The Cast of Characters & Quick Guide to the Story

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Check one off the bucket list

I just showered in the head of a 2.5 million dollar yacht. And just in case you were wondering, it wasn't All That. In fact, it was rather amusing to see what someone spends that much cash on.
This morning when I went on deck to wake the crew for breakfast, I noticed the sparkling white motoryacht had pulled in behind us in the night. We were all speculating about it: the shiny anchor; the brand-new docklines; the seats with clear plastic covers on them.

Then, later tonight, the captain was about to show our bosun around when, perhaps a little too eagerly, he invited me to shower onboard instead of going up to our hotel room. I debated for a minute but then thought, what the hell. The interior and exterior are entirely white, with the exception of the high-varnish cherry doors and cabinets cedar-lined closets and teak flooring. The bilge was so clean you could eat out of it, and the sump pump had a hinged plexiglass top. It has a crazy adjustable bed, washer/dryer set-up, Bose speakers in every room. And if that doesn't all make it over the top, when it gets to Saudi Arabia it will get outfitted with another $500,000 in electronic devices.
Other than my glamorous shower, it's been another normal day in Savannah. I baked cookies, and went to the store again. I made all the taco toppings pretty bland so Cap would eat them, which ensured that I ate very little... I guess you could say I've discovered a new diet technique: flavorless food. I had to load every bite with hot sauce.
As I was finishing this paragraph - and waiting for this evening's big outing, a ghost tour of Savannah - another tall ship pulled in. Everyone rushed on-deck, binoculars in hand. We are no longer the coolest ship in town. Well, maybe we still are - but they are taller and longer and we can't wait to go aboard.

Thursday's Menu
Cream cheese and pecan coffee cake; bacon and hashed potatoes
Chicken fingers (still leftovers from the charter that I had frozen) on sandwich buns; sautéed zuchini and onions for the vegetarian; build-your-own salad with dried cranberries, candied walnuts and blue cheese; potato chips
Soft tacos with fixings
Peanut butter, granola, pecan, coffee grounds and chocolate chip cookies

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Eve escapes the rain on another wet day in Savannah.
On the balcony at Tubby's a guy is covering Faithfully as a country ballad. Surprisingly, it works. And has me a little melacholy about the paths we give up when we choose one future over another. 

Last night I talked to my friend Marc on the phone, who said he was glad I was enjoying myself, but come home (this is the same friend who got me into this business in the first place mind you). Then I listened to a voicemail from my friend Paul. He said he understood this was something I had to do, but come home.

It rained all day today, which drove all the deckhands belowdecks. We had to cancel our afternoon sail. The weather seemed to make everyone a little melancholy.

I made granola and baked buns for our lunch and even though I was late with dinner, the crew was understanding and pitched in a lot to clean the galley and salon afterwards.

After not that long with them, they have endeared themselves to me, which begs the question: Where is home, anyway?

My not-so-sloppy Joe.
Wednesday's Menu
Pancakes, bacon and eggs
Sloppy joes; caramelized onion and fried egg sandwich for the vegetarian; chips and salad
Chicken with an Indian yoghurt-tomato sauce; curried vegetables and a Samosa loaf.
Butterscotch pudding

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One of them

Last night Rigby was in the galley with me after dinner. "This place is finally starting to feel like home," he said. I knew what he meant. Our crew, though not devoid of it's own little dramas and miscommunications, had found it's rhythm.
Can you spot the mouse?
Good night, Mouse
When I arrived on this ship a few weeks ago, I noticed a small plastic (but very realistic-looking) mouse on a ledge in the galley. The old cook told me that the mouse had a habit of showing up in odd places. "There's a snake, too," added Eve with a glimmer in her eye. I knew this scene from The Sound of Music, I thought, when the children put a frog in Maria's pocket.

The first time the mouse reappeared was when I was making brownies and he tumbled out of a half-used bag that had been in the freezer. I shrieked. "Mark probably didn't think you'd use them so quickly!" Eve laughed knowingly.

I picked him up by the tail and set him back on the ledge. A few days ago a kid on our cruise noticed the mouse and I told him how it was like the mouse from good-night moon, and that we moved him around. "Where Do you think we should put him?" I asked the boy. He pointed to a hammock by the galley portholes where I keep onions and tomatoes. I grinned. That was the last place I'd remembered seeing him. Until this morning. I left the galley to go to the shore head and when I came back, he was in the middle of the galley sole. And, yes, I shrieked.

No one has fessed up, but Eve was wearing her usual sheepish look. I didn't mind. I think it means I'm one of them.
Carnitas (pork butt cooked a long, long time.)

Black Bean Soup with carrots, onions and pimientos.
Tuesday's Menu
Sausage gravy and biscuits
Pasta Primavera with no- knead bread
This pasta recipe was a hit:
Carnitas, handmade tortillas, black bean soup and rice
The gift that keeps on giving: cheesecake leftover from the charter that I'd frozen

Monday, March 28, 2011


My gloved hand holding a soot-smeared paper towel.
Before our “adventure sail” yesterday, the sky clouded over. As I stood at the stern, on fender duty, I could hear the National Weather Service on the radio say that for some areas of Georgia they were expecting “baseball-size hail.”

Unbelievably, we went out. We sailed. And a few dozen tourists got completely soaked while learning that yes, you can sail in a downpour.

I was drenched before I made it back into the galley – and that’s where the adventure continued. After wiping down the floors, I went back to making dinner. As often happens on a sail, the wind came down the smokestack and caused the galley to fill with sooty black smoke. I tried the usual: I checked the foil cover on the cabin top to make sure it was facing the wind. But I hadn’t considered that the down-draft from the sail today would come across the cabin top and straight down the exposed side of the smokestack. 

