Friday, May 16, 2014

Are We "Living the Life" Yet?

Pope said to me many times during our Bahamas cruise: "We're finally 'living the life,' Amber!"

Who popularized that phrase anyway, and what exactly does it mean?

Like any enterprising journalist with a reputation for accuracy, I needed a credible source. So I looked it up on Google. Other than being the name of a B-grade movie about a tattooed teenager, and more recently a British TV series, I didn't find a lot of credible information about the expression. It's likely that the phrase got mixed up with "living the life of Riley," an expression that suggests an ideal contented life, often living on someone else's money. That phrase has been around since World War I and was the focus of a humorous radio and TV show in the 1940-1950s.

Pope, in using the expression, definitely was referring to an ideal, contented life. Well, I don't completely agree that the cruising conditions were ideal--as you know if you've been reading the blog--but you could say that I lived on Pope's money for a while. He paid for 3/4 of the boat upgrades and operation and the majority of marina fees.

For our first month back home, however, I definitely felt like I was "living the life." Retired. Happier than being on the boat. My fears calmed down, I was warm and dry, and my days were calm and uneventful.
A leisurely day at the botanical gardens with Pettit (pictured) and Leslie

It's never a good idea to take "the good life" for granted, though, whether you're enjoying harmony at home, a fantasy vacation, or being "in the zone" during extreme sports. (Not that I personally am into extreme sports.)

Anything can happen. Your orderly, well-managed life can change in an instant.

On Wednesday, I took a bus to REI to pick up my bike after getting a tune-up. Rode home 11.6 miles, mostly along trails. I felt fine--until I entered the 14th Street Bridge, at which time my sense of peace and contentment started developing hairline cracks. Bike commuters whizzing out of DC came at me at top speed, on a narrow sidewalk bordered by 8-foot-high steel railings. There was barely room to pass--yet they didn't even slow down.

I held my breath each time black and yellow spandex flashed by. Felt vulnerable. Recalled my ill-fated bike ride in December.

As it turned out, I didn't get my skull split open against the steel rails on the 14th Street Bridge.

Around 9:30 pm, however, Pope staggered into the house, dazed and dripping blood. He had wrecked his car a couple of miles from home, trying to drive back from Chesapeake Bay after a sailboat race followed by eating and drinking. He probably fell asleep at the wheel.
The visible damage

An hour later, we were startled by screaming and banging in the street. Our local burglar had struck again, smashing car windows in front of our house. (We suspect drug addicts in search of anything that can be sold for cash. Maybe they are in cahoots with the perps who murdered a man in 7-11, a few doors away.)

The noise was from owners returning to their cars and unleashing their fury on the neighborhood. Not locals, I guess, or they would be inured to the violence of broken car windows and stolen bikes.

The point is, anything can happen to upset the apple cart and send the bruised and battered remnants of Riley's ideal life straight into the dumpster.
What's left after upsetting the apple cart
The second point is: Enjoy the good life while you can. Don't take it for granted. And be ready to adapt when you encounter "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." *

Today, Pope is patched up and is out scouting body shops. The first body shop, and our insurance company, want to write the car off as a total loss. Value: $0. We are discussing whether to buy a battered old pickup (reminds me of our battered old boat...) or just share my old but still-decent Honda.

So...are we "living the life"? Who is the wise guy who dreamed up that phrase, anyway?

* From Hamlet, Act III, Scene I:

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Recipes From a Lightly Populated Planet

The planet I live on—cooking-wise—is a lonely one. My tastes are of the quirky sticks-and-twigs variety, my diet is further restricted by food allergies and sensitivities, and I live with someone of often-opposing food values. So how did Pope and I adjust on our Bahamas cruise, where we ate three meals a day together, and none of my favorite foods were available? Below are three of my frequently consumed recipes.
The principles I try to follow at home in preparing my daily bread include:

1. Vegetarian—non-violence to animals. (My domestic partner is a dedicated carnivore.)
2. Whole grains and organic, or at least close-to-the-source, ingredients for maximum nutritional value.
3. Leafy greens (the only scientifically proven nutritional cancer fighter).
4. Convenience. I don’t follow recipes.  Instead of correct ingredients for any given dish, I use whatever ingredients are available in the pantry and refrigerator.

