There is no greater challenge of your cooking skills than when you are appointed a “ship’s cook” as I was on our bareboat charter of a 41 foot Beneteau sailboat out of Belize. Our Moorings boat, “SS Tonic” set sail on April 9 out of Placencia. With a boatload of food, no cookbooks and my own culinary training, my charge was to feed five hungry women in between sailing and snorkeling adventures for the next seven days. We set sail with 2 pounds of shrimp, 10 T-bone steaks, 2 pounds of chicken, 3 pounds of snapper, 2 pounds of bacon, 5 packages of lunchmeat ham, 5 packages of american and cheddar cheese, 6 loaves of bread, 2 packages of bagels, 2 packages of pancake mix, 5 boxes of pasta, 3 ripe pineapples, 3 large papayas, a watermelon, a pile of bananas, green oranges, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, a head of cabbage, broccoli, eggs . This together with assorted condiments, snacks, juice and desserts filled out our larder. I decided in Los Angeles to bring fresh herbs from my garden and yeast in my luggage, which proved to be smart thinking. Wish I added my chef’s knife! That and a quick bike ride to the local market in Placencia where I grabbed some fresh garlic, flour, EVOO and a bottle of local rum helped too…and thanks to Donna for snatching up some fresh ginger root before boarding. For cooking, our galley had a two burner stove, a toaster sized oven and a BBQ attached to one of our rails.
Captain Jeannea, drove us through the shallow reef lined waters of Belize to Whipray Caye, our first anchorage for the night. I was always thinking about our meals in my head, and this night I decided to use our snapper, mixed nuts, butter, orange and rice mix to make us a Nut crusted baked fish with an orange buerre blanc sauce and rice. It was delicious and I scored points with the Captain and crew. The deal was that I cooked, Carolyn or Karen became my sous chef and whoever didn’t help cooking did the cleanup. I liked this arrangement a lot.
The next morning we sailed in 20 knots of wind to Southwater Caye, which was so idyllic that after attaching to a mooring (the crew much preferred this to anchoring), we decided we were staying for two nights. Southwater Caye is right on the reef, so the snorkeling turned out to be amazing. We hooked up with our buddy boat and Captain Susan drove us right up to the reef off Carrie Bow Caye. There we saw a 4 foot nurse shark resting in coral while schools of fish seemed to be cleaning him/her. Everywhere you turned there were coral heads with various colorful fish in two to four feet of water. We saw irridiscent purple fan coral, cactus coral, angel fish, green rays, barracuda, sea cucumbers, conch in their shells, red coral, black coral – you name it, we saw it. I’ve never seen such a variety of sea life in one place, until we got to Lagoon Caye…
We dined on pasta carbonara, cheesecake, banana pancakes, BBQ steaks and chicken, roasted rosemary potatoes and salad during our stay at Southwater. We discovered here that the honey dijon mustard was one of our most valuable flavor enhancers in our arsenal. We used it on everything -marinated our chicken and steak in it as well as on our ham sandwiches.
Next on our agenda was sailing off to Coco Plum Caye. In order to get there, we had to pass through the BlueWater region where the color turquoise was invented. We navigated through 8-10 foot waters as we watched dolphins diving on our bow. When we arrive at Coco Plum Caye, we try attaching to a mooring, while we see a couple three foot barracudas swimming by us. We are not so sure we want to jump in the waters here. Finally we get settled for the night and the crew of Zoof dinghies over to us with half a barracuda that their chef, Ken had caught while waiting for us.
We were having all kinds of troubles this evening. We discovered over the last day that our refrigerator, a 2′ x 2′ box about 3 foot deep had lost its chill and our precious cargo of food was going bad. We tried radioing to the base camp and finally reached them via cellphone for a refrig rescue. Our new friend, Salam boarded our boat shortly before dinner with some freon to fix the refrig and an ice cooler full of new meats/shrimp and ICE!! YEAH COCKTAILS! After an hour or so of fixes, we were back in business. A shrimp scampi with linguine with orange zest and garlic, along with a salad were our dinner.
