Cooking aboard: migrating kitchen to galley

spicy red chiles in a calabash bowl

pinterest kitchen to galley migration

We love to cook. Moving from a spacious, well-equipped kitchen on land to a compact galley on a sailboat did nothing to impact our enthusiasm for creating and enjoying delicious meals. Until you live this truth, it may feel elusive; it’s easy to presume that cooking aboard approximates camping cuisine. I want to kick that misconception to the curb. Or reef. Or whatever! 

This post is part one in a series of galleywise topics, starting with a look at kitchen appliances. What makes the transition to the boat, what doesn’t, and how we compensate for equipment that doesn’t cross over. Are there some compromises? Probably, but do I feel for a moment deprived? Absolutely not!

[Yesterday’s article and video in CNN brought a raft of visitors. If you’re new to our blog, you might want to Start Here or read Who and Why. Welcome!]

Our kitchen on land included a professional range and more electrics than I can count on my hands. Some were everyday appliances, like our espresso machine; others had specialty use, like the Kitchen Aid standup mixer. We liked to entertain and these tools made it easier to cook for a crowd.

Aboard Totem, our galley may be a micro-sized and lightly equipped by comparison, but hasn’t compromised what we’re able to do. We still love to cook, to share meals aboard with friends, to explore the world through tastes and dishes. It cracked me up to see that CNN’s choice of a thumbnail for the video about our family happened to reference our love of food. THAT’S US!

CNN video about Sailing Totem family

In truth: most of our kitchen appliances did not get to the boat. It’s also true that I don’t miss them. OK, that’s a lie. Whipping cream by hand is a pain in the arm, but that’s why I have helpers! But only rarely do the gadgets offer function that can’t be replicated with a simpler tool, or time, or both. Here’s a comparison of commonly used appliances and how they fit in our land-to-boat transition.

On shore: On Totem:
Blender Immersion blender. This gadget (aka stick blender, hand blender) makes everything from smoothies to pureed soups to hummus. AC powered and a big amperage draw, but that’s OK since it’s only on for about 30 seconds! Ours is a much older version of this 400 watt model. Don’t undersize the wattage! At a more extreme end, I have a friend on a relatively low-tech boat that sized their inverter JUST so she could have her VitaMix on board.
Food processor Mandoline. What can I say, I like making perfectly thin and uniform slices of vegetables sometimes! This makes easy, pretty work of things like potatoes and tomatoes. Get 3-4 years from the blades, we currently have an Oxo mandoline. 

More chopper than processor, but there are manual devices that stand in for smaller jobs. Many immersion blender models come with an attachment bowl with a blad powered by the wand.

Mixer For more general mixing, a bowl and spoon are enough. For whipping cream, beating egg whites, or emulsifying aioli (OK so that’s about once a year), a flat whisk stores compactly and gets the job done with a little elbow grease. Helpers are nice.
Coffee/espresso machine Nothing! There are many ways to make coffee aboard, but our shmancy machine isn’t necessary. OK, so I do miss the frother/steamer for milk…

Bread machine Making bread by hand is actually pretty easy; it just takes time, which we have. Sometimes the bread onshore is good enough that I don’t feel compelled (why compete with baguettes on a French island?). Bread machines need space and power, so aren’t a great fit for most boats, but cruisers with power to run one benefit from a cooler galley when baking bread. (Land- and sea-version recipe for our favorite bread, pictured above, in this post.)
Microwave There’s a stove? Microwaves offer convenience we don’t need. The best use other than reheating might be making a hot drink for night watch – but if you’re moving around much on a passage, kettles are safer than the microwave as vessel for boiling hot water.
Toaster Stovetop. Some boats have a toaster; we just make toast in a griddle pan on the stovetop; monitoring necessary, but an electric appliance is not required.
Crock pot Power-hungry crock pots aren’t a good fit for most boats. Our Solavore solar oven acts a lot like a crock pot, cooking at low temperatures for hours; we don’t have one, but friends who do swear by a Thermal Cooker or Wonderbag for the same purpose: slow, unattended cooking.
Instant pot Pressure cooker. A pressure cooker on steroids is all that Instant Pot is! Modern pressure cookers are kind of awesome; programmable functions aren’t necessary.

Some boats do have items we chose to forego; it’s a function of having space and power to make them work. But my point here: so much of what we’re convinced are “needs” … aren’t, really. Like a lot of life afloat, things are simpler. Pared back, what served as a helpful convenience before becomes unnecessary clutter.

Baguettes delivered boatside making baking optional in this anchorage. Mexico, 2010.
Often our methods just need a little more time, and that’s OK. Malaysia, 2013.
At the end of the day, a simple meal is often best. Thailand, 2014.

Precious provisions: planning for scarcity and economy

1 dinner in the cockpit

_DSC5309“I miss salads already!” Mind you, we’ve just finished a delicious salad for lunch thanks to lettuce gifted from the crew of Mahi as they cleaned the fridge out before flying back to the US for a visit. But Niall’s reaction reflects that we’re unlikely to have lettuce again for a while. What we brought from Florida is long gone, and nothing in the small refrigerator case in Bullock Harbor was going to fill the gap. “Milk, lettuce, and bacon… I’m going to miss them.” Salad aside, today was the day I cracked into powdered milk as the last of four gallons we brought from Fort Lauderdale consumed.

