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An Excerpt from "Fruit of the Lemon"

December 4, 2006
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In author Andrea Levy's third novel, now out in paperback, Faith Jackson follows her parents from London back home to Jamaica, where they have decided to retire. Here's a peek:

Reprinted with permission by Picador. Buy the book from amazon.com or visit the author's website.

I was taking back the gift of T-shirts. White T-shirts with 'Jamaica' emblazoned on the front in gold, green, and black. 'Irie' in vivid pink. 'No problem' in thick black handwriting, back and front. 'Don't worry--be happy' sparkling in blue surrounded by the smiling faces of happy black people dancing in the sun. Big T-shirts--one size fits all.

I had bought them at the beach near Ocho Rios and Dunn's River Falls. I had sat digging my toes into the sand of the white beach that stretched down to the edge of a turquoise sea that was as clear and still as a pond. This was where the sea sloped gently to let tourists swim or skid along raucously riding on the back of giant bananas or flip like fish, snorkeled and flippered on the surface. But further out the sea changed dramatically to a dark blue--a line so abrupt it looked to be drawn across the water. This navy sea was deep. It let the boats, the yachts, the liners cruise along the island's edge and disgorge their foreigners into the hands of traders.

The Caribbean Sea is like no other. I swam in its warm clear bath as tiny silver fish darted around my legs. I looked up at a blue sky and then along at the line of coconut palms that bent down, bowing their giant leaves to the beach. Paradise.

On the beach scruffy women wandered in bare feet clutching green leaves that oozed aloe vera. They offered massage to the white-skinned tourists who stretched out in the sun like slabs of uncooked chicken. Or they would take fine straight European hair and plait it neat and pretty into acceptable African dreadlocks that were tipped with colourful plastic beads that clacked with every move. Men followed behind, alert, looking around as vigilant as truants, asking anyone who did not belong if there was anything they could get them. "You from England, sister?" they had said to me. "I know England, sister--Notting Hill, you know it? You have a dollar? You wan' me get you somethin' nice, sister?"

When the sun set it dropped behind the horizon so quickly it left a trace of green in my vision. The night sky was dense, black, pock-marked with silver with a moon that was strange to me--an upturned crescent, like a smile in the sky.

Coral assured me that Mum and Dad would like the heavy, large, cumbersome, square chopping board I was taking back for them. "Me sister can cut up her yams and things on it." She told me it was worth the extra weight to take back such a good all-Jamaican product. It was made from squares of different coloured woods. Dark wood, light wood, white wood packed into a solid mosaic.

I had bought it from a shop in the grounds of Devon House--a yellow and white great house built by a rich black Jamaican man at the time that my grandparents were taking their first breaths. This rich black man constructed his house in the classical style--with pillars, sweeping stairways, driveways, and landscaped gardens.

Coral and me had wandered the grounds of the house one hot Wednesday afternoon. The beautiful gardens kept pristine for tourists, with flowers of every colour and shade opening to the sun. Climbing trees winding through the woodwork of the veranda creating dappled shade where black businessmen and tourists sat sipping Blue Mountain cappuccino and espresso, eating stuffed roti at tables with starched white linen, served to them by straight-backed waiters in white jackets who walked between the tables with swift efficiency and deferential stoops.

We ate ice cream, walking in the shade of overhanging palms. Jamaican ice cream--pawpaw, pineapple with rum, coconut, almond, chocolate, coffee, mocha. I took three licks of mango and banana flavour--creamy and so cold it shivered in my head and I had agreed with my Auntie Coral as she insisted, "Faith--Jamaican ice cream is the best in the world and let no one tell you otherwise."

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Trip Coach: November 28, 2006

