31 December 2010

Afternoon prep for the New Year's Eve five-course dégustation dinner

Between half-past two and half-past four, I have:

:: made the chocolate chilli velvet, put it in the freezer

:: done the espresso cream parfait, put that in the freezer too

:: strained the lobster stock I've had simmering all morning, divided it into two portions, reduced one portion with lemongrass, ginger and coconut milk for my espuma, reduced the other portion and finished it off as a classic bisque (hello wine, hello roux, hello crème fraîche, hello love...)

:: finished and put away (for cooking off later) 20 handmade ravioli filled with lobster head meat seasoned with ginger and shallots

:: whisked up the marinade for the hamachi fillet (shiro miso, rice wine, soy, hint of tahini, pickled ginger juice)

:: popped the pork belly in the oven (it has been curing in a dry marinade of garlic, coriander seed, cumin seed, sage, orange zest, sea salt and black pepper)

:: diced the butternut squash, chestnuts and celery to accompany the pork

:: finished off the tamarind balsamic glaze for the pork

:: washed up and cleaned the galley ready for the next round of prep


Still to do:

:: portion out the hamachi fillet

:: do the ruby grapefruit and mint salad for the hamachi

:: cook off the mougrabieh

:: defrost the prawns (shell-on)

:: make some sort of garnish for the dessert


I have been  b u s y !

28 December 2010

A Caribbean Yuletide

December brought us a mixed blessing (is there any other sort?) this year. Although we missed out on a Christmas charter because the boat owner did not choose to truncate his holiday dates, on the other hand we had the rare pleasure of sharing the holiday with just each other. For frantically busy crew (we did 27 weeks of charter last season), even a small breather like this is a gift in itself.

We worked steadily up to the afternoon of Christmas Eve, then cast off the mooring lines at base and treated ourselves to a little time off from sunset of Christmas Eve to the morning of Boxing Day. The wind-sculpted cliff faces of the south side of Norman Island led us to secluded and beautiful little Money Bay.

Christmas anchorage

The Captain amused himself with putting up fairy lights in the cockpit and helping me deck out the salon with shiny ornaments, and I amused myself with the other rare pleasure of cooking for... just two. Well, just two people and the magnum of Champagne from our boat show spoils. We tossed some fresh pomegranate seeds into the non-vintage bubbly—so festive: tiny ruby baubles fizzing up with the bubbles.

Holiday Cheer magnum
Holiday Bubbly 1

We had a trio of salmon for dinner on Christmas Eve. First, a plate with sashimi nouvelle-Japonaise style—with a mixture of chilli infused sesame oil, ponzu and rice wine vinegar heated to almost boiling and poured quickly over the translucent rosy slices. Then a tiny timbale of salmon tartare—fine dice of raw salmon and raw fennel tossed with salt-cured capers, a little Dijon mustard, a drop of hazelnut oil, a squitter of lemon. The contrast between the unctuous salmon dice and the crisp fennel was very pleasing to us. We followed that with one of The Captain's favourites of my menu on charter—lightly grilled salmon fillet served on a jewelled wild rice mix, accompanied by fennel confit and a sauce more-or-less-Maltaise (I had to use a Valencia orange, as blood oranges are no longer to be had, alas).

Christmas lunch was as pictured. This time, we had a trio of hamachi. We began with a little tower of hamachi ceviche and avocado flavoured with mirin, fresh ginger and ponzu; then I smeared part of the hamachi fillet on both sides with the shiro-miso (white miso paste) and seared it in a very hot pan. The mild nutty sweetness of the fine film of miso was just right to enhance the deliciously buttery texture and subtle flavour of the seared hamachi. I sprinkled on some sesame seeds to provide texture and to boost the nuttiness; and perched a flame-scorched piece of savoury nori for its intense flavour of the sea. To finish, we ate the remainder of the hamachi as simple sashimi with avocado slices, and some more ponzu and pickled ginger by way of accompaniment. The firm al dente bite of the raw fish contrasts nicely with the creamy avocado slices; and the crisp pickled ginger was just the right thing to 'cut' the unctuous combination.

hamachi trio : stack

hamachi trio : seared fillet

hamachi trio : fillet + sashimi

If I were on charter, I would have served this with a shot glass of ruby grapefruit and Campari salad by way of palate-cleanser, and some form of starch as ballast. Just for us though, it was pure indulgent pleasure to enjoy the various flavours and textures of the fish on its own.

