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Of Sharks and Sailing Ships

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

 

Sunday, January 5. 2007

Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Los Olas Boulevard, The Floridian Diner

I have been in Florida since Thursday night. Friday morning, actually, as I wasn’t able to pick up bags until after midnight. The plane was early, the baggage late…explainable by quantum physics, but not by the overworked airline employee left to explain the situation to a surly crowd of tired travelers. My ride appeared curbside at nearly 1am. A quick hug of recognition, toss the bags in the rear of the car and off to my new home for the next three months – a 38’ Irwin sloop named Chondros.

This morning I ran away from “home” for some brief privacy and to stretch my legs in a needed walk. The weather- typically Florida – was humid and warm with a nice breeze rustling the palm trees. The word soughing is more appropriate to the sound, but I believe it only applies to hardwood forests in nineteenth century English novels. You never heard Edward James Almos using the word soughing in Miami Vice, actually you didn’t hear him say too much at all…but definitely not soughing.

The breeze along my route – east along Broward Avenue -tosses up your typical big city Sunday morning litter – empty pizza boxes, beer bottles rolling in the gutter, a syringe, Saturday newspapers and flyers for all night massage parlors and a rave off of Revolution.  A few homeless men were stirring in the only green space I saw – a patch of grass and a few trees memorializing some fine citizen long forgotten and one who, most likely, never had to call a hard cement bench ‘home’.

Passing the ‘garden’, I tossed my emptied Dunkin Donuts coffee cup into a trash can overflowing with organic detritus that did not bear closer inspection with any of my senses. The coffee had been strong and extremely hot, keeping its heat for several blocks…and the overly large, sibilant Bahamian woman who served it would be staying in my memory for a long while, filed under Great Characters for The Movie I’m Going To Make One Day.

Now I am ensconced at an avenue-side table at the Floridian, the kind of twenty-four hour diner that defies political correctness and nutritional progress and thus thrives when other restaurants across the city are dying by the truckload. Frank, my overly friendly gay waiter has already given me his latest slice of life story along with lemoned water and coffee. He was late for work today and has gotten stuck with the street tables – lower tips because this is the destination of coffee-guzzling, cigarette smoking, non-eating people watchers…myself included (sans the smoking of course.)

January 31

So you might have noticed that a few days have elapsed since my first (and only) entry. If anyone tells you that time cannot be stopped, they have not sat on a sail boat in Florida ‘waiting’ for a weather window in which to safely cross the Gulf Stream. Time has stopped, albeit pleasantly. My days have been spent sleeping, reading, listening to Air America talk radio, long walks and, most importantly, provisioning the boat for the off chance that we might actually pull away from the dock within my life time.

With each Northern storm front that comes through, the odds of slipping into the outer Bahamas – the original plan – to dive with and study sharks becomes less and less real. My host, and skipper Dr. Mark Marks is considered one of the foremost authorities on white sharks and that is what has brought me here.

Marks is an interesting dichotomy.  Once a US Army Pathfinder, Marks’ blood runs red, white and blue with pride and loyalty for his fellow veterans, and yet, he is one of the most staunchly anti-war voices I have ever heard. Well read in US History –both military and political; with real life experience in one of America’s lesser known third world counter-insurgencies, Marks can opine intelligently on our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he doesn’t suffer fools easily. No slacker myself on politics, our conversations have been stimulating, occasionally loud and very opinionated – on both sides. But when current events have been exhausted, talk turns to his first love, one that few people share or can even comprehend – Great White Sharks.

Unlike our landlocked great predators the grizzly, wolf and mountain lion, the Great White Shark’s fan club is quite small. No one is clamoring to place carcharidon carcarius on the Endangered Species List. No marketing maven has distributed posters of cuddly baby whites. No pin-striped lobbyists are plying the US Congress for monies to buy ‘roadless oceanic wilderness’ in which the sharks can roam unmolested. And although they exist, the non-profits dedicated to shark preservation are few and relatively lackluster in positive achievements.

