Sunday, December 17, 2006

Shippin' Out

Tilapia Cooked in Brazilian Maquecca wth Green Bananas

Quinoa Pilaf with Soy Peas

Avocado and Tomato Salad

Manatee’s accompanied us on part of our journey down the river early in the day, from the Westport Marina to Pier 66. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent packing the yacht for our passage and getting a good nights rest for a very early departure. We escaped Fort Lauderdale under a midnight sky, the stars hidden by the bright lights of the shipping docks and cruise ships. Tight, four-foot waves and the wind on our nose; it felt as if we were on an ice-breaker in the Baltic Sea until we passed through the Gulf Stream, which only lasted about an hour; but four-foot waves were welcome compared to my first experience in the Gulf Stream, and the rest of our passage was as smooth as glass. The passage was a mere 10-hour trip spent snoozing, playing a game of checkers on a magnetized board, and as always, marveling at the endless expanse of ocean around us (and eating lots of pretzels). And yet, even for such a short trip, everything must be packed away as if we were doing a transatlantic; glasses and decorations packed tightly away, towels stuffed into cabinets so that nothing rolled or clanked, galley stuffed full of provisions and some pre-made sandwiches (just in case I got seasick)…

At mid-day we pulled into the resplendent sanctuary of Lyford Cay, in the Bahamas. A tiny, quiet marina with a handful of magnificent yachts; we tied up next to a classic 80 ft. (1977) Palmer-Johnson Schooner with a hand carved wooden mermaid at the bow, and rope and wooden foot ladders going up the sides of the masts. The marina is surrounded by well-manicured gardens of tropical flora and fauna; mangroves and palm trees hiding opulent homes in pastel pinks, blues and yellows; stoic cranes stand guard, protecting the privileged inhabitants of this regal cay. The crews big complaint was that Lyford was too far from the hustle and night life of Paradise Island and Atlantis with its casinos, night clubs and bars. But after spending a month in Fort Lauderdale surrounded by nothing but strip malls, fast food, car dearlerships and dry docks, I found the peace and quiet of this little tropical paradise, sublime. And when the rest of the crew took off to Paradise Island for a night on the town, I opted to throw on my trainers and go for a run underneath a brilliant Bahamian night sky with only the starlight lighting my way. The air smelled faintly of ocean and honeysuckle, a gentle breeze at my back. Where the waters run clear and warm, palm trees and sunshine are plentiful, worries, wars and inflation are forgotten, shoes are optional – this is where I feel the most at home. I am home again; finally, finally home again.

For lunch before our departure, I made the crew Maquecca; a Brazilian dish fist made for me by my Brazilian friend, Michelli, an awesome chef who worked with me when I had my catering business. I love this dish and I think it brings together all the flavors of the tropics and seeing as I was pining so hard to get out of Lauderdale, I made this for the crew on our last day to get everyone in the spirit of the adventure that lay ahead.

I started out by dicing lots of onion, about 1 ½ medium yellow ones; her recipe called for green peppers but all that I had were pablanos so I used 2 of those instead and diced them up, along with 1 ½ yellow peppers, three tomatoes and 4 cloves of garlic. I cooked the onion, peppers and tomatoes together in a big pan with a bit of oil until they were soft. To that I added sweet paprika, smoked Spanish paprika, cumin, chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and a can of coconut milk and let it simmer (and of course, adjusted the salt). When the flavors had all mingled and happily gotten to know each other, I added 4 fillets of Tilapia (properly seasoned) – laying them right on top of the Maquecca – placed a lid on it and let it simmer away until the fish was fully cooked. While that simmered, I boiled some (peeled) green bananas in salted water, chopped them up and served them alongside the Maquecca. Rather than rice, I made a quinoa pilaf with soy peas as a healthy alternative, and made an avocado and tomato salad with lime and cilantro vinaigrette. It was a hit and the crew gobbled it all down, with a few homemade chocolate-chip cookies for the road…

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