POSTED: Sept 1, 2020
The evening started simply enough. Over these months in a little marina bubble, I had been getting to know both Martha and Malcolm over our various encounters when the very private Gabrielle and Gerhardt asked if there would be a way for us to mix things up a bit and all have dinner together on shore. While we had experienced dinner “together” a couple of times before it had been on the boat dock and we were at a distance both physically and more significantly on sharing thoughts. I had not been stressed by this – I have known a lot of people who are just very private, but when the idea of dining together was raised by Gabrielle I must have looked shocked as she asked me with her pleasant German accent “shoe di call da cardiologist?”
Gerhardt was in charge of the fire pit, Gabrielle and Ciara organized the dinner plates and cutlery and cleaned the picnic table, I prepared and cooked the dinner and Martha and Malcolm brought the wine and wisdom.
Without getting too far off track here let me tell you a bit about the meal. I love to work away on my own recipes but sometimes I will come across a dish by someone else that I might tweak a bit but it is so damn good I just find it hard to improve upon.
Because we were going to have this nice fire in a fire-pit, and I did not have a lot of lead time I did a recipe by Jamie Oliver that is a real crowd pleaser. This lad nails it so often and this is one of his best, simple, fast meals that never fails to please. It is also one cooked in foil so it lends itself to cooking on an open fire, gas grill etc. if you are outside. I love the fact that you can do all the prep ahead and then just be with everyone else enjoying the conversation and when its ready you just unwrap it, serve it, and that’s it.
The recipe that follows is straight up Jamie, not Django and my variation is there as well. I have put in the directions for using a regular oven as my “fire pit 200 c (400 f)” may be different than yours!
SALMON ON GREEN BEANS IN FOIL
You will need whatever number of nice-looking salmon pieces for individual servings and a lot of green beans. By a lot what I mean is that the main dish here consists of green beans and a piece of salmon so a good single handful of green beans for each person. Wash the green beans well, cut off and discard the stems, and set aside to dry. If you are doing this with a range instead of a fire pit preheat your oven to 200 c (400f) if you are going to be cooking them right away.
Pull out about two thirds of a meter (yard) of foil and fold it over to double the thickness. Place a nice handful of green beans for an individual serving – not organized like a haystack or Boris Johnsons hair, but like logs ready for the mill, side by side, and a few rows high. Place a piece of salmon across the beans (skin down) then put on a good dollop of basil pesto. If you are well equipped and in the mood you can make up your own pesto with basil, roasted pine nuts, olive oil but for most of us, a high quality store-bought pesto can do the job. The squeeze of a lemon, some salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on top and you can fold up that foil container and repeat for the next one.
It does not take very much time at all to put these together. Put those in the fridge for cooking later if you’re not cooking them right away. This is uncooked salmon and it would be a terrible thing to die during a pandemic of something other than Covid 19.
So that is probably the best place to introduce Django’s Kitchen Rule #4. With a dinner that would need to be carried a distance to the fire pit and where we would be sitting, and Gabrielle’s desire to open up to us a bit I did not want to miss any of the conversation running back and forth to my little galley kitchen. It was those factors that led to the choice of the salmon on green beans that could be prepared ahead, easily executed without much effort and then platted right at the firepit meant that I could do a more elaborate starter, again all ahead.
Django’s Kitchen rule #4: TIME MANAGEMENT IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE INGREDIENTS.
My situation cooking on a boat where I am trying to minimize the heat from the stove and where I am working with only one stove of course and only limited counter space has me usually scribbling down a little time-line ahead. The other key component is to convert everything that is to be cooked to a standard cooking temperature. With that done it is simply a matter of working back from when it is to all come out of the oven at the end. So for example I might set a timer for forty five minutes if that is the time for the component that cooks the longest (eg. Meat or root vegetables), and then at various points over that forty-five minutes you will put in other foods that take less time. It is not perfect and sometimes you will need to take one component out a little early as it is ready and just keep it warm but for the most part this technique works well for small one range kitchens.
In this case I had decided to add some nice little (golf ball size) roasted potatoes around the edge of the plate so I washed them up, let them dry, cut them in half and mixed them with some olive oil and fresh cut rosemary and some thyme, and seasoned them with salt and pepper, and they all went into a foil packet as well. If doing it in an oven I would have put this not in a packet but just in a flat pan or baking sheet into the oven during my preheating process as small potatoes you have not blanched will need a bit more time than the salmon.
So if you are doing this in the oven, get that pan with your potatoes in there, start to preheat to 200c (400F) and when your range gets to temperature pop in those salmon and green bean packets for fifteen minutes if the salmon pieces are thin and about twenty minutes if they are thick. At about the half way mark turn those potatoes over with a spatula or if doing them in an aluminum packet on the outdoor grill or spit, turn the packet over but leave the salmon packets upright. Another little tip – if you are cooking on a fire pit, its not a bad idea to move your pieces around a bit just so they get cooked evenly. After the fifteen or twenty minutes get them off the heat and let them sit for a couple of minutes, then pull apart those packets and plate it up.
