The Cast of Characters & Quick Guide to the Story

Monday, August 29, 2011

Off the Boat

Right this moment I am sitting at the Holiday Inn in Traverse City, Michigan. I left the boat this morning at 8:30. It's the first time I've been more than an hour away from the Marlin in the last six months. I feel the tension in the rubber band being exhausted; it's about to snap.

This distance, aside from being inevitable at this point, has been necessary for me to give the future and all its possibilities a chance to mature. So here's what I got. The answer to the big What Are You Going to do Next question. Here's what I'm going to do in the next twelve months:

10. Read Moby Dick.
9. Sail to Baja or around the Greek Islands or the Great Lakes in a small boat, with a small crew, not as a job, but because I can.
8. Live on $6 a day - see if it's possible, if only for a short time, to recreate my food math from the boat when not cooking for a crew and making bulk purchases.
7. Make a business plan for my own business.
6. Work on seeing if I can get this blog published, and therefore edited and re-written with the missing stories and subplot...
5. Discuss with the captain of the boat I'm interested in working on in California whether or not it would be possible to do a Jaime Oliver -type program for the kids onboard.
4. Get my things out of storage and plant myself somewhere (hopefully south).
3. Lose 5-10 pounds (what I gained since I started working on boats!).
2. Exercise 3-5 times a week.
1. And... drum roll... the number one thing I want to do... is get to know the man in my life. I've alluded to him a few times in these posts, so the astute reader may already be in-the-know. It's been smooth sailing on my own, but I'm ready for a companion. I want that more than anything. And who knows, maybe we won't work out. Maybe we don't want the same things. Maybe we're incompatible on some level. But I've got to go and find out. Or start finding out. It may seem like a small thing in comparison to starting a business or sailing across an ocean, but getting to know someone could take a lifetime. It's a pretty big exploratory mission. So I better start right away. Tomorrow, in fact.

And that's it. The last port. The last menu. The last entry as cook on the Marlin. Thanks again for coming along on this journey with me. Until we meet again, fair winds and following seas,
C. Cook

Monday's Menu
Yoghurt and granola and real maple syrup
Two hot dogs at House of Doggs (a Rock Dogg and a Chicago Dogg)
I ate a really fabulous meal at Red Ginger, starting with a cucumber martini, edamame and spring rolls; then shrimp tempura sushi and mee krab. I had the most fascinating dinner conversation I've had in a while, with a man who owns multiple businesses, has invested in an orphanage in Haiti, and was just in Manhattan, quite near my old stomping grounds. You just never know who'll you'll meet or where life will take you... which is why you should always be alert. Life is happening all around you if you're just awake to it. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Are You Going to do Next?

I'm going to be very very busy. I've got so many different lists. One for all the things I want to do in New York this week. I've got another list of food tricks I want to try:

1. Sous vide - it seems like the kind of thing every chef should know
2. Pop Tarts - can't really explain why, but I still want to try this...
3. Yoghurt - I mean, if Smith can go home and do it...
4. Paneer - Again, if the woman in Trader Joe's makes it all the time...
5. Ricotta
6. Petit choux
7. Homemade dumpling wrappers
8. I want to cook a lobster... I never have!
9. Jello shots
10. Fried rice noodles like in Mee Grob

I've got the list of things I'd like to do someday. Not The Bucket List; it's the "would be nice to do" rather than "is necessary to do" list:

1. Build something: a tree house, a boat house, a garage, something...
2. Cross the Atlantic or the Pacific in a sailboat
3. Learn to play the cello, or, even better, the viola de gamba
4. Have a garden
5. Be self-sustaining (except for meats and grains and dairy)
6. Own my own business
7. Visit Shanghai, Vietnam, Bruges, Egypt, Morocco, Buenos Aires, Corsica and New Zealand
8. Live for at least one month in Italy, preferably Rome
9. Learn to speak another language as well as I speak Swedish. (I'm thinking Spanish might be my best bet.)
10. See a blue whale

And, then of course there's the list you might be interested in - the real reason you clicked this link. Because you're one of those people who keeps asking: But what are you going to do now that you don't have a job? Now that you don't have ten mouths to feed three times a day?

Today I ran to Petoskey and rented a bike, then biked 18 miles to Charlevoix and back. On a lawn in Charlevoix (do you sense a lawn theme in my life?), I alternated between napping and reading another thirty pages from The Long Way. Then I went into a place called Whitney's and ate at a bar that was made out of the hull of a wooden boat. 

And I as I sat there, enjoying my beer, I worked on my list...

Sunday's Menu
Leftover Thai curry - just as delicious the second time
Six Malpeque oysters and delicious mussels cooked in sherry and butter with garlic, parsley and tomatoes. A pint of the house ale. Sometimes the simplest things are really the best...
Fries at It's Knot Just a Bar in Bar Harbor, where Seth #2 and Eve (and some local captain) all bought me a round of whiskey

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Handover

Okay. One last post. Maybe two... I thought you might want to know how I'm handling my new-found freedom. And my mother keeps asking me about the transition, so I thought I'd fill you in. I guess the blog can't really be over until I'm off the boat, can it?

Today I went shopping with Rebecca, the new cook. I think we have similar philosophies, but very different styles. She's going to feed them well - and that's the most important thing. But she bought milk - to bake with, she said. And you know how I feel about milk. And sandwich meat at $8 a pound and Bisquick (which I know you readers know how I feel about since it's just flour and baking powder and salt and shortening).

This is why I think the handover process should be almost non-existent. Even if you think you can separate yourself from it. Even if you think, like I do, that I'm done and I don't care anymore - you still do. I wanted to say, "But why are you buying those when you could buy a whole ham at $4 a pound?" But I didn't. I bit my tongue. And when she bought pre-shreaded and pre-sliced cheeses, I just smiled.

Freedom Now
As soon as we were done I headed off to the beach. I sprawled out in the grass and read The Long Way, a book written by Bernard Moitessier (I've mentioned him in previous posts) when he sailed around the world once and a half. I didn't leave that lawn for hours. I ate a sandwich I had packed for myself - the last leftover medallion of beef tenderloin from our 5-course meal on a homemade bun with mayonnaise and a pickled egg.

My mother called. She said she loved that she could now call me anytime, and not have to worry about one of the Stupid Boat Rules, which is no talking on phones belowdecks. I told her how the new cook bought Bisquick, and my mother said, "You've learned so much!" Given yesterday's post, which I hadn't yet put up, her comment was amazingly apt.

Then she wanted to start making plans for their spring vacation. "Where are you going to be? Do you know what you're going to do next?"

"No, Mom. That's for tomorrow," I told her. Today I'm just going to enjoy my freedom. Eat whenever I want to. Sleep whenever I want to. Jump in the water whenever I want to.

It's funny, I've often heard that freedom is overrated. Who are those people? They have never been cooped up on a boat for six months. Freedom... I will never take it for granted again.

When I got back to the boat late tonight, I pulled out the last of my martini fixings. But when I went to the freezer to get an ice cube... the little tray I'd always kept stashed there was gone. I drank my martini warm and thought, I gotta get outa here.