Supper later that evening was mere grazing at a big wodge of Pont L'Évêque—the pungent feet-y exterior so different from the mellow silkiness within; and squares of rich, moist triple-ginger Christmas pudding served hot and doused with black rum sauce. We went to bed sipping at glasses glowing red with spiced mulled wine whose fragrance while simmering had filled the boat with festive perfume: cinnamon stick and cloves and nutmeg, parings of lemon and orange peel, fresh ginger, crushed cardamom and allspice berries.

The Captain's cheese 2The Captain's cheese 1Yuletide mulled wine 1


We also had the pleasure of greeting friends for the holidays—the hard-working and creative Tara and Sasha, of the Sail True blog ( a wonderful insiders' account of life as dedicated charter crew) as they shared the anchorage with us for the afternoon while on-charter with their boat owner.

We loved our Caribbean Yuletide celebration—its memories will sustain us for months to come.

Christmas Eve sunset

27 December 2010

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Bubbly 2

We're raising our glasses to life and love and adventure! Wishing everyone the same...

21 December 2010

Inconstant Moon

"O swear not by the moon, th'inconstant moon
That monthly changes in her circled orb..."
~ Wm Shakespeare

lunar shortbread bikkies
baked for the eclipse party: lemon rosemary coconut shortbreads

This time, the inconstancy was in the fitfully cloudy sky—not the maligned moon, who held still as the shadow of the Earth slid a ruddy veil across her face.

A crisp wind blew across Trellis Bay, swinging the boat around this way and that, as we lay back on the trampolines and watched the slow dimming of the moon into darkness; then marvelled at the faint smudged glow as she re-emerged from the shadow of a hundred revolving sunrises and sunsets.

Orion and Canis Major, red Aldebaran and the bright twins Castor and Pollux pointed to her when the cloud cover grew too thick; when the darkness fell, we strained our eyes hoping to see some of the Ursid meteor shower opposite. In the background, the Last Resort's generator rumbled discontentedly; from the open galley hatch, the rich brown smells of freshly-made coffee and molten hot chocolate wafted towards us.

O, it was a night of wonders!

lunar eclipse night 2 lunar eclipse night 1

Click to see some truly beautiful photos from around the world on the NASAJPL Flickr community!

20 December 2010

The Captain's pick: salade de chèvre chaud

croustillant de chèvre 1

The Captain adores this classic salad of goat cheese, of which there are literally dozens of variants—and he has taken it upon himself to sample them all, plate by plate and menu by menu, every time we are in the French Antilles. Well, someone has to do it...

It's all about the delicious contrasts—the hot creaminess of the goat cheese and the cool crispness of the salad leaves; the tangy savour enhanced by the hint of honey in the dressing.

It was time to treat my guests to a little something extra the other night, and so I introduced their main course with a small plate, just enough to whet their appetites—too large for an amuse-bouche, but certainly smaller than a standard appetiser. 

I chose to serve a riff on the classic salade de chèvre chaud: instead of presenting the cheese on crisp, garlicky rounds of toast, I cut the fresh mild goats cheese into fingers and wrapped each in a sheet of delicate Tunisian brik pastry and scattered each with poppy seeds. Then I slid them into a hot oven to warm the goats cheese into a melting creaminess within the light golden shell. I love brik for its flexible translucent sheets, more easily workable than filo and not needing to be layered with an additional coat of butter or olive oil.

For the dressing, I bruised a large sprig of fresh rosemary until the pine-y aromatics rose to my nose, then chopped it fine and tossed it into a beaker of golden honey. I warmed this gently, and left it to infuse. To layer the rosemary flavour, I repeated this process with some good green extra-virgin olive oil. Then I whisked a dab of Dijon mustard, the rosemary-infused honey and the rosemary-infused olive oil in a bowl till they emulsified nicely. I added a little Spanish sherry vinegar—vinagre de Jeréz—drop by drop until the flavours balanced.

