Friday Foods! Jamaican Callaloo recipe.

Callaloo is a staple here in Jamaica.  It is often served for breakfast and sometimes contains saltfish.  Saltfish is a salt dried and preserved cod, it is almost jerky like in texture.  The salt content is extremely high and to use this you must first soak it for several hours to soften it and pull the salt out.  Saltfish is often used as more of a seasoning than a main component to a dish.

Callaloo is a type of amaranth green.  This grows well here and is available almost year round.  You can find someone selling it in most communities and it is not often in short supply.  When I think about the Jamaican diet this dish is the one that makes me the happiest.  For some Jamaicans this constitutes most if not all of their vegetable intake for a day.  I expected much more vegetation on my plate when I first arrived, but I was so shocked by the amount of starchy foods and meat consumed in the average diet.  I cannot eat so much starchy food or I would not be able to move around!

Typically you can get callaloo either in natural state, fresh harvested or already prepared for you, cut and diced.  I prefer the natural state, as I distrust that the time was taken to clean and soak the callaloo of all worms and bugs.  But this is my personal fear and not one that most people consider.  If buying it precut you can go to the market and watch the vendors take the callaloo and bunch it up after stripping the stringy parts, at the base, out. They then take a sharp knife and around their fist start slicing away.  I find this to scary as I would likely take a large hunk of my hand off!  I prepare it differently.  I clean it and dry it, because dry produce lasts longer in the fridge.  I then pick the pieces I want out and store the rest in a sealed container with a paper towel in the bottom to soak up the moisture if any appears.  I then cut the pulpy parts off and dice away on my cutting board.

Some people prefer their callaloo steamed all the way, I prefer to saute my onions and steam at the end.  I think it adds more flavor and I use coconut oil so it has great flavor.  So I strip my onions and slice them thin and saute them.  I add garlic and a bit of scotch bonnet peppers, not too much!  I use the actual pepper and slice it open, so if you do this be aware that no matter how much you wash the pepper capsaicin is in your fingernails and will be for quite some time.  I learned that using a pair of scissors to slice it is a much easier and better for small slivers than a knife.  Once my base is cooking down, I then add my cut callaloo.  I add a small bit of water, less than 1/4 cup and put a lid on it to allow the steam to cook it down.  At this point I might add some herbs and spices, traditionally this would be whole pimento, or allspice and some thyme and a scallion.   I however like to build a big flavor and add oregano and dried basil.  If you use pimento be sure to pull those bits out along with the twig from the thyme and the scallion if you desire.  I typically cut my scallion down to bite size pieces to make it more edible, because why throw it away?

As the callaloo is cooking down, I check on it to ensure it does not burn and dry out, I also take a peeler and pull off bits of carrot, a trick I wish I had known many years ago!   I also chop up a tomato to throw in.  Sometimes I add some coconut milk at the end to simmer it down in.  This adds a truly Caribbean vibe to the meal.


There you have it, all done.  Typically served with fried dumpling, boiled banana and or a piece of yam.  If you are lucky you can find some breadfruit to serve with it.  This dish is one of my favorites.  I like to baste an egg with my callaloo but if I were serving this to a true Rasta I would put in broad beans instead for the protein source, I would also not saute anything, all steamed and no salt.

For those that cannot find callaloo, you could try cale or mustard greens, mustard greens have a sharper taste so be aware of this as you season it.

New challenge: Creating a segment of food ideas for the rest of my service!

So I love to cook.  Probably to my detriment, never trust a skinny chef!   I love to cook, I love to eat and I absolutely love to create with food.  Instead of buying a sauce that is essential a problematic compaction of chemical preservatives, I will often try to find a way to re-create this with more natural ingredients.  I do not know about you, but not once have I found Sodium Benzoate for sale by itself on the grocery selves!  One of my favorite things to create is dressings, tahini, miso, lemon vinaigrette, mustard vinaigrette, tomato based russian dressing, and even my own peanut sauce are just a sample of some the things I have created.

