Jamaica: A “Feel” Trip

The beach at Old Fort Bay on the North Coast | veganblonde.com
The beach at Old Fort Bay on the North Coast | veganblonde.com

It always takes me some time to write about travels and experiences. It feels like my heart is never really ready to let go of the words. As if once they are on paper, they don’t belong to me anymore.

When it comes to Jamaica, however, there is a difference. The place never really leaves me, and it seems like I never really leave the island. It’s always as if my body gets back home, but my soul never fully lands back into my physical self. There is something inexplicably deep about my connection to the island, something surely from a past life. When the deep, soul-reaching sounds of conscious reggae music hit me, I feel transported somewhere where my body just can’t reach.

There is also something undeniably mystical about the mountains in Jamaica. And that’s exactly where my trip started, nestled in the Blue Mountains, at the famed Strawberry Hill Hotel. The drive to the hotel is a trip in itself. The views of Kingston fading away on the horizon are balanced by the deep tropical forest that engulfs you as you climb up. The hotel, owned by Chris Blackwell, record producer and founder of Island Records, is a stunning 26-acre property composed of cottages, well staggered for privacy, and perched around a great house and a gracious infinity pool, where guests can linger and replenish. Not a bad spot to chill after a PHX-MIA-KIN red eye.

Jamaica Blue Mountains
Jamaica Blue Mountains | veganblonde.com

After this much needed first night of rest, I am heading towards the north coast of the island. I had rented an apartment in Old Fort Bay, about 7 minutes by car from the town of Ocho Rios. This is where my body truly landed. This is where I unpacked, where I went food shopping, where I was coming home after a nice, fulfilling day of work.

Despite its relatively small size as an island country, Jamaica shines bright on the global cultural scene. The level of energy, once you reach, is unbelievable. The island also has heaps to be proud of, especially when you think about music, literature, film, cuisine, and sports. My focus this time, however, was on food and music.

And up there, in the hills of Bamboo, about 40 minutes from Ocho Rios, is what called me back to Jamaica: Stush in the Bush. I will never say enough about Stush. It’s this 15-acre piece of heaven where farm-to-table takes on a whole new dimension. This time, however, I wasn’t going to eat. This time, I was going to experience the magic that happens behind the scenes. I took a chance, called on my friend Lisa (co-owner of Stush), asked if she’d be willing to let me come and work with them for a week. She graciously accepted, and my adventure began.

Now, let me put Stush in the Bush in perspective. The whole thing is really about them: Lisa and Chris. It’s their love for the land, their love of food, and their passion for sharing it all with others. It is their love story, imprinted in every single thing your eyes land on. The fully organic farm, headed by Chris, supplies the creative juices to keep Lisa going in the kitchen. It’s a completely symbiotic relationship with nature, in accord with the revered relationship between food and life.

As I’m pulling up the first day, the feelings come rushing back, a flood of emotions reminding me exactly why I loved this place so much the first time. Lisa greets me on the steps with a warm hug. You wouldn’t expect anything less from this gorgeous, loving, and spirited woman. Everything she touches turns to beauty. She has that undeniable knack for style and panache that I love so much when it comes to food.

But now that I’m at the farm, I understand why I’ve thought about this place for the last three years. Inside the open-air kitchen, the mood is light. Happening today is the celebrated Stush Cooking Club, an intimate gathering of friends around a meal prepared and eaten as a group. I’m the nervous one, because I’m new in the kitchen, and I need to find my bearings. But Tyler, Lisa’s daughter and Stush’ sous-chef, quickly makes me feel comfortable. She has a magnetic personality and a strong intuition in the kitchen. I’m in for a great time!

Activated Charcoal Tortellini Stuffed with Pumpkin from the garden and served with a fresh Romesco Sauce
Activated Charcoal Tortellini Stuffed with Pumpkin from the garden and served with a fresh Romesco Sauce | veganblonde.com

Throughout the week, I get to cultivate inspiration. As I work my way through making crêpes for the fabulous Crêpes Cake with Mulberry Cashew Ricotta, preparing and chopping some of the best vegetables the land can provide for dishes like pumpkin-stuffed dumplings, D’Avignon radish salad, activated charcoal pasta with romesco sauce. The list goes on, really, and the revelation becomes clearer to me.