Saturday's Menu
Yoghurt and granola and maple syrup
Filet mignon sandwich with pickled egg
Thai food, a delicious duck curry, at the Royal Orchid in Petoskey

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last of Days

Smoothies with beet juice, strawberries and
raspberries, yoghurt and maple syrup.
Though there are still a few odds and ends left to do - show the new cook the accounting system, help her light the stove and go provisioning together tomorrow... I'm essentially done. I served up my last meal at 6:05 pm. I baked a batch of cookies after dinner, but only to use up the dough I made after lunch.

It's hard to believe it's over. Like a long run that seems longest when you're three quarters' of the way, but when you reach the end you forget how that long stretch felt.

You know, my mother was against this whole ship's cook business at first. My friends in L.A. didn't really get it - and even Marc, who set me off on this journey, and warned me that I'd get hooked, routinely sends me messages saying, "Come home."

The whole experiment was only supposed to last a few months. The ad the Neverlandand posted said, "for the season," which in sailor-speak is usually 3-4 months. But when I called him I got roped in for six. Then when I got fired, that one month on the Neverland was just enough to hook me without leaving me worn out. The whole time I was working at Somewhere in Manhattan, I was itching to be back on a boat. And then job on the Marlin came through. And it was the perfect fit for me.

Today when the new cook was telling stories about her previous experiences, I kept feeling grateful I was not on a boat with an ice chest instead of a freezer, with a coal-converted wood stove in the fo'c's'le (!) or on a boat where the galley windows were at arm level so people were always sticking their hands inside!

Yep, I've had it pretty easy. I mean, I complain about picky captains or lazy crew members, but these last six months could have been sooo much harder.

My signature hash.
When my mother finally came around, she said, "I couldn't see the advantages at first but now I am very excited for you. What an awesome opportunity you're going to have to learn new things and meet new people."

And she was right. What a crazy bunch of people I've met, people I would never have encountered otherwise, and several of them are surely now friends for life. What have I learned?

I've learned... that I need to be my own boss.
That I need a work environment with sunshine easily available, and water nearby.
That I'm a great cook. And that I can churn out three meals a day no problem.
That I hate making pot after pot of coffee - and that I dread monotonous chores.
I've learned you should take the cookies out before they brown.
That one should have a lanyard on one's iPhone.
That you can take a cigarette lighter and burn down the ends of loose threads.
That chicken tastes a whole lot better if you sear it at really high heat first, with salt and pepper.
That bread dough can rise overnight to great effect and with very little yeast.
That there are people who don't like fresh tomatoes (!?!?!) and others who don't like onions...!
That eggs can be kept at room temperature, or slightly cooler, for a very long time, and that most condiments and pickles don't have to be refrigerated either.
I've learned how to make so many things I'd never made before... And thank goodness I kept a record, since I will be going back to read it and re-learn.
I learned from the history speech the deckhands give that Dolly Madison saved the white house, and that the Captain of the boat Chasseur once tacked a door on Lloyds of London. (Just kidding.)
I know what it looks like at the mouth of the St. Lawrence and what it's like to go through the locks.
I could go on, but I'm getting tired - and I bet you're bored. Needless to say, I learned an awful lot. I saw a lot of things most people will never see except on television or Google Earth. And I had a helluva good time.

So... Yeah, that's it. The end of the road. Thanks for following along; I hope you enjoyed it, dear readers, whoever you are. And if I don't make it on T.V., who knows what my next adventure will be. Maybe you'll find me here again someday.

Eve's sandwich.

Friday's Menu
Hash with potatoes, breakfast sausage, beets, onions and goat cheese.
Sandwich buffet
Corn on the cob so good it didn't need butter or salt
Potato and onion empanadas with sour cream and raspberry-chipotle sauce
Roasted garlic soup with tortillas, avocado and cheese
Seared chicken
Momofuku Milk Bar's compost cookies

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day of Lasts

Straus's breakfast plate, picture-perfect.

Straus, with yoghurt in his beard.

I woke up this morning realizing that tomorrow will be the last time I wake up in my bunk. I'm going to move out so the new cook can move straight in.

I've spent the last week trying to use up strange odds and ends of things. That mustard container I never found a lid for - best to use that mustard so she's not like, "What is this?" Today I did something I never do: I threw out perfectly good pickling liquid. It just seemed strange that I would save it for her. Tomorrow I will pitch the can of bacon drippings on top the stove. And my menu today included Thai food, so I can use up my rice noodles and curries and coconut milk.

I'm trying to clear out the freezer so I can defrost it right before she gets here, and so she can restock it as she sees fit.

So far I think I'm doing well.

Today was Neb's last day. I made my last hamburgers for the crew. Tomorrow I'll make my last three meals. The Lasts are piling up.

Our afternoon sail was cancelled due to high winds and the crew was 'stood down' or, relieved for the day. This same thing happened a few days ago: the crew all got to laze around and do nothing the rest of the day, but yours truly has to get to work and crank out another meal. This situation annoys the hell out of me. Today it just sent me over the top. Really? No one offers to lend a hand to help me get dinner out so I can be relieved sooner as well?

Straus's burger - he was aiming
for photo-worthy all day.
I got dinner out on time. I think it tasted good. But I didn't care. Usually, I know they are out there working hard and I'll do whatever I can to make sure the meal is the best I can make it. But on days like today I feel like that hen in the parable when no one will help her make bread but they're all happy to help her eat it. I left the boat as fast as I could and headed to Petoskey.

I might have told them how I was feeling, but what's the point when I'm outa here tomorrow? One last day. Three last meals. Surely it's the last time I'll be mad at them, too.

Neb bites into his last C.Cook burger.

Thursday's Menu
Biscuits and gravy
Hamburgers and sweet potato fries with maple mayo
Phad See Ew (Thai flat noodles with broccoli)
Massaman Curry and rice

Walking back to the boat on the path from Petoskey to Bay Harbor, the sun setting in the distance, between the trees.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who Builds These Boats?

I've often wondered what was going through his mind when the King's Father built this boat. Was it something like, "Hey, I've got an extra couple of mil' sittin' around. Why not?" I've heard he is a passionate history buff, so let's say he was just jones-ing to see what this boat would look like, and how she would sail if someone re-built her. But now here we are, sailing her around the U.S., and this is the second time I've seen the King and the first time I've met his father, and both times it struck me how little time they spend on the vessel.

But maybe this is what happens to Things We Acquire. Maybe even when we grow up, we're still like children playing with a new toy; once we've played with it a few times, the novelty wears off. We hand it down to someone who may appreciate it more.

Maybe. I think it would drive me crazy if this boat were mine, and she sailed into town. I would want to start sanding down the places where the paint is cracked, and examine all the blocks which are looking pretty sad. I'd want to be there when she's hauled out this winter to check out her hull. Even if I were too old to do the work, I'd see if the Captain had any use for me.

But it's possible there's a class issue going on here. It's possible that he's never touched the boat in that way to begin with - that he didn't really build the boat - he had it built.

Today we made a little side trip to Harbor Springs to give the King and his father and their friends a special fundraiser sail. They auctioned off an old weather-beaten ensign for $850, and I'm guessing the sail itself cost a pretty penny.

Harbor Springs is the most affluent port we've stopped in. Not coincidentally, they don't usually allow commercial vessels like ours to tie up here. A huge boathouse spills out in long fingers of docks and covered slips sheltering multi-million dollar boats. And all around the little bay, massive houses with private docks, all have their own sailboats and motorboats in the water.

