Grandmothers, Guyana and Green Banana

I’m kicking off my black history month work with an interview with my mum and her twin sister, who talk about growing up with their grandmother, the smells of their childhood and their their interpretation of Guyanese culture.

Mum recalls her early childhood to be lively, playing outside with her cousins, the smell of freshly cooked rice putting a smile on everyone’s faces. Family members were constantly in and out during the day, and it would end with everyone sharing a meal at her grandmother’s house where she lived with her sister. Family parties were just as lively, soca and reggae music would be playing, and she would be greeted by a variety of “aunties” who may or may not be related to her. She recalls eating pepperpot at Christmas, and loving chow mein. Her sister remembered a lot more food, barley soup, souse (but only when it was hot!) and egg custard.

Growing up

Traditionally, you’d pass on the family recipes to your children, but as their gran was ill and the family didn’t have much money, actively passing culture down wasn’t as important as day to day living was. Thanks to a strong family support and trial and error however, they was able to remember the food and comforts of their childhood. Mum reckons she’s been semi successful in passing down Guyanese culture to us (her four amazing children, that is). Though she wonders looking back if she could have done any more. For both sisters, it’s less about culture and traditions and more about family. They take pride in the music they listen to (soca and calypso and others), and the food that they eat. They love talking about growing up, and the memories with their cousins and aunties.

Their gran was a lovely person. I had the pleasure of knowing her for the first 6 years of my life, and while she wasn’t as lively as she was when my mum was my age, she was incredibly caring and looked after me a lot. Mum and auntie both agreed she had an infectious laugh, steely determination and infinite wisdom. (As expected of a Guyanese matriarch, I think.) They lived with her growing up, and she was a central pillar in their lives.

And finally, the money question. I looked at her deep in the eyes, and said, “Mum, how do you pronounce this food?”

She replied quickly, no hesitation.

“Plan-TIN, obviously.”

I didn’t have to ask auntie over the phone, she just blurted it out unprovoked, “By the way, it’s pronounced plan-tin, not the other way, Zak.”

Let’s Cook!

We’re going to cook mum’s favourite food. Spinach and prawns with dhal, coley and rice. It’s a great dish, full of flavour and colour. Secretly I’m glad she didn’t pick something “modern” with lots of elements and techniques. Sometimes the best food is traditional, and this dish shows it. From my experience, the best food is comfort food, and Guyanese cuisine proves it. Metemgee and cook up rice are great examples of this, but me and mum and auntie share the same disdain for coconut. We eat hard food a lot at home though, so not all is lost.

Thanks for reading! Have a lovely day.

UA: Number 10

I now have 10 tattoos. My most recent tattoo was an impulsive decision thanks to instagram. So after being really excited for two days, I finally made the journey to the other side of London for a 20 minute tattoo.

The journey was faster than I expected. I spent the first 20 minutes on the train panicking that I would be late, but then the last 30 thinking about what to do with all my free time. Great. Sitting on the underground, I was relieved to see the 2 minutes per stop average still worked. It’s a very surprising thing, but I’m glad I had some normalcy. As usual, I probably looked like an idiot knotting string and avoiding people in the corner. Frantic glances up to the map, making sure I hadn’t forgotten the tattoo studio I frequent.

After aimlessly strolling around New Cross for 20 minutes, I walked into the tattoo studio I hadn’t seen since February. If you can’t tell by context clues, it was South City Market. I’m always there, and the staff made a point to joke about my almost full loyalty card. I think it’s actually full, but I’ll let it marinate for a week. I wonder what the reward will be.

So I sat really well for a blackwork tattoo on my forearm, posed for pictures I was severely under dressed for, and that was it. As quickly as I had arrived, I was ushered out of the door by a masked tattooist. I have to say though, she was so efficient. It actually got me thinking about applying similar blackwork techniques in cakes.

Aftermath

Before taking the tube back, and subjecting myself to the heat of the Central Line, I called my mum. She’s less social media savvy than I, which is saying something, but I set her a challenge. I said “they’ve just uploaded my tattoo to instagram, once you find what I got, I’ll get on the train.”

