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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Lay Like Broccoli...

Sid calls me from Macau where he is attending a mate’s Stag do. (Don't ask...)
"Guess what?" he says. His voice is all shaky with excitement.
"You got a lap dance from a super hottie and then discovered she’s a guy?"
Pause
Then, "No. But I ate broccoli. And liked it!"
"You did what?" I ask, just because I need to hear it again.
"I ate broccoli. See, JJ took us out to dinner and he ordered this huge platter of broccoli and I thought it would be rude not to take any, so I took one piece. And then I thought it was quite nice. So I took another. And then, before I knew it, I ate like a quarter of the whole plate."
I am gobsmacked. "No!!" I say, "You’re joking, right? This is a prank that the guys are making you do, I know it"
"No, dude, I’m dead serious. Why do you think I’m calling just to tell you this? OK, expensive call - gotto go."
I can barely believe what I've just heard. I mean, this is absolutely SUPER news.  Because Sid hates (hated?) brocolli. And I love it. In fact I love it so much, that I've been known, on the odd Monday afternoon, to casually toss aside a packet of kettle chips for a snack of broccoli.
Weird, huh?
It made life very difficult for me, this situation. You know, me loving something and the other half hating it. Because everytime I would cook broccoli, I'd get these seriously evil looks. Basically, the ones that roughly translate to, “Grrrr...how dare you spend my hard earned money on broccoli?”
I would therefore only cook broccoli when the evil-looking-other-half (yes, you can read that whichever way you choose to) was safely away at work. And then I'd scramble to remove all traces of it (leftovers consumed, dishes washed, kitchen aerosoled with lavender fumes, et al) before he returned home.
You could well call me, for all practical purposes, a closet broccoli eater.
Until now, that is.
But now –  if I've heard right, and Sid isn’t A) talking in his sleep B) dead drunk C) something much worse –  it means that I can cook broccoli with reckless abandon, whenever I feel like, as much as I feel like, leave heaps of leftovers and leave the wok unwashed. It’s all just too exciting for words.
So, I’d better get on with it, then.
My broccoli recipe is very, very simple because it so happens, that cooked that way, it is also very, very tasty. See, the secret is to cook it at such high temperatures that it caramelizes, getting rid of that characteristically bitter taste that brocolli-haters always complain about. I stir-fry my broccoli, but roasting will get you the same result (the ingredients are slightly different, email me if you want them!) Here's my recipe for stir-fry though.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 full broccoli, florets + sliced stem
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tspn Lee Kum Kee Chiu Chow Chilli Oil (which is basically a combo of chillies, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil and which I just bought off Amazon)
Now, please don't get all pissy with me for putting down an esoteric sounding ingredient, especially when it’s part of a 3-ingredient dish.  If you can't get your hands on the stuff, don't fret - a splash of soy sauce, a tablespoons worth of sesame oil and 2 teaspoonfulls of chilli flakes should do the trick beautifully.
If you do manage to find a jar, please do not add any additional salt or soy sauce because the stuff’s insanely salty.
So here’s how you do it:
Heat a wok until it's smoking hot. Add in the chilli oil and garlic and cook 30 seconds or so until the garlic is nicely browned. Add the broccoli florets and sliced stem and stir-fry for 1 minute. That’s it! You want the broccoli to be bright green, and crisp tender for that great crunch! Enjoy!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Stop Raining On My Parade!

It's been raining for 2 weeks now. More or less. More more, than less.

I think I've been infinitely patient so far. I've been learning this quality from the English. Because the English, you see, are infinitely patient. No money in the ATM machine? Okay, we'll come back later.  No petrol in the petrol pump? Oh, never mind, we'll try the next one, 60 miles down the M11...

In all earnestness, I love this about them. It's so genteel, and well – so civilised. And I've been working oh-so-hard, trying to emulate it. See, the former New Yorker in me would have threatened to withdraw all my (unsubstantial) funds and eat up the entire shop's worth of crisps, from said bank and said pump respectively. But I've moved on from such reprehensible behaviour. Now, I just politely sigh under my breath and say "sod it all, I'll just come back later..."

So as I was saying, with this rain, I have been, I think - in the manner of a true Lady - infinitely patient.
But now, I've had enough.
STOP F*****G RAINING!
Stop it, Stop it, Stop it!!!!!
(Damn, it feels good to throw a tantrum.)

