Darcy Scott again, thinking about how if this were any other year I’d be knee-deep in extensive New Years Eve food prep right about now—cooking up a storm in frenzied anticipation of hosting family and friends. But this time around our table is by necessity limited to my husband and myself, with culinary gift bags/pans/parcels already having been squired here and there and dropped on doorsteps. A wave through the window in lieu of hugs and kisses. Sigh. So to cheer myself and possibly some of you, I’m devoting today’s post to a few favorite recipes (complete with their pertinent stories) gathered during our years of boating in various locales.
This first one is almost too easy, if a bit freaky: our initial 24-hour sailing trip up the Maine coast from Kittery to the Roque Island Archipelago—Roque being a remote and pristine anchorage a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. We arrived on our wedding anniversary, bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge; and the tide being perfect for harvesting mussels, I deployed the dinghy to the shallow shoreline opposite Grand Beach, dropped a small anchor and got to it.
To be honest, something felt wrong from the get-go—a premonition I should have heeded but didn’t—and one that only grew stronger when, returning to the boat, I plopped myself in the stern to clean my catch. Still, I pressed on, finishing my chore and taking the steps to the cockpit full bore with nary a thought for the metal bar that blocked my way at face level. The result? Two black eyes and a very swollen, very tender nose—not to mention that in all the excitement, I dropped my precious catch overboard, pan and all.
Back below deck, I did what I should’ve done before first heading out considering the many stories I’d heard over the years about the pain of paralytic shell food poisoning. Sure enough, when I checked the latest red tide alerts for the area, Roque was dead center in that summer’s largest outbreak. Lesson learned!
How We Do Mussels Like many of you, we prepare fresh mussels simply: steaming the small, freshly picked beauties that rest maybe a foot beneath the water at low tide with chopped garlic and a splash of white wine, occasionally augmenting the finished dish with some diced tomatoes and leftover bacon (is there ever such a thing?).
About fifteen years back, my husband and I sailed to Bermuda with another couple—a five day jaunt from southern Maine to St. Georges Harbor during which we were accompanied by pods of dolphins beneath the stars on the first two nights, and struck by lightning in the middle of the Gulf Stream on the third. I was alone on watch at the time, and in the subsequent chaos paid little attention to my own racing heart.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I pulled my iPod from the pocket of my rain gear that I noticed the dark bolt streaking its face and realized that I, too, had been indirectly struck, a small inconvenience compared to the loss of much of our navigation instruments and lighting—something that made our middle of the night approach to the island a real nail biter. The next day we celebrated our safe arrival with fish chowder at the White Horse Pub, winkling the recipe from a few friendly staff who took pity on us after hearing our tale.
Bermuda Fish Chowder (WhiteHorse Pub recipe)
3 lbs. fish bones—snapper or grouper work best
1 gallon water
One whole onion
2 celery stalks
4 parsley stalks
¼ c. finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 med. tomatoes, rough chopped
2 oz. bacon, rough sliced
2 oz. butter
2 oz. flour
½ tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp. curry
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
4 oz. tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 green pepper, diced
S & P to taste
Sherry or Black Seal rum
1.Wash fish bones thoroughly and set in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add celery and parsley stalks, whole onion and water.
2. Bring to a boil and skim foam. Let simmer five minutes.
3. Transfer stock into a clean pan; discard bones.
4. Melt butter in a heavy pan and sauté bacon, garlic, the chopped onion, curry, chopped celery, and thyme for five minutes. Add chopped tomato, puree, flour, Worcestershire sauce, diced pepper, bay leaf, and fish stock. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes.
5. Correct seasoning with S & P, and serve doused with Black Seal Rum or a dollop of sherry.
Many years of narrowboating in Wales have yielded some fabulous recipes of the British variety—the pubs along both the Llangollen and Montgomery canals offering everything from outstanding curries to the ubiquitous fish and chips and all manner of hand pies. (For more on our canaling experiences, check out my May 25, 2000 post, “Narrowboating in the UK”.) But Sticky Toffee Pudding (a very moist, dense cake smothered in a rich caramel sauce and whipped cream) was our absolute favorite—specifically this recipe offered up by the friendly crew at The Dusty Miller Pub in Wrenbury after we’d spent a long, drizzly day walking the towpaths. It feeds a crowd and has become a favorite Holiday-worthy dessert no matter where we are!
Sticky Toffee Pudding
1 lb. dates, chopped in food processor
2 cups hot water
2 tsp. baking soda
5 oz. unsalted butter
1 lb. sugar
5 large eggs
1 lb. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. dark brown sugar
1 lb. butter
1tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh whipped cream for serving
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 9 X 13 pan. Shake out excess.
Combine dates and hot water in saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Set aside to cool.
Cream butter and sugar together on high speed for three minutes. Add eggs one at a time until fully mixed.
Add vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt. Once incorporated, add dates and their liquid.
Pour batter into greased pan and bake until a skewer comes out clean (30 – 45 minutes).
For the sauce, combine the first three ingredients over low heat until well blended and the brown sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in the heavy cream. Serve topped with whipped cream.
Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.
I should have read this later in the day, for now I want fish chowder for breakfast. You guys are intrepid! But just in case you ever get lazy, my daughter gifted us with a box of little sticky toffee puddings from Omaha Steaks few years ago, and we have continued to order them a few times a year. They will do in a pinch if you have a craving (and no dates or no way to travel). No matter what else is on the dessert menu in the UK, order the sticky toffee pudding!