Bahamian Salad Saga
Simple Sesame Salad
Important: If you live in The Bahamas, the ingredients required for this salad might require a prayer for divine manifestation.
Shredded carrots (just for color)
Crumbled Gorgonzola (Well actually, flexibility is the key. Feta or Bleu Cheese will do.)
Handful of walnuts (On second thought, almonds or cashews will do.)
Fuji apple cut into thin strips (Don’t worry. Granny Smith, Gala, whatever!)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup seasoned sushi rice vinegar
Generous dash of toasted sesame oil
Dash of 100% pure maple syrup (not Aunt Jemima’s smiling face kind)
Dash of whipping cream
Teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Lawry’s garlic salt
If you still have the strength, after spending your day shopping at our various markets, then shake the dressing in a jar and pour lovingly over your greens.
Anyone living in The Bahamas knows the stress created by the task of making a salad. It should be such an easy thing, right? Run to the supermarket, buy the necessary ingredients, come home to your cool kitchen and proceed with your recipe.
But let me tell you, the invisible culinary divas have something else in store for you. Making a simple salad in our islands becomes a Sisyphean task, requiring physical stamina, inexhaustible patience, a healthy wallet and a full tank of gas!
Since I am an island girl, born and raised, you might think I have learned the lesson that in paradise planned dishes are a virtual impossibility, but it isn’t so. Every week I am still feverishly hopeful; a hope stemming from my insatiable desire for healthy greens.
My step appears light and jaunty on Fridays as I run down the stairs to my car.
Today will be a good day, I say to myself, preparing to manifest the fulfillment of my weeklong cravings. The trailers have arrived, filled with fresh produce from America. Tonight, I’ll chew on crunchy leaves and delectable walnuts, savoring Gorgonzola as it melts in my mouth.
But a silent, emphatic voice niggles in my ear, “Dream on, sister,” and I try not to listen.
My first stop is Solomon Brothers. The extreme heat forces me to begin shopping at the store furthest from home, so that I may, at least, be headed in the direction of my refrigerator when I exit those doors and continue my rounds. In The Bahamas, you have to move quickly once you have perishables in the trunk.
“Good morning,” I say to the security officer, who sits comfortably on a stool outside this huge warehouse. His name is ‘Cordial’ and really, of all the security officers I see there, he is by far the most cordial. Our brief conversations always begin with a laugh, and a plunge into the political topic of the day.
“Seems like de fresh wind de government promised us done stop blowin’,” he says grinning. “Only breeze I feel now is de one comin’ from de South!”
We both chuckle loudly and then, trying to maintain my sense of humor, I brace myself in anticipation of the smell that will assault my nose when I walk through those doors.
Inside, I take small sniffs of air, hoping not to gag. I want to shout, “Why the devil must a food store be so smelly?”
The little voice says, “Don’t go there, sister! Your question is not part of the solution!”
Okay, and off I head towards the fresh produce. Fresh produce! Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Well, if I am very lucky, the produce will be less than a week old. Usually though, the Romaine lettuce I am so eagerly seeking will carry a sticker that says 50% off. My heart sinks because at Solomon’s, this price indicates that the package has been there for three weeks or more. I cringe to recall that in my great need, I have, on odd occasions, actually turned the bag over and over in my hands, as though with this gesture I might banish the wilt; and then, because of my overwhelming addiction to anything green, I have placed that same bag into the large, blue shopping cart before me. Inevitably, the cart I have chosen has bent wheels, and as I push forward, I find myself straining all the muscles of one arm to avoid sliding in the opposite direction to where I want to go.
Now, Solomon’s also has a ‘Salad Fresh’ cooler that stands in the far aisle against the wall. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is filled with small bags of pre-washed salad containing a divine mixture of romaine lettuce, arugula, spinach leaves and shredded carrots. These precious bags are actually what prompted the creation of my simple salad. I only needed to tear open a bag and behold! No rinsing, slicing or scrutinizing!
I am not sure what inspired the buyers to import these horticultural delicacies, but on the day I saw them, I fell into salad rapture. Shoppers nearby were showered with a variety of excited ‘oohs’ and ‘wows!’ The fact that I paid $4.99 for one small bag did not stop me from buying six bags at once. Money is of no consequence when you have an addiction, and the satisfaction of my palate warrants almost any cost. Filled with zest and hope, I ran into the manager’s office, waving the ‘Tender Trio’ package and begged him to continue ordering this item.
“Okay Ma’am. I promise we’ll do that.”
Elated, I hurried back the following week, but all hope wilted when I saw the bare shelves displaying one or two packages of greens, now reduced to decaying slime. The sight left me irritable for days, evidence of my green depression. But let me carry on.