See, the reason I can't stand it anymore is because it's come between me and my food. Now, I know you think of me as a shameless and unstoppable glutton (I am) who cannot get food off her mind (I can't) And therefore, I think you will understand, that when something comes between me and my food, you really don't want to mess with me.
I'm capable of being very dangerous.
Ask my husband.

And so, I want to kill whoever is responsible for this rain-that-won't stop. Because it's gone three Friday's now and I haven't been able to go to Borough Market. The rain just makes it logistically impossible. And, the way it's been raining, I can't simply make do with a raincoat and galoshes. It's not just been raining you see, it's been chucking it down. So I need a brolly. And not just any brolly. I need one of those huge brollies with the wooden handles that weigh as much as a small animal. Also, please note, there's a baby involved.  And many steps down to the tube. And equally many steps up from the tube. So, while I can handle myself and baby or myself and small animal, myself and baby and small animal is one variable too many. Even for a girl of my mettle.

So I haven't been in two weeks. Come to think of it, I haven't been anywhere in two weeks. I've been holed up like a rat. And now there's no cheese. I don't jest. My fridge is empty. And my store cupboard is empty. And my stomach is - therefore - (sob) empty. I ate popcorn for dinner tonight.

Now Borough Market, for my non-London readers, is foodie heaven on Earth if there were such a thing. It offers the freshest, highest quality stuff you can imagine, from fruit and veg to fish and meat, and cheese and bread, and olives...marmalade, fudge, harissa, chorizo...I could go on. You know I could. But I don't want to bore you. I just want to tell you that I love this place. It's my favourite place in all of London. If I could set up house and live in Borough Market, I would.

I go every week. And sometimes twice. And sometimes, ummm, thrice. So you understand my misery. It's almost too much to handle. This is separation anxiety of the worst kind.

Course, if I were to rack my brains and look for a silver lining – there isn't one. Well, except I suppose for the fact (and this is not a lining by the way, it's more like a stitch) that I now have a bit more than £5 in my bank account. The trouble is, you see, that whenever I do go to Borough market, I end up spending everything I have on my person. It astounds me how I manage to do this every single time, without fail. But in between chatting with all these lovely folk at the stalls and sampling their delectable offerings, I find that the money in my wallet is quickly replaced by a large and rather random sampling of goodies in brown paper bags. Not that I'm complaining...

Anyway, the point of all this is: I can't blog if I don't cook. And I can't cook if I have no supplies. And I can't have supplies if I can't get to Borough Market. And I can't get to Borough Market if it doesn't stop raining. It’s a damn vicious cycle, it is.

So I know I wax lyrical about how much I love London's green spaces and April Showers Bring May Flowers etc. 
But that was all in reference to the sporadic drizzle.
This sh$t’s unbearable. 
And it’s wearing my patience thin. I can think of only one way out. Which is to throw another tantrum. Someone’s bound to listen.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The World’s Worst Dinner Party


I’m well upset.
I have just returned from the World’s Worst Dinner Party.

I’d much rather have been at the dentist’s office getting my teeth drilled. Or alone at home watching some paint dry.

Sadly, I was doing neither.  Because I was attending the World’s Worst Dinner Party.

“Why?” you ask in surprise and curiosity. “Why bestow upon it such an unkind label?”

Well, you’ll just have to read on. But I’ll tell you this – it was frightful. And there was nothing – not a one – redeeming thing about it that could have saved it from being the World’s Worst Dinner Party.

Now, I have to preface all this by saying that the hosts in question are not our friends. They are not even friends of friends. They are people who know people we know. Who we met through the people we know. Four years ago.

And who, for a reason that escapes my simple mind, keep inviting us to their dinner parties (which they seem to have with alarming regularity).  And have been doing so religiously. For four years.

We’ve always politely declined, mostly because we’ve always had other stuff going on.

It so happened that this time we didn’t.

And so...

“We really can’t say no again, Ams,” Sid says to me. “It’s going to look like we keep coming up with excuses.”
“Well, don’t we?” I ask.
Sid gives me that reproachful look one gives to a particularly wayward child.
“Ok, ok – well go,” I say.
And so we go.
We get in the car and drive the outrageous 1.25 hours it takes to get there.

