Friday, 18 June 2010

Food for Thought - Motion of the Ocean.

For my second contribution to the fortnightly "Food for Thought" blog I have chosen -

The Motion of the Ocean 

by Janna Cawrse Esarey.

I am going to award this book three stars out of five.

As the cover says, 1 small boat, 2 average lovers, and a woman's search for the meaning of wife. The parallels to my own experience plus the fact that this book serendipitously found me at a marina book swap ensured that I had to read and review this title!

Somewhere fifty miles off the coast of Oregon I realize the skipper of this very small ship is an asshole.

He also happens to be my husband.

He's down below, cooking Top Ramen, which will be the fifth time we've had Top Ramen in almost as many days. Not that I'm mad about that. Actually, he's chopping carrots and cabbage and onions- and I can small the garlic from here- so it's bound to be good. Which makes him sound like a kind, nurturing, non-assholey sort of guy, cooking a meal for his bride on a boat that's rocking like the fun house in Grease.
Hmm, not a good beginning as far as I am concerned. But let's stick with the story. Janna and her husband,Graeme,after a protracted and at times painful courtship, set off to sail across the Pacific in their boat Dragonfly. To be accurate they set off to sail across the Pacific to Hong Kong with the intention of returning via the Northern Pacific making it a round trip.

Now it may be my age, the fact that I too have lived this (or a very similar) adventure but I just couldn't get to grips with Janna's writing. Perhaps I was expecting more of a sailing story and found that in reality I had got a book about a relationship. One that was examining in pretty close detail every aspect of this couple's life together.Far too much information at times! The fact that it is set upon the ocean seemed pretty irrelevant, it was simply a vehicle on which the writer was able to hang the tale that she wanted to tell. Nothing wrong with that I guess but I began to feel somewhat conned early on in the book.

I've got mesh bags for dirty laundry, hammocks for clean, collapsible buckets for water, milk crates for linens, tiny boxes for nuts and bolts, Ziplocs for medications, and woven baskets for just about everything else. Plus, I've measured every inch of cupboard space aboard Dragonfly and have systematically installed stackable,plastic,covered bins for all our foodstuff. Each box has a label, and each has it's place. I call it custom design. Graeme, having to pull out two bins of granola;a bars to access the bin of pasta, calls it a pain in the ass.
A lot of her descriptions of life at sea ring true:

If you want to know what it's like to cook on a boat in rough seas, try this: First, rename your kitchen "galley".Then cut it to a fifth it's regular size (unless you live in Manhattan, in which case cut it in half). Then say goodbye to everything you might expect or want or need in a kitchen, and say hello to this: A shallow, leak-prone sink whose moldy caulk sticks out around the edges. A small rusty oven that has no chance of fitting a full-size salmon, let alone a turkey. Say hello to a three-burner, manually-lit propane stove whose knobs refuse to turn without the full-court press of your right palm pushing while your left hand trembles with its damp match that-damn!- blows out in the slightest breeze.
Don't offer your greetings to a garbage disposal. A dishwasher. Or countertops. But hey, what you lose there, you make up in faucets! You have three: One saltwater foot pump that draws directly from the frigid and, depending where you are, polluted water beneath the boat, and smells sulfry, like millions of tiny organisms have crawled into the pipes and died (they have).One freshwater hand pump that's made of brass, and therefor looks very nauti-cool, but that loses it prime, i.e., it's ability to pump water, in between each use. And one normal freshwater faucet that has hot water if the engine's been running long enough, but which your evil husband forbids you to use because it draws off the batteries and Rule of Rules: On a boat, where you're unplugged from the grid, you must!conserve!batteries!

Now take your new galley, stock it with crappy cooking gear you used car camping and place it in the small,stuffy,mildew-prone box that is a fibreglass sailboat hull. Now, tilt, or "heel" the whole thing thirty degrees- that's right, make your floor as steep as a hillside- and bash the whole thing into waves as hard as brick walls. Over and over and over.

