Monday, October 27, 2014

My artwork will be on display at the Burton Barr Library, downtown Phoenix, AZ from this Thursday October 30 at 6pm with the formal opening and press releases.  My photography features shots of natural wildlife found in Trinidad & Tobago during a recent visit in May, 2014.  Here is a glimpse of some of the photos which will be on display.

Turkey Vulture eating a Cavalli fish carcass on Las Cuevas Beach, Trinidad

         Ruby Topaz Humming Bird  - St. Joseph, Maracas, Trinidad

Local yard hen with two of her 8 chicks

Flowers and fruit buds of the Pomerac fruit tree
Short Bio:
Diana was born and raised in Port of Spain, Trinidad where she has many fond memories of a childhood filled with trips to the beach and exploration of this beautiful island. On her frequent trips back to Trinidad, Diana loves to capture the natural elements of the Caribbean with emphasis on its flora and fauna.
She is often referred to as the Shandy Girl, a nickname earned by her enjoyment of a popular island cocktail made by combining beer and ginger ale. In her career, Diana is a research advancement manager at the Julie Ann Wrigley School of Sustainability. In her free time, Diana enjoys hiking with her husband, photography, creating metal art work, gardening and playing with her four grandchildren.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The 'Blue' Dog

(I had created a 'draft' and never posted this as initially intended.  Since this draft, old faithful and funny Blue has gone to 'doggie heaven'!)

The ‘Blue’ Dog (Intro).

It all began five years ago, when my son and daughter-in-law were living in my home while I was away on a 6 month ‘sabbatical’ in the Caribbean. They purchased a male English Bulldog. He was six weeks old, white and tan, with a large tan patch on the left side of his face. I knew about this new addition ‘after the fact’ when they sent me a photo of this tiny bundle sitting in my bathtub. Now you must understand that I love dogs. Growing up in the Caribbean, dad always had beagle hunting dogs, but they were always in their runs outside. I have never liked having them inside the house, especially my house. This photo arrived with no letter or note of explanation, but I immediately recognized my bath tub.

The first thought that popped into my mind, was to jump on a plane and ‘save’ my home from the onslaught of what having a pet in the house would inevitably bring. My second thought won out, as I called my son to ask for a confirmation that I was wrong! Johan answered the phone with a “Mum, I can explain”. He went on to say that he and Tina visited a breeder that they heard about who just had a new litter, and of course, they could not resist his big brown eyes and wrinkly nose. They named him ‘Blue’. Blue looked very cute but I admonished him for bringing a ‘dog’ into my home, and went on to explain that they had to keep the house clean and ‘poop’ free, with absolutely no doggie smells.  

Over the next few months, I began to prepare myself for going back to Phoenix and having a dog in my home, but my heart began to melt when I received updated reports and various photos of Blue as he grew. One of the episodes that tugged at my heart strings was when Blue got sick, shortly after they brought him home, and Johan slept with him in the family room on the carpet for several nights when Blue could not walk properly and was vomiting a lot. He had a ‘weakness’ in his hind legs, which developed suddenly. We were all very happy when he got over it and started growing nicely.

When I got back to Phoenix, Blue was approximately 7 months old, and I did not immediately see the damage. It was while we were all sitting around in the living room, there it was, steering me in the face. Several small chunks of the edges of my coffee table were missing. I think Johan froze as he saw me looking at it and blurted his famous words ‘Mum, I can explain’!

Those early days of love, patience, luxurious time and understanding have faded somewhat, as dogs grow older, another dog is brought home, business gets busier, humans have babies and other responsibilities, and homes seem to get smaller. As it turned out, several years later since Blue was first brought to my home, then moving and living with J & T, and in 2011, he has again come to live with my new husband (‘Sweetie’) and I in our home. We have become his foster doggie-grand-parents!

(RIP Blue - January 2014)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Madeiran Lifestyle of a different Era…..

When I was eleven years old, my parents decided to take a trip to Madeira to visit some of my dad’s relatives. They lived in Funchal, the capital, and it was a fun experience just getting there by a large cruise liner. As soon as we arrived at port and got off the gangway, we couldn’t help but notice all the festivities including music, wine and cheese merchants, flower stands, fruit and veggies being carried around by a ‘bull-cart’, and other vendors with hand-woven baskets and beautiful crochet items for sale. We vowed to purchase some on our way out, as we planned to spend one week with our family in Funchal. We were met by one of my dad’s aunts who took us to their home very near the sea with beautiful views of the harbor. It was my brother and my first trip to Madeira and we both immediately noticed that all the little kids in the area seemed very happy and healthy-looking, and their cheeks in particular were quite plump and rosy. I assumed at the time, that it was because of the breeze and cold air blowing off the snow-capped mountains in the surrounding area. But we were soon to find out the real reason….