But this lack of public awareness doesn’t deter Marks. His twenty-five year behavioral study of ‘his whites’ has uncovered – in his eyes at least –  a predator no less ‘loveable’ than the warm and furry earth-based relations that the rest of the world either loves or reviles. And like the biologists and researchers that roam our Rocky Mountains studying the great furred predators, Marks roams the oceans following and observing his chosen muse –without the benefit of a shark cage. And as Frost wrote ‘this has made all the difference.”

Marks received his PhD as a cognitive behavioral zoologist from the University of South Africa in Cape Town. The first degree of its kind to focus on what most believe to be a non-senescent, solitary ‘eating machine’, Marks’ hours in the water with Whitey has proven – to himself and a few others- that great whites are as communicative, communal, and aware of social status and boundaries as the more studied terrestrial – canine lobo [sic]or the timber wolf.

Hundreds of hours under water in what could be considered the most controlled uncontrolled natural environment possible – the rich waters of Dyer Island off Cape Horn – has allowed Marks the rare opportunity to study the same group of whites for several years. Such dedicated focus has resulted in the ‘discovery’ that sharks travel in loose aggregate groups; communicate with each other in a body language both overt and beautifully subtle; show self awareness; and, are in fact quite intelligent, not the stupid robots that mistake humans for seals  – a portrayal all too common in our media.

Whether or not the weather ever cooperates, this trip with Dr. Marks in his floating classroom has changed the way I view my world – a world made all the richer with the presence of sharks and sailing ships.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Snow, the Blues and Passionate Men

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

February 09

I’m back home in Montana now, the warm breezes of the Caribbean a memory growing ever distant under the continued onslaught of spring snow. I’m not one generally susceptible to depression, but for the last few days I’ve been wallowing in a tepid vat of tapioca-textured self-pity. It clings to me, palpable, heavy, sticky. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunshine. Or the constant chill. I hope the cause is as simple as a meteorological condition; otherwise, I might have to look internally and a little introspection can be dangerous. A good, honest internal evaluation might just show that something is missing…something absolutely critical to a well-lived-in life. Something like passion.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about passion since I’ve returned home. Not the sexual, “Oh my god, you’re so hot!” sort, but the kind that propels you from bed in the morning, your brain shouting “Here I am world!”. The kind of passion that is only attainable from a personal commitment to doing something meaningful. Something vital. Something that uniquely defines your existence.

And I think I’ve lost mine. No, that is not accurate…I’m questioning whether I ever really had it. And that is a bit depressing, and even more than a bit frightening. So why the self doubt now?   What is the catalyst that has flung me into this ‘woe is me’ funk? The answer is simple. In the past 16 months my travels have placed me in the company of three people whose individual passions are nearly blinding in their intensity.

I’ve always considered myself a passionate person, more interested in spending my life making a life, than making a living. And yet, when I came into the circle of these three men, my personal passions seemed to fade into shadowy afterthought.

The first man you’ve already met in Sharks and Sailing Ships – Dr. Mark Marks. Here is a man who lives simply, yet most richly in experience. His entire adult life has been in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of a much maligned creature – the Great White Shark, a pursuit that leaves him traveling the world solo, with little material wealth.  And yet, when you meet him, you know something is different, out of the ordinary…from the handshake, to the smile, to the sparkle in the eyes when he discusses his life’s work.

The second man in this trio of light is Mike Austin. I ran into Mike on Saba on my most recent adventure. We actually knew each other over 20 years ago when I worked for a non-profit association of which Mike was a member. At that time he was out of the military and in his early forties teaching scuba diving on Little Cayman. Here he was, 24 years later, still teaching and dive mastering in his sixties, still so passionate about ‘his ocean’ and still refreshingly politically incorrect.

What was a mature, intelligent, physically fit, world-aware man doing on an obscure island, eking out a subsistence living in a work environment populated with transient twenty-something thrill seekers? Step aboard the dive boat MV Mystery with Mike as your personal guide and the query is answered…after 40 plus years of exploring the greatest waters in the world, Mike still has his passion, if anything it is stronger than ever. Underwater, this sun and sea-carved man becomes a wide-eyed child willing to share his life’s adventure with anyone willing to slow down and truly experience his uncommon world.

