The Wild Things Roundup for August is up on the lovely Hunger and Thirst. Go and check it out please, and bookmark it for the next time you stumble upon a grape vine and can’t decide what to do with all the deliciousness…
I do not sleep well at anchor. En route to Alicante, we sailed into a little cove- a magic cove really- that Jam has named “cala de torre solamente” (lonely tower cove). He spotted it from a mile out, and insisted we sail in to explore it. Some people would call it luck, but I say it takes great talent to pick out the perfect spot from a mile away. A turquoise-bottomed cove, with a lonely old tower standing look out on top of a hill, protected from the wind, with a lovely rocky beach. I called it a Moorish tower, but Jam said that is NOT what a Moorish tower looks like, and then I kept calling it a Moorish tower because it sounds much cooler that way. We dropped anchor and went for a swim, then Jam rowed us ashore and wandered around while I took photos of plants and picked grape leaves. Back on the boat, I made dinner as the sun was going down, and we sat in the cockpit eating as it got dark. A crescent moon rose above the tower, the waves lapped gently against the hull, and all was well in the world until it came time to go to sleep.
Did you ever see that Donald Duck cartoon with the dripping water? When he had insomnia and the water was making him crazy? With every gust of wind, and every tug of the boat, I’d go running up onto the deck to make sure we were staying in place. It doesn’t really make sense- anchors are built to hold a boat in place, and in light winds, it would be no problem. But fear counters all logic. I lay in bed terrified until around 230, when I decided that I’d just go up on deck to sleep so that I could start the engine when the anchor failed. Lying on the deck, the tower looked ominous. The winds sounded like they were taunting me. And all of a sudden the quaint little houses on the hill looked like something out of Deliverance and not a quaint little Mediterranean village at all. In fact I was sure that I could see locals on the shore getting ready to swim out and board the boat and attack us. With the big evil tower looming overhead. I crept back below deck and climbed back into bed. The boat gave a big jerk and I whimpered, which woke Jamie up. He then valiantly offered to go and stand watch on deck so that I could sleep. I gratefully accepted and passed out within seconds of him leaving. That he actually went back to sleep instead of standing guard as suggested was of no concern to me- my mind had been put to ease and that was all that mattered.
But let’s go back to those grape leaves for a second- because that’s the Wild Thing for the month of August. I’ve been terribly remiss in my Wild Things recipes , so I was really happy, when wandering around the mainland, to find grape leaves. They’re everywhere. Which was really handy for two reasons:
1. As a host, it’s kinda good if I have at least one recipe for the round up, and
2. They’re cooling and delicious- perfect for the 100 degree + days we were facing in Spain.
I made a sauce for meat, which we drizzled over baked chicken. When I got home, I refined the recipe a bit, using a blender, marinading the chicken, and grilling it, before serving with the sauce. I much prefer method #2, though in a pinch, without a grill or a blender, #1 works quite well too.
Grilled chicken with grape leaf salsa verde
4 bone-in skin-on chicken parts
2 cups fresh grape leaves, chopped roughly
5 cloves garlic
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup parsley
salt and pepper (about 1/4 tsp each)
Place everything except the chicken in a blender, and blend for about 15 seconds- until the greens and garlic are all chopped into little pieces. Take half the sauce and pour over the chicken in a big bowl, making sure each piece is coated. Cover the rest and set it aside in the fridge.
Marinade the chicken for up to 24 hours, then get the grill going, and grill 15 minutes on each side, or until it’s cooked.
Serve with the remainder of the sauce.
I forgot about how nice some things are at home.
Like clean sheets and a comfy bed that is so big you can stretch out in your sleep and still not know there’s someone else there. And like having a bathroom that you don’t share with a hundred other people in the marina. And good coffee.
Jamie and I jumped ship in Alicante. Gatablanca and I had a tearful goodbye. That is, I shed tears, and she sat there in the water looking beautiful as always. And just like that, it was over.
We drove West, into Andalucia. The second you cross the border from Valencia, the landscape changes. Becomes more wild, more beautiful. With craggy mountains and fields of olive trees. This was the last Moorish outpost in Spain. We stayed in a little hotel under the Alahambra, in the Alcaiceria- the old Arabic quarter. The streets are cobbled and narrow and lined with little cafes and markets selling Moroccan goods and Indian imports*.
And after a couple of days in Granada, we drove to Madrid to catch our flight home. By the way, if you have a choice, don’t rent a car and drive to Madrid. A 4 hour drive became a 7 hour drive due to the confusion of Spanish google maps directions, and streets that have 3 different names, and iphones running out of batteries, and Spanish road maps that don’t have freeway names on the freeways, and then a convergence of Catholic youth from all over the world upon central Madrid where the Pope (el Papa) was due to arrive by plane around the time ours was due to take off. As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on the intercom to point out his plane, which had just landed**.
And then, just like that, we were home. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. My consolation is that Gatablanca is right where we left her and will be there when I go back next year.
