A Caribbean Thanksgiving

No, I am not trying to tell you the American Holidays are the same in the Caribbean but, everyone has a different spirit at this time of the year.

While I am hopeful of a great holiday yet it is different here.

A scene replicated across the Caribbean

People have a different view of holiday’s when it is 82 and sunny everyday of the winter.  Living in the Caribbean is different for all these reasons and more.

Everyone here knows one another. Many on these islands are generational friends. Their mothers and fathers knew each other as well as their father’s father did. They have a common life histories. Islanders have common heritages. As an American you feel somewhat un-attached and singled out as a misfit.

I didn’t think it would be noticed by my family yet my daughter always felt out of place no matter the friendly smiles and kind words from locals. My family and I did the Holidays without a meaningful island connection. Everything seemed a little restricted to local “traditional” gatherings. Again their common heritage was mistaken by us as not fitting in. We couldn’t fit in and never fit in. We didn’t share their common island ancestry or mystique.

So we have a holiday unto ourselves, and many others were to come.

Thanksgiving was a solace type event in home that year. The daughter complain about note having any TV or electricity throughout the day, Mom had a hard time cooking our replica large chicken in place of the 20 pound turkey that usually garnishes our table. The days of huge holiday parties with neighbors, friends and family were behind us about 1800 miles away.  So the day was spent trans-versing the mountain roads to the closest beach to watch the northern winds life the surf to pound the rocky shoreline.

The Thanksgiving holiday made way for local shoppe keepers to decorate for the upcoming Christmas holiday. Although this is a Caribbean island, the people here celebrate just as much as any American city.  We found that even the weather didn’t affect the good feeling all around the island nation. The Caribbean has it’s own unique way to celebrate the holidays. They always incorporate celebrations with food and close family ties. We did as well. It wasn’t the Thanksgiving we were use to, huddling around a fireplace or the TV set watching the NFL  but, the beach setting that we were huddled up on was just as satisfying for our family.

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Chef Michael Bennett

Chef Michael Bennett’s Cookbook, “In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks” is available at: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/In-The-Land-Of-Misfits-Pirates-And-Cooks/Michael-Bennett/e/9780615297781/?itm=1&usri=in+the+land+of+misfits++pirates+and+cooks

http://www.blogcatalog.com/blog/south-florida-food-and-wine/d72f28dd354cba3236d58005568819a1

Working in the Caribbean…

My dreams were realized.

I was finally in the Caribbean working in the place where I thought I belonged. It was rough at first being there without the family and the government making it even harder to bring them here.

In the British Caribbean, working isn’t a problem as long as you can grease the palm of the local municipalities. They do make it hard to bring your family in, because they can’t charge (tax) you for this right.

Although I was in the governmental offices three times a week, up to three hours a day, I waited and waited. It was extremely long time before my children of 11 and 14 to be accepted into a school system, that was a year behind the local South Florida schools, but evently after four months they were. Too late to finish the school year correctly, so they finished their classes online and went back to South Florida to graduate.

The daily problem was to get them to a computer terminal to do the class work-online. I eventually had to bring them toi a coffee shop downtown, because we lived remotely atop a mountain without many common services like cable, and telephone. So after finding the limited signal bandwidth and then having to pay the shop keeper for the use of electricity, they finally had a place to do school work. On this island electricity is desil generated and very costly. Most on the island can not afford air conditioning their homes.

Just so you know, it s a beautiful place, but the daily challenge in living like people in the U.S. – taking for granted of a strong TV signal, or cell phone signal/connections, cheap electric costs to run air conditioners or just a continuous stream of electricity into the home started to wear on all of us.

It is a beautiful place if you want to relax and watch the colors of blue change every second.

The Island where we lived was mountainous. We lived on top on of the small ones. The airplanes daily flew beneath our home to land at the only airstrip for this country. Living atop the mountain was great, for sightseeing, but not convenience. We call going shopping for grocerys – provisioning. And it is what it sounds like. Going down the mountain, and traveling into town is an adventure.

We were use to walking across the street and having a Winn-Dixie and Publix within 600 yards from our condo in Aventura (Miami). Going to go on this adventure is stressful as well. The mountain roads are not large enough for two full size truck to pass each other without one coming very close to dropping from the side of the mountain’s edge.
Con’t. later…..
Things you take for granted.
Happy ThanksGiving

Chef Michael Bennett’s new cookbook first book review

Book Review: In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks
In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks
by Michael Bennett and Eileen Bennett Clark
Published by The Professional Image
ISBN: 978-0615297781

Mango, crab, papaya, coconut, salmon, avocado and lobster, so many wonderful delights from nature are plentiful in the Caribbean. With nature’s overflowing bounty of tropical fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood and amazing spices it’s no surprise that Chef/Author Michael Bennett has penned a Caribbean-style cookbook from his years of living amongst the Islands.

