Tag Archives: Captain Ciara

SHEARWATER

POSTED: OCT. 1, 2020

I am not really a bird guy. But for the last few weeks a crazy big sea bird has been coming by and visiting En Plein Air. After pulling out one of my bird books I went over to where he likes to sit on the fore-boom and got up close to examine him with my book in hand. He twisted his head as if to see what I was looking at.

“Yup, you are a Shearwater” I exclaimed aloud. He just sat there.

Shearwater

Most days he comes by in the morning when I am out watering the little potted vegetable garden and herb garden I have. The first day he took away part of my toast, but left my coffee alone. Another day he ate part of Ciaras hard boiled egg. That just seems weird to me.

Now he appears to be hooked on the coffee. He sits not very far away and watches me. He seems to know when I have stopped drinking the coffee and there is just a little left and I have gone off to do something else its ok to get his beak in there. Both Ciera and I have started using wider mugs and not finishing our coffee and leaving the mugs on the table on the deck. I have also taken to getting out my camera and my bird friend has taken to picking up on that and flying off.

 

A buddy of mines parents moved to their cottage on a lake when they retired. Part of their routine was to go for long walks at dusk. A young fox got the idea this was a good thing and would come within sight of the cottage door and watch for them and they would watch for him before starting off. The route they took was always the same through some trails in the bush and back to the cottage and the fox would come and go and appear at various points on the walk as if checking on them. At times the distance from the fox to the couple was big and at other times smaller but never very close. By the end of the walk the fox would make his final appearance and then disappear into the forest again until the following evening in time for the “walk”.   In the spring, summer, and fall it happened during their walks and in the winter during their cross-country skiing of the same trails.

There is no big epiphany here, but just to say that these animals sometimes hang out for food and sometimes just because they don’t see people as a threat, and they find us interesting and its part of their routine.  I think they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

The two bird books I have, with a few cookbooks and letters are some of the only written luxuries I keep on the boat. On a regular basis I do go to local libraries wherever we are moored at the time however.

My bird books came out of a funeral I was at not many years after high school. I was back in town from working on the cruise ships and a friend’s dad had passed. I went to pay my respects and because I knew a lot of my old classmates would be there. Sort of a morbid class reunion.

His dad I did not know well – just a regular dad.  But at the funeral I learned of his interest as a teenager and then young man in racing pigeons. These “homing” pigeons were all the rage at one time. The owners would release them long distances from their home and they would make it back to their little pen with their own built in GPS programmed by Mother Nature.  At one time this was so popular that various “pigeon fanciers” as they were called would always have a spare safe spot or two for pigeons who were making it home from where they were released – a sort of pigeon hotel chain.

Because it was an Irish wake it was a bit of a scene. Two days before, the family had all assembled and the guys went out to the back garden and garage to build the rough box for the casket. With each saw cut or hammering in some nails they would tell stories of the fellow who had passed and have another swig of Irish whiskey, Canadian Rye whiskey,  or beer. My buddy told me there had been a lot of laughing, crying and drinking and while all this was going on the women were in the house cooking and baking for the wake and funeral day, and also laughing and crying and drinking.

At the time of the funeral there was a crazy amount of food, a lot of booze and a good number of people who had spent a couple of days reflecting on who the deceased was, what he meant to them and what life would be like going forward without him. So they were all well into the process of grieving and recovery, and quite reflective, while some of us, like me, came into it a bit unawares.

So when I asked a woman about the mans interest in pigeons she spent a bit of time telling me about Rollers and Tumblers, Dragoons, Black Grizzle’s and Kings and the ins and outs of the hobby. She was elderly and had known him when he was a young man and had shared the pigeon interest with him, but had largely lost track of him later in life. She knew of him so well and spoke of him in a such a way I think she might have been a girlfriend in high school.  And then she stopped and looked me in the eye and said of this dead old fellow who had raised homing pigeons as a young man: “His father was an alcoholic, and nasty to his mum and when be was old enough he left home in his mid teens to make his own life. The pigeons were a hobby but their desire to find their home is a sense that he shared with them.”

