Port Antonio, Jamaica
From Ithaka's Galley, In Port Antonio
By Bernadette Bernon
When cruising's not all about the people you meet, then often it's all about the food, and most times it's about both, one enhancing the flavor of the other. This morning, for breakfast, I experienced the thrill of biting into a succulent wedge of orange, and finding it bursting with juice and flavor. The thrill came from remembering where I'd purchased this particular orange - with my friend Ilana, from Windom, in Staniel Cay, Bahamas, two months ago! It tasted as fresh this morning as the day it was picked, thanks only in a small way to my hawkish oversight, and in a big way to the green ethylene bags in which we keep fruits and veggies until they're ready to eat.
Now that we're here in Jamaica, there are no more worries about getting and storing fresh fruits and vegetables. There's a thriving open-air market, and lots of cheap and wonderful little local restaurants. I stroll into town almost everyday to buy what we need, and enjoy the give and take with the ladies selling their wares; they have much to teach me about varieties of fruits and veggies that I've never seen before. Prices are right, and the quality is terrific. When it's time to cast off from Port Antonio, we'll stock up heavily, clean and dry everything, store it in the green bags, and do our best to make it last for as long as possible.
All this chat about good food and friends is a reminder that it's time to answer an e-mail we received a few weeks ago from Juana D., who asked for recipes for some of the dishes we make aboard. Here's Juana's letter:
"Some of us read The Log Of Ithaka for technical information. Others read it for the personal side of cruising. I'm in the latter group. So, when you say you make a specific dish on Ithaka, I'd really love to know how you made it so that I can imagine what it's really like to live and cook aboard. I love to cook, and reading about what you make inspires me, and makes me see that the finer points of life can remain alive and well aboard a cruising boat. It doesn't have to be about roughing it all the time, right?"
Cooking well aboard a boat, especially when you're far away from markets and conveniences, isn't as much of a challenge as you might think, as long as your boat is well stocked. I agree with Juana, that presenting a nice meal with a bit of flair is one of the more pleasant aspects of cruising.
One of the big differences between our first four years of cruising, and this, our fifth, is that last year, while Douglas and I were in the United States refitting the boat, I made room aboard Ithaka for some special items that I'd longed for. I'd missed having some of my favorite cooking pans, for instance, so I added a covered cast-iron enamel-clad casserole dish (great for keeping things hot at the table, or when you're taking something to another boat for a pot-luck), and a non-stick bundt-cake mold in the shape of a rose (I like to make banana cakes and chocolate cakes while cruising, and the intricacy of that pan adds a dramatic "wow" factor to an otherwise simple dessert).
I missed having real wine glasses, and decent plates (we'd had plastic stuff that had come with the boat). Now we have real dinnerware - nothing fancy, just white Corelle - and simple wine glasses and tumblers. But holding a glass in your hand has a much nicer feel to it than plastic. (We still use the plastic glasses underway.) I missed having a few beautiful dishes to present hors d'oeuvres and desserts with some flair, and so I collected three beauties in Mexico in different sizes. I missed having some nice linens for the table, so I made a couple of new tablecloths, and bought some pretty cotton napkins and rings to go with them. I missed a few modern appliances, and added a hand-held mini food processor that works on low power and doubles as a blender or a mixer. My favorite addition, however, is a dessert whipper, which works with little air-pressure canisters, and can make a jaw-dropping chocolate mousse within minutes out of canned cream, Ghiradelli chocolate powder, some liqueur, and confectioner's' sugar.
These additions have expanded my cooking repertoire, and make cooking and entertaining more fun. To protect these little appliances and odds and ends, I sewed protective quilted bags for the serving plates, created storage Tupperware boxes for the glasses (by gluing padding inside for a tailor-made fit), and by finding places to tuck each item so that it was easy to access, and yet immovable and safe while underway. That was a challenge on a 39-foot sailboat, but worth it. I just didn't want this cruising year to be as much about "camping." Just a few simple little luxuries, within reason of course - this is still a boat! - has notched up the quality of our entertaining.
The inspiration for some of this was my friend Shauna on Zia Lucia, who taught me by example over the past two years that living aboard a small sailboat is no reason to dispense with flair in daily life. She lives aboard Zia, with her husband David, and has a boundless energy for making even the simplest act - serving you a cup of tea, for instance - into a gracious performance. The pretty cups, and matching sugar bowl and creamer come out. The teapot, steaming with some aromatic tea, is placed on the trivet near the tin of chocolate biscotti or digestive's, which she produces from some little hidden cubby. She already knows what I'm learning, that half the drama of a great and memorable meal is taken in by the eyes, not the mouth.
