Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I love...

...the sound of rain on the cabin roof, reminds me of camping when I was a kid.

Waking up to a blue sky over my head EVERY morning, then remembering that the raincover over the hatch is sky blue.

The gentle caress of a warm breeze floating down the hatch as I lie in bed, until it turns to stinging tropical rain.

TBH curled up in slumber, blonde hair standing on end, until he snores like the 12.22 express from Paddington.

I love the luxury of ice cubes in my glass of water, until they melt in zero seconds flat 'cos it's so friggin' hot here.

The elegant origami like egrets that fly across the boat, til the bastards crap on the sailcover.

I love the surprised look on a cormarants face when it surfaces next to me in the water, aagghhhh!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hold on to your hats...

...looks like this could be the first biggie of the season.

I was looking at a sailing forum that I like today where a poster was asking advice about safe places for hurricane season. To my horror a number of posters were suggesting that various islands in the windwards and leewards were possible if in a hurricane hole!!!

Quite honestly words fail me. Either they are idiots or simply have no concept of the power of these things. We were 60 miles from the centre of Emily a few years ago and that was plenty close enough for me. The Rio may be hot and humid but there have never been records of a hurricane getting this far inland. I know what I'd rather take my chances with...and it's NOT the hurricane!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Keeping it in perspective.

My state of mind really seems to affect how my day goes, not to mention week. It's been an odd few days, being  the 'dog days' of Summer again and the 21st anniversary of my last husband's death I have been feeling a bit down. Even as you remember all the good times that you had  it causes the opening of old memories and wounds, thank god TBH understands how irrational I can be during this time of year.

Just love this picture, is your glass half full or half empty???

I spent yesterday chatting to the kids and losing myself in memories, self indulgent I know but hey, it's only once a year right.

Then the computer that TBH uses for his work started to play up. The screen wouldn't come on although we could hear the innards working away, then the disc stopped working. This kind of problem sends me into a tail spin. I guess it's because I feel totally out of my depth in this area of life. Computers are like a black art as far as I am concerned.

Surgery commenced, connections checked. Damn, the thing is only two years old. Then to top it all we found that the hard drive containers that we carry for just such an eventuality(mean we can get the stuff off the memory) don't fit this computer. F...g hell why does everything have to be so difficult. TBH remains calm, as he so rightly tells me it's only a computer, we will survive, we have another one, nobody is dead....I really must learn to keep things in perspective.

Makes me feel vulnerable though.

Friday, 20 August 2010

More pie sir?

In preperation for the 'great pork pie' challenge scheduled for early next week I decided to try my hand at something similar but different, if you know what I mean!

Cleaning out the refrigerator I had an assortment of goodies that really needed eating up, some filo pastry, ricotta cheese and a bag of baby leaf spinach. One of my favourite tricks is to add the word recipe to this list and see what that nice Mr Google comes up with. Such a clever chap he is!

Well this time sure was a winner, surprisingly simple to make it turned out brilliantly and we thoroughly enjoyed eating the result, definitely something to add to my repetoire...

