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!”


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…

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