All this talk of formalities, and bringing breakables aboard, would've sounded like such heresy before we moved aboard, a time when we thought cruising was supposed to mean simplicity in every aspect of life. But there's a big difference between living simply but with a bit of flair, and living with just the basics. The latter can get a bit old after a year or so, especially for most women. Having some elegance aboard, for yourselves, and especially for guests, makes the cruising experience more fun. Here are a few thoughts, gleaned from my handful of years aboard, and taught to me by a group of like-minded cruising women with whom I've been lucky to travel along.
-- When you set out cruising, bring a few of your favorite cookbooks, go through them and look at the recipes that sing to you. Note down any special ingredients, and buy them in the States. Chances are you won't find such items as Vietnamese fish sauce, lemon-grass paste, Asian spices, flax seeds, dried egg whites, or any ethnic favorites once you set out. For example, I love making Chicken Marbella, a dramatic recipe introduced me to me by Shauna (from The Silver Palate cookbook), and so I make sure I have plenty of dried prunes, capers, couscous, and olives aboard to make it a few times. It's a show-stopper, and I've learned to modify the recipe so that it can be cooked quickly in the pressure cooker.
A cruising friend of mine buys one new ethnic cookbook a year, when she goes home to the States, writes down the special ingredients needed to make that particular palate of foods, then shops for them all while she's home, just in case.
-- In addition to the mini food-processor/blender/mixer, I have a manual food processor that works well for chopping up the ingredients for granola, and for making ground chick-pea dips. And I have a manual chopper, which is great for dicing up lots of garlic, onions, and peppers. Making salsa with it takes only about 15 minutes.
-- You'll eat lots of fresh fish once you set out cruising. If you like sushi, bring chopsticks, seaweed wraps, sticky rice, pickled ginger, wasabi paste, low-salt soy sauce, and rice vinegar so that you can make California rolls, which makes a festive and dramatic dinner for cruising friends. To make it extra special, put out all the ingredients, make the rolls together with your friends, and serve it accompanied by a cold white wine.
-- If you like Indian food, keep aboard some of the condiments that make a simple curry dinner into something far more memorable: chutney, peanuts, dried coconut cream (stows lots easier than canned coconut milk), and packets of chili paste to make a spicier Thai curry.
-- If you like cereal, find a good recipe for granola, bring plenty of ingredients along with you - pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, sesame seeds, bran, flax seeds, wheat germ, honey, maple syrup, craisins, and so on -- and make your own. It's easy, takes only a half an hour, and tastes much better than store-bought.
-- If you don't like making dessert, here's a simple yet dramatic solution. Before you leave the States, buy a couple dozen oversized bars of quality chocolate you really like and store it somewhere cool below the waterline. During dinner, pop it in the fridge. After dinner, break it up and arrange it on a pretty plate, interspersed with a selection of dried fruits. Serve accompanied by a glass of liqueur. Couldn't be easier, and nothing beats chocolate on a cruising boat.
-- You'll find lots of great fresh vegetables and fruit wherever you go, as well as cleaners, detergents, paper goods, and so on, so don't bother buying too much of these items before you set out. But you'll long for good crackers, aged cheeses, special teas, and any favorite gourmet items once you sail south from the States. Stock up with those. Cheese will keep fresher much longer (many months) if you cut large quality cheeses (good varieties can be found at BJ's or Costco) into more usable smaller sizes, vacuum pack them yourself, then store them in the bowels of the fridge.
-- Be sure to buy plenty of those green "long-life" ethylene bags to store vegetables and fruit while you're cruising. They work, keeping fresh foods fresh for weeks, and sometimes months. I find the smaller size much more useful than the larger size, which is needlessly big. I store veggies and fruit in them even outside the fridge, as they slow the ripening process.
-- If you don't like making hors d'oeuvres, buy big bags of good-quality nuts -- such as cashews, pecans, and pistachios - and a couple of big containers of good-quality olives. Re-package them all into smaller sizes appropriate for one-evening's hors d'oeuvres for four people, and vacuum pack them yourself. Then they're ready at a moment's notice to be served in a pretty bowl to your guests.
-- If you're traveling through Florida on your way out of the country, consider stopping in Jacksonville, and visiting their county extension canning facility. Linda C. on Dreamtime wrote to us recently, extolling its virtues: "Pint cans are $.35 a can. Quarts are $.55. I started canning things like special recipe spaghetti sauce, Ed's three-alarm chili, beef stew, and so forth, as well as meats such as chicken, turkey, ham, Italian sausage, ground beef, and ground chicken. The beauty of doing it yourself is that you can spice it just right before it goes into the can, along with the broth or tomato sauce, which allows the meats to absorb the flavors and become delectable. Also, you control the quality of ingredients, and no preservatives are needed. The enamel-lined cans have a two- to three-year shelf life. I'm totally hooked." Great advice. Thanks, Linda!
