My greatest lesson learned at the Kentucky Derby

My little Trini family had great timing when we arrived in Louisville, KY – just in time for the Kentucky Derby Festival. After enjoying days of fireworks, Chow Wagons, fair rides, an airshow and parade, the great Kentucky Derby raced on the first Saturday in May. While admiring the hats, horses and the “most exciting two minutes in sports” my mind raced back to when I was an 18-year old volunteer at historic Churchill Downs.

As an Oldham County High School Beta Club member (Go Colonels Go!) I had the opportunity to earn all my service hours volunteering over two days for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. It was then that I got my first REAL lesson in presenting myself.

After a previous orientation where we received uniforms that made everyone look like white-jacketed-khaki-bottomed boxes, hundreds of students from multiple schools gathered in what seemed like the basement of Churchill Downs. In there adult group leaders assessed us in a glance as they walked by, selecting boys and girls for specific jobs. We didn’t know what those jobs were until we were separated into our work groups. This was all new to me. The first day (Kentucky Oaks Day) I was selected to take tickets at the grandstands. Not a bad job. All patrons were nicely donned and mostly pleasant. But on the bus ride home I heard about the jobs my friends were selected for: ticket takers in the Infield (oh the crazy stories), other Grandstand positions (pleasant and easy), and Millionaire’s Row (oooooooohhhh they even got tips). Now, in those days Millionaire’s Row was IT. You could get no more glamourous.

So … on that bus ride home I decided to do something to improve my chances at a better position on Derby Day. The next morning, I hotrolled my hair, put a ribbon in it and put Lip Smackers lip gloss on (makeup wasn’t familiar territory back then). Later when a lady briskly walked through the throngs of students in that basement room and pointed her manicured finger at me, I was eager to know what assignment was in store for me. I followed her along with four other girls into an elevator and then into a nice room with an astounding view of the track.

“Your job is to stand at the doors for the horse owners, trainers and their guests. Ensure they have a wristband on, open the doors for them and be pleasant. That’s it.” She gave us a smile, introduced us a man in charge of the room who placed one of us at each door and left. It was a lovely day.

That experience has stuck with me for more than 20 years. Image matters. Just with a little extra effort, I was able to improve what I was able to do. Now … I’m not at all saying that appearance is the only thing that matters. It isn’t. But no one can deny that others tend to make judgments based on how your present yourself. Neat and tidy doesn’t mean high-brow fashion labels but it is the fundamental rule of presenting yourself. And it’s also important to remember that internal beauty always reflects externally.

So thank you Churchill Downs staff of 1995 for teaching me a lesson that will forever stay with me. It has, and will continue to, serve me well.

 

Advertisements

Fab Four Things I Learned While Living in the West Indies

For the past 12 years I’ve had the privilege of working and living more than 2400 miles away from my native land. The experiences garnered throughout these years have made me into a better person, more effective leader and aware global citizen.  Here are four fabulous lessons I learned from my time in the West Indies:

  1. Open up. Forget the A/C and open up those doors and windows. More importantly, open up yourself. Don’t close off the sun, breeze, neighbors, and all those opportunities outside. Sure …  at times it may get uncomfortable but it’s worth it. Live life with an open door, mind and heart.
  2. Being different may describe you but doesn’t define you. I appreciate the frank manner in which people in the West Indies describe others: chinee, dark, white, red, indian, shorty, tallman, blondie, thick, etc. But I most appreciate that people usually don’t take offense to those terms – it is just a description after all. While stereotypes do exist (gotta be real), I learned in a very personal way that what you do is more important that what you look like. Actions are what define us.
  3. Go brave. Whether it is donning a tiny carnival costume, exploring the islands, meeting new people or owning your own insecurities … just DO it. It took a few weeks in Trinidad & Tobago to get over years of personal limitations related to body insecurities and self-imposed inhibitions. While I’ve always been a fairly confident person, I finally felt completely comfortable with all my imperfections. I finally realized that being genuine, real, honest and relatable is what makes up real beauty and what drives greater success in life.
  4. Social currency is the most valuable kind. It is true … who you know makes a difference. Always work to build positive relationships and help others when you can. Being in a position to help others – and actually doing it – means I have a positive balance in my social currency account from which I may withdraw should I need assistance. Word of advice: You also have to know yourself. Are you a valued colleague or a sponge who appears only when you need something? No other time better uncovers the sponges than Carnival time in Trinidad & Tobago. I’m looking at you free fete and costume seekers.

