Saturday, November 05, 2005

MRE's: Planning for the crossing

Well, I’m all packed and ready to go. With that out of the way, boat work delays and a case of the flu I now have ample time to work out menus and plan my meals for the crossing. So, here I sit at my couch, laptop on lap, a pile of cookbooks, a box of tissues and a cup of tea beside me. As I read the provisioning books and work through my menus I begin to see what a task this is and how busy I will be getting the boat provisioned. A plan of attack, menus, lists and organization are going to be crucial to my survival!

I am so used to relying on the availability of fresh, top quality ingredients and being able to run up the block or across town for anything I’ve forgotten. It’s easy to make good food if you have the bounty of the green markets, ethnic neighborhoods and specialty food stores at your fingertips. But for the crossing, I am limited to the bounty of the fridge, freezer and dry storage for ten or more days and there’s no corner bodega in case I forget something.

The variables of cooking on the passage are many… The environmental factors include accounting for inclement weather which can add days to the passage. Rough weather will most likely bring about some seasickness so there will need to be some bland meals pre-prepared and easy to reheat. The motion of the boat makes cooking at sea take twice as long to prep and the wind tends to pickup at sunset. In many galley kitchens the stove is gimbaled so that it will remain horizontal while the boat is rocking. Our stove is not, which means that something as seemingly simple as boiling water can be a difficult if not dangerous task. Many of the meals will have to be portioned and easy to warm in the microwave. This will be a challenge for my repertoire of “one pot wonders”. Also, we have to conserve our fuel and energy supply during the crossing and so the generators won’t be running 24/7. This means that refrigerated items won’t have quite the shelf-life that they do at home. Milk, for instance, will only last about 3 or 4 days at sea. Items in the freezer must be Cryovaced (vacuum sealed) to stave off freezer-burn. Also, there has to be variety in the menu so the crew doesn’t want to throw me overboard by the fourth day. And, although a majority of things will be prepared in advance I have to include fresh fruits, vegetables and salads so the crew doesn’t befall the “scourge of the Royal Navy” and arrive in the Caribbean riddled with scurvy! Ok, highly unlikely, but you get my point, they have eat healthy! I have to be selective of the fresh items I bring on the boat – things like fresh herbs, baby salad greens, berries or other delicate fruits or vegetables won’t travel well or last very long; more heartier fruits and vegetables such as romaine, kale, escarole, winter squash, cabbage, potatoes and apples, oranges will have a longer shelf-life but they have to be stored properly to ensure they last and I will most likely be freezing or buying lots of frozen fruits and vegetables. We will also be fishing during the crossing so we’ll need some raw ingredients to go with any fresh catch…

One challenge is coming up with a menu of several “one pot wonders” and easy to re-heat meals that will freeze easily and be just as tasty when they are micro-waved. I don’t know how some foods will take being frozen and then reheated. I’ve been given a list of the provisions that are currently on the boat – they include canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned corned-beef hash, canned mushroom soup. I am a big veggie eater, the fresher, the better and I can make do with frozen vegetables. But canned? I honestly don’t recall ever having opened a can of vegetables – or for that matter, anything other than tuna or soup (ok, maybe the fruit salad mom used to put in my lunch box)… Many aspects of cooking for the passage go against everything I’ve ever known or done in the past and require me to throw my previous notions about using things canned, freeze-dried or otherwise preserved, out the window… Planning and preparing for our passage is going to be a real test of my skills and abilities. About the only thing I could imagine more challenging than cooking aboard a boat at sea – would be cooking airplane food. And my food sure as hell has to be better than airplane food!!! Ok, preparing M.R.E.’s could possibly be more challenging. I mean, how do you fit an entire Hungry Man TV Dinner into an unsinkable, digestible, 3600 calorie cake that’s small enough to keep in your back pocket with a shelf-life longer than a Twinkie and can still be edible after a nuclear attack? Well, whatever it takes. I want my boys to eat well and for everyone to be crossing the ocean happy and health.

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