Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Green Eggs and Ham

The funny thing about seasickness is how quickly it passes! As soon as the waters calmed and Bermuda came into sight everyone began feeling better. By the time we dropped anchor the crew was famished and requesting that I make their favorite South African meal – steak, eggs and chips – African food at it’s finest! After this ordeal, how could I deny anyone their favorite meal?

Steak, eggs and chips it was…

Fortunately I had a few flank steaks in the fridge that I had vacuum sealed and planned on cooking on the passage. I also had a pork loin that I had marinated in pomegranate syrup before sealing…

I made a big bowl of “chips” (‘french fries’ to us American’s) but all I had were waxy potatoes which don’t fry up so crispy. So, I used the tried and true French method for the perfect pomme frites and fried the potatoes three times; each time in hotter and hotter oil. By the final fry the frites came out golden brown and crispy. Ideally I would have done the flank steaks on the grill, but that wasn’t an option so I gave them a nice Cajun rub and pan seared them, sliced them up and cooked a bunch of eggs sunny side up and wobbly and threw them on top, and roasted the pork loin in the oven for Danger Mouse and Tom (I didn’t think I’d have enough steak for everyone)…

I can honestly say that I’ve never before eaten steak and eggs but the South African’s are slowly (or not so slowly) getting me hooked on their meat laden diet… Plus, I was famished too. So, I cozied up to my plate of steak, eggs and frites and I have to say, it was delicious! The runny egg oozed into the meat and then cleaned up with the potatoes, was a winning combination… The crew, Danger Mouse and Tom, blissful and unrestrained, devoured 5 lbs. of flank steak, 2 lbs. of pork loin, 10 potatoes, seven eggs and a big bowl of bok choy.

The next best thing to that meal was the hot shower that preceded it (and the laundry done the next day)… Everyone was so excited to be clean and well fed. Everyone slipped into a deep, restful slumber that night for the first time in a week.

The Mid-Atlantic Snore Fest that filled the air that night I’m sure woke the entire island…

Update and backtrack...

Tom went to the doctor and learned that in the attempt to get the boom under control he had fractured his thumb in two places, and will need surgery and physical therapy. He flew to New York yesterday morning and will be missed on the rest of our journey to the Caribbean… He is a real salty dog; always a funny story or dirty joke to tell and always smiling and laughing even when he injured himself.

The guys removed the boom from the boat and cut it in half where it had bent, now both pieces are firmly secured to the bow of the boat and on Friday or Saturday we will continue on our way. Originally we had planned on going straight to St. Barth’s but now we’ll head to St. Maarteen for equipment and parts and then to tie up somewhere in St. Barth’s where the guys can make the necessary repairs. St. Barth’s isn’t too keen on having boats in any state of disrepair on docked – so who knows where we’ll end up. This means that the party season on the boat probably won’t begin until Christmas or after, which is just fine by me as keeping the crew of South Africans fed is plenty of work…

Our last four days in New York were hectic, I spent every single day out shopping for provisions for the boat. Captain Danger Mouse sent me to his favorite store, a place called Corrado’s, in New Jersey. Corrado’s was a real find and well worth the trip. It is a giant Italian and ethnic specialty market with more cheeses, sausages, olives and things than you could possibly imagine and isles upon isles of ethnic ingredients. I made two trips and filled up two heaping grocery carts each time. There were also several trips to Costco, K-Mart, Stop’n’Shop and all my specialty vendors in the city. I hardly had time to cook anything for the crossing and the crew ate the lamb curry and the Bolognese, which was intended for the crossing, as soon as I came on board… I’ve since learned to hide things away and now have secret stashes around the kitchen of cookies, banana bread, lasagna, stews and pasta’s all for the rest of our passage…

Finding places to store everything is the biggest challenge. The coffin freezer is completely cram-packed without an inch of extra space. I have tried to organize it as best as possible, but it was inevitable that I would need something from the very bottom and have already emptied it and repacked it twice since we’ve been in Bermuda. There are lockers underneath all the sitting areas around the boat and they are stocked with cans of tomato sauce, olive oil, cereals, grains, Parmalot milk (which doesn’t require refrigeration), pasta’s and a million other ingredients.

I had read that cooking on a boat takes twice as long, presumably because of the movement. But getting to what you need is what really takes time. Even for a simple can of tomatoes I have to remove two cushions behind a table, lift the locker top, move bags of dried mushrooms, blocks of chocolate, and cartons of milk just to get at them; and then of course, I have to put it all back.

There is a pantry and it is stocked to the brim with every ingredient I could foresee needing. But the shelves are also blocked by planks to prevent things from going flying when the boat rolls so those have to be removed in order to get at things. Of course, with the storm we hit, everything went flying and I’ve been stock piling towels to tuck into the pantry shelves for the rest of the passage. I have to secure things much more than I did last time. In the storm, the coffee maker ripped out of the wall and there were still grinds in the top, so coffee grinds went everywhere. The microwave shifted a few inches and had to be moved again by the engineer in order to get it open, the toaster broke and my one pantry casualty was a jar of grape leaves that crashed on the floor. All in all, the kitchen didn’t suffer too much – but there was a lot of straightening for me to do when we arrived in Bermuda.

We usually walk around the boat barefoot, or in flip-flops when we leave. But with so much glass broken in the pilot house and my jar in the kitchen, we’ve all started wearing shoes as every one of us has stepped in glass. We’ve swept, and vacuumed and mopped but those tiny splinters are still lurking about waiting for a vulnerable foot to work its way into…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dramamine: the Segue Way Drug

By noon the first day the sea was really rolling and sea sickness was a definite. I tried to stifle it as I was the rookie and had something to prove; I didn’t want to be the first one down. But as evening came and the winds picked up we started hitting 10 to 12 foot seas, my green hue gave me away and I took a dose of Dramamine. As luck would have it, Dillon, our deckhand, was actually the first one to feed the fish, but I was soon to follow…

At sunset the crew began watchkeeping in four hour shifts and between shifts most people slept or read. As the crew awoke for each shift they helped themselves to sandwiches, some pasta that was made by a crew member sympathetic to my seasickness, and copious amounts of junk food; “chockies” as they called them – Cadbury bars, mini Hershey bars, mini Almond Joys, and chocolate covered raisins

