Backstay Seafood Chana Biryani

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I slipped on the snorkel and slid off of the paddle board into the shallow aquamarine Bahamas waters.  Looking down I saw the shapes of 5 rays hiding under the sand, their tails sticking up just their eyes exposed, watching warily.  The ethereal form of one meter-wide ray glided gracefully past. He must have given his brethren some sort of signal. I shrieked in surprise (as much as one can shriek around a snorkel) as 5 enormous rays exploded upward in a cloud of sand. That was the start of it.

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I had promised to find lobster in the Bahamas.  The last time I was sailing there it seemed that the islands were thick with them, hiding in every rock and crevasse. We had eaten them until we couldn’t face another bite of lobster.  This time was different I had found lobster!  Paddle-boarding up to a fishing boat, but Sato San wanted to actually hunt lobster.  Wild lobster.  Today was our last chance. Our last stop before George Town, then it was on to Cuba.

We anchored off of Leestocking Cay and I looked approvingly at the rocky coastline.  Rocks and crags… this was lobster territory.  We dinghied slowly over to the rocky shoreline to search for the lobsters that were surely hiding there.

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Taira San and Sato San in the dinghy, me in tow on the paddleboard looking for potential dinners.  I stopped several times to pick up a couple of conch and some interesting fan-shaped shellfish that stuck out of the sand.  In case we didn’t find any lobster it would be good to have a back-up plan.

Sato San, Taira San and I split up and did a thorough scouring of the area, checking under rocks and crannies from one beach to the next. Sea cucumbers, dozens of dead conch, thousands of miniscule transparent fish, but not so much as a lobster antenna to be seen.  Near the second beach I saw Sato San again who suggested we head back to the dinghy.  I was all for it, over an hour in the water and I was getting cold.

As everyone else had flippers and I didn’t, I was the straggler.  Not that I minded.  The ocean-life was beautiful, especially in the 3’-8’ waters near the shore.  The porous volcanic rock hosted a myriad of fish and sea life.  Still, I was half on the lookout for dinner.

From out of nowhere, a lithe grey shape whizzed up to me and slowed for a swim-by.  My eyes widened.  A dolphin!  I hadn’t seen a single dolphin since leaving the States almost a month earlier and now one swam right past me!  The dolphin turned tightly to hook back to swim within a meter.

His soft black eye looked inquisitively at me as he swam past. If he had been wearing a cap he would have doffed it.  A few feet further the dove-grey gentleman looped back swimming back towards me.  My heart soared.  I could hardly believe it.  Less than 5’ long, my dolphin friend had to be a teenager. He clearly fascinated by the strange creature in the water.  Still, he had small notch out of his left flipper, maybe curiosity had gotten the best of him another time.

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The spritely character swam inclined his cute snub nose to look at me before circling out a meter away and let out a high-pitched squeal. I tried to make a similar high-pitched sound, but dolphin is even harder to pick up than Japanese.  After a few minutes of interaction my new friend swam away.  I watched the tail grow fainter and fainter in the water.

Suddenly, to my delight, the dolphin was back at my side.  He started big 5’ loops around me.  One towards the surface, another diving to examine me from all angles.  Time stood still as he started swimming in faster, tighter circles around me.  I could have reached out my arm and brushed him, but somehow I sensed that wasn’t proper dolphin etiquette.

We danced, me twirling around almost in place his circles were so close.  Not wanting to miss a second of the experience I drank everything in.  The aero(hydro?)dynamic rounded lines that slid through the water with ease.  The trim figure, but most of all the expressive features.  I had read of dolphin’s intelligence, but experiencing it first-hand it struck me deeply.

He drifted out several feet and rolled over on one side exposing his belly to me.  I rolled over in the same move.  When I let my legs drift down, he “stood up” in the water, his tail near the bottom, head near the surface mimicking my upright stance.  We were imitating one another!

When my friend surfaced for air and dipped back under the waves I smiled.  This was another mammal. We had the bond of air-breathers in this underwater world.  I wanted more than anything to be able to communicate.  His deep intelligent eyes and actions, told me the dolphin clearly wanted the same.  But I was the slow ape in his fast-paced world. After 10-minutes I stopped being quite so interesting and my friend swam away leaving me with a warm sense of connection.

It lasted about a minute.  As soon as I turned away and begin to swim back to the dinghy a menacing grey dart-shaped form took my friend’s place.  Ice-cold chills crept up my spine as the razor-sharp lines of a 4-foot barracuda cruised up and hovered a meter away from me.  I wasn’t about to turn my back on this sinister character.  If the dolphin’s eyes had seemed playful, this character’s cold, flat eyes and jutting teeth screamed one thing: danger.  I hoped and prayed the dolphin would come back to no avail.

I called for Sato San and luckily he was nearby with a lobster spear and frightened the predator away.  Luckily, I had taken off my ring.  I had no desire to offer swimming destruction any shiny temptation.  We got back to Umineko the boys lamenting the fact that we didn’t find any lobster.  I opened up the fan-shaped shell to reveal more than just the slimy sea creature.  Two baby lobsters were living in the shell too!  One red and the other clear, both around the size of an eraser!  Hey, they asked me to find lobster – they didn’t specify what size.

I cooked the conch and the disgusting slimy fan-shaped shellfish in a seafood biryani.  The adorable baby lobsters are my new pets and live in a shallow bowl of salt water with half the shell.  I am hoping to find an appropriate home for them in George Town.

Douglas Adams may not have been too far off in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish.  Dolphins might not be extraterrestrial but who’s to say they aren’t as intelligent as humans.  I don’t want to anthropomorphize dolphins.  They are an entirely different species.  Their surroundings have caused their brains to develop in very different ways from us.  But they are intelligent, curious, inquisitive, and interested in exploring and learning about their world.

I think that it would be anthrocentric of us to claim humans are smarter than these creatures.  Intelligent in different ways, of course, but humans could learn so much from these creatures. I long to communicate better.  I know that scientists have been working on it for years, but if somehow we managed to crack the dolphin language…
Backstay Seafood Chana Biryani

Ingredients:
1 lb conch, chopped
1 fillet fish, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb squid
2 c rice
1 c chick peas, cooked
½ onion, chopped
½ carrot, chopped
5 cardomom pods
1 t cinnamon
2 t garam masala
1 t turmeric
2 t grated ginger
1 t cumin seeds
½ t coriander seeds
1 t salt
3 c water
2 c rice
¼ c cranberries
½ c cashews
Directions:
Cook seafood in pressure cooker about 20 minutes
Sauté garlic and onions in oil in deep pan for about 3 minutes
Add carrot and cook another 2 minutes
Add spices and stir until veggies are coated
Add rice and stir until coated
Add water and bring to a boil
Steam for 15 minutes
Add chick peas
Drain seafood and stir into biryani rice mixture

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