Rounding out these Musketeers of Passion is Daniel Joseph Gabriel Fitzgerald or Dan Dan the Fireman to his friends – of which he has many. Close your eyes and imagine the stereotypical fireman of Hollywood imagery and you’ve got Dan – a colossal, beer-drinking, Irish Catholic from New York. A big man to start with, Dan grows into a luminous giant when he begins to speak of his life and first love – firefighting.

When I asked Dan why he chose to become a firefighter, he gave me a big smile and said, “All of the superhero jobs were filled and this was the next best thing.” For over twenty years Dan has been doing ‘the next best thing” by saving lives, as well as mentoring others – sounds like a super hero to me.

These three men –disparate in personality, political views, careers and faith – all have that one seemingly rare quality that we should all strive for – passion. Whether our lives are simple or complicated; our jobs menial or grand; our health good or poor; wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how it feels to care passionately about something? To care so passionately that our lives take on greater definition and purpose?

Here’s to all the people I know –and who I’ve yet to meet – who have passion…thank you. When I think of you I can’t possibly be blue…even if it is still snowing!

 

 

 

Paraphrasing Potter Stewart

Monday, May 27th, 2013

I found myself praying for someone to yell “Fire!” (unfounded of course); for a really, really small earthquake; for the pregnant woman in the tenth row to go into labor. Please go into labor…Now.

The reason for my prayers? Bad art…truly bad, bad art; compounded by the inability to escape the crowded theater.

I – a lover of all things artistic and an artist myself –  found myself sitting in the jewel box Teatro Municipal Santiago this last December for a world premier production that I’m certain had Arnold Schoenberg’s bones restless in their grave.

300px-TeatroMunicipal

Advertised as a concert, COTH, was more performance art…the kind of performance art that results from two or three really talented – disparately talented –artists sitting around a chipped Formica table  in a sweltering 6th floor walkup smoking too much dope and consuming too much KFC. Unemployed artists trying too hard to come up with a unique idea that will utilize and showcase each of their talents…think Ishtar or Heaven’s Gate.

I imagine their smoke-induced conversation…

Artist 1 “I’ve got these four Lipizzaner-type horses that are really talented- they can dance and play dead and they don’t mind if I dress up as a giant mordant butterfly and ride them around and around and around and around and around in circles in really dim lighting.”

Artist 2 “I’ve got this really great yogic body that with a very small, tight thong (and a can of silver spray paint)will really show off my ass…oh, and I can move very, very, very slowly.”

Artist 3 “I love Alan Berg and I’ve got a box of crickets.”

And yes, I paid money for this –along with several hundred others.  I don’t know if the robust applause at the conclusion was just for that – the conclusion, or perhaps they actually saw the Emperor’s new clothes.

There have been a few times in my ‘cultural arts attendance’  past when I’ve wished for Scotty to energize me away from the scene of the crime, and I must be truthful in admitting they all share a theme – atonal noise, umm, excuse me, music.

My first “is this art?” experience came at the hands of Peter Sellars, the then newly appointed artistic director for the Los Angeles Opera. Known for his cutting edge, out of the box view of the world – this is the man who cast Amanda Plummer as Juliet at the LaJolla Playhouse– Sellars decided to take a bite of the Alan Berg oeuvre and Wozzeck came to the LA stage. Known for its harsh subject matter, ugly language, and interminable, unapproachable atonal score, Wozzeck – at the hands of Sellars, became even uglier as it was set in a third world Latin American guerilla camp with the cast tromping around in fatigues and army boots, against a backdrop of camo netting, and, I swear, the buzz of mosquitoes.  Although I was appalled by what was being presented on the stage, I was even more so by the audience.  In a textbook case of mass hallucination, Wozzeck and Sellars were embraced and adored. The opera wasn’t ‘bad’, it was ‘challenging’ and Sellars was seen as a genius.

