sheet. Roast in pre-heated 350 degrees oven, 30 minutes. You may use any vegetables you like. For kebabs, parboil chunky, starchy veggies. Soak bamboo skewers in water before using. Grill kebabs 30 minutes on hot grill. Serve with rice or as a main course winter salad.
For more Afro-vegan recipes check chef Bryant Terry recipes, click here.
For a Ghanaian vegan Suya kebab recipe, click here.
I was grateful for another Christmas in Puerto Rico. I’m still feeling the holiday spirit! Remember Three Kings Parade at El Museo del Barrio is this week! For more info click here.
It’s still Christmas in many places in the world! How was yours? We celebrated my dear husband’s 84th birthday in Puerto Rico. We were so grateful to be able to mark his double blessings together, especially since he was recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. Christmas on this Caribbean island is said to be more a marathon than a sprint. Our five-day sprint was a joyful ride. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Isla Verde/San Juan. It was a blissful time full of lovely people, memorable moments, delicious food and festive surroundings.
Lovely People: Puerto Ricans know how to show love to Christmas babies! Before checking in, a fun-loving staff greeted us. Carrying tall flutes of champagne splashed with tamarind juice, a jolly chubby fellow called out to us: “Is that you Byron? We have been waiting for you all day! We are your birthday ambassadors!” More jolly fellows joined in to sing a Spanish birthday song—
Feliz cumpleaños a ti
feliz cumpleaños a ti
feliz cumpleaños querido/a Byron)
feliz cumpleaños a ti.
They also sang Jose Feliciano’s ‘Felice Navidad.’
In fact, we were greeted daily with serenades and salutations. This hotel staff went far above the call of duty to make our stay a memorable one. (I had heard from a Housekeeping staffer that Byron was the oldest hotel birthday guest that week!) Anyway, we had such fun that we never ventured off campus to see town sights.
Delicious: We ate all of our meals at the hotel that featured several world-class options. The buffet breakfast at the Mares Restaurant offered a casual abundance of Caribbean and Atlantic fare: Puerto Rico coffee, champagne with guava or papaya, fruits, cereals and breads. Jeremiah, a Trinidad-Boston-London brother, who worked the pans for points, cooked omelets to perfection. Our Christmas breakfast featured a plate decorated with a ‘Happy Birthday’ message.
Dinner Talks: I especially enjoyed conversations about Puerto Rican food and culture with Ocean Bar Grill staffers. We ate dinner there every night except for our last night. I am so thankful to everyone there, especially a lovely person named Ivy, who made the best cup of coffee in the world! She also shared her extensive knowledge about the island’s unique foods and traditions. Another knowledgeable and helpful staffer, Juan Carlos, designed an original birthday card that was signed by lovely co-workers. We were honored to meet chef Ernesto Alvarado, who turned out creative variations on traditional island food themes. I became addicted the yucca biscuits with coconut butter that was served with each meal. The pigeon peas with risotto were an amazing twist on the traditional arroz con gandules infused with sofrito and sazon. The menu there is delicious!
Magic moments: There was a light rain on a hot Christmas morning. Just as the sun returned, Santa Claus greeted us by the pool. Watching the black birds splash in the fountains and an iguana strut by reminded us it’s their planet too. We loved strolling along the seashore and listening to the sound of waves. Gardeners would be happy here too. Small signs identifying plant names were placed all around the lovely grounds.
On our last night we dined at the hotel’s BLT Steak Restaurant. Designed like a French bistro, this eatery operates in several other cities. This restaurant’s staff also presented special birthday greetings and dessert treats. I enjoyed the spiny lobster tail, asparagus and roasted Brussels sprouts cooked with pumpkin and pancetta. Byron’s coconut bread pudding with rum ice cream was amazing.
PR Memories: My most memorable Christmas was spent in Puerto Rica decades ago. So, it was a joy to return. Back in the 70s my girlfriend and I traveled from our San Juan hotel to visit NYC friends whose family lived in the interior mountainous region of Utuardo. Once there, we visited the ancient Taino ballpark. Later, the Diaz family adopted us.
Traditions: Our hosts took us to their church for misas de aguinado, Mass held at dawn, where folk songs called aguinaldos, Puerto Rican Christmas carols, were sung. We were invited to join the parranda, carolers that traveled from house to house. We sang songs and played guitars under the windows of sleeping neighbors until they woke up. From their open windows, happy strangers smiled at us and waved us inside their homes. Such wonderful hospitality was a dream. Once inside, they gave us sips of coquito,(special rum eggnog) and a snack, and on to the next house we went. This pattern continued until we visited every neighbor. I was so drunk that I strayed into the night jungle looking for crickets that I thought were calling me by my nickname: ”Cookie, Cookie!”
