Editor’s Note — Victoria Allman is the chef aboard a 143-foot megayacht and the author of the recently released “Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean.” This is the seventh in a series of periodic columns here on OceanLines featuring her irresistible recipes. Best of all for OceanLines readers, who are travelers of the first order, Victoria also gives us a nice taste of the environment and context in which her recipes were developed. Last month, we delighted in the delicate sensation of her Vietnamese Summer Rolls. In this month’s installment, she is in the Bahamas and her friend Vivian teaches her something about bread and life. If you’d like to read her book, just click on the ad in the right sidebar on OceanLines and that will take you to an Amazon link where you can order it.
Love Da Ting’s You Do
by Victoria Allman
Author of: “Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean”
Victoria on Twitter
“You gots to love da tings you do for people.” Vivian used her large upper frame to knead the dough. The muscles in her arms told the story of just how many loaves of coconut bread she had rolled in her life. “It isn’t work if you love it.” It sounded like the mantra every yachting chef should recite.
The weather was bad that week; although, you wouldn’t know it from the view. The sun shone bright. Fluffy clouds underlined in lilac, splattered the sky, looking like the meringue I had just whipped for Key Lime Pies. The boat rocked ever so slightly under my feet. But, on the other side of Staniel Key, the Atlantic was churning a fury. It was nothing we wanted to be sailing through. We snuggled in to wait.
But waiting wasn’t something I did well. If we were going to be stuck in limbo, I wanted to learn how to make the islands famous coconut bread. After all, that was why I was yachting; to see different cultures cuisines. On our first afternoon, I went to see my friend Vivian.
“Good day to you, baby.” Vivian greeted me. She was wearing a New York Yankees t-shirt. A Yamaha ball cap shielded her face, but it could not hide the bright smile.
“I was hoping you could teach me how to make coconut bread.” Vivian made the best on the island.
“Well child, let me sees. I gots to get someone to grate a coconut for me.”
“I have a bag of pre-shredded on the boat,” I volunteered.
Her face twisted to one side. She pursed her lips together, her eyes squeezed shut as if she just bit into a lemon. “No, you’se have to use fresh grated coconut. Lesson number one.” Then she laughed shaking her head. What do these crazy white girls know about anything? “Tomorrow’s we make bread.”
The sweet smell of coconut wafted out the screen door when I arrived the next day. A wooden bowl with a pile of white, flaked coconut sat on the countertop along with a generic five-pound bag of flour. “I’s already baked all mornin’ but we’s can make another batch.” She threw her head back and let out a booming laugh. “Everybody love when I make bread.”
Without even measuring, Vivian poured flour onto the counter creating a white powder mountain. She thrust a thick fist into the center to make a well. From a plastic container she scooped large handfuls of sugar into the center. “We’s like our bread sweet. Just like the women here.” Again she howled.
“This is a breakfast bread then?” I asked.
“No child. This here is for anytime. My coconut bread don’t last around here ‘til morning.”
She cut open two envelopes of yeast and poured it into a coffee mug of warm water. She hummed while she pinched some of the sugar from the pile into the mug. “This here I just set aside for a minute to start bubblin’. It works best that way.” Vivian turned back to her pile and scooped a large wooden spoon full of soft butter from a tin on the counter. With a flick of her wrist she sent up a flour cloud as the butter buried itself in the center of the well. She scooped up the wooden bowl of coconut and scraped the wet pile into the flour.
By now the coffee mug had a beige cloud of yeast bubbling on the surface. She poured the cup into the well and began scooping the sides of flour up and into the center. She shook salt into the gluey gloop. Her upper frame jiggled as the dough on the counter began to take shape.
“Junkanoos a comin’, just around the corner,” she half sang-half hummed. She stretched out, pushing forward with her palms. She gathered up the dough and hugged it back towards her body. She moved in rhythm to her humming.
“You just gots to love the tings you do. That is what you taste in my bread. It’s the love.” She caressed the ball of dough like she would a newborn babies head. “Now, I just leaves this to set for an hour or so until it is twice this size. Then I shape it into two dough pans and set it to rise again. After another hour I bake it.” She turned to the stove grabbing one of the loaves off the cooling rack. “And this is what you gets. Coconut bread.” Her smile beamed like the rays of the sun.
Vivian placed a still warm golden loaf in my hands and handed me a bag of half a dozen more. “You’se take these to your friends on the boat and tell them this here is the taste of the Bahamas.”
I smiled in thanks. I too, loved da tings she did.
Vivian’s Coconut Bread
Makes 2 loaves
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 packages yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ cup grated coconut with the water (about two coconuts)
- 5 cups flour (amount of flour may vary depending on how much water is inside the coconuts)
- ½ stick soft butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes until yeast begins to bubble and look fluffy. Stir in rest until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and soft (about 6 minutes); add extra flour to prevent dough from sticking to your hands or the surface.
Place dough back in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand 1½ hours to rise.
Divide dough into two, working with one half at a time roll dough out into a log. Place into a bread pan that has been sprayed with Pam. Brush the top of the bread with a scrambled egg to glaze. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes until it has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 400. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Recipe and narrative Copyright © 2010 by Victoria Allman.
Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC. All rights reserved.