Monday, 25 June 2012

The Heads

I once before, a little more than a year ago, wrote a story on this blog about a particularly bad case of gastric flu I managed to pick up from somewhere and quite cleverly - I thought - wove it into a simple recipe involving barbecued bananas with dark, melted chocolate. It was a necessary introduction, I believe, to the grunt of the story and ensuing recipe. I did apologise profusely for any offence caused, it being a food blog and all.

With that in mind, if I may just slip in an additional apology, for I am about to tell you all about our 'heads' on Mariquita. The loo. The dunny. The bogs.

As you may already know, the nautical term for the loo's on boats, the 'heads', comes from the days of large, down-wind sailing ships. The crew were obliged to go all the way forward to the bow sprit (the long pokey-outy stick on the bow of ships and classic boats like ours) to relieve themselves. As this was at the head of the boat, the term for the toilets on a boat stuck and even now they are know as the 'heads'. There were two un-deniable benefits to the loos being there in those times; firstly the ships were mostly down-wind sailing vessels so any smell would drift away from the boat in the following breeze. Handy when you don't have a bottle of Febreeze within reach. Secondly, the natural motion of the water against the hull at the bow of the boat would act as a natural flusher, conveniently washing everything away.

I can't imagine though how depressing your day would have become if you were suffering from a bit of a tummy ache and Mother Nature was throwing a force 8 at you with heavy rain and a massive, rolling sea. That's quite a bidet...

Our crew heads on Mariquita are really quite lovely aesthetically speaking. No, it's not at the bow of the boat or over the open sea as thankfully in this day and age we have the convenience and sophistication of pumps and valves. So although our heads are definitely up forward, they are also behind a nice door, inside. Nice door.

Sea water is still used to flush our Blakes loo though. Flushing the thing after you have 'finished', requires you to pump up and down on the big handle until the bowl has emptied, turn on the tap to let the sea water in and flush with the second little handle. Repeat a few times before you finally turn off the tap. Now this bit is the most important bit to remember. If you forget, the boat will sink. Well, it would take a while but there is always the odd day when a gentle trickling sound is heard from the crew heads and the loo is discovered to be overflowing with, basically, the sea.

So spare a thought, all you house dwelling, simply-push-the-handle folk out there when you next flush. At least you're not committed to your toilet for another 2 to 3 minutes, manually pumping away, with the little added excitement that your responsible for your house not sinking.

I shall leave you with that thought and with some photos of our more historic guest heads (the posh loos), modelled on toilets that were actually used back then in 1911. Yes, that is a lot of polishing to be done but they are beautiful. As heads go.

I couldn't bring myself to follow this one with a recipe I'm afraid. I think it wise just to leave it there.


Friday, 22 June 2012

A Moroccan Crew Lunch in Cornwall

It's been an age since I did a crew lunch recipe. What with all the Queen stuff and the weird Westward Cup, (it was weird and I would rather not do a regatta based on politics and money again) I've been a bit out of sync.

But here we are in Falmouth, Cornwall with a good week or so before the Pendennis regatta which in huge contrast, is the best regatta ever! The Pendennis organisers throw a great event, give the best of Cornish welcomes and have the correct understanding that if it wasn't for us little crew folk, there wouldn't be a regatta because there wouldn't be anybody to sail these great big,  beautiful classic sailing boats. It is the crews who have the skills, the know-how and the passion for it. It is the crews who work incredibly hard, set the tone of the atmosphere, the evening vibe; and boy do they know how to drink. Being a professional sailor often means being a dab hand at the bar too, a skill that merely encompasses all the wonderful traditions and ancient history of a life at sea. Pendennis understands all this and throws a damn fine regatta ensuring boats come back here from far and wide to race again and again.


And back to lunch.

So I made for my hard-working, highly skilled, beer-swilling crew (just kidding - some of us prefer Gin), a little Moroccan number which I always find has a nice lunch-time ring about it. Moroccan is easy enough to make without having to buy one of those expensive Moroccan spice-mixes you get at supermarkets these days. Basically for Moroccan I always work ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, and cinnamon together. Get some flaked almonds and dried apricots in there somewhere and bish-bash-bosh, you have a Moroccan meal!

Obviously there is a teeny-weeny bit more involved and I have never been to Morocco but I have on more than one occasion considered taking belly-dancing lessons...