This is where the King's family has their summer house (their main residences are in Hawaii and San Diego). Maybe when you have this much money, your possessions are just possessions. This boat is just one more boat the family owns; her operation just one more thing to be dealt with, itemized in their taxes and given a clause in the will.

It reminds me of an another altogether different boat story - the one we saw the film about in Wilmington - of the man so driven to build a boat that he did so in his own backyard in Detroit, fighting annoyed neighbors and city ordinances, persisting in his work through cold winters and money issues. He is still sailing her today.

Whether or not he lifts a brush with varnish on it, or even ever sails her again, I'm glad the King's Father had the boat built. It's enabled me to have one of the greatest adventures of my life.

Thursday's Menu
Breakfast burritos with chorizo, cheese eggs with jalapeno jack
Gnocchi with rappini and Italian sausage, fennel seed and a little cream
The King poked his head into the galley after the sail. How far into dinner prep was I, he asked. Could I put it on ice? Hell, yeah! I'd been feeling hungover all day. I was even a little worried the dough for hamburger buns wouldn't rise fast enough for me to make them in time for dinner. So we all went over to a little nook of a place called Bar Harbor and had dinner on the King. It wasn't anything to write home about... but how nice not to have to cook!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Out with a Bang

Watermelon salad tic-tac-toe.
Tuna tartar, looking like it has a halo.

Months ago I mentioned to Neb that it would be so nice to have a proper dinner party - to take a day off and spend it crafting a five course meal. Today was that day.

On Monday at muster I announced that it would be taking place. I asked for a six-dollar contribution, which everyone but Straus was prepared to chip in.

"Six dollars... for food?" he said, aghast.

"Six bucks for a gourmet meal?" said Cap, "I'm in. I'll even give you 60 towards wine!"

I love that Neb came in and helped me for most of the day. At first I wanted to focus, and have time alone, but it was great to have an assistant, and company in the kitchen. He made the potato-crab cakes, and the rub for the filets, and the welcome drink! (Gosh, what did I do?) Later, Eve helped between courses with running plates to the table and back. And everyone helped clean up at the end of the night.

Filet mingon with avocado cream-gone-crazy.

Since we've talked about sharing this type of meal together for months, you might think I had it all planned out. You might assume that every dish was carefully crafted with either a memory or someone's special ingredient in mind. I wish I had put that much forethought into it. But it all came off smashingly regardless. (Though I did get a little fast and loose with the avocado cream when it came time to plate the main course!) 

It turned out to be one of those rare perfect evenings, when the world shrinks to the size of a dining room (or a salon, in this instance) and time seems to slow down. 

Afterwards, Neb gave me a big hug and kisses on both cheeks. Harrison nearly toppled me in a hug as well. Buttons was teary-eyed. So was Eve, but I think that was mainly caused by the fact that she tried a bite of my steak. Her first meat in something like eight years.... and she liked it!

I wish I could say I did it on six dollars per person. That was part of the original idea. But then I decided I really wanted to treat us. I wanted filet mingon, damnit. And tuna tartar. And Cap wanted good wine! All in all, I'm sure the meal cost more like $20 a person. Still, that's not bad for a meal like this.

Morbier on a platter of currant reduction.

Tuesday's Menu
A sandwich at a place called American Spoon in Petoskey. We got to taste their gelatos, and now I'm itching to go back and get a cone with the burnt caramel flavor. It was divine
Welcome drink: lemoncello and club soda rimmed with sugar and dehydrated lemon and grapefruit zest (the trick that got me on the Saveur 100 list one year)
Starter salad: Watermelon, feta, mint and sweet chili sauce
Tuna tartar: tuna, grapefruit, candied ginger, jalepeno salt, pepper, and cilantro
Main: Crab-potato cake, topped with a seared filet mingon that had been sitting in a little soy sauce and a rub of four peppers: black, white, rose, and ancho chilli pepper, topped with an avocado cream and a raspberry-chipotle reduction

Dessert in a swan? Oh yeah.
Cheese course: Morbier in a black current reduction with freshly ground black pepper and red grapes
Dessert: Chocolate mousse and strawberry granite, with grated chocolate on top

Wines: A dry Spanish white; a Temperanillo; a Barbera D'Asta; a Shiraz; and a Gewurtztraminer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Not Just the Job

The last Dutch baby.
I often tell visitors to the boat that this is the best thing I've ever done in my life. And I've done a lot of amazing things. Why, you might ask? What makes it so great? When I get paid almost nothing, have a bedroom the size of a coffin, am constantly working, and when I'm not working, usually tired as hell?

I wrack my brains for the best moments of the last six months, hoping they might illustrate my point. Here are the ten that spring to mind, in chronological order:

1. Walking around Savannah with Eve trying to find Conrad Aiken's grave with a bag full of martini fixings, including three green glasses we found at the Good Will, but not finding the grave, we settled on a little square with a fountain that was bubbling up green-tinted water, and Smith rode up on her bike to join us.
2. Eating a delicious plate of scallops at Circa 1922 in Wilmington one night with Smith.
3. Catching two bluefish on our transit to Greenport, and using them in two Thai dishes.
4. The night Harrison caught a squid.
5. Indulging in a lobster dinner in Marblehead, that easily tops the best ten meals of my life. Thanks P1 and P2!
6. The morning during that longest of transits when Neb said he just had to hug me, because "that quiche was so fucking good."
7. Swinging on the swing-set and clambering all over a playground in Clayton at dusk with Eve and Smith.
8. The night we played bananagrams after a perfect meal, that was enlivened by a gift of wine from the mayor of Clayton.
9. The day Bly came and picked up Eve, Harrison, Buttons and I and we sped off down sun-dappled country roads; we hiked the dunes north of Frankfort with a picnic lunch, swam in the waves and ate ice cream in a building with a tree growing through it. (I ate key lime pie ice cream and coconut - yum!)
10. The handful of nights when half the crew ends up gathered around my bunk, talking about their lives and their days.

Last night Neb was waxing sentimental; he's getting off here, too. His last day is the day before mine, the 25th.

"You're gonna miss us," said Neb. "You're gonna miss this job."
"Nah," I said sarcastically, "Well, maybe the job."

Monday's Menu
Today I made my last dutch baby for the crew. It turned out lovely. And I cooed appropriately.

My plate at dinner.
I was out provisioning and left the crew with rye bread and leftover meats. Neb took out a can of chef boy-ar-dee and was apparently inspired - he added siracha, oregano, bacon bits, cheese, and I'm not sure what else. I was a little disappointed they didn't leave me a bite.
No-longer-Nassau grits
Barbecue baby back ribs
Bean and corn salad

No-longer-Nassau Grits recipe
You may be really tired of my grits talk by now, but these grits were the bomb.
Sautee 1 small red onion, chopped in 2 Tbsp. olive oil
Add 20-30 finely chopped green olives (I used those ones with the pimientos)
Add one can of tomatoes, chopped. These had oregano, garlic and basil in the can with the tomatoes.
Then add 2 c. grits, stir, and quickly add 5-1/2  c. water.
Add bullion; I used vegetable because of Eve.
Add 2-3 dashes of liquid smoke.
Add 1/3 - 1/2 c. mayonnaise
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paradise Lost

Greek pizza for lunch.
"Welcome to another day in paradise," said Cap at this morning's muster. The crew gaffawed at the irony, though it did start off as a bright sunny day.