The second experience came in the historic La Scala Opera House in Milan just two years ago. I’ve tried numerous times during my travels to Europe to attend a performance at La Scala, to no avail. Opera tickets are reserved out nearly two years, and my schedule doesn’t allow for such advanced planning. However, when I arrived in Milan with a friend,  I immediately checked the La Scala box office, and  quell surprise, there were tickets available to a non-opera performance that very night.  Disappointed that it wasn’t an opera, but joyous at the opportunity to participate in a live performance, I purchased the tickets. The house was packed, mostly tourists like us just wanting a chance to see the inside of this glorious building where Toscanini premiered the beautiful and haunting works of Puccini.

As the lights dimmed, the opening act – an a cappella quartet – walked to center stage and presented a beautiful selection of classic secular and religious songs in Latin and Italian. Their voices filled the house, rich and nuanced. So far, so good.

And then the main act. The lights came up on five men sitting in a semi-circle – a violin, a guitar, a cello, an upright bass and a viola. Ahh, chamber music…lovely. The crowd clapped their acceptance, and around us, hundreds of young people – students apparently – opened up what appeared to be music scores. Wow, a world premier, this is going to be memorable! And so it was.

The five musicians began to beat up on their instruments. Strings were struck, tongues were clucked, the floor was stomped, and chairs were picked up and dropped. Sharps and flats were flung at each other and the beatings of the poor instruments continued for an hour. A brutal, ugly hour in which the students followed along in the score, quietly oohing and awing at the brilliant daring of the composer while Puccini, Verdi and Rossini wailed in the darkness. The saving grace for this evening was that both of us were able to find humor, albeit quietly, in the pretentious performance and the even more pretentious audience.  As we left La Scala, I looked at my friend (and to paraphrase past Supreme Court judge Potter Stewart) said, “I can’t define what is ‘bad art’, but I recognize it when I hear it.”

 

 

 

A Damp Beginning…but Adventure Awaits in Patagonia and Santiago

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Day 22 – Patagonia

I’ve been here for twenty two days, Here being Patagonia– the Chilean side. I’ve come for the fishing and my fly rod has been wet for twenty one days (it sits on the porch) – twenty one days of buffeting wind and monsoon rains that have blown out the Yelcho River and turned the towering Andes into a sci-fi fairy land of a thousand waterfalls criss-crossed with vivid rain bows.

Although I’ve not actually gotten on the water, I have had several hours of dry land (ok, really wet land) casting practice with sinking line; and am learning  to tie my own flies.

Despite the rains, the clients who have come to Puma Fishing Lodge in these weeks have all departed most pleased with their experience. Traveling via the comfortable PUMAII across Lago Yelcho to Rio Futalafu, our last group of six caught on average 100 fish a day. Massive browns and feisty rainbows, most in the 6 -10# range, were the standard each day and everyone was successful.

A new group arrives today and I am doing last minute prep on the menus and packing food for the transfer from the lodge to the PUMAII for a five day cruise. Although my main responsibility is chef, our American guests have invited me to fish with them and our Montana guides have assured me that there is a big brown with lots of attitude just waiting for one of my newly tied flies.

Day 31 – Patagonia

Rain. Rain. And Rain. Oh, did I mention ‘rain’?

I have seen the sun all of two days and not complete days at that.

Gentle rain, wispy rain, curtains of rain, solid walls of rain. Cold rain.
Warm  rain. Vertical  rain. Horizontal rain. And when the wind gusts, rain that appears to travel right back up to the sky.  And I won’t begin to describe the winds…we’ll save that for another day.

I think I am over rain, but it is not quite over me yet, so I am running away for Christmas. Running north to Santiago. Beautiful, hot, dry Santiago. For a few days I will have the opportunity to complain about the heat and use my lip balm to counteract the arid mountain air.