Crêpes Cake with Mulberry Ricotta at Stush
Crêpes Cake with Mulberry Ricotta at Stush | veganblonde.com

After a few days in the Stush kitchen, it’s time to hit the road and head to Kingston for the Jamaica Observer Food Awards. It is the 20th installment, so it’s a big deal! Not only is Stush nominated in three categories, this becomes a great chance for me to experience offsite catering. The team is nominated in the following categories: best vegetarian, best food experience, and best food experience with Moveable Feast, a concept in collaboration with Christina Simonitsch, of Simo’s Bread & Catering. Well, guess what! They won all THREE! What a joy to be there and witness it all! I can testify to the amount of work that goes in, day in, day out, and they deserve all the praise they get, truly!

After the Awards, I spend the night in Kingston, in preparation for my relaxing long weekend at Jamnesia, in Bull Bay. I am sad to say goodbye to my Stush family, but it is now time for the music part of my trip.

Jamnesia... In the World Only One
Jamnesia… In the World Only One | veganblonde.com

At this point again, it is hard for me to find words to describe my experience. And I have a feeling that no matter how I try to explain it, there are no other ways that can describe my own unique experience other than being there to live it. Nobody really knows what your soul is after, so experiences are felt very differently from one person to the next. All this to say that my words are only my words as I write them, and that the experience that stays with my soul will always be much stronger.

I arrived at Jamnesia on Friday morning, just before lunch. First person I stumble upon on arrival is Billy Mystic himself. Billy “Mystic” Wilmot is the lead vocalist for the acclaimed reggae band the Mystic Revealers. I’m here for the music, and clearly, it’s starting out on a high note.

Jamnesia is as much a surf camp as it is a music venue. It’s a chill spot and a meeting spot. From the moment I put my bag down in my room, my internal vibe changes. Something at Jamnesia turns your physical needs and worries into dust, and it happens in very little time. Hair down, no mirrors, no makeup, no clock. I had to tune into the beat of Jamnesia’s drum, literally, and surrender to the sweet sounds of music.

That first day, after a quick nap and some fresh fruits, I feel completely free and at ease. Everybody is so warm and welcoming, it feels as if I’ve always been there. One of my big moments comes when I am served my first meal. It is true that I came to Jamaica for food and music, but I never thought I would find the latter to be a highlight of my time at Jamnesia. That night, my plate was full of plant-based goodness and the bean stew is the best I’ve had in my life.

The next morning, I inquire about the chef and am informed that one of Billy’s son, Ishack, went to culinary school in Canada. Every single meal Ishack cooked was perfectly balanced, the composition stellar, and the taste heavenly. In the morning, Miss Maggie makes my breakfast, and I find myself looking forward to getting up to fully enjoy my meal. Miss Maggie is Billy’s wife, and she is a joy to get to know as well. She has a deep love for the land, and one morning, as I am devouring my breakfast, she talks about the past, when she was working the land and, afterwards, when she devoted herself to children with disabilities. There is no doubt about it. Jamnesia is keeping me nourished, physiologically and spiritually.

My typical breakfast at Jamnesia
My typical breakfast at Jamnesia | veganblonde.com

The next day is a Saturday, and Saturdays are meant for Jamnesia Sessions! I had been waiting for this night for a long time, and I felt beyond blessed to be part of it. The people I met, the words I heard, the energy was palpable. That weekend at Jamnesia was one of the best experiences of my life. It brought me back to the essentials: sun, sea, music, plant food, and human warmth. I realized, during my time in Jamaica, that we, humans, don’t need much to live our best lives. It seems that we complicate everything with our worldly desires and temporal boundaries.

Sadly, after my weekend at Jamnesia, it was time to head back home. Leaving Jamaica is always difficult for me. It seems like the island remains in my heart, but this time, there was something different. I came looking for something spiritual, and I found it. My soul was searching, and the answers came. Now, it is time to bring the food, the music, and the vibes to Arizona. What do you say?

There is something special about traveling differently, traveling as if you live somewhere. It’s renting a car, grocery shopping, volunteering, helping out, being part of the local community. The rewards are grand. You leave with an imprint on your heart. You meet people you feel you’ve known all along and they become a part of your soul. And then, you realize that we are all one.