Then just after lunch Cap announced we were canceling the sail. The entrance to Bay Harbor is narrow and, as he says, threatens rocky death on both sides. In 25 knot winds, our boat would have a difficult time escaping that rocky death. So Cap gave himself and the crew the rest of the day off. I tried to move dinner to 8 pm, so I could have the day free, but Cap replied, "This is not a democracy. I said dinner would be at 5 pm, and therefore it will be at 5 pm."

So I of course had to keep pounding out the chow. As luck would have it, the rain poured down for hours, making a trip to Petoskey impossible anyway.

It was a good day for chow-pounding. I was really in the groove. Maybe it had something to do with the email my friend Iz sent along last night. It said, "This must be the show you auditioned for!" The link took me to Zagat's website, which read:

"Around the World in 80 Plates takes culinary competition to the next level. Up-and-coming chefs will travel to various countries testing their skills in some of the greatest and most challenging restaurants around the globe. In each episode, the contestants will travel to a different international city where they will learn the local customs, cultures and cuisines as they participate in a gauntlet of culinary challenges- all while being at the mercy of the demanding restaurant owners. Ultimately, they will face-off in a kitchen takeover where they will not just recreate, but reinvent the menus for these world-renowned restaurants."

I ran around the boat reading it to people. Then panic and excitement set in and continued charging through my veins as I tried to go to sleep. What if they pick me? All I could think about today is how I better start practicing my brunoise.

Baklava with walnuts, dates and honey.

A New On-the-job Challenge
Ol' Dies' is currently out of commission because of a problem with her regulator. Eve's ordered a new one, but it might not arrive until the new cook takes over. So I've been cooking on the hotplate and in the convection oven. Then wouldn't ya know it? Just as I finished cooking the spinach for lunch, the hotplate died. It's died before. Last time Eve resurrected it, she said it was a safety hazard and that we should buy a new one. That was ages ago. So by dinner I was down to one appliance: the oven.

Tomorrow I'll go and buy a new one so Rebecca, the new cook has a solid set-up when she gets here. She's supposed to arrive on the 26th. All I know about her is that she's "salty, but a good cook," and that, according to Captain Smiley, she's been cooking on tall ships since before he was... I've planned out my meals for the rest of the week, and I'm planning to go out the way I came in - with Thai food.

Ah, to be Alone
After dinner tonight I headed off on that walk toward Petoskey. I kept thinking about a post that my friend Jessica made on Facebook recently about how she was dreading a day in London by herself. How funny it is for me to be in the exact opposite situation. To be alone... I crave it so much. I feel so fortunate when I think back to my first boat, the Neverland, and how I shared the sleeping compartment with another person. What luxury I have had here on the Marlin. Even though I'm surrounded by people most of the time, I have a curtain I can close; a little private bunk of my own.

If they choose me for this show, I'll be right back in close quarters again. Thank goodness for walking trails.

Bread salad.
Sunday's Menu
Carrot-date-coconut-walnut muffins
Strawberry-coconut-pineapple-banana-maple-vanilla smoothies
Greek pizza: toppings on phyllo dough - one with mozzarella, sauteed spinach and garlic, thinly sliced tomatoes and feta cheese, and one with mozzarella, artichokes, roasted red bell peppers, and parmesan cheese
I also put out some rye bread and leftover meat for sandwiches
Pork loin that had been marinating in balsamic, sugar, basil, lemon rind and pepper
Bread salad (panzanella) with artichokes, kalamata olives (a real splurge), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and basil
Eggplant broiled and then topped with parmesan cheese
Baklava with the leftover phyllo dough

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Will Somebody Hit the Lights?

Deutsch's bread pudding with yoghurt on top.
My last banana bread onboard.
Eve and Strauss are sprawled out on the galley sole (floor). Harrison is hunkered down in the pass. I'm half-in, half-out of my bunk. We're listening in the dark to Johnny Cash's Live at Fulsom Prison album. Buttons is on duty tonight, so every now and then I look up to see her sitting on the steps of the companionway.

We're hiding out. Listening to music in the dark in order to escape that big noisy wedding outside, and the "village" none of us want to be visiting.

I tried to take photos of it from our sail today, but they just don't seem to do the place justice.

A view of Stepford from the water.
Not long after we scooted in from our last sail of the day, my friend Marc texted me: Were we docked beside the concrete embankment, beside the grassy lawn with a silver convertible parked on the other side?  We were live on web cam, updated every ten seconds. I went and stood behind the convertible, and occasionally waved up at the building across from me.

"That's not the first Harborcam we've been on," said Harrison at dinner. Who knew? All this time, I could have been sending messages to the outside world. This time the message is: HELP!

Deutsch's plate at dinner.

Ten more days left on my contract. Ten more days spent here on The Truman Show. If you're out there, in the outside world, and you still exist, wave back, will ya? Let us know there's hope after Bay Harbor.

Saturday's Menu
Cherry cream cheese bread pudding
Soft tacos with leftover carnitas meat and smoked whitefish
Afternoon Snack
Banana bread, Bittman's recipe but with chopped dried dates in addition to the coconut and walnuts
Bibimbap ("Remember that day when you made it twice?" asked Buttons.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Ugliest Place, part two

A street in this "village."
This is why I publish under a pseudonym. The first person on board was a nice-looking older gentleman - who turned out to be the Father of the King... aka., the Owner. I'm guessing he's invested in this place somehow - and that's the reason we're to spend a week here. But I really have no clue: he could be as uneasy here as we are. Let me try to explain what makes it so... obscene.

First, I don't think this town existed ten years ago. It's all newly built, and looks as though it was delivered in trucks, unpacked and assembled. I don't mean that it looks cheap... it just looks... fake. Like I would imagine Disneyland's town, Celebration, must look.

There's clearly a ton of money here - but it must be new money. Huge boats, most of them motorboats, fill the marina; the lawns are all exquisitely manicured and the houses and townhouses are massive.

"We're in the Truman Show," said Straus.

I want to go running this evening, but I'm  little worried that, like Truman, I'll keep hitting some imaginary wall if I try to escape this place.

My lunch spread: capers, shallots, jalapeƱos,
pickled green onion bottoms, chopped green onion, and more.
Later, this evening
The first time I didn't succeed. I hit the beach road and got to a point where the sidewalk ended in a No Trespassing sign, and the lakefront was rocky and impassable. So I googled-mapped it and headed up toward the high road, where I discovered a long path that led all the way to Petoskey. So I walked there, and a little further, and back. Nine miles. It was exactly what I needed to curb the claustrophobia this place causes for me. It's like the 2011 Bell Jar. I would definitely walk into a river with stones in my pockets if I had to live here.

My whitefish sandwiches, one half with jalapeƱos and avocado,
one with capers, pickled green onion, shallots and mayo.

Earlier I was wondering aloud after lunch, what will happen to this place in 50 years? Will it achieve a kind of retro-coolness or will it fall into disrepair and become overgrown with weeds? Most of the crew guessed the latter. "Places like this will be tomorrow's trailer parks," said Burns. Mouse said she thought organic farmers would take it over.

