How running out of coffee, made me attempt to sail around the world

Picture the scene if you will, the background can highlight how the little things can make the massive differences!..

I currently own/manage a small boutique hotel (along with a few other businesses) .. I’ve also been planning for years, to bring these all to a close soon when I ‘retire’ from regular work at the end of my current hotel contract.

Part of the hotel is that we offer a range of all 16 Nespresso coffees to our guests.  For whatever reason I forgot to add my own favourite variety to the most recent order.  The minimum order is 200 capsules (typically every few weeks), so it wasn’t worth doing another order just for the one extra coffee type (and being Nespresso, there are only a few places to actually buy it in person, ie near Harrods).

So last Sunday evening (13th April), we had a rare case of having an empty hotel, while I was on shift..  So I decided .. it was a nice day .. why not get the train into London to buy more coffee .. and then have a bit of a wander around whilst up there. (I do appreciate the rail fare was more than postage of the coffee order).

20 minutes later I was on the train, including a travel card to ensure I could make it to Harrods before they shut (a rare thing for me, I tend to prefer walking across the surface of London, as I’ve been doing for the past few years)..  And then on the underground system this woman catches my eye:

IMG_1135

This image flashes me back 20 years, to a presentation of a friend of my C.O. (while I was in the ATC), from a lovely woman called Cherry (I think).

With no previous professional sailing experience, she skippered a yacht full of other amateur sailors, across the Atlantic (or so I can vaguely remember)..

Even without recalling too many of the finer details, it sounded like an incredible journey .. something to aspire to in years to come, but finding that place in the recesses of my mind along with the other countless thoughts and ideas I collate over the years.

So Monday morning, and after a great night’s sleep, I booted up the laptop and completed the online application.

The website showed the event starting in August 2013, and finishing the following June, so with my timing of the hotel, and my NZ BUNAC work exchange Visa expiring in mid March 2014, I applied for legs 3,4,5 of the 8 legs around the world.  This would take me out on the water from South Africa, to Western Australia, Eastern Australia, and finish in China, from October 2013 to February 2014 (seemingly nicely placed with my hotel lease contract finishing on the 31st August 2013).

Buy that same afternoon I had a call back from a guy called David, at ‘Clipper Ventures’ .. asking if I could I make it to an interview that Friday from 10am-2pm.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem (I normally have staff working all day on Fridays at the hotel, but one staff member was on holiday for the mornings)..  I had three rooms in, but I should be able to get them paid up early, and head down after breakfast.

So Friday morning, I head down to Gosport, and see this lovely 70′ yacht in the Marina.

Clipper Yacht 2013/14
Clipper Yacht 2013/14

I watch and listen to a great presentation, apparently trying to put you off, but making those of us present to want it even more.

Then it’s mentioned.. the race starts the last weekend in August (not early August as I’d expected)..  I look again at the ‘Round the World’ map, taking in the incredible journey that may be available to me … if I can do three legs, why not do all eight? .. The ‘last weekend’ in August is Saturday 31st August, and Sunday the 1st September .. could they mean that one?

Yes, apparently the race actually begins on the 1st September, possibly from London.  The timing couldn’t be more perfect.

I have a great interview, my diverse range of experiences and skills seemed to be well matched to the challenge  (40,000 miles, with up to 50 strangers (around 20 at any time), in a confined space, on a race through all weathers to the finish, and massively hard work)..

So stuff the holiday after the hotel : I’m going on a boat race!

The best Hot Chocolate

Today, I was fortunate to try out what has to be the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted!  (although be warned.. the measure below is for two people, not one.  As much as you might like to try and drink all of it, you will feel ill if you do!)

Ingredients:

  • 450ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 100ml whipping cream (whipped)
  • 120g milk chocolate, finely grated / chopped / blitzed (in a food processor)
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • dark chocolate drops

Method:

  • Gently heat about a 1/3 of the milk (150ml) in a pan, but do not boil
  • add the blitzed/finely grated milk chocolate, and whisk well but slowly until dissolved into the milk
  • add the cinnamon and salt, and then gently the remaining part of the milk, whilst still gently heating and whisking carefully
  • about 30 seconds before serving, add a little of the whipped cream, and whisk into the pan (still not letting the milk come to the boil)
  • carefully pour the mixture into your two large mugs (for two people, not one!)
  • top with a good squirt of freshly whipped cream
  • top that with a sprinkling of dark chocolate drops
  • You can then even sprinkle a little icing sugar / cocoa on top of that, for decorate purposes should you really want to!
  • Drink slowly .. it’ll be very rich, very sweet, very morish, and very sickly if you have too much! (the contrast of the hot chocolate milk and cold whipped cream is particularly nice though).