By 1am the first night we hit the Gulf Stream which brought warmer temperatures but 20 foot seas and gale force winds. It was only a matter of time before the entire crew was seasick, and the worst was yet to come… We took a beating all night long and the entire next day; thrashed about like a rubber ducky in a washing machine, on spin cycle; pounded senseless by 20 foot waves crashing over our bow as we sailed against the Gulf Stream. So much for the Thanksgiving dinner I had planned. Pretzels and ginger-ale were the order of the day…

The winds picked up as night rolled in and we were hammered as the waves grew to 30 feet. The crew had installed new rigging only days before our departure and in the rush to depart our trusty captain never performed a test sail or had any of the equipment checked. The cotter pins were never put in place to secure the shrouds, the piece of equipment that holds the mast to the deck, and the two main shrouds began to come lose. In rough seas and bad weather, the decky and the engineer in raingear and harnesses, tethered themselves to the deck and went out for repairs.

I was half-asleep on the couch in the pilot house with Chris and Sheila, it was 1am our second night out, Tom was on watch. As we lurched from side to side, with the explosion of waves crashing over our bow, it felt as if we were on a German U-Boat coming under enemy fire, not a mega-yacht heading for the ultra-swank island of St. Barth. We were all so sick from the constant smashing about that we disregarded the cannons, bombs and gunfire going off outside and slept right through the ruckus, but we all sprang to attention at the sound of one tremendous explosion that sounded of a direct hit on our starboard side. We opened the doors of the pilot house to find that the 50 foot; 1000 lb. boom had lost its main sheet and was swinging wildly off of the mast, crashing into the boat each time we were hit by a wave. The boom swung across the lines of the stay sail and ripped a huge mechanical wench clean off of the deck. The lose sail was adding to the already erratic lurching of the boat and it was imperative that we get the boom under control as it was threatening to crash into us and take out the pilot house completely.

Aubrey, Dillon, Tom and Chris rushed to put on their harnesses and get outside. As they tried to grab the lines of the boom, Tom filleted his hand wide open and fractured his thumb. As the guys tried to gain control of the boom, Sheila and I stayed in the pilot house keeping an eye on the radar and looking out for any crew falling overboard. Against its own force, the gigantic boom bent clean in half, like a jackknife. Sheila and I jumped as Aubrey hollered, “GET AWAY FROM THE GLASS!”.

Gripped by fear and completely nauseous I darted down the steps to the main salon wondering what kind of nightmare I had just committed myself to; this certainly was not the adventure I had signed on for and if this was how things were beginning, than I was afraid of what else might be in store. Just then, the boom came crashing through the pilot house sending the crew running and glass everywhere. Waves sloshed through the broken window as the crew lassoed the boom and secured it to the broken window.

After this all unfolded, there was no amount of Dramamine that could help my seasickness. I ran to the head, clung to the toilet for dear life, emptied the nonexistent contents of my stomach, and made my peace with God. I imagined abandoning ship and a heroic rescue at sea by the Coast Guard. I wondered to myself if I’d be able to grab my laptop before I was helicoptered to safety. I questioned how I could be so stupid as to give up my business in New York and leave my friends and family behind to put my life at risk, and I thought about all those damn nice bottles of wine that would go to waste if the boat sunk. And for the umpteenth time in seven years, I thought to myself, “good god, why did I ever decide to become a chef?”. My temperature soared and I broke into an unbelievable sweat. Paralyzed by shock and seasickness, unable to move and not knowing what else to do, I curled up on the bathroom floor fully accepting that I just might die. Sleep came on like a drug-induced coma…

The Boom in the Side of the Boat

The captain/owner sent a distress signal (also known as a pan-pan) into the Bermudan authorities still a solid two days away but at least they knew we were in distress, had our coordinates and would be following us on radar expecting our arrival by late Saturday, or sending help… My hopes for a dramatic helicopter rescue were dashed, but at least my laptop and personal stash of crew wine were safe, relatively speaking.

I awoke the next morning groggy and disoriented. We were still being pummeled by 30 foot waves and water sloshed in through broken windows in the pilot house. I hesitated moving from the safety of the bathroom floor but the owner/captain requested that I make sandwiches for the crew. I gingerly changed my clothes and made my way to the galley. Garbage strewn about from a tipped trash can, coffee grinds everywhere from the coffee maker which had ripped out of the wall, the clanging of lose jars in the cupboards and the sound of water rushing past the port holes made for a sensorial overload nearly bringing me to my knees. The smell of food was thoroughly revolting; ham and cheese was almost too much to bear, condiments were out of the question…

Ham and Cheese Sandwiches:

Yield: 6 Sandwiches

Prep Time: 2 Hours


12 slices bread
6 slices ham
6 slices cheese

  1. Take bread, ham and cheese from refrigerator.
  2. Lie down on floor for 20 minutes and wait for nausea to pass.
  3. Remove bread from bag and place on the counter.
  4. Cut cheese and open ham.
  5. Lie down on floor for 20 minutes and wait for nausea to pass.
  6. Add ham and cheese and put on top bread.
  7. Repeat steps 2 through 7.

All in all, it took about an hour and a half to make five ham and cheese sandwiches, which would never be eaten…

I crawled into my bunk, but was tossed out two times and rained on by a downpour of falling cookbooks, eventually deciding that the floor was as good a place as any to sleep. I slept for nearly 24 hours, as did almost everyone else…

Bermuda Coming into Sight

The crew was beat, our nerves frazzled and spirits sagging and when we thought we could take it no more, the seas calmed. We looked out through a tangle of rigging and bent steel and Bermuda come into view. A very, very welcome site for us all…

Setting Sail!

Dario thought it would be funny to wake us all at 7am this morning with the sound of the emergency horn on the boat. We flew out of our beds and ran towards the pilots deck as he stood there laughing. The thing was, we were all a bit hung-over from too much wine last night and he knew it…

We lifted the anchor at 8:45 this morning and after weeks and weeks of waiting and anticipation we’ve finally set sail. I watch as New York fades away into the distance and we head out to sea. New Jersey is the last bit of land that remains but in a short time that too will disappear beneath the horizon. The head sail (also known as a jib) is hoisted and floats like a dandelion in the wind. It’s absolutely majestic to watch and I’ve found a cozy little place at the bow to nap; protected from the wind and where the sun graciously offers up its warmth. Even with the winter chill in the air, I slipped into a peaceful meditation to the sound of the ocean.