After 25 or so minutes of me explaining what Instagram stories were, and reminding her what I was wearing, she figured it out. She was scared I was going to get a spider. Or a scorpion. Or more chains, because that’s what my artist is known for. She was very happy to see I only got the word “icon” across my forearm. I anticipated a long line of questioning when I got home though.

The journey to and from New Cross spans three lines, one of them being the overground, so I had a journey ahead of me.

If anyone’s been to a concert at the o2, you know the tube journey on the Jubilee line home is just the worst. Absolutely no difference here. Sitting from Canada Water to Bond Street had me thinking about all the concerts and functions I had been to. I thought about how weird it was that I was actually sitting for once, and that I wasn’t wearing any overpriced merch.

The tattoo high kinda died down after a while, and was replaced by that familiar stinging sensation. The one from my mum asking exactly what my tattoo meant, AND the one on my arm, by the way.

I didn’t knot that much on the journey but I do think I started something cute.

Welcome to the family, tattoo number 10!

Thanks for reading, have a lovely day.

My Totsuki Academy Bid

I mentioned that I like the anime food wars in another post (https://sixpalmtrees.com/2020/07/06/food-in-fiction/). But today, I’ve decided to take this love to a new level and officially submit a letter of application to prove, that I deserve an opportunity to attend the absolutely non fictional Totsuki Academy.

My Japanese is horrendous, and I doubt I have the competitive spirit to battle with all the other students BUT I did manage to pull off (and mildly alter) one of my favourite dishes from the show. (Though probably the easiest.) By the time this is published, I would have made two more.

The dish I am submitting for consideration is the Chaliapin Steak. It’s a Japanese steak dish that was invented in 1936. I don’t like steak much, but I like rice and onions, so here we go.

The Process

Here we have 2 sirloin steaks. Don’t forget about them.

I’m going to cut these onions into miniscule pieces, and cover the steaks on both sides, to tenderise the meat. This is a very important part of the dish.

Yes… I used three whole onions here because I really like onions and I won’t let anyone tell me I’m using too much

Now onto the rice, which has been soaking for a while. I’m going to cook that as normal.

While the rice is cooking, I’ll saute the onions with salt, pepper and butter.

Next, I’ll cook the steaks until both sides are browned.

Mum said it smelt like burgers which is bound to happen if you’re cooking the beef at a high temperature. The fat was… a lot so I had to get rid of it very quickly

Onto making the sauce, which is my favourite part. Red wine, potato starch and soy sauce go into the pan, and I’ll add in the onions again. Because I’m edgy and different, I decided to add chilli oil and more soy sauce to the onions, to make it darker, spicier and softer.

The plum paste was a lot more bitter and savoury than I imagined in my head. I thought it would have a more sour flavour. Even so, it worked really well with the rice, and I had to stop myself from adding too much.

The final Chaliapin Steak from Totsuki ACademy

So to any Totsuki Academy scouts who are reading this, please consider letting me into your establishment. See how I took an already excellent dish and made it unnecessarily spicy? Think about how many other dishes I could do that to.

Thank you for reading, have a lovely day.

UA: Back in Business

Let’s ignore when I said I’d post an archive every week in March. Literally a week after that we were put under a national lockdown so there wasn’t really much I can do. I’m back now, though.

I took a little trip on the underground for the first time in six months yesterday, just to get a feel of what’s going on. It’s surprisingly normal. Slightly weird, but that’s just the nature of things. Armed with only my camera, my mask and some scoubidou string, I went out into the world. In the 2 hour timeframe, I managed to travel across 5 different tube lines, with vastly different experiences.

Red Strand

The red strand on my string represents the Central line. As usual it was hot, sweaty and annoying, but at least it wasn’t the Piccadilly line. Surprisingly, everyone was wearing masks and sat very far from each other, until the nightmare that was Notting Hill Gate. Was there some sort of invisible protest I didn’t know about? The change from central to district was full of crowds of people who refused to wear masks and tried to stand near me on the escalators. No thank you.

I had to duck and weave my way around, but I still had time to admire the irony that was a woman wearing no mask standing next to a sign telling people to cover up.

