Thursday, 31 May 2012

Mariquita's Mission To The Thames

Sitting on the port deck after dinner on a Wednesday evening sees me motoring slowly towards the white cliffs of Dover. Not me personally; I'm chilling out having just cooked dinner for our crew of 11 (normally 12). Mariquita is on her merry way towards the Thames and the crew are holding their watches, eating chocolate, taking sights on the sextant and generally reverting back to the sort of deep and highly intellectual 'conversation' that watches tend to encourage such as, 'If you could be any alien from outer space, what one would you be?'.

I've only once before sailed this way and I think I recall it wasn't quite so pleasant. But here we are honking along with the tide, the sea all calm and friendly and the sky clear and glazed.

We're hoping to arrive in London by tomorrow night, moored up by Tower Bridge in what has been named the 'Avenue of Sail'; where a collection of some of the world's most beautiful and historic boats will be congregating, most of which are too big to pass under the 17 bridges the Pageant will parade under on the 3rd June.

And we are so excited! How lucky are we to be moored amongst such beautiful vessels, witnessing first hand one of the biggest flotilla of boats ever assembled on the River Thames, celebrating Her Majesty the Queen's 60 year reign.

Talking of rain, I hope the sun comes out soon. It will be my Birthday too - did I mention that? - and I like a sunny Birthday. But I won't be feeling too old, quite the spring chicken in fact; the oldest boat attending the Jubilee Pageant was built in 1740... Now that's proper old.

Anyway, I shall retire to my bunk for the night as it's getting cold and there is fog rolling in. I'll leave that to the rest of the crew.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned!


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Banana Cake Pre-Pageant

Well now this is exciting. Tomorrow we head off from stunning Gosport and turn east for the Thames and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant. If you haven’t already read about it, I am a Silver Jubilee baby and my 35th Birthday (that was brave) will fall on the day of the pageant on the 3rd of June. And Mariquita will be there, moored up in the ‘Avenue of Sail’. I couldn’t dream of a more exciting way to spend one’s Birthday; I bet the Queen’s with me on that one.

Cake. That’s all I can say about it; lots of cake.

(And possibly some Pimms...)

George and I have just returned from a short trip to our new home in Debenham, Suffolk where we were lucky enough to become more acquainted with some of our new neighbours.  The good people of Debenham will be holding a street party in our beautiful village and if I could split myself in two like a scone in preparation for jam and cream (see, cake on the brain), then I would be there too with bells on. I dreamt for so long of one day owning my own country cottage. Having lived and worked on the high seas for some years now, I am very ready for the life of a land-lubber. (What does that mean do you suppose; ‘land-lubber’? What’s a lubber when it’s at home? ...)

Gosport, early evening

Anyway, the last time I wrote about my craving for life on land, almost a year ago, the accompanying recipe was for barbequed bananas with chocolate. Today I have decided to blog my most favourite recipe for banana cake. I like when things come full circle and link up; blogging Feng Shui.

You see, I’m getting a little excited about baking my ultimate Birthday/Jubilee cake for me and the Queen – Sorry, the Queen and I. How rude. So I had a quick little banana cake experience today despite being pretty busy getting the boat ready for departure and having to stock up with loads of supplies for the trip and our stay in London. We have no idea how easy it will be to food shop once we’re in the Thames, so best to be prepared.

This cake is the easiest but most deliciously moist loaf of nutty banana-ness that it is the only recipe I will ever use when making a banana cake. Why would I look elsewhere when I have the ultimate recipe? It takes about 5 minutes to put together and about 45 minutes to cook – And 2 minutes for a hungry crew of twelve to demolish.

It is a vaguely adapted version of Gary Rhodes Banana cake from his ‘Great British Classics’ Book. I hope he doesn’t mind but I’ve made it a little healthier and a little more – moreish. If I do say so myself.

So for the quickest, best banana cake recipe you will need;

225 g wholemeal self raising flour (Must be wholemeal for the denseness and nuttyness)
100 g softened butter
4 tbsp pure maple syrup or golden syrup
4 beaten eggs
4 mashed ripe to over-ripe bananas
150g roughly chopped walnuts (optional)
A good grating of fresh nutmeg


  •  Pre-heat your oven to 180°C, gas mark 4, 350°F. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

  • Put all the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix with an electric hand whisk till all the ingredients are well incorporated. But not too long, a few lumps are fine. Pour into your prepared loaf tin and put into the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check on it after 40 minutes depending on how good your oven is. Mine on the boat is rubbish so it needed an hour.