Back in the galley, the smoke detector started going off. The air was billowing into a thick black fog. I covered my nose with my t-shirt. I decided to turn on the fan below the flame to counteract the air from above. This only made things worse, and even seemed to put the flame out. I opened the lid – and fortunately stood back – which caused the gases in the chamber to immediately reignited. 

Eve came down to check on me. Just before she did, I turned the fan off, thinking that this was maybe not a good idea. She turned on the fan – creating the same effect as before – only this time, the explosion inside the chamber was so powerful that iron lid became momentarily airborne. Eve looked at me. She turned off the fan. Again: Kaboom!

Eve looked back at me again, terrified. “I’ve never seen it do this before. Can I turn it off?”

“Heck, yeah!” I said.

I made dinner using the convection oven and the hot plate. We were fine. 

We moved to the other side of the river, and parked outside the Westin. Which means a few of us put on our bathing suits and hopped into their hot tub. 

This morning it’s still raining. And I just spent four hours of my only day off of the week cleaning the chamber of the stove and restarting it; then I cleaned the soot from the galley, which has a way of seeping into every nook and cranny and can only be removed with bleach and paper towels.

Monday's Menu
Here's what a cook eats on her day off: I heated up some cheese grits and corned beef and doused the combination in North Carolina mustard-BBQ sauce. Yum.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 18: Limoncello

Carrot muffins.
Smith may be the biggest foodie on the boat. Though she likes to make sure the different dishes on her plate aren’t touching, she enjoys almost everything I put in front of her. Except eggs – though I snuck these into the re-baked potatoes and she loved them. 

It’s Smith's job to communicate with me each day to make sure dinner is on time – or more often than not lately, to let me know that that crew will be running late. On evenings when we have a charter sail, it can take hours to properly stow all the sails and the lines. Other times, she just stops to check on me for fun. And we riff on food.

Many ways to love what you eat
Yesterday morning I told her I was thinking about making limoncello. “Wouldn’t that be lovely, just a little shot after dinner?” “Mmmm-hmmm,” she said, “And I hear it’s easy to make.”

“It is!” I said. "I’ll put it on my list." I have a running list of pantry items I want to make instead of buy. Granola is the only item not crossed off – I made the mayo and the chocolate sauce. I scribbled on the bottom of the list: Limoncello.

From down in the main salon came a voice like Eeyor’s, “Sometimes I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It was Bly. He eats everything. His method is to eat all the dishes separately, and then to have a second helping with everything piled on top of each other. Sometimes it looks foul; other times it looks like it works.

I explained to him what limoncello was. I'm sure he'll like it. And then pour it all over something.

The old cook told me it was not his job to expose them to new foods; his job was to put calories in their systems. When he said this, I stayed quiet. I decided not to dispute his reign at that point, but I knew I couldn’t be that kind of cook.

Sunday’s Menu
Corned beef hash, cheese eggs with mozzarella and carrot muffins (“The eggs were especially delicious today,” said Bly.)
Egg noodles with tomato, green pepper and sausage
Massaman curry with pork chops over rice with pineapple salad (of the curry, Smith said, “You can make this again anytime. Tomorrow, even.”
I made a special foil packet for captain with only salt, pepper, sliced apples, potatoes and carrots and a splash of Worcestershire
“Softserve” ice cream, because our freezer has a tendency not to freeze things all the way through, with toppings and peanut-butter/oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Born to sail

I keep the eggs in a storage area under the sole (aka., floor) in the main salon. It's the same compartment the watchperson looks into every day to check the bilge water. It was just a matter of time. As I lifted eggs into the depression in my apron, one fell out and went rolling. Crack! And it was gone. I emptied out the compartment of the wine, and the potatoes and the egg crates, and lay on the sole on my belly, and went in head-first to search the bilge water with a ladle for the egg. I came up with only half an egg shell.

Eve, from above, showing off her trash can full of muck.
So last night, poor Eve had to go fishing for my renegade egg. She eventually found it - along with an assortment of spoons and forks; a disintegrating can of peas and carrots; the top to a broken glass bottle and all manner of muck.

I monitored her progress as I moved back and forth between the galley and the main salon. Harrison sat with headphones on, reading at the dining room table. “What are you up to?” I asked him.

“I collect shanties,” he said, “and I just found this book on them, so I’m transcribing a few… while I catch up on Car Talk.” Sometimes it feels like my fellow crewmates came out of the womb tying bowlines and singing shanties. A few of them are veritable encyclopedias of tall ship information.

Another night Eve and Smith and I sat up late drinking beer and talking about our route. Smith said we wouldn’t be stopping in Montreal, but we would be going to Lunenberg.

“Where’s that?” I asked.

She looked at me like I’d just asked what a mast was.

“Lunenberg is like Mecca for sailors,” she said. “That’s where Bluenose was built.” ("What's Bluenose?" I thought, but decided not to ask aloud.) She went on to explain that the town had a history of wooden boat building, and is still one of the few places in North America where you can find a foundry and people with traditional shipbuilding skills.

I’m envious of how long they’ve been exposed to this world. Eve, our engineer, got into it in high school, and was on boats throughout college. At 25, she has ten years of experience. When she talks about the engine, it’s like she’s speaking a different language.

Last night at the bar, I asked Smith what the career path was like for a first mate like her – what did she see herself doing next?

“That’s a question you get asked a lot: Are you a lifer?”

“Well, are you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t want to be a captain. But given the right situation, I could see myself being first mate for a long while.”

