Thursday, January 31, 2013

Head up your ass

I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw. By his own admission, the man is angry, but I have to say that he's got a lot of things right. One thing in particular really stuck with me....the need to respect our food. Vegans do it automatically, as they abstain from the whole "meat thing". I was a pseudo vegetarian for years, 23 to be exact, and while I had no philosophical dilemma to dodge the lowly cheeseburger, I found that eating red meat just didn't really agree with my system. After a romantic night out on the town, and a slab of prime rib demolished and safely nestled inside my belly, I could feel my body start to work really hard to digest it, and at the ripe old age of 18 was having monster hot flashes at 2 in the morning. Not wanting to be "ahead of my time", I gave in, and gave up all things bovine and porcine.

After a while tho, 23 years of trying innovative new ways to cook vegetables, I frankly got bored. It was time to add some real flavour to my meals.

Back to Anthony. He mentions that all cooks, not just chefs, but those people who throw themselves into the kitchen to attempt to churn out a passable meal for their loved ones, needs to be able to roast a chicken. Due to all those lovely rotisserie chickens turning and smelling up most modern day grocery stores, it had been a while since I'd tried to do one myself. So last night, it was time for me to take back a basic, and make sure to do Tony proud.

So here we are in Latin America. We've been traveling on both land and sea for a few years, and while we love to try new things, they can still do some things in these here parts that will surprise me. A chicken is pretty straightforward, or so I thought, but last night I saw something I hadn't ever seen before. As my mother taught me, I was to always reach inside the bird, pull out whatever was in there, and either discard, save for another use, or feed to others less fortunate. I'm afraid that I'll never hear the phrase "head up your ass" ever again, without this image flashing through my brain.

Although, in the MOST respectful way imaginable.

Anthony, while I may not make it as a professional chef, I can STILL roast a chicken!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's an Eggspedition

Grocery shopping is such a simple matter.  At least it used to be.  Now, it's just one series of dire and critical decisions after another.  For those of my cruising friends reading this, you can skip this post, as it'll just be something you've already done a bunch of times before.  But for those of you still happily ensconced in a normal, terra firma life, this may open your eyes to some of the realities of living on a sailboat.

The expedition begins by "making the car ready", or in other words, getting the dinghy from the davits to the water.  Although it happens infrequently, just like on land, theft is sometimes an issue and most cruisers tend to raise their dinghy at night, either on davits (arms) that extend over the water off the stern (back) of the boat, or to hoist (lift) it up using a halyard (rope) running from the top of the main mast (biggest stick on the boat), so that it hovers over the water.  We mistakenly assume that this will prevent someone from taking off with our secondary means of transportation, however numerous times we've heard of instances where stealthy panga (little, native boats usually used for fishing by the locals) drivers have simply driven their own craft under the hovering prize, sliced the lines and just as quietly slid off into the inky night.  On Sundancer, our dinghy hovers about 2 feet away from my head when we sleep, and you'd think I'd be well aware of sticky fingers heading our way, but with the constant drone of the necessary fan buzzing in my ear, I'm not so sure that someone couldn't make off with our dinghy without my knowing it (mmm, that's a double negative, did I get that right?).  So anyway, we then have to lower the thing back in the water, pump up the pontoons in case they are slightly deflated, check the fuel and if low, fill from reserves on deck.  Then, and only then, are we ready to begin to leave.

Second step - get to the dock, beach, pier, whatever, without getting wet.  This is critical, as you are about to undertake a process which will take quite a number of hours, and wandering around looking like a drowned rat isn't the best of looks, nor are wet shorts very comfortable, or attractive.  Now, there are a number of things that can go wrong.  A rogue wave can appear out of the blue just when attempting to climb into the dinghy, making the landing precarious, there can be wind which will cause sea spray to soak the passenger in the front (that would ALWAYS be me), there can be waves at the beach, which should patience be in short supply, sets can be mistimed and misjudged, making for a surfing adventure upon beach landing (always, when the waves are the biggest, there will be people watching you struggle, and get soaked - it's the law).

