December 15, 2005
Green Island, Kuna Yala
09° 28.826 North
078° 38.075 West

Happy Holidays From Ithakas Galley

By Bernadette Bernon

One thing cruising has changed for Douglas and me is our idea of holiday gift-giving. And that’s been a very good thing. Cruising has gracefully gotten us off friends’ gift lists at home, and gotten them off ours. For us these days, phone calls to our dearest ones, letters of love to family, donations of our time and money to charities, and getting together with our cruising friends over shared meals strikes the right combination of emotion and generosity over the holiday season.

These days, as we live on our comfortable boat, we are observers of the lives around us -- Kuna Indians hulling rice with large wooden mortars and pestles; washing their clothes in the rivers; shredding coconuts on giant metal graters; we follow them on their daily treks deep into the jungle to work their mountain crops; we swim with them and see the young men free-diving all day for fish, conch, and lobster. Many meals for the San Blas Kuna are hard won, every day full of the work to provide their families with the barest of necessities. In this environment giving each other lavish presents at the holidays feels abhorrent. I hope Douglas and I keep these feelings of balance, and this new awareness, whenever we resume our lives on land.

This Christmas mola from Tigre Island was the only Christmas mola weve seen with a religious theme. Every other one centered on Santa Claus.

Just like at home, however, the holidays still inspire us to come together over good food. That much never changes. This month, Douglas and I would like to give you a few more favorite recipes from Ithaka’s galley, most inspired by our sailing friends out here. And we hope this holiday season is a happy, healthy one for you and your family.

Michelle’s Chick Peas And Olive Salad

This savory bean dish, made by my friend Michelle, makes a perfect accompaniment to a healthy dinner, or a good lunch all by itself. Best of all, all the ingredients are easy to store aboard because they all come in cans. When I make this side dish, I always make a little extra, and use whatever is leftover to make an appetizer for another time. (Just put the remainder in the food-processor for one or two pulses. Serve with grainy crackers or crusty bread.)

1 can chick peas, drained, rinsed
1/3 cup pitted Calamata olives, coarsely chopped
6 whole sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup flat-leafed parsley, chopped
Ground pepper to taste
A sprinkle of kosher salt (unless the olives were salty)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Mix all ingredients together, except parsley. Cover and let sit at room temperature for a couple of hours to marry flavors. Mix in parsley just prior to serving.

Conch Fritters From Ithaka

Conch is the easiest dinner to catch. One merely plucks them from the bottom.

As we sailed through the Bahamas, conch were everywhere. And as we sailed south from there, they continued to be prevalent – although not as much so -- throughout the islands along the Central American coast. It’s easy to dive down, collect a few, and make wonderful dinners – conch fried rice, conch pizza, conch marinara over pasta. The trick is cleaning them. (See Log #125, July 15, 2003, “A Snail’s Pace,” for Douglas’s advice on how to accomplish this, as well as for a great ceviche recipe.) One of our favorite recipes is conch fritters. On Ithaka, we make them with a batter made airier by the use of egg whites instead of whole eggs.

When out of conch, we sometimes use fish for the fritters. This one is just waiting his turn.

2 or 3 large conch, skin removed
1 ½ cup flour
1 green pepper (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (chopped)
1 small-medium onion or ½ cup scallions (chopped)
1 small can niblets corn (drained)
6 egg whites (the powdered variety is excellent)
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (This adds flavor, but it isn’t too spicy. If you like spicy food, add another tablespoon)
½ can of beer
ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy pot
kosher salt

Our conch-a-matic is dated from 1902 and draws nothing from our ships battery bank.

Grind the conch in a food grinder, if you have one (ground conch also will save space in your freezer). If not, slice the meat, pound with a mallet to tenderize, then chop into tiny pieces. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the Thai paste and beer, whisk it until the paste dissolves. Add the flour and ground pepper, stir. Add the conch and vegetables, stir. In a separate bowl, follow directions for reconstituting the egg whites, then whisk until you make firm peaks. Then fold the egg whites into your fritter mixture. Heat the oil. Drop spoon-size fritters into the oil (don’t make them too big or they’ll take forever to cook). Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until slightly browned. Remove from oil to paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Serve with a dipping sauce.

Note: If you don’t have conch, you can use any fish or crab to make fritters.

The crabs in the San Blas are enormouseven sweeter than the lobsters. One crab can make a full meal for the two of us. Sometimes we make them into fritters but mostly we steam them.

Dipping sauces:

  • If you’ve made “mild” fritters, a traditional tomato-based sauce tastes great. To make it special, combine a zesty sofrito with mayonnaise and fresh lemon or lime juice. (Sofrito can be bought pre-packaged or canned; basically it’s tomato cooked with onions, garlic, peppers, and aromatic spices, and used as a base for soups and sauces in Latin cooking. We always keep several jars or packets of it onboard. You can buy it everywhere in Latin America.)
  • If you’ve made really spicy fritters, make a cool Greek tsadziki. Peel and remove the seeds from one cucumber, add about 5 cloves of garlic, and lots of dried dill (fresh, if you can get it) and some ground pepper. Combine in the food processor until liquefied. Add sour cream; pulse one more time to combine. Chill.

Crispy conch fritters with a spicy dipping sauce.

Debe’s Thai Spinach Dip

1 cup shopped fresh spinach
8 ounce sour cream
8 ounce plain fat-free yogurt
½ cup fresh snippet of mint
¼ chopped peanuts
¼ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

Mix together and chill for 2 to 24 hours. Serve with cold sliced cucumber, baby carrots, sliced peppers, etc. This dip has a little kick, and is absolutely delicious.