Saturday’s Menu

Waffles (a big hit) with accompaniments, including some re-broiled chicken fingers from our windfall after the charter the other night; as well as whipped cream, toasted pecans, plums, pineapple and sausage gravy.
Sandwich smorgasbord, leftover corned beef, leftover BBQ pork, curried egg salad for the vegetarian and more.
Pizzas: caramelized onion and blue cheese; sausage, roasted tomatoes and mozzarella; ham and pineapple; and cauliflower and mozzarella.
Ice cream sundaes with homemade chocolate sauce and chopped nuts

Friday, March 25, 2011

Alternative use

Homemade hamburger buns.
One day, several years back, when I was traveling a lot for work and never had anything in the fridge, I bought and ate only half of a Philly Cheesesteak. I put the rest in the freezer and when I returned from my trip, I chopped it up, poured an egg and milk custard over it (if I remember correctly, I actually made the "milk" out of ice cream, not having any fresh dairy on-hand). Then I baked it and enjoyed an awesome savory bread pudding.

That's one lesson I've had in cooking - use what you have. And re-use it. A strange education to get from living a life on the road in corporate America.

Odd man out
The reason my taxes took so long the other day is because I had to manually enter all the “cost basis” and profit/loss amounts for the 250+ trades I made last year. This is not a common problem among boat workers. It is one of a dozen things that make me a little different from my co-workers. In addition to the fact that I just used the word “co-workers,” I still have gold membership status at Starwood hotels. Hundreds of miles saved among three airline groups. I have credit cards with $50,000 limits. I used to have telephone meetings in airports using PowerPoint and LiveMeeting. I’ve bought and sold property – and I don’t mean a couch. 

Last but not least, I’m 37. The one next closest to my age is 28. Cap is my parents' age, I think. When I came out of a stall at the shore head (sailor-speak for hotel lobby toilet), a woman asked me if I was one of the crew. I said yes, and she asked me if I was just out of college. I told her no, that I was 37. She looked shocked. “I climbed up the corporate ladder,” I told her, “then I climbed back down again.”

When I was up there, I had a mentor, a partner in an International law firm. She was wise and took a serious interest in me. My years in New York would have been much tougher without her. One of the things she told me was that I had a responsibility to keep climbing the ladder. I had made it that far; I had to keep going.

At the time, this notion troubled me a lot. Did I have a duty to keep on climbing? If it was making me miserable – if I really couldn’t stand sitting at an office until late at night, the long commutes, countless and often pointless meetings, colleagues who were impossible to deal with, senior management that didn’t believe in the value of my department or my role, should I still keep on keepin’ on? You know, for the women of the future?

Obviously, it wasn’t enough. I climbed back down the ladder. In so doing, I’ve learned that perhaps what my mentor meant is that I should not settle. I shouldn’t let the Big Dudes at the Top get me down.

And if that is true, then there is also validity in showing the women of tomorrow a different way to grow older, and a variety of pathways through life.

Friday’s Menu
Savory bread pudding using the roast beef sandwiches left behind by yesterday's guests
Hamburgers, with homemade buns and sweet potato fries and salad
Chili (Bob’s recipe, from – I have loved this recipe for years) and cornbread. I also took some of the leftovers and rejuvenated them into appetizers. The slightly overcooked salmon got put in the food processor with heavy cream, chives, cream cheese, salt, white pepper, mustard and a little Chablis and became salmon mousse (the boys said it was far better tonight than last night).
Leftover brownies

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Our table, after the charter.

This morning at muster Captain explained about the barge that had come up alongside us in the night – how it worked and how it’s signals worked (or were supposed to work). He’s really good at taking moments to teach us things. Last night he reviewed the near miss we'd had, and why it happened. I’m sure he doesn’t think it’s for my benefit, as the cook, but little does he know how much I appreciate it. I don't feel like I'm out of the loop. The first mate is great to me too, showing me how to tie certain knots or having me help her tighten a line. 

For lunch I made gazpacho, which I knew he wouldn’t eat. And quesadillas, which I knew he would. The first mate, whom I have yet to give a nickname – can I call her Smith? - asked me if I could make a snack at four o’clock since dinner will be late. We had a date with the City until 9 pm, involving a photoshoot and a sail with city officials. I thought, I had better do my hair.

Sometimes during the sail people will stop to talk with me about what I’m cooking. I tell them about how much I love the job. What I don’t often get into is the greatest challenge of my job: my budget. I feed eight people on $48 a day. That’s three meals for $6, per person. And that’s .50 cents more than my budget on the Neverland.

If it sounds like I make potatoes a lot – that’s because it’s one of the cheaper substantive foods I can fill them with. We go through about 20-25 pounds of potatoes each week. Since the last grocery run, I’ve made hash browns, samosas, re-baked potatoes, potato salad, home fries, corned beef hash with potatoes, potatoes with corned beef, curried potato soup… and… well, I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

The crew puts the sails away after sunset.
I try to put veggies in – but when I’m at the market I’m always looking at the price per pound. Mustard greens were less than a dollar a pound; collards were about $1.25 – I chose the mustard. And this is how my shopping run looks. I make a menu and write down, “Beef shoulder,” but get to the market and see corned beef is on sale for half what beef shoulder costs per pound… the choice becomes obvious. Again, a choice: buy granola bars at .27 cents an ounce or make them for less than .10?

You have to get creative. And you also, unfortunately, have to throw out your ideals about eating grass-fed beef and organic vegetables. The crew would starve.

When our guests from the charter departed this evening, they left behind what they didn't eat. Hurrah! I thought - that's at least three meals, if I'm smart about it.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I would not be here today if it weren't for...

The safe haven of my galley.

We almost crashed today. We were on one of our afternoon sails. Usually I am down in the galley, making dinner. But there is a shield that I have to "tack" when the boat changes course. Otherwise the wind comes straight down the chimney and dampens the flame on the diesel stove; smoke fills the galley and bits of  creosote spit out onto the range. I just happened to be on deck tacking the shield when I looked up and noticed that the shore, and the Georgia Queen (the sight-seeing boat that docks in front of us), were closing in at great speed. And we were not heading in the right direction (that is to say, we were not facing up or down river).

