How Does Food Work on a Boat?
I’ve been meaning to write about food for a while. This post has been languishing in my “working posts” file under construction and ignored. This is much like my cooking… I work on it, have high hopes, but it is sadly neglected. I have flights of fancy and will undergo great leaps in my understanding and passion toward it, mainly because I love eating good, healthy food, but I just don’t always relish the thought of spending hours a day thinking about it and making it… And on a boat, all things take even more time…
So, what is food like aboard? I’ve had some people assume we eat out for every meal, others are amazed that we don’t use our freezer – “What?!? No ice?!?” and then there is everything in between – “So, you must eat a lot of dehydrated food?” Well, in fact we do have a galley, and it’s very functional, if small. Food on Banyan is different than it was at Blossom Creek Farm, and food is life so… let’s talk about it!
There are universal tomes written about the subject of “provisioning” for boats and cruising. These two books are tried and true volumes that few sailors leave harbor without.
The Care and Feeding of the Sailing Crew – By Lin & Larry Pardey
The Essential Galley Companion – By Amanda Swan-Neal
The What ~
What we eat hasn’t changed drastically since we are usually within walking, bus or UBER distance of a Trader Joe’s. We LOVE Trader Joe’s. They have so many healthy and organic options that are within our budget. We transitioned to almost an entirely TJ’s diet when saving up money to go on this journey. Now that we are afloat, we are on an even tighter budget, and we are happily still addicted to all our favorite TJ’s staples. The real difference here is that we have to CARRY everything we buy. These days, I eye my kids and size up their ability to pack the OJ, the oatmeal and the yogurt in their back pack while maybe, just maybe hauling another canvas bag with the tortillas and the Cauliflower. The checkers always give us a funny look as we all pull off our back packs and start loading. Packaging and size are huge considerations. I only have so much room to store my oils, vinegars and other items in that vein so the fat squatty round bottle of balsamic stays at the store, I’ll take that tall square skinny ones please.
Since we might go weeks without a grocery run, we have gotten in the habit of baking our own bread every few days. It’s become a lovely routine. We use the “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” book by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois. It’s so easy! I have a tall clear plastic Oxo food storage bin that I took the gasket out of. I toss in some warm water, yeast, salt and flour, mix with my hands and forget about it for a few hours. Once I see that it’s done rising, I pop it in the fridge. Next time we need a loaf, I pull off a chunk, shape it and bake it…. that simple.
When I left on a business trip, Cameron took this over and improved upon it. We now have beautiful whole wheat loaves that are healthier and we don’t inhale it quite so fast. One batch usually makes three loafs. We store it cut side down and it will last at least 2 days before going stale. The bin is never washed, it just gets more and more “sour dough” tasting as it matures. If I have a bit of bread that is getting dry, I just chop it up, toss it in the skillet, add some coconut oil, spices and sauté it for some yummy croutons (best way to get kids to eat salad). We’ve also made bread pudding which is great for desert or breakfast.
A few new staples are granola (yum!) and powdered milk (hum..). I LOVE granola, but rarely like to pay for it. After following my friend Solmaz Chandler’s recipe I fell in love. It’s so easy and so much more affordable. It’s my go-to breakfast and the girls love it too.
As for the milk, we don’t really drink that much of it. It’s nice to have for tea and coffee and it might end up on some cereal, but that’s about it. The low consumption, the fact that grocery runs can be quite sporadic, and the reality that we never quaff full glasses, means that mixing up the powdered form is way more convenient and really not that terrible. It’s also handy for baking.
At home we would buy 1/2 a grass fed cow every year. It was high quality, inexpensive, sustainable, healthy, ethical and very tasty red meat. I hadn’t cooked anything except this fabulous beef in years and when I purchased a pound of “normal” ground beef I was completely stunned. I was stunned almost into vegetarianism… no, I won’t go that far, but it’s definitely made an impact. Now, we just eat less meat in general, but when I do see a rancher at the farmer’s market I grill them with questions and if I’m happy, I go home with a big slice of beef and a big smile. The price is shocking, but it’s worth it to us to buy less meat that we feel good about eating. If you have any go-to vegetarian cook books or blogs you follow, let me know – I’m currently trying to expand my meatless repertoire. Criteria – Easy, Fast, Kid Friendly.
Farmer’s Markets are also something that I’m frequenting more often. Quite often, in a harbor town, they are located close to the marina. If it’s a good market, we can find some real gems and stock up with produce that will ripen slower, last longer and inspire fun dishes.
Yes, we have a fridge, if you can call it that. This has GOT to be the most frustrating part of boat living. “Mom, can I have a slice of cheese?” “Sure, let me just empty the entire contents of the refrigerator on the cabin sole (floor) so I can get to it after reaching up to my armpit into the depths of despair with my feet dangling over my head while I grope around in the dark.” Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but it’s pretty funny at times what getting a slice of cheese entails! But, we have found a system. Mainly it’s a mental map of where most things live and canvas bags, lots of bags.
We do have a little camping freezer but we don’t use it. It’s nice as a backup fridge but at this stage we just don’t need it. Honestly, I don’t miss it unless I’m making gin and tonics or want to buy some ice cream. Freezers are major power suckers and power is a precious commodity on boats so… no freezer. We keep it around incase the big one kicks the bucket and to see if we will like/use it for long passages.
Many things don’t actually need to be in a fridge, but they do need to be properly stored with good air flow and they need to be checked on regularly and rotated. Eggs can be kept for months and months without refrigeration if they were fresh (not refrigerated) when purchased and are rotated every few days.
We store food EVERYWHERE, stuffed into cupboards, under the floor boards, in the quarter berth next to our bed. It’s amazing how much food you can cram onto a boat. We have gone several weeks without a grocery run and we don’t always know when we will see our beloved Trader Joe’s next so we stock up!
There are LOTS of tricks to storing foods and it’s a constant education learning where on our boat to store certain things, what to store them in and which foods like to be stored together and which need some space.
Back on the storage front, dealing with left overs is not always easy or convenient so we cook daily and we do our best to cook just what we will eat. I can usually get a healthy “interesting” meal past the girls once, but try and serve them leftovers of the same dish and they would rather be hungry.
We have two propane tanks on board that feed a gas stove with three burners and a very small oven (no 40lb turkeys for Thanksgiving this year). We can usually go about 60 days before having to refill our tanks. The oven is gimbaled, meaning that it can rotate back and forth while the boat heels over. In this way it stays level, even if the boat is not. Our counter top is the top of the refrigerator so the goal is to pull out all the ingredients, prep then cook. At best it’s a convoluted process of pulling from the fridge, prepping, forgetting something, cleaning up the prep to get back into the fridge then, back to prep. In addition, the canned goods live under the counter where our drying dish rack sits… so all dishes must be put away to get at anything in the pantry. It’s generally a hilarious mess and I do sometimes want to pull my hair out. We also use a pressure cooker. I haven’t used it enough as it requires that ever elusive forethought, but it’s a great tool. I can cook a whole chicken in about 15 minutes. This is great for saving on propane.
Eating is one of our great joys, we LOVE eating good, healthy, creative food. I’m looking forward to getting further afield and stretching this art form. I’m sure it will be an uncomfortably stretch at times but it will feel great when we sit down to those meals inspired by regional flavors and ingredients.