Saturday, November 22, 2008

Help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!

We just finished up a big trip with the bosses and it seams that despite my best intentions to write more, blogging comes only with a sacrifice of sleep – and I require at least 3 hours of beauty rest a night… The trip went smoothly as we worked through the bumps of a newly launched boat – figuring out service, provisioning, etc. No major hiccups and I provisioned well, not having to grocery shop for 14 days – a feat, considering I was providing breakfast, lunch, snacks, horsedeouvres and dinner for 12 to 18 people a day, everyday!

We celebrated the election and our departure with Kobe sliders and apple pie as we slipped out of the harbor in San Diego on election night. I said goodbye to Whole Foods, organic meat, gourmet food stores and all the gorgeous produce that I probably won’t be seeing again for a very, very long time. I shed a tear mid-way on our passage as I reached the last of my baby arugula and tiny, purple oak leaf lettuces. I know what the future holds for me as we work our way towards the equator – spotty iceberg lettuce, romaine if I’m lucky. I blew a kiss to my micro-herbs as I delicately drizzled them over a plate, goodbye micro-herbs, I won’t be seeing you for a few years, that’s for sure. Golden pea sprouts, purple shiso, pencil thin asparagus – no more. Organic apples, farewell. Artisinal cheeses and breads – goodbye my friends. fresh mozzerella, organic milk and eggs – well, we’ll see what the future has in store.

I’d stocked the walk-in, literally, to the hilt. There was hardly room to breath, crates stacked from floor to ceiling – all of which lasted an astonishingly short two weeks (God, food goes quickly around this joint…). The bilge is bulging with a supply of organic flours, jams and jellies, cereal, baking supplies, canned goods, grains, pasta and beans, cooking oil, gourmet olive oil and vinegars, and so on. The freezers are crammed with Kobe beef, organic pork, and lamb and game meats. The crew knows now that I will beat them within an inch of their lives if they should help themselves to anything without consulting me first. Provisioning in Mexico is not like the Caribbean – and the Caribbean can be a challenge – but at least there, there are provisioners to help you out. I have yet to find one provisioner here that can supply goods directly to the yacht. One restaurant supplier in La Paz may be able to help me out with some imported meats and produce and I can have orders shipped down to Mexico from San Diego – but nothing is firm. What is promised, what I request and what I receive are often very different and the grocery stores thus far have been less than inspiring. Grocery shopping every few days, with guests aboard, is totally impractical; especially considering the quantity that I require to feed everyone - and the locations we’ll be in – where there may be absolutely nothing available! And as for specialty goods, somehow, I don’t think I’ll be finding an Asian grocery store here. Does Mexico have a China Town?

For the next few months it will be cactus paddles and coconuts, tomatillos and chilies and plantains – which I thoroughly enjoy. But it’s the salad greens that I will miss the most. Lush, fresh, salad greens. It seams the more tropical the climate, the harder it is to find good produce… I’ve requested to have a greenhouse built on the yacht, but the captain isn’t willing to give up one of the tenders to make room on the toy deck, and he says it will block his view if we put it on the foredeck. Dang.


An agriculture inspector came aboard the other day and mentioned something about confiscating all my beef because apparently the United States has an issue with mad cow disease. News to me! But the thought of having my provisions confiscated did send my heart rate up. But, I remembered my Jedi training and put it to good use:

"this isn't the beef you're looking for"

I said in a calm voice, and with a wave of my hand, the inspector departed and a major catastrophe was averted. I’ll have to use The Force more often. That was cool…

Well, I’m off for a little while now, back to the States to cook up a couple of birds for Thanksgiving and a little dinner in Chicago. Ok, ok, 20 courses with Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller at Alinea! Do I have the best bosses in the whole entire world, or what?! Mrs, X – YOU ARE THE BEST! I am your dedicated and humble servant forever and ever and ever and ever. I am dancing around my cabin as I write this. I’ll definitely be blogging about that meal! Ooh, the boats rocking, I’d better calm down…

Bye for now…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

World Peace

For all the praise and celebrity draw that Cabo San Lucas receives, I have to admit, at first site, I’m a little under whelmed… Granted, I’m totally spoiled and have spent far more time in swanky beach locations than anyone should be allowed in a single lifetime– though I’m usually working… But, Cabo seems to be following a trend that I’ve witnessed far too often in less developed countries with nice, ocean views - where the local culture gets choked out by cruise ship ports, overdevelopment, high-end shopping malls and too many kitschy t-shirt shops and multi-floor bars. There’s even a Hooters here! Call me a snob, but when I’m looking for a taste of local culture – I’m not thinking buffalo wings and beer served by a bar maiden in orange spandex short-shorts and a belly ring. And I’ll never understand what’s so “delightful” about being tacky!

But I’m determined to find something I like about the place, because hey, at least I’m not freezing my ass off at a boatyard in Seattle anymore! I walk up the dingy dock; pass by the chain restaurants and t-shirt stores, and children and women selling chachkas, and to the main road. There’s a tourist information booth across the way and, so, like so many countries outside of North America, where traffic “rules” are merely suggestions, I step out into busy intersection, and weave my way around the cars as they weave their way around me. In my best (which is pretty terrible) Spanglish, I say hello to the gentleman behind the counter and ask where the locals grocery shop – a good place to pick up chilies and spices and those sorts of things. “Hola bonita”, he says. His eyes light up and a smile spreads across his face. Food, the international language of world peace. I swear, if more world leaders broke bread together, this world would be a much happier place… “You must really know what you’re looking for?”, he says, curiously and happy that I’m interested. I shake my head. “Halfway up the road there’s a store with piñatas hanging in the front, it looks like a candy store – but go to the back”, he says, “that’s where all the spices and chili’s are. Then go to Castro or Marcado Malino”, as he marks the path for me on a glossy tourist map advertising sport fishing and bars.

I set off the beaten path, up a side street. For about 30-seconds I wonder if I should be concerned for my safety – screw it. Why start now? I smile at the locals as I walk, relaxed and cool as a cucumber – though I know I stand out like a sore thumb with my bright red yacht polo and blue capris.

First stop, fish tacos at a cute little hole in the wall on a street corner. And for about $1, I get two corn tortillas with two pieces of hot, freshly fried fish on them. And that’s it.




But then, as a perplexed and perhaps let-down look spreads across my face for something so plain – the woman behind the counter begins to pull out bowls, one after the other – pickled cabbage, three different salsa’s, red onion, chipotle mayonnaise, avocados – and for my $1 dollar, I feast like a queen. It’s the best fish taco I’ve ever eaten.









Next, I come upon a bright yellow awning strung with piñatas and look in. The shop is tiny, maybe a few hundred square feet, and every square inch is packed with goods.









Open crates of dried chilies line the walls and center island – chipotle, passila, guajillo, ancho, mulatto – there must be 30 different varieties.










There are open bins too of grains, beans, maize and dog food (and some of it is a little mixed up together – but I’d stocked up on rice before we left San Diego anyway). I buy bags and bags of chilies – I’ll be able to make mole for several years now!


Then it’s on to the mercado where I find epazote, a fresh herb used in stews and bean dishes, cilantro, fresh jalapenos, garlic. As I walk down the street with my arms weighed down, a man sitting on his stoop says, “hey lady, what you selling?”. Unsure how to take the question, I pause for a moment. Well, I know I don’t look like a street walker so it mustn't be that – so I turn to him and say, “you speak English?”, “yeah, what do you have in all those bags? You must be selling something!”, “No, but can you tell me where I can get fresh tortillas?”. Just like the guy at the tourism booth, that big, broad food-lover smile spreads across his face, ”at the market”, he says, “look inside the coolers – they keep them in there to stay warm! A big puff of steam will come out when you open them!”. “Thanks!”, I say as I turn to head back to the market. I open the red cooler inside, and just like the man says, a big, puff of steam hits me in the face – along with the wonderful, warm aroma of fresh corn tortillas. I grab two bags and find another cooler of flour tortillas in the back – and grab two of those. As I pass the man on the street again, and thank him for his direction, he smiles at me and says, “so, are you married?”

As I wait on the dingy dock for the tender to come retrieve me – I can’t resist and I rip through the bag with the flour tortillas. I stick my nose in the bag, nothing compares to the smell of fresh tortillas. I pull one out, it’s warm and soft and as thin as crepe, and it tears in flakey layers like pastry. I’m in heaven. What’s not to love about Cabo San Lucas?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jumping in...

Dinner for the Fishing Boat:
Mrs. X’s Fresh-Caught Yellow Fin Tuna (a 25-pounder!)
Pan Seared, Salt and Pepper Crust with a Yellow Tomato, Yuzu and Purple Shiso Salsa
Quinoa Tabouleh with Cilantro, Parsley, Mint and Lemon
Harissa Marinated Roasted Vegetables
Banana Cream Pie


“You wanna fight? I’ll give you a fight!” I yell into the hot Mexican sun. “Bring it on!”

Grrrrr!!!!!


