Tuesday, June 27

Marlboro Man

Meet the Marlboro Man, aka Tony Bourdain. He doesn't have a cowboy hat and he's way cruder than the iconic billboard figure we're familiar with. But I bet that cowboy never really chain smoked those coffin nails, unapologetically, quite the way Bourdain does. I shouldn't be telling you this, but I smoked one of his Marlboros the other night. But first I stole it.

I don't know why I did this exactly. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. There he was, smoking away, out on the deck, surrounded by us all, chatting us up. He left his pack and went back in the house. Then I made my move. Before you could rasp cancerstick, I had one of his cigarettes lit and I was choking it down. For posterity? As blog fodder? I sure don't know.

Why, on earth, you ponder, was I in the same house as Tony Bourdain? Because the Seattle food world is a small one. I had been home all of 24 hours from my trip to Alaska, and I had volunteered to help out some friends who were cooking a Gypsy dinner, aka Seattle's underground restaurant, for Bourdain and his crew from his Travel channel show No Reservations. My sea legs were still wobbling as I assisted in preparing the meal. Ducking cameramen and videographers, the kitchen crew crafted course after course as the evening played out perfectly.

When asked by Bourdain why most of us volunteered our time, I - emboldened by my petty thievery - said, "what? I'm not getting paid for this?"

Above is the beautifully appointed table for 12 guests, every other person served a different 12 course menu. For you math majors, that is 24 courses of food.

Gabrial Claycamp (and son Rhone), the chef for this Gypsy meal and the co-owner (with wife Heidi) and chef at their cooking school Culinary Communion.

My buddy and pastry chef Dana Bickford, who crafted the incredible desserts for the meal.

Don, Dana's volunteer assistant, Traca Savadago, aka Grand Poo-Bette of the Culinary World, who facilitated Bourdain's participation, and Dana B.

Glasses arranged, about to receive 2 different flavors of homemade "otter pops", a benediction of tequila or gin and a dry ice smoke show.

The wine service was a study in glass management and was pulled off expertly by master sommelier Greg Harrington.

And for those of you who want more details, the menus follow below.

Menu #1
Egly Ouiret Champagne Rose NV

Watermelon Gazpacho
2004 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano Falanghina, Campagnia, Italy

Creamy Potato Bisque with Crisp Geoduck Fritters

Three Grasses: Raw Asparagus with Bulgarian Feta, Spargel with Vinaigrette, Wild with Olive oil Sorbet and Grapefruit
2001 Mantlerhof Roter Veltliner "Selection" Kremstal, Austria

Halibut Ceviche 'Picada'
2005 Soter Yamhill Carlton District Rose

Douglas Fir, Cinnamon and Vanilla 'Otter Pop'

Tesla, Fried Marrow Sticks and Boudin Noir
2001 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvee Especial" Rioja, Spain

Pan-seared Duck Breast with Foie Gras Ravioli, Strawberry Compote, Rhubarb Gastrique, and Toasted Pine Nuts
2004 Waters Columbia Valley Syrah

Grilled Hangar Steak in Mushroom Tea, Soft Tendon, Fava Beans, Fondant Potato
2002 Pepper Bridge Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon

"Cheese Whiz" Whipped Epoisse with Gaufrette Potatoes and Granny Smith Apples
2004 Mission Hill "Five Vineyards" Okanagan Valley Riesling Ice Wine

Lime Cheesecake on an Aural Crust with Strawberry Sorbet
2000 Muller Catoir Mussbacher Eselshaut Rieslander Auslese, Pfalz, Germany

Lemon Sour Cream Pudding
1999 Rene Renou "Cuvee Zenith" Bonnezeaux, Loire, France

Menu #2
Egly Ouiret Champagne Rose NV

Cream of Tomato Soup with Bacon Drizzle
2004 Poet's Leap Columbia Valley Riesling

Geoduck Sashimi on Oceanic Gelee

Mache and Celery Salad with Lardo and Pancetta Dressing
2003 Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino, Campagnia, Italy