Living on the boat in the Bahamas posed challenges way beyond meshing my eating style with Pope's.

The alcohol stove in the boat's tiny galley worked every time, oblivious to saltwater spray, and had two burners—just large enough for a pot of pasta and a pan of sauce. However, the secondary butane stove, which could be used outside, and the propane grill on the back rail  (photo) eventually rusted out, due to saltwater corrosion. Until then, they were a godsend for keeping Pope’s meat separate from my food and the greasy meat splatters out of the boat's cabin.
The local diet in the Bahama out-islands (beyond heavily touristed Nassau and Freeport) seemed to revolve around fried conch and fries. Whole grains and leafy greens were non-existent. Virtually nothing is home-grown; although a few households had chickens in the yard, their eggs were not for sale.

A minimal selection of canned and packaged foods are shipped from the U.S. and sold in tiny markets the size of the average American dining room (in photo below, note the fresh bread and small selection of canned goods).

An even more minimal selection of fresh produce arrived every week or two from Florida by mail boat, and was snapped up within an hour of being unloaded by the “highest bidders” (boat owners/frequent visitors who had established a relationship with the store owners). These would be kept in the market's refrigerator,at left in the photo above. Despite the fast turnaround for lettuce, tomatoes, and eggplant, however, we were almost always able to find onions and potatoes, limes and lemons, and often carrots.
Ice was available on many of the islands, so--when we found them for sale--we were able to keep butter, eggs and milk fresh for a couple of days in our cooler.

Waves and wakes rocking the boat can send hot liquids flying, so meals while underway tended to be crackers, cheese or peanut butter, and fruit.

The following frequently used recipes reflected logistical realities (i.e., what was widely available and convenient to cook). Despite the shortage of nutritionally high-value ingredients, my recipes must have contained sufficient vitamins, because I felt better and was less fatigued during the cruise than at home. Some of that may have been due to retiring and leaving home. But I like to think the fresh limes and local rum had something to do with it!

GRILL-UP  (a weekly standard until the grill died)

Miso – for flavor; brought from Miami; can also use just olive oil or butter
Tofu – vacuum-packed, brought from Miami (substituted sausage in Pope’s portion)
Onion, cut in chunks
Potato, cut in chunks
Carrots, cut in chunks
Other vegetables as available – eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, or kale – we found each of these once during the cruise
Salt, pepper, other seasonings
Pats of butter or dabs of olive oil for flavor to prevent vegetables from drying out

Wrap all ingredients tightly in heavy-duty foil, each serving wrapped separately to allow for individual tastes. Grill 20-30 minutes depending on temperature. Remove from grill when smell of cooked vegetables permeates the boat. This works nicely on any backyard grill! After the chopping, there's nothing to do.

BLACK BEANS & RICE   (at least once a week)

Cooked white rice (brown rice would have used too much cooking fuel)
Canned black beans (ditto; dried beans would have used too much fuel)
Seasonings (whatever spices are on board; I used cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and lime; Pope used tomato sauce, red chili flakes, and hot sauce)
Lots of onion
Red or green pepper if available; if not, perhaps canned corn or peas

Saute onion and pepper in olive oil until transparent; add rice and seasonings, then beans. Cook together, stirring constantly, just until heated.

DARK & STORMY (my daily cocktail-hour staple; recipe is from a previous sailing trip in Bermuda; all ingredients were readily available in the Bahamas)

Dark rum (Gosling’s Black Seal is best)
Ginger beer (non-alcoholic; Gosling’s or Barritt’s is best)
Dash of bitters
Juice of a lime

Pour each ingredient over ice, and watch the way the pretty colors layer themselves. Yum. Hint: not very good if ice is not available. I tried several of the rum punches in the local Bahamian bars, and, in my opinion, none of their recipes came close to my favorite dark 'n' stormy.
Bottoms up!