  • When a sharp knife inserted into the middle of it comes out clean, the cake is done. Leave to set for 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Best eaten warm smeared with proper butter.

  • Is that it?

Just to let you know, I forgot to put the butter in once and it was great! So it is a very versatile and forgiving recipe. The wholemeal flour really makes this cake and if you’d like to use pecans or hazelnuts instead of walnuts then do it. A lemon cream cheese topping raises the yum factor by about a million but for a relatively wholesome mid-week cake it’s not entirely necessary.

However for a Birthday/Pageant cake you can bung it all on!

Stay tuned for our trip up to the Thames and Mariquita’s experience in the Jubilee Pageant.  I’ll be back shortly.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, 25 May 2012

Race Training and Thai Curry

Putting in the top mast.

Mariquita went out for her first race-training sail yesterday in the Solent.  And the day went excitingly well which, with 7 months since our last race in St Tropez and a very new crew, is never a guarantee. My team-mate and staysail 2 for the last two years, Matty, is now bowman and I have with me instead the brand new Mr Johnny Rogers, who coincidently, is another lovely and softly spoken American and yes, that really is his name.

But all went well, nothing and nobody broke and it was, as usual, a joy to once again discover that I hadn’t forgotten what I’m supposed to do on deck. So I can relax and ease back into the full swing of a race season onboard a classic racing yacht – chef and staysail 1.

HECTIC!  It has already begun. 3 training days in a row, 40 odd sandwiches a day to make, a team building session, guests to be pampered, the interior to be turned into a 5 star hotel, accounts to be done and then I have to cook dinner every evening and that’s all before Monday. On account of which I haven’t blogged for ages. Apologies.

Maybe I didn’t quite remember everything from last season then – the sheer madness of it all. So a nice easy dinner menu ensues naturally. And at the top of the ‘easy dinner’ list is always a curry is it not? I mean, let’s face it, some chicken breasts, a can of coconut milk and some spices and Bob’s your Uncle, a tasty chicken curry...

Ok, maybe there’s a little more to it than that but basically that’s the essence of it. That and this next recipe is a fish curry. So it’s not at all like that now is it...

 A salmon and butternut Thai fish curry is the most pleasing curry ever. It tastes outrageously good and you can make the sauce in advance if you are a busy bee and then just pop the fish into the heated sauce to cook just before you serve.

I’m surprised I haven’t put a Thai curry recipe on the blog yet considering I make them quite a lot. It makes a great boat meal as it all cooks on the hob and everybody likes them. Now I know the list of ingredients looks long and if you are unfamiliar with some of the ingredients then you might not bother but please, please give it a go! There is always a substitute if you can’t get all the ingredients and anyway if you leave anything out it will still taste awesome. Trust me.

So for a great salmon and butternut Thai curry for 6 you will need;

3 large onions, sliced
5-6 fresh salmon fillets, cut into chunks
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 large bunch of fresh coriander
2-3 red chilli’s – hot or mild depending on your taste
1 large knob of fresh root ginger, grated
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
8 kaffir lime leaves, fresh if possible or dried
1 tsp finely chopped lemon grass (from a fresh stalk or from a jar of ready chopped)
12 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp of yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp turmeric
2 cans of coconut milk
8 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 limes, zested and the juice squeezed

  • Begin by slowly sautéing the sliced onions in a little oil and butter in a large non-stick pan. This creates the perfect base flavour for the curry with all its lovely, naturally sweet oniony flavours.  This can take 20 minutes or so of very, very gentle cooking so that the onions begin to turn a lovely golden brown.
  • Once the onions are looking nice and golden stir in the cubed butternut squash and continue to cook on a gentle heat.

  • Now this is the fun bit where you can pretend to be a TV chef with your neat little piles of spices all ready and lined up... or is it just me who does that? Firstly finely chop the stalks from your bunch of coriander. Always use the coriander stalks in a curry and the leaves later at the end. Now put the finely chopped stalks into a nice little pile on your chopping board. Next finely slice your chilli’s and proudly put the little pile next to the coriander stalks. Then grate the fresh root ginger and crush the garlic, adding these to the TV chef display of spices along with the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Now how good does that look!?

