Blog writers take a lot of flak for writing self-indulgent nonsense, sort of like people who post photos of everything they eat on Facebook. I uniquely am guilty of both. On a day when I am still somewhat homeless (I made it home from Grand Cayman but cannot get to my house for the 33” of snow that clogs my lane — you and I aren’t done yet, Karma), I offer photos of food that crossed my path on vacation and a lame little explanation to go with them.
I have waxed poetic about my weird food fetishes. For example, I don’t eat fruit, except Smucker’s grape jam (not jelly), Key Lime pie, and the occasional raspberry coulis, provided it has been seeded, strained through a fine sieve, and adequately sweetened. And wine. I drink wine, fruit of the vine and all that.
One of my big taboos, which I know others share, is food touching other food on my plate. I should clarify. Food that is supposed to touch other food is acceptable; eg, gravy on mashed potatoes, Béarnaise on steak, the aforementioned raspberry coulis under (not over) a fine dark chocolate dessert, aged Balsamic drizzled on pan-roasted salmon (I’m really craving at the moment).
But I get nervous when cole slaw runs onto my fries or guacamole slips onto my refried beans or a Kosher pickle spear touches the rye bread on my corned beef brisket sandwich. I am the kid at the party who won’t eat the birthday cake, if the ice cream touches it.
Someone once told me to push my last pea into my mashed potatoes so I could pick it up. Sure. I could pick it up that way, but I would never put it in my mouth, much less swallow it.
Buffets are a nightmare. I don’t take anything “runny” that might infect another, unrelated item on my plate, so I’m one of those guests that the waitstaff hates because I use too many plates. I want my bread in its own space, so it doesn’t get mushy on one edge and so the butter doesn’t come into contact with a potential pollutant.
Traveling is always a culinary adventure, unless I’m going to France, where I’ve never seen a French chef put something on a plate that didn’t make sense (except the rognons de veau, veal kidneys). The Veterinarian would eat anything (except rognons de veau), so he was the perfect dining companion (except the day I accidentally ordered rognons de veau). If I couldn’t eat something, he almost always could. The Daughter is a little pickier, but her culinary adventurous beau was a welcome dining companion.
Here’s a visual chronicle of dining in the quiet East End of Grand Cayman, including a buffet hazard at one of our favorite Caymanian restaurants.
Nothing revives me after an arduous day of traveling like an adult beverage. With a healthy dose of Cuban rum, I don’t even care that my hair is frizzy and about to stand on end in the warm breeze. On our first night, we only had the strength to sit on the deck at the resort’s Eagle Ray’s bar and grill and order ribs and lionfish tacos. Lionfish are that beautiful, multi-spined fish native to the Pacific that has invaded the Atlantic and Caribbean, from Maine to South America, where it has no predator. Not even sharks will eat them, so they are reproducing and gobbling up native fish with abandon.
Geared to scuba diving and sensitive to the health of our oceans, Ocean Frontiers, our resort, and many others in the Caribbean, now cull them by spearing and selling them to restaurants. Once they are dead and their spines are removed, they are benign, their meat pale white, very mild, and not especially firm. It is popular in ceviches and tacos.
The Daughter opted to treat us to Sunday brunch at Tukka, a “native fusion” restaurant, whose owner and head chef, Aussie Ron Hargrave, brings together kangaroo and crocodile meat and local seafood with Caribbean influences. Right over the beach, it’s been a favorite of ours since it opened and boasts a lavishly painted chair in honor of celebrity guest Taylor Swift.
You can see the dilemma on my appetizer plate. At “one o’clock,” the lion fish “lollipop” (lightly battered with a nice little garnish to give it flavor) hugs the rim, well away from the Caesar salad below it (I shudder to have salad on the same plate with the appetizers), which nudges two potstickers filled with ground pork and bathed with a soy-and-sesame sauce, avoiding the potato salad above. Sitting primly at “noon” is a tuna roll, with accompanying wasabi, pickled ginger, and a dollop of wakame (seaweed salad).
Of course, since there was enough Champagne to wash it all down, I didn’t notice that my excellent ribs nudged the roast beef and the delicate Mahi Mahi. As for the rice, it doesn’t matter what it touches. Rice is rice. Oh! And I just had to have another potsticker, this one with a chili sauce.
I never have trouble picking a dessert. I chose these two little dishes because I liked the blue color of the glass and porcelain. On the left is a white pudding dotted with yellow corn kernels, that was lightly sweetened and topped with chopped nuts. On the right is a traditional cake made from cassava, a root which, when ground, is the source of tapioca. Here, it is grated and mixed with coconut milk, brown sugar, butter, and spices into a dense cake topped with grated coconut. Yummmmeeeee!
For breakfast, we trekked to a funky little place, the Over the Edge Café, whose deck is, indeed, over the edge of a reef at Old Man Bay, just before the ocean plunges thousands of feet. Not a big breakfast eater, I always have the French toast. The Daughter opted for a scrambled egg, cheese, and salsa-filled quesadilla. But the adventurous eater amongst us won the prize when he ordered a “traditional Jamaican breakfast of Codfish and Ackee.” Bless his heart!
It turned out to be a plate of eggs scrambled with codfish, bell peppers, onions, and ackee, a tree fruit from West Africa that was imported from Jamaica to England by Captain William Blighe, that same ill-fated commander of HMS Bounty. We found the ackee tasteless and a little chewy. Accompanying it were some cooked greens and a lot of starch, plantains, a little sausage-shaped banana pudding, and some delightful fried dough, reminiscent of beignets, especially when I dragged mine through the mound of powdered sugar from my French toast.
One of my favorite pizzas is topped with arugula, and the Italian Kitchen, which brought brick-oven pizza (and more fine wine) to the East End, adds prosciutto. They also serve upscale Italian food and fresh seafood, including a fabulous risotto with lobster and shrimp that was just beyond this year’s vacation budget (once we had to spend four extra nights on the island, thanks to the blizzard of 2016).
Yes, I cooked. I made The Daughter’s favorite lasagna. I made a Key Lime pie. I made Chicken Tarragon salad on croissants. I made caramelized onions to top the cheddar cheeseburgers that the “kids” grilled. And on our last night, I turned the broth from cooking the chicken for the salad into chicken noodle soup. I used the last of the onion, celery, and carrots to flavor it and cracked up unused, uncooked lasagna noodles into the broth. It was fabulous, but, on vacation, everything tastes better, and nothing has any calories, right?
Finally, as I changed planes in Charlotte, I had my favorite airport meal, Brookwood Farms’ “real pit-cooked bbq,” pulled pork on a great toasted bun with the cole slaw safely on the side. I ate every bite with my hands and licked the “Carolina vinegar sauce” off my sticky little fingers. I can see why it’s “the Official Barbeque of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.”
All in all, it was a good vacation; four extra days of sunshine and good eating, so, who am I to complain? Life is good (mostly). Soli Deo Gloria!