The Cast of Characters & Quick Guide to the Story

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hurrah for Hamburgers

     One of two bread bibles on the market. The clerk at 
     the bookstore joked that this was how bread wars 
     were started.
After the weekend was over, armed with new tools - an oven-proof glove, chili-laden chocolate from the Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers, and a bread-making bible- I made my way back to the boat. The commuter train from Boston was filled with people in costume on their way to Salem for Halloween celebrations. I mean, every seat was filled. I sat down, intending to write or read or make a phone call, and immediately fell asleep.

For breakfast at Craigie on Main in Boston, I had what was touted as the best burger in Boston. Inspired, I stopped at the grocery store beside the train depot and picked up two bags of buns, ground beef, veggie burgers and ketchup.

As I approached the boat, Sugarbelle hollered out, "Cook, you're back. Hurrah!" I wondered how many of them were betting on my making a quiet escape into the night.

Back on the boat I immediately started to work cutting up red potatoes. I seasoned them with thyme, basil and oregano. Then I started on seasoning the hamburger and immediately realized that I hadn't bought enough. I dug through the freezer. I have a feeling no professional chef should try this. I defrosted a large piece of flank steak in the microwave, cut off slabs, chopped them into small pieces and added them to the mix. I made a small burger for myself while I was frying them and I quite liked it. It reminded me of low-brow version of Daniel Boulud's famous burger with short ribs in it (sans truffle and fois).

"Burger night!" cried Captain Wright as he entered the salon. "Hurrah!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Backed Up

I did a first draft of these prior to my arrival, so I knew 
they would be a hit.
Taco meat for twelve, times two meals...
Friday finally arrived and I had plans to leave for Boston by 3 pm. But before I could leave, I had to make all of the meals for the entire weekend. I woke at 4 am. Unable to go back to sleep, I was in the kitchen by 5 am, baking cinnamon rolls according to Beth Hensperger's recipe. When the Swedish girl, Kakan, walked in for breakfast I told her I thought I had knocked this one out of the ballpark. Looking back, I wonder if she knew what I meant. They were light and pillowy and I didn't make Hensperger's sauce, but instead used the trick Abby taught me where you pack the bottom of the dish chock-full with brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans.  It was an excellent note to start the day on.

Then I made two dishes of a butternut squash baked pasta dish, with bacon in the meat version. These were to be re-heated and served for lunch when I was away.

I also made fixings for tacos - I chopped tomatoes and onions and sliced up lettuce and grated cheese and made a mashed bean mix out of those darned beans that never quite softened. (Although I never heard a peep from them on this note, I am sure they tired of seeing those beans.) I arranged for them to recycle the beans and the taco meat for Saturday night's dinner as well, and make burritos in large tortillas instead.

I can't even recall what I served them for lunch that day. All I know is that I did leave at 3 pm, and that everything was ready and the galley was clean.

Gloucester in the early morning, the masts of our 
ship sticking up across the bay.
I arrived at the hotel earlier than my friends and even though I had slept a scant few hours, more than sleep, I craved a shower. I felt like I'd never been that dirty before. I had to wash twice before my skin felt like the grease was off. I washed my hair twice. I cleaned my pores. I perfumed myself. Oh, to be clean!

I put on my city boots and make-up and within an hour I felt feminine again. Allen and Iz arrived and we made our way to Eastern Standard for delicious cocktails and a late night dinner, made up of dishes I might not eat for a while - fois gras, bouillabaisse and lobster gnocchi. I went to bed very tired and very happy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day #2 - Green Curry

Beans, beans and more beans.
From a box
"Hey, she came back!" said the captain the next morning, when I entered the galley an hour prior to muster and found him sitting at the nav station in the main salon.

The surprise seemed partly genuine and partly a line he had used a hundred times.