“I hope the foods worth it,” I think to myself.

When we enter, there are people everywhere. I don’t know how many, but if I were to guess, I’d say there are round about sixty. Which is slightly insane. There’s also an inordinate number of Indian people, which I suppose makes sense, because our host is British-Punjabi. His wife, however, is Irish (with a particular fondness for Indians it would seem). There’s nobody we know. Not even the people we know, who know these people.

No biggie, I think. I quite like meeting new people. Or sixty new people.

“I need the boy’s room,” Sid says.

“I need a drink” I reply.  “Oh and I didn’t know we were coming to a wedding,” I mutter as I make my way to the bar, “If I had, I’d have worn better shoes.”  Oh dear. Well, it’s nothing that some wine won’t fix.

Eighteen minutes and one sip later, I’m still wishing for those better shoes. I slink up to Sid (who, rather cleverly, has opted not to fight his way to the bar) and say, “Mmm...this wine’s really good, try some?” and hand him my glass before he gets a chance to object.  When I look up to see the look on his face (presumably after he’s had a sip), I am happily on the other side of the room.

See, it sounds awful, but I am somewhat of a wine snob. Not because I claim to have any particular knowledge of wine, but because wine that doesn’t taste quite right brings back unpleasant memories of that one time in college when I spent the night in someone’s bathroom with my head over the toilet. And so, if it tastes iffy, I won’t drink it. And will opt instead for orange juice.

Which is exactly what I do now.

And so here I am, quite happily sipping my orange juice, and admiring the house.  It is very gadgety, the house, with doors that come out of walls and lights that come on from nowhere.  “Everything is voice activated,” the person next to me whispers awestruck.  “Wow,” I say, because it seems like the kind of thing I should say.

At this point, I am approached by someone who – without so much as a “hi” – looks at my glass of orange juice and proceeds to ask me – “Are you in the family way?”

Am I, what?

Then – because he continues to stare resolutely at my juice – I work it out.  Just to be very clear – this person is an absolute and complete stranger. But, to be honest, I am less offended and more amused. And genuinely curious. Are you, I want to ask him, too embarrassed to utter the word ‘pregnant?’ Why? Is it because one needs to engage in rampant, routine, and unprotected sex to become it?

I decide to test my theory. “No, no,” I say, “I’m not pregnant...” (I’m right – noticeable wince)…I just don’t feel like a drink right now. Maybe later”

“What is your good name?” he asks, recovering admirably well.

Don’t have one. I’m the bad person who said “pregnant” - I have a bad, bad name.

I say – “it’s Ami”
“Hello A-my,” he says.
I didn’t say A-my, you loser.  I said Ami.  You’re Indian. You should be able to get this.
I say – “it’s not A-my, actually. It’s Ami... Like dummy?” I add helpfully.
“Oh,” he says looking thoughtful.

It seems like an apt moment to escape.
I try to look for Sid but I can’t find him. It’s too crowded, I’m too short, and nobody thought to tell me to wear heels. So, I turn around, a full 360 degrees just in the hope that I’ll meet someone, anyone, who’s not going to ask me if I’m pregnant. Luckily, the wall directly in front of me slides out before my very eyes – it’s actually a door that looks like a wall – but whatever.  Someone emerges from it and smiles at me pleasantly. I smile back. “Restroom?” I ask. “Restroom,” she replies.  And so, thankfully, I go in.

When I come out, the house is empty.  The wedding party’s disappeared. Am I in the twilight zone?  I wonder. I’m mad at Sid for abandoning me.

I wander around the rooms. There’s not a soul to be spotted. The bar is deserted. If the alcohol were any good, this would be my chance, but going by the wine, sadly it’s not. I give it one last longing look before moving on.

Then I see them, all sixty of them – they’re all outside, seated on a long, rectangular table. There is a large glass door between me and them.

I try to open the door, but it won’t open. Now, I consider myself a fairly intelligent woman. I think, there are only three possible ways of opening a door. Push, Pull or Slide.  I try all three. Multiple times.  But I can’t, for the life of me, work it out.

I call Sid. He doesn’t answer. It’s probably too loud for him to hear the ring.

Great! I think, trying not to panic. What a place to be trapped inside. The microwave is probably going to pop out of one of these walls and eat me for dinner. And 1 minute and 30 seconds later, when it beeps to signal it's done eating me, there's going to be no one around to hear it.