The platform at Notting Hill Gate on the District line can be intimidating to some. Not me, but definitely other people. As I walked to the middle of the platform, the feeling that people were looking at me was no longer a feeling. People in masks making sure I didn’t stand too close to them, and people without masks wondering why I was even bothering to wear one. It was an interesting experience.

Blue Strand

Both the Piccadilly and Victoria lines were trying. At Earls Court, I did try my hardest to sit alone, but a couple with a massive dog decided that I was the best person to sit with. The carriage was half empty, let me add. So here I was minding my own business, making a scoubidou when all of a sudden I see scooby doo sitting opposite me. Did the owners do this on purpose? They really made a bee line for me so I thought they had something to sell. Maybe they were going to lecture me on why using a mask was bad. Maybe the dog wanted to eat the keyring I was making.

It was the third one, by the way. Every time I’d look up to check the station, I saw the dog being pulled away from the strings. I’m not familiar with dog breeds but a google search for “giant black and white dog that looks like a wolf” suggested it was probably a husky. It was very cute. I think that’s why I forgave it so quickly.

The owners however? They gave me bad vibes and I ran out of Green Park every quickly. Like every Victoria line journey, it was boring but at least there were no delays.

Final Notes

I didn’t have a purple string to represent the Met line. I did travel there but unfortunately there is no evidence. Maybe next time. My thoughts upon coming back home aren’t anything odd really. As usual, people are annoying and the Central line is still hot. But it’s glad to be back in business and travelling around more. I look forward to regularly scheduled London activities, and defending the underground to any disgruntled tourist.

This is the scoubidou I was working on. It’s still largely unfinished due to the amount of times I had to get off the tube and change.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Something About Drama

To be honest, I’m not sure whether I like drama or I’m just a normal uni student. I like to know what’s going on. So I keep up to date with wordly events, I try to read things in other languages, I stick my nose where it shouldn’t be… You know, just normal stuff.

In my various social circles, I run into a lot of drama. A lot of it is very petty and entertaining, like something you’d see when watching Love Island. Some of it is worrying and more serious, like something you’d see when watching Love Island. But unlike Love Island, I can manipulate the drama in my favour. (I never had enough phone storage to download the LI app).

What I mean is, by giving advice. I hate to see my friends in bad situations and I’ll always do my best to support them. Today, I’ll talk about the mess I’ve encountered since starting sixpalmtrees.

Dive In

Consumers can be entitled. Not necessarily a consumer of one of my services, but just anyone in general. I’ve had people try to order cookies or brownies from me at 11pm for the next morning. I’ve had people offer to shout me out on instagram for a a free catered event. My favourite experience though, is someone who asked me to cater a bbq for 50 people. The next day.

Needless to say, I rejected that one.

There’s also a lot of drama on social media. Chefs and home cooks like to argue about the latest trends, why things are popular, why they shouldn’t be. I love reading these arguments, and hearing these opinions. Popular chefs on social media have discussed everything from different types of jobs within the industry to food culture to different types of alcohol. There are discussions on things I didn’t know were even relevant, but one that I agreed heavily on was on the usage of “food porn.” I’ll post about that later.

Advice

A lot of my friends have come to me with similar problems and I really hate that we can all relate. I try to give the same advice because it’s so important. I always say “Don’t compromise your morals for one order. Because before you know it, you’ll be taking all your orders at a lower standard”

And while it sounds fake deep, it’s something I have to remind myself of. If one person thinks you’re a pushover, you might get a quick influx of customers but they will screw you over and you’ll be in a worse position. It only takes one bad review for people to doubt your credibility. I’ve had to learn from my mistakes and it did set me back a lot.

This was supposed to be a fun post… I have no idea how I managed to make it deep and useful. I hope it helps anyone starting out in the industry though. People will definitely try to screw you over, but stick to your guns and the right customers will come.

It happened for me, so it’ll happen for you too.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

My Musical Journey

I’ve just found out that uni starts in exactly two months, which means an extra two months to break in my new digital piano. As some of you know, I love playing and composing music when I’m not cooking so I’m excited to finally have a keyboard in my room.

