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“Where’s all the guava cheese?” Brian asked.

I awoke with a start. “You guys ate all the guava cheese?”

“I… I… I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what happened. I was just watching the movie,” Remy said.

“It’s gone! That was supposed to last for days. That’s all we had. Do you remember how hard it was to find guavas?” I said.

“Ohhh,” Brian moaned. “I only had two pieces.”

The days passed and toward the end of the trip, we drove all the way around the island to the west side to explore Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks. As we neared the canyon, Remy said, “We just passed a guava tree.”

Brian made a U-turn and pulled over, and there alongside us, was a tree loaded with ripe guavas. We admired the sight for a moment, and then rushed to it.

Harvesting fruit as quickly as we could, we laughed and applauded Remy for her keen eye.

Afterward, we gazed into Waimea Canyon. It was spectacular.

Simon and I hiked through fog and misty rain and snuck views into the Kalaulau Valley when the clouds parted. It was something to be experienced.

“Does anyone want to check out any other parts of the park before heading out?” I asked.

“Can we go back and pick some more guavas?” Simon said.

That night, we made a massive batch of guava cheese. Not only did Remy redeem herself, she was our hero. We even had enough to bring some home.

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Brian has pined for guavas since we left St. Vincent. The only place we’ve found them in Seattle is Uwajimaya, a fantastic Asian grocery store, but they’re never ripe and they’re always expensive. Once we landed on Kauai, the hunt began.

We had high hopes for the Hanalei farmers market. We saw no guavas, we were told it wasn’t guava season, but Brian wasn’t deterred, he questioned each vendor. One had brought a few, but they had sold already.

We tried the Lihu’e market. We arrived at opening time and Brian rushed through, scanning the tables for guavas, inquiring with each vendor. One vendor told us, “I have guavas, but I didn’t bring any today.”

“Awww,” we said in unison. 

She giggled. “Where are you staying?”

“On the north side,” I said.

“I will bring some to Hanalei tomorrow. Come tomorrow to the Hanalei market.”

“Really? Can I pay you today to hold them for me?” Brian asked.

“No, no, I’ll save them for you,” she said.

“Okay! We’ll be there at 9:30!”

We were there, at 9:30. Brian rushed through the already crowded market, searching for the face of the vendor who would have his prized guavas. He found her, busy attending customers. We scanned her table, no guavas, then Brian spotted two small bags of guavas on the tailgate behind her. “There they are,” he whispered.

He paid for the two bags and opened one and inhaled the sweet aroma. I took my turn and was instantly transported to standing under the guava tree at Petit Byahaut. Guavas are filled with seeds and are quite tart so eating them raw isn’t nearly as satisfying as turning them into guava cheese. Later that evening, Brian set to work.

He chopped all eight guavas.

Put them in a pot, added a cup and a half of sugar, and lit the burner.

After the seeds separated and the guavas softened, he put the stew through a sieve to remove the seeds and the puree was returned to the pot.

Stirring constantly, it seemed like forever before the puree thickened into a cheese-like consistency.

Not done yet. More cooking and stirring required.

Finally he turned it into a pan, let it cool and cut the slab into pieces before coating them with sugar.

So good…

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Coconuts grow abundantly on St. Vincent and everywhere you turn, coconut products abound, from fresh coconuts to bottled coconut water, coconut oil to coconut treats.

You’ll find coconut sugar cakes, packaged in little plastic baggies like you’d find at a neighborhood bake sale, at every shop, from the roadside shack to the bigger supermarkets. I am certain this shop on the way to the Vermont Nature Trail sold coconut sugar cakes.

If they’re not pressed into a tablet, they’re dropped by the spoonful onto a pan in more of a cookie shape, but almost always, you’ll find both pink and white packaged together. But the best part? They are simple and quick to make, require only a few ingredients, and taste yummy! My kids wanted to eat the entire pan.

Coconut Sugar Cakes

1/2 c sugar

1/2 c water

2 c grated unsweetened coconut

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

tiny pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

tiny pinch of cinnamon

drop of  food coloring

Boil sugar and water until sugar has dissolved and a light syrup starts to form. Add coconut and cream of tartar and stir constantly over medium heat while the mixture thickens. When the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pot, remove from heat. Add nutmeg and cinnamon and mix well. Place half of mixture in a bowl and mix in a drop or two of red food coloring. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and press white mixture evenly across bottom of pan. Then press pink mixture onto top of white layer. Allow to cool and harden. Cut into small squares. Makes 15 squares.

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This was our first taste of the Caribbean. It was 1993 and it was our honeymoon.

 

What enabled us to afford this indulgence at such a tender age was our good fortune of getting bumped from a flight the year before. Truthfully, it was those generous travel vouchers we received that sparked talk about marriage in the first place, We could use those vouchers to get to the Caribbean. That would be an awesome HONEYMOON!

The instant we stepped off the plane, the hot heavy air and scent of spicy flowers and overripe fruit and the salty sea consumed us. It was love at first sight.

Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is far different than Petit Byahaut in some ways but oh so similar in others. Styled in a formal British fashion, Nisbet offers afternoon tea daily and has a dress code for dinner in the plantation house. 

Like Petit Byahaut, Nisbet and the island of Nevis also submerge you into the tropics with all the exoticism of an undeveloped land. And the people who call the island home exude a quiet, formal kindness. 