I was a young guy, and her sincerity and insight was a bit overwhelming for me and it has stayed with me for all these years. She was probably about the age I am now or maybe a bit younger.

A few days later I went over to see my school friend in a context that was more upbeat than the funeral, as I was heading off to the cruise ships again and the family was having a garage sale.

I bought two of the bird books and even though I have never really had much personal storage space, and even today don’t have much space on the boat they have traveled around with me.

The Pigeon, Wendell Mitchell Levi, 1945

They are quite old and tattered now, but unlike novels or other things that come and go with the fashion of the times, nature isn’t making new versions of these birds, so I can still look them up and find out a bit more about them, but every time I crack open one of these old puppies or even look at them on my little shelf, I think about that woman’s comments about the original owners of these books looking for home and think that in a little way I am helping these books find their own home.

Brocks Book On Birds, 1929

 

The book with the descriptor of this family of birds called Shearwaters had some pretty interesting details. These birds who share a general category with Albatrosses, are called Shearwaters (at least in English) as they like to fly so close to the surface of the water they appear to shear the tops of the waves.

 

They fly thousands of kilometers a year in migration and some dive into the water over seventy meters (over 225 feet) deep to feed on various fish. The book said nothing about them enjoying coffee so I will keep that to a minimum.

 

 

But its almost 9:00 and I had better get a bit of dry toast and some coffee and go and see if our new friend is on the railing of the deck waiting for me.

Django

p.s. The image at the top of the page is not my own. I have been trying to get a picture of my feathered friend but he has eluded me pretty well so this is an image from the Malta Tourist Office.

COVID COMFORT FOOD

Posted: July 1, 2020

It is a bit strange that I am busier than ever when not allowed to do anything, but that seems to be the case. Jim has me working on the TorontoART section for this website and getting my input on the “shopping cart” that he keeps assuring me he is working on for the website as well.

I have also been collaborating with him on a course he designed when he and Janice had the cooking school The Chef Upstairs. It was called College Survival and it was an introductory cooking course for young people. I have had several emails asking me to do something like that as many people are cooped up inside and it’s a good time to move forward on personal pursuits.

So all that business is in the works and I am playing hooky from all of it to write a quick post on Covid Comfort food. I just thought I would put down a few thoughts from a meal I made for the little group I am now cooking for every day.

It has turned into a pretty good routine. A couple just down the dock I don’t think have ever cooked before. They are wealthy Germans.  Their routine before Covid 19 was to just go out to lunch, go out to dinner and much of the time go to a local bakery and coffee place for breakfast. The only appliance I have seen them use in their huge trawler is the fridge and the corkscrew but they told me they recently bought a coffee maker. They seem like nice folks but are just coming from a very different world. So they have an online grocery delivery service that they order online what I tell them we need. The grocery service buys the stuff, puts it all in a pull cart and brings to the dock to En Plein Air and I put away the food components other than some breakfast things and things like toilet paper and the two other couples just take away their respective bits.  The German couple pay for all of it and I make the breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Ciara and me, this older couple Malcolm and Martha and this German couple.

Malcolm and Martha order and pay for a case of wine each week and four bottles come our way and to the other couple each week and Malcolm and Martha have the last four. So our food costs are covered, our wine is supplied and all I have to do is the cooking – suits me!

A couple of times we have all eaten together while social distancing but most of the time Cierra just drops off the meals and we all eat separately.  I don’t know if I will ever really get to know the Germans, Gerhard and Gabrielle as they are pretty quiet and even more private. About all I know is they own, or once owned, a jam company and are generous.

In contrast I am really getting to know Malcolm and Martha and they are pretty cool Americans. They have a few more miles on them than I but they have been miles that have not been wasted. That may be the trick to life. I am rambling a bit here but you will see  their names come up again as  for me at sixty six, to spend time with someone like Malcolm who is almost old enough to be my dad  and not just my chronological senior but still able to be (by a far margin) my mental senior – well that’s something.

