Monday, April 28, 2008

Six Days Under the Mast

Traveling so much over the past few months, I haven’t been in one place long enough to begin any interesting, long term cooking projects. But, anticipating the move to Seattle, my mind has been abuzz with cooking ideas. And so, here I am, finally, in Seattle. My kitchen is slowly being stocked with equipment and ingredients. I’m getting comfortable in my surroundings and finding my groove. I have my sourdough starter from the summertime with me – still bubbly and alive, probably the most well traveled sourdough starter on the planet by now. But, I’ve been really itching to begin something new, to do some pickling, fermenting, canning – projects to fill my larder on the yacht.

Admittedly, I am one of the most impatient cooks on the planet but after making my sourdough starter this summer (and the subsequent loaves since), I’ve found there’s something deeply gratifying when time and patience are a main ingredient in a recipe. On most days, the fruits of my labor are devoured and forgotten within a moment of putting that days achievement on the plate; 3-hours of work, gone in one swallow. Preserving, pickling, fermenting, canning - these are not only ways of savoring an ingredient, but also the reward for the labor involved is stretched out over time and can be savored over days, weeks, months and sometimes years.

It’s been on my mind to make Kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) for about a year now. I love Kimchi; the tongue tingling spice and that nearly addictive acidity makes me crave it fortnightly. I used to buy large jars of Kimchi at the Chinese grocery and just eat it as a snack (it’s meant to be a used as a condiment). But I am a timid cook, I have to start simple when I’m learning something new – and so I’ve had to do lots of reading before taking on this project. And Kimchi is to Korea, what Curry is to India – so there are as many recipes for Kimchi as there are Korean households in the world. Some recipes call for vinegar while others do not, some use salted anchovies or shrimp or Korean fish sauce. Some call for the cabbage to soak in salt-water brine, others say to layer the cabbage with salt for hours at a time. But, after reading through recipe upon recipe, I decided to create a hybrid of several – the final process being fairly straightforward, with a few embellishments – but resulting in something that I can honestly admit, is far superior to anything you’ll find in the store. Perhaps I can’t claim authenticity, as I didn’t pack my Kimchi in a clay pot and bury it in the backyard, but for the most part, I attempted to adhere to the basic principles – salting, chili powder and spices, and fermentation.

I started by brining my cabbage in a mixture of kosher salt and water, for 24 hours. I didn’t have Korean chili powder, but after some research I learned that Korean chili powder is fairly mild so I made a mixture of Mexican chili powder, “regular” chili powder and red chili flakes. After my cabbage was brined and drained, I tossed it with diakon radish, spring onions, fresh ginger and my chili blend. As I began to layer it in a lexan container, I thought that it might be nice to add some thin slices of lemon. I love cured lemons, so if anything, they might be good to cook with after they’ve cured. Slicing the lemons as thin as possible, I layered them between the cabbage, scallions and ginger; poured in some brine to cover, put a lid on the container, wrapped it up in tinfoil and found a cold corner of the basement to let it ferment for a week. After adding the brine to the spice mixture, I thought that it might not be salty enough, or spicy enough, or that it would lack that sour, acidic flavor that I so crave. I was nervous about the fermentation. Would it mold? Or worse, would I kill someone with some food borne illness?

After 6 days of fermentation, I was happily surprised by the result. It was spicy and salty – but not overly, and it had a bit of that nice sour quality as well. I think as it ferments longer, it will and probably can use to become sourer. But it’s quite good. The flavor of the oils from the lemon show through and spike the Kimchi with freshness and the lemons are really good to eat too. I’ll look forward to using the Kimchi with something – although as of yet, I am undecided as to what that something will be. The best way of eating Kimchi I have ever had was on top of raw oysters at Momfuko Noodle Bar in the East Village – and we do get nice oysters up here in Washington…

This week is looking to be pretty hectic. All of the crew has finally arrived to Seattle. Mr. Precious and his assistant will be here for three days as we pour through the final details of the interior of the yacht. All of the china, glassware, uniforms, furniture, etc. will be arriving on Thursday and the stewardesses will have their hands full inventorying, documenting, sorting, organizing and storing everything into the storage lockers to be held until the install in July. All my kitchen equipment has been arriving too - box, after box, after box, after box... Mrs. & Mr. X will be arriving at the end of the week and will be in town for four days. It will be their first time meeting the entire crew! I’ve arranged for a wine & truffle tasting for the bosses and crew here in Seattle one night, a chance for everyone to get to know one another, and then another night I’ll be doing a big dinner for everyone at the crew house. I'm sure I'll be making use of the kimchi then!