Today I am going to share some ideas for how to recreate some of these sauces and dressings!  To start I must tell you that I typically create to taste, not an exact science.  Also as a single person cooking for a single person I am not about to mass produce a sauce that really should not stick around more than a few days.  (That is the only good thing about preservatives, you can let it sit around for quite some time!)  So one of the basics I want to cover is what to keep on hand always.  I have a comprehensive list below:


  1. Vinegars:  Rice Wine, Red Wine, Apple Cider, White, Balsamic, and any other variety you might like.  Each vinegar is needed for different things.
  2. Oils:  Sesame oil, Coconut oil, Olive oil, I never use vegetable oils or canola oil!  EVER!
  3. Lemon and lime juice, either fresh fruits or concentrates.
  4. Garlic, fresh or powder.
  5. Hot sauce and hot peppers to zip up the intensity.
  6. Liquid aminos, or tamari, not standard soy sauce, too salty.
  7. Dried and fresh herbs and spices.
  8. For a creamy dressing I use low-fat Greek yogurt and a small bit of sour cream, no mayo, I simply hate mayo.
  9. One final thing, Spirulina powder, this super-food is great mixed into a dressing.

It might be a bit expensive to get all ingredients at one time, so build up your pantry.  I suggest you find a recipe or two you and your family might enjoy and gather those ingredients first.  The other thing I do is flip through my on-line magazine subscriptions and modify the recipes with ingredients I have readily available here.

For those in more remote areas without refrigeration, you will want to keep only what you can use on hand and those dressings or sauces that have no need for refrigeration, not the creamy dressings!

I save all my jars, man sometimes I have too many, sometimes I struggle to find some.  I especially love the little caper jars and green olive jars.  These make great containers for the dressings and sauces and glass with screw top lids keeps ants and rodents out!  If an insect or rodent can bite into glass I am moving out!

First dressing I want to cover is:  Lemon vinaigrette:


  1. Lemon juice
  2. Olive oil
  3. Spirulina
  4. garlic
  5. dried herbs
  6. salt

I start with One tbsp of olive oil and two of the lemon juice.  I always use a 2/1 acid/oil ratio.  I then chop the garlic up and add in what I think is enough, for me a whole clove is typically enough for a double batch of this.   A pinch of herbs, salt and Spirulina and let this sit for an hour or so to blend.  Shake well before using.  This one can sit at room temps for a couple of days.

Peanut Sauce/Dressing: This one I use for spring rolls and an Asian style salad with tofu and crisp veggies.


  1. Peanut Butter
  2. Sesame oil
  3. Water
  4. Hot Sauce
  5. Garlic
  6. Salt
  7. Liquid Aminos
  8. Rice Wine Vinegar

Again one tbsp of peanut butter and sesame to 2 tbs of water and rice wine vinegar.  I always add water last.  This dressing will clump so you use the water to create a more liquid consistency and add it slowly, you do not want to water down the flavor.  I add a clove of chopped garlic or a tsp of garlic powder, be cautious about how much you add, taste as you go.  Salt is added as desired.  Liquid aminos start with 1 tsp and adjust to taste.  You can play with the ratios but this is the basics of the dressing.  Less liquid will create a thicker sauce.  I let this one sit overnight to really get the flavors blended together. I add a little hot sauce to kick it up a few notches, this is not essential and you should take into account who is going to eat this, little children might not like this with too much hot sauce, unless they are like me when I was a kid!  This is shelf stable for a few days.

Basic Vinegarette:


  1. Olive oil
  2. Vinegar, your choice:  stronger flavor vinegar should be used only if you want to overpower the item you are dressing.  Ie:  a plain lettuce would be nice with apple cider or balsamic vinegar.  A busy salad might do better with a basic white or red wine vinegar.
  3. Garlic
  4. Salt
  5. Dried Herbs

The ratio is 2/1 oil/vinegar and add the rest of the ingredients based on taste.  Let this stand around for a few hours before use.  You can add Spirulina but just a pinch.  This is shelf stable for a few days.

Tahini Dressing:

Hopefully you can get a tahini paste but if not you can make your own by grinding up sesame seeds.  For those without a food process, I happen to be one, you can use a large mortar and pestal and get a serious arm workout!