The rod bends like the arc of a bow. I lean into the water, the rod straightens and I reel back as hard as I can. “Breath. Just relax and enjoy it”, John, my adoptive fishing guide, says, with Zen-like calm. “Don’t fight it, you want to tire HIM out, not you”. My heart is racing. I bend my knees, straighten my back and plant my feet firmly into the deck preparing for a long battle. We’ll see who wears whom out first. The rod arcs again, zzzzzzzzz, everything I’d reeled in speeds back out, he’s going deep this time and trying to take me with him! The resistance eases, I reel in, he’s heading back towards the surface now. “He’s gonna jump, he’s gonna jump”, the crew yell. Out of the dead calm of the azure sea bursts an explosion in electric blue and silver as a massive marlin leaps into the air, thrashing and fighting wildly. “Woohoo!”, I holler, “come to momma”! He goes back down again, back and forth, back and forth, reel, let go, reel, let go and finally he’s getting closer. I can see his silvery body shimmering beneath the surface. The guys reach in with gloves and pull the line up. Two of them grab the fish by its bill and fin and haul him into the boat. They cover its eyes with a wet towel and the fish is immediately calmed. Next, they shove a saltwater hose into its mouth to keep it alive. Then they measure it: 5 feet, 8 inches – 125 lbs! The marlins color fades to grey. John, my fishing Zen Master, implants a small computer chip in the marlins underbelly that will gather depth, water temperature and location information, another tag is attached to its dorsal fin and as swiftly as they got him in the boat, the guys lift the marlin and, while still holding onto his bill and fins, hold him over the side of the boat until he recovers from his shock and is strong enough to swim on his own. When he begins to fight again, the guys let go. As if by magic, his electric blue spots return and I watch in awe as he swims off…

We spend the entire day aboard a fishing boat in Magdelana Bay, off the Baja Coast. Apparently people wait all year for the weather we have right now – glassy seas, 90 degrees outside, 86 degrees in the water. We follow flocks of birds, watching as frigates and pelicans swarm and nose dive, the waters surface bubbles like a jaccuzzi with fish, marlin and porpoises jumping out of the water chasing their prey, “bait balls”, as the fishermen call them.

We pull up to another ‘bait ball’, I grab my mask and fins and jump in. A massive cloud of fish hover beneath the boat, moving together, as if a single mass. A marlin comes up from below, I almost think he’s aiming right for me – revenge, perhaps? But he swims passed, lucky me! The entire ball darts first in one direction, then another – and always in perfect unison - trying fruitlessly to escape as four more marlin and some dorado join in for a tasty supper. I paddle but can’t keep up as the feeding frenzy continues and the ball is chased. The water sparkles with crumbs of lunch as a wave of fish scales drift passed me.

Then, I’m alone. I just float, face down in the womb of mother earth, taking deep, relaxing breaths through my snorkel, white beams of sunlight resplendent in the sapphire abyss below. In the solitude and silence, I find myself again and I’m reminded why I am here - not just to watch life go by, but to jump in…

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Six Degrees

Well, I seam to be meeting friendly strangers everywhere I go!

Just as we pull into the dock at Newport Beach, I receive a message through my blog that reads, “Hi, just watched the yacht pull in! The shopping is pretty lousy down here – believe it or not, but there are a few places. Let us know if you need any help!”. I email back, my first question being how did they find my blog and the yacht I was on?

“We watched the yacht come in, it’s such a pretty yacht! We googled the name. We’d be more than happy to take you out provisioning and show you around!”. Oh my god, an offer to help? I have to explain to them that a “little trip to the store” for me involves somewhere along the lines of 3 or 4 grocery carts and can be upwards of 40 to 50 grocery bags! “No problem”, they say, “we love food – it’ll be fun and we have an SUV that you can load it all into!”. Not one to turn down some extra hands – I jump at their offer.

I’m thrilled, of course, that someone has found me through my blog and wants to meet and show me where to provision! So, I tell the crew, who of course, give me a really hard time – what am I doing going off with these strangers? Ok, perhaps I should exhibit some caution – but it seems that when I throw caution to the wind is when I end up having the best time. That is, after all, how I ended up working on yachts in the first place –flew off to meet some stranger on some tiny island in a place I’d never been before… What can I say? I’m a seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. My life, like my cooking, is a work in progress until the main course is served.

So, I take off on a grocery shopping adventure with my new found friends and in the course of conversation, I learn that Mrs. Stranger is from the same two-horse town in Southern Oregon as my aunt, uncle and grandparents. “Do you know so-and-so, by chance?” and, well, by chance - she was one of my cousin’s high school teachers several years back – before she moved to Newport. Talk about six-degrees of separation! Sometimes the universe points in a certain direction and you have no choice but to go…

We head into Costa Mesa, to the Whole Foods Market, which is, by far, the largest Whole Foods I have ever been in. I feel almost guilty dragging my new friends around with me as pile up my carts. “Do you want me to grab another cart for you?”, they say. “Umm, if you don’t mind”, I reply sheepishly as I push two full carts up towards the front of the store.

Our visit to the meat counter goes like this, “How can I help you?”.
“I’ll take 8 racks of lamb”
“Sure, anything else for you?”
“3 boneless leg of lamb, 8 lbs. of lamb loin chops wrapped those in 2 lb. parcels, 7 lbs. of those organic pork tenderloins, 2 whole pork loins and 4 lbs. or ground pork”
“Having a barbeque?”
“No, just a little shopping. You know what they say, you shouldn’t shop when you’re hungry!”
“Anything else for you today?”
“Yes, 2 whole organic tenderloins. You don’t have to trim or tie them. 8 dry-aged Chateaubriands, 4 dry aged New York strips, 8 lbs. of ground buffalo and 10 lbs. of ground Kobe”
“So, how long is this going to last you?”
“Maybe a couple of weeks…”

Next, it’s on to the fish market and then Hi-Times Wines, a massive temperature controlled warehouse dedicated to the best grape juice from around the world – and they even have a “serve yourself” wine tasting bar!






Our day ends at a little shack, at the end of a short pier on a little inlet behind a trailer park – sounds like a horror movie, right? Wrong. It’s the best place in town to buy live, spiny lobsters for which the season has just begun.






After a long day of exploring the local goods, I’ve got coolers full of meat and fish and the SUV is loaded with tons of fresh produce. Hopefully it’ll last me the week and I won’t have to go shopping until we hit our next port…

Thursday, October 16, 2008

San Francisco Days

Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta, Pancetta and Heirloom Sun Dried Tomatoes with Opal Basil Pesto and Farmers Market Greens

Pork Tenderloin rubbed with Marjoram and Savory with Brandied Chanterelle Mushrooms, Roasted Victoria Farmers Market Pine Mushrooms and Braised Romano Beans

Crème Fraiche Ice Cream with Port Poached Figs

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d pass underneath the Golden Gate Bridge by way of Mega Yacht, returning to the place I grew up, as the kickoff to traveling around the world – I wouldn’t have believed them. But now, here I am, the wee-hours of dawn, looking out at a glassy ocean, reflecting a cloudless, tangerine sky. The Golden Gate Bridge towering in the distance, with only a few puffs of fog dissipating on the north side. A pod of short, fat, black and white spotted dolphins leap across the bow as if to welcome me home.

We cruise into the bay in Sausalito and through my galley window I see the house my mom used to live in up on a hill in the distance. I take breaks from rolling out pasta dough for butternut squash ravioli for another day, to stand out on deck and take it all in. After a cruise around Alcatraz, we head for Pier 38 where we’ll be tying up for a few days, waiting for a spot to open up in Sausalito. But Pier 38 is perfect for me, only a mile and a half from the bounty of the Ferry Terminal Farmers Market!

