All photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Race week in Key West is a massive boondoggle for me.  I wake, look out at the water, drink coffee, write until noon, personal writing, then head to the house where I cook for 12 to 16 people every night.

I straighten the kitchen, throw away a few forgotten red plastic cups with limes floating in them, make a list, do some shopping, prep what can be done ahead (make some sauces, or a stock, pick and blanch green veg).  Then I go back to my room at The Galleon, condos right on the docks, and have some coffee and write and re-write some more.

The boys return from being on the water and I put in earphones and listen to music and keep working till six, then head to the house and start dinner.

Donna is back in snowy cold Cleveland with the kids and the dog until next week, and I’m not exactly getting any money-making work done, just some personal non-food writing to restore the soul.  So, after I finish writing in the morning, writing I feel good about, the days are a little anxious, in a vague, someone’s-following-you-but-you-can’t-turn-around-and-look kind of way. Why am I in Key West?  What am I doing here?

Until I get back to the house in the evening, 324 Elizabeth Street, a lovely little place with a white picket fence, and I start to cook.

Then I feel better.  I need to be cooking.  Or writing. I put out some salumi and cheese. The sailors arrive, the boys and girl from the boat, a few strays and partners.

“Can I make you a Dark and Stormy?” one of the sailors asks, and I say, “Yes absolutely, many thanks.”  And Jim asks “What can I do?”  “Start the fire,” I say.  And Doug asks “What can I do?” and I say, “Mince some garlic.”  And I check the meat and get things ready and then others help set the tables.  And before I know it, thanks to Jim and Doug and the others, dinner is ready—duck confit, arugula salad, poached egg, Carolina barbecue, steak and lobster—good food, and people are happy.

Sometimes we plate, but usually we serve family style and sit and people begin eating immediately, while it’s hot, but when everyone is at the table, Captain Rob makes inspiring remarks, raising his glass,

and, once, only once, I get up and preach about the importance of cooking and serving and eating and cleaning up together and how wise it was of Cap’n Rob to bring me down here and happily no one disagrees, and we eat and we drink, and the sailors talk about the race and what they’ll do different tomorrow, and then others wash up, and the kitchen is clean and the boys head to Duvall and Cap’n Rob and his partner-wife-sailor sweet Abigail head for a nightcap at the quiet, civilized Tarpon bar before bed, and I wander with the boys and have a smoke but don’t linger long on Duvall, which I can’t stand.  It’s worse than Vegas. It’s kind of like a scratchy spot underneath Las Vegas’s sweaty T-shirt. So I wobble on home to look over the day’s work.

And the boys don’t stay out too late because there’s a race tomorrow and return for one last smoke on the balcony.

And then it starts all over again.

While I’m waiting for Donna.


16 Wonderful responses to “Waiting For Donna”

  • Dawn Singh

    Brings back some fond memories. Love the influence it has on your writing style.

  • Kathy

    That sounds pretty dang awesome. But I’m sure it’ll be even more awesome once Donna re-joins you!

  • Eric G.

    Great writing Michael, sounds like you are channeling Hemingway while in Key West! For whom the (dinner) bell tolls.

    Enjoy the boondagle, you deserve them and shouldnt feel guilty. I struggle with the same problem on junkets. Damn American work ethic…

  • Victoria

    I love this post; it’s funny and serious and romantic – quite a combination. I especially like seeing the kit you obviously travel with, which includes those spoons that I would not want to do without now that I have them.

    For a number of years I had the good fortune to join friends of mine for summer vacation at Sea Island, Georgia. It was in the days before the Cloister was renovated, when it was still a beautiful, but sleepy, little beach colony. We stayed in a “cottage” on Thirty-first Street, one house away from the water. Every night there were six to nine people for dinner, and Jane and I were in charge. Lamar would make me a gin and tonic – with only one shot of gin so I could have another one – and open a Rolling Rock for Jane, and then he would hang around while we cooked. On most nights everyone but me would head across the causeway to Sweet Mama’s for dessert, while I would clean up in the for-a-few-minutes quiet house. In the morning Jane and I would meet in the kitchen while it was still dark, empty the two dishwashers, set the coffee service up, and head out so we could be walking along the shore while the sun came up, discussing all manner of things, including what we would make for dinner.

  • alex bevan

    ya know, one of these years you are going to need a bard or a troubadour or someone like that to sing feasting songs whilst ya’ll dine….. just saying’…..

      • John K.

        Well, look at that…a couple “skinny little boys”……

        Perhaps not so much these days?

        I love being from Cleveland….

  • Phil

    Have you had the local favorite liqueur Nassau Royale yet? Give it a shot! I think it tastes like creme brulee.

  • Shirley @ gfe

    I never tire of hearing about Key West, one of my very favorite spots. Your post had me right back there. And to be at your table … now that would have been spectacular!

    Thanks for sharing with us,

  • Alexander Deighton

    Michael, can you do a post about what you take with you when you are not cooking in your own kitchen?
    We’ve all been rentals (or other people’s homes) where the knives are abused beyond repair. I now travel with a couple of cheap, sheathed ceramic ones just in case.
    But I would love to hear what other tools are in your “must have” bag when you are already dealing with the trials of other people’s kitchens such as ovens you don’t know, or stoves that won’t boil water.
    I see from your photo you have a couple of big knives, a thermometer, some paring knives, a spanker or two … I would love more detail.



  • Abigail Blake

    My husband shot KWRW a few years ago and had a blast. You guys should come to the BVI for Spring Regatta this year. Fantastic racing!

  • Alan

    Sounds like lots of fun wrapped up in a bit of work. Livin-the-dream as we say around here. Love your books and the site. Thanks