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With Festiva in St. Maarten, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Bart’s

Last Fall, good friends (Caliber 40 Owners) invited us to share a charter with them and another couple (now new friends) on a crewed Festiva Sailing Vacations catamaran sailing out of St. Maarten. “Yes,” was not a hard answer to come up with! With all three couples having been involved in project management during their careers, the plans and details came together quickly, and then we waited for the date.

The 0500  hrs start was painful (even having practiced for it for a couple of days ahead), though the pain was eased by Devon, our excellent limo driver.  The travel went smoothly — for modern travel — and we stepped aboard the boat, a Lagoon 44, “Smitten Kitten,” crewed by Patrick and Pascale at 1730. We were actually moving toward the boat in Simpson Bay Marina for five hours and thirty-five minutes. The other ~ seven hours were spent in some form of waiting — queued or otherwise.

Patrick & Pascale

Patrick and Pascale, a multi-decade, husband & wife charter team from the SW of France, quickly showed themselves to be in the top drawer of their profession, and they reinforced that view throughout the charter. We particularly appreciated their willingness to answer endless questions (more about the food a bit farther down). They were a major part of our most excellent experience.

Our first night on board we stayed in the marina surrounded by high quality cruising boats similar to our own boats and grander. Quite a few were there to race in the 37th Annual Heineken Regatta. Dinner (more about the food a bit farther down) provided a clear demarcation between travel and charter. Light squalls provided a lullaby. Lights were out early…

Our Lightest Breakfast

OK, about the food. Janet and I felt we were continuously dining at a Michelin Three Star* Auberge. Pascale’s menu took full advantage of their culture and the Caribbean context. Patrick’s grilling revealed a kindred spirit. [* “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage.)]

Typical Lunch

Pascale’s willingness and inventiveness at working around food allergies and dislikes was most welcome. Our meals were plentiful, creative, wonderfully seasoned and playfully plated. Dining starts with the nose followed by eyes and palate. Pascale and Patrick addressed all three with skill and aplomb — especially on the days when we were on a rolling reach in 25 knot winds with 10 foot swells [11-12 sec period] topped with three foot seas.

Mid-morning, we left Simpson Bay for Anguilla and were sad to watch Symmetry, a 96 foot German Frers apparently lose all power in a crosswind and current. Even with the help of a swarm of inflatables, she rammed the bridge at the Bay exit channel. The delay bothered us far less than it did the land traffic that couldn’t see what was happening. Symmetry almost went on the rocks before the Coast Guard arrived. Instead, it appeared she might have gotten away with just a new anchor and roller ($$$$$).

Putting the excitement behind us we headed for the Prickly Pear Cays off the SW  tip of Anguilla for the first snorkeling. By rule, the anchorage we used is only accessible to captained yachts — bareboats are prohibited. After seeing the sinuous, shallow, swell-full passage we know why.

From there, it was up to Small Bay with its cactus-covered and bird-filled cliffs and then south to Crocus Bay for the night. It was very quiet and quite calm. The Tradewinds were pushed up by the cliffs and soared over us, leaving only intermittent post-midnight sprinkles. We noted that not having the concerns of boat operation and meal preparation left us all chillaxin sooner and more thoroughly than usual. Will we ever go back to bareboating?

Monday morning (already?) found us back at the cliffs of Small Bay for a snorkel before leaving for a sail back through the Prickly Pear Cays and up to Rendezvous Bay. The wind — absent the week before our trip — was coming back with authority! We were sailing! …and what sailing!

Rendezvous Bay was nearly vacant, gin clear, and had maybe six inch swells. We swam to the beach and chatted pleasantly with some folks who needed more sunscreen… The sun here, even in great 76-80 degree day temps, was merciless when it came to UV. We slathered on 70 and 30 and wore SPF 50 long-sleeves when diving or up at the more exposed steering cockpit.

From Rendezvous Bay we sailed to Marigot, St. Martin. The anchorage probably had 20 times the boats we had seen here at the same time of year in 2007 & 2008 (the economy perhaps?).

On the way in we saw Casa Blanca another Caliber 40 with a crew known to our friends. Patrick and Pascale offered to host them for cocktails and appetizers, and they joined us for a while once we had anchored.