Day 35-38 – Santiago

SUNSHINE! I feel like Snoopy doing a Happy Dance, chasing my tail in glee. The Ice Breaker wool, polypro and rain jacket are stashed away and the trekking skirt and cotton blouse are on-as well as the sunscreen.

Santiago is vibrant as Christmas approaches. Not quite the shopping insanity of Estatos Unidos, but the pressure is obviously building.

I have embraced the Latin dining schedule (which is a bit tough as I am very much a morning person), spending my days walking and exploring finally sitting down at 10pm for a leisurely dinner. Christmas Eve I treated myself to dinner at one of Santiago’s finer establishments – Baco – an evening of indulgence beginning with a sinful foie gras accompanied with a delightful DryFarmed Old Bush Vine Carignan 2010 (Maule, Chile). (Since California has now outlawed foie gras -and other states will most likely follow- I seem to have acquired a taste for it…and yes, I’ve also acquired the necessary guilt to enjoy it completely.) An unidentified baked local chevre came next atop some beautiful, seemingly just picked lechuga. The cheese was aromatic and  pungent with just enough rind chew to embrace the silky core. A classic cassoulet followed brimming with duck and sausage. My two hour dinner (now approaching 11:30pm) was topped off with a fresh berry zabaglione and restretto.  Strolling out into the balmy evening air amongst hundreds of others enjoying the coolness, I almost missed the rain…not!

Christmas Day will find me on a tour to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar on the coast…more sunshine and more suncreen! Merry Christmas.

The Horse – “Seasonal Sensation” Featured in Montana Magazine

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The April issue of Montana Magazine featured The Horse in an article written by Sydne George. Titled “Seasonal Sensation”, George captured the true nature of the lodge and owner Kathleen Moon in words and photos that reflected the warmth and hospitality that for thirteen years has been the hallmark of this small Swan Lake lodge and bistro.

From the initial welcome by Nikki and Cooper, the two resident golden retrievers, to the morning ‘hello’ from Sampson the African Grey parrot, guests quickly understand that this is not a ‘motel as usual’ stay.

Currently celebrating a luxurious fall, the Horse is offering up a two night all-inclusive package featuring great wines and Chef Kate’s signature dishes from the kitchen. To discover this ‘seasonal sensation‘ before the late October closing, visit www.laughinghorselodge.com to learn more about the Fall Package and to make your reservations.

 

Annual Beer Tasting at the Horse…what else can we do on a rainy Tuesday evening? Drink Beer!

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Our annual World Tour of Beer at the Horse is just around the corner, and like last year, the Horse will be the perfect place to cozy up with your friends as the rain continues to pour. 

The pros from Rocky Mountain Wine Distributors will be on hand with some exquisite and unique beer finds from Europe, the US, and  South America – 12 new beers and a table laden with the efforts of ‘yours truly’ and my new staff. 

We’ll be serving up Baked Figs wrapped in Bacon, fresh Ahi sashimi with wasabi sauce, smoked salmon sushi, over-the-top buffalo wings, and, my favorite, pork carnitas mini tacos with Gloria’s fresh salsa. And of course, we’ll be pulling out the stops on dessert…nothing like a fresh rhubarb and strawberry tart with a Belgian berry beer!

The Horse will add a few of your favorites to our Beer Menu for the summer  along with our draft offering for the season are three local beers – Great Northern Brewery’s Wheatfish and Kettlehouse’s Cold Smoke and Double Haul IPA.

The Tour begins at 6pm on Tuesday, June 21, at the Horse located at Milepost 71.5 on Hwy 83. $25 per person (beer tasters and eaters) and only $10 for designated drivers (non-drinkers). Reservations required. 406-886-2080.

 

Pesce in Acqua Pazza – From the sea to the plate in minutes

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Cuando los ingredientes son óptimas, la cocina puede ser simple.”

“When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple”.

No truer words have been written, especially when it comes to fresh –beautifully fresh – fish still redolent of brine, eyes bright, firm fleshed and loaded with culinary possibilities. Last evening four Americans showed up at the dock, a stringer of corvina (sea bass) in hand, and a request for dinner. The menu was already set for the Cala Mia dining room, and with only 30 minutes before the hotel’s guests would be arriving, an uncomplicated dish was required.

