Monday, March 29, 2010

back to reality

One of the bonus effects of going away is coming home again with eyes wide open. My week at the beach in beautiful Antigua cleansed my brain and soul. The minute I walked back into my home I saw dust, disorganization and STUFF. At least that is how it struck me. My life here is complicated and weighted down with so many things. Travel lightens your load and allows you to exist for a brief time anyway, with the bare essentials.
The island of Antigua charmed us again with it's simplicity and pride of place.  The first thing that hits you is color- my winter starved eyes drank it all in- the houses, the flowers, the sea.

Some of the beautifully colored buildings of Antigua.

The resort we favor, Hawksbill is streatched out over nearly a mile of pristine and remote beachfront property that has old-school charm and a down-at-the-heels rustic appeal that is impossible to create- it's authentic and weather beaten and suits us to a T.

Our little beachfront cottage home away from home.
While we were there we became aware of a couple of guests with a handful of small children awaiting the momentous return of their husbands who had spent 76 days at sea rowing across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua harbor, raising money for charity!  The two British rowers arrived not with bulging arm muscles as we expected, but rail thin and weather beaten as mountain climbers spending a month on K2. The reunion unfolded over the course of the week as the rowers with their children in tow slowly lost their dazed expressions and regained their land legs like returning astronauts.
We were vicariously exhuasted and exhilerated by a job well done without having to leave our lounge chairs!

And then the cooking class. I dragged myself from a reclining position to head up the hills to Nicole's Table where chef and culinary educator Nicole Arthurton conducts classes from her beautiful home featuring a huge veranda with sweeping views of the island. Nicole's style is breezy and casual.
Everyone gets busy prepping the meal.

Nicole puts the finishing touches on our feast.

The menu was classic Caribbean including West Indian pumpkin soup, roasted vegetables with plantains and some of the freshest snapper I have ever encountered that we stuffed and baked.

The big tip of the day from Nicole was to add a scotch bonnet pepper (one of the hottest peppers around) to the soup pot for flavor without the heat. The pepper is fished out at the end of the cooking and can be served on the side for those who like things fiery. Genius! I asked Nicole if any other chili pepper could be substituted and got a resounding NO! the flavor can't be replicated. Well ok, I'm convinced.
We ended the meal with a beautifully moist and dense Key Lime Rum cake made from tiny, juicy local limes. There was enough for me to bring back a slice to my husband who was still glued to his beach chair as if he had just rowed across the Atlantic (sorry hon, I know you work really hard, kiss).

Here is Nicole's recipe for West Indian Pumpkin Soup. Don't forget the scotch bonnet peppers, but if you can't find them, try the soup anyway, it is a winner. Amanda, we had some very nice, light and fruity Argentine wine with the meal, a Trivento Tribu Sauvignon Blanc 2009. But maybe you have something else in mind?

West Indian Pumpkin Soup
-from Nicole's Table
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb. pumpkin, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper

s & p to taste
a dash of ground nutmeg for garnish
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onions and celery and cook till translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook another two minutes. Add the carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin and some salt and saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes till they start to soften. Add the stock or water and the scotch bonnet pepper (be careful to leave it whole). Bring the soup to a boil and then lower heat and cover to simmer for 15-20 minutes. The vegetables should be fork tender. Remove the scotch bonnet pepper and puree the soup with and immersion blender or in batches in a food prossesor. Adjust the seasoning of the blended soup and add the nutmeg and cream if you are using it.
Heat through to barely a simmer before serving.

It sounds like you had a wonderful time, Deb! The pictures are beautiful and really tell the story of beautiful scenery and culture - and a great vacation! And the class in which you participated seems like it was educational and fun at the same time. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

Deb, are scotch bonnet peppers difficult to come by? Where would you suggest looking - farmers' markets? Whole Foods? Fairway? Seems like the soup would be delicious without them too, as you mentioned. But, at the same time, I would think they would lend something unique and distinct to the soup. I would definitely want to try to track them down!

The recipe seems nice and straightforward. The Trivento wine you described is a great choice for this soup. I would choose something from Argentina as well. I've written before about wines from Argentine producer Susana Balbo. I am a huge fan of hers, and often suggest wines from her terrific line-up. She produces wines under the "Balbo" label which tend to be fairly pricey (albeit delicious!). Her "Crios" line (which means 'offspring') are less expensive and incredibly wonderful. The Crios label consists of a Malbec, Rose of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes. All are outstanding, and affordable at approximately $11.99 per bottle. The wines achieve high ratings from wine critics year after year.

I would pair either the Torrontes or Rose of Malbec with the West Indian Pumpkin Soup. Torrontes has beautiful aromatics, combined with the exquisite peach flavors of a Viognier, and the crisp acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc. There is plenty of fruit, so if you do find that scotch bonnet pepper, and would like to enjoy it with the soup after it is removed, the heat will be quelled by the wine.

The Rose of Malbec would also be a wonderful complement to the soup. The strawberry and spice flavors of the wine would make a scrumptious match to this West Indian treat!


  1. Scotch bonnet peppers are not always easy to find, because they are so fiery they are rarely found in a typical American diet. I seek them out in markets that cater to Caribbean palates. Fairways will probably have them on a regular basis. Be careful to wear gloves if you cut them up, many people have a skin reaction to them. I like to put them whole in a jar covered with vinegar and use the vinegar as a spicy addition to soup and stews.

  2. The Snapper's eyes are so beautiful and clear you can just tell how fresh it was. Glad to hear you got some R&R...


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