I’ve always said that what I love about our travelling is the opportunity to experience new and different cultures first hand. Learning languages, tasting exotic foods…total immersion is the way to go in my books. But meeting new people has to be on top of the list of “by-products” of our global roaming. Locals, holidaymakers , fellow cruisers or relocated expats…Puerto Aventuras, where we have been for the past 6 months, is a big village full of fascinating people.
A few weekends ago we invited an American family over for a BBQ on the boat. As often happens these days, the kids met first and forged relationships, and it wasn’t until 3 months later that we made the parents’ acquaintance at a house party. We hit it off, Terry and Joe sharing the same interest for flying and business, Kelly and I swapping travel stories and “the joy of taking your family along” anecdotes. They had many guests to attend that day, so we parted with a promise to get together again and chat some more. Soon. Life went on, both our families busy with school and boat issues (us), or business travel (them). It took another 3 months to find the time to resume our previous chat, which turned out to be even more fascinating than the first! Our floating home and lifestyle is always a source of curiosity for people, and a first time visit on board invariably includes a guided tour and answers to many “how do you…??” type of questions. From weather to anchorages, engineering issues to our favourite destinations, we’re always happy to share our experience. But my favourite has to be when asked about fishing and food! We have so many fishing stories and recipes to share, I could write a book about it. Until I do, I am happy to include fish on the menu whenever we have guests.
In my last post I promised I would share the recipes of blog worthy dishes. Boy, are you in for a treat today…
A month ago, friends invited us for a BBQ at their place and I volunteered to bring the dessert. I must confess to being naturally drawn to savoury dishes, perhaps because one can be approximate with ingredients and measurements and still end up with good results. Not so for desserts, in particular the types that involve baking. Cake making to me is akin to a science experiment, a million miles away from my “throw a bit of this in, sprinkle some of that on, cook until it’s done” style. For years I steered away from baking, too hard. Then I had children, and it seemed selfish to me to deprive them of the joy of eating homemade cakes and pastries. So I set out to learn how to bake. I studied the different ratios between eggs-flour-butter, the effects of oven temperature, types of flour, folding and whipping techniques, submitting family and friends to tastings with mixed results…After 15 years of trial and errors, I can’t say that baking is one of my strong culinary points, I still have massive failures however thanks to endless practise, I’ve also enjoyed spectacular success. One of them is Moelleux au chocolat (flourless chocolate cake) which features prominently on my dessert repertoire, as the most popular cake with kids and grown ups alike.
There is something you must know about me: I am a diary-kind of person. It started as a kid in France, when we were made to keep a school diary (emploi du temps), where the daily homework was copied from the blackboard and had to be checked and signed off by Mum or Dad. That went on thru high school, then University, though no parent’s signatures were required any longer. Thus was planted the habit of planning for the next day, week or month and it has followed me ever since. I only keep one diary at any one time and while in my earlier adults years, the entries were mostly about appointments, deadlines, and phone numbers; over time I have included various notes on things of interests, like a written version of a Pinterest board…Nowadays, open any page and you will find: bills to pay, money for the kids, teachers appointments as well as reminders to call my mum, restaurant to book, menu plan, shopping lists… That’s any given day. When planning a crossing, I need a separate diary just for cruise preparations!
Why I am telling you all this? Because that’s how my brain works, and without diaries, lists, or procedures I would probably forget half of what I’m supposed to do, or the order of which things need to be done. I would let myself be distracted by my children asking to go to the beach or my husband setting up on the deck for a sunset drink! Actually I do get distracted. A lot. But thanks to my diary, I can remember what I did last month and share with you some of our July Happenings in the galley…
Last month’s cooking mood was French, Bastille Day being the theme for most of our meals. Inspired by Manger a beautiful blog I stumbled upon (more on that in another post) and French Rendez-Vous, a French Designer fashion boutique newly opened in Brisbane by a dear French friend of mine, I kind of felt a longing for all things French. Some days, we ate something simple like omelette & mushrooms
or vegetable soup & grilled cheese tartines.
or sweet potato bread
(not very French, but the ingredients were in the fridge!).
And of course we had fantastic dinner parties with non-French guests, so I really went to town: fricassee of chicken (which is French for Chicken casserole, really), bacon-wrapped baked chicken, BBQ pork ribs, All-green salad, Plum cake, Apple tart
All chocolate cake…
Some of the dishes were “blog worthy” and I’ll post a recipe (you’ll have to guess which one!), others either need more work (read cook again!) or were just too “mehhhhh” to even bother any further.
It’s not to say that we forgot about the rest of the world so we also duly celebrated American July 4th with cheeseburgers and National Tequila Day with margaritas on our favourite beach. See how international we are!!!! Now let’s try detoxing a little in August…stay tuned.
The funny thing about living away from your home country is that we are forever looking for signs or occasions to remind us of what we left behind. Well, I am anyway. Over the years, my memories of France tend to be more on the positive side (the food, the beautiful country side, the fashion, the indulgent lifestyle…) rather than the gloomy issues which no doubt did and would irritate me if I still lived there (the stress, the economy, the pollution…).