kg (2lb 4oz) spinach, washed and destalked 
1kg (2lb 4oz) leeks
175g (6oz) butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
75g (2¾oz) grated parmesan
500g (1lb 2oz) ricotta, drained of any water
4 large eggs, beaten
300g (10½oz) feta, crumbled
1 tbsp dill, chopped
300g (10½oz) filo pastry
Put the spinach into a large saucepan with the water that clings to it after washing. Cover and set over a low heat. Let the spinach wilt for about five minutes, turning it over a couple of times to make sure it doesn’t burn. Leave to cool.
Slit the leeks lengthwise so that they open up like fans. This makes them easier to wash properly. Clean under running water, making sure all soil is removed. Trim and discard the bases and slice finely. Heat 75g (2¾oz) of the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the leeks and season. Throw in about 30ml (1fl oz) water, cover with a lid and sweat the leeks over a low heat until they are really soft. You’ll need to stir them every so often. Check the leeks don’t burn and that they stay moist, adding a splash of water if not. It will take about 15 minutes for them to become soft. Once they’re soft take the lid off and turn up the heat to boil off any excess liquid.
Squeeze all the water out of the spinach – you can do it in your fists, or press it between two plates. This is really important or you’ll end up with a watery pie that won’t set. Chop roughly. Heat 25g (1oz) of the butter in a pan and add the garlic. Sauté till soft but not coloured, then add the spinach. Turn round in the butter, season and add half the parmesan. Set aside.
In a bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, feta, dill and the rest of the parmesan. Season.
Now assemble the pie. You can make it in a spring-form tin 26.5cm (10½in) across and 5cm (2in) deep, or in a tart ring set on a metal baking-sheet. Melt the rest of the butter. Keep the pastry under a tea towel as you work with it, otherwise it becomes brittle and breaks. Brush the tin with melted butter (no need to line it with paper), then use two thirds of the pastry to line it as follows: first lay four overlapping sheets on the base to cover it completely, then place sheets like the spokes of a wheel, radiating from the centre of the base, with each sheet covering the sides of the tin and hanging over the edge. Brush each piece with butter after you have placed it in the tin. Lay the spinach on the base, then spoon on half the leeks. Put the cheese and egg layer on next, and top with the rest of the leeks. Now pull the dangling bits of filo over to cover the filling, brushing them with butter. Use the rest of the pastry to cover the top, overlapping the sheets and tucking them in down the sides. Brush the top with lots of butter. Don’t worry about it being neat – it will look great once it turns golden.
Put in an oven preheated to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and cook for 50 minutes. The pie should be golden. If it is getting too dark, cover it with foil. Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes to firm up a bit, then carefully remove the ring around the pie and slide it on to a warm serving dish. Since there is a lot of greenery in it, serve a colourful vegetable such as roast squash or red pepper on the side.

It was just as good eaten cold, maybe even better than when it was hot, savoury, light and wonderfully crisp. Yum!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Turtle soup anyone?

We have just come back from shopping in Fronteras, quite an expedition this morning as I was getting low on a lot of staples like flour, rice etc.
Bob(the dinghy) neeeded a bit of inflation, he was looking a tad flacid early on before the day heated up. We try and leave early and beat the heat, ideally getting back to the boat around 10am. TBH was raring to go today, I couldn't work out why until I remembered that I had said we would have breakfast in town after the shopping was done! Honestly you can get that man to do anything for a meal...

We tie up at the dock for the supermarket, yes most people do their shopping by boat here. We pushed our way through the heavy lanchas that were already there and after locking good 'ol Bob to the wooden post we trudged up the road to the store. It's always a bit hit or miss here. I arrive armed with a list but accept that dependent on weather, season, exchange rates, staffing or phases of the moon I will most likely be making some adjustments to our provisioning!

It was not too bad today, flour well within sell by date(you always need to check), nice fresh garlic and delivery of well dried onions. Excellent. TBH then takes the haul back down the hill and loads the dinghy. Making his way by water to the dock at Bruno's whilst I head off down the main street to buy the fruit and veg and visit a couple of specialist stores that have those little extras that make life such fun. We are talking FOOD here!

Not a good day on the veggie front, rather tired looking broccolli that I passed on but some superb mint and cilantro went into my backpack. One tienda had some sundried tomatoes in olive oil. A big jar at a big price but I find them invaluable when we are out at anchor. Once the fresh tomatoes are finished these are superb on pizzas...Jars of pesto, excellent and even a big pot of mediterranean sea salt. Yes!

I popped in to the Casa Guatemala store to thank them for my pigs trotters, they remembered me, what a surprise! And finally loaded down with bags like a burro (donkey) I met up with TBH as he lounged in the shade, watching TV, replete from his Desayuno Americano. Eggs, bacon, potatoes and fresh fruit. Washed down with coffee and a strawberry milkshake. See he's not always the one doing the work!!

With a well loaded dink we headed back downstream. In the water I spied what looked like an animal head. TBH altered course to bring us alongside and I was surprised to see that it was a large (12lb ish) turtle floating on the surface. I made a grab for him but we were moving too fast and I only got to touch him with one hand. He was BIG. I think that maybe he had been hit by a boat and was a little stunned. We made another attempt to land him but that seemed to shake him from his stupor and he dived away from us and headed for the shore. Darn there goes my opportunity to try making turtle soup. (Only joking).

First time I've actually touched a turtle. Not an experience you have heading for Sainsbury's back in the UK!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The trotters have landed...