We’re sharing space right now with a few giant freighters staged or heading towards New York Harbor. It’s magnificent to watch them pass by.

We should hit the Gulf Stream and warmer weather in about a day…

You can’t imagine the expanse of the ocean until you’re sailing on a boat in the middle of it, nothing around but water and knowing you won’t see land again for at least seven days.

We expect to arrive in St. Barth’s on December 5th or 6th, hopefully sooner…

120 foot boat is big. Giant, in fact, but not as big as a lot of people probably think. Or perhaps it just doesn’t feel as big as you might think. Several people commented to me that we wouldn’t even feel the waves because the boat was so big. I can assure them that is not the case. Three or four foot swells create a nice roll – and being below deck, like in the galley, can be felt quite strongly.

Now we are at sea, the boat is beginning to toss a bit and I’m not sure if I’m getting sea sick or if it’s my hang-over working one over on me. My stomach is feeling a bit nasty and I haven’t been able to eat much today. Let’s hope it’s a hangover…

At this moment, I wish that I had planned my meals a little better and not let the crew eat my MRE’s but they begged and said they couldn’t bare the idea of lamb curry sitting in the fridge and not eating it... I’m a little nervous about wobbling around the kitchen… But I’ve got pasta and marinara sauce made and I think I’m going to sauté up some shrimp to go with that. Keep it simple…

Time to nap.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fish Out of Water

The boat in the yard:

Rigging going up:

Dillon hanging from the mast:

Today was a big day. The rigging went up; a process which took the entire day and one very big crane… The guys finished just as a giant rainstorm hit. I was in the kitchen putting away all the provisions I’d shopped for today when I heard the blip-blop of rain on the hatch. Then, I heard the scampering of feet running overhead and all the boys came barreling into the boat. It was a big accomplishment to get the rigging up, and that everything fit properly. This means that tomorrow we go into the water, and then the sails will go on. Now it is a mad dash to get everything ready to set sail on Monday or Tuesday…

I spent hours this morning on the phone talking to my meat and fish purveyors and placing orders. On Friday morning I’m picking up 160 lbs. of fish including sea bass, sea bream, salmon, halibut, cod, tilapia, calamari, shrimp and scallops. On Saturday I’ll be picking up almost 200 lbs. meat and cheese including beef, lamb, pork, quail, duck, venison, a whole proscutto, cured meats and sausages. I’m a little freaked out about how much I’ve ordered but Dario told me to provision the meat and fish for six months – including parties.

We have a deep-freeze unit, called a coffin. I’m tempted to make the crew get in just so I can figure out how much it will hold! I’m holding my breath… I’m also holding my breath to find out how much my meat order is. My fish order is $1,600! And I’m guessing my meat at about $2k. Other provisions are probably going to total another $2k. I have spreadsheets with all my prices on them and have been haggling between my purveyors for the best deals. I’ve got Quicken on my laptop now and have to keep detailed accounts of everything I spend, as well as all my receipts for Dario to go through to make sure that I stay in line and am not feeding the crew Kobe beef. I’m basically running a small restaurant on the boat. Only I’m open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu changes every single day…

Dario was on the boat for dinner tonight. I hadn’t expected that he would be here as he doesn’t usually stay on the boat when we are out of water at the Marina. So, this was the first time that I cooked for him. He walked into the kitchen and said, “what’s cooking, chef boy-r-dee?”. Is now a good time to tell him that I call him Papa Smurf?

I made my own version of fajitas for dinner tonight; black beans with Chorizo, sautéed Portobello mushrooms, zucchini and red onions, roasted red peppers, roasted pablanos, and fried queso fresco. The queso fresco that I found was really firm, much like Hallumi, and it cooked up really nicely. Papa Smurf asked me if I was cooking tofu, I think he was relieved that I wasn’t. Everyone, including Dario, enjoyed dinner and they said that they wished I had been there all summer (but I can honestly say, I’m glad I wasn’t because it would’ve really sucked to spend a summer in a boat yard in Staten Island).

Dario designed this sailboat and had it custom built in South Africa. It took five years to build and was completed in 1993. He had built four other 88 foot sailboats before embarking on this one, which was the realization of a dream. This past year, while the boat was in the Caribbean, the mast snapped in half. Amazingly, it didn’t cause any significant damage to the boat. But the 150 foot mast, originally built in Holland, had to be shipped back there for repairs and then back to be New York to be replaced on the boat. It took two giant cranes to get the mast back on the boat, bigger cranes than the one used today…

As I walk through the boat, I feel as though I’m in a humidor. The interior is almost entirely wood – all of it polished to a high-shine (and all the responsibility of that, thankfully, is on the steward and the deckie). It’s a very handsome boat.

Big day tomorrow, must sleep…

Aboard the boat...

It’s early Wednesday morning and I’m sitting up on deck as I write this. I slept like a baby my first night on the boat because it was the first time in three weeks I haven’t been wondering what the boat is going to be like!

I came on board Monday morning as planned. The crew greeted me and helped me bring my bags and cookbooks on board. I had packed and re-packed so many times, afraid that I had brought too much, but Sheila laughed and said she was amazed that I had packed so little. It feels good to know that I can pack for six months with only two bags…

When the crew and I started talking they told me that their favorite foods were curry and a good Bolognese. Coincidence?

My bunk-mate, Christian, and also the steward and my part-time sous-chef couldn’t be a better person. He’s a pseudo-vegetarian with a weakness for Andouille, a philosophy degree and a basket full of $2 words. At first, I was a little concerned when he said he was a vegetarian as that meant one person that I would have to cook separately for but he said that he was pretty lose about it and that he was still a foodie and wanted to hear and see the things I was making. I told him that I was making a cod stew with Andouille and he said he likes a little Andouille now and then. He also likes a little duck now and then too, but I saw completely through his façade when he did a face plant down the front of the boat and when I gave him a D’Artagnan ice-pack for his split lip and sprained wrist – he looked at the ice pack and remarked how he couldn’t understand how anyone, even a “vegetarian” like himself, could resist foie gras. It’s only a matter of time before he comes to the dark side… (D’Artagnan is a distributor of foie gras and other specialty ingredients).

