Growing Up Haitian

A Letter to CDC: Stay Out Our Kitchens

Disclaimer. As a Haitian-American woman, I rank in the lower percentile of women who actually cook Haitian food on a regular. Scratch that. I cook next to NO Haitian food in the home. Don’t come for me or try to take my Haitian card. I’m just keeping it real. With a great cookbook and proper tutelage, I’ve tried my hand at it over the years—but yeah. We not all able.

That being said, I hear that the word out in these ‘white washed streets’ is that the CDC, also known as the Center for DISEASE CONTROL has put out a warning that we should NOT, and I repeat NOT wash our chicken. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Stare blankly onto my cellphone screen.

One thing my late mother made sure I learned was to clean my meat. I was immediately triggered back to memories of a large bag of chicken (with the skin still on it!) that I’d watch her unpack. Once she did that, I was responsible for cleaning out every crevice of every thigh meat of the gooey red stuff that was caught up in between the bones. Then on to stripping the drumsticks of their fat was another task. By the time the chicken was done, it had lost ten pounds of fat and was ready to be cleaned. The smell of chicken under your nails is no joke! Lemon and more lemon would be the only thing to take it out.

Again, I’m only speaking for the Haitian culture when I say that what we consider “cleaning meat” is nothing to be played with. But for most, if not all of the cultures in Hispanic and Caribbean households—yo we don’t play about our meat cleaning! My timeline is lit with Trini, Black and Peruvian friends (to name a few) getting a good laugh about this CDC Game of Thrones “white walker” mess!

Some of you may remember my Thanksgiving 2018 Facebook post about the turkey that nearly took me out. The anxiety of cleaning a bird that size! To properly do my ancestors justice. To save face during the holiday season. There was no showing up with a pale turkey that hadn’t bathed in the sink in vinegar, orange, lemon and then heated through with a hot bath before being seasoned to perfection. By the time that turkey was done with me, it had confused holiday prep with a pelvic exam!

Suffice to say CDC, we over here in the banana republic will continue to rinse and utilize citrus and acidic products to kill the germs of your supposed Grade A meat. Do not ask me the science behind it. Just know I do it because my maman told me to; and because Wakanda would kick me out! I just cooked a rack of lamb the other day. Do you think that I just rinsed it off and threw it in the oven?! Pitit! Child! All the Haitian mothers alive would come and take turns smacking me with a wooden spoon for my insolence!

There’s no getting around a perfectly rinsed and seasoned meat. Who does not recall the grocery bags doubling as ziplock bags in the freezer? Each perfectly proportioned with the right amount of meat for each of that week’s meals. Each drenched in seasonings that would become the essence of the sauces and gravy that would make the meal that much tasty.

But wait! It doesn’t stop there! This is where I think some folks get it wrong. When my mama had me done with the meat, she would have me take Clorox and wash down all counters and the entire sink with nothing but hot tap water. Yeah yeah. I know we trying to “seventh generation” our way into heaven but I’m not giving up Clorox or Fabuloso. You can hang that notion up.

By this time, meat cleaning in my mom’s kitchen had evolved to using gloves as part of the process. Once upon a time, a Haitian mami’s battle scars were seen in her raised cuticles and raw hands. Thank goodness my mama knew that a college education and raw hands would not be a good fit.

During those meat cleaning sessions, I’d mumble (in my head) all the while wondering what my friends were doing on a Friday or Saturday afternoon while I was in this non AC kitchen (or house for that matter) laboring like a Hebrew slave. I’d promise myself to hire a chef when I grew up and I’d never have to be in the kitchen ever again. Turns out many of us, were doing Saturday ‘lesiv’ (chores) in lock step. You can tell a lot about a Haitian-American woman based on her level of cleanliness. Some of us had tyrants for mothers!

Mama would eventually release me from my duties once the kitchen was up to her expectations. Hindsight being what it is, she didn’t really have me in the kitchen beyond the sous chef role. Thus, why there are gaps in my Haitian culinary skills. I’d go back to my books or whatever, happy to escape the kitchen. “Sigh” is another word for regret ya’ll. Maybe she knew that I’d turn out to be a cookbook type of cook. Or that Haitian food would be the foundation but not the “all” of my palate. She figured as long as I knew how to get the first part done, no meat regardless of the recipe would stand a chance in my kitchen. My kitchen. I’m grown ya’ll!

I tear up just thinking of those years as a child, watching her pressure cook meat, grate coconuts for the sos poi (bean sauce). She’d eventually create short cuts but her effort and diligence in the process remained the same. No food poisoning in her kitchen! These days, my lemon juice and sour orange comes in a bottle. No shame in my game. I cannot be rolling lemons around on the counter to generate the extra juice for meat cleaning; it’s all about pouring for me.

