Saturday, May 29, 2010

If Only Flasks Could Talk...

I received my first flask as a college graduation gift from two of my roommates.  A stainless steel boot flask with a check pattern.  Your twenties are an age when it seems that booze is appropriate during almost any activity, thus making a flask an ideal tool to have on hand.

During the Middle Ages people would use gutted fruit to conceal liquor.  By the 1700's metal flasks were used by the upper crust of society, while the lower classes would fashion them out of pigs bladders.  Women in Britian would sneak gin aboard ships for sailors with a bladder flask tucked discreetly under their petticoats.   

The flask has been used throughout the history of liquor on battlefields across the world.  It is tool of courage for fallen soldiers when faced with surgery without anesthesia, and a means of steadying the nerves in the terrible throws of war.

It has been a while since I have used my flask.   I may technically still be in my 20's, but it is not exactly something a mother with two little babies wants to be caught with...if you know what I mean.  In fact, I hadn't much thought about it until I began seeking a new home for my wooden boat.  Flasks and boats seem to go hand in hand.

I had a fella help me trailer the boat, and it just so happened that this charter fisherman, owner of The Angler's Mark, was also a leather artist.  It came up in conversation that he specializes in leather flask covers.  Here is some of his work, as well as the flask above.

There is something wonderful about a leather flask.  Leather shows the wear of use with a warmth that a metal flask lacks.  A worn leather flask carries a certain sense of history...history with an undoubtedly interesting story.  

If only flasks could talk...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Gulf Spill, part II

I am a stay at home mom living on a little island off the coast of the Florida/Georgia border.  I am a bit isolated to say the least. If it were not for the internet, I would be lost.  I asked Chef the other day,

"The oil spill...are people talking about it everywhere?  It is a HUGE deal...are people even aware?"  He assured me that it is on everyone's mind. 

Yesterday I checked the Huffington Post and the cover story was Tar Balls off of Key West.  It is a fear of ours that the oil is going to hit the Gulf Stream and make its way up the eastern seaboard.  Fear is an would be a nightmare.  Aside from the environmental devastation, our little beach town is utterly dependent on  tourism during the summer months to provide for us during the off season.  If the oil makes its way to our beaches it will be ruinous to our livelihood here, as well as many other small business owners.

As someone who is in the restaurant biz, I am blown away that the oil rig, the culprit of this catastrophe, was able to operate without being up to code.  I mean it is drilling a hole into the Earth's core for god sakes.  At our little bistro, if we so much as leave a cup of diet soda near our food window, we face a citation from our inspector.  It just goes to show the disparity between the regulation of small businesses vs. big business in this country.

I feel a need to eat as much seafood as possible in the upcoming months.  For 2 reasons, to support fishermen that are literally fishing for their lives right now in order to stockpile cash to feed their families in the event the oil destroys their careers as mariners, and because who may be the last time for a long time that seafood from this region of the country is safe to eat.

Last week we had two rounds of company roll through.  Life long friends of mine that came to offer a hand with The Sprout and Lil' Bit.  Dishes were washed, laundry was done, babies were was really wonderful.  We ended this lovely week feasting on local shrimp with a vegetarian...who ate shrimp for the first time in 15 years.  We felt honored she would indulge with us.  The dish served: the most extraordinary shrimp scampi...made with shrimp that was swimming in the ocean the day before.

I am not a big scampi fan, mainly because it usually arrives on a plate swimming in a sea of oil flecked with red pepper.  I always feel like I need to wash my face after eating it.  But this scampi is something very different.  It is baked in butter, garlic, and Panko breadcrumbs... and let me tell is one of the best shrimp dishes you will ever eat.  As you can see, we didn't enjoy it one bit.

Here is the recipe.  Go forth and buy wild Gulf shrimp, if possible. If not, wild US shrimp of any variety will do.  Spend the money to support our fishermen and treat yourself to something incredible.  It may be the last time you get to eat shrimp from our nation's Gulf savor it.

Baked Shrimp Scampi / Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa


  • 2 lbs shrimp in the shell
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
  • Lemon wedges for serving 
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp (see note,) leaving the tails on.  Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.
  • Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter and garlic.
  • In a small bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until combined.
  • Starting from the outer edge of a 14 inch oval gratin dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down with the tails curling up and toward the center of the dish.
  • Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp.  Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp. 
  • Bake for 10 to 12 min (We find you should bake for more like 25 minutes) until hot and bubbly.
  • If you like the top browned, place under a broiler for 1 minute.  
  • Serve with lemon wedges.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bon Voyage

I have the habit of starting projects and never finishing them.  It is a hereditary defect that I have inherited from both sides my family... and it is something I am really striving to change about myself.  At the moment I have a needlepoint stocking and glasses case that need to be finished, as well as a knit sweater for myself and one for a baby...and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Above is my biggest project that I began seven years ago.  I would like to introduce you to Lil' M.  She is free to a good home...custom trailer included.  Tell your friends. 

