Red beans and rice

As a child, I spent many hours perched at the kitchen table reading a book while my mother hovered over the stove cooking one of her many meals for her family. She was always in the kitchen and although I had no desire to learn how to cook, I was plenty interested in the end result.

My favorite childhood memories are tied to food. The sizzling sounds of the red beans gently frying in oil in preparation for traditional diri ak pois cole (red beans and rice) always propel me back to those intimate moments alone with my mother. Although we did not talk much, there was always a comfortable silence around us.

It was not until I lived on my own for graduate school that I realized my error in not learning how to make even the most basic of dishes. Pasta was easy and filling, it was my staple for a while. As were hot pockets, sandwiches, and Chinese take-out for the nights, I did not want to think too much.

The first time I tried to make diri ak pois cole, I spent twenty minutes on the phone with my mother trying to create a recipe from her cryptic instructions. My mother is an old school cook where exact measurements do not exist; you cook from taste, feeling, and memory. My memory although very good, was ill prepared to create the simple dish. In addition, I did not trust my taste, tainted from too many Chinese chicken and beef broccoli dishes. And my feelings told me I was not prepared.

My roommate tasted the dish and tactfully told me, “The beans are delicious.”

The second time I made the dish, it was for my childhood best friend who told me it was dry. At this point, I was certain I was destined to be a Haitian-American who could not cook authentic  dishes from home.

I did not make the dish again until I met my future husband who was unapologetically Nigerian. I wanted him to taste my culture because I was also unapologetically Haitian. I was on the phone with my best friend for almost thirty minutes while I hovered over the stove in an unfamiliar kitchen cursing myself for promising this man a home-cooked meal.  He lived in a neighborhood where I could only find the canned and not dried beans. Therefore, I made do and although he ate every bite, I knew it did not compare to the dish made in my mother’s kitchen.

Almost five years later, married to this same man, I made a dish embedded in his memory, Egusi soup. The look on his face when he tasted it made me realize I may have teleported him back to his own kitchen with his mother.  It was then I fully realized the power of food and memory; I wanted to go back in time to that kitchen where it was just my mother and I.

With that thought, I found myself back in the kitchen gently frying those beans in oil and the aroma along with minced garlic and onions made me smile faintly.

When I tasted the rice and beans later on that evening, I smiled. It was far from perfect but the memory was attached.

This post was written/published as part of Blogging While Brown & Rewind and Come Again’s 2014 June Blog Carnival celebrating National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.

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Wife Lesson #11: Tips from the Seasoned

As I was treating one of my favorite patients, she casually mentioned it was her 36th wedding anniversary.

The blogger and woman in me could not help but ask, “What advice would you give your newlywed self as a woman who has been married for 36 years?”

She loved the question and this was her response (Paraphrased of course. I did not have a tape recorder rolling or anything. Lol.)

“It is important that you work on your relationship before having kids. Kids can make things more difficult, even the good ones. If your relationship is not ready for the challenges having children will bring, you may not make it.  It does not matter if it is love at first sight, if all you have in common is the kids, what will you have once the children are gone?

Take the time to work on your marriage and grow secure with each other.  Live life through the good and bad times to strengthen your marriage so that when the children come, you are already prepared for the challenges they will bring.”


What do you think? Any other advice you’d like to share?

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Writing my way to freedom

I changed my twitter bio recently, “writing my way to freedom” and yet I feel imprisoned in my own mind.

I haven’t been writing.

Actually, scratch that. I have been writing but have not been able to take myself there.

You know, the writing equivalent of an orgasm where you bare your soul on the page and are left a quivering, whimpering mess that leaves you free, if only temporarily.

I have yet to experience that.

I have things to say but it is difficult for me to truly go there and I have been working on that. Or thinking about working on it.

If I was somewhat free, this is what I would write. Or something along these lines.

Father’s day has always been a difficult holiday for me. Growing up we had a tradition; go to church and buy our father a card. As a collective, we would present our card filled with generic messages while he was changing into his house clothes. Or just our signatures, it’s hard to remember.

Evening church service was interesting, it was completely dedicated to the dads. The children would present their fathers with a gift accompanied by a speech. I never participated because what was I supposed to say?

One year he chucked deuces to our tradition and told us to meet him at the dining room table. We sat there while he had an airing of the grievances. It was a miserable father’s day.

Last year and this year, twitter was filled with sweet messages from others in honor of their fathers. It was almost heartbreaking to see all of my friends on Instagram post pictures of their fathers because I could not post one.

We have a complicated relationship, one that is not easy to capture with a filtered picture.

We’ve had a very awkward past few months, my father and I.  Calling him on Father’s day gave me heart palpitations.