Typical Dinner

The nightly routine was settling in. Generous cocktails, generous, tasty appetizers, tropical breezes, NO bugs, generous memory-making meals, inspired desserts, intermittent short-lived squalls, hours (upon hours) of boat talk, and quiet sleeping ended by scrumptious aromas to go with Bonjour

We wandered Marigot the next morning and said hello to our friend Christophe, the Maitre d’ at Tropicana, our favorite bistro from 2007 & 2008. From there it was watching the world go by from a harbor bistro til Patrick picked us all up in the RIB for the next lunch and sail.

Grand Case was our destination, Carnival (Mardi Gras) was the day, and fortunately our first choice for dinner was booked. Pascale took care of Plan B.

We asked Patrick and Pascale to join us, and we made our way to Le Cottage which translates with some difficulty to “The Cottage.” This was an exceptional dinner. The menu was similar to Pascale’s and Patrick’s — French with Caribbean grace notes. The service was like theirs as well — attentive, but unobtrusive, and they did together what four took care of here. All the while, the Carnival marchers drummed and paraded along the street fronting the restaurant. Thankfully, we were seated at the very back in a semi-banquette that allowed for air flow but kept the parade noise down enough we could converse. The food and wine (a light and fruity Pouilly Fumé) and company were excellent. Bravo, Le Cottage!

Bravo, Grand Case! — It was so jammed Gendarmes were turning people away at the highway turn-in. Leaving Le Cottage, we joined the marchers as far as the dinghy landing to head back out to Smitten Kitten before the next line of squalls put a damper on us.

Again, squalls sent us to sleep, and the edges of tradewind swells rocked us gently.

The next day, it was clear if we didn’t bolt for St. Bart’s we wouldn’t be going there this trip. The wind speed would be manageable but waiting a day would put it on the nose. Catamarans like this one don’t like wind on the nose. So, it was up, eat, and away for Anse Marcel and the marina there where we took on ice and water. Going in and out, we watched and were cautiously regarded by dozens of iguana of two species. It was interesting the way they segregated themselves by size but not by species. They were on the rocks and in the trees and moving slowly between one and the other.

Even with a favorable wind direction, this was sailing you need to be a sailor to enjoy. It was pitchy, rolly, sometimes wet and a blast. We reached along at 10 plus knots the whole way. The cat had a motion unusual to us monohull folks, but we adjusted pretty quickly. It might have been a bit more comfortable in a monohull, but it sure would have been slower and a lot less level. It changed my mind about the sailing qualities of a catamaran.

We reached Gustavia in time for our appointed tour of the island with taxi driver Florian. We saw far more of St. Bart’s this time. It’s much more developed than we realized — perhaps the magazines that advertise the high-end watches (you know the ones) tell the story in just a few words. When were were here last, they were in French and English. Now they are in French, English, and Russian. The tour was really worthwhile.

For comfort’s sake we moved the boat around to Anse Colombier (Columbus Bay) where the Rockefeller’s first Caribbean mansion decays. The swell all but disappeared but the trade-winds squeezed between two peaks and strengthened and eddied. This was our most restless anchorage yet — for the boat. It moved to and fro in the gusts, and we scarcely felt a thing.

Come morning, however, it was simply too agitated to snorkel safely along the rocks, so up anchor and off we went for St. Martin. with a stop at Isle Fouroche for snorkeling with turtles, snapper, blue tangs, angelfish and lots of fire coral.

From this volcanic cone we headed for Isle Pinel. Patrick offered me the wheel, and with a little instruction for the differences between catamarans and monohulls, off we went. My large catamaran (a Rudy Choy) experience from Hawaii started bubbling up bringing a lot of memories with it. With the freer and stronger wind we were clipping along at 12+ for most of the way. Yeehaa!

The first reef entrance was too confused and so Patrick opted for the second, and we were in a scenic lee in quiet waters in mere minutes. Some of us toured Isle Pinel.  Janet and I opted to veg aboard, watching the kite surfers in the adjacent bay.

Here the night squalls came earlier.

The plan for the next day was to ghost the 37th Heineken Regatta Round Island Race fleet which ever direction they were going.

too close

Overtook us half a boat length to windward then demanded we change course — direct course to mark was to leeward of us

This ended up being clockwise, and we hooked up with the last third of the fleet largely among the bareboats chartered for the race. Some of the seamanship we saw was a bit dodgy. I don’t think some of the crews had a feel for the sea conditions or the boats they were sailing (or the rules of the road for that matter). With our speed few boats passed us, so it was a scenic return to Simpson Bay. With one exception.

screaming cat

Doesn’t do it justice. It was smokin’

A catamaran around 36-40 feet came slashing up through the fleet under plain sail at around 25 knots. We could hear the rigging humming. The spray from the wave piercing hulls flew fifteen feet into the air to be misted off to leeward — and then they put a Code Zero or Screacher? up, and they were g…o……n………e! Patrick was actually grinning! We got a pic, but they were gone before we could manage getting a vid.