OK. Now. Cook!

Well I expect that was accurate on their boat, and on many out there on the ocean but I was beginning to find the whole tone of this book a bit exaggerated and 'hyper'. With a husband who had been a deep sea fisherman and parents who were experienced bluewater sailors I was starting to think that Ms Esery was complaining a tad too much. Come on, a lot of this was no surprise to her and yet we are regaled with 'shock horror' prose in virtually every chapter.

Maybe I know(or think I know!) too much about the subject but ultimately this book irritated me with it's naivety, which I felt was somewhat contrived, and it's introspection that just didn't ring true for me.

The king scrapes the bottom of the bowl with his cracker.
'Good dip,' he says, looking at me. 'Tuna?'
I shake my head and point at Graeme, the real chef.
'Sardines', Graeme says.

I found myself becoming increasingly irritated with Janna's self indulgent critique of the minutest details of her relationship with the long suffering Graeme. I am not at all surprised that they are no longer cruising I'd have thrown her overboard a long time ago!

There is a scarcity of food related quotes in the book, a bit of a surprise as in my experience a lot of sailing revolves around the galley and what is being prepared for the next meal. So I had a hunt round for a sardine dip recipe. I can't say the idea excited either myself or my husband but what the heck. That's what Food for thought is about right? Trying something you wouldn't normally do!

So a trip to the market furnished me with the necessary ingredients and I set to. Now you can pop all this in the food processor, I minced everything first in my hand mincer, jolly good job it did too!

Sardine Dip

1 can sardines, drained
8oz cream cheese
1tsp lemon juice
1tsp  Worcester sauce
2 green onions
large bunch of parsley
pinch of chili powder
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Blend everything together and chill for at least an hour before serving...
Actually it was pretty good though I may have overdone the parsley a tad, still it turned out an attractive green colour without too overpowering a taste of sardine..

To go with it I made a batch of cheese biscuits

100g butter
100g flour
100g cheese (I used half Parmesan, half Cheddar)
poppy seeds, sesame seeds and caraway seeds

1 egg yolk
1tbsp water

Heat the oven to Gas Mark 5

Rub together the cheese, butter and flour until you have a smooth dough. Form into a log approx 5cm in diameter. Cover tightly in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Grease two baking trays. remove dough from fridge and using a hot knife cut as thinly as possible and lay biscuits on tray.
Combine egg yolk and water and brush biscuits. Sprinkle with little paprika and then one of the seeds. I made 8 in each flavour.
Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly browned.

Now these really were good, cleaned them up before they had a chance to cool!

Soon there's a long, fat tuna on deck, slapping and bleeding all over the place. Naked Man bonks it with his fish bonker. Naked Man bonks it again. The fish gives one last quiver and then Naked Man is crouching with knife, slitting the belly and slicing out guts. Let's hope he doesn't slip with that knife. I avert my eyes for about the fiftieth time and busy myself gathering chopsticks and soy sauce and wasabi.

Yes! Now the girl is getting in touch with a bit of gourmet heaven~! I delight in catching a fish and preparing sushi, there can be nothing better, or fresher in the whole world..

The video is one we made for my husband's mother's birthday to show her what the cruising life is really like.I hope that you enjoy sharing it with me. As you can see we have somewhat more comfort that the writer of the book, and a much better galley!

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Shock Doctrine strikes again...

So the US President shows that he is a follower of  The Shock Doctrine principles, what a surprise...

I so hope that the public is becoming at least a little wiser to the cynical manipulation of the world's politicians, if we don't wise up soon it's downhill even faster for all of us.

If you haven't read Naomi Klein's book 'The Shock Doctrine', you need to get a copy NOW.

Damian Thompson of The Telegraph is in no doubt about what is going on...