Caramel Fudge / Russian Fudge

This is a recipe I first picked up in NZ, and then wanted to get a microwave when I came back, just so I could make it again!

The recipe showed it as ‘Caramel Fudge’ but other people tell me it’s also very similar to ‘Russian Fudge’.

Either way, it melts in the mouth rather than being chewy, and it’s delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbs Golden Syrup
  • 125g butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts /raisins (optional)

Method:

  1. Add all the main ingredients to a large mixing bowl (that’s also microwave safe) but leave out the nuts/raisins
  2. Mix relatively well
  3. Cook on high (700watt) for 8 minutes, stirring every two minutes or less (if it looks like it going to boil over)
  4. Add in the raisins/walnuts
  5. Cook for a further 2 minutes
  6. Beat well with a whisk, for about 5 minutes while the fudge cools and thickens
  7. Pour into a lined tin, and then cut the fudge into squares before it cools completely (but can still hold it’s shape)
  8. Leave until cold, and then eat slowly!  (it is essentially blocks of sugar!)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is my favourite cookie recipe, modified and improved over the years.  For a while it was sold commercially as the base of the ‘cookie dough’ dessert option at the luxury boutique hotel I owned/managed for three years.  These days is a very popular choice for Pot Luck events.

Makes about 12 good (big) sized cookies, or 18-24 or so regular cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 200g margarine
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
  • 300g plain flour, sifted
  • 5 tsp baking powder
  • 200g Chocolate chunks (easy to make totally vegan using vegan chocolate)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
  2. Cream margarine and sugar together in a mixer, until light and fluffy
  3. Slowly add sifted flour & baking powder to the butter mix, to form a dough
  4. Add the chocolate chunks to the dough, and mix slowly and carefully
  5. If making larger cookies, roll into golf size balls, arrange on paper on a cookie tray, and press down slightly.  Otherwise divide the mix into about 12 – 18 cookies.
  6. Cook for 12-15 minutes in the middle of the pre-heated oven.
  7. Transfer to a cooling rack, and then store in an airtight container when cool.

Notes:

  • In my experience, the best chocolate chunks are actually half a ‘square’ of regular chocolate bars, like ‘Whitakers, Dairy Milk, etc.’.  This way you end up with cubes of chocolate around 1cm square (which are much nicer to eat within the cookie).  Chocolate drops are just a bit too small, melt too much during cooking, and so become more of a background total flavour rather than a satisfying chocolate hit in most bites of the cookies.  The chocolate doesn’t always break evenly, so don’t worry about the irregular sizes, just put it all in the bowl.
  • The cookies do not need cooking for quite as long as you may expect.  If they’re just going golden brown, they’ll still be quite soft when getting out of the oven, but they’ll firm up nicely when cooling after a few minutes out of the oven on a cooling tray.  So also don’t try and take them off the hot baking tray too quickly.  Just give it a few minutes on the tray, before moving onto the cooling rack.
  • You can prepare larger amounts of ingredients in advance, and then freeze the raw cookie dough in batches to bake later.  To defrost, just move it from the freezer to the fridge the day before baking, and use as you would normally.  Or if you just want to make giant cookies one at a time on demand, just freeze individually wrapped portions, pre-flattened to size & shape.  You can also just make it up to a couple of days in advance, and store in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to bake.
  • Particularly when you’re making multiple batches of cookies, always place the raw dough onto a cool baking/cookie sheet, rather than one recently fresh out of a hot oven.  If you put it onto a hot baking tray, it starts to melt the margarine element before the flour starts cooking and binding, so you end up with very thin merged cookies that really aren’t so good in my opinion.
  • These times are based on a regular thin metal baking tray, lined with baking parchment / paper.  If you use one of those thicker reusable silicon baking sheets instead of the paper, the cooking time may need to be extended by up to 5 minutes (depending on your oven and the silicone sheet) and this slower cooking time will also result in drier and flatter cookies.

Cookie Dough to Share – Boutique Hotel Style

‘Cookie dough to share’ at the hotel was around 100g of raw mix, topped with four balls of ice-cream, about half a tub of then freshly whipped cream, fresh chocolate shavings, and a quick decorative lattice of melted chocolate as a type of sauce and decoration.

Each ‘cookie dough’ was cooked from frozen (a pre-wrapped portion, made in advance, weighed, shaped, and then individually wrapped in clingfilm before freezing), for 12 minutes into a commercial pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C.

It was pulled out just before it started going brown, transferred to a cool deep serving plate, topped quickly with the cold ingredients in a stylised way, and then served immediately.

It was always greatly enjoyed by the hotel guests.