  1. Tahini
  2. Olive oil
  3. Sesame oil
  4. Garlic
  5. Salt
  6. Lemon juice
  7. Hot sauce (optional)
  8. Water

Mix 1 tbsp Tahini with 1 tbsp of Olive oil and 1 tsp of sesame oil, 1-2 cloves of garlic finely chopped or 0.5 tsp of garlic powder, inch of salt and 2 tbs lemon juice.  Add a splash of hot sauce at the end to taste if desired.  This will become paste if you do not add more liquid to break it down.  Add water and more lemon juice as needed to keep it from being a paste. Let this sit in the fridge overnight.  This is not really shelf stable and should be kept in the fridge for about a week.

Miso dressing, I love this and I use it in the same cases I would use the peanut dressing.


  1. Miso paste
  2. Sesame oil
  3. Water
  4. Garlic
  5. Liquid Aminos
  6. Rice Wine Vinegar
  7. Hot sauce
  8. Salt

Mix 1 tbsp Miso paste, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tbs Liquid Aminos, 2 tbs rice wine vinegar, dash of hot sauce and pinch of salt.    Add water as needed to break this down from the clumpy paste form.  Allow to blend for at least an hour before use.  This is not a shelf stable dressing and should be kept refrigerated for no more than a week.

Creamy yogurt dressing:  I use this for veggie dips and I limit my consumption of this one.


  1. Yogurt
  2. Sour cream
  3. Cream cheese (optional)
  4. Dried herbs
  5. Salt
  6. Garlic powder or cloves

This one is best using garlic powder.  I use Braggs 24 organic herbs and spices because it is delicious, but any mixture of dried herbs is nice.   1/2 cup of yogurt, 2 tbsp sour cream and or 1 tbs cream cheese, 1 tsp herbs and spices, 0.5 tsp of garlic powder or one clove minced, I prefer the powder for this one.  Mix together and add salt to taste.  Let sit for an hour in the fridge to ensure mixture is even.

Tomato based dressing:


  1. Tomatoes
  2. Tomato paste
  3. Olive oil
  4. dried herbs
  5. Vinegar, prefer white but any will work
  6. Water
  7. Garlic
  8. Salt

Mix 2 chopped plum/Roma tomatoes, bonus if you fire roast them first.  If you want to get fancy add onions marinated in vinegar overnight.  1 tsp of tomato paste, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbs vinegar, garlic minced or powder, pinch of salt and dried herbs.  Mix together and add water to get consistency.  ***Bonus: you can add yogurt or sour cream to create a creamy dressing.  Allow ingredients to mix for at least an hour, but better overnight.  This is not shelf stable and should be refrigerated for no more than a week.

One final dressing:

Chimichurri: I make this when I buy parsley and cilantro and have too much left over to use before it gets slimy.  Great way to use up those ingredients from another recipe.


  1. Cilantro
  2. Parsley
  3. Garlic
  4. Salt
  5. Olive oil
  6. Vinegar and/or Lemon juice

This one is subjective.  I try to use 2/1 ratio for the olive oil and vinegar, and use white distilled vinegar, it works best or lemon juice. I put the rough chopped herbs into the blender with the liquids, based on how much I have in the blender, this is typically a large batch for me.  Add minced garlic and a pinch of salt to taste.  You do not have to have both herbs, but is better with both.  I blend until it is a nice consistency and will freeze in ice-cube trays if there is too much.  This dressing is typically poured over meats after cooking in many South American countries.  I use it for salad dressing.

***Note that I actually mix all dressing right in the jars except the Chimichurri.  I also use scissors designated for food only to finely cut up garlic, this is much more efficient than using a knife and cutting board.



The silver lining: my life long dream achieved!

My new site is at Discovery Bay Marine Lab.   This is not a normal assignment, but due to the late date of the site change this was made available to me.  So what is it and what am I doing?  Discovery Bay Marine Lab (DBML) is an extension of UWI (University of the West Indies) and it is a facility that is available to scientists for marine research and schools for educational purposes.  I am currently looking for housing but thankfully I am actually working again.  My main assignment is to work on social media, public outreach and updating the educational presentations.  I am also to work with the local fisherman on the Special Conservation Area on public outreach and education.

