Bahamian Fish Chowder

I am a girl who likes to celebrate, so before my double mastectomy surgery, my brother, my best friend and I went to dinner.  I selected a hot new restaurant and we had a fabulous 6 course meal.  I was good and didn’t have alcohol, but had teas and house soda. It was a night of amazing food, good conversation, and laughter.  I think my doctor would have approved.

I was not to have any food or drink after midnight.  I chugged a bunch of water right before midnight hoping that will hold me over, but it didn’t.  The night of no drinking water is torture!  I had a cold and when I woke up I had a dry mouth and couldn’t do anything about it.  Thankfully my surgery was booked for the morning, so it wasn’t hours of torture.

I actually had two surgeries done all at once.  The bilateral mastectomy, to remove the cancer and my expanders installed for my breast augmentation. The expanders are temporary implants to stretch the skin before they can put in the implants.  I remember being nervous as I never had surgery and didn’t know what to expect, plus I had this cold. At the hospital they took my vitals and cleared me for surgery.

My friends and brother and I hang out in a hospital room while we wait for the surgery.  We joked and laughed and it calms me.  My friend Jeff is a crier and he fights back his tears every once in awhile.  It is actually comforting, so I don’t have to cry.  However it is hard for anyone of us to keep a straight face as I looked ridiculous in a puffy hospital gown.

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At this point I have been in the hospital for well over an hour and I am extremely thirsty, tired, and starting to look forward to being under for a few hours.

After saying good-bye to my friends and brother I am off to another waiting room for surgery.  This is a large room with rows of curtains, which are to create a private area.  My plastic surgeon and breast surgeon come in, quickly say hello and then go straight to work. They asked to see my breast and take sharpies and start drawing and discussing where they want to cut me open.  It is an impersonal experience, but comforting that they are discussing things so I won’t look awful when this is all over.  Once I’m all marked up they start to address me as a human again and asked if I had any questions.  I think I was just a bit in shock, nervous, and the only thing I thought to ask was how long would the surgery be.  They said 4-6 hours depending on how the mastectomy would go.

The anesthesiologist stops by to introduce himself and check on my medication.  I don’t have very many questions for him.  I think my nerves are really starting to hit me at this point and I’m thirsty and tired and want to go to sleep.  They wheel me in and the anesthesiologist puts a mask on me and that is all I remember.  I wake up which feels like a bit later, but not 6 hours later.  It was like waking up from a nap.  Someone asks how I am feeling and I try and speak.  Not much comes out.  They ask again and all I get out is “nauseous”.  Then I am a sleep again.  I wake up to someone yelling and the nurses running and yelling back at someone, “Sir,  you can’t get up.”  I sort of see a few people running over and telling a guy to lay down.  I am blinking and wiggling my toes and just getting feeling back in me.  The nurse talks to me a bit and I’m moved upstairs to my hospital room.

The hospital room has an amazing view of the city.

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It is a private room and one of the best on the hospital.  I got lucky.  My friends come in and sit with me.  I am starting to wake up.  I’m in pain and given a dilaudid drip, with a button to get pain meds as I need.  I am told to stay in front of the pain.  I ask my friends how things went.  They say things went fine.  I ask about my lymph nodes.  The best case scenario is that the cancer has not spread to my lymph nodes and surgery and maybe radiation is all I need.  The lymph node infected will likely mean that I will have to do chemo.  My friends and brother are aware of this and as I ask I see them look at one another and stall.  Finally my brother lets me know that “Ya, Kim some were infected.  The doctors are coming to tomorrow to talk to you about it, so just get some rest.”  I want to cry.  It is pretty much the worst case.  I want everyone out of the room as I was ill prepared for such bad news, but I look at my brothers face.  He is fairly upset he has to break my heart, so I did the only thing I could think of.  I tell a bad joke and move on.  There will be plenty of time for me to cry but right now want to enjoy everyone’s company.

Before my friends all take off to let me sleep for the night, I order dinner, the food is not great.  It isn’t the worst meal I have had but it would be better if it was food from the restaurant the night before.  I got desert of an apple pie and we thought it would be fun to celebrate one of my birthdays with a candle.  However of course you can’t have an open flame in the hospital so someone realizes there should be an iphone candle app.

