Extreme cooking — or the travails of an ocean going foodie
Franco describes cooking underway as three dimensional chess. It is extremely complicated, requires a mastery of tactics, a Herculean effort and at least eight arms. The game concludes, not with a discreetly moved pawn revealing the killer queen and a courteously uttered “checkmate”, but when a Tupperware box of leftovers comes flying towards your head.
We play another game too, we call it ‘the fruit machine’ because it involves fruit and chance. It goes like this, I open the tins locker and which ever tin falls out first, we eat. If you are really unlucky you get baked beans.
I had to laugh yesterday (actually, it was verging on hysterics), i had just cut open a carton of milk and was holding it firmly to the surface of the kitchen top with one hand while I put something into the sink with the other. The boat rolled onto the other side and I turned back to my carton of milk in time to see a milk Niagara Falls cascading into the fridge. I was holding the carton firmly, not the content!
Desirée, the fridge, is of the trunk style. You open the lid and hope that what you are looking for is close to the top. When Franco bought Caramor, the lid was one you lifted off. We attached hinges, this way we no longer needed to find somewhere safe to move it to, we just lifted it with one hand and rummaged with the other. Too many times the boat lurched, we let go of the lid and it clobbered us on the head. The following season we attached a very strong magnet that holds the fridge lid up against the cupboard door. The magnet arrived from the mail order company with a health warning ‘do not insert in nose’. (Of course as soon as you read that you had an irresistible urge to try — bizarre!) In Brazil we added a foam (non-slip) mat to the top of the lid for extra insulation. Our routine goes like this: remove mat and place on floor, lift lid to magnet catch, remove bag containing 6 litres of yogurt, remove bag of never ending carrots, remove (glass) jar of jam, remove bottle of fruit juice, remove jug of kefir. All of the previous are now on the counter top and being held wrapped in one arm. With the gaps created in the fridge, the leaning tower of plastic food boxes topples over. The olives immediately start leaking black brine, and the blue freezer packs shoot out of the freezer compartment, aiming squarely for the middle of your forehead. Eventually the blue cheese is located, under a bag of sausages. At the next lurch, the cheese rolls off the counter. Then everything has to go back in.
The oven routine is similar: The cooker is on gimbals, it swings from port to starboard so that the top remains fairly steady when the boat is rolling. The hitch is getting a dish into the oven. When the oven door is open, the weight unbalances the cooker. The dish is prepared and waiting on top of the cooker (so that it doesn’t spill everywhere). I crouch down, lighter in one hand, open the door with the other, balance the door on my knee, which I have to keep moving at the rhythm of the boat so that it doesn’t pull the cooker too far forwards and the prepared dish on my head, hold down the gas knob, lean into the oven (door still resting on knee), strike the lighter, start counting to 10 (usually it lights first time) and retreat. If it goes wrong, the feedback is immediate, the kettle, the freshly made dish, a couple of cups and a tray come tumbling onto my head.
To wash up, everything has to be moved at least three times. It’s a bad day when a dirty dishwashing water tidal-wave breaks over the side of the sink.
The three day tart
Sometimes during the night watch I ‘leaf’ (it’s an ebook) through one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe books. I found a lemon tart recipe that would put my lemons to good use.
After breakfast I started making the pastry. My fingers were covered in butter when Franco appeared to say we had chafe on the halyard and needed to get the sail down. No tart that day.
The next morning I shortened my siesta so as to have time to finish the tart. This was the day the halyard sheaf chafed through the sheaf and we spent many hours swapping the ropes and resetting the sails. No tart that day either.
At last on the Wednesday, I got the pastry baked. I prepared the lemon cream in the cockpit during Franco’s afternoon snooze. Things were going well I thought. I had reduced the recipe quantities by a third. With the tart case firmly set on the gimbals, I poured the liquid in, it was slopping about dangerously, the hardest - transferring it to the oven - was still to come. I enlisted Franco’s help but by the time we had wrestled it into the oven, the filling had spilled over the back of the pastry and was now a gooey ‘backing’.
The three day never again tart - It did taste good though
It isn’t all disasters though, the soufflé came out well and the onion tart was a masterpiece. There is always that moment of trepidation as it comes out of the oven - will it remain on the kitchen counter long enough to get eaten?
Provisioning for a sea journey is a compromise between ‘how much you think you need’ and ‘how long it will last’. With staples; milk, flour, starch, tins, etc. we now have a pretty good idea what works and how much to buy.
The apples, oranges, mandarines, bananas and plums were all eaten long before they had time to rot. The same with the vegetables, and we will eat our last carrot in Hiva Oa the day we arrive! The French beans provided a new game - ‘Chase the bean’. As I topped and tailed them ready for the steamer, both ends would roll away in random directions and I had to chase them all around the galley. Next time I’ll buy peas!
The onions are still going strong and the sack of potatoes has proven bottomless. On previous crossings I have been loath to buy too many tatties, the stench of a rotten potato has surely defeated armies. As the temperature In the cabin reached 27 degrees, three potatoes exploded, covering all the others in smelly slime. Oh what a pleasant afternoon was spent, washing 20kg of potatoes in sea water and drying them! It seems to have done the trick though, there have been no more kamikaze among the ranks.
After ‘Immigration’ I caught a taxi to the market. At the cheese stall, I had a ‘fox in chicken coop’ moment and bought 8kg of cheese. My excuse is I share a boat with a self-confessed cheese monster who becomes a little grumpy when hungry.
Kath with one of the 4 cheeses
We have been developing a novel product, a tropical matured cheese, not for the faint hearted, and will shortly be applying for ‘appellation contrôlée’.
Our only attempt at ‘fishing’ failed. A large flying fish landed on deck, Franco was about to dash forward to catch it, but first he had to put on a life jacket / harness. The fish, suddenly realising it was still alive, give one big flick of the tail and returned to the deep.
When things get bad in the galley, I recall our trip to the Azores in Firebird (Franco’s first yacht). Particularly the day I ended up with a whole tin of coconut cream landing in my hair with no hope of a proper shower for over a week. Or when the 5 litre can of olive oil leaked into the bilge on the way to the Canaries, up until that point I had lived blissfully unaware that there is a type of fungi/bacteria that thrives on a mixture of olive oil and sea water. The boat stank for weeks, no matter how much water we flushed through the bilge.
Right then! Chocolate profiteroles ...