Last week when were waiting for Hurricane Matthew to hit I had Richard call my dad.  In the conversation Richard told him I had a site change and what I was now assigned to do.  My dad at some point in my life paid attention!  He told Richard that it was cool that I was able to do this because it was a dream of mine since I was 8 years old!  I do not ever remember talking about this to him, but maybe I did and the tattoos might give it away!  The other piece of the conversation was that my dad now has two gas-powered pogo sticks, so now he and Richard can race!  I definitely have to ensure this DOES NOT happen.  This sounds like a broken skull and emergency room visit.

I keep thinking back to all the times in my life when life basically slapped me across the face and said sit down and shut up.  I always wondered if I was just strapped with bad luck or if I had been a bad person in a previous life?  Well maybe, just maybe, fate had put all the challenges before me so that I could appreciate when I am allowed to achieve my dreams.  I have to say there is nothing like finally accomplishing that life-long dream.  It is like joy wrapped up in a fuzzy puppy handing you chocolate!  There really is no measure of that joy, there is no way to describe it or to show enough gratitude that you are finally able to achieve something you thought was out of reach.

Finding my feet, bracing for impact!

Hurricane Matthew Consolidation:

I have not written a blog in a while, for that I apologize. Last Saturday we were consolidated to Kingston due to Hurricane Matthew being upgraded from a tropical storm to a category 2 hurricane. Peace Corps has a specific set of safety and security actions that happen. We are first put on Stand-fast, this means that we are not to travel from our host communities and we should be prepared to leave at a moments notice. In a stand-fast we are required to have a “go bag” packed and ready to grab on the way out the door. This should contain a list of our personal belongings at site to be shipped home and instructions on what to do with the rest of our stuff. We should have several sets of clothes in there for a few days and our passports, money and important documents. We “should” also have some emergency food rations and items to give us comfort, because after a while, a large group of people cooped up can start to get on each others nerves.

Prepared to be here awhile

Since I had a site change two weeks ago my new consolidation point is not far from my new site. Instead of going to Kingston, I am now to go to a hotel on the North Coast to wait out a consolidation. HOWEVER, we were instructed to all go to one hotel in Kingston when Matthew upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane and it was looking like a direct hit was inevitable. They also asked us to secure our homes and ensure stuff was packed to ship home. I am in the middle of moving in, as I was moved from the first flat I was put into, to a new dorm on Friday last week. To my benefit I still had boxes and just needed to organize them. So I did! My bags are packed and I have come to terms with the things that I will let go of when I move back to the states. I have soooo much stuff!

A brief look back at evacuation:

I must pause here to release my frustrations and my worst fears.  Having been through an actual evacuation my heart was breaking.  I called Richard and let him know, and being Richard he said absolutely are you not coming home.  We only have 8 months to go and if you come home now your 2 years starts over again.  I really love this man.  He knows exactly how to reach into my fears and make them look like little mole hills.  This calms me down, but it does not create this wall around my emotions to keep myself together, that is my job, not his.  I struggled with this the entire time.

Always the “boy scout”:

In all PC meetings and points where we have come together to spend time in a hotel, I have always brought a ton of food! I hate food waste more than anything. I tend to realize I cannot eat it all up, so I set myself up to bring it to share with others. They kind of joke about it, but when they are hungry and want something to eat they are not shy to ask for something. So when we consolidated they all looked at me and asked what I had brought, because they had no doubts. I brought a few canned items, tons of tomatoes and onions and cucumbers. I also made up a dip from what was left of my plain yogurt and sour cream. I brought some carrots and bought a few more along with splurging on broccoli and cauliflower. (These items were the things I miss from America the most, and I was happy to share them.) Other things that I brought aside from clothes and my laptop, iPad, and Kindle were two french presses, one for coffee and one for tea, which I also brought plenty of. I brought a cutting board and a knife, and everyone laughed at that until they realized that it was a pretty darn good thing to have! I brought few of my coloring books and markers/pencils. In the end I was prepared to keep myself as grounded as possible.