..Hurrah! A small black bag arrived on the dock yesterday with THREE lovely little trotters inside. I was so pleased. Jose and Esperanza had tracked then down in the city and they came all that way(5 hours) to enable me to make my pork pie...

I guess I may have been able to get them closer but I am delighted that my ordering actually worked. Not so much joy with the belly of pork though. Does anyone know the Spanish translation for that cut? The patas are resting in the freezer until I am ready to attempt the masterpiece, in a day or two.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

San Blas and Scotland...

I do so love it when a new piece of knowledge is added to something I already know to round out a more complete story! Let me explain.

A few years ago when we were sailing in the San Blas islands in Panama we came across a Scottish boat. Getting to know them we found that they came from Caledonia and were very excited to be visiting the tiny village of New Caledonia in the island group. A few days after our meeting we saw them again. They were upset at the reaction to their visit with the village chief. Their hopes had been to forge a link between their village school back in Scotland and the villagers, maybe to offer support and cultural interaction...Their gifts of Scottish shortbread and pictorial tea towels were met with a degree of contempt by the chief. They put the reaction down to the over generosity of a group of American cruisers who had just gone through the place handing out largess in the form of sails and equipment for fishing.

We all tut tutted at the cultural contamination and went our way...

Then yesterday I found this reference to a new play about an event back in the 1600's when Scotland attempted to settle this very place! It ended in tears....

A little over a year ago the National Theatre of Scotland invited me in to talk. They said they wanted to do a play with me and we narrowed it down to the banking crisis or nationalism. Or both. I went away thinking I was going to write a contemporary political play, which is what I normally do. Then I happened to stumble across a mention of the Darien disaster . I thought “That’s one of those South Sea Bubble-type stories that hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever been told on the stage.”
I began to read up about it and was knocked out by what I found. As a result of this failed quest, between 1698-1700, to establish a colony called New Caledonia on the Isthmus of Panama, a demoralised and bankrupt Scotland was pushed into the Treaty of Union with England in 1707. The episode wiped out half of Scotland’s national wealth and destroyed 2,000 lives.
It’s a story of one man’s vision – the trader and banker William Paterson (1658-1719), who ended up founding the Bank of England – and also of widespread hubris and incompetence. Those involved in the venture underestimated all the dangers – the disease, the possibility of a trade embargo by England, attacks by the Spanish. In a way, it’s a parable about mass national delusion.
Caledonia There were bonfires along the east coast of Scotland when the fleet left from Leith. People crowded on the headlands to catch a glimpse of the ships, which they thought would mean Scotland was going to have an empire. They sent out 14 ships. Only one came back. The others were either captured, destroyed or sank.
Paterson was one of the few people behind the venture who actually went, and his wife died out there. Going on a ship in those days was incredibly life-threatening. They lost about 20 people on each ship on the way over – and that’s referred to as rather good for a voyage of that length. Hundreds died on the way back.
What’s extraordinary is the thoroughness of the record-keeping. Every bag of salt that went onto the ships was logged. All the names of people who died, and what they died of, are listed – many of them were very young, as young as 12. It was quite painful to read some of the details.
There’s a wonderful collection of documents from the 1690s in the Glasgow University library. I ended up doing so much research I had to crawl out from under a mountain of material to make a play. The result, Caledonia, tells the story as a tragic adventure, but it’s also a political play.
The parallels with today are extraordinary, right down to one of the early scenes, where we see Paterson wining and dining at vast expense key members of a parliamentary committee to get their vote. I even found the menu for the supper they had that night, and have used a bit of it.
Paterson was very persuasive. They thought they had discovered a guaranteed road to riches. The new institution at the time was the joint stock trading company. You could say it was the credit default swap of its age. People thought you could get rich without any real risk. There was also a belief that a small nation could become powerful overnight.
It’s a big departure for me as a writer. It’s a historical drama with satirical edges – quite an odd beast. I’ve slightly simplified and modernised the language so that it feels accessible, and I’ve found a lot of ballads from the period, some of which I’ve used and some of which I’ve rewritten. There’s a lot of music.
I hope it’s an epic story told with verve and wit. If you pushed me I’d say I hope it makes people sceptical about anyone offering instant wealth; and sceptical, too, about some forms of nationalism.
The story of the Darien scheme is a forgotten tale. Very few Scots know about it, and those who are aware of it seem to know about it only vaguely. The only person I’ve bumped into who immediately knew what I was talking about was Menzies Campbell.
I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but at some level it’s an awkward issue for Scots. For a long time Scotland had a grim Presbyterian defeatist aura. It’s only a hypothesis but I think maybe Darien had something to do with it.
Alistair Beaton was talking to Dominic Cavendish
'Caledonia’ opens at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000) on August 21 

Isn't that amazing? Just shows you we often have no idea of the history of events in many of the places we visit... 