I’ll tell you more about the trip over the next couple of weeks or so- about the lonely tower cove that we found, and about the tres idiotas that we rescued. About the food we ate and the liqueurs we drank and the sunsets that we watched. But for now, I’m going to curl up on my couch with a blanket, a book and a mug of coffee, so a Tortilla Espanola recipe will have to do until then.
Tortilla is ubiquitous in Spain. Every time I’d visit dad I’d drag him to tapas bars and force him to eat them; I’m pretty sure that after I left he didn’t want to look at another egg for months. You can buy them pre-packaged in the grocery stores there, and they’re delicious, even though they’re pre-packaged. We had them for dinner almost every night on board, with salad and a plate of delicious jamon and bread and cheese. It’s perfect for having around in the fridge for snacking on. If people come over unannounced you can put it out and make it look like you’re the type of person who is used to having people over all the time because you’re prepared with fancy Spanish food. And if it’s too hot and you can’t be bothered cooking you can cut off a slice and eat it right there off the plate with the fridge door still open with no mess and no evidence except dirty fingers (which you can either lick off or wipe on a towel and voila- the perfect crime). And if it’s dinner time and you forgot to make anything then you can put it on a plate with a nice salad and make a glass of tinto de verano and in five minutes you have a Spanish meal. Quite impressive, si?
3 tb heavy cream
1 large onion, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 tb butter
3 tb olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
Boil a big pot of water and throw the potatoes in. Boil for 8 minutes- until you can pierce them with a fork but they won’t quite drop off quickly. Strain.
Meanwhile, in a cast iron pan, heat the butter and oil, and sautee the onions for about ten minutes, until they start to brown slightly.
Add the potatoes, and then the seasonings. Cook for another couple of minutes, meanwhile beat together the eggs and cream. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook (don’t stir it) for a minute. Remove from heat and stick it in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes, until the centre is set.
If you have a broiler, then stick it under the broiler for a minute or so to brown the top. If not, it’s no bother. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate. You can eat it warm, but it’s really best after a couple of hours cooling. And it’ll last in the fridge for 3 days.
*I stopped to look at a skirt, balked at the price, and told the man that I could have bought that for 200 rupees. He shrugged, in typical Spanish fashion, and I stormed off in a huff.
**I’d have assumed that the Pope had a private jet but no, he flies on AlItalia. How the Swiss guardsmen get their funny hats and spears on board is beyond me.
When I was young I’d draw like a madwoman. My favourite thing to draw was the sea with a full moon, and that nice triangle of light shimmering its way down the page. It was, to me, the most beautiful thing ever. On board my dad’s old boat, Easy Action, when I was 3 or so, he’d often come and retrieve me late at night, slip a life jacket over my head and lift me out of the hatch window above my bed. We’d lie on the deck looking at stars and at the moon. Once, at anchor off the south coast of England, he picked me up to drop me back into my bed, and I looked over and the moon was casting its light on the sea.
We left the marina early this morning. I made some cold infusion coffee for the boys the night before because they were doing the early shift. Jam’s alarm went off at 4 and I half woke up to listen to them pull out of the marina. As soon as we were under way I fell back asleep. I woke up again at 6, and padded up onto the deck. It was still cold, in that “it’s going to be a really hot day today” kind of cold thaty ou get in the summer. We could still see the Spanish mainland behind us, but it was already hazy. I brewed some more coffee (hot this time) and returned to deck to watch the sun rise. We’re heading to Espalmador- a small island near Ibiza. To a little cove called Cala Boch which, as it turns out, isn’t its real name. Alex and I had no idea until a couple of days ago when we consulted the Pilots book- before that it had always been Cala Boch. Dad had a habit of naming things, and we just assumed that was the way to say it. Like ensign. Turns out it’s pronounced “En-sin” not “En-sine” like dad always said it. Something I found out most embarrasingly in a sailing class.
Cala Boch is a small cove with a shallow entrance. Which makes it difficult to access for most boats. Our boat, being extremely shallow, is one of the only ones that can get in there, which makes for lovely isolated anchorage and swimming. On Espalmador is a mud bath. It smells disgusting and it’s kind of freaky getting into it, but then you get covered in mud and dip into the warm ocean to get it all off and it’s really fun, plus it makes me think there’s some kind of health benefit because it’s muddy and smelly and comes from the earth.
One of the things that I like about sailing is the immediacy of the action you need to take. For example when the alternator belt broke yesterday when we were preparing to motor in between the shore (a cliff) and a big rock. We had plenty of room, but the bolts weren’t loosening, after years of rust, and someone had obviously tried to undo them before because the edges were just worn away completely. It took four hours, in total, to figure out how to get the bolt off, to get the alternator belt on, all the while we drifted, with less than 1 knot of wind. Things like this happen constantly. Two days ago it was the battery, and a lose wire. One cannot be under the impression that one is remotely special when you’re subject to the elements like this. The wind and the sea rule, and if you’re lucky things don’t break too often or cost too much to replace. There’s always something. You learn very quickly that there’s no such thing as “why me?” or “why does this happen?”. It happens because it happens. And you act on it and move on. You prepare as best you can and then throw away any plans because to hold on to ideas of what should happen could very easily get you killed. I wonder sometimes why my dad, who was so tightly in control of his environment, enjoyed this so much. When it’s so scary, when you can’t be in control of anything except maybe how tidy everything is. And then I think that maybe he knew that it was good for him, and that’s why. Or maybe it just made him happy.