On the evening of our arrival, we brought out the special gift for our family which was a floor polisher. I remember it as a square, shiny, and relatively heavy metal contraption, with some thick buffing material on the bottom which could be easily removed and changed when dirty. There was a spiral hole in the middle of the polisher where you would insert a broom handle to make is easier to push. Now remember, this was approximately 45 years ago, when people (Portuguese) still hand-polished their floors and made their own floor polish, by melting candle wax and adding some brown crayon color to it (I had often witnessed my Aunt E. making her own special blend of polish). Therefore, this gift of the ‘latest technology’ in polishing machines, was received with great amazement and excitement from our Madeiran family, as it was certainly an improvement over my aunt having to get down on her knees to hand polish the floors.

They could not thank us enough for this amazing gift! My dad’s aunt started bringing out food and wine of every type to share with us, and amongst all the drinks being offered, was a small glass of very green looking ‘juice’ being handed to my brother and myself to drink. My parents told us to go ahead and drink it, and we both took a huge gulp at the same time, and had such a shock, as we realized that we were drinking a home-made Madeira wine. It was very sweet, thick, and a pretty bright green color, and of course, not being accustomed to this drink, which had a fairly high content of alcohol in it, our taste buds and stomachs were in shock!. Our Madeira family was quite disappointed to see that we did not finish our drinks, as all of our younger cousins were drinking theirs with enjoyment and wild abandon. We realized then the reason for their simple, enjoyable and happy way of living….

Today of course, I would drink that same home-made Madeira wine with wild abandon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pastelles - the traditional Spanish-Portuguese way

Over this past 2009 Christmas season, while making Pastelles - another traditional Spanish dish of ours, I thought of one of my dad's sisters, we shall call her 'Aunt E' who was an excellent cook (God rest her soul). Aunt E was the family chef and every lunch time for several years, she would prepare a myriad of meal choices to feed over 20 family members including her husband, children, grands, sisters, brothers, in-laws, etc. My dad was fortunate enough to have lunch there every day. It was also good that Aunty had so many 'picky' eaters in the group, as everyone else in my family was able to partake in some of these wonderful 'left-overs' that dad brought home almost every evening. One of Aunt E's best tasting meals was her pastelles, which she made not only for the family, but also to sell to various faithful customers over the years. She usually had over 70 dozen orders to make, and my brother and I went over to her home to assist in making them on many occasions. Aunt E never skimped on ingredients and always made everything fresh, natural and from 'scratch'. She would go to the market and get the banana leaves, the whole corn kernels, several pounds of beef and pork, garlic, pimentoes, scotch bonnet peppers, various other seasonings, and 'roucou' or achiote (this is a type of amerindian fruit which, when soaked in water, gave the meat a wonderful golden-red color and unique flavor).

When all the ingredients were brought home, the real action started. She enlisted special helpers, each with a specific job to do. Grandpa had to get the huge outdoor stove going, and set a tall square tin (originally filled with the Bermudez Crix biscuits) on the stove with water to boil. He would then clean the banana leaves and 'singe' them over a flame on another stove to make them soft and pliable. These leaves were cut into small squares and set aside for the pastelle wrapping. Grandpa would also cut up the large ball of twine (string) into 18 inch pieces and set them aside to secure the leaves around the pastelles. Aunt E would then mince up all the meat in a large stainless steel grinder, then season and stew the meat it a very large and heavy 'iron' pot. This stew would exude such wonderful smells that we could not wait to sample it. While the meat was cooking, Aunty would prepare the corn by also grinding it in the grinder. Then to this she added olive oil, salt and hot water and kneeded it into pliable balls (approximately 2 inches in circumference). The kitchen table would be laid out like an assembly line, with the container of pre-kneeded corn balls, a home-made 'pastelle press' ( which I believe was made by my dad for Aunty, and was used to flatten the balls into even, thin layers), the banana leaves, the stewed meat, a container of oil, capers, raisins, sliced pimento-stuffed olives, the string and the large biscuit tin used to steam the pastelles. My job was to scoop a tablespoon of meat onto the pressed out corn balls, and my brother would place several capers, raisins and olives on the top of each meat scoop. We continued this process until all of the pastelles were prepared. They were then steamed in several batches before they could be cooled and placed in the fridge, for collection by the family and/or customers. During this cooking event, there would be music, and chatting and lots of excitement. Every so often, my brother and I would sneak a teaspoon of the stew and eat it, quickly before Aunty could see us. This created even greater anticipation of having some of those delicious pastelles over the Christmas season. (Copyright (c) 2009).

Here is a photo of my own family's pastelle-making event for Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dad's Special Garlic Pork.

This weekend I am planning on making my dad's famous garlic pork recipe (don't worry, I will be buying the pork already prepared at Frys) (see first blog)!

A new chapter..... (copyright (c) 2009).  The recipe that I am going to use,  was handed down from a long generation of our Portuguese side, which dad learned from his mother who was born in Madeira.  My mum, brother, two sisters and I have watched and assisted dad over the years as he prepared the pork for the inevitable traditional Christmas morning breakfast feast.  On one of my recent visits to Trinidad, I again had the opportunity to assist him with this very big production.  He ordered 'two back legs' from his favorite butcher and requested that it had just the right combination of meat and fat (not too lean and not too fat).  We then went to the market where he purchased several pounds of garlic, some small leaved French thyme, two hot Scotch Bonnet peppers, and several bottles of vinegar.