Now then, for Juana and other cruising readers who enjoy entertaining aboard, here are a few favorite recipes, which have been mentioned in previous logs. All are easy to make, and come to you from dear friends, via Ithaka's galley. If the spirit moves you, write and let me know if you'd like more recipes from time to time, and I'll include them in future logs as we go along. Thanks for getting in touch, and Bon Appetit!
Zia Lucia's Spiced Pecans
4 cups unsalted pecans
Bake 20 minutes at 300 degrees using parchment paper. Save out 1 teaspoon of the salt and add after baking. A wonderful nibble before a big dinner, instead of a heavier hors d'oeuvre. Serve with cocktails.
1 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped (if you use
Calamata, don't use very salty ones) 3-oz can of tuna in water, drained
This French concoction is delicious as a spread on bread, crackers, or celery, as a condiment with cold meats and sandwiches, or as flavoring for soups and sauces. It keeps well in the refrigerator for two or three weeks.
Place all ingredients except olive oil into hand mixer, and pulse to a coarse paste. Spoon into a bowl. Add oil, a few drops at a time, until the tapinade is smooth enough to spread. Be sure you taste as you add the ingredients so that the tapinade isn't too salty.
Ithaka's Cranberry Pomegranate Relish
1 bag of fresh cranberries (can be kept frozen for months
This one couldn't be easier. It's a tangy fresh addition to a turkey or chicken dinner, or use on sandwiches. Divide a bag of fresh cranberries in half. Put half in a saucepan of boiling water. Add sugar. Cook until the cranberries burst open, and then thicken. Allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine remaining fresh cranberries, apple, nuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a sprinkle of ground cloves, ginger, and enough orange juice to allow the food processor to pulse. When these ingredients are combined (don't process too much; mixture should be very coarse and multi-colored), add to the cold cooked cranberries. Add the juicy red pomegranate seeds, stir, and serve the relish as a wonderful accompaniment to turkey, chicken, duck, or lamb. Lasts for ages in the fridge. (If you need more liquid, use a bit more orange juice.)
Fish Soup From Provence, via Zia Lucia and Ithaka
This is a dramatic main-course soup, which was our Christmas dinner over the last holiday season with David and Shauna on Zia Lucia. Its heritage is French, and it comes from the soup fishermen make when they have bits and pieces of different fish leftover after they sell their catch of the day.
On the table will be three dishes containing the following:
This "peasant" soup is served piping hot into each person's bowl. Then each person "dresses" his or her soup. Here's how. Float two or three slices of the toasted bread on the top of your bowl of soup. Then spoon some rouille onto each floating slice of bread. Then sprinkle each with the Gruyere cheese. The hot soup soaks through the bread and melts the cheese, as the rouille flavors the soup. Cut the soaked bread with your spoon, and take a mouthful of the most magical marriage of flavors imaginable.
-- The Soup:
1 cup sliced onions
In a large pot, sauté the onions and leeks in the olive oil until just tender. Add tomatoes and garlic. Bring to a simmer. Add parsley, thyme, fennel seeds, saffron, orange peel, fish trimmings, and lobster bodies and shells (whatever you have), water and salt. Boil over high heat uncovered for at least 40 minutes. Strain, pressing out the juices (cheese cloth is handy for this). Season with salt and pepper to taste. This can all be done earlier. Finally, a few minutes before serving, bring the soup to a simmer, add the fresh fish and shellfish, and simmer briefly until just cooked. (Note: The soup will still be terrific if you don't have all the right ingredients aboard. The point is to make a tasty broth to receive the fish and the rouille.)
-- The Rouille:
4-6 cloves garlic
To make the rouille (pronounced "roo-eee"), in a food processor (or using your manual food-processor) combine garlic, pimientos, then the egg yolks. Add the oil in a very slow stream until the mixture has the consistency of mayonnaise. (I sometimes add more pimentos, and then more garlic, depending on the consistency and taste. Then, add salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste. The rouille should be spicy, strong, and very, very flavorful. Remember, its flavors will dissolve into the soup.) If you have any left over, it makes a terrific spread for sandwiches the next day. Be sure to refrigerate.
Cranberry Pie From Betty G. on Jac-Tar
3 cups fresh cranberries
If you have room in your freezer for a package of fresh cranberries, this recipe will wow a crowd with its pleasing color and flavor, especially around the holidays when you're cruising far from home.
This pie is self-crusting, so it couldn't be easier. Grease a 10-inch pie plate. Spread berries on the bottom. Sprinkle with ¾ cup of sugar and nuts. Beat eggs until light and lemony. Gradually add, while beating, ¾ cup sugar, flour, butter, and margarine. Thoroughly combine and pour over berries. Smooth out. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, or until crust is brown. Serve with ice cream, if you're lucky enough to have some. If you can't keep ice cream aboard, whip up some cream and confectioner's sugar. Or combine sour cream, some confectioner's sugar, with a bit of milk until it's the right consistency for a topping.