Today, I’ll be writing about my experiences playing piano and why it’s important to me. (But nothing about grades or school, because that’s boring)

Apparently, I’m vain. One of my reasons for quitting violin was because it made my fingers calloused, though in defence I was 13 and was looking for reasons to quit. At one point, I liked playing piano only because I looked super professional playing songs and and it gave me a personality other than “black kid with anger issues.”

It also helped with my coordination. I’m not the best at doing handsy stuff and I’m very clumsy. This doesn’t happen when I play piano though. Once I’m really in the zone I can play with all the grace and elegance of my younger sister, who’s a ballet dancer. I’m clumsy when cooking so it’s nice to have a hobby where I don’t mess things up.

I can get really distracted when playing piano sometimes, either doing warmups or trying to play my favourite songs. I play by ear mostly, but there’s something gratifying about sight-reading something particularly difficult. But I tend to lose track of time when playing. When I’m not playing, I’m thinking about what I should play next. My mind jumps from thinking about a recipe to thinking about a composition. Honestly, I’m fuelled everyday by my desire to create and I’m thankful for it. I want to inspire people with my creations.

My downfall, probably

I used to hate atonality. For someone that claimed to be “out there”, I spent my teen years refusing to compose outside a scale. My piano teacher loved jazz, and I hated anything more than a 7th chord. I hate to admit it but there was a point when even Chopin was too atonal. As you could probably tell, this was very limiting. My idea of an exciting chord progression was C to G to Bb to C.

I’ve grown from that now.

Now, Romantic era piano is my favourite genre by far, and I will defend the legacies of Brahms and Clara Schumann to anyone. Their musical legacies… whatever they did when (or before) Robert was in the hospital is none of my business. I listen to them a lot for composing inspiration nowadays.

Upward Spiral

Now that I have a digital piano in my room, you can guarantee my sleep schedule won’t exist anymore. I’ve already been staying up all night to play and I don’t see this changing.

Until the next time.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

Food in Fiction

As many people know, fiction can heavily influence and inspire reality, whether people want to admit it or not. We might watch a really cool TV show and think “I want to be like them someday” or “I definitely don’t want to be like them.” We look at world-building and wonder at the tiny details needed to create such an interesting universe. Just little things that that make our universe more exciting. In fiction, food and cooking can be applied in the same way; looking at really good cooking and wanting to try that.

Today, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite fictional shows and movies about food.

Food Wars

Food wars is an anime about the most competitive and prestigious culinary school in Japan. Or in other words, my biggest dream ever. I watch the show, look at the animation, about how these kids dedicate their lives to cooking. I think, this should be me.

A steak rice bowl from the anime food wars

Without spoiling things, a main aspect of the anime is the fact that cooking is brutal. Kids get expelled for the tiniest things, including the smell of their shampoo, or cooking their ingredients a few seconds too long. And this is just a high school, so everyone is between the ages of 15-18. But cooking is their life. Every day is geared to them improving their skills and becoming the best chef they can be, but it is no secret that most of the kids won’t graduate from the school. Only the cream of the crop will be successful in the industry and this is the narrative the show tries to push.

Every time a student makes a dish, they explain it in depth, including the processes and the ingredients used. (It’s obvious this is done for the viewer; as sometimes the students would ask basic questions they would definitely know after years of top notch culinary education.) I like the way they break the methods down, though. Some of the recipe combinations the students cook are interesting, and aren’t something I would have thought to do myself.

A rainbow terrine from the anime food wars

Each character has a different skillset, and I really like how they’re explored in the show. While they’re pitted against each other, the show does a good job of explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each person.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I really like chocolate. This is a very important to know, because I rarely cook with it. I like Willy Wonka’s imaginative mind, as he comes up with interesting ways to revolutionise chocolate. The all edible chocolate room is a stroke of genius, and I often thought of ways to recreate that myself. On a much smaller scale, of course. The chewing gum meal and the lickable wallpaper are both inventions I don’t see myself enjoying but it reminds me to broaden my horizons.

The chocolate room from the movie charlie and the chocolate factory (remake)

It reminds me of my youth, and helps me to remember that interesting food isn’t always about haute cuisine. It’s also not just about being different for the sake of it. It’s about being creative and original, and fun most importantly.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

While the first one establishes the cloud that pumps out food, I much prefer the second movie. (Also the end of the first movie for reasons I’ll explain.)