 

Now “comfort food” means a lot of different things and its really whatever meals or tastes we have in our memories from when we were kids for the most part. A safe time in a safe place with our folks who made simple, easy to prepare, and often inexpensive dishes usually from rote, and always adapted for the tastes of the various members of the family. Depending on what their cultural origin, those meals were usually ones that had been passed down from their parents and adapted to current tastes.

The French are damb good at it – all bistro food is comfort food. Steak frites, cassoulet, or the French Canadian tortiere – the list goes on and the mouth waters. But the French version of comfort food to do well still takes more effort than the average person is willing to muster.

The Italians are the ones who just do it without thinking. Almost every fancy Italian recipe has a simple rustic version that takes little skill, and as long as the ingredients are fresh can hold up against the most sophisticated dishes.  I will come back to fresh in a minute.

But for some of us, while we love all sorts of comfort food, the Brits have it nailed in their pub grub. Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, well you get the idea. Now for those of you who have not been to the U.K. in the last couple of decades the real trend is the GastroPub. These are the places that the likes of Jamie Oliver got their start. They typically will do a modern take on a traditional dish.  I was in Scotland about ten years ago and in one pub the most popular thing on the menu was a Grand Marnier infused Haggis. Now if you can take on Haggis and win popularity you deserve to have a museum named after you.

So comfort food at a time like this is not only appropriate because it is a familiar thing in unfamiliar times but it also often uses food products that are readily available and ones that are easy to keep in a cold cellar for a long period of time. Just a nod to you hoarders out there.

Today many of us are returning to locally grown (200 km or 100 mile) produce. That means in most cases seasonally produced produce.

This is probably the place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE # 3. SHOP FRESH, LOCAL & SEASONAL.

So the shopping fresh part everyone gets. The most basic of meals when made with super fresh ingredients blow away something that has “ripened” in the back of a truck over a longer period of time.

The shopping local is a good goal and one I try to live by, but it is tough, particularly if you are in a northern climate.  A few generations ago, if you were living in Europe or the northern half of North America no one thought of having bananas in the winter. It is even more extreme for those who live in even more northern climates – for those who have not noticed, the banana growing season in Norway is REALLY SHORT.   LOL.

So before refrigeration and inexpensive transportation were popular, if you were eating locally grown, it meant you were eating seasonally grown food and you start with the first harvest or unheated greenhouse harvest in the spring, gorge away all summer and put a few extra kilos on your gut and by fall would be preserving like mad and putting away root vegetables to survive on through the winter. So in winter you would have marmalade but no oranges and jam but no strawberries.  Most of us were not keen on the food habits of farmers in Victorian times so these ideas, while good ones to try to adhere to, are not realistic for most of us who value a good, well balanced, nutritionally correct diet today. So we buy fresh when we can, local when we available and buy the other imported bits as needed.

I have found that Covid 19 has made me think a bit more about these issues, partially because of shopping less often to reduce our exposure. Now that we have the arrangement  with the German couple it doesn’t matter as much but before that I was pretty spooked about the way we had to shop – flying through the store with a mask and gloves and not looking at whether the tomato was ripe or wizened and then trying to eat the fresh, very perishable produce first, and the longer life produce later in the week. It is the same with people who head off for an across the ocean sail – you can’t order a pizza when mid-Atlantic.

So If you are shopping every eight or ten or twelve days what does that look like?

Well, you buy some yellow bananas for now, some green bananas for later and some apples for the last few days of it.  Similarly, on veggies it’s the fresh green beans or French beans for the next few days, the broccoli after that and the Brussels sprouts, and potatoes for the last few days of the period. The wine you drink all the way through.

So back to comfort food.

The dinner I just made is my version of the British pub meal: Bangers and Mash. For those who don’t know it, the dish is simply bangers (sausages) with mashed potatoes. Like most dishes of this kind they would often have some other bits added based on what the cook had on hand around the kitchen.

There are essentially five things you will be working on with this dish – the sausages, mash, caramelized onions, and two other veggies.

