I did not set out to write about food. Nevertheless, flipping through the pages of Ready to Come About, food, or sometimes the lack of it, was a significant backdrop to many scenes.
There were great concoctions we managed to pull together under sail, fantastic landfall meals in exotic places, and fabulous home cooked dinners around the kitchen tables in the homes of friends we met along the way. These were moments of celebration, of sharing, and of joy.
Then there were other food experiences; days of cold bean salads, simple meals to stretch out our limited reserves, meals in times of anxiety, distress, discord and sadness.
So it seems food and the human condition are inextricably linked.
When I came to, it was again night. Seeing David’s present sitting unopened where he had set it twelve hours before and him outside eating crackers from the box, I started to cry.
“Some Christmas,” I said to him through the companionway. “I had all the fixings for a special turkey dinner.”
“No worries, sweetie. Honestly, it’ll be great whenever.”
“And your present isn’t even —”
“No rush for that either. C’mon out here. You gotta see this night sky. I’ve never seen anything like it.” He slid over and I sat down. “Cracker?”
Excerpt from Ready to Come About
The rougher the passage, the more joyful the landfall. Our twelve day passage from the Azores to Portugal was particularly rough; sea sickness, storms, and fouling a rogue fishing net that disabled our engine and caused a continuous leak which we had to bail for nine days.
Once we cleared customs and Inia was safely secured in the beautiful city of Lagos, we headed into town to celebrate, “unshowered, unchanged, and unconcerned about it”. A local pointed us to a modest restaurant on the main drag, the Marina Café.
On that warm summer night, in the almost-empty restaurant, exhausted from our voyage, but so happy, we leisurely enjoyed a wonderful Portuguese meal and a nice bottle of vinho tinto. It was, indeed, a most joy filled landfall meal!
Friday night dinner at the Marina Café became a ritual. One night the owner, Ricardo, and the waitress, Karine, surprised us with the preparation of a special dish, Cataplana de Marisco. This seafood feast is a traditional dish popular in the Algarve. It was another memorable night of celebration, this time with new friends.
The Cataplana was such a wonderful discovery, I feel the need to share.
It is the name of the meal, but also the name of the vessel in which it is prepared: a hinged clam-shaped cooking container something like two small Woks clamped together.
We bought a small, inexpensive one in Lagos which we brought back with us across the Atlantic. It is a “go to” kitchen utensil which we now reserve for special occasions.
They are available in stainless steel, copper, or aluminum. If you can’t make it to Portugal, you can find one online.
It is a versatile cooking method, great for fully vegetarian meals, but also good for combining meat proteins and seafood. Essentially it is like a small pressure cooker to “steam” the ingredients. You can find many recipes online.
As far as the “steaming” material … I like the Portuguese approach! Lots of olive oil … and lots of white wine!
Here is a kind of made-up recipe we have prepared for company. Everyone raves about it. Hope you give it a try.
- Olive oil
- Whole onion
- Green bell pepper
- Red bell pepper
- White potato
- Large carrot
- 4 Cloves of garlic
- Italian tomatoes
- Other stuff (use your imagination: could be pickles, or basil leaves, or cilantro, or combination)
- Dash of Piri-Piri (or diced Jalapeno pepper) if you like it hot
- White wine
Prepare the ingredients in advance. Slice the onion and both bell peppers into thin strips. Peel the potato and slice into thin rounds. Slice carrot and tomato as well into thin rounds. Slice or dice the garlic (or leave whole),
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of one shell of the Cataplana. Add a layer of onion, then a layer of red and green peppers. Add a layer of sliced tomatoes, then a layer of potato and carrot. Add the garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
The Cataplana half shell should now be about two-thirds full. Add another layer of onion, bell peppers and tomato. Then throw in extras as desired (like sliced pickles, or a bunch of chopped cilantro). If you wish to spice it up, add a dash of Piri-Piri or chopped Jalapeno peppers.
Add white wine … then a bit more white white, then another splash of olive oil.
One more ingredient that David discovered that works well is mint. On top of the veggies and proteins in the container, after adding the oil and white wine, top with a bunch of mint leaves tied together. The mint will add flavour to the meal, and, after about twenty minutes of steaming, the sweet aroma will permeate the room.
Close and clamp. Simmer on the stove top for about 30 minutes, then open and serve. The Cataplana itself can be brought to the table as a serving dish.