Why?

The answer is very simple.

I love the sentience of the food. At the end of the first movie, the gummy bears, the pizza and the chickens all come alive to protect the food machine. It’s very funny but if you dig slightly deeper, it’s a bit scary. What would you do if lifesized gummy bears were trying to kill you? I thought about how scary it could be if it was a life action horror movie and then I regretted thinking that.

In the second movie, one of the main “enemies” is a cheeseburger with fries for leg and a lot of sesame seed eyes. Just your average culinary nightmare fodder, really. On the other hand, there were also really cute food animals. Such as the spring onion giraffes and the marshmallows.

I’m a pun lover so animal names such as “flamango, hippotatomus and mosqitoast” was bound to get me to watch the movie again.

Some of the food animals in the movie cloudy with a chance of meatballs 2

This is another movie that made me appreciate the creativity that goes into food. It’s less blatant than the other two examples but inspiration can really be found anywhere.

I speak more about my process here, with an example of how I apply my creativity to fine tune recipes.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely day.

Walks to Remember

As I type this, I have some burgers sitting out, ready to be cooked up. But I had a flash of inspiration as I remembered some of the really dumb things I’ve done back when I was working.

Not in the kitchen; obviously I try to be professional and give no one a reason to doubt me, but I mean my journeys there and back. While I don’t live in the suburbs, I live in an area of London with below average tube and bus connections for zone 2. I’ve had to change multiple times to get to somewhere considered “close”. As well as this, oyster fares like to slowly build up, and before I know it, I’m paying a lot of money for a relatively simple journey.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a massive fan of walking. I love to walk everywhere. I’m the annoying friend who considers a 2 hour walk a short journey. I don’t remember the last time I’ve taken the train anywhere north of the river. Granted, I don’t really go out, but given the option to, I’d definitely walk.

The best walk I had was after my first shift at Wembley stadium. I had taken the bus there, at about 6am, and by the time it was done, it was mid to late afternoon, and the weather was sunny, and the heat was more enjoyable to that of the kitchen. So I decided to walk back, using my vague knowledge of the bus route, and the very limited times I had gone there or to the arena next door for concerts. Being the type of person I am, I didn’t want to use my phone to track the route at all, to prove a point, so I called my mum to tell her my plan, put my phone on flight mode with my favourite music playing, and set on my way.

The same thing happened that does happen whenever I walk home from a shift after a while. The adrenaline wears off, and the physical tiredness sets in; carrying all my uniform and knives in an oversized rucksack that sticks to my back weirdly and makes it sweat. The music stops being upbeat, and I start paying attention to the lyrics and questioning my existence. Then coincidentally there’s a tube or a bus station that’s vaguely in my direction and I think, should I give up?

And then I think, there is no way I’m spending £1.50 to go one station. No matter how close it is to my house. And in the case of Wembley, I’d still have to walk at least another 20 minutes to get home. It’s just not worth it. And I walk away, knowing the ancestors would be proud of me.

When I get home though, mum always feels bad that I’ve walked for so long and she always questions me. I’ll say something like “oh it wasn’t that long,” and it turns out it was a 3 hour walk from Twickenham or something and the sun’s already starting to set. (I’ve done that by the way. Not fun. I took a really roundabout route to get to the station I’d use to get home but the line was going through part closures. You can guess what line I’m talking about; it never works correctly.)

For me, walks are a really good way to just reflect on stuff or even just zone out. I like listening to hype playlists and walking and pretending my life is more cool and dramatic than it actually is. A really nice place to walk is surprisingly Oxford street, but starting all the way in Shepherds Bush from Holland Park Avenue and finishing in Aldgate.

I said I’d walk to and from work just to prove a point, and I have to explain that I’m not proving it to anyone. I’m the type of person that likes to challenge themselves, but in a “bet you can’t” kind of way. I still have very childish tendencies, but I think that’s a good thing because my energy is usually 100, and I don’t think that challenges are too much for me.

(That’s something I discovered about myself on a walk home from uni, while listening to Beyoncé’s Homecoming.)