Lil' M was built by eye on the beach in Man-o-War Cay, Bahamas in 1951.  My dad happened upon her here on Amelia Island in 2002 and bought it for me as my college graduation gift.  She is lovely, like all boats made by the Albury Brothers who have been building boats in the Carribean for over 200 years.  Gaff rigged, she is a 23 foot sloop in need of total restoration.  The old girl is really a piece of folk art, a real beauty of a boat.

I had high hopes of restoring her myself, but after a 2 week course at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklyn, Maine I realized that I had neither the skill, nor the time handle such a massive project.  She has sat high and dry in a little green cinderblock building behind a sea food restaurant here for the past 8 years...up until yesterday.

With the help of Laurence Piper, of The Angler's Mark, we hauled her to a vacant lot, owned by my grandmother in town.  Before the elements take their toll on her I must find her a new owner.  If you know anyone who might be interested in a gorgeous wooden boat project...please drop me a line.

For years I would daydream about living on this little boat and spending my time drifting about the Caribbean.  I would cook and read and meet interesting people, who also sailed. Perhaps I would join them for dinner aboard their vessel.  If that were the case I would bring something delicious in this...

It is a tiffin set Chef gave to me as a Mother's Day gift.  Tiffins are used in India as a sort of lunch box.  Actually in Mumbai there is an entire industry of people called tiffin-wallahs who pick up hot lunch from people's homes and deliver the food to them at their place of  work.  The set is a group of stackable containers that are clamped together.  

This particular set came with a hip recycled fabric bag and bamboo place setting. 

I would dine with an elderly couple, tanned from travel in the sun. They would tell me stories about wintering in the Med.  We would drink rum and watch the sunset, and then I would hop on my dingy and row back to my little sloop.  There I would snuggle down with a novel, something classic like Don Quixote and drift off to sleep. 

 A girl can dream.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Gulf Spill

An oil slick the size of the state of Delaware... or is it West Virginia?  It is hard to believe that for over 2 weeks now, 17 days and counting, oil has been flooding the Gulf of Mexico, with no real end in site.  We just returned from the Gulf Coast of Florida, where locals are watching the news and their beaches wondering when this terrible deluge will reach their shores and what the impact will be.
I want to share with you an excerpt of an article I happened upon in Thursday’s Sarasota Herald Tribune, Fishing families are living on edge, by Zac Anderson. 

"The 25-year-old fisherman with sandpaper hands and a middle school education hasn't slept in three days, shrimping under a crescent moon until dawn breaks over Apalachicola Bay and he can scrape one of Florida's largest estuaries for oysters.

It is a heart-attack schedule, but Crosby is trying to stockpile food and cash, and with his livelihood jeopardized by leaking oil and two children to care for, two car payments, mobile home rent due and a wife so worried about the family's future she hasn't stopped crying for a week.

"I am seriously thinking about taking her to the doctor, she don't stop," Crosby said, his Southern drawl turning words like thinking into 'thankin'.

"She's goin' crazy." "

13% of USA oysters come from this little region of Northwest Florida brought from the sea to our plate by generations of Gulf coast fishermen like Mr. Crosby.   

Florida seafood has been a part of my family’s history for over 100 years.  My great grandfather owned Standard Marine Hardware, which sold everything a working mariner could possibly need, but they specialized in nets for fishermen and shrimpers.  My cousin moved the company from Amelia Island to Tampa in the early nineties because of the demand of the Gulf Coast shrimping industry.   I spent the first 18 years of my life living on the Gulf, and it blows my mind that the entire gorgeous body of water could be ruined.  

When Chef called in the restaurant seafood order two days ago, our purveyor said the price of shrimp is sky rocketing and is going to continue to rise. 

The fishermen and shrimpers in Northwest Florida are desperate.  They are trying to catch as much as possible, because as one fella said in the article "They are all going to die anyway."  They are selling what they can and freezing the rest so they can feed their families when the oil clouds their waters. 

What can we do now to help?  Buy USA seafood, support our fishermen.  Prices may be going up, but it also may be the last time you get the opportunity to taste Gulf Coast shell fish.  It makes me really sad to think about it.  It is the shrimp used in the nation's first pots of has a rich culinary history and the regional cultures that built their traditions around it may be lost as well.

The magnitude of this terrible mess is hard to digest.  A tragedy.