I have strict orders from Mrs. X; I have to investigate the farmers market ASAP! Hey, someone’s got to do it. “Captain, can I go ashore to provision?”, we haven’t been docked five minutes. “Sure”. I grab my cloth grocery bags, flip-flops, sunglasses and wallet and leap onto the dock. I’m outta here…

“Excuse me, do you know where the farmers market is from here?”, I say to the tan, sailor-ish looking man with the sun bleached hair and flip-flops walking up the dock. “Sure, turn right, it’s just down the road – probably a 10 minute walk. I’m heading in that direction, would you like a ride?”, he says as we approach his car, conveniently parked right at the end of the dock. “What, in that piece of crap?”, I look down at the red, convertible Lotus Elise – the top of the windshield is about knee height. And with the sun shining on my face and my hair tussled by the wind, we speed off. “Can I jump over the door like they do in Dukes of Hazard?”; I ask as we approach the farmers market, he shrugs, “sure”. God, sometimes I love being a girl. I opt for the more lady-like exit by door, because knowing me, I’d fall flat on my face and break my teeth and Lord knows, I just don’t have time to deal with that…

The market at the ferry terminal is bustling - stalls of Romano beans, heirloom tomatoes, opal basil, breads, organic meats and artisan cheese line the sidewalk. My first order of business is to pay a visit to Recchiuti Chocolate to pick up some samples for Mrs. X to see if we can use them as our pillow chocolates for the guest rooms on the yacht. Fleur de sel caramels, ginger hearts, Lemon-Verbena infused truffles. Yum, I think they’ll go over well. But I’ll have to sample a few more just to make sure. I stop by Scharffenberger as well for cocoa nibs and baking chocolate, and stroll through the produce stalls – my first finds are beautiful squash blossoms, perfect for stuffing for a starter, two fragrant musk melons, baby greens and fresh shell beans and some sun dried heirloom tomatoes – which I think will go into the stuffing for the blossoms as well. Saving room on my arms, I head back inside to Golden Gate Market, which has an impressive selection of organic and game meats. So, I stock up on elk, wild boar, organic lamb, organic beef tenderloin and pork. Loaded down by 40 lbs of wild animal, bags of veggies and chocolate – I make my way towards the exit – but the rosemary focaccia at ACME bakery has been calling to me every time I pass by their shop front. I have nowhere to put it. But I can’t resist, so I take two loaves and grip the paper bag between my teeth. With a bent back and arms loaded, I struggle to make my way to the curb to hail a taxi – but I manage. The taxi ride back to the yacht is not nearly as exciting as the ride in the Lotus, but then, I don’t think the Lotus has the trunk space for all my groceries. Hey, you know, who wants a car that can’t fit a case of wine and a few bags of groceries in it, anyway?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just a lucky so and so

Victoria was just a stopover and a bit too cold for Mrs. & Mr. X. So, with a gentle breeze and a following sea, we set forth on the next leg of our journey – but not before I had the chance to hit up the local farmers market where I got the last of the pole beans, baby turnips and tomatoes of the season, some artisan cheeses and bread. One, lone table of produce remained at the market – the rest were jewelry and craft tables, the tell-tale sign marking the beginning and the end of the farmers market season the continent over. I returned to the yacht with a few bags of goodies. A note was stuck on my cutting board, “duck confit, fig and plum sauce pizza – upper fridge”. Ah, Mrs. X takes such good care of me…

A pod of fat, stubby, black and white dolphins race us down the Northwest Coast, leaping out of the water and diving under the hull. The days are quiet on passage – it’ll be 3 1/2 days until we see land again and if the seas are calm, for me that will mean time to get ahead of myself for the busy weeks of entertaining that lay ahead – preparing pasta dough’s - rolling it out and freezing it, cracker dough’s, ice-cream bases, pesto’s and sauces.

The X’s are easy owners, they like to be self-sufficient and help themselves to whatever they need. Mrs. X jumps in the galley to help cook and make cookies and treats for the crew, which is great for me – many hands make light work! And Mrs. X and I are usually laughing or talking food when we’re in the galley together. Being a private chef can sometimes feel like working in a vacuum, but not with Mrs. X – we can talk food for hours and she’s always giving me articles and recipes which helps me a lot since I have to come up with breakfast, lunch, dinner, horsdeouvres and snacks everyday for weeks on end without repetition. It’s nice to have a hand, especially from the person eating most of my cooking! Beats the hell out of becoming a mind reader…

An average day for me on passage is up at 5am to setup breakfast for the X’s and crew. It’s not usual for the chef to be doing crew breakfast, but it’s a passage and the bosses are easy and it makes the crew happy – egg sandwiches, oatmeal and fruit, scones – with clotted cream of course - that one won a few points from the Brits aboard! After breakfast is setup I prep a few things for a later date – bread starters, dough’s, sauces. Around 10am I begin preparing lunch and try to catch a nap sometime after lunch. At 3pm it’s back in the galley to make horsedouvres and begin prepping dinner. Dinner by 7pm and hopefully cleaned up and out of the galley by 9pm. The crew rotates watch shifts so everyone is up at different times, eating and sleeping at different times.

As long as the weather holds out, passages are quiet and slow and uneventful. I always find it remarkable to look out the window or go out on deck and be completely surrounded by the ocean, as far as the eye can see – yet able to surf the Internet, watch television, cook gourmet meals. It seams almost surreal, to be so disconnected and far away from everything, yet still have access to it all. Stock markets crashing, the election catching fire, wars breaking out – and yet here I am, cruising the wide open sea, not another person (besides those aboard), bird, tree or anything in sight and I’m cooking up Kobe tenderloin and tuna carpaccio. Totally weird. But who am I to complain? I must be doing something right…

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just hoped it would’ve been later – much later. And at a more convenient time too. But it wasn’t. It never is. That’s just the nature of a disaster.

The disaster began in the wee-hours of the morning. I was having weird dreams – we were back at the boatyard in Seattle. The boat was chained to the dock and we couldn’t leave - a nightmare, actually. A dog purred at my feet. Why was the dog purring? That’s my alarm clock! Shit, I’m late!

5:20 am. I’m usually in the galley by 5am. 20 minutes can make all the difference in the world on some days– and today was one of those days. I flew out of bed, took a quick shower and was in uniform and in the galley by 5:26. We were lifting anchor at 6am sharp. The captain had said the night before that the ride to B.C. would be smooth, I’d have no problem cooking but at 6:04 as I shoved a batch of Rosemary-Pumpkin muffins into the oven and began to prepare a smoked salmon scramble – the call came down that there might be some rough weather ahead. I was a little frazzled from oversleeping, my brain wasn’t fully awake, and it was pissing rain outside. Like a Pedro Almodovar movie, bad news always comes on a rainy day.

In the restaurant trade, it’s called being “in the weeds”, when you spend all day just trying to catch up. That’s how my day was starting out, I was in the weeds – and everything always goes wrong when you’re in the weeds… I rushed into the walk-in and in my harried state, I completely forgot about the 3-quarts of clam chowder I’d put in a tall bain-marie covered with plastic wrap and set on the floor the night before to cool down. As I made my way out of the walk-in, loaded down with eggs, onions and salmon – “ping”, I felt me food make contact with the cold steel of the bain and then heard “glug glug glug” as the contents dumped out onto the floor. NOOOOOO! I leapt the remaining two feet to the door, dropped my load of ingredients on the counter, raced to the sink and grabbed three rolls of paper towels and a garbage bin. Sopping up the soggy, clammy, starchy mess all I could think was, “I gotta get breakfast out, I can’t do this right now, I gotta get breakfast out…”. I left the towels to absorb the mess and hoped that I soaked up enough that it wouldn’t run the full length of the walk-in and jumped back behind the stove to continue making breakfast.

Within a half-hour, the seas grew rough. I looked out the galley window; massive waves towered over the yacht. My stomach climbed into my throat as the yacht climbed up the waves and my body compressed as we slid down the other side. The captain had said it would be smoother ride than yesterday – could he be more wrong? 35 knots of wind and messy seas were making breakfast a harrowing output.

I was so excited to make pumpkin-rosemary-polenta muffins for breakfast. I thought it’d be perfect with my smoked salmon eggs, but what was I thinking – to make something so strong under way? Even the slightest hint of seasickness is greatly exacerbated by strong aromas or flavors. So, of course, just as my stomach was climbing a 14-foot wave, I tasted one small bite of a muffin – the rosemary, the sweet of the pumpkin, the spices and sugar was a complete sensory overload, like a violent assault on my olfactory system. My stomach was in shambles. But I had a duty – to make breakfast for 16 people though I was certain that no one would eat it. The waves were growing – and I know I wasn’t the only one feeling ill…

With breakfast setup, I ducked into my cabin to wretch, take some drugs and try to nap away my painful morning – and prayed that nobody would open in the walk-in…

When the seas finally died and the drugs kicked in, I returned to the galley to find breakfast, of course, untouched. Hesitantly, I opened the walk-in. Despite my efforts to keep the spill from spreading, it had leached under almost all 18, black rubber floor panels and spread the entire 6-foot length of the walk-in. I have milk crates stacked 3-high, loaded with milk, juice, fruits and veggies and those would all have to come out, along with all the matting – and all while we were underway, and all while trying to keep my little disaster as low-key as possible so that nobody would notice… One-by-one, I moved out the crates, pulled up the mats and stuck them in a sink full of soapy water, grabbed a mop and squeegee and set to cleaning…

With the mess cleaned up and lunch put out, the seas died down and that afternoon we spotted a large pod of orca’s off of the bow of the boat jumping fully out of the water. It was so beautiful! As we pulled into Victoria Harbor in British Columbia, the bosses said they’d take us all out to dinner – and save me from being in the weeds the remainder of the day…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Finally F'ing OUT of the Ship Yard!!!