Barack Obama is easily clever enough to understand the effect of his comparison between the environmental challenge facing America after the Gulf oil spill and the terrorist challenge it faced after 9/11: a subliminal equation of heartless British oil executives with homicidal Islamists. But he’s also unscrupulous enough not to care.
This is how he put it: “In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.” Nice.
I wondered recently how an expensively educated kid from Hawaii plunged into the filthy pool of Chicago machine politics and emerged smelling so sweet that America elected him president. David Remnick doesn’t address the question in his hagiography, and I’m not sure anyone knows the answer. But if there were any doubt about where Obama served his apprenticeship, then today’s little elision between a terrible accident and meticulously plotted mass murder clears it up.
Mayor Richard Daley – the father, not the son – would have been proud of Obama. It may be windy in Chicago, but if there’s one thing the boys from the Democratic machine learn it’s how to blow a dog whistle loud enough for the right people to hear. Sure, it’s a fairly obvious device, but then so was referring to BP by its former name, British Petroleum. It’s often the cheap tricks that work best, eh, Mr President?

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Obama and BP - more to it than meets the eye?

Sometimes, well pretty often actually, it is difficult to know what to believe where press reporting is concerned. With the majority of publishers and media companies having a well pronounced political 'lean', I try and cultivate an intelligent skepticism. Well that's what I try to do, although I am the first to admit that I am not always successful. And of course it is all the more difficult when one is far removed from the scene of the action as we are here on our boat.

Nevertheless I have a great deal of respect for my visceral response, particularly where a 'story' is concerned. Conspiracy theories intrigue me and I have found, through experience, that life is very often far stranger than fiction.

Which brings me to the current furor between President Obama and BP. Don't misunderstand me, I have every sympathy with the victims, both human and ecological, of this terrible disaster but what is all this jingoistic rhetorical spewing about? I admit to having certain 'issues' about America (along with a number of other countries) but the posturing and threatening behaviour of the US President has left me open mouthed in astonishment. What is going on here? BP appear (note I say appear) to be taking the whole situation with complete admission of guilt. They are striving to contain a disaster that has occurred at the cutting edge of the technology available to them. Could they do more? Who knows, I am certainly not in a position to make that judgment.

What has sent my antennae shooting skyward is the apparently uninformed and ill judged attitude of the US President. British Petroleum? Doesn't he know that they disappeared in 1998 when they merged with the US companies Arco and Amoco? Doesn't he realise that the rig, equipment, staff are all American? Why this goading with words and threats to 'Kick some ass'? Or is this what he has to do to appeal to the American voter?

What crossed my mind is that there is something more going on here than this one issue. Then I came across this piece in today's Times. Hmm. So Cameron may be threatening to pull out of Afghanistan leaving the Americans there.  What would the White House make of that? And what other posturings are going on behind the scenes?

As I say I don't know but it makes me wonder. They haven't sold me the story... yet. Politics is a filthy game

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

This site has a good set of charts/diagrams showing the current and projected location of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.The situation out there certainly does not appear to be getting any better very quickly. What a disaster.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Worshipping in their wake!

Before we set out on this adventure of ours I had already appointed a number of 'cruising gurus' whose written word were as the gospel to me!

In March two of them were awarded citations for their contributions to the sailing world by the Cruising Club of America. They received their accolades at the famous New York Yacht club recently and there is a nice bit of video of Lynne and Larry Pardey, looking a little out of place on the streets of New York!

And of course Annie and Trevor, those of you who've followed my blathering will remember that we finally met Annie and Trevor in the San Blas and got to spend some time with them. I had been questioning my desire to continue sailing as I had become so fearful when Annie told me she felt just the same on many occasions my fears melted away.

The Pardey's and Annie traveled from New Zealand to be present and Trevor had a hair-raising dash back from Patagonia where he has been single handing. The earthquake in Chile added to his difficulties in traveling home and I gather he actually arrived at the yacht Club thirty minutes before the presentation!

Very well done to both couples, what amazing, exciting lives they have led.