  • Next bit is also pretty fun. Get a frying pan nice and hot but with no oil. Add the coriander seeds, the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and the cardamom pods which have been slightly broken open by thwacking them with the flat of a blade or just crushing them with your palm. Let these roast for about 2 minutes in the pan. The smell will be amazing. Then tip the seeds into a pestle and mortar. You will need to open the cardamom pods and take out the little seeds which is a bit fiddly but sooooooo worth it. Then give all the seeds a good grinding until they are pretty much a powder.

  • Turn the heat up a little under the onion and butternut and pour the ground spices in, giving it a good stir. It should all start to have a nice little sizzle and the smell will be making anyone within smell shot, extremely hungry.

  • Now tip in to the pan, in your best TV chef impersonation the chilli’s, lemongrass, lime leaves, coriander stalks, ginger, garlic, fennel seeds and the turmeric. Stir it all in well and cook for a few minutes.

  • Pour in the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, the lime juice and zest. Season with some salt but not too much because the fish sauce and soy sauce are salty too. Bring to a gentle boil then turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer until the butternut is cooked through.

  • When you are pretty ready to serve, add to the simmering pan the fresh salmon. Cook for about 5-8 minutes making sure the salmon is cooked through. Now most importantly taste the curry and adjust the seasoning. It may need a bit more salt or a little bit of sugar. Close your eyes and really figure it out.

  • Stir through the fresh coriander leaves and serve with lots of wedges of lime. Serve with perfectly cooked rice and naan breads (even though they are Indian, have them anyway. I love naan).

Now I know that was pretty long and only a small percentage of you have made it here, Hi Mum, but really once you have made this a few times it becomes easy and better every time. And experiment! That’s the beauty of a curry. If you don’t have all the spices or ingredients it doesn’t matter a jot.

Now I’m off to bed because we’re training tomorrow and I can hear the wind start to pick up and have a little howl through the halyards. Should be fun tomorrow. I feel the wet weather gear and harnesses may become useful.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for reading.


Adam's brilliant gold leafing on the top of the top mast about to be hoisted.
Thats my Fiancé up there! What a hero...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

With A Serving Of Hot Custard

We’re here! We made it!

After 3 weeks and 1 day, we have arrived in Gosport, England. It’s a good thing. It’s a very good thing.  In fact, I’m so pleased that the trip is over, as is everybody else onboard, I am even finding Gosport a joyous place to temporarily reside in despite it being less then idyllic with its weird purple flats, its industry and kebab shops. Very young girls wander round in next to nothing with babies in pushchairs, cigarettes and foul mouths long overdue a bar of soap and I’m finding it all very quaint.

For now.

That was a long and uncomfortable trip and I’m not going to sugar coat it. It is easy to forget once you’ve landed how bad it was but maybe as I get older the rose coloured glasses are beginning to lose their tint a bit. I’m looking back on the delivery as I sit, nice and still in a quirky little bar on an old Light Ship called – ‘The Light Ship’ – with some lovely poached eggs and a cup of English Breakfast Tea and I am in no way looking back with fond memories to regale you with.

I lie. And how ungrateful of me. We did see a large pod (pod?) of whales very early one morning with one swimming very close to the boat.  One night we had around 15 dolphins laughing their heads off whilst playing in the slip- stream of our bow, an awesome sight.  Dolphins never fail to amuse.

And also on the plus side, I suppose, the Bay of Biscay was a doddle. However we didn’t catch one fish.
So it had its ups ‘n’ downs in all sorts of senses; as well as the kind that makes you want to dangle your head over the side of the boat and never eat again.

But now here we are in sunny Gosport and ‘pop’,  the crew are already up in numbers to twelve. The boat is being de-rigged of her delivery gear and is now looking rather more like the beautiful racing boat that she is. Her top mast went in today, always an exciting event involving a crane and my fiancé up the mast in a harness.