Hi Everyone! Sorry for the silence – figuring out how to work, sleep and blog is quite a challenge but now that we’ve finally gotten the HELL OUT OF THE BOAT YARD, I will make an effort to write more… Sleep is so overrated…

So, we did it. That last trip that I briefly blogged about was more sea trials, but with the boss aboard. We survived, didn’t sink and went back to the boat yard for a haul out so they could repaint the water line after adjusting the ballast and to work on some engine stuff – which, since it has nothing to do with food, I don’t really know anything about (and besides, I spent the week passed out on a beach in Key West) - but there have been significantly more carpenters, engineers and electricians aboard over the past two weeks rushing to get everything done – like, three times as many as their have been over the past year. I guess they wanted us out of the yard as much as we wanted us out of the yard! Only 316 days late – give or take a day or two, but who’s counting…

Departure day was yesterday and was a mix of cheers and teary goodbyes as we pulled away from the dock and began to wind our way down the river. I feel like I’ve been rushing and working so much that our departure was hardly a blip on the radar – but rather, just one more thing to do. But every once in a while, the cloud of work and to do lists would clear and for a brief moment I’d fill-up with a surge of joy that we were finally, FINALLY departing to GO AROUND THE WORLD! But just as quickly, that joy would dissipate and it was back to work – unpacking loads and loads of groceries, organizing my freezers and walk-in (quickly becoming a squeeze-in), stowing and cleaning, stowing and cleaning. If cleanliness is next to godliness than I want to be canonized upon my death!

The river has been lined with fishing nets by the Native Indian tribes and we had to wind the yacht around the nets. I figured that was as good a time as any to start the brine for my corned beef. Maiden voyage of the yacht, maiden voyage for corning beef. It’d be a day of firsts. I also had the brilliant idea of vacuum sealing the corned beef in a bag with the brine – which was a great idea once I got it done, but not before I spilled half the brine. And, despite how big the yacht is – it’s still a yacht, which means cubby holes that load from a hatch in the counter – which means brine spilled across counter and leaked into the cubby hole – which means I had to unload everything from that (large) cubby hole, clean everything, clean the cubby, and then put it all back. Ok, so maybe brining a brisket underway isn’t one of my better ideas but I have my rye starter going and am feeding it everyday and soon, very soon, I’ll be making the best Reuben sandwiches south of the equator!

We still have crew from the boat yard aboard and the yacht ‘technically’ isn’t “ours” for a few more days. So, our captain is working with the captain from the builder who is handling the boat until it’s handed over. But the day the yard people leave is just around the corner and then we will really celebrate! And only then will I finally, truly feel that we are actually on our way.

Three cheers, please! We’re out of the yard! Hooray!!!

I’ve been waiting for this day for 453 days… It almost seems a little anticlimactic. . Oh well, I’ve got mouths to feed – back to work…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A hard days night...

There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting and enslaving than the life at sea.
~Joseph Conrad


My alarm clock squeals, 4:45am arrives much too quickly at the beginning of my third, 15-hour day – especially with engine room alarms and water-maker alarms going off half of the night due to the testing going on for the sea trials. My head feels heavy, like I’ve hardly slept. I resist the urge to hit the doze button again… and again...and again… Besides the fact that I have to get up to make breakfast for the small army we have aboard – I don’t want to wake my bunkmate who was up late last night on anchor watch and is now snoring away on the upper bunk, blissfully unaware of the struggle going on in the bunk below. The guests and extra crew are on for 5 days, which although is a little tiring, is nothing compared to the several week and month long trips that I know are ahead of me. The 10th day is about when exhaustion really starts to creep in and the back begins to ache – from then on after, it’s an intravenous caffeine supply by way of the espresso machine feed line – directly into a main artery.

We’ll be pulling up the anchor at 6am, departing Friday Harbor and heading for Stewart Island. Mr. and Mrs. X, Mr. Precious and Scotty are all aboard for the sea trials, plus 10 crew and five people from the boat yard – 19 people in total, and it’s my duty to keep them all fed.

The sun hasn’t even begun to crack the sky yet. The galley is clean, peaceful and quiet except for the slow, undulating whir of the juicer motor and the tap of a knife against a cutting board as the morning stewardess is already up squeezing oranges for juice and brewing coffee. The boson comes in from the outside, his breath trailing behind him from the cold, he’s been up since 3am on anchor watch and is getting ready to go back to bed. One by one, the engineers and electricians from the boat yard come in to fill their coffee cups and warm up. I pull out the ingredients to make a batch of pecan-date bread and just as dawn begins to break we lift anchor and set off for a different cruising ground. The symphony begins…

The last time I saw Mrs. X, she sent me on a mission – to eat corned beef hash at The Georgian in the Fairmont Hotel, and replicate it. So, a few weeks ago the captain, purser and I went for brunch. The corned beef hash was delish - better than the service, that’s for sure - but on the first bite, I knew that just a pinch of fresh herbs would make all the difference and it’d be a breeze to improve upon. As I made my way through the grocery store last week with 3 heaping grocery carts full of food, and too short on time to actually prepare some things in advance, I spotted uncooked corned beef and opted on giving that a try rather than corning it myself – but Mrs. X has now asked me to perfect the Reuben sandwich, on homemade rye bread (using the sourdough starter I made at her house last summer) – so corning my own beef for that goes without saying... Anyhow, after two days simmering on the stove in a bath of beer, chicken stock, black peppercorns, coriander, mustard seed and bay leaves - the succulent, tender meat shreds easily with a fork and is full of flavor. I dice some Walla Walla sweet onions and Yukon gold potatoes and sauté them in my new favorite pan, an18-quart brazier, which provides ample surface space to sauté in large batches without overcrowding the pan – perfect for preparing large quantities without screwing up the browning with an overcrowded, small pan. Reminds me of my restaurant days. I add the corned beef, fresh thyme and parsley, season with salt and several cranks of the pepper mill. Nothing fancy, but like a slice of Defaro's pizza in Queens, some things are best left unadulterated.

Poaching eggs for everyone is a breeze too with the Miele steam oven and some cheap egg poaching pans that I picked up at the local restaurant supplier. The pans poach 8 eggs at a time and were fitted into a half hotel pan, with a lid and meant for the oven. But I just replaced the hotel pan with a perforated pan and they fit perfectly in the steamer. I have 16 perfectly poached eggs in about 8 minutes.

By 7am, the peninsula in the galley is spread with date-pecan bread, fresh melon and berries, corned beef hash and poached eggs, fresh coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. The. X’s, guests and crew all seem pleased with the corned beef hash - but I hardly have time to sit for a proper breakfast as I’ve got to get the galley cleaned up and begin prepping for lunch while we’re underway.

The guests are on for another two days as we make our way through the San Juan Islands. But once again, there are delays and itinerary changes and soon it will be back to the shipyard, much to the chagrin of the owners - but much to the relief of the chief stewardess and myself as there is still a ton of work to do to get the boat setup and properly provisioned for our real departure…

I swear to God, someday we’ll get out of here. Someday…

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Equilibrium

Equilibrium has been restored to the crew as we finally settle into our living quarters aboard the yacht. I don’t think I can imagine anything worse than taking 9 people that aren’t too fond of land, desk jobs and offices and stick them on land and give them lots of paper work for 6-months…

It’s funny how easy everyone is falling into their jobs aboard – even the captain seems happy to help with something like a wash-down of the boat- because at least it’s easy and predictable – unlike all the paperwork that’s required that will finally allow us to get on our way. Even I’ve had to suffer through writing some procedures documents (which is what the Chefs Prayer evolved out of) - but far less than the chief stewardess, engineer, captain, mate and purser. The stress level has dropped considerably over the past week and a somewhat “normal” (there’s nothing normal about the yachting world) pace has returned to our workday. I’m finding my groove easily in the new galley and though I have far too many small appliances and utensils stuffed in my utensil drawers – I’ve found a place for everything and getting around the galley seems fluid, effortless and smooth.