Supposing, just supposing fortune has smiled on me, and I exit Solomon’s with edible salad, then my next stop will be Butler Specialty Foods. Unless, of course, I need wine, in which case I drive across the street to Bristol Cellars. Pulling out the salad from the bags of groceries, I place it directly in line with my air conditioning vent. While the car is running, I race into the shop to purchase a bottle. If my favorite bottle of Merlot is there, I consider myself lucky, but should it be sold out, then disaster strikes and I stand bewildered before the rows of red wine, never knowing which one to choose. Meanwhile, my imaginary eye is psychically checking on the salad struggling to stay alive in the car. Finally my savior, Jimmy, the icon behind the cash register, sees how perplexed I am and calls out, ”What are you looking for today?”
“A good Merlot,” I say, trying to contain myself before I snap. “Where the hell is the one I always buy?”
Hastily grabbing the bottle he suggests, I pay and rush out to check on the precious salad bag, as though it were a distressed infant. Later, my husband, who has no concept of the anxiety food shopping elicits in my psyche, will ask me why I’m so wiped out.
Continuing on, I make my way to Yellow Pine Street, managing to turn right into Butler’s parking lot, just before the cars hurtling around that sharp curve send me flying to my death. I would hate to see my greens squashed on the steaming pavement after coming this far.
Butlers is a fine store, and those of us who live on Grand Bahama are grateful for the variety of food wares stocked in that tiny space. The fact that the aisles are so narrow you have to be anorexic to pass through them is of no great concern to anyone.
Placing my basket at the end of the aisle, I fill my arms with curries, mango chutney, Dijon mustard, miso paste, bags of organic brown rice and walnuts, which, though used sparingly, are a must for my salad, but can only be purchased in 3 lb. bags.
Staggering back, I squeeze past fellow shoppers. Usually, I find myself face to face with a friend and in passing, we give each other a quick peck on the cheek. Shopping this way takes care of social obligations. Of course, this contact is far less pleasant if you feel like you’re having a bad hair day, or the person whose face is only inches away from yours is someone you’ve been trying to avoid for some time.
Toasted sesame oil is an essential ingredient for my simple salad. Without this nutty, exotic flavor, the salad dressing falls miserably flat, yet this item seems to vanish off the shelves faster than the speed of light. I often wonder why, because no one I know even uses sesame oil.
When I discover that not one bottle remains on the designated shelf, my search for the elusive oil begins. I become a detective, sniffing around every can, lifting objects, praying for a clue. Sometimes, I am given a reprieve, and one dusty bottle will be hiding somewhere way in the back of a shelf.
Usually, I am forced to search out the manager in the office and urge her to order this necessity. I have waited eight weeks for toasted sesame oil. Eight weeks. That’s two months! This phenomenon has led me to buy ten bottles at a time; a purchase, which not only adds sixty dollars to my grocery bill, but creates havoc in my small pantry.
The same process holds true for sushi vinegar, but because it’s easier to find, I stock only five bottles. I’m ashamed to say, that my devious lower self has been known to conceal a few bottles around the store so that no one else can find them. Why, you ask, does the recipe call for Japanese vinegar? Well, it’s less acidic than balsamic vinegar, and after this shopping spree, I’m prone to heartburn.
Okay, now I need 100% pure maple syrup. Aunt Jemima just doesn’t do the trick. In spite of her natural smile, the syrup tastes artificial. I round the tight corner. Hallelujah. It’s there!
But my joy soon wanes when all I spy are half gallon jugs, and I imagine myself later in the day, kneeling on hard tiles, painstakingly reorganizing my crowded refrigerator to make space.
“Never mind,” says the commanding voice in my head. “Just take it!” Another $18.99 added to my bill.
My basket overflowing, I step in line behind a gentleman who obviously has the hots for Bernadette, the pretty cashier. As he flirts with her, she giggles, but I am in no mood for this romantic interlude. My greens are suffering outside. I clear my throat, look at my watch, and Bernadette gets the message. I pay, not even blinking at the grand total. That’s what checkbooks are for.
If you were to study my check register, you would see that every cent I earn is spent at four vendors only: Solomon’s, Bristol Cellars, Butlers and Winn Dixie—the latter of which is next on my agenda.
Solomon’s lingering odor accompanies me as I drive all the way uptown. As I pull into the Winn Dixie plaza, my eyes dart around desperately searching for a pushcart. It seems that whenever I enter that store, all the carts have mysteriously disappeared. Employees will stand chatting and laughing right where the carts ought to be stationed, but no one sees the importance of this shopping aid. I have long since given up asking for a cart, because the man in charge will look at me as though I’m crazy, and point to a broken one leaning haphazardly on the curb, at the far end of the car park.