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Disappointment and a rescue.

Sadly no pigs trotters arrived on the Casa Guatemala boat yesterday, ah well we will live to fight another day. Jose and Esperanza, who are in charge of boat deliveries, shook their heads sadly and said they didn't know about the order and the 'senora' from the store had gone to the city. Anyway they assured me that they will do their best to get the required porcine patas for Tuesday when they do their next round....

Pushing my Spanish further than it was ever meant to go I also asked if they could get some belly of pork. They must really wonder where this strange gringo is coming from! Asking them for cuts of meat that most self respecting cruisers never touch! Much gesticulating towards my, rather copious, belly reduced Esperanza to a fit of giggles and Jose to a blushing state of  embarrassment. Esperanza is similarly gifted in the 'belly' department whilst Jose is slim and fit, the bastard!! They promised to call on the vhf if they found some belly. That should be an interesting conversation for the rest of the fleet to follow...

On a completely different tack, we were headed into town on Friday aboard our trusted dinghy 'Bob". Suddenly a cayuco with four people turned over, we have never seen that before. As we changed course towads them another local boat also arrived and gave them something to hang on to. There was an old man, a husband and wife and small child. The child was swifly plucked from the water whilst the others clung to the boat in a state of shock. It's no easy matter getting a water logged person over the side of a small boat. The cayuco, basically a hollowed out log was upside down and almost totally submerged by this time. We wedged ourselves behind it's crew and pushed as the other boat heaved them aboard. The woman, clad in traditional Mayan garb was in a hell of a state, deeply shocked and waterlogged.
We manged to round up the drifting paddles, sandals and assorted floating debris and after assurance that they were OK went on our way.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Lobscouse and Boiled Baby!

I am starting to wonder what effect this time in the Tropics is having on my psyche!
I find myself setting some challenging culinary challenges, a full English roast in 100 degrees of heat is a real challenge!

My next objective is to make a traditional English 'Pork Pie', from scratch. And yes that does include creating the aspic from pigs trotters...

Yesterday I visited the store in town run by Casa Guatemala, the local orphanage. It is their boat that visits the marina a couple of times a week delivering excellent pork, chicken and dairy products. Some produced on their own farm and other stuff bought in from local producers. My mission was to order a couple of pigs trotters as the first step to completing this challenge.. Trotters? Hum that doesn't have a translation is my small and dog eared dictionary so we went for 'little foot of pig'! That got the woman excited.

Ah Si Si Muy bueno...and she launched into a dissertation, some of which I understood, of the various Guatemalan recipes for this delicacy.
Boiled with carrots and onions and parsley to make a gelatinous salad, deep fried and sliced(!). Not the salad the trotters.
After much mutual lip smacking and appreciative nods I THINK that two medio sized porcine tootsies should be on the boat for delivery to me on Saturday morning. We shall wait and see what arrives! I have learnt that what I think I have agreed to may well be somewhat different to that which arrives...

 TBH is convinced that I have lost the plot, he may well be right! I have been trawling the internet for recipes and instructions. Ideally I would love one of these intricate Victorian moulds but my springform cake tin will have to suffice. The original beauties sell for hundreds of pounds and there aren't a lot of purchasing opportunities down here. I can't think why.

So the whole project has led me to some wonderful sites, particularly those concerned with historical food. After watching Hornblower it set me to thinking about food on ships and what I could learn. Maybe even adapt for our own enjoyment.

TBH isn't too keen on weevils in the ships biscuits but is a fan of welsh rarebit. Basically cheese on toast, mixed with beer and mustard. It was a great favourite of  Captain Jack Aubrey's from the wonderful Patrick O'Brien series of books.