I want to give thanks to every single person I got to vibe with during my time in Jamaica. I trust that I met every single one of you for a reason, and I am forever grateful for all the blessings you all brought into my life. You all know who you are.

ONE LOVE AND UNITY, ALWAYS.

The beach at Jamnesia Surf Camp
The beach at Jamnesia Surf Camp | veganblonde.com

 

 

Matcha Nicecream with Pistachio Chewy Bites

Matcha Nicecream with Pistachio Chewy Bites
Matcha Nicecream with Pistachio Chewy Bites | veganblonde.com

I’ve been liking these Pistachio Chewy Bites so much lately, I not only eat them as a snack, but I also chop them up and sprinkle them on everything! I love how they are not too sweet, but are still totally satisfying if you’re craving something sweet. They are extremely nutritious and made with more than 50 percent pistachios, which is great because most people are quite stingy when it comes to pistachios! Haha! Pistachio Chewy Bites also provide a great balance between carbs, protein, and fat, for a snack loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals. In this recipe, I served them as part of breakfast, served over matcha nice cream. Here’s how I did!

  • 4 frozen bananas*
  • 2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • 1/3-1/2 cup plant milk or coconut water
  • 4 Pistachio Chewy Bites, chopped
  • Seasonal fruits, chopped (optional)

Place the bananas in a blender or food processor. Process until the bananas start to break down. Add the matcha powder and the milk, and blend until completely smooth. Transfer to serving bowls, garnish with fresh fruits (mandarins were in season at the time of the picture) and chopped Pistachio Chewy Bites, and enjoy!

*To freeze bananas to make nicecream,  start with really ripe bananas. Break them up in chunks and place the chunks in a freezer-grade ziptop bag. I always have 3-4 large ziptop bags in my freezer loaded with bananas, ready for nicecream.

Let me know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, or tag a photo using #THEVeganBlonde on Instagram. Bon appétit!

The Vegan Blonde Cooking Club is Here!

Click HERE to purchase your TICKETS

The VERY FIRST Vegan Blonde Cooking Club Session*

When: Saturday, August 25th at 11:00AM

And then, every 4th Saturday of the month (or so), at 11:00AM

Where: Phoenix, AZ

Cost: $60 per person BYOB

*Please note that since this is a closed group, if you decide to join, you need to be able to attend most of the sessions. I want to foster a deep learning experience by keeping the participants the same throughout.

 

IMG_0254

Quinoa Salad with Fresh Fruits and Ponzu Vinaigrette

Quinoa Salad with Fresh Fruits and Ponzu Vinaigrette
Quinoa Salad with Fresh Fruits and Ponzu Vinaigrette | veganblonde.com

This is great potluck food. And with Mother’s Day this weekend, what better thing to bring over than a healthy, tasty, and fresh quinoa salad? The dish can be made ahead of time, without the vinaigrette, and kept refrigerated until serving time. Just toss with the made-ahead vinaigrette before serving.

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa, from 1 dry cup (I cook 1 cup and keep the leftovers for another dish)
  • 3 large kale leaves, cut in a chiffonade
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, separated
  • 1 ear fresh corn, shucked
  • 1 apple, cored and diced
  • 1 pear, cored and diced
  • 1 mango, diced (or about 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup red onion, diced small
  • 1/3 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ponzu
  • 1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar (you can use red wine vinegar)
  • Sea salt and fresh pepper

In a large salad bowl, place the kale, and add 1 tablespoon lime juice. Massage the kale with your hands about 1 minute. Add the quinoa, corn, apple, pear, mango, red onion, and toasted pecans. Mix well.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, ponzu, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, and vinegar. Season well with sea salt and pepper. If you are serving right away, pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well. If you are wanting to bring your dish somewhere or eat later, store the salad and the vinaigrette in the fridge separately, and toss right before serving.

Let me know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, or tag a photo using #THEVeganBlonde on Instagram. Bon appétit!