Roast Pork Party: I also experienced my first roast pig party in Puerto Rico. It’s an authentic local food tradition that featured music, dancing, eating, and storytelling with the whole community. Slaughtering, prepping and cooking the pig is the centerpiece of the week-long holiday ceremony. Organizing ingredients, materials, and setting up the cooking fire was quite a production. The family that cared for and fattened the pig and the pig’s ancestors was also part of some of the stories recounted. After the fat pig was slaughtered and cleaned by the men, a women’s team took over. I was invited to join them. We prepared and applied a marinade and dry rub. Stalks full of fresh garlic bulbs, bushes of fresh oregano, baskets of local aromatics and sour oranges were among some of the ingredients that I can recall. We made many small slits in the pigskin with sharp knives to insert hundreds of garlic cloves. We slathered and massaged the pig with marinade. Once done, the seasoned pig was set for the night. All the while there was multi-generational merriment including dancing, singing, drinking, eating, and more storytelling. By dawn, the pig was tied to a long rod by a two-man team. They cooked it by turning it over the hot coals all day.
Self-care is warfare. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde’s much loved quote opened discussions on Thick, a documentary about black women, eating, stress, and size by Robin D. Stone, a journalist and health coach. The NYC premiere screening was a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority-NY Alumnae Chapter, Health & Wellness community outreach program. Click here for more on the Delta-NY Alumnae Chapter programs.
Thick is a perfect title for a much needed conversation about being overweight in a stressful world. The recent timing, Tuesday, 11/17/2015 at The New School, was ideal as we get ready for Thanksgiving. Being ‘thick’ in all the right places—butt, legs, breasts— is considered attractive. Therein lies the mixed message. Would you risk your life and health to be sexy? There are many ways to answer this question. According to the Urban Dictionary, a ‘thick’ woman is “sexy, curvy, full-bodied, or big boned.”
‘Thick’ Black women were the stars of Stone’s documentary. Each told personal stories about weight, eating, and stress. One discussed her man’s preference for a ‘woman with some meat on her bones.’ Several recalled stories about ‘thick’ relatives who loved over-feeding them. One Sister listed diseases in her family resulting from obesity—diabetes and stroke. Another Sister recalled an obese friend who recently suffered a heart attack at 30! One young Sister, 19, reflected on her mother’s recent death from diabetes.
We were invited to “listen, witness and reflect.” It was wonderful group therapy in a theater full of multi-generational black women!
“We as black women are not supposed to be here. We were not expected to survive our history,” said Ms. Stone.
During the Q & A session, several shared micro-aggressive comments from family and friends: “Why are you going to the gym? You’re not fat!” “I know you don’t do drugs, so why are you losing weight?” The connection between money and access to healthy food was discussed. Bulimia and extreme weight loss was also part of the conversation. But emotional and mental stress was a major focus.
“As caretakers of the world, it’s time for us to get radical about our self-care,” Stone said.
My Fat Genes: Attending this event made me think about my fat relatives. I witnessed their difficulties. It is war! Like Oprah, they would win and lose their battles against weight gain several times over the years. We continue to cheer for them for being on a healthy journey. Event attendees wondered about what words should we with ourselves and others when the pounds pile back on. Do you say: “Big is beautiful” or “It’s ok to be you!” The current trend for big butts, breasts and implant surgeries was also discussed. One Sister in the film said that her doctor’s advice to get lap band surgery was a wake-up call. A while back I posted My Fat Genes to show the importance of genealogy with tips on how to learn about your family’s health history. What illnesses do you have in your family that are preventable through healthy lifestyle choices?
Audre Lorde’s quote: Self-care is a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual war. The Delta event inspired me re-read Lorde’s writing and the writing of other Black feminists who posted about her work, especially, A Burst of Light. I had forgotten that Lorde’s popular quote was taken from stories written while she struggled to live with breast cancer that had already spread to her liver. Clearly, she was fighting the battle of her life. Lorde fiercely described the challenges, from diagnosis, Western and Eastern medicine practices, doctors, so-called ‘experts,’ natural remedies, treatments, and prognosis. Lorde’s legacy to us then, is to get ready for battle on many fronts and keep fighting to the end. Here’s an excerpt from a commentary about Lord’s ‘warfare’ writing.
“A Burst of Light is an account of how the struggle for survival is a life struggle and a political struggle. Some of us, Audre Lorde notes, were never meant to survive. To have some body, to be a member of some group, can be a death sentence. When you are not supposed to live, as you are, where you are, with whom you are with, then survival is a radical action.”
In conclusion, Thick was a bold reality check for black women’s health. I thank Ms. Stone and the women who participated in this soul-searching documentary for their courage, honesty, and inspiration. I also thank the Deltas for excellent community outreach. I believe that many left the event feeling inspired and motivated to do at least one thing —take a walk, drink more water, or cook organic meals.
As the event closed, we were given three self-care prompts for homework:
What does your body reveal about your life story?
What has your body taught you about life?
What have you had to do to have peace with your body?