A few weeks ago I escaped the cold winter temperatures of New York for a few days on a friend’s boat in the Virgin Islands, mostly around St. John. It felt wonderful and decadent to be living and floating above the turquoise blue waters in a gleaming white boat, which was big enough that you could comfortably stand everywhere and find quiet pockets to yourself even when everyone was on board. We went out to a couple of fun lunches and dinners around St John. Zozo’s built around the ruins of an old sugar mill is lovely and has a good wine list. And dropping in for lunch at the Caneel Bay Resort is beautiful and a nice break when you felt like being on land. But mostly we would cook.
Like true foodies, or crazy people, we travel with food bringing with us crusty Balthazar bread from New York and incredibly fragrant fresh za’atar from Lebanon, good bottles of wine and, kind of an odd thing, organic yellow beets from Whole Foods – my friends never cease to surprise me. I feel like if you were a sailor you could live off fresh za’atar, a mixture of pungent dried wild thyme, sesame seeds and fruity sumac, fighting off scurvy for weeks! We would mix za’atar with good olive oil and put it on just about everything, bread, yogurt, chicken, fish.
Most days we would shop in town trying to find the freshest fish and best produce, not always an easy task on islands, drink down a cold beer or a pina colada in the port for our efforts and then go back to the boat anchored in a quiet bay and cook between long swims and the constant flow of white wine and arak. I love the economy of cooking and on a boat in the middle of the sea it makes even more sense. One day we would make a giant broth with vegetables and chicken and use the broth to make a fish stew with local mahi mahi and lobster. The next day we would use the chicken, the remaining broth and add some spices to turn out a curry, throwing in some boiled peeled tomatoes we had previously used most of to make a fresh tomato sauce for pasta. Our meals were simple, but perfectly balanced with our surroundings… fresh, effortless and dreamy.