Copper River Carpaccio with Herb Salad
2005 Soter Yamhill Carlton District Rose

Black Pepper, Tequila and Strawberry "Otter Pop"

Roasted Chicken Hearts, Duck Gizzard Confit, and Duck Prosciutto Purses
2001 Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas, Rhone, France

Truffled Braised Veal Cheeks with Morels, Braised Leeks and Pomme Puree
2004 Waters Columbia Valley Syrah

Lamb Loin "Sous Vide", Bruleed Lamb Tongues, Artichoke Bottoms, Ratatouille, Lavender Demi
2003 Pepper Bridge Walla Walla Merlot

'Fig Newton' Toasted Fig Bread with Windsor Bleu and Roasted Grapes
2003 Mission Hill "Five Vineyards" Okanagan Valley Riesling Ice Wine

Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine with a "Cluttering" of Garnishes
2003 Mas Amiel Maury Vin Doux Natural, France

Butterscotch Pudding
1999 Rene Renou "Cuvee Zenith" Bonnezeaux, Loire, France

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a guest at a Gypsy dinner, send an email to apply@gypsydinners.com and ask for an application.

CALL FOR OPINIONS: I'm thinking about keeping the name "hardtack at sea" even though technically I'm home now. What do you all think?

Sunday, June 18

Meyers Chuck, Alaska

I've saved the best for last.

Meyers Chuck was the pinnacle of my entire tour of the Inside Passage. Not just because it was the quintessential seaside Alaskan coastal fishing village. Nor because, right out of a Northern Exposure episode, the postmaster was also the same woman who made our group 16 pies. Not the quirky locals, the warm community welcome, or the fact that all the fish used in our feast was outright donated by the local fishermen.

No, Meyers Chuck was the pinnacle of my entire trip because it offered up to me the ultimate chef challenge. My job? To arrive in Meyers Chuck, sight unseen, and within 2 hours, with the help of Tomi Marsh, Amy Grondin and our generous hosts Greg and Rebecca, serve 50 people a seafood buffet fit for kings and queens.

As soon as we dropped the anchor, I was dinghied over to Tomi's boat, inspected the boxes of halibut and Stikine king salmon, grabbed the other provisions and, along with my ingredients, equipment and generous helpers, made our way over to the outdoor kitchen to begin our preparations.

A view of the workshop, outdoor kitchen and raised bed gardens. You can see the wood fire starting to burn right in the middle of the shot. In the middle raised bed, later in the evening, we watched as an anemic mink stumbled around looking for food. I threw it a piece of geoduck. Turns out minks love geoduck.

It's always a challenge to learn how to cook in a new space. My particular challenge for cooking for this event was compounded by my lack of time and unfamiliarity with the venue. Add to that, I would be steaming some fish in a jury-rigged wok set-up, roasting the fish in a blazing hot outdoor bread oven and grilling some fish over an open wood fire pit. Each of these stations were as far apart from the other as possible, 3 points on a triangle with all the guests milling about the middle.

I quickly delegated and found a confident looking local. "You're in charge of the wood fire," I told him. "Whatever you do, don't overcook the salmon. Oh, and thank you!"

I needed to rotate the trays in the bread oven, left to right, front to back, every minute for a speedy 3-4 minute cooking time. It might have been 550-600 degrees in that oven. Then I would run around to the kitchen and check on the steaming fish in the rickety wok. Of course, everyone had questions for me and one of my usual challenges with cooking and teaching is to balance friendliness and education with the chef's surly need to tell people to get the hell out of the way, there's work to be done here people!

As always, the stress is for naught...things always have a way of working out.

Pictured above is Tomi Marsh, the only female captain of a King crab vessel (F/V Savage), and one of the founders of Fishwitches, an Alaskan seafood marketing group that enthusiastically spreads the word to consumers about the pleasures of Alaskan seafood. Tomi has worked in Alaska for 23 years fishing everything from crab in the Bering Sea to salmon in Southeast Alaska. She was trained as an engineer and the lore surrounding her is that she has been known to work on her boat's engine in the middle of 20 foot seas in the Bering Sea. Strangely, most of the men on the tour were uncharacteristically quiet after having a word with Tomi, a brilliant spitfire of a woman.