You now come to the first MAJOR decision.  Are you feelin' lucky?  Are your stars in alignment?  Have you appeased the karma gods and been good to your fellow man?  If the answer is yes, you can leave the dinghy on the beach/pier/dock with a happy heart.  If like most of us the answer is ..... mmmaaaayyyybbbbeeee....then you have to decide if you will lock it.  Now, some readers might assume that this is simple, just do it and be done with it.  But if you haven't locked it in a while, then you have to go back to the boat, (repeat backwards, Second step above) and find the lock, WITH THE CORRECT KEY, make sure that the lock hasn't corroded since the last time you used it.  If it has, then you have to find the WD 40 and give it a quick clean, along with the key, and then again REPEAT STEP TWO.  Another beach landing, but as you've decided to lock the stupid thing, you now need to find something to lock it to.

This would entail finding something close enough to where you are currently standing that cannot be picked up and taken along with your dinghy.  Now gentle readers, you assume again, incorrectly, that this is a simple thing.  Let me remind you that our dinghy weighs 150 pounds, and has a 100 pound outboard on the back.  Moving this ANYWHERE is an undertaking.  So, sometimes you roll the karma dice and say,...."!@#$% it, and leave the damn thing", and hope for the best.  Other times, you look around and say, "yup, we gotta find a tree."  The first hour of your shopping trip has come to a close and you're hot on the heels of the second.   

For some reason, most of our shopping expeditions start with a beer.  I know that if Ron is with me, I've got to keep him in a good mood, so the second hour is usually spent surveying wherever you happen to have washed ashore, with a coldie in front of you.  And no, it doesn't matter what time it is.   Sheeessh! 

Next, where is the store?  Please keep in mind that for most of us, we are regularly on the move, so the store is in a new spot almost every time we need eggs, and we need to find it.  Sometimes this entails a dusty wander, sometimes it involves the inevitable haggling that comes from getting a taxi driver to understand where you want to go and for what cost, but most times it also comes with the almost guaranteed assumption that not everything on your list will be crossed off.  So your carefully composed menu for the next week, which would entail all sorts of healthy offerings, will instead be reduced to canned soup, ramen noodles, pizza and meat.  My 20 years of vegetarianism have quickly been overshadowed by 3 years of......"maybe we'll have BACON with that."

Perusing the aisles..... such a joyful activity for me (in my previous life).  There was such an unrestrained thrill at knowing that I could cook ANYTHING I wanted, all I needed to do was throw whatever I saw into the cart, march it home, pull out my set of Calphalon pots and pans, present it on my collection of antique dinnerware, and enjoy.  Now, mmm, not so much.  The ingredient list is seriously compromised at times (although I seem to be always able to find capers, for some reason), so we of course add liberal doses of alcohol with most meals, hoping to obliterate the taste of some of the more questionable items I've purchased.  Some of the villages we've gone into to try to flesh out our stores, consist of every conceivable type of Maggi seasoning known to mankind, Bimbo white bread (would make Wonderbread look healthy) and entire aisles full of some sort of laundry detergent.  It's one of the mysteries I'm still trying to solve since arriving in Latin, when most people are living surrounded by so much dirt, can they get their whites soooo white?!  Usually, that's about what the shelves have, except for the inevitable 30 pak of eggs.  Can't find a head of lettuce to save my life, but my cholesterol is in FINE shape.

So now that the scrawny galley purchases have been made, along with the odd bottle of distilled water or motor oil, it's time to make your way back to the boat.  If you've been thinking ahead, you've got a good sized backpack ready to accept the heavy stuff, but more likely than not, it's the ol' plastic bag as carrier of choice, which will of course break mid-way back to the dinghy.  Where DID we leave that thing anyway?!  A repeat of Step Two, except you've now got items in the dinghy that probably SHOULDN'T get wet but will because there is always water in the bottom of the dinghy and we still have those waves to get through.

I'll wrap this all up by saying that just because it's in the dinghy, doesn't mean you are done.  The ride back to the boat, the removal of all purchases to the deck, then to the cockpit, then down the companionway to the galley.....this alone will sap the morale and strength of most women.  Men, they give up long before.  Ron is sprawled on the salon settee with another beer, long before I've figured out where I'm going to stash all the high quality goodies we've been able to accumulate.