Chicken Marbella From Shauna

Ever since the first time we had this show-stopping dish with our friends David and Shauna on Zia Lucia, it’s been one of my favorites, and I’ve made it many times. It’s difficult to find pitted prunes once you set off from the States, so bring some along with you, and tuck them away, just for this spectacularly flavorful recipe.

Four Chickens
One head of garlic
¼ cup dried oregano
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
½ cup pitted Spanish green olives
½ cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/6 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander finely chopped

1) In a ziplock bag, combine garlic, oregano, pepper, salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers/juice, bay leaves, and then the quartered chicken. Let it marinate in the fridge overnight.

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees

3) Arrange chicken in a single layer in a baking pan. Spoon marinade over the pieces evenly.

4) Sprinkle top of chicken with brown sugar and sprinkle with the white wine.

5) Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, basting frequently with pan juices.

6) Plate the chicken individually, or transfer to a serving platter and let guests serve themselves. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, and serve with cous cous.

Note: This recipe came originally from the Silver Palette Cookbook, and was modified by Shauna.

Coconut Pie From Ithaka

We bought a supply of coconuts from this young entrepreneur who was gathering them on an uninhabited island. In Kuna Yala, coconuts are gold, and the Kuna trade or sell them to the Colombian trading boats that come through every week or so.

Once you arrive in a cruising area that has palm trees, negotiate with the locals to bring a couple coconuts back to the boat for a delicious and simple pie. Whenever I’ve made this recipe, it’s always been a big hit. The pie is self-crusting, so it’s really easy.

2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup butter
1-2 cups fresh grated coconut, grated large

Stir all ingredients together. Pour in a greased and floured pie or quiche pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes. When pie is cooled, sprinkle with nutmeg. For more dramatic presentation, try one of these ideas:

  • Top with a few colorful berries
  • Top with a puree made simply from (defrosted) frozen raspberries and a little liqueur
  • Drizzle each slice of pie with some large zig-zags of chocolate sauce

Kettle Cookies From Lisa

Lisa from Sand Dollar. Among other things, she makes the worlds best cookies.

We’ve enjoyed lots of wonderful meals on Sand Dollar, with Cade and Lisa. Often it’s fresh fish, caught by Cade, a master spear-fisherman. Lisa’s been having trouble with her kerosene stove recently, so she can’t do any baking until they get the unit repaired and retrofitted with propane in Cartagena, so she’s been doing all her cooking on the stove top. Here is her wonderful, simple recipe for cookies that don’t need to be baked.

1 ½ cup rolled oats ("5-minute" oats are fine)
1/3 cup nuts (or you can use walnuts or raisins)
1/3 cup coconut (or you can use chocolate chips, or a combination of both)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (or you can use rum or coconut flavoring)

Mix together the rolled oats, nuts, and coconut in a bowl. In a saucepan mix sugar, butter, and both amounts of milk. Boil for 3 minutes. Then add vanilla and dry ingredients. Stir well and drop by the teaspoonful onto waxed paper. Let the cookies dry before serving.

Note: This recipe came originally from M. E. Langdon on the sailboat ADL, which stands for Anti Destination League. It was published in the “Buen Provecho Rio Dulce Cookbook,” and was modified by Lisa.

Ginger Fizz From Windom

Raisins, ginger and cloves are three of the key ingredients for Ithaka’s Ginger Fizz. Once the large blue jerry jug has expanded (2-3 days) so much that the sides are rock hard and we can’t push them in at all, we decant the brew into smaller bottles and make sure those tops are twisted tight.

Often, after you’ve been out awhile, you begin to run out of carbonated drinks aboard, and really begin to crave them. It’s easy to make your own. Here’s a favorite non-alcoholic cruising drink that’s tangy and satisfying, even at cocktail hour. It’s wonderful by itself, any time of day, and it’s terrific with a splash of rum. You make 5 gallons at a time.

2-3 handfuls fresh ginger (peeled, chopped and smashed with a mallet)
15 cloves
5 gallons water
Handful of raisins
4.5 pounds sugar (brown sugar gives the fizz a nice color)
2-5 lemons
One package of yeast, or one bottle of ginger fizz to use as a starter

1) Bring 2 liters of water to a boil. Add ginger and cloves. You can also add cinnamon sticks, etc.

2) Simmer on low for at least 30 minutes.

3) When the simmer is complete, turn off the heat, add sugar, and stir till it dissolves.

4) Pour mixture into jerry jug. Add remainder of water, then the raisins, and 2-3 tsp of tartaric acid (citric acid is a substitute). Shake.

5) Add the juice of the lemons, and the bottle of ginger fizz to the mixture. If you don’t have a bottle of fizz to use as a starter, use a packet of baker’s yeast, follow the instructions on the packet, wait until it bubbles, then add to the jerry jug.

6) Shake jug well.

7) Leave in jug at least two days, until raisins have risen to the top and small bubbles are visible. (If you can’t see into your jug, you should see the sides of the jug expanding over the two days.) If the starter is doing its thing, the jug begins to look like it may explode.

8) On day three, strain fizz out of the jug into strong plastic bottles with tight, screw-on tops – those that have been used for carbonated drinks are best. Thin, plastic bottles that have not known pressure will make a mess.

9) Bottles can remain unrefrigerated for three weeks, possibly more. When you’re ready to enjoy a bottle, put it in the fridge to chill. Then open the bottle VERY, VERY SLOWLY OVER THE SINK to release some of the gas so the fizz doesn’t effervesce like a geyser right out of the bottle! Salud!

Whatever holiday you and your loved ones are celebrating, we hope you all enjoy it in good health, and we wish you the happiest of New Years. Thanks for riding along with us. -- Bernadette and Douglas