Now back to the task of how to tolerate this place for over a week!

Friday's Menu
Eggs baked in muffin tins (see recipe below)
Cheese grits, with chipotle (the crew has been asking me about my grits, since some of them didn't even like grits before mine, so that recipe is below, too)
Smoked whitefish sandwiches on homemade Parker House rolls (in which I substituted the sugar with molasses)
The buffet included all kinds of good stuff, most of it pictured except the lemon wedges and the container of smoked whitefish
Navajo tacos, with slow-cooked pork butt and mango salsa
Plus sour cream and avocado

Baked Eggs

Straus, putting the finishing touches
on his sandwiches.
I often make baked eggs by just dropping eggs in muffin cups, but this time I changed things up. I greased the tins, then put a half teaspoon chipotle mayo in the bottom of each cup. Then I put the egg in, salted it, peppered it, and topped it with 1 heaping teaspoon of sour cream and a tablespoon of grated cheddar cheese. I also added a teaspoon of bacon drippings, except to Eve's. Man, were these eggs delicious! If you try them, bake at 350 for 7-12 minutes, watching carefully so they don't overcook.

C. Cook's Grits
Mayonnaise is the secret to my grits. I may have said this before. Here's why. Grits often have a loose translucency going on. Not mine. Prepare them as you normally would. I do 3 cups water (sometimes substituting some milk or half and half in there); 1 c. grits; 1/2 tsp. salt, and maybe a pinch more, to taste; cracked black pepper; 2 T. butter. After I've added all those things, and the grits are starting to do that popping thing, and consolidate, I add about 1/3 c. mayonnaise. You'll see the change. They immediately turn thick and white and creamy. Then I add whatever cheese I have on hand. Today I used cheddar, but smoked gouda is my favorite. And a spritz of siracha or tabasco. Today I used chipotle in adobo, about 2 tsp. They were as good as ever.


Messages on my walk.

The Ugliest Place on Earth

Just a little foreshadowing here - no time for a lengthy post because I got to get lunch out. But suffice it to say that we woke up in paradise then motored a few short hours and managed to end up on the moon. The main thought coursing through my mind is: this is where I'll br spending my last days on the Marlin?!?!?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Will They Remember Me When I'm Gone?

Sunrise as we left Traverse City this morning.
As we motored to Northport, I made breakfast. What a place! This may be my favorite town yet – after Clayton. Later, when I went running, and started dreaming about buying a little fixer-upper near town and starting a seasonal business, I passed this amazing building. I stopped and asked a guy who looked local if it was a private residence. He told me a story about how the building was a restaurant, but the owners had built it partly on city property. When the city asked them to address the issue, the owners refused. They closed the restaurant and now do only the minimum to avoid city fines – they mow their lawn, replace windows, etc. “Mario Batali lives just down the street,” the man confidered. “He offered to buy the place, but the owners turned him down. It’s quite the eyesore.” Well, it was not an eyesore in my mind. It was a super cool building. No wonder Mario Batali wanted to buy it. So do I!

Kids hauling today, outside my galley window.
Today I made more “table oil,” a mixture of olive oil, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic salt, basil and oregano. I introduced table oil at a point when we were going through way too much butter. When I asked Buttons today if there was something I should make more of before I left, this was her request.

During the sail today I also made a maple/roasted ginger/sesame vinaigrette. I used to have a few salad dressings in the locker, but I’ve been lazy of late. I’ll make another honey mustard vinaigrette before I leave, since that’s pretty popular. And sweet chili sauce; they go through it about as fast as water.

But once these items are used up and this batch of crewmembers are gone, and the tall ship merry-go-round has come full circle, will there be anything left of me here?

What’s in a name?
The Nomad says I should leave a spoon somewhere on the boat, a totem. When I think about it, there may already be a few in place. Inside the gun cabinet someone once taped up a tinfoil heart. Maybe this is my totem. More importantly, I’ve named things – that cabinet is called the gun cabinet because it’s where I keep the popgun that the princess left for me. The passageway between the main salon and the galley is now called “The Pass,” a term I borrowed from working at Somewhere Restaurant in Manhattan – it was the place where we would put food out for the runners to take to the dining room. There’s also a drawer in the galley where I keep my pots, and you practically have to go into contortions to get into this space that’s beside the drawer and behind the stove, but it’s where the food processor and the waffle maker and the coffee grinder live; I call this area “The Deep.”

I suspect these names will live on without me. For a while anyway.

And for a while, my legacy will live on in the pantry and stores of the boat. The new cook will probably shake her head in befuddlement when she finds that great big container of red onions I pickled, or the five kinds of rice – brown, wild, jasmine, basmati and sushi. Or the can of braised seitan…and the giant bag of panko. Who knows, like the boxes of matza in the cupboard behind the fridge, some cook a year from now may look at that bag of panko and wonder how long it’s been there…

Selective Memory
Today I said something to Eve like, “After we park the boat…” She looked at me with unabashed disbelief. “Uh-oh,” I said. “I’m already becoming a landlubber again.”

I wonder, how quickly will I lose my ties to the tall ship world? Will I go back to a “normal” life and get embroiled in the making of money to pay the rent and the car loan? Will I go back to eating out all the time and buying clothes and shoes to stock my closet? Or will I take some sense of this outsider life with me, back into society?

Parked in paradise.

Strauss...I think he secretly dreams of a modeling career.
Will the aprons disappear deep into some linen closet and get pulled out one day, years from now, when I’m dead, and be given away to some second hand store? Or will I use them, my own portable totem to transport me back to my days on the water?

And what about my lost boys, my foc’s’le committee, will they remember me? Will they reminisce about my antics, the way I would talk to a Dutch Baby when it came out of the oven, or my stormy angry days? Will they talk of the cook who got an apron in every port? How will they talk of me?

Because the world of tall ships is so small, whatever they say will be passed on, until I, too, will have a little place in it somewhere. Perhaps my name will get lost in the passing on of stories. Maybe all that will be left is some talk of a couscous salad, the taste of apple compote, or the way the galley smelled when I was baking banana bread. I like that. That’s enough for me.

Thursday’s Menu
My favorite pancakes from More with Less. See recipe below.

Eve, as she hung off the big boat to keep
the small boat off balance in order to drain it.
Furnished by The Garage, a restaurant in town. I had a hamburger.
Also furnished by The Garage, but this time they brought it to the boat for a reception.

Wheat Germ Griddle Cakes
Beat together (I do it by hand, but the recipe says to do it on slow with an electric mixer or blender)
1 1/2 c. wheat germ
2 1/4 c. milk (I used 1 c. half and half; the rest was evaporated milk, in water)
3 eggs
6 T. salad oil (I used canola)
1 1/4 c. white flour

Buttons' funnies.
4 t. baking powder
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ginger
1/4 t. mace (I used nutmeg)

Bake on a hot griddle.

A Few More Secrets

Me, the last time I ever cleaned Ol' Dies'.
I thought of a few more secrets. Since the first set was so appreciated, I racked my brain for more. Several friends have written me on Facebook or email with good tips, too, some of which I wish I could have used on the boat, but couldn’t because of freezer space (or lack thereof), or lack of space in general.

