Thursday, September 06, 2007

Questions from the Class - Eating Afloat

Question: If you're preparing a meal on the boat for your family, what do you make and how does prep on a boat differ from prep in a full kitchen? How is the meal served? Do you all sit at a table together?

The really important thing about boat cooking is that you work assiduously to make it less like camp cooking and more like house cooking. No one... and I do mean NO ONE... wants to spend several years camping. Camping is fun. It's like a city you want to visit, but you'd never live there. So long term living on a boat necessitates you figure out ways to make you feel like you're living in the Real World and not in some state park in Montana.

The cramped quarters, limited surface space, restricted equipment, and the propane stove and oven shove your head space into car camping mode. To exacerbate this situation, Dr C and my mom keep getting us gear from R.E.I and the Amish catalogs. This makes complete sense, mind you. When you live on a boat you need equipment that doesn't weigh much, doesn't take up much space, and best of all, doesn't require electricity. Boat life makes you really paranoid about using electricity. The Sierra Club sustainable greens could take lessons from cruising folks about how to use less electricity.

So here we are: No place to cut stuff. Two sinks, both of which are smaller than our smallest pot. A utensil drawer roughly the size of a Payless shoebox for toddlers. Two propane burners that require matches to start, a refrigerator the size of a breadbox, and all our food supplies stored under the girls’ butts in the salon table seats. The way prep differs is that you learn how to bring your elbows close to your body so you don't knock someone out, and you cook one item at a time. We do a lot of “one-pot” and grilled meals. The pressure cooker is an absolute lifesaver.

Limited storage space has, however, forced a very positive change in our diet. I now shop roughly every other day and purchase a lot more fresh, local produce. As part of our “people in other countries eat” project, we seek out the seasonal, local, organic, and unfamiliar, and we look increasingly to whole foods since our closest grocery store is very much into the funky, Berkeley-style, sticks-and-twigs, granola-crowd customer base.

Dr C has also done several customizations to make our galley much more Real World, with a whole array of To-Do enhancements in the queue to keep him busy on quiet anchorages in the future. The most important and useful addition was a large board which covers our companionway and literally quadruples the functional counter space. He also created an extension to the sink area which gives us a place to put dishes as we wash them. Another nifty trick was the hangers behind the stove for all those pesky cooking utensils that won't fit in a drawer that's only 12” deep. On the agenda will be more shelves, spice and wine racks, a drawer under the stove for pots, and hanging baskets for produce. In other words, more holes in the boat.

Serving is another adaptation. The table is easily big enough for all five of us to sit comfortably. In fact, when we have my in-laws on board, all seven of us can gather round. The problem is that it's only big enough to hold plates. So we always serve buffet style... except the cook does all the serving from the buffet while folks shout out what they want. Remember that the table is round, so basically all folks except the cook are trapped in their seats for the duration of the meal.

Then we have cleanup. After nearly two years we've finally figured out how to do the dishes. The restrictions here are space (well that was obvious) and water (we don't have very much despite the fact that we are floating in it) AND soap (we are reluctant to kill the fish). The solution is to put two inches of hot water in each of the mini-sink basins. We put microscopic amounts of soap on the sponge and wash the dish. Then we rinse it in the left “soapy” sink then in the right “fresh” basinlette. Then it gets dried by an army of minions using those ubiquitous blue cloths.

Still, I often feel like we're camping, particularly when we pull out the stove-top waffle iron, the hand crank blender, or the classic Don Quixote solution to BBQing on the cheap off the back transom using our $15 special. On the other hand, we have proven that you can get used to almost anything. And some aspects of boat cooking actually improve our lives. Trading in our $500 Gaggia espresso machine for a small, stove-top coffee maker and milk foamer upgraded our coffee experience by orders of magnitude. I swear I will never go back to the Real World for lattes.


Cap'n Franko said...

Ahhh, you bring back memories of trying to make an adequate Thanksgiving dinner for the family on our 2-burner-plus-oven Force10. I think the parent company of Force10 is Hasbro and the prototype for boat stoves is the classic Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven. The Easy-Bake just might be bigger than the Force10. I'd hafta measure to be sure.

Toast said...

*laughs* Oh man... that brings to mind another tale I'll need to tell. When we first started using the oven, the heat was about the same as an Easy Bake oven. Then Dr C got clever with a drill. Now it's roughly blow torch level and I singe my eye brows every time I light it.

Behan said...

LMAO! that I'm recovered from the belly laughing, though... um what exactly was that secret w/ the drill?! We have a new Force 10 in our garage waiting to be installed, not test driven yet but my galley expectations are set pretty low I have to admit...

Behan said...

...and, I think I need to test drive your lattes. I'm seriously frightened by the post-home latte world possibilities right now.

Toast said...

The secret with the drill is that he "converted" the thing from EU butane to US propane by drilling a bigger hole in the jet to the back of the oven where the gas comes into the unit. And the secret to good lattes is Bialetti. Santa will bring you one for Christmas.