For the salad leaves I chose tender baby spinach leaves to contrast with the slightly bitter frill of frisée (curly endive), a few finely-sliced curls of baby celery and a couple of shavings of fresh red beetroot for sweetness and crunch.

croustillant de chèvre 2

Now I had all my contrasts: the hot cheese, the crisp pastry, the fresh salad, the fragrant and lightly honeyed dressing. The verdict? Well, the plates came back clean (in one case, wiped enthusiastically with a licked finger), and The Captain, having eaten his separately-plated Captain's Tithe, pronounced himself well pleased. 



19 December 2010

A red moon for the holidays

This year, the winter solstice brings us a wondrous gift: a total lunar eclipse!

Click here to check the marvellous Mr Eclipse for detailed viewing times and locations, or here for more information; and click here for a fun list of NASA activities.

Could there be anything better worth staying up for on the shortest day of the year? We'll be serving hot chocolate, tea, little shot glasses of glowing liqueurs and a tray of homemade cookies (moon shaped, of course) on our boat for the viewing!

The Moon's North Wind's cooky.
He bites it, day by day,
Until there's but a rim of scraps
That crumbles all away. 
The South Wind is a baker.
He kneads clouds in his den.
And bakes a crisp new moon that...
greedy... North Wind... eats again!
Vachel LindsayThe Moon's the North Wind's Cooky (What The Little Girl Said)

17 December 2010

Perks of the job: a dolphin at the Rhone


The descent into cloudy blue. The controlled fall punctuated by the slow hiss of inhalation, the bubbled uprush of exhalation. The softly enveloping water contrasts with each long dry swallow of bottled air. I tilt my head to the side and feel the pop! of relief as the pressure in my inner ear equalises with the ambient water pressure. 

I signal OK to The Captain, and glide behind our guest, hovering unobtrusively a little above her, at the ready in case she panics or drifts upwards while he puts her through her refresher exercises. We’ve already done her weight check at the surface and she looks fairly comfortable, albeit still a little restless as she grows accustomed to being back in the water. Mask fill and clear. Regulator out. Regulator retrieval. Pleased, I see her stream of bubbles settling down as she relaxes into her breathing rhythm. All goes smoothly, and we leave the dim slant of the descent line, finning towards the wreck. 

The wreck of the RMS Rhone is quite deservedly one of the best-known dives in the Virgin Islands. Lying in no more than twenty-four metres of water, it is shallow enough to explore at length; and open enough for a brief—no more than a quick fin-stroke or two—penetration. My personal favourite spot on the dive happens to be at the long upended deck supports that I call, privately, the Roman pillars. Silhouetted dramatically against the tall shafts of light filtering into the water, they rise from the sand like the columnar ruins of a temple. 

Were I to be left to myself, I would be content to hover quietly there for the duration of the dive, watching the play of light and the ever-changing traffic of sea life. A shadow crossing the light as a turtle glides overhead. The intent, wide-eyed countenance of a solitary porcupine fish, its odd wedge-shaped body surprisingly large when seen up close. The peculiarly open-mouthed expression of a yellowtail snapper submitting itself to cleaning station attentions, the tiny cleaner fish darting and nibbling. Surreal elongated trumpetfish, or here and there a thick frenetic swirl of feeders.

I am at the pillars, communing happily with a pair of absolutely enormous angelfish, as blank-faced as pagan gods, when I see a movement out of the corner of my eye. My normally serene captain is gesticulating in the most uncharacteristic manner. Finning the short distance to them, I turn my head. 

It is a dolphin.  

It is a dolphin, not three metres away from us. Simultaneously our three streams of bubbles halt for an instant, our breath arrested as the beautiful pewter-grey creature swims alongside us before swerving away past the jutting anchor relic.

Such joyous experiences as these are the perks of the job. 