I remembered reading David Shalleck’s Mediterranean Summer, a biographical journal of his first year’s as Chef on a luxury sailing yacht in the Med, and how he was challenged to create new dishes every day using only the freshest of ingredients for his discerning and demanding owners. Cheffing at an isolated island resort is similar to cooking on a yacht…you just can’t make a quick run to the market when the whim hits you. So you get creative and simplify, simplify, simplify…and use what your location offers up…in this case fresh fish.

One of Shalleck’s ‘go to’ recipes was Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water), a traditional Neapolitan dish that exemplifies simplicity.  With Cala Mia’s ‘go to’ guy, Beto, cleaning the sea bass, I began to assemble the dish. Thirty minutes later, as our four fishermen finished their first course of organic gazpacho with Feta and virgin olive oil, their pesce was served.  After the ‘oohs and aahhs’, silence reigned as they quite obviously enjoyed their dish. (Although I would like to take full credit for its success, the kudos go to the Neapolitans who for centuries have mastered the art of simple, yet elegant dishes; and of course, the tasty corvina.)

Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Cala Mia Style)

Ingredients:  

Fresh fish…the best is flaky fish like halibut, snapper, bass or grouper.

Garlic

Firm, ripe tomatoes

Italian Parsley

Zucchini

Capers

Kalamata Olives (optional)

Leeks

Virgin Olive Oil

Sea salt and white pepper

[Although this recipe is designed for cooking whole fish, I have adjusted it to individual-serving stoneware  oven-to-table dishes.]

Brush the ramekins with olive oil.

Cut fish into 1″ chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Layer the ramekins with thinly sliced leeks, zucchini and a touch of minced garlic.

Place the fish chunks on top of the vegetables.

Place thinly sliced tomatoes over the fish.

Sprinkle with minced parsley, a bit of diced kalamata olives and capers (rinse both well to remove excess brine).

Drizzle with olive oil and cover for the oven.

Note: The dish will appear somewhat dry, however, after 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the fish will be simmering in a lovely bath of ‘crazy water’. Do not overcook!

Bon appetit! Chef Kate

Ceviche De Angosta con Pomelo, Simple Elegance in the Wilderness

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

A Pacific  storm has circled Cala Mia and Isla Boca Brava, the freshening breeze dropping the temperature to near tropical perfection. It is the first day in a month without sun, and I am happy for the change.

The morning begins well before sunrise with a boat ride  to Boca Chica to meet up with Chef Ricardo who is taking me on my first shopping expedition in the provincial town of David. There are no large grocery stores in David  thus our first stop of the morning is a triple wide garage off a residential side street filled with the morning’s fresh produce…melons, peppers, yucca, papaya, guava, pineapple and a variety of lettuces and cabbages overflow boxes and bins. There is a riot of color and chaos reigning in the aisles as farmers bring in their offerings, trading or selling fresh carrots and broccoli, bartering still warm jugs of milk and cream for a bag of butter beans or squash. As I walk around and select what I want to use in the restaurant for the next week, I am amused by the dichotomy of this market experience and those experienced last fall during my trip to Languedoc. Like produce, familiar Latinate faces, but there the similarities end.

The European markets are masterpieces of visual splendor…it is not enough to have a stack of carrots for sale at the Menton halle, no, the carrots have to be laid out in an intricate design, framed by vivid aubergines and the delicategreen gold of artichokes – each farmer’s display trying to out do that of his neighbors’.  In the David market, no such attempt is made. This is a working man’s tiende, the only real display being one of beautiful bags of garlic – grown in China.

But at the end of the day, a carrot is a carrot and a pomelo (grapefruit) will taste the same whether it was crowded in a burlap bag in Panama, or in a geometrically perfect pyramid interspersed with vibrant purple plums in France. So the carrots and the pomelos and a dozen or more relatives are bagged up and loaded into the back of a rented white Kia work truck and off we go to the Super Baru – a combination general store offering hardware, groceries, clothing and butchery…a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything (except Olive Oil of which there are 27 varieties!).