However for now I shall give you the recipe for a very easy butternut and chickpea couscous served with a light, fantastically tasty chicken in yoghurt and tahini with mint and lemon. Serve with hot pitta breads and salad and your crew will not go hungry.

Soaks it up too. (Really I'm just kidding, we're not a bunch of piss-heads, we're all highly professional here)

So for a quick and easy Moroccan lunch for 6 you will need;

For the Couscous;
400g couscous
1 butternut squash, chopped into bite sized bits and peeled (which is optional)
1 tin of chicpeas
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
150g dried apricots, roughly chopped
toasted flaked almonds to garnish
hot chicken stock or water
knob of butter or a dash of olive oil

For the Yoghurt, Tahini and mint chicken you will need;
4-6 chicken breasts
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp black sesame seeds (optional)
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds (optional)
2-3 small pots of natural yoghurt
2 tbsp mint sauce
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp tahini paste (if you don't have this then use peanut butter, yum)
1 clove of fresh garlic, crushed
fresh mint leaves to garnish

  • To begin, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 190C, 375F. Slice each chicken breast into 4-5 pieces and fry in batches in a hot frying pan until very lightly golden but still a bit pink inside. When each batch is done, set aside on a baking tray. When you have browned all the pieces, drizzle over the lemon juice, season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and yellow mustard seeds. Pop into the oven to finish cooking for about 30 minutes.

  • In a large non-stick pan saute the onions in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes till translucent and starting to colour gently. Add the chopped butternut, stir fry on high for a few minutes and then cover with a lid. Turn the heat down to low.

  • Meanwhile, put the couscous into a big bowl. Pop in the butter or olive oil and a good pinch of salt. pour over the hot chicken stock or boiling water from the kettle to just about cover the couscous and give it all a good stir then put a large plate or cling film over the bowl so that the steam is trapped, cooking the couscous perfectly.

  • And whilst the butternut is softening now is also a good time to mix the yoghurt, tahini paste, lemon juice and zest, mint sauce and garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

  • Check to see if the butternut has cooked. If it has stir in the chic peas, tomato pure and all the spices and season with salt and pepper. Let it have a bit of a sizzle then add about 300 ml hot water from the kettle. Stir and cook this for another few minutes then add the chopped apricots. Continue cooking until the butternut is completely cooked through and the apricots have softened a little. Check the seasoning. At this point I added a tablespoon of mango chutney but that's just me.

  • With a fork, fluff up the couscous. Add about two thirds to the butternut and chickpeas and stir to combine. To serve, spoon the last third onto a serving dish and make a well in the centre. Pour the mixed couscous and butternut mixture into the well. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and some chopped fresh coriander or parsley.

  • Once the chicken has cooked, remove from the oven. Let it cool for a few moments  and pour off any excess juices. I kept about 4 to 5 tbsp to add to the yoghurt but ditched the rest.  Once the chicken has cooled off slightly, stir into the yoghurt mixture along with the saved juices. Pour into your chosen serving dish and garnish with lemon wedges and lots of torn fresh mint leaves.

So that might look long but its all pretty straight forward and do-able on a hob. If you don't have the oven just turn the heat down on the chicken when it's in the frying pan and make sure you fry it till its fully cooked. Oh and pop the pittas in the toaster.

A great, easy and filling lunch for a group of hungry people. And fun to try out the spices and go all Moroccan.
Falmouth is great fun, Pasties are so delicious and I must regulate my consumption of them to a max of one a day...
I'll try.
Thanks for reading!

Leaving the Solent and heading for Falmouth

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Lemon, Custard and Crumble Cake

Ah, the Anchor capstan cake stand! well, what do you do with yours?  A blustery day on the Thames and you couldn't find a finer cake stand. Or a finer cake, I mean look at that beast. As long as no one presses the 'on' button, which would send the cake spinning round in a whirl of custard and crumble spray.

This was my birthday/pageant cake I baked for myself and the Queen. Except she seemed to be a little busy so I shared it with the crew instead. It was well deserved after a day standing in the rain and cold, saluting the Queen, Mexican waving and cheering the boats that went passed us in the Avenue of Sail. What a Birthday it was. And what a cake. I chose some of my favourite sweet flavours and put together what would work best. And work it does. Splendidly. Lemon drizzle cake topped with strawberry jam, custard and crumble. Ace.

