It remember that Tuesday afternoon like it was yesterday. My date and I were making nervous small talk as we drove through town, both staring straight ahead, only glancing at each other for brief moments at a time. Still, I noticed his over-gelled spiky hair and I'm sure he noticed my overly done up face.
We arrived at Coconut Grove, a brand new Jamaican restaurant that stood out like a soar thumb amidst the frat boy bars and grease traps that lined the vicinity of our college campus. Maybe that's why we were the only customers in the place. Or maybe I was just too nervous to notice anyone else.
We sat down in a tiny two-seater booth and began the unconscious game of avoiding direct eye contact while fiddling with straw wrappers. Thankfully, being the only customers meant our chipper waiter checked on us often and was soon rattling off daily specials. I scanned the menu, full of weird fruit chutneys and foreign pork dishes until I found something that my uncultured taste buds could hopefully choke down, a jerk chicken sandwich.
While we waited for our food, the date went something like this: He’d tell a joke. I’d laugh. Then we’d both take sips of our sodas and pretend to read the table toppers to avoid an inevitable awkward silence. Silence wasn't something we wanted. Silence meant we might have to acknowledge the one thing we’d been avoiding since he picked me up that afternoon. The subject of the night before.
Less than 24 hours earlier, we’d put on a fundraiser for our school's ad club. Did I mention that we were classmates? Buddies? We were, in fact, two people who normally would've joked the night away in a circle of friends, complete with arm jabbing and teasing.
But this fundraiser had free beer. And for those of you who don’t know, free beer has been known to come along with an overdose of confidence. And that’s why I kissed him.
Alas, after several beers and a few fruity blue-colored shots, two good friends had their first kiss, surrounded by all their confused classmates. From there, the night was a whirlwind of confessions. “I’ve liked you for so long." "Me, too." And we both assured each other this was the beginning of something perfect. And that the best relationships start out as friendships. And that things wouldn't, just couldn't, be weird the next day. No, we would surely dodge the curse of most friends-turned-something-more. So we planned a lunch date to prove it to ourselves.
So there we were. On our lunch date. It felt surreal that the same man who used to make me laugh was now was making me nervous, and I knew things would forever be different. We’d kissed, and there was no changing that. I'd just have to try and get over the weirdness of it all.
The arrival of our food, usually a comfort on awkward dates, added only more weirdness. The spicy sweet jerk flavor was all too new to my taste buds, which at that point in my life were loyal only to chicken fingers and the occasional quesadilla, 86 the onions. Yes, at a time in my life I didn’t like onions, which I now eat straight out of the pan when I’m carmelizing them. So you can’t blame me for not jumping for joy over the exotic sandwich staring back at me. But in all honestly, I couldn’t taste much anyway because my brain was too focused on the man across the table to allow my gustatory system full function.
Needless to say, I accidentally left my leftovers on the table when we left.
After lunch, we decided to skip class and watch Fight Club back at my apartment, which really meant we sat there over thinking what to do and how to sit, wondering if we looked ok and had anything in our teeth, all the while making sure we still reacted to the important parts of the movie to maintain our cover that we were actually watching it.
Then, finally, in another act of boldness, we kissed again. Sober. And we knew it was real. All our nerves were put at ease and the world made perfect sense. I could date my friend. I really could.
In fact, in just a few days, we’ll be celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary.
So now that I'm married to the jerk-loving man, I thought I'd give Jamaican flavors a second chance. Thankfully, my tongue has come along way since my college years, because these fragrant kabobs are to die for. Just blend up the quick sauce and throw them on the grill or cook them under the broiler.
The sauce, a sweet-spicy mix of Christmas and the Caribbean, pairs perfectly with the juicy beef, red pepper and plantains, which get nice and crunchy on the grill. We ate our meal with toasted pita, black beans and rice and a few slices of grilled pineapple, which I totally recommend. It's absolutely delicious. And this time, there were no leftovers to leave behind.
Jamaican Jerk Beef Kebabs
Cooking Light, August 2001
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 kebab)
Note: Jerk is a Jamaican seasoning blend used on beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and fish. Traditionally, jerk is a dry rub, but you can mix it with liquid to form a paste or marinade. Choose yellow plantains with black spots to ensure that they're ripe.
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 habanero or serrano peppers, seeded
1 1/2 pounds boneless sirloin, trimmed and cut into 30 cubes
1 red bell pepper, cut into 18 pieces
2 black-ripe plantains, peeled, and each cut into 9 pieces
Diagonally cut green onions (optional)
Lime wedges (optional)
Combine first 9 ingredients in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Place onion mixture, beef, and bell pepper pieces in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 20 minutes.
Remove beef and bell pepper pieces from bag; discard marinade. Place beef, bell pepper pieces, and plantain pieces in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Thread 5 beef cubes, 3 red pepper pieces, and 3 plantain pieces alternately onto each of 6 (12-inch) skewers. Lightly coat kebabs with cooking spray. Place kebabs on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cook 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare or until desired degree of doneness. Garnish with green onion pieces and serve with lime wedges, if desired.
Nutritional Information: Calories: 260 (25% from fat), Fat: 7.1g (sat 2.7g,mono 2.9g,poly 0.3g), Protein: 26.9g Carbohydrate: 21.3g, Fiber: 2.4g, Cholesterol: 76mg, Iron: 3.4mg, Sodium: 358mg, Calcium: 20mg.