By Kielon Hilaire. Ask a Trini what makes Christmas feel like Christmas and you would more likely get, “OMG, de food! De food! I jus’ cyah wait to eat de food!” But when you ask Marina Rivas you’ll get, “I love to cook! I love to bake! I love to make all sorts of Christmas foods!” Now the whole of Trinidad and Tobago might want to come to Marina’s place for Christmas!
Well in the prime of her life, Marina has been whipping up food storms in the kitchen since she was eight years old and she happily recalled the story of how that happened. Her mummy used to cook each day. But on one occasion she found that the food was taking too long to “magically” appear on the table so she went to find out what was wrong. She discovered that her mother had been preoccupied with other chores. Seeing this, she immediately paced towards the kitchen where she spotted raw meat sitting inside a bowl; without thinking, she picked up the meat chopper and said, “Meat, I’m going to cook you!” And she actually did it.
She had spoken those words till they eventually came into existence. Startled by both her success and her ambition, from then on Marina’s family supported her desire to cook by teaching her various family recipes. And they continued to do so till a new chef was born.
Almost 20 years later, Marina admits that she loves to create most of her foods during the Christmas season and that the pleasant aromas of some meals alone are enough to get her thinking about making them.
Sorrel and ginger beer
Marina looks forward to Christmas food each year
Yummy pastelles, fresh breads, sweet fruitcakes, crusty pies and sweetbreads with textures so fine that every mouthful slithers down your throat to satisfy your innermost desires. But of course for many Trinbagonians Christmas is no Christmas without black cake – a cake that is laden with a plethora of fruits and drenched with premium spirits. Then there are the drinks – sorrel, ginger beer, mauby and an all time favourite, Ponche de Crème which is a homemade beverage primarily made from alcohol, nutmeg and a combination of creamy milk.
All of these Marina enjoys making. But no matter what, Marina claims that one of her signature dishes, especially as it reminds her of how she got started, will always be to bake ham or turkey till it is moist and tender, a meal that is often the highpoint of a non-vegetarian’s Christmas. Nevertheless, Marina attributes much of her success in the kitchen to being a Graphic Design major and having a natural enthusiasm for art. To her, cooking and art are the same things.
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Marina was asked if she could imagine Christmas without food. Her response was, “Absolutely NOT! Not just because I love the food so much but because cooking and baking during that time of year can easily bring families together. Some people see Christmas as a time for opening gifts but I see it as a time to celebrate life, for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and spending time with the people who mean the most to you, sometimes even with strangers. Christmas to me is also a time for sharing, giving and being at peace with yourself. And this all starts from the moment someone realises that material things will never continuously make your Christmas merrier.”
Marina also expressed that as much as she looks forward to Christmas food each year she also looks forward to the day when more parang festivals are aired more often by the media during the holidays. “I love the sweet melody of Christmas carols and parang and to see how many people attend the parang festivals in Arima, Lopinot, Santa Cruz and Maracas, just to name a few. These things really get me in the Christmas Spirit.” She believes that food and music go hand in hand and can universally invoke peace and happiness, which ultimately keep people closer together.
Nevertheless, despite all the positives of celebrating a Trini Christmas, the season is notoriously known for the hassle of last minute shopping, long lines at the supermarket, manoeuvring through traffic jams and performing hurried painting and decorating, etc. But amidst all the stress, it is worth considering that Marina might really have the secret to spending the merriest Christmas ever: Eat and be merry, and most importantly, sing! Singing “Ah want ah piece ah pork” by Scrunter is a good way to start feeling infused by the Christmas Spirit. Thanks Marina!
December 2014 – Issue 13 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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