I’ve been tossing in bed since about midnight. It was about 1:30pm and I was feeling a bit “peckish” as my grandmother called it. I get creative with food sometimes, but I always draw from the years I spent watching my grandmother move around the kitchen.
“Granny, please teach me how fah cook!” I would often demand of her. She would respond that nobody taught her how to cook but I just have to watch and learn. I never bothered. It wasn’t until I moved to Trinidad for studies at UWI in January 2015 and damn-near starved that I finally appreciated how much I should’ve been taking those lessons.
By that time granny had already migrated to the US, and even when my semester ended and I went back home to Guyana, there wasn’t a chance I could benefit from a couple of her recipes. We developed a system of cooking through Viber, Skype, and Whatsapp with a combination of text messages and voice notes (most effective for recalling recipes for later date) and a video call every now and again just to see how the pot was turning out.
Of course, she’d never be able to taste it but at least I was getting it down for myself.
I navigate much better around the kitchen now. So much so that my time on Milner Hall (now Freedom Hall) in academic year 2017/2018 saw me dominating the kitchen with Guyanese dishes that were a hit with the regional students. You could always get people together around a pot and a hot plate of something good.
We developed a system– “put something in de pot and get a plate.” IT was a kind of cooperative socialist principle that ended up working out well. Even if you brought the onions to contribute to the pot, you’d still be guaranteed a plate. It’s been about a year since I’ve been away from Hall, and I’ll be returning on May 12 for a week. A lot has changed, but let’s see if the system still has value.
Tonight, I saw some boulanjay in the fridge. I didn’t feel like cutting it up and cleaning it and using oily pans and so on, so I just put it on the stove as is. I saw granny do it before. I rotated every now and again until the outer skin was burnt and you could tell the inside was cooked. I held it up from the stem, peeled the burnt outer layer, and mashed the now-steamed inside.
I added some Caribbean Seasoning (a brand) for taste with a little bit of pepper, and mixed it with……. a tablespoon of chicken stuffing I had in the fridge. A strange combination but it went well together. I ended off the whole thing with a few slices of just-fried ripe plantain. The last of the plantain I had in the fridge.
The flavours pulled together well. Tonight I am thankful for my grandmother, Margaret Rodrigues, and for the women who take time to teach, to share our culture and to teach us the value of a good pot to bring people together. I still don’t know what this boulanjay thing is called. Is it choka?
I googled it, and yup… it’s baigan choka. ❤