Korean Kimchi
(Adapted from the Joy of Pickling)

5 tablespoons kosher salt
8 cups water
I Head napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
1 Lemon, sliced thin
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons mild chili powder
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

Makes about 1 Quart

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Crew Intro.

We headed to the airport to pick up our new engineer. It had been a while since the captain had seen the engineer, so we weren't sure they'd recognize each other.

Fortunately, Chorley was easily spotted in the crowd!

This is Hobbit, our illustrious captain.

And Gigi, our chief stew. I hope she's not a prima-donna!

And, Chicken, our purser. You should see her eggs!

And me, "Cookie". Think that hair is flammable?

The final 3 will be arriving this weekend!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

You know you work on a good boat when…

Rap-rap-rap, there’s a soft knock at my bedroom door and then a voice barely above a whisper sings my name, “Cookie”, rap-rap-rap, “Cookie”. It’s Saturday morning. I’ve had an awful cold all week long. My sinuses are more congested than rush hour traffic on the Hollywood freeway. My eyelids are cemented together by sleep and my throat is dry and irritated from coughing all night. I pull the blankets up over my head and sink deep into an ocean of bed and pillows. All I want is to sleep. “Cookie”, Hobbit peaks his head through the door and sets a cup of hot tea on my bedside table, “you must get up. I’m making crepe!”. Now how can I possibly stay in bed with an offer like that? When the captain is making breakfast for the crew? And brings me a cup of tea? While I’m sick? In bed?!

I stir, sit up, take a sip. Mmmmm. English Breakfast with milk and honey. One of the benefits of working with an international crew is that they know how to make a proper cup of tea. Tea always tastes better when someone makes it for you too. And brings it to you. When you’re sick in bed. The hot tea sooths my throat and even though I’m congested and miserable, I can’t help but smile as I’m reminded yet again that I have the best job on the planet and work with, and for, a truly superb and unique group of people.

A hot shower loosens up the concrete in my eyes and gets me moving. I head downstairs to the kitchen. Hobbit is at the stove swirling crepe batter around a thin, flat pan and with a growing stack of crepes on a plate on the counter next to him. Chicken is chopping a pineapple for fruit salad. Gigi is at the table sorting through pictures of flatware and crockery for the yacht. The table is set with Nutella, fruit spread, sliced banana, butter, grated cheese and Lyle’s Golden Syrup (Hobbit’s favorite). And, of course, a fresh pot of hot tea.

Last weekend, Chicken and I wore silly sunglasses and pimped out the van a bit with some funky beads when we went to the airport to pick up Hobbit after his South Pacific excursion. Hobbit then gave me the task of finding some Christmas lights to hang in the van and a car horn that plays “la coca racha”. Chorley, the engineer (and Gigi’s husband), arrives this afternoon and I had made the suggestion a few days ago that we pick him up incognito – crazy hats and wigs. Gigi has found a costume shop that we’ll be raiding en route to the airport. Over crepes and tea, we all laugh and toss around ideas of practical jokes and pranks to play upon each new crew members arrival, theme party ideas for the yacht, etc. There is a lot of work to be done before the yacht is launched, but at least we can have a good laugh doing it!

Just as we American’s have opinions on which side of the bun the ketchup should go on for a hamburger (everyone knows ketchup goes on the patty, the bun is for the mayonnaise) – so to do the Brits on how to maker a proper cup of tea. So learn and impress your British friends – and sit and enjoy a fine cup of tea…


Tea of your choice
**2 or 3 bags, depending on the size of the teapot or a few spoonfuls of loose tea, as is preferred – but I’m a woman of practicality and appreciate modern conveniences, so tea bags are fine. You’ll need a small strainer if you use loose tea.
Milk, honey or sugar, lemon


1. BOIL the water. This is one most consequential steps in making a proper cup of tea, and the one that is most often done wrong. The water must be boiling. Not simply warmed, and never microwaved, but rather a hard, rolling boil. While the water is coming to the boil, pour warm water into your teapot to warm the pot. Swirl it around and chuck it out.

2. In this order - place your tea into the warmed teapot and pour the boiling water into the pot, never the other way around, as the water must still be boiling when it makes contact with the leaves, for best extraction.

3. The length of time you allow the tea leaves to sit in the water is a matter of personal taste. Too long and the tea can become bitter. Some people say diluting it helps, but once it's gone bitter, I think it's best to make a fresh pot - because even diluted, you can still taste the bitterness. I let my tea steep for1 to 2 minute, although for herbal teas, I let it to steep longer.