Next, raise the dinghy again, and then a glass of wine, because as you set off at 9am, it's now 4:28pm and cocktail hour.   

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A wandering mind....

This morning I went for a long walk.  As Ron wasn't with me, I kept up a running conversation with myself instead of him.  While most people would be admiring the view of the Panama Canal and the wonderful sights of the city, I had some different observations....

1) A pedicure really IS necessary after a month.  Although I have a tendency to see what I want, even I could tell that only 50% polish coverage was inadequate, and that living on a boat is no excuse.
2) Just because I was wearing a dress and a bit of jewelry, did not make me a lady.  No lady I have ever met sweats from her eyebrows.
3) Wearing a dress while using a backpack, causes your dress to hike up past your granny panties.  At first, I was quite proud of the fact that cars were honking at me, until I realized that perhaps they were protesting the sights before them.
4) It is not smart to set off after several cups of coffee and a bowl of fruit, before your morning constitutional.  I have enough laundry to do as it is.
5) If I do not want to look like an aged prune (redundant, I know) before my 53rd birthday, I need to make sure I have a hat with me at all times.  Sunglasses alone do not cut it.
6) An ignored grain of sand between your toes will give you a blister.
7) Shade comes in many forms.  When I lived in British Columbia during pre-sailing days, I never fully appreciated the joys of a cloud.
8) It's hard to find a good antiperspirant.
9) It seems that all the alcohol I've been consuming has contributed to something happening to my inner thighs.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Pizza Party

There seems to be a movement afoot to demonize lowly and humble gluten.  Our friends onboard Taleria, with Rick being the resident baker in particular, spent a year buying every type of flour that Mexico produced in order to make his famous pizza dough, but to no success due to the absence of enough gluten to make for a good and chewy crust.  In desperation, Deena and Rick then imported 25 pounds of high gluten flour from San Diego.  Over an evening of using up the last of the precious stuff, Rick informed me that the key to a good pizza crust was gluten.  So my own hunt commenced.  I took a shortcut however, and instead imported a box of gluten to add to whatever flour I could find. 

We had a “make your own pizza” party last night, with Bella Star and Knee Deep in attendance.  I proposed to make the dough and the sauce, but everyone else was required to bring their toppings of choice.  As a cook, there is no greater compliment than the request for recipes, and Molly and Nicole were kind enough to massage my ego by asking for the secrets to the sauce and the dough.  So here you go.

Pizza Dough
1 Tablespoon dry yeast (I buy in bulk and keep it in the fridge; seems to last forever)
1¼ cup warm water
Pinch of sugar (any type of sweetener will do but I use white sugar. If you’d prefer, honey or brown sugar works too)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon pepper
1½ teaspoons salt
3 or more cups flour (I add 1 teaspoon of gluten per cup of flour, so with this recipe, add 1 Tablespoon)

Dissolve yeast and sugar in bowl of water.  When it bubbles to the surface, add olive oil, pepper, and salt.  (At this stage, if you want to add additional herbs like Italian seasoning, do it now).  Stir to combine.  Measure out 2 cups of flour in a large bowl and add gluten.  Pour bowl of yeast mixture into the flour. Continue adding flour by the half cup, increasing amount if necessary to make a stiff dough.  In a humid environment like living on a boat, I will usually use 3½ cups.  Only add more flour until, when you are kneading, the dough does not stick to your countertop.   Knead well, at least 7-10 minutes, in order to develop the gluten (you can consider this to be your exercise for the day).  Pour a small amount of oil into the same bowl, add the dough, swirling to coat all surfaces with oil, and set aside, covered with plastic wrap, until doubled in size.  Depending on how hot it is, it may take ½ hour, or 1 hour.  If it’s coolish, I’ve even put the bowl in the engine room where it’s warm.  When it’s ready, put a bit of flour on the counter and knead, just to take the “stick” off it.  Shape into any size pan, to whatever thickness you want.  Bake around 350 degrees, but experiment to what your oven time and temp is. 

Pizza Sauce

Not really rocket science.  Choose your favorite spaghetti sauce, adjust the seasonings to how you like it to taste, but the main thing here is to reduce the water content, so it comes out more like tomato paste, rather than like sauce.  Most spaghetti sauces are too sweet to my taste, so I usually add some salt and a bit more Italian herbs.  Reduce on low heat until it’s pretty pasty.                               