So CDC, spare us the meat cleaning instructions, or lack thereof. Entire developing nations have managed to survive salmonella and other food borne diseases just fine. If memory serves me correct, diseases have been INTRODUCED not generated in third world countries.

The children of those people are still doing just fine without your well intentioned (but thoroughly misguided) input.

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Every Day Living, Life Coach, Sistah Take A Seat

The Best Version of Me

Those who know me the longest know that even when I was a “skinty” chick, I never welcomed the attention of others from compliments about my body. I was never athletic so I was what I called “skinny for no reason”. I grew up in a time where black girls didn’t focus much on their body images. Lipstick and makeup was something you invested in during prom season and brought out only for special occasions. Lots have changed since then. Including my weight.

I was 118 pounds exactly twenty years ago this month. I remember getting a check up and hearing the doctor mention it. It was the first time that I made note of my weight and I have been tracking it ever since. Marriage brought on another twenty pounds. My Bongo jean wearing thighs made room for bootleg jeans that were a bit more roomier. Back then jeans didn’t have as much stretch as they do now. I suspect if jeans were made the same way, many of us would not be where we are today with our weight. But I digress.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s did I realize I really couldn’t just sit there and let life happen. Photos of my mom in her younger years revealed a small waist, skinny armed, thick thighs, hip-rich Haitian young woman. I always knew I would be built like her. There’s one caveat though. I didn’t have her height. Let’s be real. Any woman under 5’4” runs the risk of looking like a little people extra from the Wizard of Oz if she so much as gains ten pounds. I kept wearing heels to off set the issue. And then I made a lifestyle change.

Workout became my norm and routine. Healthy eating did too. I chucked a dairy rich diet and amped up my vegetable intake. When I walked in for a myomectomy one month and a hysteroscopy (look it up) a few months later, the come back from that was superb! My body thanked me for putting it on a regimen and my healing process was a smooth one. I kept this up for about two or three years thereafter and when my trainer left for another state I kinda fell off the wheel.

Long and short of it, I tried the gym. I tried other trainers and I tried different boot camps. Working out is one area in my life where I need someone telling me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. I don’t ask why. I moan and complain but I never ask why. I tried some plans and they would work but the discipline wasn’t there. I got complacent and was facing 3 pounds short of 150 at my worst.

In comes my old trainer and I give him a lot of credit for getting me back on the righteous path of healthy living. I’m not where I want to be but I suspect that I’m headed in the right direction. Five days a week workouts. Weighing your food. Watching your water intake. No sugar. No cream in my coffee. Well not most days anyway! No soda. More veggies. Confession, those protein drinks are the nastiest ever! But I do what I gotta do. Drink fast don’t breathe. More time spent at night meal prepping on Sundays. There’s a group of us. We struggle together. Crab about this experience together. Celebrate the wins. Console during setbacks and kick each other back in the game.

This year will be exactly ten years since I started down this journey towards a healthier lifestyle. It’s been a gradual shedding of bad habits. There was a time you couldn’t pay me to eat egg whites. Now I make the meanest egg white omelets with some good turkey bacon on the side. My palate is changed and even on the “cheat days” my taste buds and stomach usually rebel when I introduce something I had not had in a while. I’m traveling in a few days to a city where food is king! I’m thinking already of healthy options to choose from, activity level and the like. When you have sacrificed time, energy and sanity to something, you want to preserve the work.

I joke to my coach that I’m convinced we are his Miami Experiments. That the unimaginable things he’s asking us to eat and do isn’t reasonable or sane. That only a mad scientist would expect me to eat five times a day, work out five days a week and weigh my food! Ugghhh!!!!!! Have I been a saint? Nope. There were days I did not post because frankly I was somewhere doing what I had no business doing. I paid for it in spades though.

We end our 12 week run and start back in a another week. Unlike the last time, I am looking forward to the challenge of reaching a second set of goals. I am turning 43 next month. This body is responding differently than it did 10 years ago. I ache a little more after an intense workout. My breathing is a bit erratic at times. But there is this pudge I need to eliminate and these thighs to tone.

Let’s be clear. I’m doing what I feel like I need to do for me. When the doctor comes back and says you’re borderline diabetic or anemic, and when you have a history of cancer in your family–life hits you like a ton of bricks and the day of reckoning is REAL. So I do what works for me.

Tradition holds that the new year brings out all the wanna be workout junkies. And those who have been in the game tend to wait them out. Will you be a flash in the pan health nut or will you be that person who says I got some things I need to do to live a little bit more healthier. You got kids to chase around. You got a business to run. You got a gazillion community involvement type things you are planning and your health needs to be at optimum to do it. I heard someone say she lost 150 pounds in a year. She started by walking ten minutes a day.