I’ve been buying and cooking all things English to show off to our Italians and Americans and the Australian. Cream teas with fresh strawberries, toasted crumpets and proper mature Cheddar cheese, roasted Gammon with parsley sauce and Jersey Royals, Bangers ‘N’ Mash with free range organic pork and apple.  Jammy dodgers and Elderflower cordial, curly kale and Brambly Apples!

I am really enjoying myself.

So I’m pretty convinced my next recipe to share will be heartily English followed swiftly by the odd Diamond Jubilee/my Birthday cake experiment. The crew have been very forthcoming with their suggestions for that one having had much time to ponder over happy cake memories whilst sitting in dripping wet weather gear and harnesses on cold, rough dark watches.

Ah, home and cake. It doesn’t get much better than that. Unless of course, it comes with a side serving of hot custard...

Thanks for reading.

The moon and the lighthouse

The beautiful Benodét - The home of sailing

Friday, 4 May 2012

It Aint all Rock 'N' Roll

I'm so glad thats over! I just crawled into my bunk having cooked and eaten lunch. And I am exhausted. As we crawl our way up the Portugese coast, finally out of the Med and heading North, the seas have a distinct Atlantic 3 meter swell topped with added 2 meter, choppy waves from which a cold salt spray treats us regularly to a surprising faceful. And it's about to get alot worse according to the latest weather report. Splendid.

It took me 2 whole hours to make a minestroni soup with potato gnocci. This boat was designed excellently for racing - for open sea passages it was not. She rolls like a pig in a mud and worse. Hense our average speed of 5 knots. My Dad's plastic 38 footer can go faster than that.

The unpredictable motion of the sea caught me off guard more than once sending me flying. You can't just get a couple of onions out of the drawer and chop away in a sea like this, everything has to be done one at a time, slowly and systematically whilst 'brace-bracing' up against the cupboards. Either that or play an endless game of 'chase the onion around the boat'.
The crew are pretty knackered and very fed up with living in this exagerated, continuous rolling.   If you're not on watch, the only other place you can be is in your bunk. But a short kip is a tense affair when one is wedging oneself into the confines of a bunk and lee cloth in the attempt to stay in one spot long enough before the next big wave and bow-slammer catapault you skywards. For the partially dozing, finding your body airborne above your bunk is most odd. And the landing will put an end to any idea of sleep. 

And here I am holding on tightly in my bunk about to attempt the impossible. So here we go, wish me luck.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Buisness of Cooking

I really love being the cook onboard. Yes, I'm aware that a week ago I was praying for tera firma as we bashed into a nauseating swell whilst also being solely responsible for providing  good food for 9 others; friends, Fiancée and comrades at sea. But now that my sea-legs are confident, my strong urge to please them with tasty, sustaning meals is navigating my motivation towards the UK, fully floating my boat, the wind in my sails.

I love a good sailing cliché.

That all makes me sound like a lovely, caring person in the buisness of giving; The Florence Nightingale of the wave-riding, gimballed-oven, galley collective. But trust me, there is massive selfishness lurking behind every proffered dish. Compare it to being the one at the party who chooses the music (never me). The folk who are so sure and confident that their taste and knowledge of music will be enjoyed by everybody else without the fear of ridcule, that their Ipod holds the key to the nights ambiance and above all, so that they can listen to what they want to listen to. Thats like me and cooking. If I really fancey Italian meatballs and spaghetti then thats what I cook and thats what everybody else eats. The trick is making them all think that that is exactly what they would have cooked themselves if they'd had the choice.

Reading your audience well in the given situation is a strong asset to cooking for the same people twice a day or indeed if you happen to be DJ'ing for a large group of expectant party-goers ready to unleash some moves.  And when the praise comes your way, tummies are being rubbed, lips licked, depending on the skill of the dancers; or if you're the cook and folk are full and happy, possibly a little satisfied belch being stiffled under a napkin, you can sit back and feel pretty good about yourself. Not only have you just enjoyed the meal of your dreams for that day, you made everybody else feel just the same.

So, on reflection maybe the buisness of cooking is only a little bit selfish. Maybe it's also about sharing your love of food with 9 other people and enjoying the added bonus of being paid to do it.
On a clasic wooden yacht about to pop through the Straights of Gibralta, out of the Med and into Atlantic stuff.

Now lets all pray together for a nice little South Westerly please...