Overstimulation leads to self-isolation:

Over the course of the next few days we were not allowed off the hotel grounds. As with most group events a lot of drinking happens, because we all cope in our own ways. I eventually soured on the atmosphere of the group as my coping mechanism is much different. I spent a lot of time huddled into my room. I colored, I watched TV and I read. I talked in small groups but the overall large group stuff wears me down mentally and emotionally in a crisis situation. Again this is my own coping mechanisms, but I found my tribe! I was not the only one that was too over-stimulated and just wanted to find solace and quiet. Our room became a kind of sanctuary and a place where people sought out to find quiet and peace instead of noise and chaos.

People forever impact our lives:

Normally I embrace chaos and noise, but due to the somber situation I could not manage it. Being an evacuee brings a ton of emotional baggage with it. I began to have feelings of panic and fear as I knew that I would be safe but the people I have grown to love might not be. In fact Richard texted me concerned about a community member he met when he was here. “I am worried about poor D****! His little board house cannot withstand a hurricane, is he going to be ok?” I was so touched by his concern that I passed the message along to my previous supervisor. I was sent back a voice message from this man assuring me he was fine and appreciated our concern but he was seeking a safe shelter.

Recognizing my weakness and faults:

Emergency situations bring out the best and worst in all of us. You begin to see some of your own faults and strengths. I learned that I need to address the people who I am upset with directly. I did not realize that by avoiding the conflict it just allows the wound to fester. In other situations I am too direct, but for some reason I am not direct enough with other people that I have spent enough time building relationships with. I need to find a happy medium on how to keep myself grounded but addressing the issue as to get it out in the open and not let it build up.  I might also be harsh to judge people’s actions or words, instead of trying to understand, I jump to the defensive and then I shut down.  I need to work on this.

Understanding my place in the World:

As the consolidation continued we watched Hurricane Matthew get up to a Category 5 for a short while but remain as a Category 4 for the duration. Then when it was finally going to hit our little island it moved northeast and missed us and hit the eastern part of Cuba and Haiti got a direct blow. My heart goes out to these countries as I know the devastation of a Category 4 Hurricane will be immense. I am grateful we were spared, and as irritable as we all are at this point I know that PC made the correct call in keeping our safety a priority, it just feels so much like “American privilege” right up in your face.  This is why I joined Peace Corps, to get away from my “American or White Privilege”  but it is part of who I am, I cannot ever really escape it.  I think this makes me saddest of all, equity is just a myth and no matter how hard I try life will never be equitable for everyone.


Consolidation: A PCV’s worst nightmare!

Having already been through an evacuation, I know how difficult this is.  The unknowing, the mourning and feeling of loss can overwhelm you.  The worst part is that you get to be moved to safety while those you love and care for are left to grasp a disaster without the benefits of being moved to safety.

I know friends and family back home are happy that my safety is of utmost importance for the PC office.  However, this overwhelming feeling of dread is sometimes suffocating.  Life is wrought full of danger, yet we as volunteers are protected from those things which can be preempted.  As it stands now Hurricane Matthew will reach Jamaica around Monday early as a Category 3 or 4, which are quite rough.   I also worry about Cuba since I now have a family there that I care about.  It looks like the worst of the storm will not hit Havana, but these things are always changing as the air pressures change.

As it stands it looks like I will be going back to Kingston, so tired of being away from home lately.  Sadly two days ago I had to move from the first flat, which I was not told was temporary into a dorm for the next month.  At least now I can get my stuff packed and figured out what stays and what comes home!  So I am a step up from others I guess!


The toughest job……..

I had always thought of myself as a conflict avoider.  I avoid conflict as much as possible, but sometimes this ends poorly.  By avoiding conflict constantly, I tend to internalize the struggles and then those struggles come out inappropriately and at the wrong time to the wrong people.  In my home culture this means I have an angry explosion and loudly state my complaints with not very nice words.  Here, however there is a cultural aspect that I struggle with.   I cannot respond the same inappropriate ways that I might back home, now I have to focus and calculate my words and actions.

Being an unofficial ambassador for the United States and our culture is exhausting, I will not lie.  I have had several minor struggles in my site, at least I viewed them as minor.  However, PC staff brought me into Kingston when the last struggle happened and I said I needed to find a place to feel safe/normal again. I originally had come in to ask to be reassigned to the school and even got approval from the principal to say she was willing to step in as my supervisor.  After speaking with staff and really thinking it through we decided that enough “minor” challenges have happened that my mental health and ability to remain calm have been pushed to the last stretch.  In a decision that I am saddened by, we have decided to move me to a new site.