Since it is my job, when we dock and undock, to position the roving fender, I ran for the fender. But I realized as I got to the bow how futile that was. Our bowsprit is over ten feet long. (Ie., we would have needed a twelve-foot fender to fend off the Georgia Queen.) The first mate called out to drop the sail and the captain steered us away under engine power.

As I walked to mid-ships, I heard the passengers were talking amongst themselves; they knew it was a close call. How could we reassure them? Turn their expectations around? Make them feel that it really was a very safe ride we were about to have? Not wanting the passengers to see that my hands were shaking from the post-adrenaline rush, I went back down into the galley.

May 23rd, Take Two

Though it's a liability if something goes wrong, in the galley I can think. So after I our close call with bowsprit destruction, I went down to my bunk and made grocery lists and menus. And thought about Mollie Katzen. If it weren't for Mollie Katzen, I would probably not be cooking today.

My mother is a fabulous cook. I didn’t realize how great she was until I went away to college and was forced to subsist on dorm food. But growing up, I didn't cook all that much, but I can’t claim to be like those chefs who were inventing ways to freeze bacon grease before they were potty trained. In fact, I don’t think I realized how much I liked to eat until college. For me college was an awakening: to the complexities of the Christian church; to the academic world; to serious discussions about life; to Bob Dylan and the Indigo Girls (thank you, Chris); and to cooking and eating well.

Molly Katsen's pickled red onions.
Somewhere during this period, I bought The Enchanted Broccoli Forrest. I cooked my way through that book. I learned to bake bread for the first time using that book. In the back there's a guide to using spices,  if one opted to go free-wheeling. What I learned most from her were flavor profiles, before chefs started using that term. 

Though I may have indeed found my way to a food-loving lifestyle without Ms. Katzen, I certainly would not have cooked what I cooked today.

For lunch I served a salad of oven-roasted zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant doused in red wine vinegar and olive oil, with chopped roma tomatoes and basil and sautéed garlic on top. (I think I actually got this from Moosewood Cooks at Home, but I wouldn’ve have discovered that cookbook without Molly either). And for dinner I’m making Re-baked Potatoes according to Mollie’s recipe.

I do not have either The Enchanted Broccoli Forrest or the Moosewood Cookbook with me on this trip. My copies are battered and torn and re-glued along the seams and reinforced with packing tape. I feared for the fate on a schooner. Besides, I no longer really need them. The recipes are so ingrained in me, I have only to think about polenta, say, and her recipe for polenta pizza comes to mind. Curried Potato Soup. Artichoke Pasta. Cabbage and blue cheese sandwiches. Marianted Red Onions. I left the books with my sister and told her to treat them very carefully.

A few weeks went by before she wrote to say that she was preparing to make dinner that night and brought out the Moosewood cookbooks.  Her two-year-old son was at the table eating an orange for his snack and he looked at her and said, "That's C-C's cookbooks."

Wednesday's Menu
Oven-roasted eggplant and squash salad.
Sausage gravy and biscuits

Meatball Subs
Dilly Beans
Oven-roasted vegetable salad
Carrot sticks
Leftover potato salad

Deconstructed Corned Beef and Cabbage: Corned Beef, homemade bread, Re-baked potatoes, carmelized carrots, and coleslaw

Ritz-Carlton Brownies

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Le Creuset, Le Creuset, How I Love Le Creuset

My galley's cookware drawer.

If you know me well, you know I have sworn by my Calphalon pots for years. A wedding gift by someone in my ex-huband’s family (thank you very much, ex-relatives), I have used them well. I carried them piece by weighty piece in suitcases on each trip I made when I moved to Sweden, and then again, I carried them piece by piece back with me when I returned to the U.S. When I moved onto my grandfather’s boat, I took a cast-iron skillet and the four-quart Calphalon pot. Most of my pot and pans – excluding the large skillet – look brand new.

But until I boarded this boat, I had not been formally introduced to Le Cruset. The affair has a time limit; I know that after this six-month’s absence, I will say good-bye and watch Le Cruset sail away. I will go back to my Calphalon, because I could never afford to replace it, and besides, it’s really been good to me. But for now – ah! how I love Le Cruset. It heats up instantly and keeps the heat so well. I can throw the dough in the pot and have it come out as bread with a thicky crusty shell – even though the oven temp is barely over 350 degrees.

I love how easy it is to clean. And I love that although this set is heavily used and who-knows-how-old, it still works like it’s brand new.

Today I used almost every pot. And for dinner, I made my best-loved meal yet. Reminder to self: the crew likes BBQ. Then again, who doesn't?

Tuesday's Menu
Cheese grits and sausage

Spaghetti Marinara; freshly-baked no-knead bread and salad

Pulled pork sandwiches
Homemade rolls
Potato salad
"BBQ" butternut squash for the vegetarian
Braised greens

Rice Krispy Treats

Braised greens, as I learned to make them 
at Somewhere in Manhattan.
Broiled BBQ butternut squash (with cayenne, brown sugar
and cider vinegar.)
Slow-cooked barbecue pork butt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A little land time goes a long way

Bly and Rigby on St. Patrick's Day.

If the upside of this strange, small floating community is intimacy, then the downside is the lack of privacy. Given my satisfaction with the way the previous evening ended, you might be surprised to learn that on my day off, the only thing I wanted was to be completely alone.