Luckily for me, our host is seated on the side of the table facing the house. Facing me, that is. He looks up and our eyes meet. I make my best attempt at sign language to communicate that I can’t get out.

It works. He nods. I am relieved. It is shortlived.

Because he holds up something that looks like a remote control and presses a button.  And I hear a voice. It’s his voice, but it’s inside the house.

“Just wait there Ami. I’m coming in. I’m coming in…from the backside.”

You’re doing - what?

He comes in. Yes, “from the backside.” And then leads me out through it too. I follow obediently.

We walk towards the table. “We thought we’d do a proper sit-down meal,” he explains. “You know, for a formal feel.”

How on earth are they going to pull off a sit down with so many people, I wonder admiringly. I can hardly put on a passable show with six.

He takes me to the only remaining spare seat.  I am seated between someone I don’t know and the family-way guy. There are 60 people here and I get family-way guy?

I will myself to die.

I look for Sid. He is far, far away. To my diagonal-right, to be precise. He’s seated between two women; one is hanging over his shoulder and the other is hanging out of her dress. Surprisingly, he’s looking miserable.

Is this why you didn’t you save me a seat? I wonder angrily.

Then my host explains. “Also, we thought we’d make a rule that you are not allowed to sit next to your spouse or partner. And girls must sit next to boys. Enjoy!”
I feel like I’m back in Kindergarten.

Relax, relax, relax, I say to myself. This will all be over soon.

On my left they are having a conversation about when the “Britishers” came to India.

They didn’t, I want to inform them. The British did.
I hold my tongue.

Then the food arrives.  And I realise that it’s not exactly sit down.  Well, it is. But there are five dishes, thrice repeated, placed on platters, one each on either end of the table, and one in the middle. And you help yourself. So, it’s a sit-down buffet. Which is fair enough. It is, after all, not a wedding.

I cannot wait to get started – I am ravenous.

Because, here’s the thing:  I will tolerate all the bad company in the world for good food. Good food makes me a better person.  So, at a time like this, good food is the ticket out of Alcatraz.  Therefore, quite naturally, I was crossing all my fingers and all my toes, and hoping for good food.  But - and I always hate to say anything negative about food (it makes me feel like I am criticizing a child of mine) - this food was not good. It was not anything.

It was meatless, tasteless and heatless.

Now meatless, I’m willing to let pass. You’re a Vegetarian, fine. I love vegetables.  I will gladly be vegetarian for days if you make it worth my while.  But cooking the exact same vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and peas) in three different coloured sauces – cream, red and yellow – and serving as accompaniments – white rice and brown pasta, is not going to make the cut. This is not vegetarian food.  It’s not food at all. It’s a sad attempt at a colour chart.

It is also quite, quite tasteless. The vegetables (colour, no bar) are soggy, overcooked and completely devoid of flavour.  If anything, it – all of it – is sweet. Which is unfathomable.  It isn’t Indian (save for the food colouring in the red vegetables), it’s not Italian, (save for the pasta), it’s not Irish, Scottish or anything else from this island. Nor is it French, German, Mexican, Thai, Middle-Eastern or Japanese. And I do apologise if I’ve missed out your home country, but I hardly think you’d want to lay claim to this stuff. 

Anyhow, even now – despite all of this, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. OK, so you can’t cook. I can’t do Maths. Let’s call it quits.

However, what I simply cannot get past is the fact that it’s all stone cold. And I don’t mean room temperature or luke warm or any of those things. I mean straight-out-of- the-fridge, couldn’t-even-bother-to-microwave, cold.  This – and I am large hearted – I cannot forgive.

I stare at the food on my plate sadly.

My Left pipes up. “You’re not eating anything. No wonder you look so weak...”
I’m not eating anything because nothing’s edible. And what do you mean “I look weak?” This food’s put me in such a foul mood that I could do serious bodily harm. Just try me.

I say – “I’m just not that hungry”

“...and look at K (our hostess)” he continues, “she has reduced so much!”

Reduced so much? What has she reduced so much of? I want to ask.  Though I think he’s saying (in a trying-to-be-subtle, couldn’t-be-less-so, manner) that she used to be fat once.

Charming.