The other great thing about this cake is that considering I had a busy day, what with it being my Birthday and the Queen coming to visit along with 999 or so boats that rowed or motored by, I had to make the sponge the day before. But it was still perfectly airy and fresh and would definitely have survived a few more days in tip-top-taste (if we hadn't demolished the entire thing). All I had to do on the day was smear it with jam, custard icing, crumble and strawberries. Which was the fun, bowl-licking bit and perfectly easy to do even after a few glasses of bubbles. And a Pimms.

Or two.

Moving on. So as you can see, in accordance with the grandness of the event, I made this  a  4 tiered cake. You don't have to and I'll give the recipe for a normal 2 tiered cake. But by all means double the recipe next time you have the Queen and 999 other boats coming to town.

So for the most delicious cake ever, incorporating all the best of flavours; lemon-drizzle, custard and crumble cake you will need;

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
200g Castor sugar
200g softened butter
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
zest of two lemons
strawberry jam

For the drizzle;

The juice of two lemons
30g Castor sugar

for the icing;

150g butter, room temperature
250g icing sugar
5 tbsp or 60g or 1/4 cup thick pre-made custard. I used Ambrosia or you could make your own.
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the crumble;

25g flour
25g porridge oats
25g ground almonds
35g butter
40g sugar


  • Preheat your oven to 180C/160F, gas mark 4. Then grease and line the base of two 20cm/8inch sandwich tins. Then, this is how good this cake is, bung the flour, baking powder, butter, sugar and eggs, vanilla and lemon zest into a bowl and mix together using an electric hand whisk. Once everything is incorporated, add the milk and then beat again for a minute. Nice and easy.

  • Spoon the mixture into your baking tins and using a spoon level the mixture as much as you can. Pop in the oven and bake for about 40  minutes, checking after 30. You'll know it's done because a sharp thing when inserted into the cake will come out clean and the edges of the cake will have started to come away from the tin a bit. And leave the oven on for the crumble.

  • Now whilst the cakes are still pretty warm and in their tins, poke a load of holes in them using a fork. Mix together the lemon juice and sugar then pour the mixture over the tops of the cakes. Leave them to cool a little and to absorb the syrup then turn out onto a cooling rack until you need to decorate. (Which could be the next day)

  • Make the crumble by putting all the ingredients into a blender and pulsing until you have a crumb-like texture. Or rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your finger tips which may take a wee bit longer but you'll feel very Julia Child. Then sprinkle the crumble in an even layer onto a baking tray lined with a bit of greaseproof paper and put into the oven for about 15 minutes but check after 10. The crumble should be lightly browned. This too can be made in advance and stored.

  • Now for the icing, cut the butter into small bits, add the sieved icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat with an electric hand whisk until you have a thick paste. Add the custard and beat again on the slow setting until it has all mixed. Don't beat for too long or too hard when the custard is added, in case it splits.  Chill this in the fridge until needed.

  • Now the building bit. Place one of the sponges on your chosen and bestest serving dish or cake stand. Smear generously with some strawberry jam then over that spread on a thick layer of the custard icing then sprinkle on a good few handfuls of the crumble. Top with the remaining sponge and repeat the process. Then halve some fresh strawberries and arrange these over the custard and crumble. Finally top it all off with a  garnish of any left over crumble.
You can then use a hot, damp, clean cloth to clean the serving dish up so you can then pose suitably with your cake for the cameras as shown...
And I know the whole thing looks a bit long-winded but if you make the sponge the day ahead or even just the crumble and icing then it really is very easy and definitely worth a try. If you do - let me know how it goes!
I'm sorry to say that the last day (today) of the Westward cup was cancelled due to uber strong wind. So although we're off to the prize-giving tonight at the Royal Yacht Squadron, we won't be winning anything. But we, the crew of Mariquita don't mind at all. We sailed three races and got line honours for two of them. So we know we are the winning boat really. With a brand new crew and very little training, we went out and gave it our best; sailed hard and with passion.
And that's what it's all about.
Thanks for reading!