7 Must-Try Items at the Tobago Blue Food Festival

As written by Laura for and published by Propa Eats Magazine.
If the drive along the Caribbean coast and through Northside Road’s misty hills doesn’t lull you into anticipation of what awaits at the Tobago Blue Food Festival, the smells that waft into your nose as you exit your car will certainly do the trick. This weekend, the Blue Food Festival marked its 19th year celebrating Tobagonians’ unique creations using the ground provision dasheen. Locals call the root vegetable “blue food” for the indigo colour it embodies while cooking.

Some patrons come to the festival with their coolers (empty to take home spoils from the culinary booths); some just come with empty stomachs and open minds. Dasheen is more than the commonly known leaves that make callalloo, but an extremely versatile root vegetable. The local cooks at the festival show off traditional and innovati

BlueFoodDasheenIceCream

ve culinary dishes to tantalize patrons’ taste buds and for competition (a.k.a. bragging rights).

As I navigated through the boothsand tables with kids in tow (it is a kid-friendly event, after all), I tasted, talked and observed to compile this list of must-trys at the Tobago Blue Food Festival, so you won’t miss them next year.

Dasheen Ice Cream

Nearly everyone named dasheen ice cream as one thing they couldn’t leave the Blue Food Festival without having. It’s creamy, a bit nutty and just plain good.

Dasheen Wine 

The wide variety of dasheen wine options indicated its popularity. Big bottles and small bottles of the sweet liquor were widely “finished” as the event progressed and in patrons’ hands on the shuttle ride back home. Who knew such a starchy product could  make such a delicate wine?

BlueFoodDasheenKhurma

Dasheen Punch 

For those looking for a softer beverage, dasheen punch offer

s a creamy sip with bits of the earthy dasheen to add some texture. Alcoholic versions are also available for those who really like a “punch” (pun intended).

Dasheen Khurma

With all the sweet treats available, my kids still selected, devoured and voted dasheen khurma as the best. The little sticks were crunchy, gingery and sugary—not to mention gluten-free, which was really the only difference between them and the sweets you’re used to enjoying.

Bush Meat with Provision 

BlueFoodIguana

If you followed the crowd, it led to you to where the wild things were. Dasheen dumplings and cut-up provision accompanied an array of stewed iguana, tattoo, rabbit, goat and, of course, Tobago’s famous crab. While dasheen took a humble backseat to the wild meat, it served as the perfect partner to sop up all the yummy sauces.

Light Dasheen Fruit Cake

There were very heavy black-cake-like versions of dasheen fruit cake but the lighter ones available offered a feathery alternative using dasheen flour. You can eat whole slice before realizing it’s done. I know… I did that. And no… I don’t regret it.

Blue Food Shop

The by-products of dasheen were just as impressive as the edible creations. And some looked good enough to eat. Seriously, there was one dasheen soap shaped like cake. Soaps, creams, oil, and candles were available for those looking for organic, locally-made home and body products.  Dasheen cake soap

So next year, when you go to the Blue Food Festival, take your sense of adventure. Be prepared for muddy feet (it’s rainy season, you know), try something new (dasheen pizza, anyone?), go on the Dasheen Farm Tour (the largest of its kind in Tobago), and look around to appreciate the beauty of the earth that provides and produces the provision. The charm of Tobago’s culinary heritage integrated into modern innovation will have you coming back for more.

Lemon Cake with Sour Cream Frosting

So yesterday was my birthday. A big birthday with a big number. How can I be 40 years old already? So in the spirit of still feeling spritely, fresh and bright (yes … yes … I know age is just a number) I made myself a lemon cake for the birthday candles to adorn. Holla to all you other moms that … ahem … *get to* make your own birthday treats.