I am going to break down how I do them in a small space on a boat, using very few pots and utensils as I know from experience many of my readers here are in the same boat, well not actually the same boat or they would be here with me but in a small kitchen space at least.

Sausages – I like to just put a little olive oil in a big pot, and after heating it up get some color going on the sausages. This is all about the visual, not about cooking them. Once we get some colour on them so they look like a sausage should, we can put them aside. We will actually cook them later.

Mash – Traditionally this was mashed potatoes of course. Most of us have eaten enough mashed potatoes in our lifetime that we don’t want to go back there. So here are the variations to consider.

The first, is a little more rustic a version – smashed potatoes. Just clean up some potatoes (brush under running water) then rough cut them up into pieces. Don’t peal the skins. Use whatever you have – russets, Yukon gold, baking etc.) Put them in the pot you just used for the sausages with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. When they are soft enough that they are getting close to falling apart, drain them and with them back in the same pot mash them up with a big spoon or fork or whatever you have for the job. Add some chives, parsley, lemon thyme or other herbs you have with some salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and see how it tastes. You might want to add some butter, or more olive oil or more pepper etc. Some will also like to add some garlic.

Now I don’t do this smashed potato thing often. I will usually do the same approach but use sweet potatoes instead.  Sometimes I will leave the skins on but more often I will peal them when using sweet potatoes before cutting them up and throwing them in the pot to boil. With the sweet potatoes I also really like to focus my herb additions on just chopped rosemary and butter and olive oil as it just comes together as such a nice mash and mashup of flavours.

But last night I didn’t do either of these things for the mash. I occasionally visit Janice and Jim and on those occasions, we drink a lot and cook a lot and one dish that blew me away that Janice just nails is what she calls rutabaga puff. She works from a pretty precise recipe and likes to use a mixer to really get the rutabaga nice and puffy – not as much as a mouse but in that direction. I don’t have the room for a mixer so used a little hand blender so what I am setting out here is my “street version” of her “white tablecloth” dish.

Start with a large rutabaga, wherever you shop just get one of the big ones (about 1.5 kilo or 3 pounds)– use a peeler to get that waxy skin off then cut it up into chunks that are two or three centimetre cubes (one inch) and then give them the same boiling treatment as I described for their potato and sweet potato cousins.  Then after draining, do your mashing, or blending routine to try to get this down to a nice fine consistency and add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted to butter,  a little salt, pepper, olive oil etc. to taste.  If you find it still has too much rutabaga attitude in taste then you need to add some maple syrup if you have it and brown sugar if you don’t. Something like a tablespoon or two.

If you have the time and interest a small handful of walnuts in a pan with low heat  with some brown sugar, or maple syrup to put on top of that rutabaga mixture when serving will really amp up this humble little root vegetable.

So if you have learned anything here it is that you can make a mash with whatever root vegetables you have – parsnips, turnips, carrots etc. These are all things that you can easily and inexpensively buy, and readily store for a long while. By a long while I mean find some cold dark place in your home and they will keep pretty well for months if needed.  Not a bad staple for your pandemic pantry.

 

Caramelized onions

On a cruise ship I worked on I went for an extended period of time being the guy who (with a few other tasks) just caramelized onions. You might think it is because I was pretty good at it. Wrong – I had inadvertently attracted the attention of a server who had not entirely completed her relationship with the chef I reported to. Cutting up twenty or thirty onions in a big pot at a time is a something I still cry over.

So get a couple of medium size yellow onions or cooking onions or ideally nice sweet Vidalia’s, pull off their skin, cut them in half and cut off the stem. I like to cut them on the length to get long stringy bits, and this is rustic cutting – big pieces, not little chopping. Then throw them in the pot that the mash was in, as you have transferred the mash to another container and cleaned the pot. Put in a glug of olive oil and sprinkle with some pepper and crank up the heat and start stirring to keep those onions moving.