Friday, 15 June 2012

The Westward Cup

We've almost come to the end of the Westward Cup here in Cowes and I haven't told you a dicky bird about it. How on earth did I do this last year? -  I ask myself. I managed to get through 8 regattas and blog about all of them. I'm getting old. That must be it, for we've raced 3 days in a row and I'm shot. Mind you yesterday was blowing gusts of 21-22 knots and we raced for over three hours in the rain and windy-cold with a reef in the main, no tops'l and no jib top. Also we were short tacking out of the tide and up the coast (pulling us out in front of the big schooners) and when your heaving in your sheets and jiggers by hand, let me tell you, it's bloody exhausting. By our last tack yesterday I had a serious lack of power in my arms.

We had a 'man overboard' just to top off the stress levels, although thankfully Marta was clipped on to the boat with her harness. Although that did mean that she was dragged along underwater for a short but horrible few seconds before she was dragged back aboard to safety. Situations like that make us all realise the potential risks involved when racing in such conditions. But also the adrenaline rush, when your down on the leward rail, clipped on and heaving on lines is admittedly pretty cool too.

Then there are guests to look after and sandwiches to make every morning and dinners to cook and 'do's' to attend.

Well, then it's no wonder, but still I do apologise for not updating you.  Also I have neglected to share my custard and crumble Birthday/Jubilee cake recipe and I promise I will soon. Just as soon as I have brain cells enough to do it properly. I might have to sleep for 24 hours for that situation to occur.

And how about the red, blue and white muffins I made? OK, I promise, soon come.

For now I am on standby. The wind had built to a crescendo and was too much for us today so Mariette and Eleanora, the competition, raced by themselves without us. It's not that we're wimps I assure you. But they are big, strong schooners with power winches, high bulwarks and multiple masts where we have our one fragile mast and top mast that really shouldn't go out and play in any more breeze then we had yesterday. She managed to make it to 101 years old on the high seas. No point in breaking her now. Or the crew for that matter.

Eleanora (right) and Mariette (left) going over the start line in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron

The last race is tomorrow followed by the prize giving at the Royal Yacht Squadron (darlings), how posh. Best find something smart to wear.

Loving Cowes by the way! Shame about the continual rain, it's hindering my shopping.

Thanks for reading! I'll be back soon with those recipes, promise...


About to fire the start gun at the RYS

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Pageant - A Reflection

Well now that was an experience. Looking back on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant, it's rain and Champagne; atmosphere and crowds, the cheering and row boats, it's enough to make you one proud little Brit.

It whizzed by! I have been looking forward to the Pageant on Mariquita since we were first invited to attend and there it is, gone and done. It was a fantastic few days on the Thames of London. Saw the Queen and her family. Got some heat inducing, blood moving Mexican waving in and good deal of cheering. The guys and gals rowing ahead of the Royal barge were fantastic to behold, dripping wet in the rain but most grinning from ear to ear and managing to pause enough to wave and cheer back. What sports everybody was! The fanfare, the orchestras and opera singers, all had the power, despite the oppressive weather, to send a shiver down ones spine. Awesome stuff and what a day to have a Birthday.

I am now 35 years old. It's proper official now that I'm a few days in. Oh well, onwards and upwards. We are about to embark upon our first regatta of the year on Mariquita, The Westward Cup , in Cowes. Today the wind howled and shoved the boat around on her mooring but I fear, having seen some forecasts, the actual regatta may be a light wind event. Not great when the courses have been set at around 30 miles each day. Exhausting. 

Now I have posted pictures of my Jubilee/Birthday cake but will send the recipe another time. You'll only get bored, all the photos and then a whole recipe. However, I apologise because it was a very good cake. It was a lemon drizzle, custard and crumble cake with strawberries... have you heard of such a thing!? You have now. It was fab and four tiered and boy, did we deserve it having stood all day in the rain, soaked through, lips blue, calories burnt away in all that excitement, cheering and dancing. It took a good few slices to make up those lost calories I tell you. And much tea drinking.

So I shall leave you there with a few more pics of the Pageant. Tomorrow race crew will start to arrive for the regatta and the boat will be looking tip-top. I'll keep you informed.

Thanks for reading,


Lemon drizzle sponge topped with jam...

Topped with custard-icing and crumble...

Repeat 3 more times and top with strawberries.

Serve by Tower Bridge, Thames.

The Royal Barge opposite us.

Still Smiling Girls!!