One of Jack and my favorite lines from the movie Master and Commander. The officers of the ship are eating and the Master of the ship “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is describing the first thing that Admiral Nelson said to him.
On my first night-out, back on January 18th, I had anchoring problems that took me several hours to sort out. On my post about the night, I mentioned that I heated up a can of chili and went to bed. Sarah commented on my post that she hoped I was eating better than that on other nights. I’m happy to say that I am. Here’s a quick run-down on cooking and eating habits aboard HJ.
First, some quick orientation to HJ’s interior layout. HJ has an aft cockpit (at the back of the boat) and that’s where the helm (steering wheel) and many of the control lines for sailing are led. The front of the cockpit is protected by a dodger. It’s part canvas and part eisenglass (thick transparent plastic) and acts kind of like a windshield when underway. Under the dodger is the companionway that leads from the cockpit to the saloon. The saloon, or some say salon, is the proper term for the main interior room of the boat—a landlubber might call it the cabin. Of course I prefer the term saloon over salon. Whenever I’m changing clothes below decks while sailing and the boat is pitching in a sea, I chuckle to myself and think, “Even though I’ve been trying so darned hard to practice clean living the past several years, I still end up wobbly and naked in a saloon.” Some things never change.
Back to more-appetizing subjects. When you go down the four steps in the companionway from cockpit to saloon, the galley (kitchen) is immediately on your left. It’s kind of like one of those “Tiny Houses” episodes. Hazel James’ galley is outfitted with a two burner stove and oven. The unit is really ingenious in that is is on “gimbals”. That is, it is free to rotate left and right so that when HJ is heeled over sailing, the cooking surface is more-or-less level. In addition, there are calipers for each burner to further secure pots, pans and kettles. As you can imagine, a frying pan with hot oil flying through the air would be a bad thing. She carries two, 5-pound propane tanks in a specially fitted locker that vents outside the hull in case there would be a propane leak.
Given my minimalist approach, I’m trying to get away with no refrigeration and have been doing fine so far. Refrigeration brings with it a whole other level of electrical consumption and mechanical complexity that I’d rather not deal with. With that being said, I have her well-provisioned with dried and canned foods and fresh foods that keep well: potatoes, onions, apples and citrus. I individually wrap each lemon, lime and orange in foil and they’ve been keeping well. In addition, eggs keep well unrefrigerated if you coat them in vaseline to minimize oxygen exchange. This morning, I finished my last several eggs from a dozen that I had bought on January 25th, 14 days ago, and they were fine—at least I’m still standing.
A week ago I baked a couple loaves of bread in HJ’s oven. With tinned butter the bread was fantastic. The pictures below illustrate the process. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing better than coming out of the weather in the cockpit, down the companionway and into the saloon and feeling the warmth of the oven and smelling the yeast and the baking bread.
When I was growing up, my mother would use a pressure cooker from time to time. While we never used one as our kids were growing up, I got myself one for this cruise and it’s been great. It uses pressure generated by steam to cook at 250 degrees Fahrenheit so it’s a lot faster and more fuel-efficient than simmering at 212. You can also use it like a poor-man’s canner or autoclave. If you’ve made enough for several meals in the pressure cooker, after your first meal you simply bring the pressure cooker back up to temperature, shut off the flame and let it cool without opening it. You’ve killed any of the bad guys in there with the 250 degree heat and are leaving it sealed. Food keeps fine for a day or so with that technique. Reminds me of the nursery rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.” As an example of this technique in action, one night I made myself some real nice ginger-corn chowder using potatoes, onions, dried milk, flour, canned corn and dried ginger. I ate part of it and autoclaved and sealed the remainder for the next night. The next afternoon, I caught a mangrove snapper off my kayak. Since I didn’t have enough fish for a full meal I filleted the snapper, cubed it, put it in the cold corn chowder and brought it to 250 degrees and had a wonderful fish chowder.
Another example of preservation without refrigeration is an idea from my Alaskan friends Pat and Dana. They suggested covering cheese in olive oil to preserve it. I’ve been trying it so far and it’s worked great
Of course, when I’m in a marina or anchored-up close to a town, I’ll have some meals ashore or buy more perishable foods I can cook and eat within a day or two. Given that I’m now anchored up off Harbour Island and Dunmore Town, yesterday I bought a nice piece of red snapper and salad fixings. I made myself cornmeal-encrusted red snapper with pan fried toast and a green salad dressed with olive and sesame oils, and red wine vinegar. Just wonderful.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not every night. When the weather and the seas are not cooperating, dinner is an apple and Cliff Bar, or nothing at all. Of course at that point, food is not top of the priority list. As Gordon Lightfoot said, “When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’ fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.” In the end though, the goal is not privation; the goal is to eat as well as possible on minimal provisions and preparation. Whatever you do, don’t think that every night is a can of chili.