Put a light on it!!!!!

Not all of us spent our formative years being immersed in nature.  In fact, I would surmise that the majority of the folks out here cruising have come to love and appreciate the great outdoors during their time living on the ocean.  That being said, as much as we think we may have come to grips with the briny blue and all its inhabitants, sometimes things happen to demonstrate that we’re not quite as comfortable as we may imagine. 

Take the other night, as an example…..

A fish fry was proposed, in true Survivor fashion, over on one of Mogo Mogo’s beaches.   The fishermen in the group did their best, with supplemental sausages thrown in just to make sure that everyone had enough to eat.  As things would have it, flashlights were at a premium, but the good crew onboard Bella Star was sharp enough to bring their Star Wars light saber along to guide their way home after dark.  Sundancer’s crew was not so quick-witted, and as such decided to follow Nicole and Aaron’s dinghy back to the mother ships.  We were not 5 minutes from shore, when up ahead, there was a commotion.  Ron figured they were having a bit of trouble with their new outboard, but when we drew alongside, all we saw in the light of the wildly swinging torch, was much thrashing about.  In a strangled voice we heard Aaron repeatedly scream, “put a light on it, put a light on it.”  Turns out, a monster of the deep, a true kraken to end all krakens, had decided to hitch a ride, and Aaron was having none of it.  While Nicole “put a light on it”, and us as the audience observing his fine form, Aaron huffed and puffed and heaved that 8” needlefish on its merry way. 

It was a true sea story that needed repeating. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life is supposed to be FUNNY

The rules for reading this blog are that you must keep a smile on your face at all times.  I will attempt to be humorous, as our lives are filled with all sorts of funny things to pass along.  At no time should you think I am being overly serious, unless I specifically give prior advisement of such.  And so....

Today, as happens, we set a plan to depart for Mogo Mogo, scene of the popular television series, Survivor.  It was so popular that I don't believe I ever watched an entire episode from start to finish.  I do know tho, that this series went from exotic location to exotic location to film.  Hilariously, as we've heard, had those "survivors" on said show simply walked to the other coast, they would have probably seen up to 30 boats happily bobbing at anchor, and within a stones throw of a week's worth of food, or survivor-type goodies.  We had hoped to be there too, however our social schedule intruded. 

A fellow cruiser showed up midday with tomorrow nights' dinner, in the shape of a whole, 8 pound mullet snapper.  I say tomorrow, as Ron already had his heart set on bacon/fettucini alfredo, and woe be me, should I disappoint the captain.  We've found the best way to fish is to do nothing.  Someone will always swing by with the offer of something - we've had lobster, mahi mahi, yellowtail, just given to us, which is a good thing, in Martha Stewart's words.  Ron and I would have much more svelte physiques if we were to rely on our fishing prowess.  3 years ago, we set off from Oregon, with several hand lines "guaranteed" to hook whatever was out there.  Well let me tell you that 2500 miles later, we were still looking for that elusive dinner.  Thanks Ray, on Nighthawk, for filling our fridge and bellies.

Because of this unexpected windfall, we needed to pay him back by plying him with beer, and we all settled in for a few hours of the best fish stories around.  It was HOW big?!  No wonder most fisherpeople are men, they know how to stretch the size thing and really work that angle. 

Activity of the day turned out to be a running leap off the boarding ladder, bare 52 year old breasts trailing behind me, for the morning swim.  I was a bit surprised as the outgoing tide carted me off, so my leisurely precoffee dunk ended up a flailing push for safety.  Our anchored neighbors would have been just as shocked had I had to cling to their boat for my life.  Modesty and fear gave me the edge to make it all the way back to the ladder.

As I said, this blog is about the good, the bad, and the OH SO UGLY.  Aren't you glad there are no photos to post?

Terribly Disappointed

So you've all weighed in.  You can hardly wait to read more of my blogging.  Bummer, because it means I'm now committed. 

More later.....when I have between sailing, and fishing, and swimming.  HAHAHAHAHA