My desire to see the world and taste the many flavors it has to offer is, in many ways, satisfied right here. I never need to travel further than to our neighbors and friends who have left their natural born countries and have made their new home here on Long Island. Since we are so fortunate to live in a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, I am on a culinary journey to experience them on a personal level and to eat and learn from those who also call Long Island their home.
Today I begin my journey visiting Callie Douglas, a sweet and lively woman who once called Jamaica her home. She grew up outside of Kingston in a middle class neighborhood and fell in love with Hemsley, her late husband, whom she speaks of in a way that only those who have truly loved can understand. The memories of their life together are strong and palpable as she tells me of their journey together.
Their life in Jamaica changed for them after Hemsley’s company sent them on a business trip to Mexico. The travel bug invaded their being and they soon made their way to travel the world before coming to New York. They stayed to continue their studies in the States and soon Callie found herself a successful employee of Coppercraft Guild, a company specializing in high quality decorative copper. She was named their National Queen in 1968 and through an associate she discovered Long Island and fell in love with the atmosphere as it reminded her of Jamaica. She felt the pull of island life and open country away from the hustle and bustle of city life and has made her home here for over fifty years.
Callie’s first move after our initial greeting is to put on her stereo. Our day begins with the calming and friendly sounds of Dion Warwick peacefully playing in the background. Besides food, music is what has filled the Douglas family’s life with joy. Her first son was named Handel after the famous composer, and her other son, Kirk, is a well-known musician today.
Callie invites me to watch her create her famous jerk chicken. She tells me that as famous as jerk chicken is to those who visit Jamaica today, jerk chicken simply didn’t exist when she left there over 50 years ago. Her memories of jerk originate to family trips to Boston Beach, a public beach in Jamaica where food vendors line the streets. The only meat back then that was jerked was sausage. The spicy jerk seasoning has its origins in this place and she remembers her trips to the beach with her family in happy accordance with her first tastings of this spicy dish.
It soon resonates with me that this dish, as with many other family dishes, perhaps cannot be fully articulated or taught by a book or in one lesson. Callie speaks of the importance of fresh and high quality chicken as everything else is secondary to the quality of the meat that is being prepared. She is attentive and caring in her preparation as it is evident that her relationship with all food acts as a means for happiness of others. Rivaling her love for the act of the preparation of food, is her pure joy in seeing others eat it. She tells me how much she loves watching people eat the food she has prepared. I am not sure I can quantify whose pleasure is greater; hers at witnessing others eat her food, or the enjoyment of the deliciousness she creates. On a whim, Callie decides to compliment our meal with smashed plantains that she releases from their ripening in a brown paper bag in her pantry. She delights in sharing with me this simple and tasty side which she tells me she often has for breakfast.
We speak of her beautiful life in Jamaica and of her equally fulfilled life on Long Island as she seems to dance back and forth between me and basting the chicken. Almost at the end of the cooking process, she decides the chicken isn’t brown enough and turns up the broiler to give them an extra dose of heat. To me, they look perfect and the spicy aroma that has been encircling us for the last hour has me salivating. To Callie, they have yet to achieve perfection and she seems to pour her being into this desired achievement.
Callie has the ability of exuding joy through her positive attitude, kind soul and love for cooking. She seems to pour a bit of herself into each dish she creates and exemplifies how happiness can be created within the food one prepares. Food, for Callie, is so much more than a means of survival. It is truly something that brings us together and I, for one, leave her with a satiated happiness for not only eating her food, but for the time we have spent together.
- 1-2 pounds chicken parts (we used the wings for appetizer portions with the tips cut off)
For the initial seasoning:
- poultry seasoning
- fresh thyme leaves
For the jerk marinade:
- ¼ cup Lawry’s Caribbean Jerk Marinade
- 1 Tbs. Jamaica style jerk sauce (Golden Crust)
- ½ tsp. Pickapeppa sauce
- 1 tsp. Walkerswood traditional jerk seasoning
- cornstarch to thicken sauce
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Rinse chicken with vinegar and lemon juice.
- Season with poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves to coat (not a heavy hand with the seasoning)
- Place in baking pan and place in oven for an hour, basting after each ½ hour, with the juices spring from the chicken.
- Remove from oven and pour juice from the pan into a small saucepan on stovetop.
- Add the jerk marinade ingredients to the saucepan with enough cornstarch to thicken it.
- Baste the chicken with the jerk marinade and return it to the oven for 30 minutes, basting every ten minutes.
- Put oven on broiler mode and broil for approximately 5-10 minutes to deepen the color of your chicken, taking great care not to burn them. Turn chicken and repeat on underside.
- Remove and enjoy with any remaining marinate for dipping sauce.
Smashed Fried Plantains
- Sea salt
- Olive oil
- Cut off ends of plantain.
- Slice into one inch thick pieces.
- Cover with sea salt
- Saute in olive oil and stovetop until browned.
- Smash with bottom of coffee mug or kitchen mallet.