The trips-en-mass to the grocery have begun as I provision the boat with all the essentials to last us at least through the first few months, and so I won’t have to go grocery shopping every single day – as I did in the crew house… I’m probably hovering somewhere in the realm of 100 grocery bags in just a few days - and that’s just on basic supplies, and meat and fish to get us through the next couple of weeks of sea trials where we’ll have double the crew aboard for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My day starts around 7am with a cup of tea and breakfast in our cramped, little crew mess where 9 of us gather around a tiny table and elbow each other around for room. The crew are very particular about their breakfast – because it’s the only meal of the day they have control over *cue evil laugh here* and with the British contingent aboard, this means Wheatabix, Marmite for toast and steady supply of PG Tips. For the Aussies, there's lots of fresh fruit and Vegemite (which I prefer) and for the Swede, it's cucumbers and ham on slices of dense rye bread and yogurt with fresh berries. The snack/breakfast cupboard is stuffed full of snacks and cereal and can hardly be opened without an avalanche of boxes and bags careening out and the storage below the settee is stuffed to the hilt with backup supplies of snacks. Snacks are an extremely important part of the day and a good boost for crew moral. Whether it’s Tam Tams for the Aussies, “chockies” (chocolates - dark chocolate for everyone except the Brits, they prefer milk chocolate), dried fruits and nuts, tea, cappuccino’s – whatever keeps the crew going – without proper snackage, there could be a mutiny – and soon, when I get more settled and provisioned, I’ll be making some homemade snacks for the crew as well… Up until recently, my mornings have been spent unloading boxes from the warehouse and stowing cooking equipment. Now, it’s preparing crates of backup food supplies to go into the bilge, refitting shelves in the pantry and finishing paperwork and then sometime around 10:30am I begin making crew lunch – this could be anything from frittata’s and salad to putting out the fixings for panini’s – the crew LOVE the panini maker and are as excited as children on Christmas Day when I lay out a spread of charcuterie, cheese, condiments and bread and let them make their own lunch. But this too goes along with this theory I’ve developed about them having control over their own food… I mean, if I lay something out and they can make their own food, they suddenly get very particular and picky about what they eat, but if I’m making it for them – they’ll eat whatever I serve. Personally, I know that I could never work another position on a yacht because it would torture me to eat someone else's cooking for every meal… but I digress… Anyway… The person in charge of watch keeping that day is usually the one who sets the table for the meals and helps clean up afterward. Lunch goes out around 11:30 and after that I’m usually out the door making my runs to Trader Joe’s, Costco, Metropolitan and Safeway - filling cart after cart with groceries to stock the boat. Then, it’s back to the boat to find homes for hundreds of pounds of dry goods, cans, jars and bottles and bags and around 4:00pm it’s time to begin dinner – roast chicken, veggies and potatoes or a one-pot wonder like curry or chili… My friend, Gregory, a staunch environmentalist who tries in earnest to live the life of a locavore, eating locally and sustainable – and who, bless his heart, has never put me on a guilt trip for working on a fuel sucking mega yacht or for wearing leather boots - recently put me in touch with John Foss, a fisherman coming back from Alaska from whom I was able to purchase 15 lbs. of beautiful, wild Sockeye salmon from Naknek Family Fisheries - a group of fisher WOMEN from Bristol Bay. It’s now filling my deep freeze awaiting the sea trials and I think the boat builders and the crew will be quite pleased… When time permits, I try to hit the farmers market in West Seattle or Ballard, but sometimes necessity dictates and it’s not always easy to go local. Like Kermit the Frog would say, “it’s not easy being green”…

Dinner is served around 5:30pm and I make a concerted effort to be putting away my last pot and wiping down my stove just as I’m about to serve crew dinner, so that way, I can sit with them and eat. It’s a quick inhale of food and then back upstairs to finish wiping down the galley – wiping over the glass, chrome, stainless steel and laquored wood. I finish my day around 6:30 or 7pm. But when there are guests aboard, it will take me an hour AFTER the pots and pans are done to wipe everything down, dry up every drop of water, polish all the glass on the oven doors and stovetop, the steel and wood and clean the floor before I can shut the galley down for the night – probably closer to 10pm (with guests aboard, my days will starting around 5am)… But I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks – for all my pain and suffering… ;o)

Wait, what was that about ‘equilibrium’?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happiness is...

Sauteed Halibut Cheeks with Brown Butter, Thyme and Lemon
Roasted Carrots and Fennel with Anise Seed
Broccoli Rabe

I remember when I first began working on yachts. I was on a really poorly run 120-foot sailing yacht anchored out in St. Barth. The crew were rarely aloud to go to shore and we worked for months on end without a day off. I was fresh and didn’t know how the industry worked. I thought it was enough just to be in the Caribbean. But at night, sitting out on the swim platform alone, chain smoking cigarettes and drowning my woes in the bottom of a bottle of 151 proof rum, I looked longingly at the big, shiny, fancy motor yachts in the marina at the Port of Gustavia, trying to spy the chefs through the windows and I thought to myself, “I need to be on one of those, damn it. And I want to go around the world…”.

Some wizened, sage soul one said, “happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”, and I would agree. Even in that miserable situation on the first boat, I was happy – oh, but maybe that was the rum… Ok, well, never mind. Although I agree that happiness comes from the inside – I do have to contend that sometimes getting what you want isn’t such a bad thing and I am very, very, very happy in my new galley…

Bit by bit, box by box, everything has been loaded aboard. I’ve, amazingly found places for every toy and utensil. However, if someone were to give me a box of toothpicks, I really would have no place to store it. I think I’m personally responsible for increasing the ballast on the boat and ever since we loaded on the meat-slicer, I’ve detected a slight lean towards starboard.

1. A few people, whom I wont name, but job titles rhyme with ‘mapton’ and ‘renginsmeer’, have given me a lot of grief about the number of appliances I have aboard. But I took this job because I knew I’d be able to pimp out the galley – and so pimp I did. Here’s the short list of the few little appliances I have aboard:

1. Industrial meat slicer
2. Paco Jet
3. Industrial grade vacuum sealer
4. Kitchen Aid mixer
5. food grinding attachment
6. pasta making attachment
7. 20 cup food processor
8. Vita Mix blender
9. Panini Press
10. Belgian Waffle Maker
11. Vegetable Juicer
12. Citrus Juicer
13. Hand Mixer
14. Hand Blender
15. 2 Baking Stones
16. Full Set of Stainless Steel Cookware
17. Full Set of Cast Iron Cookware

And every manner, shape and size tart pan, pie pan, loaf pan, muffin pan, cake pan, pastry gadget, etc. that one can imagine

I’ve got what I want and want what I’ve got and I’m very, very happy. And, apart from, perhaps a few more feet of storage space, I’ve also got my dream job… So, what's all this nonsense about happiness not being about getting what you want and wanting what you've got?

So, I’ve been eyeing halibut cheeks in the marketplace for a while now and I’ve never cooked them before and have only eaten them once. I picked some up and cooked them for the non-meat-eating crew; sautéed them in clarified butter and oil and finished them by adding some butter to the pan and letting it sizzle away until it was a nutty brown, adding some lemon zest, lemon juice and thyme at the very end. The halibut cheeks have an amazing texture – they don’t seem to dry out the way a halibut filet would. They are also slightly sweet and the flavor and texture almost remind me of crab. They were a hit with the crew and I would definitely do them again. I cooked them on my new induction cooktop. It takes a little getting used to – the pans heat up really quickly and get piping hot, but I love it! The handles stay cool and I’m not sweating my butt off while I cook. I’ve also been using the steam oven which is turning out to be a dream! No more boiling giant pots of water to blanch veggies – just chuck them in the steam oven and have an ice-bath ready…

I’m happy. Very, very happy… Now, if we could just get the hell out of here and go somewhere warm and sunny…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Daily Word

Chefs Prayer

Our Chef, which art in Galley
Hollowed be her Name
Thy meals come
Thy food be done, on stove as it is in oven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses into the walk-in, as we forgive them who trespass against us
And lead us not into obesity
But deliver us from gluttony
For thine is the fork, and the knife, and the spoon, for ever and ever. Amen.

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF THE GALLEY

1. Thou shall not make wrongful use of the name Galley by referring to it as ‘kitchen’.

2. Thou shalt not covet thy guest ingredients. During charter, thou shalt not enter the walk-in, less thy title be ‘chef’, ‘crew cook’ or ‘chief stew’. Off charter, thou shalt not take anything from any area in walk-in not labeled in blue tape for use by crew, nothing else shall be touched.

3. Thou shalt clean up after thyself forthrightly and leave thy Galley as ye have found it and not wait a fortnight to do thyn dishes.

4. Thou shalt Honor thy appliances by keeping them clean and handling them gently, as the Chef commandeth ye, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the Galley that your Chef is giving you.

5. Remember the non-stick pan and keep it holy - by raising not the temperature too high or for too long, or by burning food. Ye shall use non-stick pans labeled for “CREW-USE ONLY” for I, the Chef, am a jealous Chef punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who ruin my non-stick pans.

6. If ye burn stainless steel pans, ye shall clean them using all manner of scouring powder and scrubbers and scrubbing until all the spots are gone. Better yet, use the cast iron.

7. Thou shalt not use detergent when cleaning cast-iron. A gentle scrub with a plastic scrubber and dried upon the stovetop is sufficient.

8. Thou shalt wipe bottles clean and not put jars, bottles or food containers away sticky or with drips. Thou shalt put leftovers away in the smallest possible container.

9. Thy counter tops, cook top and backsplash shall be wipethed clean and be free of streaks, particles and spots hastily, after each use and not wait until nightfall. Thou would be wise to adopt the motto “clean as you go”.

10. Thou shalt clean and wipe out the sink after dinner and not leave bits of food in the drain; thou shalt leave the faucets clean, shiny and dry; and thou shalt empty the rubbish bin.

The path of the righteous crew-member is beset on all sides by the iniquities of those who do not put things away in the proper place. Blessed is she, who in the name of organization, sanity and good will, learns her way around the galley and puts things away where she found them and shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for she is truly her fellow crew members keeper and the finder of lost utensils. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would not attempt to put away things, in the right place, from which they have been taken. And you will know my name is the Chef when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

And please, shut the lights on the way out. Amen.