The City of Savannah has booked us a hotel room for every night we're in town. We use it for showers, but the crew also rotates through so that everyone gets to sleep there once a week. I had been anticipating that I would get the hotel room on Sunday night, since the old cook had been on the rotation and got Sunday, and since Monday is the cook’s only day off. Let me say that again: it's the only day I get to sleep in. 

Well, I could have the room – but I would have to share it with Rigby. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a nice guy. (The washwoman at the hotel across the street even went so far as to call him sexy.) But having Rigby in the opposite bed was not my idea of being alone. I would be more alone in my bunk. I was tired. I was a little peeved. And I wasn’t thinking. I booked my own room at the Westin. Where I slept. And took a bath. And then spent six hours on Monday doing my taxes.

Then I went to the gym and ran four miles. As I lay in the sauna, I couldn't help thinking about all hotels I've stayed in, all the workout rooms I've used, and the fact that my mother said I'd really miss all that once I left my corporate job. Okay, so maybe I have. Just a little.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Curse of the picky eater captains

At lunchtime I typed on my Facebook page that I had just watched the captain take the pimiento cheese off his sandwich. Have you ever tasted pimiento cheese? Besides being delicious, it's totally innocuous. Not spicy. Not hot. It doesn't even add much texture.

Kackan, my Swedish friend from the Neverland (my former boat), responded that I was cursed with picky eaters for captains. And it's true. Though I really think I'm going to like our main captain, who's on break right now, she doesn't like... onions!!!

Sunday’s Menu
Cheese eggs (with parmesan, white pepper and cream); Mark Bittman’s banana bread with a hint of cinnamon added; and bacon
Pimiento cheese sandwiches, roasted tomato soup (flavored with cumin); leftover mac-n-cheese; dilly beans and grapes
Ham and scalloped potatoes
Coleslaw (Bobby Flay's recipe)
Chocolate chip cookies

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Dirty Story (How I Spent St. Patrick's Day)

Today was St. Patrick’s Day. Though everyone else in Savannah seemed to be partying, I spent the day cleaning and restarting a diesel stove. 

The streets are packed with drunk people dressed in green. A band set up their stage on the harborfront directly across from our boat – facing our boat – so we were serenaded all day long.

I’m exhausted. My day began before the 9 am DJ started mixing. At 3 am last night I heard someone stirring in the galley beside my bed. It was Eve. Smoke from the diesel stove was finding its way into the folks’l where she and Bly and Rigby sleep. 

Needless to say, when I heard Eve stirring again at 5:45 am, worried about the gross black stuff coming out the chimney top, we turned off the stove. I made breakfast on the hot plate and using the electric oven. Then I spent most of the rest of the day trying to start a flame in that darn stove – and then keep it alive.

Captain Morgan throws hats to the partiers.

What we discovered was that the stove was choking on its own thick ash. It wasn't burning quite hot enough - likely because I had been running the fan to contradict the draft when we were sailing yesterday... but I forgot to turn it off. The fan probably caused the fuel not to burn hot enough to burn off the residue it creates inside the firebox. Yes, I now understand (somewhat) how a diesel stove works!

Later we wandered the streets a while, marveling at the decibel level, checking out the crowd. 

Around 11, as I was crawling into bed, one of those magical moments happened - the kind I always hoped for on the Neverland. First one, then another, and then another crew member slowly congregated around my bunk until everyone but the captain was there, talking, laughing. I felt like Wendy telling bedtime stories to the Lost Boys. 

Everyone was wearing green - except this guy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm Officially the Cook Now

My bunk (aka., The Apartment).

Yesterday the old cook departed, and I moved into my bunk. It's pretty exclusive. The other crew members call it The Apartment. My bunk is in the "pantryway" between the main salon and the galley. There's a door to the main salon, so I can shut off the rest of the boat if I so choose.  And there's a "head" (ship-speak for bathroom) in the pantryway, so I can even pee with the door to the head open if I want. Pretty cool. I also have a velvet curtain and my own bookshelf and cupboard. 

Bread in a Pot 
This morning I made biscuits and pitti panne (Swedish hash) for breakfast. Rigby had a friend staying over, another tall shipper, and she took us on a Home Depot run. I bought potted herbs which now sit on top the fridge.

For lunch I took the Italian roast I cooked last night and re-made it into sloppy joes by adding ground beef and ketchup and mustard.

In the afternoon we had our second sail, and while we were sailing I baked the no-kneed bread that Allen sent me the recipe for back when I got on the Neverland. It is AMAZING. I made bread in a pot! It turned out gorgeous.

I might start making it every day. It is a hundred times easier than any loaf I've ever made - and a hundred times lovelier. You would have thought it was an artisan loaf.

At dinner our bosun, Kip, asked me what meat I had used in the enchiladas. I explained: “It started out as the beef butt I roasted last night with Italian seasoning. Then it became American today for our Sloppy Joes – and for dinner, I Mexicanized it.”

This is a new approach to leftovers that I’ve been testing: it’s the rollover method. In fact, they could be called Rollovers instead of leftovers. This way I’m sure nothing is sitting unused in the fridge because I find a way to integrate it the next day. Smart, eh?

In addition to the rollover enchiladas, I also made mushroom enchiladas, homemade tortilla chips, mango salsa, a salad with fennel and oranges, black beans and Spanish rice.

In the evening four of us trekked over to the Westin on the other side of the river and hung out, watching TV and taking showers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Real Adventure

Dinner included a deconstructed Waldorf (the captain doesn't like grapes).

Our first sail since I got onboard involved a small adventure. We use our "small" boat (a dingy with a motor on it) as a tug, and it died as we closed in on the dock. Had I not quickly run to the right place on the boat with the fenders, we would have crushed in the side of a large motor-yacht.