But here are a few more:

  1. Make your own salad dressings and pickles. I pickle peppers, green beans, red onions, green onion bottoms, eggs, carrots and more. And you don’t have to can them, you can put them in old plastic yoghurt containers. Works just fine. They make great additions to sandwiches, Indian curries, hamburgers, etc. I’ve only bought two bottles of salad dressing since I got onboard – Caesar for Cap, because I don’t think she would’ve liked my homemade variety; and Ranch because Rigby was a Ranch dressing addict and it was cheaper than buying sour cream and making it myself.
  2. Freeze herbs. The last cook on this boat told me that he couldn’t afford herbs. This always struck me as funny when I saw all the things he did afford… like store-bought bread. But it’s all where you choose to spend your energy. I love fresh herbs. But it’s hard to keep them fresh under these conditions. I do have a basil plant and what remains of a mint plant that some spider mites got to. But my real trick has been to freeze cilantro and mint and basil. No, they aren’t quite as good as fresh herbs, but better than dried when making, say, a pico de gallo.
  3. Accept gifts and never turn away free food. I think this is harder for the individual or a family – I mean, how often does someone just leave you with free food? Tonight we had a reception on the boat, and the hosts offered me the remains of a platter of smoked trout and another of smoked whitefish (both made locally by a some Native American guy, apparently). Of course I took them! We’re having smoked whitefish salad sandwiches tomorrow. I’m gonna put it on the table with thinly sliced red onions, mayo, celery, and celery seed, and let everyone build their own. Momma Smith, and Harrison’s Mom both bestowed the boat with a ton of food, and I put every bit of it into the crew’s diet. I guess as a private individual, I would recommend looking into wild edibles. Today on my run I saw wild sweet peas, wild anise, an apple tree in someone’s yard with apples strewn across the lawn. I almost stopped to see if they were going to use the apples.
  4. When I lived in Sweden, no restaurant had doggie bags. It’s really frowned upon. I’m not sure why. Maybe it looks desperate or something. But it’s amazing how many great meals I’ve made with leftovers. I distinctly remember one Christmas meal (julbord) when several people at the table couldn’t finish their filet mignon(!). I shamelessly had all of them boxed up and ate steak sandwiches for the next two days. Totally worth the looks I got.
  5. Don’t buy breakfast cereal. I have a few on-hand. But they are expensive - and they move so slowly they get stale. This is because I make a hot breakfast almost every day. I also make a homemade granola and the crew almost always goes for that over the store-bought cereal. Google Early Bird Granola. The recipe is created by a friend of mine in New York. Her bags of granola sell for $9 each. Make the recipe and you’ll see why.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Position Filled

"What a treat," I heard Captain Smiley exclaim.
You’re too slow. The captain announced this morning that he’s found my replacement. See what I mean by the little world of tall ships? Up went the post on the billet bank; in came the responses. All I can say is: You’re missing out! Actually, the main thought coursing through my mind is: Pfew, I don’t have to feel guilty about leaving them in the lurch.

Layover in Traverse Bay
We made a pitstop in Traverse City around dinnertime last night, and our plan is to leave again bright and early tomorrow morning for Northport, a little town near the mouth of Traverse Bay. If it’s deep enough, we’ll do daysails there tomorrow – and the town has offered to host two barbecues, at lunch and dinner, to feed all of us. Splendid. That’s two less meals I have to cook.

Throughout the morning, every time I thought about the fact that I’ve got two weeks left I would suddenly burst out with unintelligible utterances, such as: “Wooh—ahh-hee-heh-hee-haw.” To celebrate, I made the crew sushi for lunch. I’ve been meaning to make sushi since Captain Flash left, but it’s been hard to gather up all the ingredients.

I started looking at my bunk today, thinking about packing it all up. It’s surprisingly little, yet surprisingly much. I might have to send my stack of aprons home to Mom, parcel post. I’ve made a list of all the things I’m going to throw out: my tennis shoes, most of my socks and underwear, two shirts that are irrevocably stained with black soot from the diesel stove... Then I noticed later today while trying on dresses at a women’s clothing store that maybe I should throw out most of my clothes. The boat smell is detectable even on clean laundry.

Wednesday’s Menu
Shrimp tempura with avocado
Snow crab with avocado and carrots
Marinated tofu, avocado and carrots
Deep-fried squid tentacles and avocado
KFC… um… yeah.. well, the crew got the afternoon off, except the duty person and… well, me, if people wanted me to make dinner. The fo’c’s’le clued in and all the deckhands texted me to say that they would not join for dinner. But sure enough, Harrison and Burns wanted their meal prepared. Not being too keen on this, and wanting to take off to the beach like everyone else, I caved. And Kentucky Fried is was.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Desperately Seeking Sea Cook

My apron collection - almost complete.
Captain Smiley came into the main salon a few minutes ago and interrupted my nap to say that my replacement would not be coming…that if I wanted to stay, he’d love to have me.
If I was a really nice person, and if I had been given more than two days off in a row in the last six months, and if I could have breakfasts off… even just two days a week… and if I didn’t have an amazing lover waiting for me in New York City… maybe, just maybe I would stay. But I’m not that nice. I’m beat. I’m so checked out there’s a vacancy sign above my bunk. But wait – maybe you’d like to take the job?
Here’s my sales pitch:
Drop Everything.
Okay, many of you can’t do this. You have kids; you can’t drop them. But imagine dropping the rest of it – the desk job at the 9 to 5 grind, the same old thing you do Friday night and the television shows you watch on Thursday. The car and the repairs you’re putting off. The lawnmowing, and especially the edging. The laundry – ugh. Leave it, all of it, and jump blindly into the great unknown. 

See the world.
Not all of it, but a beautiful little chunk of it. Starting with Bay Harbor, Michigan, you’ll wind your way around the mitten, past Detroit (where you can hail one of the few remaining mailboats and deliver… well… a four-by-four or even a donkey if you’re so inclined!), then through the Welland Canal – be sure to make amaretto cupcakes in my honor, and on to the Thousand Islands where you’ll taste that dressing right there where it originated.

This time around, we got to 
see Sleeping Bear and the islands. Hurrah!

Stop in Clayton, one of the cutest towns ever – where you’ll get a free pass to the Antique Boat Museum, and maybe even a ride in one of the boats out and around the islands. Eat a first class meal and drink some Riesling on the patio at Bella’s and watch the boat traffic. Buy some River Rat cheese and send a postcard to me. If you’re lucky the mayor will take you grocery shopping.

Then keep heading upriver, stopping at another yet-to-be determined Thousand Island port town before spending a few days in glorious Montreal – where, this time, you’ll be allowed to get off and hug your friends who live there. Or maybe even just hug a French-speaking person. Why not?

Next up, more locks. Then it's up and out of the St. Lawrence you go, around the tip of Nova Scotia – bring your wellies and your heavy weather gear and if you don’t have any, I can send you mine.

Then head down the eastern seaboard to a few ports I’ve never been so you’ll have to tell me all about it… in fact, start a blog, will ya, so I can live vicariously. I’d like that. Then keep on with the boat until she gets to Mystic for the winter maintenance program. It’s not all that long a ride – but what a ride it will be.