Back in the kitchen, we placed a plastic cloth on the table, and layed out all the elements needed to complete the preparation.  Dad took the pork legs outside, and used his special cutlass (machete) to chop the meat up on his chopping board (sliced from a very large tree-trunk of Guyanese hard wood) which he has had for years.   He then de-boned the pork legs and cut them up into 2 inch squares.  The large leg bones which still had some meat on it, were put aside to boil as a special treat for his hunting dogs.  The meat was then placed in a large glass bowl on the table, to which was added enough vinegar to cover the ingredients.  There were two other bowls on the table with a solution of 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water.  We proceeded to peel the several pounds of garlic and place them in a separate container, and we stripped the leaves off the stalks of the Spanish thyme.  Dad then pulled out his two very old earthenware containers (demi-John's) which he has managed to keep for over 30 years, sterilizing them with boiling water.  These containers are used to put the prepared pork into,  where it would stay covered and 'marinating' for about 5 days before the meat can be prepared for eating.  So with this assembly line, we washed the pork in the first container of pure vinegar, then squeezed the liquid out of this pork, and placed it into the second container of the vinegar mixture.  We repeated the process into the third and final mixture. We then placed layers of pork, salt, garlic and thyme into the earthenware containers, and repeated this process until the jars were full and we used up all the pork. At this point, dad mixed a fresh solution of vinegar and added some salt to it until it tasted 'sweet' (don't ask)!  This liquid was then added to the jars until all the meat and contents were covered.  He then added one whole pepper to each jar and sealed them. 

Needless to say on Christmas morning, dad got up early, had his 1/4 cup of coffe (instant Nescafe and condensed milk) removed the meat from the jars, par-boiled it in water and then proceeded to fry the pork, assisted by it's own perfect portion of rendered fat and a 'little bit of ham'.  It was fried to a golden brown color and a soft texture.  This wonderful smell permeated the entire house, woke the balance of the family up, and this special breakfast was thoroughly enjoyed by all!

I have to also let you know, that while we were preparing the garlic pork, we were also having a couple drinks of  'rum and coke' as this is also part of our (dad's) tradition.....   :)

So as I said, my wonderful hubby (Sweetie) and I will be preparing our garlic pork this weekend and hoping that it comes out as delicious as my dad's always has over the years.  I have a feeling though that it will be missing some of his unique touches!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Sustainable Chickens' (Free Range Birds)

I recently read a very interesting article about 'sustainable chickens' which are genetically-bred chickens introduced by Kegg Farms of India. These birds apparently survive on 'waste', weigh more than the average chicken, and produce five times more eggs than the 'local' birds.    The owner of Kegg Farms (Vinod Kapur) is an engineer by training, turned entrepreneur by becoming the non-executive head of Kegg (Kapur + Eggs) Farms in 1973.  His masterpiece bird is dubbed 'the Kuroiler' (Kegg + Broiler) which is custom bred for the small farmer.

These birds have been a blessing to rural households in India's poorest regions and other parts of many third-world countries by allowing the small entrepreneurs to purchase  and sell the over 200 eggs they produce in an 18-month cycle (as opposed to the 'normal' chickens producing only 40 eggs in that same period).  These Kuroiler roam around the yards, eating insects and other available scraps, supplemented by some wheat grain, and are able to 'run' away from predators.  The idea of developing a bird that was significantly more productive, hardier and disease resistant, has made the role of backyard poulty production much easier in enhancing and sustaining poor peoples lives in developing countries.  These households rely on small scale, low cost, poultry producion to earn and supplement their livelihoods.  The adult Kuroiler weighs approximately 2.8 kg and provides twice as much meat than the usual household chickens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My first blog ever.......

I thought that I should start my first 'blogging' with an 'excerpt' from my book (copyright (c) - Shandy Girl - 12-15-09):

Our two pigs, on the other hand, were another story. Coming from a Portuguese Maderian background on my father's (Gomes) side, our family loves to make the traditional dish of 'garlic pork' also known as 'Carne de Vinagre de Alhos' and 'Calvinadage' for Christmas. Therefore, dad purchased a pair of pigs to keep on the property in Santa Cruz to breed and produce piglets in time for this special Christmas dish. The pair of pigs were huge to begin with, but they soon grew to be even larger than anticipated. They were kept in a pen down by the river, which ran through the back of our property. On one occasion when the river started to overflow because of the torrential rains we were getting, my dad enlisted the help of six of his friends to 'rescue' the pigs from the river which was rising rapidly into the pig's pen. They strapped some ropes on the pigs, which were now weighing over 200 pounds each, and pulled them grunting and screaming into our downstairs bathroom. For two days, we had these pigs in our bathroom until the rain subsided and the river got back to it's original level. We then had to repeat the process in reverse, i.e. get these pigs back down to their pen at the river's edge. They were delighted to be back, especially because the floods had driven loads of 'blue mangrove' crabs into their pen and surrounding areas, thereby making a delicious and crunchy  'welcome home' meal for them. This ordeal took my parents several weeks to get the 'stink' out of our bathroom.