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The apple pie was cold, so I am still hungry and want pringles.  My friends try and find me pringles as I am hungry. T here is only some sun chips from the vending machine.  We play a few rounds of cards, and I keep making them play with me more.   I don’t think I wanted them to go.  We discussed if they should stay over with me and that felt silly, but I think I wasn’t ready to face what the infected lymph nodes meant and not sure I was ready to be alone to face it.  It was around 11pm and an extremely long day for them and time for them to go.  They would be back in the morning.

Thankfully Bahamas food is not like hospital food.  There is a Bahamas fish chowder that I would have loved to have eaten over the dinner I picked.

Seafood is of course popular in Bahamian cuisine and they make a fish chowder that is often served with Johnny cakes.  I find a recipe for the fish chowder which also includes lobster instead.

The first step is to make a shrimp stock.  First peel the shrimp and save the shrimp shells. Rinse the shells.

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Then add shells, vegetables, seasoning, and water to a stock pot.

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Simmer for one hour.

The soup calls for lobster, however as I had to buy shrimp for the stock I am going to add shrimp along with the lobster in the soup.  I marinate the seafood with pepper, limes, and green onions.

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Mash the ingredients together in mortar and pestle

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Spread over the seafood and marinate for at least an hour.

To create the soup, you start by creating a roux with oil and flour.  Add vegetables and cook till tender.  Add the liquids and cook.  Finally add the marinated seafood and a little marinade and cook through.

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To make the Johnny cakes I mix the ingredients in my handy dandy mixer.

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Then put it in a pan and bake.  This is what differentiates a Bahamian Johnny cake is that it is a baked bread vs. a fried pancake.

The Johnny cake is dense and sucks up the soup.  The chowder is warm and comforting with the taste of coconut and heat of peppers, don’t make it too overpowering.  Well my soup and my surgery are successful!


 

Recipes

Shrimp Stock

Original recipe can be found here

  • 2 pounds shrimp shells
  • 11 cups of cold water
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 4 celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz mushroom
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
  1. Combine seasoning into a cheese cloth and make a sachet
  2. Rinse the shrimp shells under cold running water and place them in a 1-gallon stockpot with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the temperature to a simmer.
  4. Skim the impurities that rise to the surface with a ladle, spoon or a skimmer.
  5. Simmer the stock for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bahamian Fish chowder

Original Recipe can be found here

  • 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely minced
  • 1 habanero chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 pounds raw lobster tails, chopped into bite size pieces
  • 2 pounds shrimp
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups shrimp stock or low sodium canned chicken broth (or substitute water)
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Combine chiles, green onion, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a mortar and pestle or in the bowl of a food processor and process to a paste.
  2. Spread the mixture over the shrimp and lobster and drizzle with the lime juice.
  3. Refrigerate while you prepare the stew.
  4. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and, when hot, whisk in the flour.
  5. Cook, stirring constantly, until a light blond roux is formed, 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook until vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.
  7. Stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, potato, stock, coconut milk, brown sugar, thyme, remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and pepper and bring to a low boil.
  8. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and flavorful and potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.
  9. Remove the lobster from the marinade and reserve 2 tablespoons. (Discard the remaining marinade.)
  10. Add the lobster and the reserved 2 tablespoons marinade to the stew and cook, stirring gently as to not break up the fillets, until the fish is just cooked through, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Johnny Cakes

Original recipe can be found here

  • ½ cup butter, room temperature + extra for greasing pan
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • approx. ¾ cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until combined.
  3. Add the flour, water, salt, and baking powder to the bowl.
  4. Add the milk slowly until the batter is sticky.
  5. Dust hands with flour. Transfer dough from bowl to a greased 9×9 pan. Gently flatten the dough in the pan.
  6. Bake for approx. 1hr or until the edges of the johnnycake are browned. The johnnycake will not rise much.
  7. Let cool for several minutes before cutting into the johnnycake.

 

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