The rest of the crew decided to plop our barracuda on the BBQ, but it didn’t quite cook though the thickness of the meat. So the next morning, I filleted that sucker and baked it in a foil tent. This method sealed in some of the juices so it wouldn’t dry out. Then I served it on toasted bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes. This was yummy! We compared notes with our buddy boat the next day. They grilled their barracuda steaks and then also copied my Barracuda Bagels the next day. It tasted like a dense whitefish. Really delish! Although, WARNING!, I’ve since read that eating some Barracuda can be poisonous from ciguatera, and you can get it from grouper just as easily as barracuda. It comes from a toxin that grows on dead coral, so be careful out in the wilds.
We went ashore, did some snorkeling and then toured a really nice resort with the owner’s son, Balin Hewitt called Thatch Caye Resort, which is reasonably priced and a perfect spot for a “get away from everything” vacation.
Next it was on to Lagoon Caye. We loved the snorkeling here (the best ever) and the protection from the winds, so we stayed here two days. We also needed to get Salam back to fix our “windlass” as without it, we weren’t able to pick up our anchor. I had been tempting the crew with the idea that this warm balmy climate was ideal for proofing bread in, so I finally used the yeast I brought and mixed up some bread. I baked a loaf of bread in our toaster like oven. It was challenging, as there was never enough heat to brown the bread on top, but the crew was hooked. Now I had requests everyday for homemade bread. No more did they want to eat that refrigerated bread we’d been carrying around for four days.
So, I tantallized them with a deep dish type pizza made with our bread dough, sliced tomatoes, the fresh oregano I brought and cheddar cheese. It was pretty darned good. I served this with some grilled chicken breasts marinated in the honey dijon mustard, topped with a papaya salsa and potato salad made from the potatoes, celery, pickles, eggs, sour cream and the honey dijon mustard.
The next day, we were planning to hang out and snorkel all day long. I remembered we had another pound of shrimp, so I offered to make a shrimp scampi salad with papaya and an orange vinagrette made with our honey dijon mustard for lunch. It didn’t take much arm twisting on this one.
After dinner our second night at Lagoon Caye, we had a lot of leftover grilled steak and chicken, so the crew now demanded fresh bread for their sandwiches on our final sail back to Placencia. I mixed up some dough that night and baked it off into a foccacia type loaf in the morning, pressing some fresh rosemary leaves into it. It was the perfect answer to sandwich fatigue. I got off the hook that night, as we went ashore for a meal of chicken with coconut rice and conch at Wendy’s (not the burger joint!)
On the final day of our trip, we were planning to motor “SS Tonic” back to the slip. Our bananas were very ripe by this time, so a final batch of banana pancakes hit the spot before we packed it up. The mashed bananas proved to offer the pancakes a light creamy consistency that I’d like to repeat again. They were very delicate, and melted in your mouth. A happy discovery from ingredients that weren’t at their best.
What a vacation! This trip was one happy discovery after another…some challenges along the way…a huge learning curve…and an appreciation for the nature and the people of Belize. If you are a water person, this place is heaven…and hopefully my food was nirvana!
2 cups flour; 1 tsp salt; 1 Tbs sugar; 1 tsp yeast; 1 Tbl olive oil; bottled water
In a covered bowl, mix together all ingredients except the water. Pour about 1/4 cup of warm water over the yeast. Mix the dough and continue to add water until you have a “wet dough”. It will not stand up on its own, and is considered more of a “sponge”. If you want to add more ingredients, like rosemary or walnuts or olives, do it now. Cover the bowl. Now, go about your day–snorkeling, swimming, sailing and let your dough rise. If you walk by it, punch it down with a large spoon and mix it up a little. When you are ready to bake, add more flour to the dough to make it denser and easier to handle and line your baking pan or bread pan with olive oil. Form your dough into a loaf or flatten for foccacia and cover it with a clean kitchen towel. Turn on your oven to 375°. When your dough has risen again, place the pan in the oven and bake. The first clue it is done, is you will have a just baked aroma in your galley. The top should be brown and when you knock on it, it sounds hollow. Cool slightly, slice and enjoy!
See also “How to Make French Baguettes