Aubrey (a.k.a. “Leatherman”), our engineer, is a really nice fellow. Aubrey’s been on the boat the longest, over three years. He has an old-school work ethic and sense of loyalty which I think everyone on the boat respects and appreciates. He also has a great sense of humor and is a little bit shy and after dinner he usually disappears down to the engine room with his laptop and Alias DVD’s. On a boat with four others where privacy can sometimes be lacking, I think he’s happy to be in his own little world down there.

Dillon, the deckhand, always has a big smile on his face and is quick with the jokes and the witty/ sarcastic remarks. He’s made himself the official kitchen taster and if I’m cooking, he’s always nearby with a spoon in his hand… After dinner he usually retires to the roof to smoke – but given his sense of humor and his constant need to snack, I can only wonder what it is he’s smoking!

Shiela is the stewardess that will be leaving us when we arrive in St. Barth’s. She is a wealth of information and has taken the time to show me where everything is on the boat. She’s been keeping the crew fed and the pantry stocked since the previous chef left and is also the one responsible for organizing all the cupboards, storage spaces, etc. We get along really well and I’ll be sad to see my one female companion go…

All in all, the crew gets along well and enjoys each others company. Everyone is very positive and there is a good sense of camaraderie, friendly banter and always a joke or a sarcastic or witty remark being tossed about.

Everyone is in especially good spirits considering they’ve been living aboard the boat in an industry ship year in the middle of nowhere for the past three months! But just as much, everyone is really itching to get the hell out of here and be in the Caribbean.

The boat is actually still out of the water. The rigging arrived yesterday and today it will all go up. We should be back in the water by tomorrow, a process which I can’t wait to see!

We are shooting to set sail by Monday or Tuesday. I did a big shopping trip to Kalustyan’s and China Town yesterday to stock up on spices and ingredients for the pantry. Today I’ll do a big Costco trip for more dry goods. And between Friday and Saturday I’ll be picking up over 300 lbs. of fish and meat which will all have to be portioned, vacuum sealed and frozen! And I’ll have to make a few more MRE’s before we leave…

The crew has been living off of hot-dogs, Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and pasta for the past three months so I made my culinary debut with pan roasted salmon, vegetables in coconut red curry, basmati rice and chocolate chip cookies. It’s always nice to feed an appreciative audience…

I don’t think I could have picked a better working environment. And I have a feeling that the adventure ahead is going to be really, really fun…

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Last Broadcast From Brooklyn - and it's about time!

"One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." ~Andre Gide

Well my little grass-fed, free-range chick-a-dees, I am happy to report that this will be my last post from my ghetto-fabulous Brooklyn abode for tomorrow morning I am off to Staten Island to join rank with my fellow yachties…

Yes, yes. You’ve heard me say this before. But at 6:15 this evening I picked up a car from Dario to load up my belongings, food and groceries and in the morning I drive down to the marina and board the boat…

The adventure has finally begun…

People have asked me if I’m scared about going on this adventure, but what is there to be afraid of? In mid-February, when you all are freezing your lil' buns off, curled up next to your noisy, steamy radiator with a box of tissues and some Thera-Flu, in your over priced studio apartment, listening to Jeff Buckley again and again and wondering if that guy/girl you hooked up with at Automatic Slims the other night, while you were on a post-blizzard bar crawl, is ever going to call – I’ll be cooking for five people on a private yacht in St. Barths and in my free time I'll be working on my tan, enjoying a gin and tonic or three, catching up on my reading, learning to scuba dive, and well, ya’ know... So, what exactly is there to fear? sharks? A shortage of limes, perhaps? Price gouging on suntan oil?

Although I’m not scared, as in paralyzed by fear or afraid of something terrible happening, I do have that "looking out of an airplane door with a parachute strapped to my back and thinking holy shit, I’m actually going to jump” sort of a feeling. It’s something that no amount of preparation could alleviate; a combination of excitement, anticipation, anxiety and maybe a little indigestion from some bad mayo on my chicken sandwich this afternoon - but I wouldn’t exactly call it 'fear'.

All jokes aside - for a moment at least - my grandma gave me some sage advice that really helped me when I was in a career funk (no, not when she suggested I move to Oregon and get a job at Applebee’s - you think I'm joking!). She said that one of the most important things in life is to be content, and that being content has nothing to do with what you do or don’t have, it’s a state of mind. Her words resonated and when I quit focusing on everything I didn’t have and instead began to appreciate the things that I did – inspiration and opportunities flowed from the most unlikely and unexpected places. And this adventure I’m about to embark on, well, I just feel extremely fortunate…

Tomorrow I jump out of the airplane and freefall into the abyss. I have no idea what the future has in store, but I can’t wait to find out!

Ok, that reads like a lead-in to Sally Field's Oscar speech... Aakkk!

I promise, from here on out, no more transgressions... Nothing but scandalous detail after scandalous detail about the eating habits of the rich and famous; the dark and seedy underworld of cooking aboard a yacht in the playground of the privileged; lecherous accounts of good food gone bad; harrowing tales of collapsing soufflés; chocolate stashes being raped and pillaged in the dead of night; a stacked and drizzled display of dining debauchery fit for a king…

Better quit while I'm ahead...

Bye everyone! I’ll try and post this week as I’m provisioning the boat – but I have no idea when I’ll have internet access again. We should be setting sail for the Caribbean by next weekend. So, if you don’t see a post from me before then, check back in early December!


Saturday, November 12, 2005

#2 of the One-Pot-Wonders

"Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends"

~Joseph Campbell

Dario called me this afternoon and told me to be ready to go tomorrow or Monday. I’ll repack all my stuff when he’s knocking at my door because our departure date has been postponed so many times now that if I have to unpack one more time for a clean pair of underwear and a new tube of toothpaste, I’m going to go totally out of my mind!

In the meantime, I have two pounds of salt-cod soaking in the fridge and some nice smoked Andouille sausage for the cod stew; and on the stove is a big pot of Bolognese sauce.