Rebecca Welti, an incredible artist and gardener, and I getting ready for the feast.

The outdoor bread oven we used for baking foccacia and roasting the fish.

Hijiki and carrot salad with sesame oil, scallions and sesame seeds. I also served a cucumber and wakame salad along with several different preparations of fish: Sake-steamed salmon with soy-ginger glaze, Roasted halibut with a pistachio-garam masala crust, Grilled salmon with lemon-pepper spice, and Steamed salmon with green goddess sauce. Tomi had generously prepared potato salad, geoduck ceviche, boiled spot prawns, and pasta salad.

Greg, Tomi and Rebecca heading off in the skiff.

Greg, aka "Alaska's Renaissance Man", cutting down a large chunk of old growth cedar stump for their handcrafted bowls. Greg carves the stumps into the bowls and then Rebecca finishes them with hand-rubbed color and varnish in her studio. The bowls are works of art; graceful, light, and functional.

Max's sunset pic of Meyers Chuck.

And so, to finish this chapter of the Grand Bank's tour of the Inside Passage, I leave you with this image: A local fisherman had trapped some spot prawns for our feast and had kept them alive in a tank so that we could see them swimming around. Accidentally, he had trapped an octopus in his trap. This, too, he put in the tank for a short time. After the feast was over and all of us had cleaned up, the guests gone back to their boats... several of us walked down to the dock with the octopus in a bucket and with the sun sinking in the sky, we slowly lowered it into the water and watched in awe-struck silence as it glided away, opening and closing, undulating in liquid ripples towards the safety of the dock.

Meyers Chuck props to: Amy Grondin, who works for Pacific Marine Conservation Council, connecting fishermen to consumers while promoting sustainable seafood. Amy was instrumental in providing the connections that brought our group to Meyers Chuck in the first place. Then, unpaid, she flew up, joined our group, helped Tomi cook, helped clean my dishes and even spoke to the whole group about PMCC, sustainability and eating locally. Amy, you rock sister!

Thursday, June 15

Lessons learned.

Towards the end of the trip I led an informal salon with tour participants on some of the food lessons I’d picked up about provisioning, storage and cooking on a boat. I'm not one to keep secrets about recipes or tips, so I was eager to share with everyone things that I’d found helpful or mistakes I’d made along the way. As usual, I learned just as much from them as they learned from me.

Here, in no particular order, follows some of these lessons learned. I might point out that a lot of these tips would apply to home storage as well, but were particularly important on the boat.

1. Storing greens and herbs: It is crucial to protect greens and herbs from moisture and oxygen. Wash herbs (for example parsley, mint and cilantro) and dry very well. You can dry them in a salad spinner and then dry again with some paper towels. Buy large high quality freezer ziplock bags. Place a few fresh sheets of paper toweling inside of the ziplock with the herbs. Roll out all the air (as if you were vacuum packing the bag) and seal well. Check every few days for moisture, replacing the now damp sheet of paper towel with a dry one and reseal.

Romaine lettuce lasts the longest stored this way, but red leaf and green leaf can be kept for at least a week in this fashion. I learned this tip, first from Lynne Rossetto Kasper - one of my favorite public radio food personas - and then it was reinforced daily at the Herbfarm. Since then I've never stood herbs in jars of water in the fridge where, thankfully, they won't be toppling over on everything ever again.

2. Using and growing fresh herbs: It goes without saying that fresh herbs can really improve the flavor of your food and add some freshness when you are having a hard time finding produce. Basil should be stored as above but tends to do better left in a dry cool place out of refrigeration. If you can, plant up a large pot with tarragon, mint, basil, thyme, etc…and it will do well in a warm place protected from the cold and the wind. On Sanctuary I was able to keep a pot of herbs doing really well up on the fly bridge which acted like a modified greenhouse. Beware of keeping a pot of herbs anywhere salt water is likely to be misting the leaves. I had the pot on the aft deck at first and within 2 days they looked like goners for sure. A little r and r on the fly bridge and all was well.