He continues: “I am an Infrastructure banker in Bombay (Right, didn’t ask)
...with a company in the name of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation” he finishes.

For crying out loud, I live in 21st century England. I think I know who HSBC are.

“That’s nice,” I say politely.

He goes on to tell me that he’s being chased for an interview by Bloomberg – not just the company, the man himself – for some ground-breaking work he did on solar power.  Or something.  And that he’s angry with Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for providing him with pyjamas that were not quite up to par.

Shoot me, somebody. Please.

I try to force myself to eat because eating is the best and most natural excuse to get out of the ‘table-talk’, but I can’t. This food simply cannot be eaten. I consider a spoonful of white rice because, I think, no one can mess up white rice. As soon as I hear that first “crunch” inside my mouth, however, I know I’m wrong. Again. So we have vegetables that have been cooked so much, they’re dead and rice that hasn’t been cooked at all. And well, isn’t this all just wicked!

My Left won’t stop talking... “I am in London for two more days. I am putting up with my aunt in Harrow”

At this point, my head starts to hurt. And very badly.

I’m thinking – my mother is right (god, never thought I’d utter those words): I’ve got to get to India more often. I’ve been gone too long, don’t go often enough, and when I do, clearly don’t pay any attention because I’ve forgotten, it seems, how to speak the language. My roots are in danger. Grave, grave danger.

This is when our hostess stands up and makes an announcement:  “There’s no formal dessert guys, we wanted to make this all nice and casual. There’s ice cream in the freezer. So, come back to the house and help yourselves.”
I very nearly jump out of my chair. Not because I am excited by the prospect of ice-cream. But because this could be – if I am lucky – the end of the World’s Worst Dinner Party.

I look over at Sid. He holds my glance. Yay – we’ve communicated.

It appears that my Right – family-way guy – is talking to me:
“Sorry we didn’t get to speak much over dinner - are you staying for ice-cream?” he asks.
“No, I can’t I’m afraid,” I say. “It’s rather a long way home.”
“Where is your residence?” he asks.
Sorry, don’t have one. I’m not the Prime Minister. Do have a flat though. With a garden.  And a tree.
“Hampstead,” I say
I fold my napkin and place it on the table. He gets the hint.
“OK, I’ll take your leave now”
My “leave?” No, you will NOT take my leave. Grow your own tree.

Amazingly, at this point, he proceeds to pick up my (used) napkin, fishes out a pen from his pocket, scribbles something down furiously, and hands it back to me.

“If you are free sometime, give me a tinkle,” he says

That pain in my head has just gotten worse.

All I can say, Mr. family-way guy, is that I am never, ever giving you a “tinkle,” whatever that is, whether or not I’m free.

“Bye,” I say as I push my chair back hurriedly and make a run for it.

We drive home in silence.  I am holding my head in my hands.

Then, Sid - the kindest, loveliest, most patient (and basically everything I am not) person in the world turns to me and says, “Do you promise that we will never – not ever – meet those people again?”
I nod my head and say,” I solemnly do.”

Oh, and not before long, we have to make a mad veer off the motorway to calm our growling stomachs. We end up with a Happy Meal each, which still, sadly, fails to make us happy.

And that, my friends, is that.  The World’s Worst Dinner Party.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

CTM, Mate?

This piece is currently "checked out" but here's a teaser!

I have just officially become British.


“Jolly well done!” says the London Taxi driver jovially, when I explain – in response to his earlier question – what Ranbir and I were doing at the Town Hall.

“Thanks,” I would have said normally.  “Cheers,” I say today.

“How do you feel?” he proceeds to ask me, his round, pink, British face grinning widely into the rear-view mirror.

“Hot” I reply truthfully. For it is 27 degrees in London today (not that I’m complaining), although I think his question has little to do with the weather.

“Oh!” he remarks, rather disappointed by my reply. But he obligingly presses some buttons and the passenger side windows slide down to let in some welcome cool English breeze.

I decide I should text Sid to inform him of the events of the afternoon, namely that 1) The Ceremony had concluded, 2) Ranbir had behaved, and 3) I was now on my way home.

