I’m starting to appreciate the spartan nature of Dominican kitchens. At first, I would compare the lack of cabinetry and the sparse shelving of typical island kitchens to images of the dream kitchens of America and think, “How does this even work here? Why would anyone want this?” Now, having discovered that all sorts of creepy crawlies share my love of darkened cabinets and the hundreds of nooks and crannies that stacked dishes create, I am starting to come around to thinking open wall shelves and simple concrete work surfaces are probably best suited to island cooking spaces. You store pots and pans with their lids on and you don’t stack dishes too high. Heck, you shouldn’t have more dishes than you have people anyway! Rinse and reuse if necessary. You will probably never have a matching set for long anyway due to the unforgiving nature of tile floors.

 

Tile is the most beloved floor on a rock

 

Ah yes, those tile floors. They’re perfect for island life because the humidity cannot destroy them and also for the ease of using hot water to simply pour on the floor to clean it. All islanders are familiar with the Bucket of Water Cleaning Method… dump it and – woosh! – out the front door goes the dirt and grime. This is another reason American-style kitchens don’t tend to work as well here: all that excess water gets under the kitchen work surfaces, delivering moisture under, behind, and between all the cabinets. A big NO NO which leads to more mildew in all this humidity. Seriously, I’ve heard there are more humid places on Earth, but really can’t believe that it can be much more than this. The Caribbean summer makes the environment feel like you’re practically living in water, yet it’s still classified as air. Luckily there are the trade winds, or I wouldn’t be here.

 

A typical island kitchen

 

Alas, we still managed to succumb to our fantasy of having a more modern American-style kitchen in our island home. That means that finding and destroying any endless parade of critters is our way of life now. In our defense, there wasn’t much of a kitchen when we bought the house, so choices needed to be made and we hadn’t yet learned the lessons that the local Dominicans have known forever about simple functionality on a rock. We are products of our upbringing, after all.

 

Our island kitchen 95% done… much improved!

 

Once we finished our kitchen renovation, there was only one logical next step: Throw a party, naturally! Though even in the Dominican Republic where so much fresh produce is grown locally and available, one still needs to do a lot more planning here than is required to throw a soirée on the mainland. The issue is that the season and the day of the week determine when produce will be available at the favorite colmado in town. For us, that’s Thursdays, generally. There are some great deals to be had with local produce trucks, but those are spontaneous purchases depending on what they found growing wild around Cabrera. You cannot plan on getting fresh produce from them. So, we went off to the town of Sosua and over-purchased on a whirlwind shopping spree in the larger grocery stores there. The round trip cost us about 3 hours of time and 5 years of life due to nerve-racking near-misses with motorcyclists. (Driving in DR is a whole other island conversation.)

On the evening of the party, I cooked too much food for our 5 guests which is frankly my M.O. Better too much than to little, I always say. We had to test out the capacity of the new kitchen, right? By 6pm on the day of the party, I was no where near ready for the guests to arrive (also my M.O.). Maybe I’m just a bad hostess, but this time my disarray was compounded by a few things:

1. I was left to my own devices.

Hubby had many projects going that didn’t revolve around getting the house cleaned and ready for our guests, which left that part to me. (But that isn’t to say his projects were not actually more of a priority than my hosting a party… ahem.)

2. Island hosting is harder because we don’t have a Costco.

You know how Costco has tons of ready-to-heat-and-serve hors d’oeuvres and the like? In the states, you essentially plan a main course and make a salad but rely on the oven to round out the experience with tasty appetizers that no one in their right mind could make from scratch (at least according to me… I’m no Martha Stewart). Well, on my island, there really isn’t that option available and thus I had to use what little data connection I had to look up three easy poolside sides to serve. Then I had to make them – from scratch! Alone! All on party day!

3. It’s friggin’ hot cooking in the Caribbean!

I tried to avoid things that required the oven or range but – dang it! – those zucchini/carrot fritters that I could find the ingredients for weren’t going to fry themselves. Not only did I have to throw myself into the pool once or twice during the preparation to avoid a heat stroke, I was all sweaty and grimy and still wearing a white t-shirt I had cut the sleeves off of when my guests arrived. (Lucky for you, I have no selfies of this.)

 

 

All I could do was get them all drinks and then excuse myself to take a shower and get dressed. Hubby followed shortly after due to this “projects,” which meant streaking through our own party to emerge clean and acceptably dressed for our guests. To their credit, they all laughed and said, “No worries, it’s Island Style.”

While the event was a success and the kitchen did a great job, I have since learned how to do island hostessing in a far more simplified way…

Case and point, the following event I hosted was aptly named, “Refrigerator Clean Out Party.” This time, I had literally nothing prepared. We were leaving the island for a while and knew better than to leave food in the fridge until we returned. For this party, people came over and THEN we pulled everything out and just let people prepare anything that looked good to them – including the cocktails which, of course, made the food start disappearing faster too.

We may not have Costco appetizers, but island-style hosting is turning out to be even easier after all.

–   –   –

Do you have any hosting hacks that make parties simpler – and more fun! – on your island?

 

You can make a vase out of many things on a rock…

Written By:

Rene Lee

Current Rock of Residence:

The Big Rock of the Dominican Republic

Island Girl Since:

2015

Originally Hails From:

Michigan

Rene once made the mistake of exclaiming to the heavens, “I would rather live anywhere other than Southeastern Michigan!” And guess what? The Gods deemed her in need of a lesson in humility. She then spent the next 20+ years raising a family in... yep, you guessed it: Metro Detroit! Having learned that one’s locale most definitely shapes one’s quality of life, she set off to find a tropical paradise to call home. Stop numero uno was Cabrera, a little farming town on the north coast of the Dominican Republic away from tourists and resorts. Next stop was... no wait, there was no next place to visit. She fell in love with Cabrera and has a cute little casa with a pool on a hill taking in the trade winds off the wide blue Atlantic Ocean. Much better.

She’s currently a part-time rock dweller in transition to full-time. She’s learning that her life can be much simpler, that deadlines and meetings and the rush-rush of a North American modern existence isn’t real life. Young Rene traveled and read books and painted, met amazing people from all over the world, and never owned a TV.  Mature Rene looks forward to those things again on her big rock in the Caribbean Sea.

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