For the Bolognese, I started off with the usual suspects: Diced carrots, celery, onions, a lot of garlic, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce. I browned off some diced, smoked slab bacon (because I think that everything benefits with the addition of bacon); some homemade hot and sweet Italian sausage from Los Paisanos, on Smith St. in Brooklyn and some ground beef; drained the extra fat, added a glass of wine (and drank a glass of wine), added back the sweated veggies (and drank another glass of wine) plus two cans of Muir Glenn Organic Crushed Tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce. If Muir Glenn isn’t available, San Marzano or Sclafani are my next choice. I find that Hunts, RedPack and other American brands taste either metallic or overly sweet. I also don’t like to use canned tomatoes that have “Italian Spices”, herbs or a long list of preservatives; the less processing, the better. I threw in a bay leaf, a handful of fresh, chopped oregano, a pinch of pepper flakes, a pinch of cinnamon, black pepper – and of course, salt; but not too much, as the bacon adds a lot of salt too. Cinnamon, when used sparingly in savory dishes, adds a hint of sweetness, accentuates the smokiness of the bacon and adds a warm quality to the dish; but used too liberally and not balanced with other spices can leave an astringent, almost chemical taste and can be really unpleasant.

The Bolognese came out perfect and I had a bowl with some pasta, fresh ricotta (from Fratelli Ravioli, Smith St. in Brooklyn - their ricotta is really yummy), and some torn-up fresh basil leaves on top…

God, if I have to post one more time from my apartment in Brooklyn I’m going to go nuts.

Another transgression - this time into the world of salt...

"A wise woman puts a grain of sugar into everything she says to a man, and takes a grain of salt with everything he says to her."
~Helen Rowland, 1876-1950

“He is not worth his salt”, is a common expression origination in ancient Greece where salt was traded for slaves. Roman soldiers were paid “salt money”, salarium argentum, from which we take our English word, “salary”. And with this, here are a few cooking tips...

As much as I believe in “clean as you go”; I also believe in “salt as you go”. Salt is a flavor enhancer and will develop the flavors of food as it cooks. Sprinkling salt on after cooking is an entirely different reaction than if it's added while cooking... When I made the curry, I salted the lamb while I browned it off, salted the onions while they were caramelizing, salted the water before I blanched the beans, salted the squash before I roasted it. I like to consider each ingredient that I am cooking as a separate component that should have its own perfect flavor and texture before being added to the main dish…

I love salt and I get mildly annoyed by people that are timid with it. Of course, I don’t like something to be over-salted, but rather, just right. When you are making soups or stews; anything starchy like taro, squash, potatoes, pasta and rice will absorb a lot of salt (although be carefull when you are cooking dried beans – you don’t want to add salt until the beans have softened. The salt reacts with the coating of the bean and prevents absorption). So, if you really want your stew to taste good – you’ll have to season it up well!

According to the British Medical Journal, salt has little importance to hypertension and there is scant relationship between sodium and blood pressure. So, you can’t use that as an excuse anymore. Go ahead and throw out that crappy Iodized table salt that you have too and get a box of kosher salt for cooking, and some nice sea salt for finishing your dishes. Dead Sea Salt, which is rich in bromine (bromine is said to have a slight sedative effect on the human nervous system), is even healthier. So, fear not your salt-shaker.

I had the opportunity a while back to help prep for an event given by the New Yorker. Dario Cechini, a butcher from Tuscany and with whom Mario Batali once worked, was preparing lunch and doing a cooking demonstration. We prepared for three days in advance and it was an all out pork extravaganza. We made lardo – ground pork fat back mixed with herbs and vinegar (spread on grilled Tuscan bread); Arista – pork tenderloin wrapped in pork belly and stuffed with rosemary and fennel pollen; sausages, and we even had a visit from the fire department as we were grilling off 6-inch thick Tuscan steaks (Dario laughed it off and the firefighters left with a beautiful arista for their dinner that night). The butcher brought this wonderful, fragrant salt that he would sprinkle on Tuscan bread, with estate olive oil (from his family farm). It was so delicious and at the end of the event, we each received a bag of his salt. The salt is called “Profumo del Chianti” and is combined with aromatic herbs from Chianti (hmmm, can this be any more obscure? Ok, I know there is fennel pollen, and perhaps some rosemary? But I’m not sure what else). I made some popcorn the other night and I hadn’t any butter. So, instead I tossed it with an excellent unrefined, extra-virgin olive oil and the “Profumo del Chianti”, and damn, if it wasn’t the best popcorn I’ve ever eaten! If you ever want to try something new – sprinkle your popcorn with the best olive oil you can get your hands on (my personal favorite is a Lebanese brand, “Saifan Extra-Virgin Olive Oil”, cold-pressed and unrefined) and a really good quality salt or salt and herb blend of your own creation...

Maldon Sea Salt is also great. The salt crystals are big and flaky and great for sprinkling on whole fish or meat that is being grilled or roasted. Sprinkle it on just before cooking, and the salt will give your meat or fish a salty little crunch…

Grey Sea Salt has a nice mineral quality to the flavor and if the grains seem moist when you buy them, poor it onto a baking sheet and dry them in a slow oven then fill your salt mill…

Here are a few fun salt links:
Salt Works
Salt Traders
Salt, A World History

#1 of the One-Pot-Wonders

If you try Queens Hideaway, you’ll certainly forgive my previous transgressions…

Now, back to the matter at hand. I spoke to Dario and asked him if I could begin shopping and prepping at home for the passage. I emailed him a menu, to which he said ok without, I suspect, even looking at it – which is fine by me! Isn’t that every chef’s dream to cook whatever they’d like? I did a bunch of grocery shopping today and already have somethin’ on the stove.