Now, I like to keep texts short and sweet. Mainly because when it comes to receiving texts, I like to get them short and sweet. Short and sweet is endearing. Much like Danny Devito. Honestly, I really dislike a text that is too long. Especially if it is so long that it spills over into two texts. That’s when my eyes glaze over and my finger travels in autopilot, straight for the delete button. I mean – isn’t that why you call people? To discuss lengthy things?  Or is it that much of a chore to actually talk to someone these days?

Anyway, I text Sid: “Job done. V Hungry”
He texts back: “I’ll cook dinner.”
I reply: “Why?”
He replies: “Because I’ll be home. And because you got your Citizenship.”
At this point, I’m not sure how to respond. I decide to fall back on the old trusty.
I write: “Cheers”

Hmmm.

It’s a hard one, this. Because while it’s a fantastically touching gesture, my husband cooking for me etc. I wonder – what’s he getting all giddy about? I mean, he usually cooks for me on Mother's Day and my birthday and so on. Special stuff you know. A treat-type-of-thing. His “being home” has never featured before on the Occasions Calendar.

So: what, I am compelled to ask, is the big deal?

I mean I totally get that it’s more convenient to be of the same nationality as my husband and son. This means that if we ever need to get air lifted out of Costa Rica, at least we’d all be on the same plane, headed to the same place. Or so one would hope.

But beyond that...

Monday, 16 April 2012

"Fig"uratively Speaking


Oh well, sorry to disappoint all you fig lovers out there, but this post is all about bananas. And ice-cream. And other goodies. Like booze. Lots of booze. But mostly about bananas.

Why then, you ask, does my title lend itself to believing that I am writing about figs?

An intelligent question, this. Highly so.

And the answer to this highly intelligent question is: the Antiguan word for banana is “fig.”

Aha!

Now, I don’t really care for bananas. I don’t hate them (like my sister-in-law Su, who won’t live in the same house as a banana), but I don’t love them either. Especially when they’re overripe. Which is when they get all brown and spotty and squidgy. And then they scare me.

BUT.

Don’t you just love the bit with the “but?”
“What?” you wonder, as your imagination runs wild, “comes next?” “What’s the marvellous twist in the tale?”

Well, my friends – it is this:

I had a Banana Split in Antigua last week. For the first time in my life. And – wait for this – I enjoyed it thoroughly.

There – I’ve said it.

I had it by circumstance, not by choice, I’ll have you know. You see, it was hot, I was hungry, we were killing time, waiting for the sunset, and well – it was there. And removed from its horrible spotty skin with the pointy edges cut off, it looked slightly more bearable. And it was topped with ice cream (three different flavours at that) and fresh strawberries and fresh pineapple. Yum. And booze. Very important, the booze. And so all this – especially the booze - sort of changed my mind about the banana. And, as I just said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. So I thought I’d try it myself, and well, have you all try it too, you know? Because (and I can't believe I'm saying this), it was really quite yummy.

“Fig”uratively speaking then, I give you: Banana Split.

Now, I have always maintained that for every memorable meal, context is crucial. It is hardly ever just the dish that one remembers. No - more often than not, it’s the context that makes you remember it and smile quietly to yourself. And so no matter who or what my inspiration is, in every post that I write, I try to recreate recipes that matter to me in some way. That connect me with a person, a place, a memory, an emotion. For it’s that connection between the taste and the thought – that context – that I remember, that I want to remember.

And so, for this one, the crucial, necessary and indispensable context, is Fig Tree Drive.

Fig Tree Drive, Antigua's most picturesque road, is named as such, because? Go on, you know this now!!
Yup, you got it - because it is lined with banana trees on both sides!

Anyhow, now close your eyes and imagine.

Imagine you’re on Fig Tree Drive. Well, I am. But for the moment, transport yourself into my head (which is not as scary as it seems, really) and imagine for a brief while that it’s you. So, you’re on Fig Tree Drive, this beautiful, undulating road that meanders from the low central plain of the island up into the tall volcanic hills of the Parish of Saint Mary, in the island's southwest corner.

You start on the coastline, at English Harbour where the sailboats sway to the breeze, and then you climb. You cross the town of Swetes, where Curtly Ambrose was born. It is a sleepy little town stuck in time: people dozing off in hammocks on their balconies, women chatting to each other on doorsteps, houses painted bright yellow or blue or peach, rainbow coloured kites flying gaily in the sky, and (very aptly) little Antiguan boys playing cricket in their whites.

