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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