So for the past two weeks I have been in Kingston in a hotel.  I am literally bored out of my mind.  I do not know how it is in other posts, but there are massive rules on safety here.  I am not allowed to walk far, I am to use a charter taxi (read more expensive) and I am limited to the areas I can go to.  At night I am under even more restrictions, which has made me pretty much a couch potato the last two weeks.

On top of these struggles, I have had to process my removal from site.  I loved my site, I had many successful projects/programs going on.  A site change is typically devastating but with only 8 months left it is even more of a struggle.  The only silver lining is that my new site/project partner are with a job that is my dream job.  More about this soon.  Also, I have had time to process what has happened at my original site and I have concluded that the struggles were much more than I recognized.  I struggled emotionally and mentally with the things that happened.  The struggles, also were the same basic struggles and it was not going to suddenly, magically just work.

So what happened? Many things happened, but mostly I moved ahead with projects that I thought the community wanted.  I had the support of a few people, but in the end there was just not enough support.  Maybe they did not understand the project, maybe I miscommunicated?   Maybe somewhere deep down it was MY project and not the community’s.  Maybe nothing really happened except my personality was just not a good fit, or my ideas or my skill set.

The continual struggles were not going to end.  Even if I moved down a community my reputation and perspective was tarnished.   Like the  idea of finding happiness in a new relationship, only to simply end up with the same issues.  You must look at the constant in your life, yourself.  Once you lose trust, it is impossible to work and move anything forward.  This is what appears to have happened to me.   I am devastated to leave the school farm, but I have seen posts that my supervisor and the new JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) volunteer will try to ensure it continues on.


Focus on the strengths in your service…..

In Peace Corps service the first few months you spend building a community profile, assessing the needs of the community based on how the community view their needs.  The next year is spent building dialogue and relationship, this is typically done through actions and projects.  The last 10 months of service are typically spent closing up grants, implementing projects and ideas and building the capacity of your assigned organization.  As you step back, the organization is to step up.  My service has been all over the board.  I have had some really low lows, and some very high highs.  Mostly I have had an adjustment to accepting that I am not as good at cultural relations as I once thought I was.


My three base goals are environmental education for adults, environmental education for children and finally capacity building.  These are on top of the base PC goals of skilled labor, sharing host country culture with Americans, and sharing American culture with Jamaicans.   My successes have been: school garden, sharing American culture with children, adult literacy, showing small sustainable farming techniques to individuals, building and installing 2 trash skips in the community, several community clean-up days,  and a summer program to encourage children to read.  So what are my failures?  Understanding cultural relations here, trying to unify the community, trying to avoid being pulled into political affiliation, and finally any type of organizational capacity building.


I am a very goal oriented person.  I set high goals and I suffer from great failures because of this.  I also take failure of projects very personally. I need to let that go.  It is not my failure,  it is my lack of cultural understanding.  It is also my lack of understanding the community history and the politics of the area.  You hear of bad mine or bad mind here, and that is a bit of my issue but more so it is my inability to be seen as a non-political entity.  It comes down to who you associate and work with and how they are viewed.  You tend to become an extension of them if you work exclusively with someone.


As my time is winding down, I have come to realize my biggest success and most sustainable projects will be the school gardens.  This is where I will put my focus for the rest of the school year.  Along with a recycling program and a clean community focus, all to be implemented on the school grounds.  The principal at the school is not from the community so she is not involved in politics of the area, which makes it easier to be seen as neutral.  Also children are super-excited to work outside on things and listen to most of what you say.  They tend to be little sponges, and often share new information with their parents.  If you think back, how many times were children the reason for a behavior change in your life?  In mine many times, parents quit smoking for the kids, they will recycle for the kids they will even drive slower for their kids.  Children are powerful influencers.


I do also hope to set up a monthly reading competition for the children at the school, with prizes like we had for our summer program, a themed day spent outside of class doing fun things.  So if you have a suggestion for a theme that has a book to go with it, let me know.  I want a book for each theme so the children have something to inspire them that month.


So goooooooooo!