When the former Volvo Ocean Race boats came by on a reach, they looked slow by comparison. Notice the reefs.

It felt funny to slip back into Simpson Bay Marina under conditions nearly identical to our arrival evening. Not deja vu (we had been there before), but still it had a familiarity almost like returning to our own slip. Racers chattered around us. Other charterers headed up the dock as if escaping. We lingered till we had to go to dinner. We ate at Lee’s Roadside Grill. No place would have fared all that well after Smitten Kitten and Le Cottage.

Breakfast the next morning had a tad of regret mixed in with the juice. Even so, as Patrick and Pascale move on with their lives we will be looking for where they crew as Polynesia calls to them again.

Smiles all round!

One thing which worked especially well was the Atrium hotel has a financial relationship with Festiva, and so we could kill time there until we got caught back up in gears of modern travel. We ate lunch at the Greenhouse, next door where the sound checks from the Heineken party musicians kept our food hot with mere acoustic energy — very good food actually — better than Lee’s? Perhaps.

Our cab driver proved the power of his brakes at least fifty times during our 12 minute trip to the airport. Where, after the high tech-low stress process of getting to the boarding gates was done, things became old fashion Caribbean again — jammed, hot, loud, delayed, multiple gate changes, passengers ignoring boarding order…  We found a cooler slightly quieter place to hang out til time to board. When we returned to the meelee, we were told the plane hadn’t even arrived yet (but they had just called it for pre-boarding).

And the plane pretty much ran out of food the row behind us. Man, when did Pringles get so thin?

All told, I think I shed a couple of years even as my birthday awaited just after our return. We remembered something this trip. We may be boaters, but we are first and foremost, sailors. That’s important as we go forward.

It’s about the sailing.

Driving and Flying and Kauai, Oh My!

Kauai 03

Po’ipu Sunset

Well, the blog is Periodically Peregrine, the periodicity has just changed a bit… for a while.

One of Janet’s sisters generously invited us to celebrate Christmas in a villa in Po’ipu, Kauai. Who could say “no” to that? All told, there were eight of us. Three sisters, our niece and four husbands …eight appetites in all.

Kauai 01

Kilauea Light

Logistically, it went like this. Drive Vero Beach to NW of Houston — Fly to LAX — overnight in LA — Fly to Honolulu, then Kauai — (Eat, Shop, Vegge, Sightsee) x 7 — Fly to LAX (too soon) — overnight — Fly to Houston — Linger in Houston — Drive to San Antonio to see my Mom’s husband — overnight at the Hyatt Hill Country — Drive to Houston — Linger — Drive to Arlington to see my father and his wife — overnight in Mansfield — Drive to Sam Rayburn Reservoir — Linger with family — Drive to Slidell, LA to visit sailing friends — Linger in Slidell — Drive to Vero Beach — recuperate.

We all shared the cooking when we weren’t sampling the local restaurants.  Po’ipu’s Red Salt, 1849 Eating House, Merriman’s, and the Olympic Cafe in Kapa’a all lived up to or exceeded expectations. I’m told Bubba Burger in Hanalei did too, but I came to Kauai for the Ono, Ahi, Hapu’upu’u, and Onaga!

The Christmas celebration included Janet’s Kalua Pork and many appetizers, sides and desserts from the others. Gift exchanges were small and thoughtful, as we drew recipients names from a basket (it took four tries) and shopped locally with a spending limit. Another gift was the older husbands got reacquainted after quite a few years. For eight folks pretty set in their ways, the dynamic was delightful.

Kauai 04

Wiamea Canyon on Christmas Day

Kauai 02

Wailua Falls

Kauai didn’t disappoint either. It has been 19 years since Janet and I were there last. Hurricane Iniki had just ransacked the island four years prior (rebuilding is slow on an island this isolated). The island has gone from 57,000 folks then to 69,000 now. It has new infrastructure, and goods and services only imagined back then. Fortunately these are largely constrained to Lihue, and the rest of the island has benefited. We went all the way up to Haʻena State Park beyond Hanalei and back over to Waimea canyon (on different days). It all remains Wow. Even though we arrived with 35-40 knot winds offshore and rain squalls, the weather moderated once we had adjusted for the time zone change, and it became classic tropical — temperate and intermittently showery. What’s not to love? Leaving, that’s what.