For #1 of the One-Pot-Wonders, I’ve begun a curried lamb stew (it’s on the stove now). Recipes, for me at least, are just guidelines. I don’t think I’ve once followed a recipe precisely unless it was for baking. I have a basic recipe for curried lamb, but it doesn’t include anything other than lamb, some onions, garlic, ginger, curry spices and cooking liquid. I’ve decided to embellish the recipe since this needs to be a more substantial meal for the crew. I thought about adding potatoes, but wanted something more interested. I found fresh taro root at the produce market today (the benefit of living in an ethnic neighborhood). Taro is often found in Asian and Latino cooking and is often mashed into cakes or boiled and fried. I find it to be slightly more toothsome than a potato and it absorbs the flavors of anything you cook it with (it’s like the tofu of root vegetables). I figured it would be great to add to the curry as it will absorb the nice, rich curry sauce. I also found a nice Kabocha squash. Kabocha is fairly new to the United States. It’s a Japanese pumpkin and has a green rind and orange flesh. It’s sweetness is a little more subtle than a butternut squash, and it’s flesh is a little more firm. I’m also throwing in some green beans, so that my boys get some green veggies in their diet while we’re sailing. Since the stew is going to be frozen and reheated, I’ve decided to roast the squash off and add it at the end; and the green beans I’ve blanched and will wait until the stew is actually cold before I add them. It’s my hope that this might prevent the vegetables from becoming mushy with the freezing and reheating. I’m going to add some fresh cilantro to the cold stew as well so the flavor will come out when the stew is re-warmed, since I won’t be adding nice little herb garnishes to things while we’re out at sea....

And in this case, for the One-Pot-Wonders, I take a more guerilla approach to cooking. So, here is the guerilla recipe for my curried lamb stew:

Vegetable oil
4 #’s Boneless lamb, cubed (or beef)
4 c. chopped onion
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (or a big, heaping mound if you don’t feel like measuring)
4 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chipped (another big, heaping mound)
2 Tbsp. cumin
4 Tbsp. coriander
3 ½ tsp. turmeric
1 Cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon)
3 Cloves
(or, if you really must, you can skip all these dried spices and add 3-4 Tbsp. of your favorite curry powder. But really, why not make it yourself? Curry powder isn't as intimidating as it might seem.)
Red pepper (or to taste)
3 c. finely chopped tomatoes or 2. canned tomatoes, chopped or pureed
1 Tbsp. kosher slat
5 fresh taro root, diced (or 4 med. Potatoes)
4 cups green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces and blanched
1 med. Winter squash, seeded and diced
3 cups red wine (because why not? But this can easily be replaced by water or stock)
3 cups lamb or beef stock (or water)
5 Tbsp. fresh coriander leaves

I like to use a cast iron dutch-oven. Heat oil in the dutch-oven and brown meat in batches and set aside. Add oil to pan, along with onions. Reduce heat to med. and nd fry onions until dark brown, stirring constantly so they do not burn. Add garlic and ginger and fry for an additional two minutes. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, and red pepper, and continue frying until spices become fragrant (10 – 15 seconds), add remaining spices. Return meat to pan with tomatoes, salt and boiling stock and wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 1 ½ hours. Add winter squash and continue cooking for 15 – 20 minutes, until squash is tender. Add taro and continue simmering, covered, until taro is tender (10 minutes). Turn off heat and let rest for ½ hour to 2 hours. Before serving, bring to a simmer, add green beans, adjust seasoning and add chopped, fresh coriander leaves.

And there is the first of the One-Pot-Wonders.

A slight diversion - but a good place to be diverted...

Well, our departure has again been delayed. The boat is out of the water right now and the crew is waiting on some rigging parts, which isn’t really that big of problem but while the boat is out of the water there is no refrigeration (the on-board refrigeration system is water cooled – hence, no water, no refrigeration)… Dario said he would call me with three days notice as to when we were leaving. In the meantime, I’ve asked him if I could begin prepping and cooking at home so I don’t go completely out of my mind with all this time on my hands. It’s not that I can’t find things to do – but friends, wanting to see me before I leave, keep inviting me to go to dinner with them, which leads to lots of wine consumption, which leads to lots of headaches the next morning… and I seem to be waking up with lots of headaches lately. Speaking of, I went to the most excellent restaurant on Wednesday night! A little place called “Queens Hideaway” in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (222 Franklin St.). The name suits the restaurant, it’s the most obscure, tiny little hole in the wall - if you didn’t known where you were going, you’d easily miss it and the food is outrageously good. I was with a large group of people so we ordered the entire menu times two, which was the perfect choice. First, and instead of bread – we were presented with a bowl full of peanuts, served warm and in there shells, steeped in vinegar and spices. They were amazing. Then we had two fabulous salads; one with chili and sage smoked apples, lardons, mache and red oak lettuce with balsamic and some cheddar shavings; another with roasted baby beets and Cato Corner Blue Cheese with smoked walnuts, wilted spinach and a bitter orange and shallot dressing. For dinner we had the “BBQ Sausage and Pork Picnic” and being pork-obsessed, this was the bomb. The sausage was great, as was the cured pork butt and the baked beans were cooked to perfection. Then there was the chicken stewed with smoked pasilla and porter beer over cornmeal cakes with crema and smoked pepita’s, which was delicious. There was also a smoked and fried trout po’ boy with mustard greens, fennel simmered in smoked fish broth and topped with aioli and lemon jam… The chef of Queens Hideaway get’s very creative with the smoker, and in fact, with all of her cooking. The food was absolutely out of this world. The restaurant only seats around 20, but it was a cold and rainy night so we had the place all to ourselves. Our server was totally on the ball, and our bill, for eight of us – came to a cool $166.00. A completely retarded bargain for the totally amazing food – which means that you’d better go there now before they realize what a steal they are and raise their prices! The restaurant is also one of the few welcoming B.Y.O.B.’s ($5 per bottle corkage fee) in this city, which we did. I believe between eight of us, we drank eight bottles of wine… Oh, and how can I forget dessert? Bittersweet chocolate French toast with a ½ pear poached in wine, butter and lemon verbena and a ginger cookie bar with rosemary honey. The menu changes daily and is according to the chef’s whim, and whatever looked good at the green market - so don’t go there expecting to see anything that I’ve listed here. Go there expecting great, innovative food in a totally unpretentious, laid-back environment. These people surely aren’t from New York…

Monday, November 07, 2005

If you were stranded on a desert island for 6-months, which cookbook would you bring?

There are about 350 cookbooks in my collection at the moment which may seem like a lot, but I can easily think of 300 more cookbooks that I don’t have and would like to add… Obviously, bringing crates of cookbooks on the boat is not an option. So, I have to decide on five or six that I will be able to use over the next six months. This is not an easy decision.