Chef Bennett’s first book is titled “In the land of Pirates, Misfits and Cooks”, a first-hand “taste of living” in the Caribbean. Bennett has coined the term “Caribb-ican” a cross between Caribbean and American styles of food preparation. To excite one’s palate and to experiment with new methods of cooking and innovative ingredients makes the old new again. Chef Bennett takes the reader on playful culinary journeys throughout the many islands of the Caribbean showing you that with a little ingenuity you can bedazzle your taste buds by being tropically inspired with what Mother Nature has already given us.

The recipes are easy to read, easy to follow and easy to prepare. This book was designed with simplicity in mind to appeal to the most novice of home cooks yet intrigue the experienced cook at the same time. The ingredients are readily available at your local grocery store making this exciting style of cooking accessible at a moment’s notice without much plan other than having the ingredient list with you as you shop. On most pages there are sidebars that highlight cooking tips, preparation tricks and “inside information” as it pertains to healthy eating and variations on the preparation of the dish.

The photos highlight Bennett’s signature style of presentation “food stacking”. Bennett creates towers and rises with his food, Bennett clearly defines “playing with food”, you will never just get food on a plate with Michael Bennett, you will get works of art carefully constructed. This may seem daunting to the average home cook but in true teaching style Chef Bennett explains in detail “how to play with your food”, this alone is worth having the book as you become an honorary Pirate, Misfit and Cook of the Carrib-ican style of cooking.

– Review by Christine Najac

Chef Michael Bennett in the Miami Herald

Bimini Boatyard gets a facelift, new chef
Submitted Thursday, October 29, 2009
AS SEEN IN THE MIAMI HERALD – October 29, 2009

 

Chef Michael Bennett
Chef Michael Bennett

 

 

When it opened in 1989, Bimini Boatyard became the hot place to go on Fort Lauderdale’s 17th Street Causeway. Fancy cars filled the parking lots, mega yachts docked out back and people-watching was over the top.
As it began showing its age, Bimini dropped off the radar screen, but new owner Steve Hudson aims to put the waterfront restaurant back in the spotlight. He bought Bimini 18 months ago, hired chef Michael Bennett (Left Bank, Epicure), and this summer closed for a few weeks for a major nip-tuck.

Hudson reopened with a big bash in September to celebrate Bimini’s rejuvenation. And it does look fresher and younger. Royal blue couches in the lounge and roomy booths in the 369-seat dining room add coziness to a big, airy space.

The overall design is unchanged — despite the name, the exterior resembles a New England boathouse with dormers, a flag-topped cupola and lots of windows — but just about everything else has been updated, from the bathrooms to the gleaming oak floors and expanded patio (with a new bar), which seats 120. With its lovely marina view and breezy ambience, Bimini is again a destination you show off to out-of-towners.

Bennett, who lived in the Virgin Islands four years and self-published a cookbook called In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks in June, has updated the menu. Expect more Caribbean-style dishes and a focus on fish along with crowd-pleasers like steaks, pasta and burgers. Signature items like sweet Bimini bread (almost like a cinnamon roll without the cinnamon), crispy calamari and popular Diane salad also remain.

 

Wahoo
Wahoo Charoltte Amalie

 

 

At lunchtime, the young, friendly staff was accommodating and efficient, but on a busier Saturday night, our server was harried and our starters arrived before the silverware.

A popular starter of Diane salad is a hit, big enough to share, with diced chicken, toasted almonds, crisp rice noodles, orange wedges, sesame seeds and lots of chilled greens dressed in a light Asian-style vinaigrette.

Tangy Jamaican jerk-spiced chicken wings have plenty of kick, but most impressive was the exquisite calabaza bisque, served on Saturdays. We could have sipped bowlfuls of the sweet, creamy West Indian pumpkin purée. A garnish of baby shrimp adds a hint of the sea.

The chef’s Caribbean choices are laden with sauces and complex tropical accents, from a “bronzing’ caramel mop to a “western Caribbean margarita derivation.’ Some are more appealing than others. Our favorite was the Martinique black grouper, the fish perfectly grilled, with a mango glaze and a topping of crabmeat. In the Snapper Viequez, plated with tomato salsa and a flavorful melange of spinach and yuca, the fish itself was fresh and moist but the buerre blanc sauce was a little rich. The puffy diver scallops were wood-fired yet didn’t have much flavor.

If you don’t like all the fuss, turn to the simply grilled fish (blackened and Jamaican jerk glaze also options). The angler at our table was happy with his swordfish (see below), grilled over a wood fire, supple and well-seasoned, served with a choice of two sides like baked potato, mac and cheese, grilled vegetables and broccolini.

 

Chef Michael's recipe in his new cookbook
Magic city swordfish recipe in Michael's new cookbook "In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks"

 

 

 

Meats include wood-fired steaks, prime rib, baby backs and our choice, San Juan pork tenderloin. Served with a tasty black bean, corn and mango salsa, it gets plenty of flavor from a chipotle-mango marinade but was a bit overcooked.

Desserts include standards like Key lime pie, tiramisu and “Death by Chocolate.’ We didn’t detect the sweet-tartness of the advertised passion fruit in an infused creme brlée, but the mango cheesecake brought a smile.

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