3. Storage: For space reasons, try to find a cool dark place to store onions, potatoes, and garlic. Choose a different place to store citrus fruit and apples. At first I had my produce in bags but as soon as one developed mold it would quickly spread to the others. One day I stepped out onto the bow deck and reached into the under seat compartment for what appeared to be a perfectly sound sweet potato. You know that feeling when you grab for what appears to be a glass and it's actually plastic and you almost throw it over your head? I reached my hand in quickly and efficiently, fully expecting the weight and heft of a sweet potato. What met my hand was a yielding, gooey, orange illusion of a sweet potato. I squished it completely between my fingers and had to laugh outloud at how disgusting it was.

It was then that Margo suggested changing tacks and really letting the produce get some air. We separated all the items from each other by putting them in a long, wide, cabinet where there was ample air circulation. This made a huge difference and I found the rate of spoilage was reduced significantly. Check your produce regularly and remove soft items to a place in the galley where you’ll see them and can use them up quickly. And for god sake's... never trust a sweet potato in storage again. Stick those in cold storage as soon as you have room.

4. Meal tips:

Make up large batches of granola. Mix up the dry ingredients for muffins or scones in advance (measure out 5 times and set aside in ziplock bags) Mix up the wet ingredients the morning of. You can mix up oatmeal, brown sugar and salt for the whole trip and then pack it in ziplock or in plastic Tupperware.

Lunches: Grain salads last several days under refrigeration and can be made with many pantry items. Soups can be made in larger batches and frozen in portions to use throughout the trip.

Dinners: Plan on catching or buying fresh fish along the way, but stock the boat in case you have a hard time finding it. Freeze chicken breasts, sausage, and steaks. Serve simple salads that are fresh but last a long time on the boat. Later in our trip in the most remote of Alaskan anchorages, it was really surprising and pleasing to have a fresh salad that didn't rely on greens and that had lasted the entire 3 weeks. Combine orange slices with thinly sliced fennel bulb, shaved parmesan and kalamata olives. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice on top. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Blog Update:
I have one more final entry related to my Alaskan trip and then within a few weeks I'm going to redesign the site a bit. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you want to receive an email notification when I've added a new post you can sign up (simply and easily) with Blogarithm.

Photo note: I took the above photograph in Ketchikan. The fish are herring and they were being processed on the fishing boat that was docked right next to ours. The herring are used as bait fish for the Alaskan black cod fisheries. The guys on the boat were really friendly and were curious about my job cooking on a yacht. Within 10 minutes of chatting one of them was handing across a plate to me with his homemade wild smoked salmon pate on what essentially looked like hardtack. It pleased me to no end. In return I threw over a pound bar of Valrhona chocolate. Good food makes good neighbors.

Thursday, June 8

Scones for Margo

Margo Wood, an expert sailor with vast experience of this area has not only selected and advised our group on the most beautiful anchorages along this passage, but she has elevated her single-handed prowess to single-handedly schooling my behind in Scrabble. Which, I might add, is a great source of embarrassment to me. I come from a long line of serious Scrabble aficionados. Most notably is my grandmother who, at the age of 94, still holds her own. She is the reigning queen of words and Sunday mornings as a child I would find myself at her feet; she would play with my hair as she was filling in the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, often single-handedly.

I am no stranger to the wily smarts and savvy sportsmanship of older women.

But Margo, she pulled the old bait and switch on me with a coy, “oh…you look like a smart girl, I don’t know about playing you.” My confidence thus elevated we sat down to play my one and only board game on this trip.

I started off full of enthusiasm and for 10 minutes was beating her fairly convincingly. The first sign that I knew I was sunk was when I noted the incredible speed with which she lay down her tiles. I would sit there, 7-10 minutes ticking away, with – not that it helped me AT ALL – all the high count letters, including the x, z, q, k. She would feign taking a nap, sigh, harass and cajole me for being so slow. I would finally lay down my play, nothing impressive, hardly worth the wait. Before the board could even spin around, she was grabbing for her little letters. And not, mind you, for a play unrelated to mine. She would pin a tail on my words, crossing them with a double word score and then oh-so-innocently ask, “what’s the score now?”

