The world now knows the fastest man on the planet is Jamaican. Like Celest, I loved watching the Olympics and was tuned in when Usain Bolt won his first gold the very night I met another Jamaican man, on the subway no less. Bolt may be fast, but my Jamaican is free!
I was standing alone on the 2/3 train platform on Bergen St. after a transformative dinner at Franny’s with Erin, when a striking black man, shoes clipping along the cement, caught my attention. I looked up from his toes to his wide smile; then, he really had my attention.
Waiting the inevitable twenty minutes for a weekend train to come rattling through the station, we got to talking. He spoke first:
“Mind if I ask how long you been waiting? I’ve got an appointment in the city I’m already late for.”
I was thinking, “an appointment at this hour, on a Sunday?” But I said, “not long…which isn’t a good sign.”
He laughed and I guessed this wasn’t the first time he’d be late for a Sunday night appointment in the city.
When the train finally rolled up we sat together—a first for me with a stranger. I find, typically, any talk one has with a fellow platform-er is automatically abandoned when entering the train, awkwardly heading to different ends of the car in order to strategically avoid one another for the rest of the ride. But, the Jamaican sat right down next to me on a two-person seat reserved for handicapped patrons. I didn’t even know his name yet. It was exhilarating!
For the rest of the ride, we talked. No small talk: typical date-driven dribble about what we do for a living, where we went to school, or what brought us to Brooklyn that night. Only big talk: Phelps vs. Bolt, Obama vs. McCain, the Hamptons vs. the Caribbean.
I told him last year I experienced true Caribbean calm for the first time in my life when Amanda and I went on an island-hopping holiday to St. Maarten and Saba. There, we cooked lobster feasts, climbed volcanoes, woke up to seaside vistas that encouraged us to pull out the yoga mats (I rarely moved out of “Child’s Pose” mind you), hitched rides in the back of a pickup that took us down the island to dance to local steel drum bands on the pier, and smoked a lot of pot. Did I mention St. Maarten is a Dutch colony?! Basically, we did everything except dive—the ostensible reason for our trip; we quickly backed out of it after our first, traumatic, crash course from the patient Sea Saba crew in our villa’s pool. Fishing I can handle, diving scares me. Frankly, I’d rather sail.
I described to my Jamaican subway man two momentous food revelations from that Caribbean trip. The first was the finest lamb chop I’ve ever tasted. Hands down, it was the most succulent, best-seasoned, hardest-earned (it required a two mile hike!) lamb of my life. And it was probably imported, because there didn’t seem to be many lambs grazing in the volcanic hills we had to climb to get to the rainforest hideaway that boasts this delectable dish and is accessible only by foot. But if ever you find yourself on the isle of Saba, you’ve already traveled far enough in search of perfection that the extra two miles to Rainforest Restaurant at Ecolodge Rendezvous should be a no-branier. It’s worth scraping your knee and wearing flats to dinner, trust me, and bring a flashlight.
The second food revelation I ambled into was a banana cake made with marijuana-infused coconut oil. Gasp! Amanda and I befriended a St. Maarten cabbie named Chachi, who ran a company called Rasta-Taxi and chauffeured us across the island so we could eat in true locavore style. We drank from young coconuts cracked by old men on the street wielding machetes, ate pork ribs straight off a local neighbor’s grill, sampled chili sauces in bars that were more shack than dive, and devoured quite a few slices of Chachi’s cake made with “coconut” oil. Every time I’d show the slightest hesitation, whenever my American squeamishness would threaten to get the best of me, Chachi would cry:
“Free yaself sista!”
And I would. And I’m glad I did. And back home in my New York apartment, with my New York stress, my New York schedule, my New York neurosis, I often remind myself that there are people who are full of life and full of luscious banana cake on a beautiful, warm island. Memories of them make me want to be happier with simpler pleasures and live my life with abandon.
Preparing to get off the train at Christopher Street, I started making motions toward the exit in the hope that this once stranger, now friend, whose name I still didn’t know, would give me his card. He did not. When the doors opened, I got up and said goodbye. He reached out his hand to shake my own and then I saw it; scrolled across his wrist in a cursive tattoo was the word,
I grabbed his hand and pulled myself into him, sitting us back down on our urban loveseat for two. Without ego, he didn’t act surprised, and I stayed on the train ‘til 28th Street, exchanging names, and numbers.
I passed the next three days waiting for him to call, debating whether to call him myself, and eating inordinate amounts of honey soaked plantains. I ate them with steak and their sticky sweetness countered the peppery brine I rubbed into the meat; I scrambled them with eggs for breakfast as a sort of Jamaican take on Matzo Brei; I even threw them in a bibb lettuce salad with bleu cheese, red onions, and spiced almonds. On the third day, his phone called saved me from experimenting with plantain pasta.
That’s not all he saved me from. I’ve been out with the Jamaican a few times now and every time we’re together I feel emancipated from past heartache. Not because we’re falling in love, or even because the sex is so good, (though it is!) It’s just that he brings out the Rasta in me, and that’s no small feat for a high-strung, New York blonde.
I’m sure you want the cake recipe, but you’ll have to settle for the plantains. Of course, taking my banana bread recipe and making a key substitution (if you can get your hands on it) will get you close.
• Olive Oil
• 2 ripe Plantains
• ½ stick Butter
• 1 bunch Scallions (chopped)
• ¼ cup Honey
• Sea Salt
Peel and slice the plantains on the bias. Preheat a large frying pan on medium heat and coat with a thin layer of olive oil. Sauté the plantains on one side until brown (about 5 minutes), and then flip and repeat the process on the other side. Add the butter and allow to melt. Remove the pan from the heat and in a separate bowl stir in the honey and sprinkle with scallions and sea salt.