After a couple of minutes when the onions are looking a bit translucent but also getting some color from the heat and the stirring, cover, turn down the heat and watch them and give them a stir pretty regularly. You are trying to get to something that is beyond translucent, has a nice bit of juice and softness, and brown colour but is not burned.

It is at about this point when you taste them that you realize you should have done this with four onions, they are so good!

Transfer to something to keep them warm in.

Mushrooms

If you have button mushroom just do them whole but if they are ones with a diameter bigger than three or four centimeters (1.5 to 2 inches) cut on the length through the stem then cut in half through the stem as well so you have quartered them. Some people are in the camp of just brushing mushrooms but because I worked on a ship the protocol was to always really wash things well, and then wash them again, so that’s what I do. The sautéing process with mushrooms is easy. A couple little dabs of butter (15 ml) in the pot and some gentle heat for a while will do the job. After they are colouring and softening and the pot is not looking as wet with the moisture that has come out of the mushrooms, add a small puddle of white wine and swish around while they continue to sauté on very low heat.

Green Beans/ Broccoli/ Brussels Sprouts

You need to have something green on the plate for the visuals and in your stomach for all sorts of reasons, so clean up one of  the pots you have been using, chose a couple of these vegetable options and get your steamer pot going to add something green to the plate. Sometimes its nice to do fancier veggies but with sausages and mash and caramelized onions on the plate you need to keep the green component simple here.

Putting it all together.

At one point you will need to come back to your sausages. They look great but they have not really been cooked so you should now put just a pencil  or markers thickness of water in another pot – yes oh my god a second pot,  and bring that to a simmer and poach those sausages. No one likes a dry sausage so poaching them after giving them some colour is a great way to go. If on the other hand you have some pretty fat-laden sausages and you just like to grill them, particularly if you have an outdoor grill, then go for it.

Plate up your rutabaga or other mash, and if you have it – that walnut and brown sugar mixture on top, put a sausage on the plate with lots of caramelized onions on top, get those mushrooms and your green steamed vegetables  to accompany them on the plate and tuck in.

 

Vegetarian Option

If you have any vegetarians in your group this is a great dish. Replace the button mushrooms with a second green vegetable and substitute sautéed large slices of portobello mushrooms for the sausages. Just remember with those big portobellos that before cutting them into generous slices (2cm or ¾ inch) to spoon out those little brown “gills” or fuzz, then wash and sauté as above. I find it pretty cool that large beefy mushrooms like portobellos have a lot of protein, almost as much as chicken.

I think eventually we will all be vegetarians. Some of us still like our meat and poultry and seafood but I am really cutting back on the portion those products make up on the plate.

 

So that’s it. I often double the size of the recipe of the sausages, mash, onions and mushrooms and on the second day just steam more green vegetables for a fast second meal.

See I told you this would be a more happy post!

I am going to try to always post on the first of the month, starting today so people will know that even if I have done other posts one will appear then. Wow – am I getting organized!

Django

P.S. the image below is a sample of the masks Janice has been making for their local hospital. She had a goal of taking them a lot each week but I think about half have made it off to friends. I just received three for me and three smaller ones for Ciara this week. Now I’m stylin.

AT REST IN MALTA

Posted: April 21

This is just a short post to let anyone who cares know that we made it back to Malta, and are now self-Isolating / quarantining for the next couple of weeks. Captain Ciara is in a better state, and we are just hanging out, and eager to start to think about more than sailing for a while. It’s nice to be able to open a bottle of wine. When we were so focused on sailing and going around the clock a nice glass of Amarone was not really in question.

One real positive of this is that Ciara and I have become closer. I don’t know how much of that relates to being side by side in battle with that MSF trip, and how much relates to my trip to Ireland to see her ex but we are kind of functioning like an old married couple who have been together forever.