She so broke down my confidence that I couldn’t even return her gaze. And then, even my letters followed suit and I was left staring helplessly at: O O U O I J O or maybe it was T U I O I O O. No matter, one of her last plays was laying down one letter where she scored 20 points. She beat me by 100.

I don’t owe her a thing, especially after this humiliation at sea. Nonetheless I offer up to her and you the lemon scones I made at sea that she loved so much. I learned how to make a version of this particular recipe from a B and B on Vancouver Island. And so it seemed only fitting that it should be dedicated to a fine Canadian and a most excellent Scrabble player.

Lemon Scones
Makes 8

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup), unsalted, cubed
2 6-ounce containers lemon yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon thyme or lemon balm, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda in a bowl and whisk to remove lumps. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or in the food processor until the butter is pea-size. Add the yogurt, lemon juice and lemon thyme or balm. Mix together gently with a spoon and then turn out onto a floured board. Form into a round as pictured above (about 3/4 inch tall) and then slice into 8 equal triangles. Bake until brown on top, about 12-14 minutes.

Tuesday, June 6

Roger that.

I find beauty in the language of boating. Not unlike any other organized community of people, there are protocols and etiquette. On the VHF (very high frequency) radio, you call another boat by saying, for example, “Best Ever, Best Ever, this is Sanctuary.” Sometimes you repeat your own boat name twice. There is the familiar “roger” or “copy” to alert the listener that you have understood some direction. Often there is the little embellishment with a “roger that”. You finish a communication with several different possible endings. If you’re soon to be unavailable, you may say “Sanctuary, over” “Over” can also just alert the listener that you are done with that particular statement. If you’re sticking around you might say “Sanctuary, standing by”. People often also add the channel they are on. “Sanctuary, standing by on 72”.

If you are stranded in a dinghy with Max, for example, on a beach in Alaska at night and the motor won’t turn over and you find you need to call the “mother ship” to get rescued, the proper procedure for talking on the VHF would be the following:

Eaglet: “Sanctuary, Sanctuary, this is Eaglet”
Sanctuary: “Go ahead Eaglet, this is Sanctuary”
Eaglet: “hey Dad, we’re stranded. Help!”
Sanctuary: “Okay, Eaglet, we’re sending Larry over in his dinghy to tow you back, Stand by.”

Now rules are meant to be broken. Etiquette is meant to be discarded. And recreational fishermen, it would seem, have a completely different idea of how to talk on the radio. Their conversations are very informal and oftentimes we just listen to them talking randomly and at length about little details of their day and their lives. Occasionally they mention something to the tune of, “hey Bob, how’s it lookin’ out there? Have any beer on board?”

Many times on this trip we’ve been fairly well isolated from any other boats and the range of the radio limits our announcements to pretty much just us. In those times, especially after another arduous crossing, you may hear the following:

“Grand Banks Fleet, Grand Banks Fleet, this is Becky, from Sanctuary. Due to the disturbing shade of green that my face has taken on and the sorry state of my tummy, the cooking class for today at 1pm has been rescheduled. The chef’s weak constitution did not hold up well on our crossing and the thought of food is making me sick. Sanctuary, lying by (on the couch). Over.”

Post-script: I must elaborate on said arduous crossing. Coming from Duncanby Landing we were caught off guard and had not battened down anything in the boat. I was in my familiar position laying down on the couch (which, I might add, worked pretty darn well from keeping me from really getting bad off) as Max bravely caught flying objects near her horizon-watching post next to the galley. Buck was laying on the other couch and we were riding 5-6 foot rolling swells that were made more uncomfortable by the side chop we were getting. Forward and back and then side-to-side despite the presence of stabilizers on the boat. I was contemplating getting up to help secure more objects when a large brass lamp caught me in the back of the head. Just as I was rubbing out the pain I watched in slow motion as a cascade of fruit came spilling off the counter above Buck's head; a projectile fruit cocktail on a mission. First the orange, then the mango and finally, one lime dropped squarely on his head, bouncing off onto the floor. It was very funny, even at the time. Even knowing that I was green, with a goose egg on my head, and that Max looked even worse than me - it was truly comical.

