Cooking has always been a family time for me. Growing up, Mummy made the meals, then corralled us to set the table, pour drinks, and ferry dishes and plates out to the table. Some of my classmates and the odd boyfriend over the years found it odd that our family always sat and ate dinner together. To them, it seemed cheesy, Brady Bunch-esque. Not Bahamian enough for them, I guess. Not Black enough. But that’s what we did, trading, as many families around the world do, stories, laughs and frustrations from around the world. When I moved across a good chunk of the earth to Vancouver, I shared dinners with my roommate, and then with others who lived in a tiny, 35-person dorm (36, if you count the freeloader chick who didn’t live there, but had managed to fool the cooks, and me, into welcoming her at mealtimes). Those shared dinners were one of the few things I loved about that one semester of dorm living. Well, except for the week Norwalk came to the table.
When I moved into a studio, I missed that family feel. I got into the habit of bringing my loved ones into the dinnertime experience through phone calls we shared while I prepared my little dishes for one. Now, I make dishes for two, but I still love that shared time on the phone as I chop an onion, sautee garlic, and fan the overly sensitive smoke alarm that sets off any time the oven is opened. Sometimes I feel fleetingly guilty about my divided attentions (especially if I’m trying to take recipe notes) but for me, dinner and family simply go together. In the absence of being able to spirrit folks over from England, North Carolina, and Nassau, we connect over the phone.
This summer, my father died. Strangely, suddenly ill, and before I could understand that this always-going, always-working man was winding down, that something was terribly wrong, he was gone. Tonight, I reached for my internet phone to call my brother, and it became suddenly hard to see the pot of peas-n-rice inspired quinoa I had started. Daddy was often frustrated by technology, but welcomed it, even late in his life, when it aided him with something close to his heart. One of those things was keeping in touch with us, as a family. My brother, always one to know of the latest gadgets out, happened on good ole MagicJack early in its inception, and Daddy bought and distributed one for each of us offspring, wanting us to be able to stay close, and each be able to reach any of the others quickly and inexpensively.
In grief, in life, it is amazing how the smallest connection, the smallest memory, the coldest, most clinical device, can unlock emotions. How a simple USB phone jack can have me bawling into my pot.
Some people believe that, in any act, the energy, emotions are infused. In Like Water for Chocolate, that pans out in food that is salty when the pastry chef weeps, in dishes that send diners into ecstasy when the cook was swooning with love. If this is true, our meal tonight may be a little salty, a little bitter, a little empty.
It will certainly be filled with memories. The dish I’ll share the recipe for is based loosely on a Jamaican-ish, Bahamianish peas and rice/rice and peas. Throughout the Caribbean, you’ll find this sort of dish; Jamaicans often use red beans (kidney beans) and coconut milk to season theirs, while Bahamians favour pigeon peas (gunga peas for the Jamaican folk) and tomatoes for their flavour. When I was younger, I actually hated beans and peas (the irony has been noted), so I was especially pleased the night Mummy made peas and rice and forgot to add the peas.
So here you are. …And Quinoa (…since there are no peas). Seasoned with both coconut and tomato. Tears optional.
a little sunflower oil, or your favourite basic cooking oil
1/2 an onion
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp (ish) creamed coconut
1 cup quinoa
1 cup canned tomatoes, including some of the liquid
1 cup water
dried thyme (or fresh thyme, if you have some handy)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Dice onion, and sautee in a little oil.
2. Mince garlic, and add to onions, sauteeing until both are starting to turn golden.
3. Combine garlic, creamed coconut, quinoa, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil, and season with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of thyme (a few sprigs, if using fresh). If you want to check the taste, use a spoon to taste a bit of the liquid.
4. Cover and bring to the boil. Stir, then turn down to low and cook until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed (about 45 minutes for me).