Salt Island nearby, with its spiky wild scrub, salt pond and itinerant goatlets feeding plaintively on the wild sage bushes, provides a pleasant hiking spot for guests who do not dive—a cannily packed picnic does not go amiss. Whenever we are here, I am obliged to brush from my greedy mind certain nebulous longings involving very young sage-fed goats... a tender haunch to roast in the oven with slivers of garlic and a good rub with olive oil and salt, or chunks skewered on rosemary twigs and charring deliciously on the barbeque, for instance. Or a pot on the stove, simmering with red wine and bay leaf and a cinnamon stick. Or better still, perhaps, the entire kid laid gently on a bed of wet sage branches, and buried in a fire pit in the sand, to emerge after long hours of baking transformed into a sweetly smoky and herb-scented marvel... I say nothing aloud, of course, not wishing to either alarm or repulse any of our less gluttonous and more sensitive guests; but a girl can dream.

14 December 2010

Sculpted with the hands: manaqish bi za'atar

manakish


The Arabic word for bread, aish, is also the word for life; and we say in English, Bread is the staff of life. It is at once the simplest and most basic sustenance, as well as one of the simplest but most evocative of pleasures—there's no mistaking the aroma of freshly-baked bread, the comforting savour as you bite into a piece still warm from the oven.

Manaqish is named according to its method: the surface of the dough is pressed with the fingers, creating a pattern of little wells for the toppings. It is a wonderfully easy bread to make and serve on charter—it needs only an hour's rise, so its journey from nothing more than a mound of flour to puffy golden disks fragrant with herbs and good olive oil and flakes of sea salt is brief.

When I first tasted it, I was a starry-eyed young traveller wandering the old city of Damascus, and it came accompanied by deliciously tangy labne (a drained yoghurt cheese) and ripe tomatoes... a breakfast I have relished in memory time and again, and have tried to recreate in floury-handed fact many times since.

I've since learnt, via the wonderful food blog of Fouad, that it is also a favourite breakfast in Lebanon—his evocatively written entry is a must-read.

I've adapted and modified this recipe to make it as charter-friendly as possible for a busy boat chef; and I've also rung certain non-traditional variations with the toppings, depending on my guests' preferences. But never do I fail to tell its story, and to serve at least one in the way I had it first and love it best: topped simply with olive oil and za'atar, that storied mix of sesame seeds and tart sumac and herbs—thyme, oregano or what was called hyssop—that links us, with each savoury bite, to the daily life of people of other landscapes in these essential forms:

Wheat. Olives. Wild herbs. Water. Salt.


web references
http://arabic-food.blogspot.com



Manakish | Manaqish | Manakeesh
modified for the charter chef
serves an 8-pax boat for breakfast, plus the usual charter accompaniments

For the sponge:  whisk together 2 tablespoons of plain flour, 2 teaspoons sugar and one packet of dried yeast. Sprinkle on top of half a cup of water (at warm blood temperature), stir gently, and leave ten minutes until it forms a creamy and sweetly beer-scented foam.

For the dough:  combine 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of plain flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, and add the sponge mixture. Begin to stir, adding up to another 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of warm water as necessary. The dough should be a little wetter and stickier than a pizza dough.

Knead firmly for about ten minutes, or until the dough feels silky and elastic, with a lively 'spring'. Cover and leave in a warm spot to rise for about an hour. 


Portion the dough out into fist-sized balls (I have a small hand), and press or roll flat. Press your fingertips into the surface of each to form an overall pattern. Brush generously with a quality, flavourful extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with za'atar.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in a hot oven (200º C for me on our boat), or until the bottoms are crisp, and the tops are slightly puffed and golden. The rising aroma will let you know when they are ready! 
Serve with bowls of chopped ripe tomato, cucumbers and chopped fresh mint. Tell the story.

manaqish | kneadmanakish | dough

manaqish | press manaqish | oliveoil

manaqish | zaatarmanaqish | baked
.
variations I may sometimes top a few manakish with one or a combination of: chunks of fetta cheese, or slices of water-packed bocconcini, or roasted butternut squash and a handful of rocket, or cherry tomatoes or caramelised sweet golden shallots and lumps of chèvre... etc
manakish | breakfast
plain manakish + manakish with molten fresh mozzarella

12 December 2010

Perks of the job: sunrise on Anegada

Anegada Sunrise
early-morning view from the deck, as I was polishing the stainless

The Captain and I have just completed yet another same-day turnaround—an incredibly tight logistical exercise in an industry where twenty-four hour turnarounds (which seem a great luxury now to us in comparison!) are the minimum standard.