Along the way are a number of old sugar mills and pleasant little churches. You’re in for a particular treat if you go on a Sunday when there is Mass going on. Because then, the church doors and windows are thrown open to let in the breeze, and if you stop and peek, you see rows of cheerful Antiguan women, dressed in their Sunday Best, clapping their hands and swaying their (ample) hips to the tune of “Who’s that Rising, John The Revelator…” Their voices – sweet, and strong, and steady, carry across the stone walls, towards the sea. Resonant. Emotive.

So, you’re driving along through Swetes, when quite suddenly, just after the last colourful little village house has passed, you find yourself surrounded by emerald green hills. They tower over you; you disappear into them. You drive through lush rainforest thick with banana (or fig!), mango, guava and coconut groves, before descending, once again, to sea level. And it is hard (even though you’ve done it before and perhaps you’ll do it again) not to let your jaw drop when you get that first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea. You are overcome, time and time again, by the turquoise-blue splendour of it all.  And as you come down that steep cliff, you see it, right there in front of you.  Those white sandy beaches, the crystal blue water, a horizon that extends to infinity: that dramatic coastline.

It knows the effect it has on you. And it plays it up. It shows off. It toys with you.

It is at this moment that you spot the stand.  There are a few of them along the way, local stands off the side of the road, selling a bunch of local produce – bananas and black pineapples and mangoes. But you don’t really stop because you want to get to the end of Fig Tree Drive in time for the sunset. But now that you’re almost there, and the sky is only starting to get tinged with colour, you realise you have time to spare. So you stop. And you get a Banana Split, to go. Antiguan style. While you wait for it.

The sunset.

The sunset in Antigua is an event. A sensational coming together of sun and sky and sand and sea. 

So you wait for it.

You walk down to the beach, Banana Split in hand, and you stand there on the edge, where sea and sand meet, where the water, warm from the day’s sun, laps seductively at your toes.

And you watch. 

And you take it in.

It is vivid. Sweeping streaks of orange and pink, above, mirrored on blushing sands, below.

And it makes your heart skip a little.

Here’s what you need:

-     1/2 cup scoop vanilla ice cream
-     1/2 cup scoop chocolate ice cream
-     1/2 cup scoop strawberry ice cream
-     1 large ripe banana
-     25g/1oz dark chocolate
-     2 tbsp milk
-     2 tablespoons dark rum. Yum. Rum
-     2 tablespoons fresh strawberries, sliced
-     2 tablespoons fresh pineapple, cut into teeny-tiny chunks
-     2 tablespoons walnuts
-     Handful of fresh cherries
-     1 tbsp (or more!) brandy. Yum. Brandy.

Here’s how you do it:

Remove cherry stems, pit them, and soak them in the brandy for a few minutes.

Stir chocolate and milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until the chocolate is thick and melty.  Add the rum to make a thick, smooth, boozy mixture.

Meanwhile, cut the banana in half lengthwise (hence the split) and lay it in a long dish (traditionally called a boat). Ours was a to-go container, so it must have been some majorly toughened cardboard to have been able to carry all that weight, but if you’re making it at home, just use a china bowl. Line up the scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream between the split banana. Spoon the crushed pineapples over the vanilla ice cream, the boozy-hot-fudge sauce over the chocolate, and strawberries over the strawberry.

Now at precisely this moment – i.e. when your dessert looks as timelessly beautiful as the Antiguan sunset, you’re technically supposed to go and ruin everything by smothering it entirely with whipped cream and planting maraschino cherries on top.

No!! Please!! I beg you, no!

Because if there is anything worse than maraschino cherries – hard, sulphur-dioxide preserved, artificially coloured, scarily red balls of blackout-inducing sweetness – it’s whipped cream. Which tastes like shaving foam. Don’t ask how I know what shaving foam tastes like. Simply know that when I tell you that I’ve done some wild and wonderful things in my life, I am soooo not kidding.

Anyhow, my version of Banana Split contains neither whipped cream nor (gag) maraschino cherries. I believe in keeping beautiful objects beautiful.

So, please: garnish with walnuts. And sprinkle (liberally) with fresh brandied cherries.

Eat up. But before that, take a picture.

It’s only a banana, but it’s a rather beautiful banana.

Enough to make your heart skip a little.  Figuratively speaking.