Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tropical Tubers and Toys for Tots

The weather has been kicking up a bit, windy, rainy and definitely chillier. It’s due to a cold front approaching -- the one that recently gripped the upper midwest and is now sliding over the eastern seaboard, bringing temperatures down everywhere. We really can’t complain being here in Turks & Caicos, since a windy, sunny 73 degrees is a decidedly better situation than being in sub-zero temperatures with snow! 
Winds whipping up the seas and surf. No one's on the beach...
Nevertheless, with diving and lobstering not being an option in the rough seas, we decided we’d take a trip to the IGA today to get some provisions, as we were out of fresh vegetables. We bicycled along Grace Bay and up a lengthy hill to Leeward Highway, finally arriving at the local Graceway IGA. (This is a busy grocery store for most local folk, as opposed to the "Gourmet IGA" that seems to cater to the tourists staying at the upscale resorts.) I was pretty happy, as fresh green beans were available for a change, and we also got some nice broccoli, cucumbers and scallions. Again, as I've mentioned before, I enjoyed the novelty of all the different starches and tubers next to the easily recognizable white potatoes and yellow onions: there were piles of Malanga Lila, mounds of Yuca and Boniato and a large bin of  Dasheen piled high. They are definitely a bit intimidating in appearance: lumpy and bulbous, grubby, hairy and unappealing -- they really don't look edible, to my poor untrained eye! 
Boniato is a sweet potato native to the tropical Americas. 
It has a creamy yellow flesh and supposedly tastes like a cross 
between a sweet potato and an Idaho potato. 
There are many varieties of malanga, but most are usually
categorized by the color of the flesh inside:white (malanga 
blanca), pink (malanga lila) or yellow (malanga amarilla). It
reportedly has a slightly nutty flavor and potato consistency.
It's often confused with taro root.
Dasheen has a white flesh inside, and can be boiled and mashed.
It's often confused with taro or cassava, which look very similar,
but it's a different species, apparently. The leafy part of the
 Dasheen plant is used for a popular dish called Callaloo.
I did some research when I got back to the boat and discovered that these tubers and roots are staples of Caribbean cuisine, naturally durable and easily cultivated. Tropical tubers have much more flavor and more starchy sweetness than white potatoes, but with nuances of earthy, nutty flavors. They can also be a bit bitter, and their texture is also different, but can be prepared just like a regular potato in most cases: fried, boiled, sautéed, baked or roasted. They can be mashed or puréed, or added to soup as a thickener. Perhaps next trip to the store, I’ll be brave enough to actually buy one and prepare it instead of potatoes or rice...!
Monday evening we went over to SharkBite's on the other side of the marina for dinner and to watch the game between the Ravens and the Texans on MNF. (More "cardiac football" stress of never knowing if we will hang on to win, but thankfully, the Ravens did win, albeit in overtime.) Anyway, while we were there, we started talking with some local folks and found ourselves invited to a Toys For Tots holiday party on Thursday night! How fun is that? Ron and I are very excited about it; it's a great opportunity to give a little something back to the island community, especially since everyone has been so welcoming and gracious.
So, to that end, we spent today biking about the island in search of toys. We had a few errands to run anyway, so started by going to  the "DoItCenter", Provo's Home Depot-type place, and got a great little cut-off valve that we can install on the water line to the ice-maker. (That way, if we ever have another issue with a leak, we can shut off the ice-maker water line itself and not be without water throughout the entire boat.) While the DoItCenter had a few footballs, basketballs, water toys and bicycles, that wasn't the type of games and such that we were looking for, so made a few more stops at various local stores in search of some kids' games. One place we stopped at had a weird assortment of cheesy Chinese-made knock-offs: so-called Transformers, faux Barbies, stuffed Scooby-Doos, as well as a Spanish version of Twister called Colocho! that I'm pretty sure wasn't sanctioned by Hasbro. We opted not to buy anything there, since the stuff was not only poorly made, but incredibly expensive. ($25.00 for a floor puzzle?? NO thanks!) 

I remembered that the Unicorn Bookstore near the IGA that had all sorts of toys, in addition to books, so away we went, and hit the jackpot! They had a fabulous selection of reasonable priced toys for kids of all ages, from elaborately huge pails of Legos to simple sketch pads, painting supplies, crayons and the like. We spent quite some time trying to decide, but eventually bought a couple Lego sets, some adorable coloring and painting books, as well as the board games CandyLand and Operation. In an interesting twist, on the way out of the store, we saw some local school kids literally drumming up support for their Junkanoo team, parading around the parking lot with their drums and cow bells kaliking away, along with a sign that said "Sponsor Junkanoo". When one young lady shyly came up to ask for a donation, we gladly obliged. Clearly, today was a day for the kids!
The local kids' Junkanoo band, soliciting donations at the IGA
Their music was actually quite good!

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