Although our peregrination home took us through some down right cold places, we returned to weather that matched Kauai’s for that day and time. Not bad.

Now we are looking at 25-35 mph winds gusting to 50 mph and 35 degrees tonight! At least it’s not snow.

Mole Poblano con Cerdo

Recently I made about 7 quarts of chili for a charity event (along with 12 other cooks of various concocti). Fortunately, Janet and I snuck a couple of dinners worth out of the pot before attending the event. There was none left, especially after some folks came back for seconds.

The chili was good, but for competitive reasons, it was beef based, and we prefer lighter meats these days. So, I dragged out my much tweeked Mole* recipe, but I didn’t want chicken, so we stopped by the mobbed Fresh Market (Tuesdays are sale days.) where we bought a four pound Boston Butt.

At home I deconstructed it, removing about 10 oz of fat, and cubing the meat. It went into the following preparation:

Marinade
4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil (Potent)
1/6 cup + 1 tbsp Chili powder (11 tsp)
2 4 oz cans Chopped Green Chilies

Mix into meat and let work 6 – 12 hours in a refrigerator in a zip bag. Massage the mix a few times through the period.

Maceration
1/4 cup White rum
1/4 cup Sultanas (Golden Raisins)
2 Cloves garlic, minced roasted
1 Sweet pepper, chopped
2 tsp Agave Nectar
2 – 4 tsp Soy Sauce
Micro-planed rind of 1 orange (Softball sized)

Mix and cover for 6 – 12 hours in reefer. Stir occasionally.

Dry spices
1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
Bloom all together in hot saute pan

Sauce Base
3 Yellow Onions, (tennis ball size) chopped
1/2 tsp Salt (adjust later)
1.5 boxes Pomi brand finely chopped tomatoes or equivalent
2+ oz bitter chocolate, chopped (86% cacao, wax free, or 3 oz 60% cacao)
1/6 cup + 1 tbsp Chili powder (yes, again)
1 cup Chicken stock
1 cup Hot Coffee, black
1/4 cup finely ground unsalted toasted almonds (also provides some thickening) [From a cookie sheet full of raw almonds toasted at 325° F for 23 minutes. Must be room temp for grinding.]

[Additional Thickener
1 can drained rinsed pinto beans pureed — only if feeding a crowd. (Pureeing with a ladle of tomato sauce speeds the process and evens out the texture.)]

Putting it together.

  • Brown marinaded meat in large kettle with olive oil. It will be too damp for a deep browning. Stir from time to time.
  • While meat is browning, saute the onions to translucent.
  • When meat is browned and onions are ready, pour the sauce base ingredients into the kettle.
  • Wipe the saute pan dry, and bloom the dry spices per above.
  • Add these to the kettle along with the macerated ingredients.
  • Simmer for an hour or two, lid-on, stirring from time to time. Drain water from inside lid each time before recovering the kettle.
  • Transfer solid ingredients to crock pot.
  • Continue to simmer sauce in the kettle until reduced by half then add to crock pot.
    Crock Cook for 6 – 8 hours before serving, stir from time to time, skim fat.
  • It’s done when the meat falls apart as it sees a spoon coming.

*When I was a tween (do we still use that portmanteau word?) my widowed Grandmother, who was quite the traveler, took me and my brother to Mexico — Mexico City, Taxco, Cuernavaca, Guadalajara et. al. We binge-toured museums, climbed pyramids, hitchhiked, and hung out with a plain clothes Federale who found her interesting. The real revelation was Mexican cuisine. I was used to, and liked Tex-Mex, or Mex-Tex depending on whether the Rio Grande was west or east, but I had never had the pleasure of the symphony folklorico of flavors we encountered deep in the country.  One such symphony was my first taste of Mole Poblano. I liked it so much I asked what was in it. The adults looked embarrassed on my behalf; one simply did not ask that question. To their chagrin (I guess) I was invited into the kitchen where I was shown what went into the Mole. I snacked on fried grasshoppers while I watched a woman older than my Grandmother, with a face off a pyramid, pound and grind the ingredients while she spoke a language I could not fathom. When I asked her in Spanish, she said, “La lengua de los aztecas,” and tapped her chin.  I was hooked — on Mole and Aztec history… I had met one!

What’s Cooking?