2009 Blue Water Medal to to Annie Hill and Trevor Robertson

PDF File 2009 Blue Water Medal to to Annie Hill and Trevor Robertson Press Release
New York, N.Y., USA (January 21, 2010) – The Cruising Club of America has selected Annie Hill and Trevor Robertson to receive its prestigious 2009 Blue Water Medal in recognition of a life of cruising and voyaging that best exemplifies the objects and goals of the CCA. Annie Hill & Trevor RobertsonThe award will be presented on March 5, 2010 by CCA Commodore Sheila McCurdy (Middletown, R.I.) during the club’s annual Awards Dinner at the New York Yacht Club, in New York.
In 1997 Robertson built Iron Bark, a 35-foot steel gaff cutter in Queensland, Australia. In 1998 he single-handed it from New Zealand around Cape Horn to the Antarctic Peninsula where he wintered over, frozen in at Alice Creek, Wiencke Island. On January 4, 2000, Iron Bark broke out of the ice and after cruising for a few weeks in the Antarctic Peninsula Robertson departed for the Falkland Islands and then sailed directly to Trinidad.
Annie Hill joined Iron Bark in 2002 and together they sailed from Trinidad to Labrador, Canada before returning to Baddeck, Nova Scotia. After returning to the U.K. in 2003 and later sailing to Tobago and then Trinidad, they readied Iron Bark for another trip north in 2004. From the U.S. Virgin Islands they passaged to Halifax and loaded provisions for 500 days.
On July 1 they departed and sailed north up the Greenland coast looking for suitable winter quarters. They chose Nako Island, at 72 degrees 40 North. On November 5 Iron Bark was frozen in and by June 8, 2005 they had broken free. After a few weeks they departed for Trinidad. It is believed that Iron Bark is the first vessel to winter unsupported in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
In February 2006 they left for New Zealand via the Panama Canal. With stops in the Galapagos Islands and many Pacific islands, they arrived in New Zealand on November 9 after sailing 10,500 miles.
Annie Hill left England in 1975 on her first Atlantic crossing in a 28-foot Wharram designed catamaran. She has made 17 Atlantic crossings! Her cruising has included Europe, the Caribbean, South America, South Africa, Labrador, Newfoundland, Greenland, and she has also circumnavigated South Georgia. All told, she has sailed approximately 165,000 miles.
Trevor Robertson’s cruising also started in 1975 when he did an 8,000 mile cruise in a 34-foot wooden sloop from Western Australia to South Africa. Navigation was by plastic sextant and lead line. He has sailed from Australia to the Caribbean via the Suez Canal in a 30-foot fiberglass sloop with no electronics. In 1989 he returned to Australia via the Panama Canal and New Zealand, a trip of 19,000 miles singlehanded. In total, Trevor Robertson has logged 140,500 miles.
From 2007 to 2009 the couple spent time cruising in New Zealand, Tasmania and Queensland, Australia. In November 2009, Trevor departed from Nelson, New Zealand solo aboard Iron Bark bound for Chile.circumnavigated both east-about and west-about on boats they built themselves, using traditional means of navigation and having no engine or sponsorship.
Photo credit: Courtesy Annie Hill

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Suite Francaise, Food for thought

I got so excited by my finds yesterday that I decide to have a go at joining in with Food for Thought, I have probably posted it incorrectly but there you go. I can only claim to have been a virgin!

SUITE FRANCAISE written by Irene Nemirovsky. Translated by Sandra Smith.

I highly recommend this book and would give it five stars. Beautifully written,a moving and intelligent account of a horrendous period in World history that has strong resonances with our modern times. Do read the appendixes  that tell of the real story of Irene Nemirovsky and how her manuscript only saw the light of day 65 years after it was written and she had died.

The two books that make up Suite Francaise are actually a ‘work in progress’. Although they seem polished and complete the author was working on them in 1942 as Germany invaded France during World War Two.