As much as I love travelling and have embraced different cultures with gusto, occasionally I feel homesick for France. Terry thinks that it is the idea of France that I pine for rather than France itself. And maybe he’s right, because though every trip back there is great, I always feel glad to leave again. I am sure there is some deep psychological meaning to all this, which I won’t delve into.
So it is that July 14th is always a big deal on our boat. It is Bastille Day, French National Day, which in France is celebrated with a military parade on Paris’s Avenue of the Champs-Elysees, and countless “bals musettes” and fireworks in the country towns and villages. I can’t remember anything special about the food, except delicious summer fare enjoyed al fresco with copious amounts of wine. If a boat is a miniature version of your own country (like an embassy, right?), then I like to transform VOAHANGY into a French territory on that day. Even more so than other days.
July 14th also happens to be Pandemonium Day and National Nude Day (I am not making this up!), and it was suggested to me that I was very close to score the perfect trifecta with a galley in disarray already, a French menu planned for dinner, all that was required was for me to cook naked. I didn’t win the trifecta, I wore an apron. But we celebrated everything else! And because it is more fun to eat with company, I invited my neighbour, Carol and her family who had never heard of Bastille Day (or Pandemonium and Nude Days either!)
On to the menu. It was a hot and sweltering summer’s day, so I wanted a cold starter. I had 5 adults and 5 teenagers, not sure of their likes and dislikes so had to play it safe with the main course. And dessert had to be a family favourite (always, I almost never do dessert experiments when I have guests, it needs to be tried and true). So this is what we ended up with: Chilled Asparagus Soup, Baked Bacon-Wrapped Chicken and Roast Potatoes, Apple Tart. Of course, we drank French Champagne and Bordeaux wines, and by the end of the night the boat was in complete pandemonium but in a happy kind of way!!!
Baked bacon-wrapped chicken and Roast potatoes
This is so simple to cook, I would call it more a method than a recipe. Also, when cooking chicken pieces and potatoes, you will note the quantities are in pieces rather than weight as I find it easier to visualise how much people eat this way.
For 10 people:
20-25 chicken thighs (2 per person and extras for the hungrier teenagers!) preferably boneless, but bone-in is OK.
20-25 thin bacon rashers
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
4 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
A few pinches of dried thyme (or fresh thyme if you have)
Preheat an oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6
Wrap one bacon rasher around a chicken thigh, making sure the loose end is tucked underneath. Place on a baking tray, previously lined with parchment paper. Repeat the process for the rest of the bacon/chicken. You will need 2 baking trays.
Tuck tomatoes and onions quarters tightly between the chicken parcels (don’t worry if it looks really tight, they will shrink as they cook!). Sprinkle thyme, salt and pepper all over.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the chicken parcels are golden and crispy looking (check for doneness by sticking a knife in, once is enough, and ensure juices run clear, not pink).
There is no need for olive oil or liquid to be added. The chicken skin and bacon combined release enough fat and juices to make a delicious clear gravy to pour over the potatoes!
My favourite way of preparing spuds, no peeling, no mess, it can be cooked in the oven at the same time as the chicken.
For 10 people:
20-25 medium sized potatoes, washed and dried.
½ cup olive oil
A handful of dried Herbs de Provence (or any other combination you have on hand, garlic powder works a treat too!)
Preheat an oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6
In a very large bowl, combine olive oil and dried herbs. Cut potatoes in quarters, place them in the bowl and toss until all pieces are covered with the oil/herbs mixture.
Transfer the vegetables onto a parchment-lined baking tray, sprinkle with salt and slide this in the oven.
Bake for 45 minutes or until golden on the outside and soft on the inside.
** Both these dishes can be prepared a few hours in advance, kept in the fridge until ready to bake. The quantities can be adjusted up or down to suit the number of guests, same with the cooking times.
Welcome to my Galley!
First things first: the galley is to a boat what the kitchen is to a house. Our current boat is a 56ft catamaran, which is a very comfortable size as far as boats go. Some traditional yachties will probably say that my galley is so large, it should be called a kitchen, but personally I’ll stick to the lingo. Besides, it may be spacious for a boat, but still is limited compared to a house.
The galley is where you will find me most of the time, whether we are cruising or not. I had no input in the design of the latest one, but appreciate a lot of its features: full size gas oven/grill, domestic fridge/freezers, wine racks ( what else would you expect from a French built boat?), deep double sinks, soft closing drawers, and tons of bench space (for a boat that is…) As you can see, we even have an island, how luxurious! My biggest challenge is keeping this space clutter free, available for prep. Also, being part of the saloon and opening onto the back deck, any mess is in full view of the rest of the crew. Not very attractive when you have guests around. That’s when I wish we had a dishwasher (the option is available), where I could hide everything! Maybe next boat…
This picture was taken during our Transatlantic crossing, nearly 2 years ago. The fish weren’t biting that day, so we settled for Hamburgers served with crisps (as opposed to hot chips, I don’t deep fry at sea !!)