We don’t provision as deeply as we used to. People everywhere have to eat, and you can almost always meet your needs wherever you are in the great wide cruising world–it just may not look like the grocery shelves at home. There are a few scenarios where it really makes sense to provision deeply:

  1. Weeks of passage making (or, remote destinations without supplies)
  2. High costs in the cruising destination ahead
  3. Low selection in the shops ahead

I’ve skewed to relying more on what we find locally, using pantry locker space for specialty items or things we don’t dare run out of (coffee!). Adapting your diet is part of the fun, if not occasionally an adventure! But in the Bahamas, we’d have both #2 and #3 on the list: fewer shops (and not as much on the shelves) coupled with higher costs. For the first time since leaving South Africa last year, it was time for major provisioning.

Preparation began weeks before we left, stocking up on household products like tissues, paper towels, and kitchen sponges, plus staples we’ll go through like coffee and tortillas. Grateful for friends with Costco memberships, thank you Patty!

When deep provisioning like this, I turn to old-school tricks for storing food without refrigeration: we have a shoebox-sized freezer, and the usual top-loading boat fridge that only holds so much. I started by canning a dozen pint jars of chicken for my omnivore family (see my canning how-to here). New friend Jim invited me on his weekly venture to a massive swap-meet-style open market early one morning in Fort Lauderdale.

3- FLL market

photo credit, and gratitude, to Jim Beran. Wow, it really was chilly enough for a foulie jacket!

4 canned red bell peppersBargains abounded for produce on my list like limes, potatoes, cabbage, and red bell peppers ($3/each at the store, $0.50 at the swapshop!). The peppers won’t keep but canned easily. Sweet corn relish is another easy-to-jar vegetable that brightens up sandwiches and salads. Jim later gifted us with papaya from his garden; that’s now jars of chutney, and all this goodness in in the pantry instead of the refrigerator, waiting for when we need it.

Three weeks later, the green tomatoes I bought in a Fort Lauderdale open market are still in stages of ripening. Limes, lemons, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are stashed for long term storage. I had to refresh my knowledge on storage techniques, and read Carolyn Shearlock’s (of The Boat Galley) new book, Storing Food Without Refrigeration just in time. Which fruit has to be far from the potatoes? Which vegetables can be in close proximity? It’s all in this comprehensive reference of techniques to extend your pantry on board. Our fridge is full but the tips within help me make optimal use of our storage.

4 canning inspiration

Canning inspiration at the Jacksonville farmer’s market

Stocking up meant cleaning out and inventorying the contents of lockers. I’m a little embarrassed at the “finds” which emerged, but they’re a sweet little travelogue. A package of Knödel mix—a German potato dumpling, purchased in Namibia—had fallen behind boxes of pasta and carried up the Atlantic. Niall made a PBJ sandwich with preserves from South Africa and a jar of peanut butter that—reading the label—I’m pretty sure we bought in Maldives. Yes, that was about two years ago. Yes, it’s fine! The lockers are now packed up again, with a list of the contents taped to the inside for us to strike off as they’re consumed.

5 indian ocean pbj

Arriving in Bahama’s Berry islands was sweet. I’ve traded email with Carla (SV Mahi) for a few years and looked forward to meeting her and her family in person in Great Harbour Cay. With help from another cruiser (thank you Jay!) we were trundled into vehicles and got the full tour of the island.

_DSC5583 _DSC5381 _DSC5387 _DSC5710 _DSC5669 _DSC5554-2

Part of our introduction included a pass by the grocery stores, which validated everything we prepared for. The first market in Bullock Harbor charged about 4x the cost per roll of TP. Milk? The UHT boxes on the shelf added up to $15 per gallon. OUCH. This, Niall, is why I’ll be mixing up powdered milk we bought in Florida for your beloved Grape-Nuts cereal. Below is about half of the area of the grocery store : a pallet of flour, cases of bottled water, a couple of chest freezers, and the refrigerator section.

2 GHC grocery

…and this is the other side, with dry goods. Some items are subsidized and relatively affordable: butter, cheese, and grits. Hello, cheese grits!

2 GHC grocery again

Photo: Brittany from SV Gromit, @afamilyatsea

There will still be favorites from home you simply can’t buy, another reason to provision: specialties and treats. For the Mahi crew’s little boy, Ethan, that treat is chocolate flavored rice cakes…so we brought him some from Florida. His reaction was priceless!

15 ethans gift

The Mahi crew had recently stopped in the big town of Nassau to provision, where as Carla related, a grocery cart that might have run $150 at home was over $300 at the register. But proximity to the US and frequent flights meant the selection is similar to home, and thus the lettuce. “I miss salads,” said Niall. “And I’ll miss milk, and bacon.” Don’t worry…we have enough bacon for a few months.

Ending with a triptych of photos from Carla: because life is all about the people who fill it!

Carlas triptych

Provisioning posts are tagged: read more here.