4. According to ancient doctrine, and I believe Jesus mentioned it during the Sermon on the Mount, you must never add milk to your tea until the tea has fully steeped and the tea leaves/bag has been removed. So, pour the tea into your cup first and then add your honey, sugar, milk or lemon.

5. Sit comfortably back in your chair. Lift the cup to your nose, smell the aroma of the tea, letting it tickle your senses and warm your hands. Sip.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The play-by-play...

Still wiping sleep from my morning eyes I walk out of my bedroom and can see clearly into the room across the hall. The sheets and duvet on the bed are pulled as tight as a trampoline, the fold down is perfectly straight, the pillows evenly fluffed and pillowcases perfectly smooth, a sign of the exacting standards of a precision stewardess. Oh, she’s good. She’s real good. Nine months at home and I’ve grown lazy with my bed making. I have got to step it up lest I’m labeled the messy one on the boat – and no one wants the chef to be the messy one! Especially ME!

Gigi, our chief stewardess, arrived yesterday from England. Although she’s technically Canadian, she lives across the pond but her dual nationality is reflected in her accent – as she says ‘oot and aboot’ (out and about) and toe-mah-toe (tomato). Gigi is also a massage therapist so I will be doing everything humanly possible to become her best friend! I decided to make sushi for her arrival, which turned out to be a good call, as I learned just before she arrived that she is semi-vegetarian (no meat), as is her husband, our engineer – but he arrives next week.

The crew are trickling in over the course of the next two weeks – which is a huge relief for me as I get back into the swing of actually working again, familiarize myself with the kitchen at the crew house and local grocery stores, etc. I’ve drafted a crew preference sheet in order to find out everyone’s likes and dislikes and I’ll be making a guest preference sheets as well.

I’ve only been in Seattle a few days, but already it seems like a month. I’ve been scouring the web researching induction cookware, searching out custom chef jackets, pouring through catalogs getting my order together for pots and pans. It’s really challenging to put together a list of all the pots, pans, trays, etc. - everything that I could possibly need while we're circling the globe. I’ve never equipped a kitchen from scratch before! But, as luck would have it, Gigi and I got completely and thoroughly lost one day on the way to the boat yard and stumbled across a massive restaurant supplier called Bargreen Ellinson. I took note as we drove by and was able to find them again the next day. The folks there have been tremendously helpful as, over the past three days, I’ve roamed their isles looking at pots and pans, fastidiously taking notes about type and size and make, to research and decide on what I need. The cook top on the yacht is a 5-burner DIVA Induction, so I need induction ready pans – but I also need something that will be good to use on gas, because I’ll be cooking for the crew at the house until the boat launches. Originally, I was planning on going with the Sitram Profiserie induction ready line – but a major restaurant supplier in New York said, “They stink. Go with something else” and I've read some complaints on the internet about weak weld points on the lids, and sharp edges around the rim of the pans. The guys are Bargreen sold me on Vollrath and from all my internet research it seams Vollrath is one of the top makers of induction cooktops, so I figure they must know a thing or two about cookware as well. Tomorrow will be another day spent roaming the isles gathering my list. I also have to research blast freezers and vacuum sealers - toys for the boys when they’re fishing off the boat. And next week, I’ll be meeting with the cabinet/shelving designer to create shelving set up for the galley and walk-in.

So far, my day starts around 8 or 9 am. The rest of the crew go to the boat yard earlier – but I start my day a little later, bring the crew lunch, work a few hours at the office and then head home to make dinner - which is easy right now because there are only 4 crew (myself included), just wait until all 10 are here – then I’ll be running a bit more!

Fun, fun, fun – work, work, work…

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Picture time!

Come to Momma!

The Galley is Coming Along!

Can't Wait Until the First Dinner Party in Here!

Hey, It's Snowing on the Aft Deck!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Funky Chicken

“Cookie! So nice to see you again!”

“You too, Chicken!”

I haven’t seen Chicken since this past summer in Michigan when Madame and Monsieur X were still courting Chicken and Hobbit to join the yacht as purser and captain. I met Chicken and Hobbit in the Caribbean two years ago and had plans to join their previous yacht for a season in the Mediterranean, but just before I was supposed to join, I fell and busted my knee. So of course, I was touched when they thought of me and referred me to the X’s when the X’s began their search for a yacht chef – and of course, I’m tickled pink that we all get to work together now, as Chicken and Hobbit are quite possibly the two coolest people on planet Earth. Chicken was a yacht chef for many, many years herself, and still wants to keep a finger in the galley helping out with desserts and prep, and Hobbit has a reputation as an excellent bread baker and he makes his own fish jerky underway with the fish he catches! I’ve wanted to work with them for ages, just so I can learn how Hobbit does his fish!

