As boaters emerge from the cocoon of winter, so begins the social bloom of cruiser potlucks, docktails and dinghy raft-ups celebrating warmer days and the renewal of friendships.
Pulling the ingredients from the pantry, I’m preparing to make my first potluck dish of spring. I let out a chuckle as the memory of our first cruiser potluck comes rushing back. We had just completed our first ocean passage to French Polynesia and were in the process of setting the hook when the VHF radio crackled to life. Battling through the fog of sleep deprivation and the giddy euphoria of making a long-awaited landfall in paradise, I tried to decipher the message relayed by our neighbors in the anchorage.
I had received an invitation from the island’s newly elected chief to be his guests at a luau and was asked if we could we bring a traditional native dish to share. How could we refuse? But what to bring when you’ve been at sea for 32 days and provisions were dipping dangerously low?
Arriving a day earlier, the other boat crews had already baked peanut butter cookies and a pan of brownies. The sun was getting low, and time was short, so we scrambled to cook up our favorite all-American snack — but what to carry it in?
With no time to unpack and lower our dinghy, we hitched a ride to shore with our new neighbors. I could feel the sideways glances as I settled into the dinghy with my potluck contribution contained in a “none-too-chic” big, black, lawn and leaf bag.
Greeted by the islanders, we were ushered along a narrow sandy path to the community bamboo and thatched hut. The woven palm frond mats that blanketed the floor were topped with elephant-ear sized banana leaves serving as tablecloths.
Our communication was limited to broad smiles, head nods and lots of hand gestures as we were introduced to the village elders in the Marquesan tongue. Surveying the sumptuous spread laid out before us, I felt embarrassed at our humble offering as I passed over the duffle-sized plastic bag to the chief.
Once seated on the floor we were encouraged to feast on an overwhelming display of grilled fish, thin slices of raw octopus, coconut rice, thick taro root pudding and a cornucopia of fresh fruit. I was eager to try a little of everything passing my way ... except maybe the jar of Fafaru, which was a local delicacy made by placing chunks of fish in a bucket of seawater that is then left in the sun for a few days to ferment. I guarantee the translation of “Stinky- Fish” was accurate, but it was surprisingly tasty.
Taking in the festive scene, I was astonished to see our unconventional container had somehow migrated to the head of the table. Encircled by a wreath of pink hibiscus flowers as if to highlight its special status, the chief kneeled over the open sack and was personally overseeing the distribution of this strange new cuisine that had made the long journey from the New World to theirs ... and it was evident that our Jolly Time popcorn was a hit.
We had pulled off being Potluck Superstars with popcorn that first time but repeating the feat closer to home proved to be more challenging. On our boat Rogue One, our petite galley consists of a two-burner stove, toaster oven and a small fridge with a freezer perfectly sized for a single ice cube tray and my pint of Rocky Road ice cream.
Although I love a baked spaghetti casserole and grilled ginger chicken wings, I’ve discovered that on our pocket-size ship, simple finger foods made with a few basic ingredients make the perfect fare for a boater’s potluck either onboard, dockside or at a raft-up.
It is customary to bring and share something at any potluck, even if it’s just a bag of chips and dip, but to make the “A-List” and become a Potluck Superstar requires a memorable signature dish created in your own galley.
We first sampled Rum Runner’s Toffee Brittle at a marina potluck in Cartagena, Colombia, and when cruisers were sneaking bits off the tray while the captain was walking up the dock, I knew he had something special. I had to have that recipe and even though it cost me a bottle of Venezuelan rum, this dish has brought us back to celebrity status once again ... and it can do the same for you.
If you have never tried Rum Runner’s Toffee Brittle before, I’m warning you that this yummy concoction is very addictive! It strikes the perfect balance of sweet and salty with just a hint of rum to bring out the sailor in us all. But keep it our secret. With only five ingredients, this recipe is also one of the easiest to pull together and your hot ticket to becoming a Potluck Superstar.
1 sleeve saltine crackers(about 36 crackers)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 shot of spiced dark rum or
1 teaspoon of rum extract
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional Topping: 1/3 cup chopped pecans, sea-salt
Step 1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
Step 2. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay out a single layer of saltine crackers on the cookie sheet.
Step 3. In a saucepan melt the butter and brown sugar over medium-high heat on the stovetop and bring to a rolling boil, then add the rum. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to boil for exactly 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 4. Remove from heat and immediately pour the mixture over the cracker layer spreading evenly with a spatula.
Step 5. Place in oven and bake for 5 minutes.
Step 6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Allow the chips to soften, then spread evenly over the toffee.
Step 7. If desired, top with chopped nuts and a twist of ground sea salt.
Step 8. Allow the toffee brittle to cool completely (approximately 2 hours) or place sheet in refrigerator to accelerate cooling.
Step 9. Break into bite-sized pieces and enjoy.
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