Banza Ziti Bolognese with Italian Sausage

Banda Ziti Bolognese with Italian Sausage
Banza Ziti Bolognese with Italian Sausage | veganblonde.com

Get on the Banza wagon with this fabulous au gratin pasta dish. You can get close to 40 grams of protein in one large serving of this dish! It’s easy, decadent, and plantifully nutritious!

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 2 28-oz cans Italian tomatoes (crushed with your hands)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 Field Roast Italian sausages, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 package Banza Ziti, undercooked by 2-3 minutes
  • 1/2 wheel mozzarella (I love Miyoko’s)
  • Fresh basil
  • Nutritional yeast (optional)

In a large straight-edge skillet, heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, and let it take some color, about 2-3 minutes. Once it’s darker and fragrant, add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, garlic and onion powder, cinnamon, maple syrup, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Let simmer and reduce, over medium-low heat, until the sauce is fragrant and tasty, about 40 minutes, stirring often and adjusting the heat, if necessary. Once the sauce is reduced, add the broth and the TVP, and combine until rehydrated. Add the Italian sausage and the cooked pasta, and heat through.

Preheat broiler. To assemble, place the pasta in an oven-proof baking dish (at least 2.2 quarts). Spread your mozzarella on top and transfer to the oven. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown. Take out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving, garnished with fresh basil and nutritional yeast.

Let me know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, or tag a photo using #THEVeganBlonde on Instagram. Bon appétit!

All that goodness in one dish! | veganblonde.com
All that goodness in one dish! | veganblonde.com

 

 

Vegetable Biryani (or Pulao)

Vegetable Biryani (or Pulao) | veganblonde.com
Vegetable Biryani (or Pulao) | veganblonde.com

This is it! The meal of all meals, the ultimate rice dish: the BIRYANI! You will often hear people using the word pulao to describe this dish. Some people say there is a difference between the two, some people say they’re fundamentally the same, but now present regional differences. Either way, the dish is fragrant and fabulous, like most Indian dishes, and is made using only one pot, which is pretty cool, if you want my opinion!

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 6 green cardamom pods, cracked open
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1 whole nutmeg seed, smashed
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut in half
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 5 cups mixed vegetables (here I had potatoes, carrots, greens beans, and sweet peas)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic-ginger paste
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 4 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large oven-roof soup pot with a lid, or large Dutch oven, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the cardamom pods, cloves, star anise pods, cinnamon, nutmeg, and jalapeño peppers, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the onion and the bay leaf, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the turmeric and sea salt, and continue cooking for two more minutes.

Add the vegetables, garlic-ginger paste, 6 cups water, coconut milk, cilantro, and garam masala, and bring to a boil. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Add the rice and return to a boil while stirring. Cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let steam 10 minutes. Serve with fresh cilantro, raita, and other curries.

Let me know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, or tag a photo using #THEVeganBlonde on Instagram. Bon appétit!

There's really nothing like a warming Indian dish! #THEVeganBlonde
There’s really nothing like a warming Indian dish! #THEVeganBlonde

 

Maple and Grapefruit Caramelized Carrots

Maple and Grapefruit Caramelized Carrots
Maple and Grapefruit Caramelized Carrots | veganblonde.com

It’s carrot time! At the farmers market, you’ll find many varieties, many colors, all sorts of shapes, but most importantly, the freshest taste! When in season and fresh, carrots don’t need much to be fabulous. And since we have plenty of grapefruits around here right now, I figured that grapefruit juice would be the perfect balance to my maple syrup in this decadent glaze. Beware, you’ll seriously lick the glaze off your plate.

  • 2 tablespoons butter (I love Miyoko’s!)
  • 1 bunch market-fresh carrots
  • 1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh thyme sprigs

In a large cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, lower the heat to medium, season with sea salt and pepper, and let cook, tossing often, for approximately 6-7 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your carrots. The goal here is to soften the carrots.

Add the grapefruit juice and the maple syrup. Toss well so all the carrots are coated. Cook until the liquid turns into a glaze, about 15 minutes. Coat the carrots with the glaze using a spoon often while cooking. Remove to a serving platter, garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and a small pinch of sea salt, and serve immediately.

Let me know if you try this recipe! Leave a comment, rate it, or tag a photo using #THEVeganBlonde on Instagram. Bon appétit!