CauldronA good friend commented this blog was morphing from a cruising blog to a food blog. Not really, we are just mentally anchored in a food lagoon right now, thanks to hurricane season.

We have posted 848 times. Of those 116 posts have been tagged “Food/Drink.” 13.6% overall. Of those tagged Food/Drink, 20 have been posted since we moved into this house or 17%. During that time there were 16 non-food posts. So 54% were about food.

We sacrificed the last sailing season to getting the house the way we wanted it before other demands on our time made that difficult. But cruising or not, one has to eat and eating well is not that much more difficult than eating like a dorm rat in college. It just takes imagination and enthusiasm, that’s what we have sought to convey.

The latest additive to the bread recipe — 2.5 oz smoked white cheddar — oh wow!

There is another recipe coming. Mole Poblano Con Cerdo

What, No Cod ?!?! — Faux Bacalaitos

From Wikipedia

Salt Cod (via Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I decided to try a Cuban recipe for Bacalaitos (salt cod fritters).

Well, it turned out we had used our cod and not replenished it. So I decided to use smoked trout instead. Turned out we only had half the 2 cups needed. We had some left over crab cake casserole (ala Janet) from the night before, so I decided, deconstructed with a vigorous fork, it would become the faux salt cod.

As I assembled the dry ingredients, I discovered I had exhausted the self-rising flour and not replenished it in favor of making my own. So I whisked some together from 1 cup bread flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt.

But the recipe called for a fish fume from cooking the multi-rinsed dried salt cod. Oops. So I made a faux-fume from chicken stock and fish-sauce (nước mắm). Be very careful with the fish sauce, it is a strong flavor. Don’t pour it over the mixing bowl.

The onions were buried in the reefer, so I used an easier to reach shallot. I whisked all of the ingredients (below) into a crepe-y (not creepy) crab laden batter that promised good things to come. I wanted to let the batter rest, so I turned to the cabinet for the canola oil I would use to pan fry the fritters. 1/4 cup was all we had left. We had lots of extra virgin olive oil, but that’s too heavy and flavorful for what I wanted.

So I made faux cod crepe-y pancakes. This meandering recipe made 12, 4.5 inch cakes using a non-stick skillet at 360° F (three at a time).

They were delicious with a Cesar for an early dinner, but they needed a sauce. We daubed a bit of salad dressing on them, but knew we could do better. They were tasty and filling. We had half left over.

This morning, I nuked just the chill out of the leftover cakes and popped them in the toaster. At the same time I made an Aoli of mayo, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and Wye River Red seasoning. This I nuked just enough it wouldn’t cool the cakes off. A little cooked around the edges, and I just whisked it back into the rest.

This was the way to serve and eat them. They are Faux no more. We’ll still make the Bacalaitos some day, but these cakes are now a standby. Comer bien!

Cake Recipe.

  • 2 cups lump crab
  • 1 cup self rising flour (1 cup bread flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt)
  • 1 cup chicken stock — fish sauce added to taste (Remember 1/2 tsp roughly equals one anchovy fillet.)
  • 2-3 tbsp finely chopped shallot
  • 2-3 tbsp finely chopped scallions
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp table salt.
  • For a thinner batter, add room temperature white wine to the desired consistency.

Sauce Recipe

  • 3-4 tbsp mayonnaise
  • ~2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ~1 tsp soy sauce (low sodium)
  • Wye River Red seasoning to taste (or Chipofi*, or any seafood seasoning blend.)

*Chipofi = 7 Badia Redfish Blackening Spice + 1 oregano + 1 ginger + 1 basil +1/4 cayenne

Bean Zapped

pintoThe Red Sausage needed something to go with it. Later, the flounder Janet cooked in salsa, en papillote, did too. We have been cooking the pantry down to late Hurricane Season levels, so a sauce for the mix of 1 can Pinto and 1 can Cannellini beans had to be built from scratch. The idea is to make just enough to coat and marinate the beans for a couple of hours before heating and serving. Bean Zap takes:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons Ketchup*
  • 3 Teaspoons Agave Nectar
  • 2 Teaspoons minced roasted garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Red Chili powder to taste
  • Heavy Splash red wine vinegar
  • Heavy Splash Soy Sauce

Whisk until blended, taste and adjust and fine tune, fold into the drained, rinsed beans. Chill for a couple of hours, refold the mixture a couple of times to bring the sauce up in the container. Works for a cold bean salad as well.

Enjoy!

*If you use sun-dried tomato ketchup, you won’t need the red wine vinegar.