However, I called and he sounded genuinely happy to hear from me. He even asked me follow up questions. I tried to keep the feeling secret from my heart but I was kind of happy.

It reminded me of when I showed up for a family funeral and when my father turned around, he smiled. At me. I had to turn around to see who was behind me.

Its fascinating how one smile or a certain tone in the voice matters. How it seems to right a million wrongs, even if it’s temporary.

I guess little girls really do need their fathers. Even grown women.

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Book Review: The fault in our stars by John Green

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Confession: When given the choice, I will always read the book over watching the movie.

Hazel Grace is a sixteen-year-old firecracker who possesses a vocabulary perfectly suited for an episode of The Gilmore Girls. She spends most of her days under her parents’ gaze or in support group and she is tired of waiting to die. One day in the literal heart of Jesus, Hazel meets the eye of Augustus Waters, i.e.  the cutest cancer kid she ever saw.

Augustus is tall, muscular, smart, and wickedly funny. At first glance, he looks like any other teenage athlete and he happens to like Hazel Grace who is knocking at Death’s doorstep.

He is pretty much perfect until he slips a cigarette between his lips in front of oxygen dependent Hazel. Only he wins her over with a simple explanation:

“It’s a metaphor, see:  You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”

They bond over Cancer perks, SAT worthy vocabulary, really good books, and the delicious feeling of a first love.

Although warned this book was a tearjerker, surprisingly my eyes remained dry to the end. John Green created two characters that are hard to shake even after you turn the last page. Although their health is fragile, these two have so much more going on than just cancer and hospitals. Unlike other cancer books, we get a candid glimpse in the lives of everyone surrounded by the promise of death. From the superficial Facebook posts to parents attempting to deal with the reality that they will outlive their children, this novel will make you laugh and cry simultaneously.


Have you read this book (or seen the movie)? What did you think?

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Book Review: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

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British Psychologist Adrian leaves his wife and child in Britain to work at the local hospital in Sierra Leone post-Civil War. His naiveté and eagerness to help the mentally ill are met with suspicious derision from the locals who view him as a foreign invader. Taking over an apartment typically reserved for on-call staff, Adrian bumps into Kai, a young Surgeon and they develop an uneasy friendship of sorts.

Unlike many of his friends, Kai stayed behind after the war and uses his newly developed on-the-road trauma skills that make him a star in the OR. Quietly, he suffers from his own demons and struggles to hold onto his one passion in the midst of failed dreams.

Adrian takes on a new patient, the elderly Elias Cole who worked as a University lecturer before the civil war. A quiet and unassuming man, he lived a dull life save for one secret obsession: his colleague’s wife. Always observant, Elias seized an opportunity for the object of his desire and found himself in the midst of a scandal. Years later, on his deathbed he is determined to purge his skeletons and Adrian is his sole audience.

Although the main characters take center stage, the supporting cast also steals the show. The wandering woman who keeps running away from her life, the patient who is struggling to regain his ability to walk again, and the one woman who steals their hearts.

Although a bit slow at times, The Memory of Love is a beautiful story of love, loss, and new beginnings in a country trying to regain its footing after a civil war. The characters are multi-layered and complex; at times I did not know if I hated them or wanted to hold them. Set against the backdrop of Sierra Leone, Forna does a great job of giving us a peek inside life in modern day Africa.


Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

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And this one is called Frustration…

I have been struggling with finding the words but I’m going to keep trying.
Recently we celebrated four years of marriage and although we have our growing pains, I feel we are maturing and learning together. One area that seems to remain in shambles is with family.
I struggle with juggling two families because even though we are at the epicenter, they are still very much separated.  Holidays are a delicate tightrope act and I always fall off the edge trying to please everyone.
Recently I was home for a funeral and a relative’s words cut me to the core, “Basically everyone in the family thinks you are in the wrong.”
It didn’t matter what I thought or what I was doing—it was never going to be enough.
I’m not perfect—God knows I am certainly a work in progress but there has be points for trying, right?
I have been in a whirlwind of feelings ever since and have launched a self induced media tour to rehab my pariah image. I hate speaking on the telephone and I have been trying to call family members just to show that I heard them.
I have been stressed trying to figure out how to juggle my increasingly busy schedule with upcoming holidays even as I am painfully aware I am only one person.
On a good day, I am firm in my approach that I only have one life to live and I can’t spend it trying to please everybody. I cuddle with my husband or relax in my apartment reminding myself the phone has both incoming and outgoing abilities.
On bad days, I hear the critical voices of family in my head and am reminded on the daily of how truly awful a daughter/friend/sister I am. I pretend I am Super Stretch and bend myself in a million different directions if only to make one person happy.
It’s not a way to live, especially when I am the only one trying.