She cut the elderly Monsieur Pericands filet of sole into small strips. He was on a complicated diet that allowed him to eat only the lightest food and Madame Pericaud always served him herself, pouring his water, buttering his bread, tying his napkin around his neck, for he always started drooling when he saw food he liked.

Already a published writer and a refugee from the Russian revolution, Irene Nemirovsky was an extra-ordinary woman with an acute insight into the vagaries of the human condition.
Set in the year when France was invaded by Germany The first book follows a cast of Parisians as France falls to the German forces, the disbelief and fear as a nation crumbles and it becomes every man for himself as a tide of humanity fled from Paris southwards towards a hope of sanctuary. A sanctuary that many never reached.

After saying her prayers, Madame Pericaud left the church. Once outside, she decided to restock her supply of biscuits, which had been greatly diminished by her lavish generosity.
‘We’ve nothing left, Madame,’ said the employee.
‘What? No shortbread, no gingerbread, nothing?’
‘Nothing at all Madame. It’s all gone.’
‘Then let me have a pound of tea, Ceylon tea.’
‘There’s  nothing, Madame.’

The second part follows a small rural community under occupation.

The Germans had immediately demanded champagne(Sekt! Nahrung!) and corks flew from their hands. Some of them were playing billiards, others went into the kitchen carrying piles of raw pink pork cutlets which they threw on the fire; the meat sizzled and let off thick smoke as it cooked. The soldiers bought bottles of beer up from the cellar, impatiently pushing aside the waitress  who wanted to help them; a young man with a rosy complexion and a mass of golden hair was cracking eggs open on the edge of the stove; in the garden, someone else was picking the first strawberries of summer.

In frightening simplicity Nemirovsky describes the horror of an invasion. The demise of a cultured society and the inhumanity of man to man. The fear of the oppressed, the arrogance of the victors. Her descriptions of the depths to which we will all sink once our own survival is threatened.

She needed to feed and protect her own children. Nothing else mattered anymore.

It’s a book of pain and truth and even beauty. Although, ultimately,  through the chaos of defeat it is a book of hope.

This is a book that makes demands on you as a reader. It makes you think, makes you ashamed and makes you angry. I found it both disturbing and illuminating.

It is also a work  that has an enormous relevance to our world today, describing the denial of society when faced with catastrophic change.  Highlighting our inability to comprehend the evidence that surrounds us in every direction and raising  the spectre of what can and does happen when we leave it too late to deal with our altered circumstances.

Irene Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942

Now as to the foodie part of this challenge. I am a little disadvantaged…

I live on a boat, a boat that is cruising around the world. A small boat with just two of us on board. My husband and myself. We are currently in Central America, in the jungle, up a river! It is just not possible to run out to a supermarket and buy a host of ingredients to order, nor do I have a magazine style kitchen and endless photography props! I have no appliances, I hear you gasp with horror! No microwave, blender, freezer. It’s all done by hand..
So excuse the basic nature of my photographs and cookery, I will do my best.

It may be remote here to many but we feel well served compared to many places we have been. We can sail up the river a few miles to a small town that is vibrant with roadside stalls and even a supermarket that we are led to believe is a scion of the Walmart chain. I have my doubts on that factoid! But produce buying here is a little hit and miss. If the roads are flooded, as they have been this week, many products simply cannot be delivered. The Mayan ladies with their woven baskets balanced on top of their immaculately plaited dark hair may not make it down from the mountains. There are regular shortages of items. Suddenly the whole place is out of yeast, or butter. It’s a fact of life that I am learning to cope with. In a small way, a very small way, it makes it easier to identify with the characters in Suite Francaise.

They could see the outskirts of Tours in the distance but the cars weren’t moving; a barricade had been set up at one of the crossroads. Everyone had to wait their turn. A whole hour went by like this. Gabriel was growing paler. It wasn’t sandwiches he was dreaming of now, but light, warming soup, or the buttery pates he’d once had in Tours.(He had been coming back from Biarritz with a woman.) It was odd, he couldn’t remember her name any more, or her face, the only thing that stuck in his memory were the smooth, rich little pates, each with a slice of truffle tucked away inside. Then he started thinking about meat: a great red slab of rare beef, with a curl of butter melting slowly over its tender flesh. What a delight…Yes, that was what he needed…roast beef…sirloin…fillet…a pork cutlet or mutton chop at a pinch. He sighed deeply.

