Piques and Valleys

October 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last month I had the opportunity to go to Haiti. It was exotic, dangerous, a land of contrasts and contradictions: incredible wealth, heartbreaking poverty, dysfunctional bureaucracy, political corruption, fantastic food, searing heat, talented and impressive artists and craftspeople, terrible roads (with nail biting traffic), fabulous rum, crumbling infrastructure, old Creole culture and… everybody loves to dance! Just like New Orleans (except for the rum part, New Orleans makes crappy rum).

Three years is not a long time for such a poor nation to recover from a devastating earthquake. It’s not for lack of trying. There are signs of recovery despite all the obstacles (kinda like New Orleans after the flood).

The food in Haiti is way better than anywhere, even New Orleans. I realize I will get pushback from that statement, but I stand by it. I am now determined to add Haitian cuisine to my already fine repertoire of deliciousness. Here’s the first wonderful dish that greeted me on my arrival:

Lunch Is Served

Lunch Is Served!

I think this was called “bouillon”, it was a soup/stew made with chicken and unusual tubers and things that only grow in Haiti. It was delicious. Haiti grows all kinds of things I’ve never tasted, or even heard of!

Soup Joumou

Soup Joumou

The traditional Sunday breakfast is soup Joumou, made with a type of pumpkin or squash. It is served on New Year’s Day to celebrate Haiti’s liberation from France. This soup was forbidden for slaves to eat (even though they were the ones who prepared it). Now it represents Haiti’s independence and it too is delicious. This is a shot of what I had on my Sunday morning (We dug in before I took the photo, I have no control).

Haitians make a “black” rice dish with a mushroom called “djon djon” which only grows there. I brought a couple of packages home to see if I can make some for my ball&chain. They like to season their bean dishes with cloves and other spices, and there’s a condiment called “pikliz” which is a like a very spicy coleslaw and is served with fried stuff. Like plantains or Griot which is an outstanding fried pork dish.

Here’s a shot of the one I made when I got home:

Pikliz

Pikliz

It went great with my first attempt at Poulet Creole!

One of my favorite things was a dip called “Chiktay”. The one I had was made with smoked herring; blended with a mix of peppers and spices. I ate it before I thought of taking a picture. Sorry.

Here’s a fun aside:

Haiti's Forer Chief of Police

Haiti’s Former Chief of Police

This has got to be THE most interesting former Chief of Police in the world. Now a fashion designer. Check out the stylin’ outfit.

Colorful Houses in Port au Prince

Colorful Houses in Port au Prince

The word “Haiti” means “land of mountains” and they aren’t kidding. The whole place is just one big hill after another. This is why (I decided) there are no fat people in Haiti.

View From Kenscoff - An Upscale Suburb of Port au Prince

View From Kenscoff – An Upscale Suburb of Port au Prince

One day we took a ride out to Jacmel, a gorgeous old town with a stunning coast.

Coastline At Jacmel

Coastline At Jacmel

Parts of old city were damaged in the earthquake too, but Jacmel is being rebuilt, along with a new boardwalk – an attempt to regain tourism. The cruise ships have stopped coming, and the locals are definitely feeling the pinch. Check out this extraordinary mosaic that guides you to the shore:

Part of the Mosaic Wall In Jacmel

Part of the Mosaic Wall In Jacmel

Unfortunately, the people who have the most, often do the least. This is one of the oldest houses in Jacmel, owned by the wealthiest family there. Note the lethargic upkeep. So like New Orleans. Sigh.

Historic Neglected Home In Jacmel

Historic Neglected Home In Jacmel

They also own this one across the street. It’s shameful. Just saying.

Neglected Historic Home 2

Neglected Historic Home 2

On a positive note, this is one of several art/craft shops with colorful wares spilling onto the streets of Jacmel, note the protective overseer!

Crafts in Jacmel

Crafts in Jacmel

The spirit of the people of Haiti is astounding and inspiring. Given what they’ve been through they are striving to make the best of it. Many Haitian/Americans have come back to their roots to help in the rebuilding process. I applaud their efforts.

Haiti's Future

Haiti’s Future

One of the most important resources for the future of Haiti is the children. If you would like to help, you can “like” this page: https://www.facebook.com/StickingUpForHaitianChildren and maybe even purchase a pair of hand painted drumsticks. The $$ will go to an orphanage and school (that I had the privilege of visiting – I am still tingling from all the hugging and kissing that swarmed around me by itty bitty humans!) There is so much to do, and every little bit helps. While you’re at it (shameless plug) you can stop by and “like” MY page too: https://www.facebook.com/LedaJewelCo

I realize this is a jewelry blog, and I’ve gone off topic. However, I have always been drawn to the Haitian culture without even trying (see last year’s post “That Old Black Magic” April 2012). To end this post, I will present an encore edition (with better photos!) of some of my Wanga pieces. (Wanga is a magical charm, or spell, taken from Haitian Creole). With links to the shop – of course.