 It takes two hours going up and down and back up the aisles translating labels and doing menu exchanges in my head to get close to what I want and am envisioning for the dining room in the coming week when it is my turn to head up the kitchen.

Another hour to check out and then back to Boca Chica to meet up with Chombo and the Cala Mia boat.

Loading fresh produce onto Chombo's boat.

When I consider the physical difficulty of getting raw ingredients to this isolated island, the dedication of Cala Mia’s owners and staff to presenting exceptional food is singularly inspiring.

Well, the sky is darkening and a few stars are peaking through the remaining clouds…it is time to head to the kitchen and begin assembling tonight’s offering. Chef has asked me to create a first course using locally harvested lobsters and I am happy to oblige, especially since I have those beautiful pomelos…

Ceviche de Angosta con Pomelo

Ingredients: 

Freshly poached lobster tail, chilled and loosely diced in large chunks

Grapefruit segments, skins and seeds removed

Cilantro (minced)

Red and Yellow Peppers (demeated), minced

Garlic, minced

Red Onion, minced

Lime juice

Passion Fruit juice

Olive Oil

Salt and White Pepper

Hot Pepper Flakes

Arugula and Mustard Greens

Toss cilantro, peppers, garlic and onion with the lime and passion fruit juices, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and pepper flakes. Chill for an hour to let the flavors meld. Toss in lobster and grapefruit segments and refrigerate for another hour, stirring occasionally.

Place fresh greens in the bottom of  large martini glasses, leaving a few sprigs sticking out as garnish. Place ceviche into the glasses, distributing the remaining liquid as a dressing for the greens. Serve immediately

Bon apetite!

Finding the luxury of peace and quiet…in Panama and Montana.

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Cala Mia Sunrise

When it comes to exotic travel, the words ‘luxury’, ‘5 star’ and ‘deluxe’ take on different shades of meaning. Everything is ‘relative’ after all and no more so when exploring the fringes of civilization  (and that includes the Swan Valley of NW Montana!)

During one of my winter explorations a few years back, I took on the responsibility of managing a self-proclaimed 5 star resort on a tiny, basically unknown island in the Dutch West Indies. The website was alluring with beautifully staged photos of beautiful people looking at beautiful scenery, drinking beautiful drinks and eating beautiful food…all in all, pretty darn beautiful…and with a rate sheet to match.

The sad reality however, was simply that, sad. The owners couldn’t or wouldn’t see that their 5 star resort was barely clinging to 2 stars. Yes, the position of the hotel 2000’ up on the cliffs over a wild, wind-whipped beach offered a 280 degree of the Caribbean – spectacular. Yes, it was the only property on island that boasted both a tennis court and a fresh water pool, both now in less than pristine condition. And yes, the rooms were spacious and cool with breath-taking views from every angle. But. And it was a very big but…the paint was peeling, the curtains and linens frayed and bleached by too much sun, mildew creeping into every corner, the dining room looking like a nursing home cafeteria…you get the picture…and I was the extent of the staff. But the owners didn’t, and were still trying to charge upwards of $500 a night…a rate that on any of the sister islands within a short boat ride would have truly gotten you 5 star luxury in the form of 600 count Egyptian cotton linens, room service, elegant dining and a professional and discreet staff.

Once the owners handed over the property and left for their vacation, I dug in with some really deep cleaning, painting and scavenging the best furniture, art and linens to make at least three of the rooms, the lobby and the dining room somewhat approach luxury…my goal was simple…try to meet the expectations of those few people who had made reservations during my tenure. I also implemented a procedure whereby the guests, upon lighting from their taxi, were given a ‘beautiful’ tropical cocktail and walked out to the pool deck with that stunningly ‘beautiful’ view. My hope (and it worked pretty well) was that the ‘Wow!’ factor would blind them to the reality of the rest of the property.