I’ve decided to bring one “general-purpose” cookbook; something simple to use as a quick reference for a birthday cake or clam chowder; then, three or four ethnic and/or specialty cookbooks and one high-end cookbook. The main requirement of each cookbook being that it has to be practical. As much as I love Gray Kunz ”The Elements of Taste” or the cookbook from “French Laundry”, my access to specialty ingredients and equipment is limited. Also, I’ll be cooking in a less than ideal environment; ie, Caribbean heat and humidity; which would make the more delicate recipes difficult at best. My boys on the boat are big fans of Asian cooking but personally, I can do without Chinese. Too many oily, cornstarch and soy sauce smothered vegetables and sticky-sweet, hart-burn inducing fried meats have turned me off for life. I much prefer Thai or Japanese.

Of the ethnic and specialty books, I’ve decided on “True Thai” by Victor Sodsock and “Simply Ming” by Ming Tsai.

I chose “Simply Ming” for its focus on marinades, rubs, sauces, chutneys, dressings, infused oils, etc. Although I have yet to cook out of this book, I was definitely intrigued by the table of contents alone. The beautiful, bright and festive pictures were a draw too, but I love making curry pastes and sambals and experimenting with Asian spices so I only wonder why I didn’t find this book sooner! It seems like it will provide hours and hours of experimentation and fun in the kitchen.

The recipes in "True Thai” are practical, fun and delicious. The soups have kept me warm through many a winter and I love the seafood recipes from this book. There’s a great section in the book called “Cooking with a Thai Accent” which gives some pointers and tips when experimenting with fusion cooking and I just generally love this book.

My cookbook collection is a bit lacking in the Japanese dept. so I think that I’ll have to run to the bookstore and get one more to fill in…

The jury is still out on which Middle-Eastern cookbook to bring. I’m torn between Paula Wolferts “Cooking of the Eastern-Mediterranean”, “Mediterranean Grains and Greens” and Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle-Eastern Food”. One Middle-Eastern cookbook that will be going with me however is a book from my grandmothers church. It’s bound by red plastic rings, with a well-worn red cover that says, “Magic Cookery” in gold lettering and with a magic lantern embossed on it. They are the old family recipes that I grew up with; Kibbe, Baba Ganooj; Tabouli, Namoora, Baklawa, Talmee Za’atar; Knafee, etc. Of course, included are also recipes for jello molds, Chicken “a la king” and Lobster Thermidore and the chances of me making any of those are slim to none, but the Lebanese recipes are priceless. It’s the food I know and love and whenever I cook them for anyone it is met with praise and I have yet to find another middle-eastern cookbook that has anything close to my grandmothers cooking...

Of the general-purpose cookbooks, I’ve decided on the “Gourmet Magazine Cookbook”. The recipes are fail proof, and are more modern, and have more of a gourmet element to them than “Joy of Cooking”. Plus, a friend of mine was a recipe tester for the book. So, if something doesn’t work, I can always email him and give him a hard time. ;o)

For desserts, I’ve chosen “The Last Course” by Claudia Flemming. The book covers a wide variety of ingredients and desserts and is well organized. The ingredients aren’t anything out of reach considering the environment I’ll be working in and there is a lot of focus on tropical fruits that should give me some inspiration for the local ingredients in St. Barth’s.

And finely, of the high-end cookbooks I’ve decided on Eric Ripert’s “A Return to Cooking”. This book really struck a note with me from the moment I opened it. There are four sections; Sag Harbor, Puerto Rico; Napa and Vermont. Puerto Rico and “West Indies Improv” section piqued my interest for obvious reasons and should provide some good inspiration for Caribbean ingredients; Napa, of course, reminds me of home; Sag Harbor reminds me of cooking the Hamptons in the summertime and Vermont just reminds me of the wonderful bounty of the North East the other three quarters of the year… The stories, recipes and pictures in this look book seem as lush and beautiful as Ripert’s cooking so I look forward to trying them…

Saturday, November 05, 2005

MRE's: Planning for the crossing

Well, I’m all packed and ready to go. With that out of the way, boat work delays and a case of the flu I now have ample time to work out menus and plan my meals for the crossing. So, here I sit at my couch, laptop on lap, a pile of cookbooks, a box of tissues and a cup of tea beside me. As I read the provisioning books and work through my menus I begin to see what a task this is and how busy I will be getting the boat provisioned. A plan of attack, menus, lists and organization are going to be crucial to my survival!

I am so used to relying on the availability of fresh, top quality ingredients and being able to run up the block or across town for anything I’ve forgotten. It’s easy to make good food if you have the bounty of the green markets, ethnic neighborhoods and specialty food stores at your fingertips. But for the crossing, I am limited to the bounty of the fridge, freezer and dry storage for ten or more days and there’s no corner bodega in case I forget something.

The variables of cooking on the passage are many… The environmental factors include accounting for inclement weather which can add days to the passage. Rough weather will most likely bring about some seasickness so there will need to be some bland meals pre-prepared and easy to reheat. The motion of the boat makes cooking at sea take twice as long to prep and the wind tends to pickup at sunset. In many galley kitchens the stove is gimbaled so that it will remain horizontal while the boat is rocking. Our stove is not, which means that something as seemingly simple as boiling water can be a difficult if not dangerous task. Many of the meals will have to be portioned and easy to warm in the microwave. This will be a challenge for my repertoire of “one pot wonders”. Also, we have to conserve our fuel and energy supply during the crossing and so the generators won’t be running 24/7. This means that refrigerated items won’t have quite the shelf-life that they do at home. Milk, for instance, will only last about 3 or 4 days at sea. Items in the freezer must be Cryovaced (vacuum sealed) to stave off freezer-burn. Also, there has to be variety in the menu so the crew doesn’t want to throw me overboard by the fourth day. And, although a majority of things will be prepared in advance I have to include fresh fruits, vegetables and salads so the crew doesn’t befall the “scourge of the Royal Navy” and arrive in the Caribbean riddled with scurvy! Ok, highly unlikely, but you get my point, they have eat healthy! I have to be selective of the fresh items I bring on the boat – things like fresh herbs, baby salad greens, berries or other delicate fruits or vegetables won’t travel well or last very long; more heartier fruits and vegetables such as romaine, kale, escarole, winter squash, cabbage, potatoes and apples, oranges will have a longer shelf-life but they have to be stored properly to ensure they last and I will most likely be freezing or buying lots of frozen fruits and vegetables. We will also be fishing during the crossing so we’ll need some raw ingredients to go with any fresh catch…