Wanga Earrings: Orthoceras Yellow Sapphires & Lemon Quartz

Wanga Earrings: Orthoceras Yellow Sapphires & Lemon Quartz

Wanga Necklace Pendant: Orthoceras Yellow Sapphire Aquamarines & Citrine

Wanga Necklace Pendant: Orthoceras Yellow Sapphire Aquamarines & Citrine

Wanga Earrings: Ammonites Sunstones Oregon Sunstone Briolettes

Wanga Earrings: Ammonites Sunstones Oregon Sunstone Briolettes

Wanga Necklace: Ammonite Oregon Sunstone & Oregon Sunstone Briolettes Sunstone Beads

Wanga Necklace: Ammonite Oregon Sunstone & Oregon Sunstone Briolettes  with Sunstone Beads

Wanga Necklace: Ammonite Rubelite with Pink Tourmaline & Spessartite (Orange Garnet) Briolettes

Wanga Necklace: Ammonite Rubelite with Pink Tourmaline & Spessartite (Orange Garnet) Briolettes

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Road Trip/Seeking Weird

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am a food “elitist”. At least that’s what my dean at culinary school called me. I guess it’s true. When I’m on a road trip (like last week, we made a trip to do a show in Austin) I generally shun fast food stops. Often I’ll bring my own fine sandwich or a tupperware container filled with something tasty. This time, since we were going through Lafayette (recently voted best food town in the US), we stopped for lunch. No, not at Prejeans (more on that later), but at a really really great (but not so well known) spot I’d eaten at a couple of years ago. No website, no advertising, no frills. Just really great food. The Creole Lunch House is a little off the beaten track, and looks just like any other house in the neighborhood. It’s in a black neighborhood, but the lunch crowd is both black and white. I love it when good food breaks stupid boundaries. Miss Merline’s claim to fame is “stuffed bread”. Stuffed with meat, sausage, cheese and “just enough” jalapeno spice. It’s so popular, they have a drive through window just for the bread. (Louisiana is famous for their drive through Daiquiri windows too, but we didn’t stop at any of those). There’s a steam table, cafeteria style, offering red beans & rice, baked stuffed chicken, BBQ ribs, mustard greens and a few other items. All beautifully seasoned and delicious. Lunch will set you back less than 10 bucks.

Steam table options at The Creole Lunch House.

Miss Merline serving customers.

Stuffed bread waiting under heat lamps.

 

I know this is supposed to be a jewelry blog, but this week was spent doing everything else but making jewelry, and I would like to present myself as a curious, well rounded human being.

But what the hell. Here’s a personal favorite from my new “Wanga” line:

Wanga Necklace with Orthoceras fossil, Morganite, Oregon Sunstone and Labradorite.

 

Wanga means “magical charm” or spell in Haitian Creole. There is a huge Morganite, which is a powerful stone for divine love, an Oregon sunstone set in 18K gold which represents protection, healing and success, Labradorite briolettes and beads on the chain which bring power, helps intuition and seeing through illusions. Plus the orthoceras of course. A fossil, that I like to think of as a representation of our ancestors.

The show was actually in suburban Austin. No weirdness here. It was held in a  brand new, manufactured neighborhood filled with restaurants and boutiques. All upscale well known chains. Neat, clean and perfect. If you like that kind of thing. I like things a little more messed up and tilted. I would have enjoyed doing the show a little more, if a few more people than my three friends knew about it. Here’s a shot of two of them with my husband:

Ball & chain with Steven and Linda.

But the weather was perfect, and there were some wonderful artists, and we made some new friends. Plus I have to share this photograph of Sue. She was one of the organizers of the show, and bought a pair of my earrings and a pendant just to match her blouse. Thanks Sue!

Sue the co-ordinator.

 

The food in the neighborhood was “meh”. Except for the pizza at North. It was the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. There is no good (never mind “great”) pizza in New Orleans, I don’t care what anyone says. I lived in Toronto for 18 years, I have had great pizza – there is no great pizza or Italian food in New Orleans. Period. End of story.

On our last night we went downtown (hoping for some of that weirdness they’re trying to keep) and met up with our friends Linda & Steven for fancy shmancy cocktails (I ordered a Mustache Gun: Bulleit bourbon, yellow chartreuse, sugar & Fernet Branca) and dinner at a place call “Peche”. Nothing to complain about, it was all good. But nothing to swoon over like Miss Merline’s cooking. Dinner/drinks will set you back way more than 10 bucks.

The next morning, I said to my husband “I want some real authentic Austin food! We need to at least have a breakfast taco before we go”. This is where I love google and yelp. I lucked out. If you are ever in Austin you must go to Mi Madre’s. Must.

Mi Madre's.

I had a breakfast taco called “Barbacoa with pico de gallo”. It was made with beef cheeks and served with a fantastic salsa. It was the best thing I think I’ve ever eaten. Swoon. Plus we had a wonderful waitress, Emily, who was very helpful in menu navigation.

OK, so on the way back we end up at Prejeans. I need to explain: My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Lafayette, and had lunch at Prejeans the next day before we left (this is 6½ years ago, right after the flood and I wasn’t thinking clearly). It was mostly for romantic nostalgia, plus they do make a terrific smoked duck gumbo.

For those who don’t know: Prejeans is perhaps Lafayettes most famous restaurant. It serves busloads of tourists everyday. They have a great menu. Too bad they can’t execute it. All my seafood was overcooked. I know, I know, I could have sent it back, but the wait for the food was already soooo long, and we wanted to go home – we still had a couple of hours of driving to do. Dinner for 2 = $80.

Here’s a shot of a typical table of 30 something people (they do this all day long). We did buy a quart of smoked duck gumbo to go.

Tables filled with tourists at Prejeans.

Back in New Orleans, I get to cook my own food again. Shrimp & okra were first on the list. I’m almost a Southerner now.

 

 

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