Navigation is necessary- after a while you lose sight of land. This is bluewater sailing, where the depth sounder doesn’t work anymore. Before the sun comes up, you navigate by the stars and the compass. And then it bursts through the clouds, all fiery and red, and it casts its rays across the ocean in front of us- they ripple out like a pathway. The wind is a steady South-Easterly, and we’re headed due East. Somehow this makes me happy- the due East thing- like somewhere out there, maybe at the end of this pathway, is some kind of redemption, or some kind of answer. Or maybe it’s not, and I’ll never find an answer, and I’ll spend my life heading due East, searching. But quite honestly, with the wind in my face and kicking up a trail of water at my heels, that doesn’t sound so bad either.
Cold infusion coffee
4 tb really nice coffee
4 cups water
Heavy cream (about 4 tb)
The night before you want to drink it, place the coffee and water in a french press or something similar. Put it in the fridge till morning. Remove from fridge, strain and add the cream. Serve in glasses on one of those mornings that feels like it’s going to be a really hot day. Watch out because cold infusion has way more caffeine and you might get a loooot of work done….
Ps. I’m posting albums of my trip on Facebook.
As I write this, big fluffy cumulus clouds are forming on the horizon, and my brother, Alex, is checking the weather reports to make sure we won’t run into a storm later this afternoon.
We’re in Spain. Torrevieja, to be exact: a small resort town on the East coast. We’re on a boat. Gatablanca, to be exact: a beautiful white catamaran with a blue stripe down the side. And we’re preparing for a voyage. A relatively short voyage, but a voyage none the less.
The boat was our dad’s. He sailed her down here about 20 years ago. When he couldn’t be on his boat he’d like to be near the sea. I know this because when I’d visit him in England, we’d often drive to the waters edge and walk for hours. He had a girlfriend once who convinced him to rent an apartment with her here in Spain. He’d wake up in the morning and march stubbornly right back to the marina, where he’d sit on the boat eating oranges and polishing things until it was time to go home. She, for the record, was fired.
And then he died. It wasn’t sudden like an accident. It was sudden like a cancer diagnosis that shouldn’t go from start to finish in a couple of months. You shouldn’t have a phonecall with somebody one day, during which you refuse to talk about all the stuff that was unsaid and unsorted between you because you’ve still got time, and then a week later get a phonecall about them having slipped into a coma. It’s not fair or right. I am still angry at the universe for this.
After he died, Alex and I decided to keep his boat.
We’re here for 3 weeks. To scrub, sand, clean, stitch and polish. But also to go to some of the places we used to visit together. To have croissants and cafe con leche for breakfast, and bocarones a la plancha for dinner. To drink sangria while watching the sun go down from little anchorages. And to sail.
Last night we went to a little restaurant where I had a drink called tinto de verano. Which is basically sangria for folks who don’t drink too much, ie. me. It’s super easy. And if you want to pretend you’re in Spain right now all you need to do is the following:
Tinto de verano
1 tb sugar
1/2 bottle red wine
1/2 bottle soda water
Chop the orange up into 8 pieces, same with the lemon. Put them in a jug with the sugar and mash it up a bit. Add the ice, pour in the wine and soda and stir. To be drunk somewhere warm, in the haze of the early evening when it’s still light out. Preferably with the smell of meat grilling somewhere and people speaking Spanish in the background. But seriously, a front stoop would work.
This afternoon we set sail for Tabarca Island, where we’ll drop anchor and snorkle for a few hours. It’s a marine reserve, with lots of little pretty fish, and an old Moorish castle sitting on a cliff. Jamie keeps jumping up and down going “PIRATE ISLAND!”. I have been to the market to stock up on the freshest juiciest figs and green plums that explode in your mouth in little bursts of flavour. And bread. And cheese. And jamon Iberico that seems to be what prosciutto always wanted to be but could never quite achieve.
After a friend lost her father recently I found myself writing her a letter telling her a few things: That it doesn’t get better. That you’ll miss him forever. And that the pain feels like a never-ending hole in your heart that you forget about sometimes and then remember. But also that every now and then you’ll find yourself doing something that they would do, or making a face that they would make, and you’ll smile because even though people do die, parts of them carry on. It’s the beauty of human genetics. And being here, surrounded by my dad and the things that made him happy, stumbling upon little things that he left lying around (like entries in the ship log that say “sailed to Moraira to find WiFi signal”, with my brother who shares the same genes, and my husband who shares our love of the sea, and an old high school friend of Alex’s, I feel more at peace than I have over the last 6 years since he died.
So here we are, aboard the good ship Gatablanca. I’ll write as often as I can, with tales of sea adventures and delicious things that I find along the way. And in the meantime, try a glass of tinto de verano.