It was my first full day on the job. I got to work making pancakes for breakfast. But nobody told me that the front burner only works on high and that the griddle on the stovetop takes a half hour to warm up... So 15 minutes until show-time, half my pancakes were scortched and half weren't cooking. Oh - and there was no spatula! But I sallied through, flipping half of them quickly and waiting patiently for the others. The crew was grateful. They said the pancakes tasted great. I smiled, tight-lipped; it was the first time I'd ever made pancakes from a box.

Breakfast out of the way, I started planning for dinner. I took a large piece of unlabeled meat out of the freezer and decided I'd make Thai food, to see how much heat they could take.

"You like green curry?" Filip asked. He had become my defacto crew liaison and kitchen advisor.
I nodded.
"Excellent," he said, looking hungry.

For some reason I hadn't yet thought through lunch. When I arrived, the crew had been scraping a mean living by using up old stuff in their pantry and freezer. As part of this effort, Filip had soaked about ten bags of beans. I began cooking them but they weren't getting soft... so I called my mom. Then I called a chef friend. I seemed to be doing everything right.

"They might be old," said Filip.
This should not have surprised me. But I had no backup plan. I gave myself an hour. When the beans weren't ready by 11:30 am, I borrowed the captain's truck, drove to the store to buy canned beans, and managed to put lunch on the table just in time.

Best cooking job ever
At dinner the captain and first mate pulled me aside. Here's what they said: this is your space. You take orders from no one but us. You can make whatever you want and the crew has to eat it. No one opens the fridge or the freezer without your permission. You have the power to send people out of the galley at any time; in fact, they shouldn't be hanging out here bothering you. As long as the meals are served hot and on time, everything else is up to you.

Thai green curry
"I've yelled at everyone on the boat with the exception of the cook," the captain added.

Basically, what he was saying was that I had landed the best cooking job - ever.

For dinner I made Thai green curry, with beef for the meat eaters and a spaghetti squash and potato version for the vegetarians, with pickled cucumber salad on the side.

Oh. And brownies for dessert! What a day. After dinner the captain asked the crew, "Well, should we keep her?"

Filip gave me the thumbs up. The others nodded; they were busy eating.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day #1 - Spaghetti Marinara

The Interview
"How many other people are you considering for the job?" I asked the captain.
"Are you trying to see how desperate I am?" came the voice on the other end of the line.
"How desperate are you?"
He laughed.
“Pretty desperate,” I thought to myself.

One week later, he hired me. Two weeks later I packed up all my belongings, put them in storage and flew to Michigan. Three weeks after that first phone call I found myself in Boston with one week left as a landlubber.

I was charging up my batteries at the home of old family friends and getting a crash course in baking when I checked my messages and found a voicemail from the captain. "Where are you?" he asked. "We were expecting you three days ago. Can you please call me?"

I called I told him there must be some misunderstanding, but I did not want to get off on the wrong foot. When he asked how soon I could come, I said I could make it in a few days as long as I could pop out for the weekend since my friends, Isabel and Allen had already booked a hotel in Boston. 

The Test
I arrived just before lunch. I asked around for Captain Wright and was taken to him as he stood working at a table saw with a few other people in a giant shell of a building. He introduced me around and then led me straight to the galley.

Filip, who had been acting as substitute cook, seemed not sure what to do with me. I took over, turning leftover pasta into a larger amount of pasta and marinara sauce. Voila. It wasn't perfect, but it was edible. The crew seemed amiable and appreciative. And if lunch had been a test, I thought I passed it.

As I began my first foray into a new world, my father was ending his long career with the airlines. His last layover was in Boston. So that night the crew made plans to go out for dinner and I drove into Boston for dinner with Dad.

"How was it?" he asked. I told him first about the boat, which was beautiful. Even up on stilts in the shipyard, she had a regal air about her. The galley (the word for kitchen on a boat) sits between the main salon and the mid-deck, making it the boat's main thoroughfare. While some galleys are tucked away belowdecks, this one protruded above the deck,  so it had three portholes to look out as well as the door.

So far, it was just an introduction, but I had a feeling I was going to like it.

The ship as seen in the early morning, while still in dry dock, on stilts in Gloucester.