Pamela Keech: Hello. I am Pamela Keech, author of The Curious Shopper's Guide to New York City. I don't know it all, but I hope I can answer some of your shopping questions today. _______________________ South Windsor, CT: Where is the best places to buy "knock off" pocketbooks? Pamela Keech: The best place is along Canal Street. You can wheel and deal. If you don't like the price walk away and they will always come down. _______________________ Racine, WI: What are some good places for large size women's clothing? Pamela Keech: There is a lovely store called Daphne's. It is on Amsterdam Avenue between 82-83 Streets. _______________________ Boise, ID: I'll be in NYC during the holidays. Is there a list of Christmas bazaars anywhere? Pamela Keech: There are wonderful festive Christmas bazaars at Grand Central Station, South Street Seaport, and Columbus Circle. The bazaar at Bryant Park is especially fun, a one-stop holiday treat with brilliantly lit trees and fountains, an ice skating rink, and stands to get hot chocolate and sandwiches. _______________________ Columbia, CT: I'd like to plan a trip to NY for a group of librarians to visit some independent book stores. Can you recommend some of the best, including a plan to make a day of exploring? Pamela Keech: Sadly, many independent bookstores have closed. The Strand is still alive, also Three Lives & Co on West 10th Street. All the museums have excellent book sections in their gift shops, and it is not necessary to pay admission to visit them. Especially good are MOMA, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum Visitor Center at 108 Orchard Street has a fine selection of New York related fiction and non-fiction. For a "bookish" day tour don't miss the Morgan Library with its new addition by Renzo Piano, on Madison Avenue at 36th Street. _______________________ Cleveland, OH: Do you have any tips for bargaining at flea markets? What has worked for you? Pamela Keech: When I go to a flea market I am very conscious of the work the dealer has done to buy collect their stock. If I think the asking price is more than fair, I pay it. When bargaining, I never make an offer that will offend the dealer. By being thoughtful and polite I often get terrific prices. _______________________ NYC, NY: Wher all these discount clothing outlets in lower Manhattan I hear about? Pamela Keech: Most of the discount clothing is on Orchard Street between Houston and Delancey. There are some great underwear and lingerie stores on Orchard between Delancey and Grand. A.W. Kaufmann carries European designer lingerie at discount prices. Accessories are along Canal Street. Look for scarves, handbags, watches, and perfume. _______________________ Miami, FL: Where in NYC can I find cute hat stores? Are there any inexpensive stores that sell hand-knitted beanie hats, or do you know of any stores that sell dressier hats? Thanks. Pamela Keech: There are lots of hat stores, but only one is still located in the old millinery district on West 38th Street. Manny's has been in business forever and now sells fabulous church hats and will design custom hats for weddings etc. Bonnie's, on Orchard Street near Delancey has handmade hats with a with a retro look. Also look along Fifth Avenue in the high 20s for hat and glove stores. _______________________ Pamela Keech: Thanks for all your questions, happy shopping and happy holidays. Pamela Keech _______________________

Top Chef Floyd Cardoz Shares His Secrets

Q: Could you share some memories of cooking with your family and how you became interested in cooking? A: Cooking and food have always been a major part of my family and upbringing, and also play a major role in Indian culture. My mom cooked a lot and we also had a cook at home. Hanging out in the kitchen to help the cook would ensure that I always got a tasty morsel before or in between meals. My mom would plan the meals daily with the cook, and would also get more involved with the meals when we were entertaining. I became familiar with cooking at a young age--I'd watch and help, and smell and taste all the flavors. My earliest memories were making my Sunday souffle omelets with roasted tomatoes when I was about 11. I also have fond memories of helping the cook clean shrimp, cut green mango, and saute the onions for the Goan stew sorpatel. I used to be the kid in the neighborhood who organized and cooked the monthly barbecues. When I was around 11 or 12 years old, during summers, all the kids in the neighborhood would each bring a potato and roast it over a wood fire and eat it with sea salt from the Arabian Sea. My love for food and cooking subconsciously were guiding me to my current destination. Q: What role do spices play in Indian culture? A: Besides being flavor enhancers, spices have many health benefits. Certain spices are used in different seasons because of their effect on our bodies--some increase body temperature, other keep us cool. Spices also play an important role in digestion. Growing up, I remember spice infusions that were given for various ailments such as a cold, stomach virus, or flu. Additionally, due to the various seasons and how difficult it used to be to transport fresh ingredients across the country (India), spices played an important role in preserving ingredients in pickles and chutneys for use in leaner times, i.e., in growing seasons when ingredients could not be transported across the country or were not available. Q: What are some easy ways to give Western dishes Indian flair? A: Adding one or two spices in a stew is an easy way to give a western dish an Indian flair. Adding coriander to meat dishes, cumin to vegetable dishes, and a combination of cumin and coriander to fish dishes are easy ways to do this as well. In One Spice, Two Spice, I offer many recipes. It can be really simple and is a great way to add tons of flavor. Q: Which basic Indian spices should be in every kitchen? A: In my new cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice, I outline levels of spices for home cooks. First, I suggest that people have some basics--bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. For those who want to add great flavor to their home cooking, Level One includes a selection of versatile spices that work well with most ingredients: Coriander seed, cumin, turmeric and mustard. I have three more levels as one gets more experienced with these spices. But really, it can be easy and is great fun to experiment with spices. Q: Which spices go into making a classic Indian curry? A: There are no standard spices in a curry. Depending on the region and season, the combinations change. A classic curry, though, is any sauce with spice, be it one, two, or more spices. Q: What is the best way to store spices? A: Buy them whole, keep them away from heat and light, and store them in an air tight container. In order to maintain freshness, buy spices in one- to two-ounce portions. Q: How should you buy spices? A: Always whole, never ground (except turmeric, cayenne, chat masala, and paprika). Ground spices tend to loose the essential oils which give the spices their flavor and health benefits. It's ideal to buy spices from ethnic markets, as you never know how long they have been on the shelf in big grocery stores. High turnover is a sure sign of freshness. Q: Are there any online resources for buying or learning about spices that you recommend? A: Sinha Trading ships everywhere, but you have to visit or call: 121 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016, 212/683-4419. There's also Penzeys, 19300 W. Janacek Ct., Brookfield, Wis., 800/243-7227, penzeys.com; and Kalustyans, 123 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016, 212/685-3451, kalustyans.com.

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