I’m responsible for fenders when setting off and returning to the dock, and I was holding them to protect our back end, where it's widest. I wasn't sure whether the captain thought he could clear it, or what was going on - but I heard the mate and the engineer tell me to run to the mid-deck. I got there just in time to lower the fender - a large, bulbish plastic ball - alongside our boat. We squished it against the yacht only a few seconds later, as the yacht owner stared dumbfounded from the dock and his wife looked terrified from inside.

It reminded me of a similar near-mishap last summer in Sweden, when we had to get our sloop out of a tight spot. I never thought then to use our fenders.

Monday, March 14, 2011

There's room for Jean-Georges in my boat

Muffin tins half-filled with batter, waiting for the ganache filling.

High drama on a flat river
Last night in the middle of the night I heard whispers at the hatch that leads down into the main salon, where I currently sleep. I jumped up and threw open the doors, upon which a teenage girl, standing less than a foot away, let out a high-pitched scream that surely woke everyone along the waterfront. “there are people sleeping on this boat,” I said. “I didn’t know she replied. “It’s not a toy I said, “We’re getting off!” And get off they did.

This was not the first time I’d heard footsteps above me in the night (and surely it won’t be the last). Because of Saint Patrick’s Day (though still several days off) the revelry is constant, day and night. The waterfront is lined with ruffians and families, spring-breakers, bands of drag queens, retirees and lovers – all dressed in green and slung with beads, their cameras all a’clicking.

This may be the most drama you get from my adventures on this new boat. It's so healthy! Everyone is kind to one another. Yesterday morning we cruised briefly down the river to test our engines, and when I asked the first mate if she could explain a few things to me, she took the time to do so.

The extended hand-off
The only other drama left to tell - and it's an episode that will soon be over - is the lingering of the Old Cook. Today he cooked breakfast. I’m not sure why he’s still here – or why he’s still working. If I had to be here, because, for instance, my plane ticket to Arizona wasn't until Wednesday, I would not be cooking anymore. I would have handed over my responsibilities and started painting the town. He spent most of yesterday – a glorious, 75-degree Sunday – in his bunk, curtains drawn.

For lunch I made linguine carbonara; ham on the side and broccoli for the vegetarian. Homemade bread. Carrot sticks and the remainder of the thai cucumber salad (which the first mate said she would not be opposed to my making gallons of).

For dinner I put out the leftover stew, made agradolce with butternut squash, yams from the Chinese Market, turnips, parsnips and potatoes. The sauce was balsamic, brown sugar and currents.

For dessert, I was inspired by the article in Saveur on Jean-Georges’ molten chocolate cake. I wondered: could I make these in muffin tins? Indeed I could. I loved the moment when the captain took his cake, put the fork in and watched the chocolate seep out. Perfect.
Completed Molten Chocolate cakes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day #2 - Aka., I get to cook dinner

Phad Thai with cucumber salad. 
I have crumbs on my fingers as I type this. The remains of the pineapple upside down cake I made are sitting all too near my bunk.

This morning I went shopping. I found Savannah's only Asian grocery market within walking distance. Then I walked a mile in the wrong direction toward Kroger (or away from it), backtracked and finished my shopping. I came under budget but I'm also short a few things.

When Mark told me I could start cooking tonight, I decided I should do something I know ... Something I know well. So I made Thai food. We had leftovers from a stew the night before so I knew I had something to satisfy the captain (a big, sweet, meat-and-potatoes Santa Claus of a man), and Mark said the rest of the crew would love it. So I made potatoes, onions and carrots in massaman curry with rice. I made phad thai, and cucumber salad. And I made pineapple upside down cake for dessert.

"I've never had this cake before," said Bly. "I've never made it before!" I admitted. It was, notwithstanding, delicious.

Thanks, Betty!

I added a dash of salt, ginger and cardamom.
Betty Crocker's Pineapple Upside Down 
Cake, or what was left of it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day #1 - Apple Pie

The real version of last night
Okay, my imagined version of my arrival differs slightly from the real thing. When I got to the boat, no lights were on. I heaved my bags over the side. It was dead silent. I stood on the dock thinking that I would need to call and wake the captain if someone didn’t appear, when a blonde girl with a friendly face came out of the engine room. “Are you the new cook?” she asked.

She helped me with my bags, showed me to my bunk, and proceeded to give me what she called the “two-and-a-half-cent-tour.” I met two deckhands along the way, who I will affectionately dub Bly and Rigby. Bly is thin as a rail. He has a ponytail’s worth of hair with small curls popping around his face, which give him an angelic look. Rigby has two looks – a smart, suave sailor look when his raggy, half-dreaded hair is tucked inside his hat – and a disgruntled, disordered look, when it’s not. When I met him last night, it was the latter Rigby I was introduced to.

Before saying good-night, my tourguide (I’ll call her Eve), showed me the galley. She could sense my anticipation. Even in the dark, I could tell I would like it immensely.

Day #1 draws to a close.
It’s been a great day. Though there have been awkward moments, the crew generally seems to gel with a refreshing ease and sincerity. It just feels different than the Neverland.

Of course, I am also different this time, too. I’m less trepidatios. More confident. I am more myself.

We did not go sailing today because the boat got a little bruised coming into the harbor. In a way this is a good thing, putting less stress on my duties. Among the other things putting less stress on me is the fact that the old cook (who I will grant the name of Mark) is still here. And made all of the meals today.

I like him, too. But he’s different from me. He isn’t really into food; he said so. He knows how to cook.

Dinner tonight was decent, but to my tastes under-seasoned and under-salted. His dessert was my favorite of what he made: apple pie in a homemade crust, which looked like it had been lovingly folded around the apples like a swaddled babe. The top was flecked with cinnamon sugar.

