Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.
Christmas in the Caribbean, especially on our beautiful island, is well underway as I write this. Plans, gift shopping, food shopping, and thoughts have been put into what we will wear – to church, to party, to just get something new and pretty – to gift, to cook, to go out to eat; our blessings are many!
We need the peace and excitement of this festive season so much after the last year (plus!)
There certainly is an excitement in the air in town as the cruise ships are back in force, the biggest excitement is to see our harbour bustling with those impressive vessels tied up alongside.
The mega yachts are back too. In and out through the bridge daily – what a joy it is to have breakfast and see these beautiful, sparkling vessels pass within touching distance as we gaze in awe at them. The ones too large to enter the lagoon are anchored out in the bay, they are really very impressive in size. Then there are all those private jets beginning to fill the airport parking areas, row upon row of them and the wee helicopters are buzzing in and out, up and down seemingly all day long.
Oh yes, it appears that our island’s Christmas-season life is back, for us at least. We are blessed that so many visitors are able to come back to visit staying in their favourite hotels, timeshares and villas. However, we send “sterkte” thoughts to the many who sadly cannot get to travel and join their families as restrictions are once again being put into place regarding travel. Oh, how blessed we are on this lovely island.
(Even if we do find ourselves once again being told to stay put it is not so bad for us – we don’t need to contend with mist, cold, rain, or snow BRRR!)
What is truly special this year are all the Christmas markets being held, just everywhere! Talented local artists have spent months cooped up turning their energy into creations they now have a chance to display and hopefully they will make a sale at these markets. Every market we have been to has turned up some surprisingly great creations. And then there are all the delicious, enticing morsels that are being displayed at the various stalls with our names on them saying “eat me, eat me!” Cookies, cakes, pies and tarts, both sweet and savoury. Christmas drinks traditionally made ice cream, tasty goodies for all including truly wonderful vegan and vegetarian delights.
Christmas music can be heard just about everywhere. Jingles and jangles and good old crooning tunes interspersed with traditional church hymns have been played over the air for the last few weeks. Christmas trees, with their heady pine smell, have been set up in homes. Excitement is mounting.
(What we won’t mention is the annoying Christmas winds, and the traffic – oh boy, we certainly got used to less traffic on our roads these last few years.)
What are your plans for your Christmas dinner this year? Will you do a hot Christmas Eve, a hot or cold Christmas Day or a long and fun brunch after church? Do you cook a turkey or a ham or do you prefer lamb or fish?
I’ll tell you what we plan this year – remember it is still a plan, not yet a definite as we are all working right up to the last minute – the only definite plans are – we will have a hot meal Christmas Eve and a cold meal on Christmas Day!
Our menu choices have come down to the following:
Starters could be Smoked Salmon with all the trimmings; Egg mousse, a traditional, tasty egg salad that is set in gelatin; Savoury Candy Cane – tomato and mozzarella rings alternately plated in the shape of the traditional cane, adorned with bright, green parsley; Garlic bread; Various dips and crudities.
Mains could be slow roasted Lamb; Spiral Ham cooked with pineapple rings; Turkey Breasts stuffed with mushrooms and pork mince and wrapped in a sheath of bacon – this will be doused in whiskey before baking; Winter veggie bake; Green bean dish; Mixed green salad; Cranberry sauce; and either roast tatters or chaat masala potatoes – or both.
Desert is always plentiful and there is talk of Tiramisu; English mince pies; Brownies; Pineapple Fluff; Ice cream; Brandy butter and a selection of cheeses.
Will this be enough? Left-overs are welcome for Christmas Day and the rest of the week.
Around the world families will be sitting down to a get together with family and friends either both in the evening and or in the day. It is summer with hot weather in the Southern hemisphere and winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Down south the hot summer weather will be conducive to eating foods served cold or at room temperature. Often in South Africa and Australia the Christmas Eve meal is cooked over the coals (on the Baaarbie, as the Aussies say, or the Braai as the South Africans say.) This meal could well be a fish meal, freshly caught that day with an adornment of prawns, oysters and mussels. Down south the weather temperature is very similar to ours here on island right at this moment although, of course, we are in the middle of winter! If the meal is to be eaten on Christmas Day the turkey would be popped into the oven early morning while the family heads off to church.
Christmas gifts would be unwrapped once home again and then the feasting would begin. The table would groan under the weight of curried rice salad, mixed salads, jellied salads, bean salads, cold ham, warm stuffed turkey and perhaps a beautifully pressed tongue. The side board would be laden with sweet morsels for the end of the meal.
No matter who sits down at the table, the meal takes a form of pot-luck with each person arriving with their version of the delegated dish they were asked to bring along. The traditional sharing is of great importance in many families.
Christmas crackers would be laid out on the table. Once pulled, silly jokes, a small toy and a paper hat would pop out. The silly hat would be placed on the head, these are often so big they slip right over the eyes of children or so small they sit perched atop of old uncles and grandpa’s heads. Yes, Christmas time is a time of laughter, silliness and loads of fun.
The Christmas cracker tradition can now be carried on here at the island folk’s tables as quite a few stores stock them these days.
Merry Christmas to all.
Vanillekipferl – What is Christmas without a few home-baked cookies?
3/4 cup butter
2 1/2 oz shelled and ground almonds
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 packs vanilla sugar
1 pack icing sugar
Mix all ingredients into a short-crust dough, leave in a cool place for one hour
Roll out dough to a thickness of about one centimetre before cutting it into small pieces and forming crescent-shaped biscuits
Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking tray and bake them at a moderate temperature (392*F) for around 10 minutes or until they turn slightly brown
Mix icing sugar and vanilla sugar together
Toss the hot cookies in the mix
Store the biscuits in a sealed tin (they will become traditionally crumbly)
Lebkuchen Granola – Here is a tasty breakfast mix for those who have to have something before heading off to church, or anytime they feel peckish.
150g almonds and walnuts, roughly chopped
50g melted butter
50g maple syrup
1 tbsp Lebkuchen spice mix
100g candied peel
Preheat oven to 375*F
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
Mix oats, nuts, butter and syrups together
Sprinkle the Lebkuchen spice mix and the salt into the above
Mix well – use your hands
Spread the mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet
Bake about 20 minutes rotating the sheet halfway through (you will smell the granola when it has cooked to your liking – don’t over brown it)
Take the granola out of the oven, stir in a handful of raisins or craisins to the mix
Cool completely before storing in air-tight containers
Lebkuchen Spice Mix
Mix together 1 tsp each ground ginger, anise, cinnamon, coriander
1 generous pinch ground nutmeg and cloves
Store in a jar
Glühwein – What would the wintery Christmas season be like without a steaming mug of this warming drink?
3 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 slices of ginger
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
Splash grated nutmeg
2 tbsp sugar
1 bottle good, fruity, red wine like a Pinot Noir
Orange slices to garnish
Pop the spices, sugar and wine into a large pot
Heat slowly until it is just coming to the boil – do not boil
Garnish with orange slices
Photo credit: Elle republic