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Book Review: The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

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Last year around this time, I was searching for Haitian authors and this week I have back-to-back book reviews from Haitian authors. Yay.


“When I left Monn Neg at the age of five, I left behind everything and everyone I had known. Now, the questions about my former life followed me like an invisible shadow. People, places, and experiences emerged from darkness to become a life beyond conscious memory. The river that knew the mysteries of my ancestors had caused my mind to wander in its flow. The river remembered the paths it traveled but couldn’t return to them, just like I couldn’t return to my past.”

(Excerpt from The Roving Tree, page 116)

The Roving Tree is a debut novel by new author Elise Augustave. Told in her own voice, Iris Odys is a young Haitian girl adopted by a White American couple when she is five years old. Taken from the home of her single mother who is struggling to make a better life for her daughter, Iris suddenly finds herself smack dab in the suburbs of New York.

Forced to assimilate to American culture, Iris soon forgets her Haitian roots and even her mother.  She is Americanized in every sense except when the sounds of the drums drop, and then she is reacquainted with her culture through dance.  Not quite American and not quite Haitian, Iris struggles to find her own footing especially when the two worlds collide forcing her to examine who she really is.

The Roving Tree is the answer to the famous question, “What should I read next?” As a Haitian-American, I have been in the same position as Iris in struggling to identify my cultural identity. While weaving a magical tale on a young woman’s journey to self-actualization, Elsie Augustave seamlessly sneaks in a well-rounded picture of the richness and diversity of the Haitian culture as well as the troubled political climate.

I am definitely looking forward to her next book.


**I received this book from Akashic Books in exchange for an honest review.**

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Book Review: Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian trilogy

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Edwidge Danticat calls Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian trilogy (recently translated into English from Amour, Colere et Folie) by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, “the cornerstone of Haitian literature.” When my favorite writer speaks, this student of Edwidge listens.

Love, Anger, Madness  follows the lives of three families living in a sleepy town far from the politically charged capital. In Love, Claire Clamont is haunted by her dark skin and hopelessly pines after a man who will never love her. Anger follows the unraveling of a wealthy family after a direct government intervention. In Madness, we are introduced to the Intellectuals who rail against the government as liberally as they gulp down clairin.

However, beneath the surface Vieux-Chauvet reveals the internal struggles that plague the first black republic painting a world wrought with fear, suspicion, panic, and desperation. Continue reading

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Bronze shoes

Last week we hosted a Breast cancer workshop at my job and it made me think of my mother; a two-year survivor. Thinking of my mother made me think of her late best friend.
I am no stranger to death but few have left heart prints like my mother’s best friend and my childhood babysitter.
I think I was in college when my babysitter died. She was sick, it was not a surprise but the blow of pain in my chest caught me off guard. By the time I met her, I had pretty much decided I was old enough to take care of myself; she was mostly around for my younger siblings. Eventually, I regarded her as the grandmother I never had.
She was annoying; her voice got screechy when she yelled, she nagged constantly, and made fun of how I played the cello. She taught us bible verses, songs, and how to count fast in French. She was weird; she ate funny stuff and I never really knew much of her life before us. She would cackle, throwing her head back revealing a gap-toothed smile. And she had the longest shock of white hair that she let us play in for hours.  I loved her; she was a comforting presence in my young life. It was very difficult to get through her funeral, I felt like I lost a very familiar part of myself.
A few years later, my mother’s best friend passed away after battling breast cancer. She was funny; most of my memories are of me giggling at something she said. I lived for the evenings my mother would gather up rice, sauce pois, and legume to take over to her house. Of course, we would stay a bit, regaled by her latest tales, and I would go find her daughters who later became dear friends. One day she gave me a pair of bronze Steve Madden flats that I loved immediately and wore although they were a bit snug.
After her death, I continued to wear those too tight shoes until my toes cried out in protest. I kept them in my closet, lovingly stored with my other beauties. They were my last memory of her and I refused to give them up. Until the day, I realized she was closer than I thought when I hung out with her daughters and their kids. Her spirit was not gone but recycled in the ones she loved.
What are your favorite memories of some of the special people in your life?

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They call me…

I have always been overly emotional. I cry when I’m angry, happy, sad, depressed, overwhelmed, etc. They called me sensitive.
I love to read and will do it everywhere. I used to read at the dinner table growing up. They called me rude.
I’ve always liked to stay by myself and while some people call it stuck up, I call it familiar. I trust me. I know me.
I hated parties then and I hate them now. Regardless if the host was a close cousin or a stranger, I would be posted up on the couch. They called me the shy sister. They still do. Continue reading

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