He doesn’t really want me in the galley with him; he said this, too (“The galley isn’t really big enough for two.”), but I wheedled my way in, and sat on the steps leading to the deck, and asked him a dozen questions.

And he told me a million useful things – about how the stove works, techniques he uses while cooking on a starboard or port tack, just where things are stored and how long the pots keep their heat.

Then I left him in peace. I went and sat on a bench in the cold sun of this bright but blustery Savannah day, and planned my meals for the week.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Have Confidence (Right?)

This was taken by Susan Michini, photographer
and list-maker extraordinaire ( 
This morning I awoke, giddy and terrified to the realization that by nightfall I would be on the boat. Does every sailor, every sea cook, feel this way before stepping aboard a new vessel?

I feel a bit like Maria from The Sound of Music, in that scene where she leaves the abbey.

"I've always longed for adventure,
To do the things I never dared.
Now here I am facing adventure
Then why am I so scared?"

What will the galley be like, I wonder? Will there be a knife magnet? Bins for sugar and flour? How big will the freezer and fridge be? Will I have to leave an empty space in the middle of the shelves so the cold can sink down to the bottom like I did on the Neverland? Will there be a crockpot? (Yesterday Susan suggested picking one up at the nearest Goodwill if there isn't.) How long will the current cook stay on after I arrive? Where will I sleep? Will anyone be waiting up for me when I arrive?

A Lot To Do
When not worrying over these small details, I am spending the 13.5 hour train ride to Savannah listening to an audiobook (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), eating dining car food, watching the last half of Inception, and making lists for the coming days and weeks.

Here is an inventory so far:
- Things to do on the train
- Things to do in Savannah
- Things I want to talk to the captain about
- Books to read
- Meals: breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/desserts (including a special list for St.Patrick's Day)

The first list (Things To Do on the Train) goes like this:
- Plan meals/grocery list
- Listen to book
- Research meals onboard privateers in 1812
- Plan days, making room for running and writing
- Write blog post describing how it feels to be yet again setting off into the unknown

I don't have a way to upload images, so you'll just have to imagine me, dressed in my rain boots and marine coat, a giant backpack on my back, an old green satchel-like purse around my neck, my computer bag on one shoulder, dragging a roller bag through a train station to a cab outside that will take me the last three miles to the riverfront. Here a boat, though its masts are invisible in the dark, emits light through its galley windows revealing several silhouettes. See? You didn't need the photo.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cook hooky

Yesterday I asked the chef and pastry chefs from Somewhere to join me for lunch. I wanted to thank them for welcoming me into their kitchen and teaching me a lot. (I admit it: I did not know how to make a perfect dice until Chef showed me.) This lunch also had a selfish motive. I wanted them to brainstorm with me: what would they do given the constraints of a galley and a crazy-low budget (which is $6 per person per day, by the way - and yes, that's three square meals and believe it or not, it's fifty cents more a day than on the Neverland (my previous boat).

As we sat there, digging in on amazing take-out in the form of Meng Kum Na from Wandee Siam, we talked about food. This is what chefs do when they play hooky, I thought. Some of the great ideas I got?

1. Instead of making individual samosas, the pastry chef suggested I roll out one big slab of dough, fill it, bake and slice. Brilliant.
2. Canned fruit for chutneys and fruit compote. Duh! Why hadn't I thought of that?
3. Dried beef.
4. Tofu for protein. I am not a fan of tofu, but Chef convinced me to give it another try since it's a cheap source of protein if we have vegetarians onboard, or just to lighten our dependence on meat.

I'm still digesting all their ideas, but it was great to sit down with them for a few minutes, steal some time out of their busy day to talk food.

Stop #2: Coffee with Al at Dean & DeLuca, where we sat in the sunshine catching up and talking about nothing other than food. Al gave me a lovely knife.

My new sporty, lightweight knife bag.
Best peeler ever.
The Great Microplane
Being back at the restaurant reminded me of some of the lessons I learned there - and some of the tools I came to depend on. So what did I do next? Stop #3 took me to the Broadway Panhandler. I bought a few items I've been needing - a proper sheath for my chef's knife (the charm of the cardboard/duct tape version is literally wearing thin), a particular peeler chef introduced me to, a microplane (though I have one in a storage unit somewhere), and my first knife bag. Maybe there's anotherword for knife bag? There was a time when I would have felt pretentious carrying a knife bag, since I haven't previously considered myself a chef. But standing there, thinking about that cardboard sheath, and the way I stick my knives into my luggage every which way... I figured it's high time I exchange my "that's too pretentious" stance to "that's so utilitarian!"

Stop #4: Franny's.

Stop #5: I had to wait until none to conduct a conference call before I could leave Manhattan, so I went back to Isabel's and watched the latest episode of Top Chef. Yes, I teared up.

As I sat on the train back to Philly, listening to Downeaster Alexa on my iPod (yes, I am that geeky), I was consumed with ideas about all the things I'm going to wrap in dough and bake.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sea vs. Land (or, Why I Chose the Sea)

The "Like Wow" en route to Catalina.
I’m just now getting to reading the 70-page orders for my new post. Perhaps this seems odd – that I took a job without reading what is required of me. Thing is, I wasn’t worried about the details. The only thing I needed to know was that we’d be sailing.

I realize I keep waxing metaphysical about this business of going sailing, my "sea call." I'm not the first one to feel this way – if you read Moby Dick and Joshua Slocum and the accounts of thousands of sailors before and after, you will hear the same mystical sea-talk. But it may be hard to comprehend if you’ve never been in a sailboat, exactly what these guys are talking about.

When I was growing up, I remember listening to songs like "Boots of Spanish Leather" and "Brandy" and thinking that sailing was merely a means for men to get away. To simply be... away. For why would you choose the sea over a woman, over love?