Chicken is a tall, leggy and brainy South African (no boat is complete without a South African) and Hobbit, her husband who’s Belgian, is, well, quite a bit shorter – and with large feet and quite a lot of body hair, as most hobbits have (who knew Belgium bordered Middle-Earth?). But Hobbit, the X’s, and their entourage are all on a mission in the South Pacific, doing some reconnaissance work on cruising ground for our ‘round-the-world adventure. I suspect though that it’s not all work…

Unfortunately, Chicken being South African, had some delays in getting her visa for French Polynesia and was unable to go – so I’ve come to Seattle a few days earlier than originally planned to make sure she isn’t having a pity party all by herself.

I throw my bags into the pimped out Chevy Astro Van that will be our crew car for the next six months. It’s big, and very grey. And, as is a requirement of all vans – the interior has floor to ceiling carpeting. This van definitely has potential…

It’s an unusually warm and sunny day in Seattle. Downright hot, in fact. I pray the weather will stay like this – but I know that in Seattle, prayers for sunshine and warm weather usually go unheeded. Heading down the highway towards the boat yard, I’m filled with excitement as Chicken fills me in on all that has been done in the galley. The appliances are all in, the cabinets are finished – but covered over for protection. The entire yacht is Pepto Bismol pink as it’s being primed and sanded and readied for the big paint job. I really can’t wait to see the yacht again – the galley is calling to me. We park in front of a small, non-distinct, white, mobile office building. Like movie star dressing rooms on location, there are three doors just oozing mystery. Each door has a piece of paper taped to it displaying the name and logo of the three yachts in the yard right now (one has just been launched, one is a new build and ours is finishing up). It’s a quick walk across the parking lot to the massive airplane hangar that houses the yacht.

Chicken and I hit up the main office and I’m issued a photo ID with my nickname, “Cookie”, and the yachts logo printed across it and a red strap to hang it around my neck. I inspect the tag closely, this will definitely be going in the scrapbook one day…

As we walk into the hangar I’m hit with the familiar and comforting smells of epoxy and paint fumes. It’s good to be back. Up two flights of stairs to the 2nd floor workshop which spans the length of the hangar, I lean over the railing to take it all in - there she stands – all 156’ feet of her, wrapped in plastic from stem to stern. Men in white paper suits and respirators are up on cherry pickers sanding and smoothing her big, pink bodice. We walk the steel gangplank from the workshop onto the transom. It’s like a hive of energy as people bustle in and out, and off and on, and all around us. Men in cargo pants and paint splattered blue jeans, tan, leather work boots and t-shirts, all covered in a fine, powdery dust, climbing on ladders, fiddling with wires hanging from the ceiling, hunched over on the floor, tinkering with pipes, popping out of holes and doorways and walking through walls. Drills and saws and sanders buzz in the background. The windows have been installed in the salon, walls have been put up, even some trim in the ceiling is in place. We walk into the galley, the cabinets are in, but not the shelving –they’re waiting for me to tell them how I want it laid out. The appliances are in, and I have to design the “fiddles” that I want for the stove (to keep pots and pans from sliding when I’m cooking underway), two Miel ovens and a small steam oven, warming drawers, sinks, dishwashers, refrigerators. I have to design how I want the shelving in the walk-in. I notice there is no locking system for the walk-in, or upright freezers and fridges so they’ll be secure underway incase we hit rough weather – I make a note to talk to the designer about that. Chicken tells me that a huge pallet has arrived to the warehouse for me from JB Prince and Korin – the kitchen supplies that Mrs. X and I bought on our December shopping spree in New York City. I have to sort through the boxes, enter everything into our inventory system and figure out what I still need (and where I will store it all once I’m in the galley). We continue through the rest of the boat. Thankfully, the crew cabins don’t appear as small as I had originally thought, although the difference is really between a matchbox and a tin of sardines. Which would you prefer? Chicken and I talk about how we’ll be organizing the storage areas as we peak underneath stairwells and stick our heads in bilges.

As we head back to the office we talk about doing some professional wine service training and wine tasting courses for the crew. I take the task on to arrange it. We also want to arrange a wine tasting trip once all the crew is in town, so everyone can have some fun and get to know each other. I have to create a preference sheet for the crew (and the guests). There are nine of us crew, so there is bound to be a vegetarian or two, or someone who won’t eat fish or someone who doesn’t like things too spicy, etc. I have to order some samples of chefs’ coats and aprons and have them approved by Mr. Precious, since he’s designed all of the crew uniforms. Hobbit gets in Sunday afternoon, “will you make Pad-Thai for us on Sunday, please Cookie?”. Sure, I haven’t cooked Thai since Thailand! Our chief stew arrives on Monday, the engineer on the following weekend and the rest of the crew a week later… My brain is swimming in information.

