Location: Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat, France
It’s our second day on the boat. Our second day of paid work.
I walk past Bill and notice he’s carefully copying Franco’s signature, over and over again on a blank piece of paper.
“What’ya doing?” I ask as I peer over his shoulder. He shifts uncomfortably.
“What does it look like? Franco gave me the boat’s credit card yesterday. I have to practice his signature so I can use it to pay for things we need to buy for the boat.”
“Sooo…. should I practice it as well?”
“No,” he says. “Franco gave me the credit card, not you. Only I’m allowed to use it. If you want to buy something, you have to get my permission and I have to sign for it. I’m the skipper on this boat. That’s how it works.”
I don’t know what to say. Bill sounds serious. More than serious. He’s actually lecturing me. What’s more, he looks like he’s enjoying the moment. My hackles slowly rise and my breathing slows as I shift into a combat zone. Don’t talk, I tell myself sternly. Don’t talk. Think before you say anything.
“No problem,” I say brightly as I grab a pen and sit down to make a list.
“What’s this?” he asks when I hand it to him on my way up to the cockpit with a book.
“A shopping list.” I look at him blankly. “If you want to eat lunch, and you’re the only one allowed to use the credit card, you’ll have to do the shopping.”
As I organise the cushions to make myself more comfortable, I call down, “Don’t forget that Brenda only likes us to buy the special virgin olive oil, and the big French anchovies, not the small Italian ones.”
After a while Bill’s head appears through the cockpit hatch. His face is flushed and he looks genuinely confused.
“Actually,” he says slowly. “I think under the circumstances it might be better if I do teach you his signature.”
I arrange my face to look as innocent as possible. “You sure?”
Given that at least some of my role will involve cooking, and it is increasingly unlikely that Bill’s original promise to share this will ever come to fruition, I’m on a mission to try out as many new recipes as possible to see how they work using local ingredients.
I go through the cookbooks on the boat, and scan the recipes that Brenda highlighted the other day into my iPhone for easy reference.
But it’s all a bit weird. Who the heck else eats things like ‘Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe’, ‘Pasta with Sun-dried Mullet Roe’, ‘Rolled Swordfish’ and ‘Young Broadbeans, Artichokes and Pea salad’?
Tonight I plan on making a Russian Salad using a recipe suggested by Bill’s Russian friend, Inna.
Let me just mention here that this is actually my first foray into cooking certain basic foods. For example, I have never acquired a taste for hard-boiled eggs, therefore I’ve never actually cooked a hard-boiled egg.
The Russian salad calls for five of the little suckers. I drop the first one into a pot of hot water. First mistake. It bounces off the bottom and immediately leaks egg white all over the other more obedient eggs. ‘S’alright! I have a dozen eggs. I add another one to the pot and start counting down the longest three minutes of my life, then carefully drain the hot water out, add cold water, pick up the first egg and start peeling like a pro. Nothing to it except it is still very hot and soft. As I gingerly pull at the shell, the egg white sticks to it and tears away from the yolk, dripping slippery yellow goo all over my hands, the bench and the floor.
Grrrrr…. Who the heck ever started the stupid rumour that it takes just three minutes to boil an egg?
Start again with a new set of eggs. I shake my head in disbelief. If this fails I now have just one left. This time I boil them for six minutes, then one more minute for good measure. That works.
Having ironed out these small glitches, I strongly recommend this particular recipe. But be prepared to invite the Russian Navy. It makes a huge quantity.