Cookies and a Lesson

Happy July everyone! I hope this month brings you blessings, prosperity and happiness.

A few days ago, I enlisted the help of my little sister to make chocolate chip cookies. She’s been using this quarantine to brush up on her roblox skills and I reckoned she should do some activities that didn’t involve being chased by a spider or an old woman with a hammer. I know she’d been struggling with her maths homework so my solution to that was making her measure out all the ingredients.

She wanted to do the fun stuff like mixing, and taste testing and pouring the chocolate chips but I told her that she had to build up to it and work her way up to anything interested. (Obviously, I relented, but that’s a different story.)

She did a good job working out the different measures, and she even cracked an egg, but there was no way I was about to take my camera out and document that just in case everything went south and the kitchen became an eggy mess.

She asked me lots of intelligent questions such as “what is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?” and “why do you have to preheat an oven?” I enjoyed feeling like a genius as I answered the questions and she lapped up the knowledge like an eager student. I even gave her the baking soda and vinegar demonstration and I explained a little about acids and alkalis. I’m not sure if she fully grasped the concept but she did like watching it fizz.

Thanks to her diligent measuring and and counting skills, the cookies were a success, and we both enjoyed eating them. I’d like to bake more with my sister but as you’ll come to learn, nothing quite captures her attention like the computer.

How to Make the Perfect Recipe (Kinda)

Today, I’ll be discussing how to make a recipe. You might think it’s really easy, just write some steps down and give them to people but in reality there is so much more work that goes into the process before you even write down the list of ingredients.

You have to factor in certain things. You need to think about the colour, the flavour, the texture, the smell. You want to create a dish that’s pleasing to all the senses and is unique, otherwise who is going to to try your recipe? I’ll structure this post in true food blogger format, with a whole load of exposition before I get to the important content. Why? Because it’s 9pm and I think it’s a good idea.

It was a cold, winter’s day in London, and I sat by the window staring pensively outside, a mug of hot chocolate in my hand. Looking down at sweet drink, I thought that it would be well complimented with a chocolate fondant, complete with fruits and a caramel sauce. The word chocolate comes from the Aztec word xocoatl, which refers to a bitter drink made from cacao beans. Cacao is pronounced, ca COW. Ow, I say to myself because I’ve accidentally spilt my hot chocolate on my leg because I was too busy thinking pensively. As the snow falls, I notice how it contrasts with my leg, which is painfully hot. But the pain is not as much as the mental pain I’m going through of really wanting a chocolate fondant. The recipe I have attached is coincidentally not for a chocolate fondant, or for hot chocolate, but for making a recipe, because what are we, if not recipes for living?

Ingredients

  • Time
  • Patience
  • More food ingredients than you think you’ll need
  • A device with internet connection
  • Paper and pen
  • People willing to eat your various drafts

Methodology

  1. Think about the dish you want to start developing and make the most basic version of it. If you want chocolate chip cookies, find the most generic chocolate chip cookie recipe you can and make it.
  2. Write a review of what you’ve just made on the paper, with everything good on one side, and the content that needs improvement on the other.
  3. Make a note of what you want to change to make the recipe suit your tastes more. If you want the cookie to be softer, make a note of that, and write it on the paper.
  4. Figure out what in the recipe you need to adjust to make the recipe suit your tastes. This is when you experiment and add different ingredients. You’ll have to research what ingredient does what, which is where the internet connection comes in.
  5. After each completed dish, make a note of what went right and what went wrong and keep adjusting until you’re satisfied. This is where the patience comes in. If you’re like me, you’ll measure everything down to the teaspoon until the recipe is perfect and your mum hates you for wasting ingredients.
  6. You’ll probably have a lot of wasted products so be sure to give it away or eat it if you have the appetite for that.

If you follow these steps properly, you’ll be well on your way to developing and cultivating your own recipes. Seriously though, recipe development is fun and the process can be more fun than the eating. (At least for me.) I think spending ages obsessing over minute details is what will give your dishes and meals the refinement and the edge over people. Just ask my family. It took a year (between being busy with work, uni and sleep) to perfect the jerk spiced lamb dish, and I went through maybe 5 different versions of it until I found a combination that I loved.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely day 🙂