I'm going straight to Hell, aren't I? Well, I always did prefer a warm climate...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A walk on the beach...

I’m sure I could be a case study for people drawn to professions with a high burn-out factor. I mean, the trading floors of Wall Street - to this? What was I thinking? I went to school to think rationally, spent years writing programs that turned quantitative data into trading strategies, up at all hours of the night tinkering with communication protocols, writing code, gathering data, splicing and dicing it and sending it off to the four corners of the universe. Up at the crack of dawn to be on the floor when the market opened, to fix things in case my programs failed. Now, my life is ruled by different markets - farmers markets and grocery stores. But sometimes, the exhaustion is the same…

I used to think that the quantitative analysts that I worked for had an obsessive-compulsive disorder – but they’ve got nothing on a stewardess armed with a box of toothpicks, Q-tips and an arsenal of cleaning products to tackle any matter of filth, dirt, stain or mess. The Super Yacht Stewardess has put the meaning into OCD – fervently attacking toothpaste caps with toothpicks to pick out every particle of gunk from between its grooves. Every crease and corner of every cupboard, drawer and counter swiped with q-tips to get out any and every molecule of dust. Polishing and shining and not leaving a speck of lint nor fingerprint behind.

It’s been 10+ hour days, 6+ days a week as we get ready to be released from this hell we call the Ship Yard. And, it's been a dance on the boat between the crew and the yard workers as we try to clean and setup while they are still drilling holes and pulling down ceiling panels. And cleaning on a super-yacht, especially one that is just coming out of the shipyard, takes on its own special meaning – as every surface on the interior of the yacht is coated in a thin layer of fine, pink dust. Doors are taken off hinges, drawers removed so that every crack and groove can be wiped. Every surface touched, every room meticulously cleaned before even a sheet touches a bed. A process that would usually take about a month, but with all the delays we’ve encountered, we'll have to complete in about a week.

I’ve been fortunate that my galley is one of the first rooms (99%) finished, but as I clean every groove and surface (yes, with q-tips and toothpicks) and line my shelves and drawers with non-slip and begin loading in my pots and pans, I know that I’ll have to go through everything once again to re-clean. As, right now, I wipe my cooktop and within hours I can write my name in dust on its glassy surface. Except for a meal here and there, I haven’t cooked for the crew in weeks (and my stomach is suffering!), there is just too much other work to be done. I haven't cooked anything in the new galley yet and we don’t actually move aboard for another week.

So, it’s 7 days a week from here on out and the working hours are on the increase. I have a 2-week yoga retreat scheduled for 10 days beginning the 2nd of October, but most likely, not a day off until then. And if I have to swim to shore to make that retreat - any sharks had better get the hell out of my way...

Wait, so why was it that I left Wall Street again? Because I was burnt-out? Well, the yachting industry isn’t exactly a walk on the beach - at least not today...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pictures!

Due to my freshly signed confidentiality agreement, I can't post photos of the outside of the yacht, nor can I post photos of the launch which is a bit of a bummer - but, since many companies have a "no-blogging" policy and the yacht owners have kindly allowed my to continue blogging, and actually enjoy reading about my silly antics and escapades, and my blogging hasn't gotten me in too much hot water (yet) then I'll gladly comply. However, I can post as many photos of my galley as I want...

So, without further ado - behold my galley, in all it's highly-polished-stainless-steel-and-laquered-wood
which-I'll-be-polishing-until-midnight-every-night glory!

There corner from which I'm taking the photo is a long counter and cupboards which will be setup as a baking area. There's also a double sink and 2 dishwashers in that corner...


And this is the piece d'resistance - the shelving system in my walk-in! Am I looking forward to filing that baby up!


Tomorrow is a big day. I've just been informed that I can get into my galley to do a thorough cleaning and then begin moving my everything aboard! There is a God!

Monday, August 04, 2008

It floats, yeah!

The feel of teak underneath my bare feat – mmm, I’ve longed for this… I look out over the portside well-deck… water… finally…

Ok, granted, it’s brackish and there’s a rainbow of oily scum floating on top and I wouldn’t stick my toe in it if you paid me… but it’s water… and the yacht is in it… floating! Hooray!

I open the side door. Silence. Everything sparkles. I stop and take it all in before stepping through. Smooth, cool tile underneath my feet… The carpenters and installers that have been working in my galley, the ones I’ve been sneaking special batches of cookies to and flirting with for the past 4 months, have done me good. The galley is impeccable and I think that it has been left the cleanest of any of the rooms on the yacht – yes, flirting and chocolate chip cookies go a long way.

There’s something about walking into a silent kitchen. Alone. Before the day has started, before the hustle and bustle. Before the rush begins. It’s a deep resounding silence, almost sacred... I imagine my new galley in the morning - a cool glow filtering through the massive windows, some faraway ocean sparkling outside in a pale-golden light. I setup my prep area – cutting board, hotel pans, prep bowls, sharp knife, clean towels… Crisp chefs jacket, clean apron. This is my lab where I can be a scientist, my studio where I can be an artist. I’m a kid and this is my playground…

The launch went off without a hitch, champagne bottle across the bow. The yacht was eased into the water on a giant lift, and most importantly, it didn’t sink. We’re only a few hundred yards from where we were in the hangar, but it feels completely different to finally be in the water. It all feels a little more real.

So, I should be able to really put my galley together over the course of the next few weeks. I’ve already mapped out where (almost) everything is going to go. I’ve been thinking about what the first smells to come out of my galley will be – but with the schedule that we have been on lately, it will probably be take-out! But I can’t wait to try out the induction stove and see how it works. I can’t wait to fill my walk-in with food. I can’t wait to organize my cupboards.

I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait!

Galley pics coming soon – I swear!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The count down!

Ok, so, somewhere between the warehouse and the crew house - I've misplaced my camera. But sooner or later it'll turn up and I'll get some pics posted.

I've spent the past 3-weeks coordinating with the caterer for the launch party at the yard, the after-launch party aboard the yacht and the following evening launch party for VIP guests and crew and tonight we'll be working until well past midnight getting the boat cleaned and decorated for the launch tomorrow!

Mrs. & Mr. X have arrived - and the excitement is mounting. The yard will begin moving the yacht out of the warehouse sometime this afternoon - I'll definitely get pics up of that (even if they're only cell phone pics!)...

We'll be at the yard for another 6-weeks after the launch and although there is still a lot of work to do aboard the yacht at the yard - the crew begin watchkeeping this weekend and my turn is Sunday night. It's then that I'll be spending my first night on-board. Just little ol' me, plus our bosun and 40+ engineers, carpenters and builders. They'll be testing alarms all night - so I should get a real, sound sleep! ;o)

I'm so excited, I can't contain myself! The galley is looking incredible! But I'm really going to have to talk to the A.V. guy - I made him batches and batches of cookies in exchange for an iPod docking station. But is the docking station there? No, a CD player! I didn't even know people still listened to CD's, might as well put an 8-track in!

Well, anyway, I can't believe it's been more than a year since I saw the yacht for the first time - when she was just a shell... and now, we're going in the water! I'm thrilled, and now I just can't wait to move aboard and actually be cooking in the galley - but that won't happen for a few more weeks...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Castles in the sand...

Jimi’s guitar strums in the background, “hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?’… I inspect the bottles on the bar: tall, square, short, round, blue, red, green. I should’ve ordered the old fashioned, they make an excellent Makers Mark old fashioned at Black Bird Bistro in West Seattle (walking distance to the crew house); bitters, Makers Mark, muddled orange, cherry and a splash of soda. But instead, I sink into a second (very enjoyable) glass of Hogue Genesis Syrah just as a steaming plate of mac-n-cheese appears in front of me: little shells of egg noodles spooning a simple and light, nutmeg infused, mornaise sauce with cheddar, parmesan, blue cheese and topped with herbed bread crumbs – sublime.

I’ve been baking cookies for the boat yard all day – 11am to 7pm, 643 cookies to be exact. I have a headache the size of Mt. Renier, and as I work my way towards a 3rd glass of wine, I realize how much I miss just standing at the stove. Right now, I feel as though my day is parsed up, like lines of code in a debugger; grocery store, crew house kitchen, if-then-boat yard, yes-no-office, else-storage locker then yacht. I crave the day that all I have to think about is what to cook!

'Castles in the sand' belts over the airwaves… I love Jimi… I dream of sand… I rarely get stressed over food – because… well… it’s food. But today, I feel an obligation to be stressed – stress is the cheese to the crews mornaise…

I take another bite of this decadent mac’n’cheese. In a few months, god willing, I’ll be sipping an ice-cold beer on the beach in Playa Del Ray, or somewhere equally as marvelous. That is what I work for.

Mrs. & Mr. X arrive Wednesday night. I can’t wait to see them, their enthusiasm is my inspiration!

I crave to be in my galley – just a few short weeks away…

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Ketchup...

I know, I know, I've been remiss in blogging - but I'm still here! Blogging seems a luxury with everything going on right now and I have to give the impression that I'm working on something other than blog all day long...