But the really simple thing here is prep what you can earlier in the day. Clean up your kitchen and your tools and it will set you up nicely for the main event.
And I told you at the beginning of this piece about the variation I like to do. Some people are not salmon fans so for them and without adding too much complexity to my prep I will use a meaty white fish like Mahi. For people who are not fish fans, its not flakey or oily and has a density closer to lobster than most fish. I match that with not the traditional basil pesto but with a tomato pesto and still on that nice bed of green beans. I don’t have good image to put in here but will come back and put one in the next time I make this dish.
And if I have any vegetarians in the group, the salmon is replaced with a couple of big, thick slices of Portobello mushrooms, with no pesto but a little pat of butter on top. Sometimes to liven that up and make the vegetarian meal have more flavors I will also put a several grape tomatoes mixed into the green beans and give the whole thing a heavier drizzle of olive oil. There have been many a time someone presented with the salmon will clearly have a look of “damb, I should have had the vegetarian option!”
For most dinners when it is not a big entertaining thing, I usually put most of my efforts into the main course and will often not have a starter or just do a simple green salad or caprese salad. This night I was actually planning on doing a simple caprese salad with my fresh tomatoes and Basil from my little deck potted herb garden and making some nice bread sticks with it, but decided because I had the time and had purchased some local beets and the arugula in my little herb garden pots, on the deck had gone from baby to full size to monster I changed course and went to a beet salad instead.
To prepare a simple beet salad, the only real exercise is cooking those beats. You will need one large beet for each diner. Cut off any tails, give the beets a fast wash, put them in a pot with them completely covered in water and get it to boiling. Then turn it down to a little rolling boil and leave it for about half an hour or forty-five minutes. Then drain off most of the water leaving about 2cm (3/4 inch) of water in the bottom and transfer to a stove at 70 – 100 c (160-200f) for an hour or so. The test is when the beets can be pierced easily with a fork. Then drain the water off and scrape the outer layer of the beets off with a knife or spoon.
It will come off really easily but best not to be wearing your chef whites when executing this! With the beets done they can be put in the fridge for later when you are assembling the salad. Much like the salmon packets you can do this messy step ahead and just pull out the beats close to the time you are going to have dinner.
For assembly, simply cut each beat in slices about one cm or ½ inch thick. Place on an individual plate for each diner, throw on some washed arugula, some feta cheese and crushed walnuts. Drizzle on some reduced balsamic or if you don’t have any, just some olive oil and balsamic, give it some salt and pepper and you are good to go.
The idea of the breadsticks had slipped my mind so some nice toasted rye bread was the substitute. One day I will set out the breadstick recipe but for now, I need to get back to my story.
It turns out that Gabrielle, in addition to being Gerhardt’s life partner and business partner in their jam business is also something of a crazy artist. Now I have known a few artists and they come in the full range of types of people and there is a full spectrum of artistic mediums for them to explore. One day I will do a piece on Janice’s work which is a pretty cool, hard edge, sort of Victor Vasarely style. You can see her work in the Links We Love.
Gabrielle’s work is influenced by her background in art and industrial design, and is full of mental twists and the art is the starting point for discussion. The piece that triggered this part of the conversation that night is one that I had seen her working on for a couple of weeks.
She had taken an obsolete laptop and with her Dremel tool had cut out those pesky electronic components to create a space for a conventional paper notebook and pen. So the laptop becomes a briefcase of sorts for the low tech paper and pen. She claims it will never have a virus. It is a bit of a response to back to simple tools in a time when everything is anything but simple, and it is also something of a withdrawal from, or response to, the technologies that dominate our lives.
And yes, that is a wireless mouse in the picture.
Over the course of the evening Malcolm made various trips back to his boat to get more wine and as the evening wore on, we learned more of Gerhardt and Gabrielle and why they were in this little harbour with us.
It seems that many years ago Gabrielle had cancer, beat it, and then it came back in a different form, and she beat it again. She is a very tall woman in her fifties and is hopelessly fit – she runs, she swims, she works out, she does yoga. But the various bouts with cancer and the associated therapies and chemical cocktails have taken their toll. They sold the jam business and were on a bit of a meandering world sail when Covid hit.
Like most of us at this marina, they had been moored off the little island of Gozo, or the even smaller island of Comino where the water is clear, the seclusion is conducive to naked swimming and the beaches are nice. But Comino has very few facilities and while Gozo is a pretty complete little place on its own there are more resources on the main island of Malta. In our case only the main island had a good source of methanol for our generator that powers En Plein Air. So like us, when hunkering down for an undisclosed period of time a better equipped location was on the big island. By the way, Comino is the location of The Blue Lagoon, the Crystal Lagoon and a variety of interesting caves. It is a great destination anytime other than during the summer crowds.