So I will fire up the gas stove in my little galley and introduce you to one of my favourite luxuries that I make when the universe conspires to deliver the necessary ingredients to me…Chicken Liver Pate.
Not the truffle stuffed one that Gabriel salivates over, not a smooth luxury from Tours. Nevertheless it’s rich and creamy. Served chilled and fresh from the refrigerator (rather important as we are in the Tropics with regular daily temperatures of over 100 degrees F).

Chicken Liver Pate.
11/2lbs chicken livers, trimmed
1 tbsp butter for sauteing
1/2lb butter
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
A little ground nutmeg
½ glass brandy(or port, or rum)
1 tbsp Worcester sauce.
A little thyme

Finely chop the onion and saute them with the garlic in the butter for 3-4 minutes. Add the cleaned chicken livers and cook for a further 2 minutes. Lower the heat and leave for another 4 minutes. The livers should still be soft and slightly pink inside.
Add the herbs, brandy and Worcester sauce. Allow to reduce a little.
At this stage most of you can throw the whole lot in a blender along with the butter and puree.
( I, in contrast, mash the liver mixture down in a mortar and pestle and then rub it spoon by spoon through a fine mesh sieve! Then I beat in the softened butter.)
Put in a small bowl, cover with some clarified butter then Clingfilm and put into the refrigerator (I have got one of those)
It is better left for a couple of days to allow the flavours to develop, but should be eaten within a week.
Serve with crusty bread and a chilled glass of something white and crisp, Sauvignon Blanc is my tipple of choice.

Curl up with Irene and thank your lucky stars that you have food and wine on your table and are not fleeing for your life.

Friday, 4 June 2010

An essay in joy!

I love food and I love books. I also love synchronicity. Today I have it all...

One of my favourite websites tastespotting led me to this site, Food for thought. What a fantastic idea. Read a book, one with references to food in it. Maybe a novel, a biography or even a cookery book. Write a review, cook the dishes and blog about it. Oh what heaven, what a simply divine concept. I have wasted, no reveled in, hours of reading and note taking this morning. The result a massive list of books I really want to read and fresh enthusiasm for trying some new recipes.
So watch out for  the 'food for thought' logo and indulge yourself.

And then in The Times I found this article. Oh wonderful, a coincidence of the highest magnitude. I am inspired!

“And still she slept in azure-lidded sleep,/ In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,/ While he from forth the closet brought a heap/ Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;/ With jellies soother than the creamy curd . . .” Keats

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Living on the edge.

There have been some extraordinary natural phenomena here over the past few weeks. Even given the usual vagaries of the Tropics these seen to have been a bizarre sequence of events. It almost seems like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are ready to steam over the nearest hill and charge down the slope towards us!

TBH and I often comment on the fact that we knew NOTHING at all about Central America before we arrived here, probably didn't even really know the countries that made up this geographic area and certainly had no knowledge of the history and politics of the region.

We have learned a lot since we have been here. This is a region that is ancient and yet raw, abused yet vibrant, poor but proud. A land that has been continually raped for it's natural resources, plagued with abusive missionaries, devestated by diseases and experienced continual upheaval by the forces of nature.

But it's fascinating to be here, and sad, and heartbreaking, and joyous all at the same time. This is not a region for the faint hearted.

This is the volcano close to the city that erupted last week, what a picture. And scary in it's the proximity to the city. Could this become a  modern day Pompeii?

It makes me think about the fragility of the human species, the tenuous grip that we have on life.

TBH always said that to live life to the full you have to live on the side of a volcano( Nietzsche) I didn't realise that he meant it literally.