The yard has been full of energy and the yacht is abuzz as we prepare for the big day. I can hardly contain myself! I can't believe we're finally launching! Only 8-months behind... The yacht seems to be morphing daily - tiles and carpet are installed, the shelving in my walk-in has been installed, equipment is being tested, and the big, gaping holes in the ceiling where wires once hung are being closed up.

It'll be about 3-weeks before we move aboard - but hey, at least we'll be in the water! We'll have sea trials throughout the next month; taking the yacht out and testing stabilizers, the engines, equipment, etc. and we'll do a short 4-day weekend with the bosses at the beginning of September, another longer trip mid-September, then another "brief" yard period and then sometime in mid(late)-October we'll finally head somewhere with sand and palm trees.

Going through a boat build is certainly an exercise in patience. 7 days until the launch - I'll be posting more pics between now and then and of course, pics of the launch!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

S.O.S.

The ships whistle sounded - one long, continuous blast and then the general alarm. Never a good way to start off the day...

I rushed to the aft deck and could see thick gray smoke billowing down the hallway and pouring out the windows. “Cookie here!”, I yelled to our chief stew and immediately began helping the bosun and engineer into their protective gear; buckling, snapping, tightening straps... My fingers were nimble and quick. I heard someone yell something about an engine room fire, but I had no idea what was going on and I was too focused on what I was doing to ask... Zippers, face mask, gloves, helmet... Did you know that a fire doubles in size and intensity every three minutes? Imagine, on a fiberglass yacht – we’ll just melt! I knew there was no time to waste. The guys raced down the hallway laden with gear.

“Cookie, grab the hose on deck and cool the perimeters!”, the stew hollered. I raced upstairs and grabbed the hose. Then the call came over the VHF, “two fire fighters going in, full tanks”. I hosed the deck but could feel the heat rising from inside. Smoke and steam rose up around me. Heat vapors rippled the air. I could here yelling inside, but I couldn’t make out what was being said. It seemed like an eternity. Then the VHF rang out again, “Fire out, flash watch set, area cooled, two firefighters retreating”, “class B engine room fire, electricity down, all crew accounted for”.

“Good drill, guys. You’ve got to remember to keep chatter to a minimum over the radio’s, stay down low when you go in, communicate”, the two REAL firefighters said. “Now let’s pick two more people, gear them up and do it again”.

Today was firefighting training. All the crew has been through some basic firefighting before this when we each took our STCW course, but the STCW training was basically putting out a barbeque fire with different fire extinguishers – at least that’s how my STCW course in St. Martin went. But today, on a mock-up vessel, we actually battled major fires and learned how to handle ourselves in an emergency situation. It was a little spooky at first, to imagine scenarios like the ones that we were practicing. The captain said that fiberglass boats such as ours, any large-scale fire would most likely end in an “Abandon Ship Scenario” because the fiberglass hull would catch fire easily and melt. Not a situation I like to imagine at 8am, while I’m trying to enjoy my morning tea. The firefighters also said that if or when we call for help, we have to consider what kind of help we were going to receive in the types of places we’ll be. I could only imagine having a fire situation on some of the Caribbean Islands I’ve been on – you’d call for help and about 20 minutes later (island time, mon) some rasta would show up with a joint in his mouth and a bucket over one shoulder! In the South Pacific, our mayday calls might just be the dinner bell to a group of hungry cannibals! We’d be greeted by a tribe of savages carrying clubs and stock pots – and those stock pots won’t be for bailing water!

Would you actually trust this girl in an emergency?


It’s full steam ahead here at the yard. I absolutely can’t believe it. I feel like it has been forever; waiting, working, waiting, working… and I have so much to do now that we’re so close! I’ve been meeting with caterers and event planners for the big launch and mapping out where everything is going to go in the galley once we’re finally in the water. It is a tad overwhelming, but it feels great to actually be in the homestretch. The launch date is a mere THREE WEEKS away! We’ll be moving aboard sometime in mid-August and that date can't come soon enough. It will be such a relief to have adequate refrigerator space, then I won’t have to go grocery shopping every, single day! After that, it’s sea trials and then we’re outta here! And thank God. Seattle is nice, but I miss the sun!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yacht 2.0

Amuse-bouche:
Sesame Parmesan Tuille with Dungeness Crab Salad and Gazpacho Sorbet

Dinner:
Slow Roasted King Salmon with Charmoula Spices and Avocado Hummus

Pork Tenderloin Crusted in Fennel Pollen and Toasted Orange Peel with a Grilled Peach and Red Pepper Salad

Basil, Tomato & Walnut Tabouleh

Raw Artichoke Salad with Arugula, Feta and Sumac-Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Baby Roasted Potatoes with Smoked Tomato Romesco

Dessert:
Cheesecake with Chocolate Crumb Crust and Cherry-Rhubarb Compote



Dinner at the crew house awaited the X’s and guests after a day spent at the boat yard. Feeling obligated to showcase my favorite new toy and let the X’s know how much I appreciate and will use my PacoJet, I started things off with a little amuse-bouche; a “Pacotized” Gazpacho Sorbet in a sesame parmesan tuille with Dungeness crab salad. It proved to be a hit and I’m now reviewing my list of restaurant grade kitchen appliances to see if there might be anything else I’ve forgotten – an airbrush for cake decorating or perhaps a commercial chocolate tempering machine? Strike while the iron is hot, I always say! (Perhaps when we upgrade to Yacht 2.0, with a galley twice the size… )

The main dishes of my menu were inspired by “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Ana Sortun, the cookbook given to me recently by a few fellow bloggers. This book instantly intrigued me because so many of the recipes reminded me of the flavors and dishes that I grew up with. Although, I was a bit skeptical of the recipe for a Basil, Tomato and Walnut Tabouleh as my family is Lebanese and tabouleh is one of those sacrosanct dishes of which the recipe is unvarying and absolute and to which my mother, grandmother and I could quite possibly be considered the Holy Trinity and protectors of our families recipe… But, I decided to yield to my cultural rigidity and give something new a try – even though I knew I could be damned to hell for such an infraction.

The recipe begins by making a pesto, of basil, parsley and walnuts and combining that with bulgur that has been softened with lemon juice. I found the texture of the tabouleh to be a bit mushy and my gastronomic altimeter went a little screwy trying to relate this to anything close to the tabouleh that I grew up on. The recipe calls for topping the tabouleh with sliced tomatoes, garnished with walnuts and basil. But instead, I made a salad of halved cherry tomatoes, walnuts and torn basil leaves dressed with Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Spanish Olive Oil and poured that over the top and this dish turned out to be the surprise of the night. The fresh tomatoes, torn basil and walnuts along with the tabouleh really made this dish come alive. My initial skepticism was diminished after the dish was garnished. The guests raved about it, and Mr. Precious said he could bathe in it. And although that’s the not the image I want burned into my mind, I was quite relieved that it came out well and even I enjoyed it.

But what I really could've bathed in was the avocado hummus! The recipe is a basic hummus recipe that substitutes avocados for chickpeas. This recipe charmed me when I first read it but after making the tabouleh and feeling a bit gun-shy (no one had eaten the tabouleh and raved about it – yet), I wasn't sure how the hummus would turn out, so I made just one batch. Pleased with the results, I immediately made another batch so there would be enough for the guests after I consumed my fare share. The hummus had this amazing nutty, richness to it, and a creamy, smooth texture. Midway through my second batch (making it, not eating it!) I had to call my Lebanese grandmother and my mother and give both of them the recipe. The hummus went beautifully with the slow-roasted salmon, garnished with pepitas and lemon.

In “Spice” Ana Sortun combines toasted orange zest with sumac and fennel seed for fish and chicken, but I decided to combine the zest instead with fennel pollen, fennel seed and coriander for a dry rub on pork tenderloins. I peeled 4 oranges, cut out the zith and let the peel dry out on a sheet pan for a few days before toasting it on a low oven until it was slightly golden brown and then grinding it to a fine powder. The aroma was sweet, floral and toasty and the flavor was pungent and warm. I rubbed it on the pork loin a day ahead, and then grilled it and served it with a grilled peach and red pepper salad with fresh mint, parsley, Aleppo and lemon vinaigrette to make a lush, bright and beautiful combination.

The roasted baby potatoes with smoked tomato romesco was just an idea that I’d had rolling around in my head for a week or so and I decided to give it a go. I smoked a few tomatoes on my stove-top smoker with alder and cherry wood and then added them to all the traditional romesco ingredients; almonds, bread crumbs, sherry vinegar, ancho chili. It came out great and I highly recommend giving the smoker a try with tomatoes or other fresh veggies. Hmmm, maybe a smoked tomato sorbet is in order?

Well, I didn’t kill anyone with my cooking and apparently the bosses were quite pleased with the progress of the yacht and the efforts the crew made to make the final visit before the launch enjoyable as we’ve just been informed the bosses are flying all of us to Las Vegas for three days and putting us up at the Belaggio!