Post-script #2: I arrived back home from Wrangell last night and am sorting through all the final posts I'd like to put up about the conclusion of the journey. Stay tuned for those and thanks so much for coming along. I, probably no surprise to anyone, would like to continue the blog and will soon redesign the name and feel of the site. More about food, community, Seattle, seasonal, local food and the people who share their stories and humor with others.

Thursday, June 1


This trip has been described by me and others, especially those of us new to boating, as a vortex. At times slow, introspective and beautiful, at other times fast, dramatic, spinning - a strange, humbling and other-worldly alternate reality. The waves, the ocean, the journey has at times left me feeling adrift at sea. But most of the time I have found this world to be an amazing slice of life that was always there but completely unnoticed by me. This world of slow travel by water, in a community of others, all making the same journey, now forever, part of my history.

We stopped in at Prince Rupert the other day and the sight of a car - the first one I'd seen in 2 weeks - stopped me in my tracks. The land wasn't moving (as it was for Max) but my familiar navigation of the scenery was much altered and I paused at the sight of a coffee shop, an intersection, a Safeway. I'd only been on the water for 2 weeks, but each hour has been a day and I feel like I've been away from home for so long.

This trip even comes with its dramatic sea tales; while I will not reveal names to spare the captain and crew of the boats in question any more sadness, 2 boats on this tour recently got into some very tight situations. The first, after a stern tie at anchorage broke, ended up at a 45 degree angle up on a sand belt until they could be roped and dragged safely back into the water. The second, just the other day, ran aground into a rocky area as we headed out to Ketchikan and destroyed their stabilizer and propeller. Bilge pumps were quickly set up and the Coast Guard called and they had to end their tour prematurely when their boat had to be hauled and repaired. No one was hurt and major disasters were averted but it has been a very up and down few days.

Words are poor tools to convey my thoughts upon seeing the Coast Guard sailing quickly to the area where we had gathered our boats around the damaged one. Water was streaming out the side, being pumped from the bilge at 60 gallons a minute. Over the VHF radio, we supported and rallied around the boat. One boat delivered another pump. Larry, "the last liberal from Texas", Crouch (aka service genius) boarded the boat, took over as captain and took charge of communications with the Coast Guard, as the captain himself attended to the leaking.

I suppose I felt a sense of pride and respect for the professionalism, the seamanship and camaraderie all around me - not unlike how I feel around firefighters and emergency medical providers. The Coast Guard boarded the boat and helped in any way they could and escorted the boat, now safely stabilized by the efficient pump, to a marina where it could be hauled out. In days since, everyone has formed a tight circle around the captain and his first mate, expressing our support and sadness that they must end their tour too early, yet relieved no one was hurt.

There is not enough time in one life to allow all the details of the many different worlds we all walk in to shine through. This is a world that I glossed over entirely. There was no depth, just a vague notion of what being on the ocean and traveling by sea meant.

Before I learned some Italian, I would just listen to the sounds: the ups and downs, the beautiful tones and rhythms conveying sounds alone with no comprehension. When, after a year of study, I would listen to the same sounds, little pieces of meaning would lift themselves up and over the rest. Depth would reveal itself where forever there was only a single dimension. No different, the language of seamanship. The learning curve has been steep and steady. The depths of understanding have inspired in me a new appreciation and respect for the ocean, the wildlife, the desire of so many people to take to the water to explore, to fish, to travel.

Note to readers: sorry this post is so delayed, getting access in any of the remote areas we are traveling in has been impossible. I'm currently in an anchorage 60 miles north of Ketchikan. Tomorrow we arrive in Wrangel, last stop on the tour.