This was the first time I tried this recipe from 5BoysBaker and it is definitely Cotton-Kong household approved. I used a basic sour cream for the frosting recipe but 5BoysBaker suggest a sour cream lemon frosting here.

20170130_192549.jpg

CAKE INGREDIENTS


Cake:

  • 1½ cups sifted flour
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs , separated
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup buttermilk

Lemon Syrup:

  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons hot water

CAKE INSTRUCTIONS

  1. anPreheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a 8×8-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. I like the line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit so that the baked cake is easier to remove. Set aside the prepared pan. (NOTE: I like petite cakes so I used two 6″diameter glass Pyrex dishes.)
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in bowl and set aside.
  4. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  5. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light d fluffy. Add the egg yolks to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice, mix until combined.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter, alternating with buttermilk.
  7. Fold in the egg whites.
  8. Spread the batter evenly in a greased 8×8 inch pan. (NOTE: Since I use the 6″ baking dishes, I divide the batter evenly between the two dishes and usually reserve a little batter to make a few cupcakes, too.)
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until top is golden and cake springs back when touched in center.
  10. Remove from oven and run a knife around the edges of the pan. Poke holes in cake with a fork or a skewer, making sure not to go all the way through the cake.
  11. For Syrup: Combine all syrup ingredients until sugar dissolves, s
    poon over cake while still warm. Let cool and remove from pan.

SOUR CREAM FROSTING:

  • 2.5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1/3 cups sour cream
  • Milk, if needed to get desired consistency

(NOTE: I usually add more or less sour cream and milk depending on the consistency I want.)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Frost cake when completely cooled.

Babycakes for my baby

So today Adelaide bamboozled me. Yep … sure did. I’ve prided myself in the past on knowing when she’s faking but this morning she got me. She started to complaining that her “tummy was going in circles” when we were in the middle of breakfast. She (like her dad) can think her way into her sickbed and this has been a thing before. I figured it was the Monday-morning-don’t-want-to-go-to-school blues so I employed my usual tactic and encouraged to her continue getting ready for school. But when she told me 30 minutes later, “Mommy I’m 1000% I don’t fell good,” I second guessed my tough-love approach. So I told her she could stay home. But I DID make her pinky promise (that is the ultimate level of promise between us) that if she started to feel better that she would go to school.

Well … by 10 a.m. it was pretty apparent whatever “ailment” she had wasn’t there so I sat her down and reminded her of the pinky promise. By 10:30 a.m. we were in the car headed for her school. As I drove home, I just shook my head. I couldn’t believe she fooled me. She’s only five years old!

We also discussed why she didn’t want to go to school. It is heartwarming that my little girl wants to spend her days next to me, but it’s also heart-wrenching because she wants to so that she doesn’t have to feel the ache of separation anxiety  when we have to say goodbye for a little while.20160908_173218

So after school I busted out the Babycakes cake pop maker for my baby girl. Grandma gave this little gem to Adelaide as a Christmas gift and it has been a lot of fun. For a while my creativity was stunted and I just made plain ol’ cake pops using a box cake mix because they were easy to make with Adelaide and our decision to make them was usually spontaneous. A few weeks ago clouds lifted from my creative brain matter as I pondered the usual dinner dilemma and I thought, “Wait! I bet you can make all sorts of stuff in this thing!” And sure enough … you can. I found a ton of ideas online and have tried a few already.

Well … today we stayed simple because I was dying to try brownies in the cake pop maker! It was amazing. I used a box brownie mix and followed the directions to make cake-like brownies (I added a tiny bit more water because I like them a bit lighter) and viola! Delicious brownie balls. Some came out looking a little odd but delicious all the same. The brownie balls didn’t last the night and two-year-old Oliver definitely approved.

I recommend the Babycakes cake pop maker because, really, the options are endless with what you can do with it. It’s easy with kids who want to help make whatever you’re making, and the end product usual earns you extra cool-mom points and is just as impressive to adults.

Here are links to three of my favorite cake pop maker idea generators:

6 Things You Can Make in A Cake Pop Maker – Besides Cake by OneGoodThingByJillee

14 Things You Can Make For Dinner In A Cake Pop Maker by Diply

Tips & Recipes by Babycakes