We head up to the house in West Seattle, not far from the boatyard, but first, a tour of the local gourmet grocer, “Metropolitan Market”. It’s a real eye-pleaser, everything is so fresh. Giant artichokes, a dozen different lettuces and mushrooms, rows and rows of elegant displayed fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood laying seductively in beds of ice, beckoning. Isles of organic, whole-grain, low-fat goodness. Next to the office at the boat yard, this is the place I’ll be frequenting the most while we’re here in Seattle.

Chicken has the neighborhood scoped out; the local fish store, the health food store, etc. Tomorrow we’re going to hunt down a place called The Great Mall, a big Asian grocery store and shopping mall south of here. I hear there is a really good Japanese market around too. Chicken is a definite food enthusiast. It’s going to be great to have someone to explore with and to cook together.

We drag my suitcases up to two flights of stairs to the top floor of the house. Since I’m the first crew member, I get to pick my room. I take the bigger of the three, the one that gets the most sunlight. We’re both starving. I drop my bags and we run out and jump into the pimp van – Chicken wants to take me to a Tapas restaurant she discovered nearby…

Finally, back to work…

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop” ~English Proverb

As I head across the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is awash in a pale, grey-blue haze making the skyline look like a black and white photograph.

I’ve been anxiety ridden for the past 2 days as I, once again, packed my belongings for an extended leave. With all this time on land, I’d grown accustomed to the creature comforts of home – sleeping in my own bed, driving a car, spending time with good friends and family, going to the gym, having (other peoples) pets around, cooking for pleasure instead of work. I tossed and turned last night, my stomach in knots as I imagined bouts of seasickness and longing for home. All this time off, time sitting and waiting, has given me a lot of time to contemplate. Too much time in fact. Way too much time. With every launch delay, I’ve questioned whether this is real, whether the yacht will really ever make it into the water. It’s as if a temporary amnesia had clouded my brain. I questioned myself, “Am I doing the right thing? Maybe I should settle down”. I entertained the quaint notion of moving to the ‘burbs, pressing my imaginary husbands crisp, white shirts, cooking for three screaming rug rats beautiful children. Ok, reality check: The Good Lord knows I’d quit that job on the first day!

But now, looking out over silvery waters of the bay shimmering in the bright morning sun, I take a deep breath and relax into my nylon-upholstered seat. Something about looking out over vast, open waters always fill me with a sense of calm. And as the wheels on the bus go round and round, bringing me closer to my destination (the San Francisco Airport) my fears, apprehensions and anxiety fade like the morning fog and are replaced instead by an almost ecstatic sense of joy, anticipation and excitement over the adventure that lay ahead. This IS what I live for…

I’d set a goal for myself two and a half years ago, when I first began working in the yachting world, and that was that I was going to cook my way around the world. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Now, I have to run, I have a plane to catch…

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hurry up and wait!

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I know. But every adventure I write about (or attempt to write about), whether it be trekking across Thailand (2 months ago), sitting in a cafĂ© in Oslo trying to keep warm (last month), or grilling up pizza’s for Mrs. & Mr. X in Palm Springs (last week), it all seems like “filler” as I wait for the yacht. It’s been 9 months of waiting. I’m pregnant with anticipation and my feet are swelling. I feel moody and irritable. Enough already, I just want this baby to drop!

December, February, May and now July. The launch date keeps getting pushed back further and further. I’ve had to find things to fill my time - traveling, reading, visiting family. But all this vacationing has me exhausted. If it takes a week to recover from 2-weeks holiday, what does it take to recover from 9 months? Great, I should be in fine shape to work by July!

While I was swinging in a hammock, sucking on coconuts on a beach in Thailand our illustrious Captain and Madame and Monsieur X were busy jetting around the globe to meet and interview potential crew. And after many months and many cups of coffee, they’ve garnered representation from 4 of 7 continents, excellent! Swedish, British, Australian, Canadian, American, South African and Belgium – I should be able to glean lots of culinary tidbits from this worldly crew!

I'm packing my bags now, and in just a few short weeks the new crew will all be converging upon Seattle to oversee the remainder of the build and ready the yacht for the big splash! Ok, so the Big, Big Day is still a ways away. But, if I put my ear to the track I can hear the train coming. Next weekend I’ll be settling into our crew house – and the real adventure can begin…

Blog Directory - Blogged