Did I mention they do the dinner dishes?
And all the dishes when underway!
Make whatever food you want.
(Within the budget, of course, but we’ve already established how you’ll do that.) Other than the commemorative cupcakes mentioned above, you will actually be paid to make stuff like blintzes for breakfast, sandwiches on homemade bread for lunch, Phad Thai and Green Curry for dinner, and macadamia nut cookies for midnight snack!

Learn how to sail.
Whenever you want, you can go up on deck and, to quote Seth #2, "Tug on lines like sailors of yore."

Be surrounded by excellent company.
Okay, maybe one will drive you crazy. One will be just plain weird. One will follow you around like a puppy dog hoping for scraps. And one will look at you like you’re the crazy one. But almost all of them will praise your cooking abilities and eagerly await whatever it is you’re bringing out of the galley at any moment.

Your time is your own.
Other than making sure the meals go out on time, and the coffee pot is always filled, you are free to do whatever you want. Okay, you can’t jump off the boat when it’s moving, you can't wear headphones when underway, you can't be barefoot in the galley, and I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting... but other than that…

Remind yourself that you’re alive.
Maybe you already knew this. Maybe you’re a nurse and you take your pulse regularly. But if you’ve forgotten… if you feel out of touch…this job will remind you. It will take you out of the real world and plunk you down in a place outside of time, on a magical thing called a schooner. And when you’re done, it will leave you changed.

The lake was so still, our wake
could be seen a half mile back.
The compensation package
You're gonna need your own insurance and the pay is pretty low – after phone bills and storage unit costs, I’m not sure I made a dime. But there’s other stuff to life than money, right? And if you’re luckier than I, maybe you can rent out your place – then you only have that phone bill. Maybe you’ll come away with a small nest egg?

You get one day off each week, except in transit. It's highly unlikely that you'll get a vacation, but who needs one when you're livin' the dream?

I've been hard at work stocking the boat - so you'd be unlikely to run out of anything for months except dairy, vegetables and meat. There's a healthy basil plant and every spice under the sun. Even the diesel stove is functioning well these days.
So, if I've convinced you, or if you know of anyone, the position is available August 28th. They only need someone for a few months, so you don’t really have to drop everything… just put it on hold. Send me an email and I’ll connect you with the real people behind the real schooner, which is not called the Marlin, but still has a nice name and will still go on all the amazing adventures highlighted above.

Pate for Banh Mi.
Tuesday’s Menu
Cheddar biscuits and sausage gravy
Banh mi sandwiches: Vietnamese pate on homemade French bread with pickled of all sorts
Petite steaks that sat in a rub of French herbs and Asian spices and then were pan-seared on each side
Wide Homestyle Egg Noodles in mushroom sauce
Tossed salad with cherry tomatoes

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Transit

Leaving Chicago in the ...dust?
Now that I’ve divulged a few secrets, I’m raiding my closet to find a few more. What else have I not said? I'm not telling who slept with who, or who drives who crazy. What else is there? That I freeze my herbs? I'll have to keep thinking.
Today we high-tailed it out of Chicago so fast the skyline was dissolving in blue before I had time to stick my head up out of the galley hatch after lunch. I guess not everyone on the crew (aka., the captain) is as keen on cities as I am.
There’s very little wind, so we’re motoring our way across the lake. I’m hoping for a swim call when we get to Traverse Bay, but that might not be until tomorrow morning. 
This will be my last transit. Once we get to Bay Harbor, there’ll be no more overnight sails on the Marlin. No more waking up to a sunrise with sea in every direction, or putting the midnight snack out, or taking long afternoon naps because dinner is at 7:30 pm. 

Sunset on Lake Michigan.

Outside of Time
We're out of cell phone coverage and that just seems to reinforce for me the fact that we're cut off. Not just here and now, on Lake Michigan, but most of the time this small group of people (what can there be, a thousand tall ship sailors out there?) spend their lives, cut off from the rest of the world. They don’t have houses or cars. They don't day-trade, or have 401Ks. They rarely buy anything except gear; even new clothes are often purchased at the Good Will. They don’t pay rent. They don’t buy food – unless you count ice cream and beer. Their impact on society is minimal.
Tall ships aren’t fulfilling a societal need. Nobody needs us, relies on us. And most of the time they think we’re pirates – so they don’t even know what they’re looking at to begin with.
And yet. I love the expression I sometimes hear on deck: the Marlin is a living piece of history. A little bit of majesty from a bygone era. So what if no one needs us? We exist to be the keepers of a tiny piece of the world’s memory, reminding people wherever we go of what a magical place we once thought the sea to be.
The tall ship sailors are a strange lot. If I believed in reincarnation, I might suspect that the tug of the sea is so strong in them that it is handed down, begun before they were born. But I don’t believe in past lives. I believe that for the most part, they are a bunch of misfits who, like the ships they sail, don’t quite fit in the real world, but belong instead, hovering on the outskirts.
I love the fact that, for as much as we are an attraction for the public, for all the people who walk our decks and peer into our mysterious and other-worldly lives – we are actually doing the same thing in reverse. Tall ship sailors go from port to port, peeking in on worlds they will never inhabit, amused by the goings-on of a society in which we play no part.
So here we go. One last port. One last show. Here's to making it a good one.

Monday’s Menu
Bread pudding with dates and cinnamon
Sandwiches – I broke every rule on yesterday’s post. I bought honey-cured sandwich ham slices; expensive stilton cheese with apricots in it, and goat gouda (they loved both). I bought organic, pre-washed spinach and a sourdough batard at Trader Joe’s and they made sandwiches for themselves.
Chuck steak slow-cooked in the oven in brown sugar, salt, pepper and chili flakes
Ravioli (another thing I never buy – but I wanted an easy meal day) tossed in olive oil
Zuchinni and yellow squash oven-baked with onions and garlic and salt and pepper. Easy.
Glass noodle salad with mint and thai basil and chopped peanuts and dried shallots.
White chocolate macadamia nut monster cookies

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Secrets to Surviving on $6 a Day

We leave Chicago tomorrow at noon. It feels like we were barely here. Captain Smiley has decided to plug in an additional stop in Northport up on the Leelanau Peninsula before our long last week in Bay Harbor, Michigan. Two more ports to go.

Today when I went provisioning I indulged in ingredients for sushi and stocked up on some Costco items the new cook might have trouble buying in bulk anytime soon. And this made me think that with so little time left on this gig, it might be high time to divulge some secrets. Starting with the answer to the question most people ask: how do you do it on $6 per person per day?

There's no question that working on a budget has changed the way I think about food and shopping. I used to think: I am in the mood for X. Then I would go and buy ingredients for X. Often X would involve prosciutto, truffle butter, goat cheese and other high-end ingredients.

When I first started on the Marlin, there's no way I could have afforded to buy such luxuries - but strangely enough, now I do - and here's how.

1. Bulk purchasing. Where would I be without Costco? I only shop there about once a month, but it enables me to bulk up on meats and items like canned beans or condiments and drink mixes and cheese and nuts. I'm not as impressed by the value of buying produce there. I almost always get better prices and it's fresher at the regular grocery store. But hurray for bulk butter and eggs!

