Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Provisioning and Cooking

Why don't they call it "provisioning" when you go to the market in the U.S., buy tons of food, and take it back home?  Out here, that's the term we use for grocery shopping.  Tonight, once again, I "provisioned."  We plan to set sail tomorrow and won't be anywhere where we can buy food again for two weeks; thus the need to "provision."  We were in the U.S. last week for a few days so I provisioned there as much as possible but fruits and veggies aren't allowed south of Guerro Negro (the midway point between north and south on the Baja peninsula) and eggs don't make the two-day drive that well so there were things to buy here in Santa Rosalia before we ship out.  Last night, shortly after we returned from the U.S., Doug and I provisioned. His comment, when he lugged everything from the tienda (store) to the car was, "I didn't think you needed to provision this much!"  I explained why we bought what we did and he understood a little more about the depth of "provisioning." 

Although I've only been cruising for a few months, I've learned that if 4 people are out at sea for any extended time, sharing relatively small quarters, there better be good food on board to satisfy the crew when it's meal time.  Friends have asked questions like, "How do you plan meals for extended trips at sea?" and, "What do you cook?", etc. Here's a little bit of what I do relative to the galley and feeding la familia and what I've learned. If anyone out there reading this has ANY suggestions for quick, easy meals, I'm open!

I’ve learned a lot about provisioning for long periods of time at sea and am always grateful to the cruisers who share ideas as well as food along the way.  Shopping is only part of the task at hand.  When I return to the boat I unpack the food, prepare meats for storage, soak veggies and fruits in a water and disinfectant mixture, and then pack everything away.  The whole process takes a very long time.

When we unpack cereals and the like we take all the cardboard boxes these foods come in and discard them before setting sail. Mainly it’s because of space constraints but also because little critters supposedly are attracted to the cardboard so we don’t want that to be an open invitation for them to join us on our journey.
Food storage.  HanaCrew has plenty of storage areas, after all she was built to cruise.  The challenge with good storage space is that I have to write down what I put and where so I don't forget what we have!  Storage lockers are underneath seats and floorboards as well as the V and quarter berths.  

Trying to keep the food we’ve bought fresh and edible is another issue to be dealt with.  Because of the heat in Mexico cruisers have to be creative when storing food.  Cruiser friends have given me lots of good advice to help keep food for longer periods of time, which have proven to be successful.  Wrapping limes individually in aluminum foil; wrapping blue shop paper towels around fruit and veggies before storing them in “green bags”; and, storing cheese in olive oil wrapped in cheese cloth are some of the ideas I’ve tried.  As helpful as these ideas have been I still lose some perishables to heat.  The hanging net Liberty gave us has helped tremendously to keep our fruits and veggies hanging rather than sitting on a hard surface rolling around with every wave we encounter. 

Since the refrigerator isn’t large enough to hold all our perishables at the start of a long stretch of sailing, I’ve learned which foods can wait a few days before being refrigerated and which need refrigeration right away.  It’s helpful that Mexico sells almost all their milk and juice in long-term storage boxes.  Why that isn’t the case in the U.S., I don’t know.  When I buy pre-packaged chicken or most meat, I take it out of the packaging, rinse it off, pat it dry, salt it lightly to help preserve it, and put it in an airtight plastic container in the fridge.  I’m constantly amazed at cruisers who don’t have refrigeration.  They seem to do just fine without it.  From one friend I learned that yogurt doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all, although we do keep it in there when we have room in the fridge.  Certain brands keep longer without refrigeration than do others.  Who would have thought that?

Cooking.  I actually enjoy cooking; it’s the constancy of it I don’t care for.  If I cooked only when I felt inspired to, my family would probably be fine because breakfast, which Doug takes care of, along with a major meal by me, would be sufficient, but they would miss their traditional 3-meals-a-day schedule.  This isn’t something I deal with only when cruising, it’s true regardless of where we are and of most moms I know.  Before we headed out to sea just about every cruiser friend said they used a pressure cooker on board so I investigated the idea of buying one. I don't recall my mom ever using one when I was growing up so I really didn’t have an idea of what pressure cooing was all about.  Friends said the cooker was a time saver extraordinaire and that I really should have one.  After some reading online I purchased a stainless steel 8-quart Presto pressure cooker.  I tried it out at home before we set sail and the meat was basically destroyed (broken down to the point of being mushy) in the process.  I had two recipes for the type of meat I was using; one from a dedicated cookbook all about pressure cooking and one from the pressure cooker manufacturer.  Not knowing which to trust I decided to split the time in half from both recipes which ended up being about 20 minutes.   By the end of the process I was confused and disappointed to say the least.  It took about 15 minutes to prepare the meat and veggies, 20 minutes for the cooker to come to pressure, and 20 more minutes to cook the beef.  “What was so quick about that?” I thought.  Well, now that I am 8 to 10 pressure cooked meals beyond that first experience I have a far better appreciation for my pressure cooker.  I’ve figured out how to maintain low versus high pressure and how long it takes my cooker to come to pressure and what the general cook times for certain meats should be so that we can recognize them when they come out of the pot.  Overall I do recommend the pressure cooker and yes, it does take less time to cook things, especially things like whole birds or a stew that would normally take hours. 

When I release the steam from the cooker everyone knows it and I basically have to “clear the decks” so no one gets in the way of the blast of steam that rises from the cooker.  The original owners of the boat had a lovely little hatch added just above the stove, for steam or any heat rising from the stove top and it helps tremendously to keep the cabin less steamy and hot when cooking. (See photo)
Meals.  When we head out and won't be where we can provision for at least 2-weeks I put together a list of meals I know I have ingredients for to make sure I have most every meal covered.  I buy canned chicken, shredded beef in a pouch (it's actually quite good and lasts for over a year!), pasta, rice, beans, and other canned or preserved food.  I also buy cheese, yogurt, arrarchera (a delicious marinated beef here in MX) and fresh chicken.  The last day before we launch you can typically find me in the galley cooking two or three meals so I don't have to cook once we are underway or at a wonderful anchorage where I would rather swim than cook.  Of course we rely on fresh fish, too!  Doug and Henry, along with cruiser friends, are our suppliers of those meals.  Chandler even gets into the act with her interest in diving for clams! (see below)  We've enjoyed sea bass, mahi-mahi, snapper, grouper, yellow tail, lobster, and more.

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