During the hard-driven hours of intensely focused work, it always helps to remember the many small quotidian pleasures of the job. One of the things that kept us cheerful amidst the flurry of scrubbing and the headaches of no-show deliveries and chasing tasks was our memory of the sunrise we were lucky enough to witness a few days ago while anchor'd off the island of Anegada—the shimmering Impressionist pastels of that morning, the luminous silence on the living water.

09 December 2010

Dry-roasted short ribs in a pepper'd spice crust

pepper spiced short ribs 1

Our kind friends Wanda and James came to our rescue one evening, when we had spent many a long day immersed in cleaning and scrubbing and polishing the boat for the trade show. Like benevolent genii from a fairytale, they whisked us away to their beautiful hilltop aerie, then fed us and watered us and returned us to the boat before we even knew quite how it all came about.

We sat on their patio with the blue evening sky above us, admiring the long golden oblongs of light cast by their open French doors, sipping at glasses of wine while their cat twined itself around our ankles in a furry sinuous welcome. Later, plates of richly savoury food appeared in front of us. Their company and thoughtfulness fed more in us than simply hunger, and we returned to our work the next day with stout hearts and good cheer.

One of the dishes from that night was a sublimely tender pile of ribs, which James had coated in a dry spice rub and slow-roasted for hours.

I usually braise my ribs in some kind or other of spiced and seasoned wine before finishing them off to char them, and that's what I plated out for my charter guests' main course; but I wanted to try out this dry-roasted method too, so I amused myself with a little experimental starter for them.

I crushed a generous handful of colourful mixed peppercorns—black and pink, green and mild white—in the mortar and pestle, along with some coriander seeds and cumin seeds for savour. A couple of fine fat cloves of garlic pounded to a creamy paste with plenty of sea salt, and a little chopped thyme, to bind it all together. Pungent and floral and spicy, this paste was rubbed generously into the flesh of a couple of pounds of beef short ribs, which I slid into the top shelf of the oven while a pan of my braised ribs simmered away below.

Two and a half hours later, I took out the tray. The fat had rendered off, and the spice-crusted meat lay in tender fragments on the bones.

I chose to serve this small 'taste' on cucumber slices for their cool juicy contrast, layered some translucent shavings of our house-made pickled cucumber, and finally topped the stack with fine-sliced red radish to play on the mélange of pepper flavour. This is also my nod to the Roman gourmand Apicius, for whom the piquant duo of pepper (a beloved spice of the ancient world) and vinegar-tart pickle would have been comfortingly familiar.

This pleased me enough to make me think about quantifying the proportions into a proper recipe to post at a later date. I may even have the cheek to try serving this one night to Wanda and James the next time we are off-charter, by way of return of hospitality...

pepper spiced short ribs 2

06 December 2010

Daylight Passage: Anguilla to Virgin Gorda



It is midday and the sun strikes a flinty glitter off the surface of the water, scattering a thousand fractionated flakes of white light, harsh as the glint of mica on a street pavement at noon. The boat dips, the waves rasping at the bow. I listen to the soft rhythmic breathing of the sea and watch its great indigo flanks rise and fall with the swell.

We are headed west, with a fresh nor’easterly breeze filling the mainsail and genoa. The green peaks of St Martin fall behind us in the distance; we have passed the flat white reaches of Dog Island (north of Anguilla), its pleasantly briny aroma blown seawards to us by the wind. For now, only a scant few clouds cling to the clean edge of the horizon, and there is nothing else about us but sea.

As if on cue, a flying fish breaks the surface of the water, whirring its improbable flight across the distance of twelve full, breath-held seconds. That tiny living glint of silver makes me smile, though I admit it also makes me think of cooking a whole dozen of boned, filleted flying fish—I like them best simply crisp-fried in fruity olive oil and glittering with flakes of sea salt; I also like to stuff them with pine nuts and raisins, like sarde a beccaficco.

Earlier that morning, we were surprised by a Breughel apparition: a full-rigged ship in the distance, its long bowsprit pointing east. Flat on the Delft blue horizon, it seemed nothing more than a painted ship upon a painted ocean [Coleridge].