But as I get older, and after having learned to sail, I get it.

The Backstory 
In the past week I’ve met a dozen new people, and they usually ask about my new job. I often get the question: “So did you grow up sailing?”

The answer is no. In the spring of 2009, I quit my corporate job. I planned to roam around the U.S. in a motorhome looking for a place to put down roots. But when all my passengers on The Great American Roadtrip bailed, I was left sitting at my parents’ house wondering what to do with myself. “If I were you,” my father said, “I would go and live on your grandfather’s sailboat.”

My father and my grandfather aboard the Like Wow.
The Boat 
My grandfather is almost 80 years old. He lost one leg in a motorcycle accident around 2002. He still goes to work every day as a machinist in Southern California. My grandmother takes him dancing once a week. Only recently did he sell his red corvette (I believe in order to build a new hot rod). And for some odd reason, a few years ago, he bought a sailboat. A 27’ Newport. He got it for around $3000. He did not know how to sail. He took it out a few times with a friend who knew how to sail, but I don’t think he fell in love with it. During the summer of 2009, he was planning to sell the boat when I called and asked if I couldn’t come live on it for a month and learn how to sail.

Looking back, I can’t believe how little we knew when we took it out the first time. And for all of the things that went wrong, it’s amazing that I still wanted to learn. Our first trip out? Engine failure. Twice. My grandfather stood in the cabin with the engine compartment open fiddling with it (engines being his expertise, I figured I was in pretty good hands), while I stood on deck, watching the tide push us closer and closer to the rock embankments that line the harbor. I didn’t know how to use the radio. I didn’t know how to put down an anchor. And since neither of us really understood how to sail, we didn’t even think to raise the sails.

Early Lessons
The next time we went out, I hired an instructor to come aboard with us. We didn’t tell him about the engine. The winds were already over 20 knots when we set out that day, so our first lesson was on how to reef a sail. I will never forget it. Even with the sail reefed, which means it’s smaller and therefore reduces the amount of power the boat can capture from the wind, even then – we were cruising.

When the engine failed the instructor, an experienced sailor, looked visibly distressed. The winds had increased to around 30 knots, and we had a downwind slip – making it risky to bring the boat in without an engine. (With an upwind slip you can easily sail right into the slip, since going into the wind will stall the sails, but in a downwind slip, even without any sails up, the wind is pushing on the back of the boat and unless you have an engine, there is no way to “break” – except perhaps by jumping off the boat at lightning speed and using the lines to secure it.) Fortunately, the problem with the engine was sporratic, as we’d noted on our previous outing, and the engine grunted back to life just in time to bring the boat in.

Me at the tiller.
Did I still want to sail? Hell yes. I got out every chance I could with anyone at the marina that would accompany me. I met a guy my parents' age who was preparing to sail around the world, and we spent hours tightening the stays (the wire lines that create tension on either side of the mast, essentially holding it in place). We even replaced the back stay. He showed me how to use a climbing harness to get to the top of the mast in order to repair things, like the spreader lights and the caps on the ends of the spreaders.

Lessons = Adventures
Other  adventures were to follow – like the morning I sat on the telephone with a friend in Sweden and suddenly noticed water pooling at my feet. I quickly hung up and drove to the marine store in order to buy a new bilge pump. On another occasion, while making our way up the California coastline, our jib sheets – the ropes that control the front sail – fell underneath the boat and got wrapped around the propeller. My friend jumped in and untangled them while the boat bounced up and down on the waves.

Another time we took the boat through the channel in the Port of Los Angeles unaware that one should radio to the drawbridge an hour ahead of time in order for them to lift it. We had to keep the boat heeled over in order to clear the bridge. I swear we were an inch away from losing our mast.

After all this – and more – I still loved that boat. I loved being at sea. I think like most sailors, I love that moment, just after the mainsail is up, when you turn off the motor, and the world is suddenly still. The skyline recedes. It’s only you and the wind and the waves. 

The Sea and the Absolute 
The sea is often compared to god, to truth. It is one of the few absolutes. When there is no human life left on this planet, there will probably still be water. When you are at sea, you are forced into solitude. Even if you are on a boat with two or sixteen other people, you are aware of your finality in a whole new way when you're surrounded by water on all sides.

One of the competitors in the Golden Globe race, after rounding Cape Horn and beginning the stretch back to England, realized that winning was not the point – he decided to go where the wind would carry him. When the wind changed direction, he abandoned course, turned around, and started sailing around the world a second time.  “At sea,” he said, “man is an atom and a god at the same time.”

When you’re out there, sailing, you are nothing to anyone. The universe could crush you and no one would see. And at the same time, you are everything – you and the boat are the only things that matter.

Another one of the Golden Globe competitors, a former submarine commander, got teary eyed when asked about his experience, “I never felt lonely. It’s all so beautiful. No, you never get depressed. At least I didn’t. You are sort of alone with god. You aren’t chasing some wee girl or trying to get money or do anything else. There’s no opportunity to sin. Time means nothing. You just live – for the moment. You’re happy. Happy. Well, you’re not happy when you’re upside down, but otherwise you’re happy.”

This morning as I read through the 70-pages of ship’s orders, I realized that for me, excluding my father, the sea is both more constant and comprehensible than any man I’ve ever known.

Despite being liquid, it is a solid thing – ever-changing yet ever present. If going becomes difficult, or the winds come up suddenly, or something goes wrong with the engine or the lines, all that is fixable. Or at least, it is up to me and my own ingenuity and perseverance to find a way.

And that is why I have chosen to go to sea again. That is why I chose the sea over men. Over a city. Over roots. That’s why I was able to say yes, I accept these orders, without having read a single page.
Last glimpse of the Like Wow.