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? HA! Not when you have a blog!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Uncovered!

No aroma of apoxy. No little clouds of fiberglass and paint dust fluffing up beneath our feat. No buzz of band saws, no whirring of power tools, no shimmying of sand paper. No forklifts. No painters in paper suits and respirators, no carpenters, no electricians.


Just silence. Pure and unadulterated silence.


Although we spend 5 days a week at the shipyard, we never actually see the yacht outside of its prophylactic shroud of drop cloths and particle board, without a few hundred workers buzzing about. But now, every speck of dust has been sweapt up. Every drop cloth and board hidden away. Every bit of blue painters tape removed, every finger print wiped. The hanger is still and peaceful, it reminds me of New York City after a blizzard. But the air crackles with excitement...

The owners get a taste of what they are in for
with cocktails and some tropical flora and fauna on the fly deck.




This is the first time Mrs. & Mr. X see the yacht with floors and ceilings, decks and cabinetry and counter tops in place. And, it will be the last time that any of us will see the yacht uncovered like this until the day of the launch, a mere FIVE WEEKS AWAY!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Homework

It’s almost 11pm and I’ve been sitting up in bed in my pj’s for the past 3-hours reading cookbooks. Mrs. and Mr. X are coming to town this weekend with friends to see the progress on the yacht and I’ll be cooking for them on Monday at the crew house.

My friends over at oneasskitchen and rovinggasronome, knowing my love of all things Middle-Eastern, sent me the cookbook “SPICE: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Ana Sortun of the restaurant Oleana in Massachusetts. After nearly 3 hours, I’m not even half way through the book because I just have to savor every page and every recipe. The book is ingeniously organized by herb and spice combinations – “Cumin, Coriander, Cardamom”, “Saffron, Ginger, Vanilla”, “Mint, Oregano, Za’atar”, etc. and I just love it. I’m so inspired and I’ll definitely be trying out some recipes for the party on Monday. A recipe for grape-leaf wrapped swordfish already inspires me and am thinking maybe grape-leaf wrapped salmon instead, with an Egyptian coriander and garlic sauce or avocado hummus? There is also a recipe for seared scallops with orange saffron butter, but I’ve been seeing halibut cheeks everywhere at the market here and I’m thinking those might be really good with the orange saffron sauce instead. Halibut cheeks have a sweeter, more moist and buttery texture than halibut – they almost remind me of crab. But I haven’t had them in a while so maybe I’ll test some out on the crew for dinner tomorrow night…

Apparently word got around that I made chocolate chip cookies to bribe the audio-visual guy for an iPod docking station in the galley, and a few more batches for the carpenters to change some of the shelving in my galley, as a request was made that the rest of the workers would really like it if I would make them some cookies too. So, yesterday I made 400 chocolate chip, chocolate-coconut chip and butterscotch chocolate chip cookies for all the guys at the boat yard. The cookies didn’t last 5 minutes, so I think they were appreciated and the captain said that people were stopping in the office to say thank you as they left the yard this afternoon. And, of course, cookies get me everywhere – so someone from the yard brought us 3 fresh Dungeness crabs from a local fishing boat today. They were the best crabs I’ve had all season and the crew had a good time gathered around the table with nutcrackers, seafood picks and bowls of melted garlic butter…

The bosses want to have lunch on the water on Sunday, before heading to the boat yard. So, I’ve spent the past week trekking across Seattle trying to find a restaurant with a decent view and good food. Unfortunately, this is an inverse relationship, which I suspected, but confirmed the hard way starting with Chandler Crab House where the captain, engineer and I sniffed our way through 4 Dungeness crabs that all had a severe case of tank-rot. Empty bellies and severely disappointed – we went home and warmed up some left over lentil soup from lunch. Then there were some flaccid, milky looking oysters and pasty chowder my friend Melissa and I had at Salty’s in Alki Beach, overcooked crabs (but great oysters) at Elliot’s Oyster House and an offensive smelling waiter at BluWater Bistro. I drove out to Anthony’s in Ballard, but I confess to being instantly turned off by any restaurant that uses the word “Banquet” on it’s sign, not to mention that it had the ambiance of a roller disco, circa 1976 – complete with mirrored walls, Nigel paintings, carpeting splashed with aquamarine and fuchsia geometric shapes and whicker furniture. Is a water view, good food and decent ambiance too much to ask?

I finally decided on Duke’s, on the water, near downtown. This satisfies the requirement of a water view, the people working there seemed friendly, a few of the crew have eaten the food on more than one occasion – and lived to tell about it - and the menu has a nice selection of chowders, crab cakes, seafood and burgers to satisfy the crowd we’ll be with and they make a very respectable bloody-mary. Plus, I thought Mr. Precious would appreciate the picnic tables and blue checked table clothes – heaps better than the Nigel paintings and tacky carpeting of Anthony’s! Besides, if there is any disappointment, it will surely be forgotten when they get to the boat yard and see the new paint job!


The yacht has been wrapped up like a Christmas present since the hull was painted – but it is being unveiled for the owners visit. All of the cabinetry that has been completed will be uncovered for their viewing also – so I thought I would hold off on posting pictures until she’s all unwrapped. After this weekend, I should have some great shots!


Mmmm, back to my menu planning…

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Philistines In The Galley – The PacoJet Chronicles, Part Deux

For all you Philistines out there that don’t yet own a Pacojet, let me tell you – the PacoJet is not merely a prohibitively expensive, jet-powered ice-cream maker, but also a highly-specialized food processing “system” that can make mousses, farces, terrines, soups, sauces, tapenades, concentrates, sorbets, ice-creams, drinks “and more”. It offers a “rewarding experience” and provides a “wholesome, natural” approach to “effortless” cooking, while producing a “superior” product that guarantees to “delight”. And, it allows you “exclusive” membership to an “illustrious circle” of a “over 10,000 Pacojet users”. At least that’s what the man on the users manual tells me.


The PacoJet even has it’s own semantics. To “Pacotize”, is to process something in the Pacojet. Therefore, the person making the product to process is the “Pacotizer”, while being in the act of processing something is “Pacotizing”. If I wake up one day itching to Pacotize something, is that a fetish or an addiction? God, I’m definitely not getting enough sex.

Oh, but I digress.

After freezing my Mochaccino frozen yogurt mixture overnight, I was ready to Pacotize! But the man with the bow tie had lots of “achtungs” and “wichtige empfehlung” in the slew of manuals that accompanied the PacoJet. I read and re-read the instructions and followed the step-by-step process carefully so as not to break anything…



The machine started up with a whirr and I was afraid that the PacoJet might just take off and hover across my kitchen. But it whirred and whirred and whirred – and luckily remained steadfast on the counter… After about 1 minute, all went silent. I pressed the button on the pressure valve, which released a blast of air and signaled that I could now remove my frozen treat.









The PacoJet requires that the base ingredients be frozen to somewhere around –10F, a temperature easily reached in the commercial freezers I’ll have aboard the yacht, but certainly not the case for the old side-by-side here at the crew house. So, the yogurt was a bit soft after the pacotizing – about the consistency of a thick milkshake. Nothing an hour or so in the freezer couldn’t fix – and this gave me a chance to test something else out as well. I had read that making ice-creams and sorbets in the PacoJet required that the bases be “tempered like hell” or they would not hold in the freezer without freezing up solid and thus requiring the product to be re-Pacotized before serving. So, after about and hour in the freezer, I tasted the Mochaccino frozen yogurt and the consistency was like that of the best gelato – dense, rich and creamy. However, my ingenius idea of making Mochaccino frozen yogurt – wasn’t so ingenius after all as the tartness from the yogurt, the richness of the dark chocolate and too much coffee powder made for taste bud overload and after two spoonfuls, I couldn’t eat another bite. But all was not lost. I left the concoction in the freezer for two more days, and it still maintained its perfectly creamy texture without having to re-Pacotize!

A few days later we had some wine service and bartender training for the crew – so I decided to test out a Riesling sorbet (with lemon zest and mint - and black pepper, parmesan biscotti on the side). The sorbet came out light and fluffy, like fresh snow! And the flavors far surpassed my frozen yogurt experiment! Although I would’ve liked to see how the sorbet held up in the freezer – it just didn’t last that long…

Monday, June 02, 2008

Easy updates!

Ok, so, I'm trying to become more technically literate with this whole blog thing - and so now, if anyone is interested, you can subscribe to my blog and receive email updates whenever I post something new! It's as simple as clicking here - then, whenever I write something new, you'll receive the new post right to your inbox!

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Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Paco Jet Chronicles, Installment 1

BEHOLD! The PacoJet has arrived!


I washed all its parts - so it's ready to test out!


Prepping for my first frozen treat!


Mochaccino Frozen Yogurt!

Into the freezer for 24-hours.



For posterity, let it be known that I am not responsible for purchasing that low-fat Ben & Jerry's or the Dryers Ice-Cream.
The Level 1 Vodka though - another story...

 
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