One challenge is coming up with a menu of several “one pot wonders” and easy to re-heat meals that will freeze easily and be just as tasty when they are micro-waved. I don’t know how some foods will take being frozen and then reheated. I’ve been given a list of the provisions that are currently on the boat – they include canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned corned-beef hash, canned mushroom soup. I am a big veggie eater, the fresher, the better and I can make do with frozen vegetables. But canned? I honestly don’t recall ever having opened a can of vegetables – or for that matter, anything other than tuna or soup (ok, maybe the fruit salad mom used to put in my lunch box)… Many aspects of cooking for the passage go against everything I’ve ever known or done in the past and require me to throw my previous notions about using things canned, freeze-dried or otherwise preserved, out the window… Planning and preparing for our passage is going to be a real test of my skills and abilities. About the only thing I could imagine more challenging than cooking aboard a boat at sea – would be cooking airplane food. And my food sure as hell has to be better than airplane food!!! Ok, preparing M.R.E.’s could possibly be more challenging. I mean, how do you fit an entire Hungry Man TV Dinner into an unsinkable, digestible, 3600 calorie cake that’s small enough to keep in your back pocket with a shelf-life longer than a Twinkie and can still be edible after a nuclear attack? Well, whatever it takes. I want my boys to eat well and for everyone to be crossing the ocean happy and health.

Friday, November 04, 2005

All Dressed Up and No Place To Go...

Due to continuing boat work, my departure date has been delayed once again. Now, it looks like I'll be leaving next Tuesday or Wednesday - November 8th or 9th. Which means that I will have just about one week to provision the boat and prepare the food for our crossing... Yikes!

I just want to start! I'm going nuts. My refrigerator which only a week ago was brimming with cheese, veggies, bread, fresh lasagna noodles, a good bottle of Prosecco and plenty of condiments - has been totally cleaned out. Now, it holds some Dijon mustard, a bottle of Trappistes Wesvleteren (a gift from a friend) and bottled water. It's like college again, only with much better beer in my fridge... But still, I don't want to have to mess up my kitchen again, or buy groceries for the fridge. My bags are packed, I'm ready to walk out the door!

My friends are begining to think that I've made this all up. I swear, I haven't! It is a real job! I swear! I swear!

I really can't complain though, as this will give me extra time to get my menu's a little more together... (and when I have a moment to think clearly and breath, I'll actually post more on that here)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ian's Soy Sauce Chicken


3 1/2 cups chix stock
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup Shaoxing or med-dry Sherry
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 bunch scallions
6 slices ginger
4 strips orange zest
1 tablespoon fine salt
2 whole cloves
2 star anise
1 dried hot chile
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1 (3- 3 1/2 #) chicken, quartered

Bring all ingred. to a boil in a 4 to 6 qt pot then add the chicken, breast down, and simmer, covered 15 min. Turn off heat & let stand, covered, 30 minutes. Turn chix over and let stand covered, 15 more min.

Planning the first meal (or; which was overcooked first, the chicken or the egg?)

36 hours from now and I’ll be living aboard the boat. My start date has been postponed twice now because of rain delaying work on the boat, but it looks as if Thursday it is actually going to happen and the big day couldn’t come any sooner.

I’ve slept about 3 or 4 hours a night over the past week because every time I lay my head down on the pillow I begin to go through the lists in my mind of what I should bring; what ingredients I need to find here because it may not be available in the Caribbean; menus of what to make for the crossing, etc. I then end up sitting at my computer ‘til the wee hours of the morning working on my lists and pulling out items from my house that I want to take with me…

One thing that is a minor source of anxiety is that I have yet to cook for anyone on the boat; not Dario, not the crew, nobody! Dario said that he assumed I could cook because of my resume, so he was more interested in interviewing me to find out if my personality would work aboard the boat. Of course, I was flattered that he hired me on my word alone, but now I actually have moments of panic when I begin to think about cooking for him and the crew. Not that I can’t do it, but will they like my style of cooking? Will they enjoy what I’ve made? I’m a little nervous about what I’m going to prepare for them for our first meal together on Thursday. I have no idea how my day is going to go, what shopping I’ll be able to get done (since I’ll be all the way out in Staten Island), or what I’ll have available to me. Dario and crew love Asian food, so this is the menu I would like to prepare for their first meal:

Steamed Mussels in Green Curry and Coconut Milk
Chinese Black Rice with Ginger and Scallions
Bok Choy with Sesame Oil
Soy Poached Chicken

The soy poached chicken dish was prepared for me recently by a chef friend of mine who was doing a cooking demonstration for Gourmet Magazine. He made a broth with soy sauce, dry sherry, scallions, ginger, orange zest, brown sugar and some spices; then brought it to a simmer on the stove top; placed a quartered chicken in the broth and let it simmer for 15 minutes. He then turned the chicken parts over, covered the pot and turned the heat OFF on the stove and let the chicken sit in it’s aromatic soy bath for another 30 minutes. The final product was the juiciest, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Being a chef, and I think a lot of chef’s share this, I tend to get “chickened” out. Not only have I de-boned several hundred, if not a thousand, chickens throughout my career; it is also the most served, and most mistreated item for staff meal at every restaurant I’ve ever worked. When I was in Napa, our staff meals often consisted of the vegetable matter strained out of the stock pot, combined with some hacked up chicken parts, and white rice. Most of us held out and took our calories in beer at the end of the night… In Paris there was a young apprentice, about 14 years of age, named Fabrice and he was responsible for our staff meals which alternated between burnt rice and raw chicken; or raw rice and burnt chicken (and you thought the French were all born cooks!). Order a salad with grilled chicken from your average, or even above average, lunch place in New York City and what you’ll get is something resembling sliced up, grill-marked rubber bands. Really, chicken in this country could be served as a bar snack. It’s usually so overcooked you need four martinis just to choke it down… The “food safety” police have stripped the poor bird, and its offspring the egg (the second most overcooked food in America), of any trace of dignity.

But, the poached chicken I had the other night restored my faith in the bird. And besides, for the most part, the crew isn’t American so they won’t mind their chicken juicy and cooked properly…

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