Once inside, I zoom over to the fruits. What I need now are crisp Fuji apples, which will be sliced into thin strips and used to garnish my salad. I imagine biting into one, feeling the juice dribble down my chin. Big negative! The Fuji apples look like miniature, wizened heads. More often than not, if they’re not shrunken, they’ll be badly bruised, emblazoned with scars made by someone’s fingernails. Of course, all I can think of is the bacteria festering in these cuts.
I rummage around until I find one or two that pass the grade. The grade. That reminds me, why must we Bahamian consumers be subjected to second grade fruits and vegetables?
“Oh there you go again!” says the impatient voice. “Stop whining. Your life’s not so bad. Do you have apples? Do you have salad? Do you have specialty items like toasted sesame oil?”
“Then be quiet!”
Okay, I zip over to the dairy products. En route, I pick up a one-pound jar of Lawry’s garlic salt because—you guessed it—they’re out of the smaller sizes. No problem.
Now to the whipping cream. McArthur’s ultra-pasteurized is generally in stock, even in half-pint sizes. What a blessing. The only catch to this product is that you’re dead if you don’t check the date. I can’t count the times I arrived home eager to make my dressing, and opened the little flap only to find a congealed mass of disgusting, white curds.
Racing to the cash register, I place my items on the belt, instinctively choosing the one that does not roll. My cashier lady slouches on her stool, calling over to her colleague that she will be having pigs feet souse for dinner tonight. (All I want is a salad, sweetie.)
Sipping coke from a cool can, she lazily gestures for me to push the items toward her, while I struggle inwardly, trying not to run hot under the collar.
But wait. At the sight of her fingernails, I am suddenly fascinated. Entire works of art are painted on these three-inch long acrylic extensions. So what if the cash register keys can’t be pressed down. I keep quiet. Those claws are formidable. A spontaneous question crosses my mind. How on earth does she wipe her backside with those nails?
Oh no, don’t go there! I think about the nail marks in my apples. More festering bacteria. The five mini paintings move, handing me food stamps, and I’m jolted back into reality. My box at home is crammed full of these bonus stamps, accumulated over the years, yet I continue to hoard them, deluding myself that one day I will have time to lick and stick the many hundreds onto paper sheets. Why the hell doesn’t the supermarket just lower the prices instead of torturing me with nonsensical labor?
“Oh for God’s sakes woman, stop griping!” snarls my annoyed critic.
I leave Winn Dixie, relieved to have completed my mission. Home sweet home. My last task will be to haul ten bags of groceries up the stairs. I try to think of it as a workout, my own keep fit program.
Humming a merry tune, I unpack everything. The greens look a bit like soggy socks, but they’ll do. Suddenly, I stop dead in my tracks between the sink and the granite counter. Oh no! I forgot the cheese. I can’t eat the salad without crumbled Gorgonzola. It’s not the same. What would Martha Stewart do? Frantically, I search the cheese box and find an old piece of veined Danish Blue. It’s either the Danish Blue crumbling, or me falling apart. I choose the cheese.
Evening falls. Outside on my verandah, rose sunlight settles over my dinner table like gossamer cloth. The ocean before me flows in streaks of red wine, while I sit quietly gazing at the bounteous gifts nature provides. Green palm fronds fan my face as I dwell in God’s fruitful garden. Coconuts hang like huge globes waiting to be picked, their sweet milk contained in green chalices. Embraced by such fullness, I swear I will never complain again. Remnants of exasperation melt with the setting sun, and I recall what is truly important. At the end of the day, do I not have it all? Do I not have everything I need to celebrate life? I lack nothing. Supper awaits me.
Before saying grace, I take my husband’s hand and sneak a peak at the greens nestled in my wooden bowl, thankful for God’s colorful kitchen of life, for the way it prepares me while teaching me patience seasoned with humor.
Marina Gottlieb Sarles grew up in The Bahamas. Her stories draw inspiration from her childhood in the islands, where her parents who emigrated from East Prussia were the village doctor and nurse. Formally trained in Europe and the United States, Marina studied physical therapy and energy healing. A former faculty member of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, she has conducted personal enrichment seminars in Japan, America, and The Bahamas. ESPN produced a special feature segment for their True Outdoor Adventures series based on her short story Peter and The Shark. Her short story, The Circumstantial Dentist, was published by Macmillan Caribbean in the collection, Under the Perfume Tree. She is a regular contributing writer of feature stories for Grand Bahama ISLAND Magazine, and a contributor to the online magazine, Wild River Review. After spending time abroad, Marina has returned to her roots in the northern Bahamas where she lives with her husband, James, and their son, Nikolai. She is currently completing a novel set in her family’s homeland, East Prussia, during WWII.