Over the evening she also showed us another project that I had also seen her working on. It was an old rotted out wooden rudder that was left at the marina, from some small sailboat – probably about a three or four meter (12-16 ft) dingy format. She had fabricated a new laminated rudder in mahogany and maple to match the old dimensions and fittings. It has no current purpose, other than as a decoration on the wall as a nice object, but true to her other art pieces it is a metaphor – you can’t do much on the water or in life with a broken rudder.
This post is pretty long so I wont detail the discussion flowing from a question raised by Martha but actively engaged in by Gabrielle and Ciera, about whether waterproof glue or conventional glue had been used for the wood fabrication. The gist of it is whether she (the rudder) would hope to see the water again (requiring a waterproof glue) or whether her new life with regular glue, and hung on a wall, she would be satisfied as an admired object, but with her sailing adventures relegated to her past. After the first ten minutes or so it was clear the glue was only the catalyst for this discussion and Malcolm, Gerhardt and I just sat back, drank wine and listened.
Related to this, Malcolm and Martha shared a story about a recreational carpenter friend who keeps an old level that has lost its liquid (so no longer finds balance) and also keeps an old steel square that is bent. He does so because these tools, hung prominently in his workshop, remind him that we all need the right tools in life. The carpenter also has them around to keep him humble. I need to spend more time with Martha and Malcolm. Between the two of them, with their knowledge and experience, there is not a lot else to know.
At about midnight, after too many smores and just about the right amount of wine, Gabrielle told us of her more ambitious and ongoing art project.
Gabrielle has a real expectation that while she is “remission”, she only has a fixed amount of time left on the planet. For some people that idea triggers them getting out to do all those things they have always wanted to do. For others, its more a matter of trying to firm up the memory of what they have experienced over their life.
Gabrielle seems to be in both camps, so this stop in Malta, because of Covid, is part of their “big adventure sail”, while she tries to document her life with Gerhardt and their two boys.
For most people that amounts to putting together a scrapbook or USB drive with images from our past. Not Gabrielle. At one point in Berlin where they lived for a while, she had gone back to art and industrial design school, and had held in the back of her mind an idea of how to record your life but had not acted on it until recently.
It had been an extension of seeing some art while on a university trip to Budapest. She had gone to an art show of recent graduates at an art college there and was inspired by one young artists work.
This young Hungarian student from Pec had found at a fair, an old life- size moveable marionette who looked much like herself. She made some modifications and changed its hair and made the marionette up to look like herself and then put it in all sorts of situations she would usually be in – having coffee, watching tv, on her bike, in a hammock.
Now here is the crazy first coincidence. That art show and that artists work I had seen the final project when I was visiting Hungary in September 2009 as well. It was called Friss, (Fresh) 2009.
So inspired by this artists’ project, Gabrielle, who had just recovered from her first bout with cancer, had hired a sculptor to make molds of all of her body pieces, had them reproduced in carbon fiber so they would be light and strong, and then created the engineered joints using a 3D printer to make this mannequin a duplicate of her. Did I mention she was German! LOL. The project was completed over several years and after her most recent medical challenges she completed the “doll” and brought it on their epic cruise.
She dresses up the mannequin and has been taking pictures of this copy of her in some cases doing things she is not prepared to risk -hanging off the Eifel tower in Paris for example. But this has a bit of weird twist as well – she has taken pictures of Elle, that’s the mannequins name, in bed with Gerhart, with some really garish makeup and outfits etc. She is kind of acting out with this character. Gerhart is a pretty good sport with all of it and is just happy to see her engaged in a project and not focused on the nasty nature of the term “remission”. It’s also a way for her to start to distance herself from her body, as in recent times her body has let her down.
So that’s the second coincidence here. When Jim and I met again after all those years in that neurologists’ office (for those who have only come to this website recently, check out the ABOUT section), it became pretty clear that we each became the others mannequin – both trying act a bit like the other without either of us committing to go to far, but just far enough to manage our mental health, to feel connected, and perhaps to live a little longer.
Malcom put it pretty well that night: “We all want to be loved and we all want to be remembered.” I told you he and Martha brought the wine and the wisdom.
It was a great night and Ciera and I learned a lot about Martha, Malcolm, Gerhardt and Gabrielle, Elle, and ourselves.
P.S. Gabrielle is pretty private about her Elle project so while she was prepared to share it that night and let me talk about it here, as well as letting let me include pictures of her laptop and her rudder projects, she did not want to share pictures of Elle.
Also, the images earlier about the art of Gajcsi Blanka are mine, but please, if you are reproducing them, reference the artist. Check out her current art at: gajcsiblanka.hu