Saturday, January 27, 2007

Virgin Territory

If you asked my bunkmate what I woke up thinking about this morning, or yesterday morning, or the morning before that, or before that, or before that the immediate, off-the-top-of –her-head response would be, “what she’s going to make for dessert”. Because, that is in fact what I wake up thinking about every morning.

At 6am I roll out of my 3 foot by 6 foot bunk, in our 5 foot by 6 foot cabin and take two sleepy steps into our 3 foot by 4 foot head (a.k.a. bathroom), stare into the 2 foot by 1 foot mirror, wipe sleep from my eyes, chase the cobwebs from my brain by splashing water on my face in the 3 inch by 5 inch bar sink with 2 inches of counter space, which ultimately leads to water running down the face of the cabinet and landing on my feet where I reach down to dry it up and connect with the pain in my back from trying to balance on such a tiny bunk, reach back up, put Tom’s of Maine Fennel flavored toothpaste on my toothbrush (come on, you think a chef is going to put just any flavor in their mouth?), count the days remaining until the guests leave the yacht, and wonder what the hell I’m going to make for dessert that day. That’s my pre-galley, morning routine when we’re on charter.

I don’t love dessert. I don’t have a sweet tooth which is why I’m a cook and not a baker. I hate making dessert. Desserts are moody, temperamental and fragile – not unlike my mood early in the morning, before my cup of tea (just ask my bunkmate) – add in the humidity of the Caribbean, and dessert can just be a downright pain.

I made baklava over the holidays, thought I’d introduce the crew and guests to a family tradition that I grew up with – something to remind me of home while I am away from home. Flaky leaves of filo pastry, layered with butter, spiced, ground nuts and orange-flower syrup – when made properly they are light and flaky with a juicy quality when you bite into them. They bring me back to my childhood – making baklava with my grandma and my cousins, rolling the nuts up like cigars in the butter-laden filo, all of us gathered around the chopping block island in my aunts avocado colored kitchen with the Harry and David “Pear” motif wallpaper, baking them and packing them up before we all piled into the shag carpeted Winnebago to go camping on the Oregon coast… But in the Caribbean heat and within hours my baklava “cigars” went irreversibly soggy and shriveled. They looked like an old mans, long, piano-playing fingers after sitting in a cold bathtub for a few hours… Yuk.

So, as my days usually go – around 2pm I think, “oh crap, what am I going to make for dessert tonight?” and I start searching through my cupboards to see what I have. The yacht owners aren’t big on chocolate – so I have the extra challenge of coming up with something suitable without taking the easy exit – because with chocolate, dessert is usually easy. Anyway, on this particular day I had thought I would conquer making ice-cream but after checking through my provisions (I was getting low on everything) I didn’t have enough eggs. I hadn’t made ice-cream before but I’d been thinking about it for weeks. I tend to procrastinate on trying new things, especially when I don’t have time or ingredients to spare for error… So, the ice-cream maker and I had a staring contest for a few weeks until finally said, “what the heck” and jumped, full fledge into the world of ice-cream making …

Time was ticking. I pulled out Grand Fanales: The Art of the Plated Dessert, and Secrets of Baking and started flipping through for ideas on what to make, but no inspiration for the time strapped, ingredient lacking cook was coming at me. Then, I looked in the cupboard – aha, coconut milk! Would coconut ice-cream (although technically a sorbet) require eggs? I searched for a recipe for coconut ice-cream and found one – coconut milk and simple syrup – and that was it. That was it? That was it.

I couldn’t be bothered reading the exact measurements. Who has time for that anyway? I knew that the sugar would be less pronounced as the coconut milk froze so I just dabbled until it tasted right which came out to something around 4 cups of coconut milk and a cup of ginger simple syrup and then I decided that I’d throw in about a cup of Angel Flake sweetened desiccated coconut to add some texture. I poured my concoction into the frozen ice-cream making bowl and paddle attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and voila, my love affair for homemade ice-cream sprang to life, and I’ve become completely addicted ever since.

To finish the dessert I made a tropical fruit salad with pineapple and mangoes on which I served the ice-cream and topped it with a pepita (green pumpkin seeds) and coconut (desiccated-unsweetened) brittle drizzled with dark chocolate. I had to fight the crew off but once the guests were served, the crew went to town and the coconut ice-cream went the way of the dinosaur.

My dad calls coconut ice-cream ‘crack’, because of his addiction to it. The owners and the crews reaction was similar. I just hope they don’t all get the shakes if I don’t make it again soon as I’m currently devising a Mexican chocolate ice-cream with cinnamon and chili powder, to go with Mexican night (and I’ve already made mango sorbet and strawberry ice-cream).

We’ve since made our way to St. Thomas and spent weeks cruising the British Virgin Islands. I didn’t realize that BVI is the acronym for “excessive partying” – or better yet, “Believe me, there is nothing Virgin about these Islands”, but you’d really have to visit to know what I mean (and more specifically, visit "Willy T's" on Norman Island; the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, or Bomba Shack for a full moon party on Tortola - the next one is Feb. 2nd)...

That's an affirmative, I do not like Jaeger Meister.

Sooner or later, when this hangover abates, I’ll be sure to do some catch-up writing on my recent foray into bread making…

1 comment:

prcrstn8 said...

Dessert drama. The suspense was killing me.

I am SUCH a sucker for what you write, and you know that, but now you've cranked it up a notch.

Molto fabuloso,


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