I still hate being on the receiving end of attention. That’s not changing but I own my accomplishment in this. My clothes fit different. My confidence level (yes 40+ women have confidence issues too) has improved. God created a masterpiece when he created me. I gotta remember it’s my responsibility to keep up the good work he has so graciously begun in me.

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Food, Wine, And Friendships

So I told my friends back in January that I wanted to host a dinner party, where we would be able to try our hands at cooking as well. I was bringing friends from as far back as high school and as recent as sorority. And so the day came. Sitting at a huge granite island in this kitchen were women from all walks of life.

I knew they were ride or dies when I didn’t hear the gulp on the other end of the text as I mentioned the cost nor the second gulp when I had to come back and say another price. You know you got good peeps when they say “only for you!”

This five course meal started with cod fish crostini paired with a white wine. Each were nestled in cute bamboo like bowls. All marveled at the salty taste paired with the cool creme fraiche drizzled over it for effect and an extra burst of flavor. Our next crostini appetizer was goat cheese and cherry tomatoes doused in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Each bite brought a fusion of gastronomical heaven where you didn’t know where one taste began or ended.

Our chef, James, was careful to describe in detail how each flavor enhanced the other. He invited us to do a few but I was just too glad to sit back and enjoy the art of watching food prepared. I wanted to take pictures of everything! But I also wanted to live in the moment. Talk to my mentor on my left, giggle with my sister on my right, and call across the table to my sick friend who made it anyway, teasing her that I would be more than happy to drink her glass of wine. After all meds and alcohol don’t mix and I’m always game to take one for the team.

Our chef demonstrated how he would prepare our fish. He even took the time to talk the science of cooking and gave us pointers on how to buy cookware. Apparently the weight of a knife or pan means something more in the culinary world. After showing us how our grouper would be prepared, we were offered more wine and ushered into the patio area. Think Nikki Beach meets Club Bed with no long lines, no sand and no bad-bodied sunbathers.

We introduced ourselves and explained our relationships to each other. It was my and my sister (formerly sister in law’s) birthday. We tease each other mercilessly but she has a piece of my heart no matter how much she aggravates me. My mentor reminded me that what brought us together isn’t what has kept us together and that’s alright!

More wine offered, we moved on to table topics. I’m always interested in how people think and why they think the way they do. I never tire of hearing my friends and their off the wall comments. So with each question about shoes, retirement, aging, taking risks, I learned something new.

It was dinner time and we all entered back into this “garjus” home. I had a chance to speak to the owner. A nice looking brother who has apparently been dealt a great hand in life. I’m sure he’s been places and done things of a different caliber. So for him to marvel at how my friends and I were spending our evening was indeed humbling. “You have some good friends,” he said. He’s hosted hundreds of people in his home but never something as intimate as this, never something that had depth and meaning to it.

Dinner was pan-seared grouper with mango salad to compliment it’s flavor. The $70 a can saffron offered our yellow rice the right tint of color. I’m sticking to my Sazon! We learned terms like “sweating” of vegetables where they are brought up to a certain heat level to bring out the flavor. No wilted veggies here as our asparagus were the perfect compliment to this tasty dish. Huge white plates were soon emptied of their delicious burdens as we all spent silent moments in personal taste bud euphoria, enjoying it all to the last bite.

Chef James took the time to pair each course with a specific wine. He was careful to ask beforehand if my guests were into the dry wines–we are not. So fruit infused wines played well on our palates all evening.

Dessert was heavy cream whipped in a previously chilled bowl. The baker in me was in hog heaven as I knew the answers and Chef was so gracious to let me explain. My fellow baker friend was right there with me. Her sweet tooth was dying to get to the end so she could get to a martini glass filled with a melange of fresh whipped cream, raspberry, chocolate, and tid bits of pound cake. Rounds of seconds were passed around as we licked our spoons like five year old girls.

I wish I could have split my self in dozens to sit next to everyone and enjoy the moment with each of them. But from the snippets of conversations I heard, I know my friends from different worlds have more in common than they know. For starters we all love food, great wine, and good company. My college roomie who has swooped in whenever I was in personal crisis, my mentor who reminds me patience gets me what I want in the long run, my Sorors, who were colleagues and friends first before anything else, my sister-friends who know my “insider” jokes were all at one table. I was missing a few others there but nothing like videos and pics to bring them up to speed.

Nothing but full bellies and full hearts all around. Phone calls and texts of a night well spent in the company of great women. Plans to do this with other friends are in the works and I’m glad that there are women who truly enjoy the presence of others in meaningful ways.

Next year is destination 40th birthday and this was a great way to say goodbye to my 30’s.

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