I wish I could have found the copied menu from one evening of our stay. With a new menu daily, we greatly anticipated the exquisite four course dinners. Brian was chef and manager of an Italian restaurant at the time. The stilton coated in a crispy sugary shell served with preserves, salads made with unfamiliar Caribbean vegetables, the soups: ginger carrot, pumpkin, and cool avocado with a swirl of coconut milk, mahi mahi, tuna, kingfish, all of it was an education for us.

It was hard to say goodbye, but all our hopes and dreams were confirmed. The Caribbean really was as good as we had imagined it to be.

Brian did a lot of planning, shopping for, cooking, and serving of the three daily meals, but his additional responsibilities meant a second cook was a requirement.

So we hired a local chef. I’ll call him “Check”. Check and I got off to a bad start. On day one, our toddler and new puppy were wrestling, as youngsters do, and when the puppy’s sharp teeth made Simon cry out in surprise and pain and hurt feelings, Check rushed to Simon’s defense and swatted the puppy across the room. In turn, I rushed to the puppy’s defense. Our relationship spiraled downward from there.

More than once I’ve been told, “You’re so….calm.” Maybe it was a kind way of saying I’m dull or emotionless, but never has anyone told me I seem explosive or the type of person who thrives on conflict. But that was Check’s and my relationship. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

The after effects of each conflict reverberated to Brian. I lost track of how many conversations we had about whether to let Check go. But, where would that have left us? With Brian cooking and prepping every single meal, every single day. Check was too skilled in the kitchen, too capable of creating his own menu, and too able to wow our guests with his food. And they liked him. How could they like him? At the time, I didn’t get it.

Now that some time has passed, the reasons for that continual clash are clearer to me. Check was well read, had lived outside his country for a period of time, had strong opinions about foreign and local politics, and knew well the life of injustice, including a double whammy of recent occurrences. Then I landed on his soil–a white American woman with countless freedoms, slightly younger than him, ready to take charge and make my personal dream a success. A recipe for disaster.  

In honor of Check, I wanted to share a signature recipe of his. However, he didn’t leave his recipes lying around. So I thought I would recreate the parfaits he often made for dessert. How hard could it be, I thought. Hard enough to point out that a food blogger I am not.

I thought I would be all style-y and pour the warm panna cotta in the glass at a tilt, but I didn’t think through that the coulis wouldn’t stay in place at an angle, and the mousse definitely wouldn’t cooperate with the angle. So each one is a new attempt to make it look presentable. It didn’t work. The good thing is that each of these three layers is still delicious.

      

Comments from the tasters: Simon (now 8): “It’s delicious just the way it is.” Remy (now 11): “If you like mango, you’ll like this.” Even our Akita, Hoshi, tried it. He would have eagerly finished it off if we allowed him. For what it’s worth. 

What I should have done was consult with my chef husband before starting this experiment, rather than after. His suggestion of starting with the mousse on the bottom, then add the coulis, then the panna cotta was the answer. Here’s my final attempt.

Since the panna cotta had already set, I whisked it again which made it creamy enough to spoon over the top. Or alternatively, you could put a dollop of the mango mousse on top the panna cotta. Or scoop some mango mousse into a bowl and decorate with the coulis. Or try just the panna cotta with a zigzag of coulis over it.

Go ahead Check, shake your head at me again.

 

Mango Parfaits

Check would make parfaits with whatever fruit was available, be it mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, bananas, even plumrose. Pasteurized heavy cream isn’t available on St. Vincent so instead one is forced to use this gloppy stuff labeled as cream that could, if you’re careful, retain the shape of the can from which you expel it. Using real, refrigerated, liquid cream is a luxury here.

 Mango Mousse (or Fool)

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2000

1 ¼ tsp unflavored gelatin

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 large ripe mangoes, flesh coarsely chopped

¼ c sugar, or to taste

¾ c heavy cream + 1 tbsp sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over lime juice in a small heatproof cup and let stand 1 minute to soften. Purée mangoes with sugar in a blender or food processor and force through a sieve into a large bowl.

Melt softened gelatin in cup in a pan of water on low heat, then stir into purée. Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks and gently fold into purée.

Chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Mango Coulis

1 large ripe mango, flesh coarsely chopped

1 – 2 tbsp sugar (to taste)

Puree mango and sugar in blender or food processor. Force through sieve into bowl.

Panna Cotta

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

1 cup milk

1 (1/4 ounce) pkg unflavored gelatin

2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sugar

Pour ½ cup of the milk in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it, let sit for 5 minutes. Heat on low, stirring until the gelatin has dissolved.

Add remaining milk, cream, vanilla and sugar and cook over medium heat until steam rises from the pot. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Pour into six cups. Refrigerate until set.

When we lived on the island, as the holidays neared, we found hardly a familiar sign of it.  But we learned about what made Christmas in St. Vincent. First was Sorrel.

We’d often stop at a snack truck in town for sandwiches and drinks while we ran our errands. As the holiday season neared, Mac’s Snacks acquired a new juice: sorrel.

Made by boiling the crimson colored flowers of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa, and mixing in sugar, ginger, cloves and cinnamon, it’s a sweet and spicy bright red punch.

A plot of sorrel grew next to the house we rented for use as an office in Clare Valley, a fishing village just south of us. Everyday we’d walk past the agricultural plot, watching the plants grow from seedlings to shoulder-height hearty bushes in a matter of months. It was December when the bushes erupted in the large flower buds, the calyces were harvested, and the following day the bushes were cleared, making room for a new crop.

In Seattle, we can find sorrel year round, made from dried flowers. When we’re missing St. Vincent, we head to our neighborhood Caribbean restaurant, Kallaloo www.kallalooseattle.com, and order a sorrel.

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