Alas, closer inspection proved a much less romantic truth: it was only the oddly shaped Club Med boat, headed perhaps for St Martin, perhaps for little Sainte-Anne in Martinique, its berths filled with the hopeful and prurient young—or at least, the prurient hoping to be taken as young. I wonder idly if the ship is named Espoir. After all, as John Irving assures us, Hope floats.

Motor-sailing at a steady eight knots, we reach our anchorage on Virgin Gorda before sunset—a pleasant ten-hour trip, though we did not get to sail her properly. By the time the long, low-sprawling clouds glow pink in the twilight, our guests are settled with their glasses of wine and their frosty cocktails, and the smells of bruised lemongrass and caramelising pumpkin and simmering spiced coconut milk waft from the galley. Before us lies the evening, unusually cool for the Caribbean, under a sky bright with stars.

03 December 2010

The Endless Sky

When you stand only five-foot-tall in your stocking feet, being hoisted up the mast and into the blue sky is a treat rather than a chore. It took many a long month for me to coax The Captain into saying 'yes' and in truth, he is still reluctant.

I've never forgotten the exhilaration of reaching the top of the mast and the joy of the soaring view, more than a year ago when he sent me up to replace the main halyard of our previous boat. These days, he sends me only a little way up, for smaller jobs, but still, the thrill has not left me.

rewiring the deck speakers
charterbot rewiring the deck speakers

There are so many women on crew teams whom I admire—women who are smart and resourceful, women who can sail and repair their boats as well as they can cook and provision their galleys. My friend Samantha is one of these women—she's a yachtmaster in her own right, as well as a chef. This is how I would like to be someday.

replacing the steaming light
charterbot replacing the steaming light

Crew working life on a boat is more fun when you are constantly learning. Yesterday, I was 'graduated' to two different tools in my [very] beginners' toolkit: a plain and a Philips head screwdriver. This is quite possibly one of the highlights of my week.

going up in the world
the charterbot at work: a little way up the mast, her favourite perch

01 December 2010

The charterbot is featured as chef of the month on Charterwave.com!

Thank you so much, Kim!

29 November 2010

Marigot, Saint-Martin

Resto Claude Mini-Club, Marigot Saint-Martin
façade of restaurant Claude Mini-Club + view from balcony at Marigot Saint-Martin

Living Orange, Marigot Saint-Martin
living orange: tiles + little girl, Marigot Saint-Martin

Colour, Marigot Saint-Martin
colour and life: graffiti on house relic + public square pillars, Marigot Saint-Martin


The town of Marigot in Saint-Martin is unmistakeably and charmingly of the French Antilles—we loved the colour and life.

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

Waterfront, Philipsburg Sint Maarten
waterfront kite + mural off Front Street, Philipsburg Sint Maarten

Street Market, Philipsburg Sint Maarten
woman at street market + stall at street market, Philipsburg Sint Maarten

Bright and garrulous as parrots, the cruise ship passengers flock the tiny streets of Philipsburg. The succinctly-named Front Street is packed tightly with shops; just a step away, the beachfront shimmers. I am pleased to have seen this, the duty-free shopping mecca of the Antilles, but it has not captured even my easy heart.

27 November 2010

Trios, Threesomes And The Number Three

Trio de Crevettes
Trio de Crevettes ::  the charterbot at work
from left to right:  sautéed prawn perched on a bloody mary salsa shot; homemade jerk-marinated grilled prawn skewered with fresh pineapple; classic prawn ceviche with fine dice of avocado, spring onion, jalapeño and tomato seasoned with lime, coconut milk and cilantro


All good things come in threes, they say. They also say that the tripod is the most stable structure in nature. Either of those platitudes might do as a reply if a guest asks me why I plate out so many dishes in groups of three. The truth of the matter is simply that I happen to like the number three: I like its pleasing double curve in print, so easy on the eye; I like the satisfying finality of counting one, two, three! *


My Rule of Three magically turns two of my faults (indecisiveness, and a fickle heart) into charter-chef virtues: I don't need to decide on just one thing since I can do... all three instead; and I can indulge in one of my favourite pastimes: taking one ingredient and dressing it up in various ways. The reward: smiles on the faces of our guests when they find, unexpectedly, three different bites and flavours on the plate instead of just the one. 