"The gunroom feast for the Captain was if anything more copious than that of the day before. The gunroom cook, by means known to himself alone, had conserved the makings of a superb suet pudding of the kind called boiled baby in the service, known to be Jack Aubrey's favourite form of food, and it came in on a scrubbed scuttle-cover to the sound of cheering."

We have yet to try 'boiled baby' or 'lobscouse' but I now have the recipes. Maybe you won't want to accept an invitation to dinner over the next few weeks as I get this out of my system!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Horatio Hornblower.

We have spent the last couple of evenings enjoying the old TV series "Hornblower'.The tales of derring-do are enthralling and have kept me on the edge of my seat. Will Horatio save the day? The answer is of course yes!

I am finding the regular sinking of ships a little stressful though. It is at least one per episode, and last night we suffered as two went down. Sitting in our cosy saloon, our oil lamp swinging over head, the sound of creaking timbers from the movie there is an added identification with the picture on the small screen.

Last night it went a bit far. As the characters were struggling in stormy sea with rising waves the wind noise seemed to go through the roof and I was even starting to feel a little queasy. Leaping upright I realised that we were in the middle of a big squall with howling winds in our own rigging, torrential rain and the boat bobbing around in the swell. No wonder I was feeling sick! Our own movements were out of sync with the movie and it made for a most uncomfortable hour or so! Very realistic though, maybe I should have chucked a cup of saltwater at TBH to complete the experience....

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Spilt coffee...

I started off so well this morning! Up early, ropes soaking in a bucket to fight off the green slime attack. Then I thought I would get some washing in to the machine at the marina, make some coffee and run up a batch of scones to have with the coffee.

So I pop over with my bag of laundry, somebody beat me to it, oh well I'll sit and wait under the cooling electric fan. No problem. Other cruisers appear, general chatter, then the man with the pest control fogger. Oh dear! As cruiser no 1 struggles to explain would he(Foger guy) please not spray in the workshop as he has some varnish work drying TBH arrives with a message from the marina owner to say they will be fogging today so stay out of the Palapa, doh!

Back I trot to the boat. With the rising flood water climbing on and off is becoming a bit of a struggle for my short fat legs...I put the kettle on for the coffe, washed the pot. Made the scones and got them in the oven..Excellent everything coming together nicely. That was my mistake! Bang, over goes the now full coffee pot, emptying the entire contents over the stove, the sink, the floor, me...

What a frigging mess. Coffee grounds are just the worst, especially on the boat, getting stck in all the cracks and crannies.

Oh well could be worse. Got there eventually. Now I have to have a sleep to recover from the trauma....

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ant attack.

Quick, put the fly screen in the hatch. Hurry.

After two days of solid,heavy, unrelenting rain it had finally stopped. I flung open every orifice that the boat possesses. Being battened down in the kind of heat we have here is truly horrendous. The ambient temperature rises, and just keeps rising: 95,98,100,102. Then I stop looking 'cos I can't see anymore with the sweat pouring off my brow straight in to my eyes. Boy does it sting too. Which makes my eyes water and so the never ending cycle of flowing liquid continues...

The reason for my panic becomes clear as the now dry air fills with black flying insects. Millions of them. They start to land in the cockpit and I watch mesmorised as their wings fall off. Oh yuck, that is just disgusting.

Sort of looks like the confetti that the Corpse Bride would enjoy. I'm not, enjoying it that is. All those black marks over the creamy fibreglass. It's disheartening is what it is. Try as I may it is virtually impossible to keep the boat looking bright and sparkly. If it's not dismembered flying insect parts it's the all encroaching green slime of the rainy season. Depressing or what?

For a couple of hours the Alfred Hitchcock style drama plays out around our refuge. Can of bug spray in hand I prowl below decks inspecting the insect netting and giving a violent puff of lethal chemical at any intrepid creature that threatens to invade my space.
It's war, and I have my weapons of mass distruction on hand. Raid spray, mosquito coils even fumigation bombs, and let me tell you I am not afraid to use them.No Siree!

This morning I start the cleanup, wings gone but no sign of the invaders, where are they?

Oh blimey there they are. Under the ropes that lie coiled on the coach roof. Wingless but undefeated. Biding their time as they spy out the lay of the land. Well not anymore, boiling water and more chemicals and success.

Local informers tell me that they are flying termites, very rare that they swarm. This is the second time in as many months. What is Mother Nature telling me?