2. A well-stocked pantry. This may sound like it doesn't go hand in hand with bulk purchasing, but I having a variety of items at hand saves you money in the end. Every time I go to the store, I spend money - and usually I spend more than I need to because I'm buying items that aren't on my list. Sure, we'll eat those extra items, eventually, but if I don't go to the store as often, I can get us by on pantry items a lot longer and it forces me to use up things that need using up. A meal can be made out of flour and onions. A good meal. Like caramelized onion pizza. Or the onion gravy I made one morning for Eve to go with her biscuit - it was just as popular as the meat version and cost a fraction as much.

3. Price-watching. When Captain Flash went shopping for me one day, I told her it was hard for me to tell her which vegetables, but that I rarely bought a vegetable over $1.99 a pound. In fact, if possible, I only buy them if they're around $1 a pound. Meats, too. When I go shopping, I don't have a set menu. I just know I need enough proteins for one week (or two, if in transit). I look at all the meats, and try to stay around $3/lb. If I get chicken for $1.50/lb., I can buy brisket for $4.50, etc. 

Right now, we have in the freezer, a whole chicken, a beef brisket, a gargantuan pork shoulder, two 5 lb. bags of ground beef, chorizo, smoked sausage, two packages of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, and a ham. Out of this, I will get at least eight dinners, four lunches and four breakfasts.

4. Never buy these things: sandwich meats, bread products, pre-mixed baking items. I never would have thought about it before - if I wanted sandwich turkey, I would've bought it. But the per pound cost of sandwich meat is CRAZY. I'm trying to recall, but I think I looked at a family pack at the last grocery store, which had ham and turkey and something else in it, and it was probably only about a .25 pounds of meat. I think the cost was around $7 for the package. That's $28 a pound. Okay, let's say my numbers are off. It seems crazy. But let's say I'm off by half - that it was a half pound of meat. That's still $14 a pound. You can get prosciutto for $10. And when you consider that it's been through all that processing, the meat you can put on your sandwich that came from last night's meal will always be fresher. Even when it's a week old. 

Bread products. I have a whole new perspective on this. I would probably still scrimp in order to get really lovely bread. But when you buy the cheapest bag of hamburger buns, you could be buying a whole 5 lb. bag of flour. You could be getting at least five bags of buns for the same price, and probably yours will have more protein and more flavor. I currently have a standard arsenal of three bread recipes: a honey wheat sandwich loaf, a bun recipe, and the amazing bread in a pot, which works as a great substitute for french bread because of its crusty exterior and soft insides.

Pre-mixed. Let's just say pre-mixed anything is a bad idea. You are paying for someone to mix something. Do you have 15 minutes? Mix it yourself. It's just to look at the price tag: At least $1.99 for the average brownie mix. That's the cost of 5 lb. bag of flour.

5. Drink water. I keep several drink mixes on hand. It would get boring if all we ever drank was water. On the other hand, if you don't miss it, go without. I'm always shocked at how little I get out of one of those frozen apple juice rounds. Barely enough for everyone to get a cup. Which means I should buy two... which means there goes one person's entire dietary allowance - $6. Which reminds me, a great flavored water can be made by putting your fruit rinds in the water pitcher - tangerine, orange, lemon, you name it. 

6. Buy dried milk. I'm surprised at how I'm able to use dried milk with little or no change to a recipe. I still buy cream - I love to add a few tablespoons to the marinara, or to scrambled eggs. But in general, I don't miss the milk. You want it on your cereal? Switch to yoghurt - you'll cut out all those hormones and antibiotics clogging up our milk today and you'll get all those healthy bacteria instead. Better yet, make your own yoghurt (I keep meaning to do this....).

7. Eliminate waste. I know, this is redundant, but it's worth noting that I waste very little. On our big transit from Wilmington to Greenport, I filled only one large black trash bag. Granted, I had repackaged things ahead of time, and we were throwing metal and food slops overboard, so the only stuff making it in the trash was plastics. Still, on a regular basis, very little food goes un-eaten. Old bread goes into bread pudding or bread salad or gets ground up for breadcrumbs. Yesterday's dinner brisket becomes today's taco meat. Grease from the bacon is a lard substitute in making tortillas. Etc.

8. Go to the cheaper grocery stores when you can. I mean, if you want that lovely Italian cheese that's been sitting aging in wine dregs, it won't be cheap - no matter where you go. But today I went out of my way to go to the most amazing Asian market in Chicago. I found it on the Internet. I was able to buy those large cans of coconut milk - which you don't ever see at regular grocery stores - for less than I would usually pay for the regular size can. I bought a ton of food for $30. I had the same experience at Family Dollar in Ludington: I wouldn't buy meat there, but I got a few good-looking vegetables, and saved big on canned goods. It was well worth the extra stop.
So here's an interesting question I was asked: will I live like this when I get back to mainland living? Will I be convinced to live on $6 a day? It's tough. I love to eat out. Being here in Chicago makes me really miss all the food options a big city has to offer.

On the other hand, think about it. For a single gal, living on $42 a week, if I could just find free rent, I'd hardly have to work at all. But of course, I wouldn't have time to work either. I'd be baking bread and slow-cooking meat and pickling vegetables. That's the cost that isn't reflected in the tips above. Living on $6 requires time. A lot of it. In fact, you should probably think about hiring your own full-time cook. I think I know one who'll be available soon...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

A storm came rolling in today at around 2 pm, the likes of which I've rarely seen. It swallowed up the Chicago skyline in giant swath of greyish black. It billowed up over the pier and when it finally started dumping rain, people ran shrieking for cover. It was quite something. We had to call our sail short, and so made it back to the dock just at 2, before the action started.

Tiki Masala on skewers and Basmati rice cooked with
cardamom pods.
A Sea of Faces 
On Thursday, not long after our arrival, a young refugee deckhand from Mammoth joined our ranks. I call her Mouse because she has a teeny tiny voice for a tall ship sailor. Then last night when Eve and I came back to the ship there were two more faces. "Who are all these strange people on our boat?" I exclaimed.

Palak Paneer and the rice (again).
One was only there for the day, the other was our new first mate, to replace Seth #2 when he goes on a short vacation on Monday. I am calling the new mate Burns, because of his pronounced curly sideburns. On Monday we're getting one more new deckhand. Thus the Tall Ship Shuffle continues.

It's a lot of change to take in during my last weeks. I almost didn't want to give them names. You, dear reader, will hardly get to know them (because of course, neither will I). But who knows? Maybe they will say and do extraordinary things in the next 15 days. Like, for example, when Burns asked about our mail drop situation because he had forgotten his special... fork. Yep, uh-huh.

Naan bread and a cupful of butter.
Dinner was delicious. I mean everything came off perfectly. So I am posting the recipe links. Of course, I did not follow them exactly, but used them as guides for spices. The Tiki Masala was especially good. I let the chicken marinate for much longer than an hour and I don't have a grill, so I rested the skewers on 9 x 13 inch pans. I had planned to also fry up some papadum and blend some mango lassis, but time somehow got away from me...

Saturday's Menu
Once again, the crew was welcome to get breakfast hosted by Navy Pier - hurrah!
Buttons' plate.
Sandwich buffet and a salad made with fresh tomatoes and arugula.
Naan bread
Palak Paneer
Tiki Masala
Basmati rice
Mango and raisin chutney