Alas, the problem is trying to decide which three... had I but world enough and time, four and five and six are lovely numbers too...



* Here, the chanson Un, Deux, Trois by talented singer/songwriter Jessica Fichot

21 November 2010

An Overnight Passage: Tortola to St Barths

"... There's Arcturus, looking very bright."
~ Edmund to Fanny [Mansfield Park, Jane Austen]

Venus burns low on the horizon, with Arcturus glowing red just off our port bow; behind us, our wake is lit up by the full-bellied moon. Standing at the helm for
the night watch, we see the swell hurrying past, its furrowed crests breaking into a lather of white foam. The boat lurches and sways as the billowing water picks her up and drops her, time and again, in a familiar rhythmic pounding we can feel in our bones.


These are the pleasures of the overnight passage, especially for crew who love making the delivery alone. We have done this so often now that even working silently together on our final checklists—checking the props, lashing down the dinghy, securing the hatches, taking down the more fragile furnishings etc—has become part of a pleasant ritual that culminates in the liberation of casting off the mooring lines. There is a joyous truancy in having escaped—absconded!—in the dark of the night, gliding furtively past the sleeping boats, out into the freedom promised by the channel.


The wind picks up.


Twenty-seven knots, says The Captain. Under our feet, we can feel the boat struggling to make headway against the push of wind and water. To ease the wear on the boat, he adjusts our bearings; as we exit Round Rock, we are 20 to 30 degrees north of our course. Now we can bear away, with the wind port side rather than on the nose; we are hoping to be able to sail her come daybreak.


The moon is rising again when at last we pull into Gustavia harbour. Behind us is the sunset, and a passage of eighteen hours instead of the usual fourteen. We are tired. We drop anchor, do our boat checks, and think with pleasure of heading ashore for a well-deserved dinner. Somewhere warmly lit, with a view of the moon on the water; somewhere to sit back amidst the friendly clink! of silverware and glasses and the buzz of conversation; somewhere to smile at each other across the fragrant steam of heaped plates, and the gleam of a glass of wine.

18 November 2010

Insalata Proserpina: a salad for autumn

Insalata Proserpina


The earthy dishes of autumn, rich with harvest produce, can be too heavy for the perpetual heat of the Caribbean. When I was asked for a seasonal dish to feature, the clear choice for me was... a salad. Not my customary autumn salad (much as I love it) of slow-roasted chunks of pumpkin and sweet red beetroot, caramelised in the oven and tossed with fetta and mint and arugula to brighten the flavours. No. I wanted something light and fresh and crisp to celebrate the turning of the year.

So I chose fresh pomegranate seeds for a burst of bright acidity, with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch and butternut squash for its sunny colour and natural sweetness.

I’ve named this salad as a homage to the legend of the hapless Persephone (known to the Romans as Proserpina) who once ate six pomegranate seeds in her captivity in the underworld, and was thence tethered irrevocably to her husband for six months of each year—six months in which her beloved earth withered into cold winter sleep, awaiting her touch in the spring.

I can’t say I blame her. Sitting for so long in the dark and the cold, who would not have been tempted by a pomegranate? The whole fruit so comfortingly heavy in the hand, the jewel-like seeds so vivid with stored sunshine... really, the surprise is that she was able to stop at six.


Insalata Proserpina
salad of finely shaved butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and torn mint leaves in an orange, honey and hazelnut dressing

For the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest and one tablespoon of hazelnut oil till nicely emulsified. Slowly add another two tablespoons of hazelnut oil, a teaspoon of honey, a good squitter of orange juice, and half a teaspoon of coriander seeds (dry-roasted and crushed), whisking gently all the while. Taste to adjust seasonings; add sea salt and cracked pepper as needed.

For the salad: toss 2 cups of fresh raw butternut squash shavings (a vegetable peeler does the job), a handful of lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds (you can be generous!), and a scant handful of torn mint leaves together with the dressing.

I’ve a late thought that some peppery arugula would be a nice addition, but that can wait for another day.

note I found the finely shaved butternut squash took on an al dente pasta quality when tossed with the dressing. I should like to play with this texture some time—completely vegetal “pasta” ribbons with a good savoury sauce, perhaps.

about this blog

Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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