But that was then and this is now…and ‘now’ finds the Horse tucked away safely under the winter snow and me on an isolated Pacific island off the coast of Panama – Isla Boca Brava in the Archipelago Chiriqui – working at Boutique Hotel Cala Mia (which means My Coast in Castellan). Before arriving at the hotel, I wondered if their ‘beautiful’ website would stand up to reality…and I have not been disappointed.

Perched on a peninsula with both sunrise and sunset, between the waves of the Pacific and a lovely bay, the hotel would be considered luxurious by any standards. The luxury of Cala Mia is not however in 600 count sheets or over-the-top room amenities… the sense of luxury comes from the care that the owners Max and Vittoria have lavished on their little corner of paradise. From the individually designed bungalows redolent of Tuscany in their warm colors and soft contours (each with unlimited hot water on demand), to the personal responsibility they have taken in making this tropical escape as environmentally friendly as possible with complete solar power, recycling and an organic farm producing probably the only truly traditional Dutch Gouda in all of central and south America.  The couple,  full-time residents of Panama for 16 years, have also committed themselves and the resources of both the hotel and the farm to supporting several indigenous families of Ngobe by donating a percentage of sales to the groups and providing jobs (a rarity on the island).

Guests stepping from the water taxi (the only way to arrive at Cala Mia) are greeted by another form of luxury…a well-trained, attentive, yet discrete staff* that seems to know what you want before you do. Upon delivering your bags to your ocean or bay view bungalow (no check in required), the staff quietly disappears leaving you to discover what true luxury is…quiet…no cell phones, no TVs, no clocks, and nothing more pressing than making sure you remember that dinner is served at 7:30.  

[*A caution for celebrities considering a vacation to the island…Cala Mia will be good for your soul but not for your ego – most likely you won’t be recognized – no less bothered for an autograph!]

If you can tear yourself away from the simple pleasure of sitting on your private patio looking out onto a blue-green horizon shadowed with more islands and towering cumulous clouds scudding by like sailing galleons, you’ll discover a jungle echoing with the eerie chatter of howler monkeys and rare birds calling to each other in the tree tops. Jeweled butterflies flit through the undergrowth, as colorful as the traditional Ngobe dresses worn by the smiling women who care for your room each day. And if the pure sybaritic pleasure of doing nothing tires, open air activities abound – horseback riding, hiking, fishing, diving, and kayaking.

I’ll be on island at Cala Mia for the next six weeks, welcoming a unique group of travelers who have made their way here for something that has become a rarity in our fast-paced lives…the simple pleasure of simply being.

I look forward to returning home to the Horse in April and preparing it for your summer visit…and to sharing with you the luxuries of Montana and the simple pleasures of the Horse.

Kathleen

Fat Trout Force the Horse to Change Dining Room Hours

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

It’s fall…arriving a bit early this year, but this is Montana and the weather is  fickle as a teenager’s heart. But with the cooling weather comes one of the best times of the year in the Rockies…crisp days, clear nights, the aroma of wood fires floating on the evening air, and, most important, fat and sassy trout

One such trout – a particularly rotund specimen of approximately 20 inches – has forced me to alter my dining room schedule for the fall allowing me one more evening to try to land ‘her holiness’.  There are many  great reasons to live in Montana, fall trout fishing is one of the best…and spending a stolen evening on the river with a 5 wt in my hand beats standing over a hot stove, even if I’m cooking up some special fare for great friends and visitors. So please forgive me, but I’ve changed my dining room hours to Thursday – Sunday, 5pm – 9pm for dinner and Sunday Brunch, 9am – 2pm…on the flip side, I have extended my season through the holidays.

The lodge dining room is available Monday – Wednesday for private dinners and events for 12  to 56 persons. So if you are planning a holiday party, special family get-together or just a night with good friends, include the Horse in your plans. We’d love to host your event here or help you give a stellar performance in your home.

So here’s to a great fall, brilliant fishing and a delicious dinner at the Horse..see you soon. Kathleen