Wondering what he was going to do when he reached Boston’s 24 snowy degrees still wearing his shorts and sandals, Ken boarded the plane home on Sunday morning. I will miss him: visitors show me my world through new eyes. And besides that, he’s a great cook—to get a compliment from Miss Brenda on somebody else’s mac and cheese is indeed a badge of honor.
One of my frustrations with Eleuthera has always been the limited diet that seems to be available here: mostly carbohydrates, sugar, and fried meats, it seems to me. (With a little conch salad, of course.) But Ken showed me otherwise—he found vegetables, fruits, fresh tomatoes, and herbs and combined them with rice, lentils, and non-gluten pastas: we ate like kings!
However, I have to admit that today I just had to go to Miss Barbie’s for conch fingers and guava duff. That’s what Bahamas eating is all about—and I’m not a flour-avoiding vegetarian, though I must admit the last week of Ken’s cooking has made a partial convert of me.
Like all the other places on Eleuthera, the recent hurricane damaged Miss Barbie’s Take Away. It’s still spotless inside—even more so than before, I think. There’s fresh white paint and dark red trim that’s coordinated with the five booths, new tiles on the floor, and an added refrigerated display case filled with cakes, tarts, and guava duff. Miss Barbie’s daughter Beryl was wearing a chef’s hat and looked so professional I had to take her picture.
I was compelled to bring home a container of the Bahamian national dessert, Guava Duff. Guava Duff is a steamed pudding made with sieved guava fruit. It looks like a jelly roll, but is served warm with hard sauce (butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla and rum). It’s my absolute favorite dessert: one year I asked Miss Barbie to make some and freeze it so I could bring it back home and share it with the poor folks in Northern Michigan who have never had the joy of tasting this concoction….maybe I’ll do that again this February.
Generally speaking, Bahamian cuisine isn’t a primary incentive to visit these islands, but a good cook is really a special treat. The food heritage here is a mixture of Dutch, English, Asian, French, and native cooking. Curries are common, as are chowder and stews. Fish and chicken are staples, of course.
One of my favorite Eleuthera restaurants (beside Barbie’s Take Away) is the Northside, just a couple of miles outside of Rock Sound, and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I took Ken there before he left, knowing that if anybody could meet his dietary restrictions, it would be Miss Rose.
Miss Rose is a lovely Bahamian woman. A widow, she manages Northside’s restaurant and charming resort cottages by herself. As we bounced down the partially paved two-track that leads to Northside, Ken remarked on the lack of signage and paving. “Well,” I said, “The important folks know where Miss Rose is. She caters for some very significant dignitaries on this island.”
It didn’t take him long to understand why everyone loves her.
“I can’t eat gluten,” he explained.
“Oh, don’t you worry at all! I’ve got peas (beans) and rice, vegs, plantains, and salad. We can make you a real good meal. I just finished cooking the peas and rice—that’s the hard part. Everything else can be prepared in no time at all.”
And our lunch was indeed splendid! Even better, Miss Rose came and sat with us as we finished our meal and explained how to cook plantains, what ‘brown sauce’ was, and when to use limes in chowder and stews. Rose also told us how difficult it was to repair her business after the hurricane: “The Prime Minister came to see the damage here,” she told us. “He gave me a certificate so I could get supplies and make repairs without paying taxes and import fees. I gotta get all that done before my grant time runs out.”
“It’s hard to believe you had any damage,” I said. “Everything looks perfect.”
“Oh, lordy, I had to get a whole new roof, and windows, and chairs. My children and grandkids came home from the US and from Nassau for Christmas, and I just had them to help me all they could.”
As we bumped our way down the two miles of trail from Northside, Ken and I congratulated ourselves on our good fortune to have visited Miss Rose on a day when she could not only cook a delicious meal for us, but also provide a special insight into island life.
We had her all to ourselves. It’s a good thing Eleutherans don’t invest in paved roads, directional signs, and flashing neon lights.
(PS: as I write this, there’s a light tap at my front door. It’s Kervin’s grandson, Po, carrying fresh, hot conch fritters wrapped in foil. “Grampa made them for you,” he says.