Thanks to those who sent me emails of encouragement over the last six weeks. I think that I am going to get a chance to get to more of my usual reflective posts on various topics now that I can move beyond the journaling of what was quite a hyper sailing exercise. I forget to remind people that I can be reached at:  djangobisous@bell.net

Django

CAPE VERDE – THE SEQUEL

POSTED: April 2nd

So why am I writing from Cape Verde? Well, we were less than a day out on “the big sail” when we learned that a Brit with a private plane in Cape Verde could fly our passengers to London and they had secured seats on one of the few commercial flights still going to the U.S. from London.   We turned around and headed back to Cape Verde and well, here we are. Our passengers have headed off to the airport and we are gearing up to sail back to Casablanca and then to back to Malta. We are trying to do this quickly as we don’t know what restrictions there will be and we don’t want to be without a port to wait out this virus. At least we are well stocked and have been well paid for our efforts.

Ciara’s spirits, on the other hand, are a bit frayed. So we have a pretty reflective bit of cruising to do over the next couple of weeks, but other than the first few days will do it mostly as day cruising. Not the crazy twenty-four-hour day-after-day business we have had recently.

By the way, for those of you who read these posts to keep up with what Janice and Jim are up to, I can report that they made the decision to scramble back to Toronto from Key West on March 16th and by March 17th mid-day were on the road and completed the three thousand Kilometer trek in record time (well a record for them) two days later. At this point, they are still in quarantine at home.

Django

CAPTAIN CIARA

Posted January 5, 2019

Usually, my posts are thought out and a bit more reflective, but I am pretty bogged down with lots going on so this one is going to be tight and without as many of my usual diversions.

I got my new captain! From my post last summer about Captain Kyle post you know that I had my eye on her for some time but she had other commitments, so I muddled through waiting to get her on En Plein Air. The wait was worth it.

Her name is Ciera and for those of us who are not Irish its pronounced Kee-ra. She is about ten years younger than I am -ok I will help you with the math – she is in her mid 50’s. To be brief, she is a medical doctor, a bit on the run from a nasty husband, and lives in the moment. She is a great captain, much more like Captain Sven, so I can just not sweat how the boat is handled.

She is from County Cork and her dad was a sailor. He didn’t do much fishing but used his boat in season to take tourists out and tell them stories about the region. In the off season, he would write but was never published. Her mom worked a bit with her dad on the boat but was a textile artist who at times just made really kitschy pieces for tourists but in her later life was recognized for her landscape quilts and had some pretty big art shows.

Ciera was not artistic and unlike her parents, she was focused on science, which eventually led her to a degree in medicine. Much of her adult life was not very nice and I will have to leave that to another day to tell you about.

So all through her life, she sailed with her parents, and that skillset and a healthy respect for the moods of the sea, made her the captain she is.

The deal I cut with her is pretty straight up. Everything we earn goes first to the boat – repairs, dockage, fuel, any hookup charges, and also includes our personal food and wine. The rest gets split between us. So what this amounts to is that in slow months there is nothing left to split and once we get to some good months there will be a bit, and of course, this is getting her and me our room and board covered in the boat costs. But she has a pension and some money that she can access when she needs to and I have my little Canadian allowance so life is pretty good and when things are slow she will be able to go traveling a bit and with someone to look after the boat in slow times I will be able to make plans to get back to Canada to see my neurologist, my dentist and a few friends like Jim and Janice.

Everything I just described in terms of our arrangement is what I proposed and she agreed to but she had one other stipulation that I agreed to. Whenever she wants and for three times, she can ask me for a big favour. And she made it clear they are big – like donating a kidney big.  I have a good sense of one of them and even though this is a really open-ended commitment on my part I agreed. Life is a gamble and from the exposure I have had to her over several months I trust her.

She is almost as tall as me, attractive with long grey hair and is not overweight but solid and probably stronger than I am. I understand through her whole life she has worked out which makes her quite a contrast to me.

So before you all start getting excited about this as a new romantic relationship in my life (that was the first thing Janice said when I sent them an email about her) you should also know she is a lesbian. So this is my business partner, captain, and buddy I am introducing.

I will fill in more details later but for now I am in a bit of a scramble as we are off to the southern coast of Greece having some mechanical work on the boat done in the off season.

Django