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.

Northbound to Mexico: lessons from the country-per-day plan

birds on the bow at sunset

The Pacific side of Panama felt palpably different even before the channel markers switched near the continental divide, green buoys replacing red on Totem’s starboard side. It was partly an earthy smell of the hot wind blowing through the Gaillard cut. A changed quality in the light, maybe, on the far side of sawtooth mountains catching tradewind-blown clouds from the Caribbean. The temperature cooled along with the water, and large swells slowly lifting Totem on the exit from Mirabella confirmed her homecoming to the Pacific.

Jamie and I booked flights from Puerto Vallarta to the Annapolis boat show later in April. PV is about 2,000 nautical miles from the canal, so there’s pressure to make tracks to the north…but only after some fun with the family of Shawnigan and a stockup at the Mercado publico in Panama City. It’s north… but it’s actually very much a westbound path as well, as the picture of our sunset bow view attests!

Edging away from the crepuscular splendor fostered by canal zone smog, a first hop to forgotten islands off the coast helps to optimally time rounding Punta Mala at slack tide (the Spanish being very literal with names, if this was designated ‘bad’ that’s worth respect!). From there ahead to Costa Rica, where weather-window waiting began.

Passage planning begins in earnest at Playa Hermosa, towards the western end of Costa Rica. There are two weather hurdles: Papagayo winds that form over Nicaragua, and “Tehuantepeckers” that blow from the Caribbean over the isthmus to the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Rubbery plans stretched hesitantly out. It drives home three principles for safe and comfortable cruising. First, that having a schedule is generally not good. Second, that you should never be tempted toward preferential forecast interpretation. Last, that it’s always OK to change plans at the last minute if the weather tea leaves aren’t lined up in your favor. OH, there’s a fourth: it’s always worth looking beyond your immediate forecast. Had we considered only what the Papagayos were doing, we may have missed that by holding off a couple of days we’d time well for the Tehuantepec.

Traffic on the Pacific side of the canal at our first-light departure

Expected windows evaporated, plans postponed at the last minute; it’s best for the boat and the crew. And then, finally, our patience is rewarded. Not only is there a window to cross the Papagayo zone, but it appears by the time we reach the Gulf of Tehuantepec there will be a weather window to cross here as well. It feels like finding a four-leaf clover in a field and comes with the trivia fun fact that we’ll spend each day off the coast of a different country during the five days to Mexico.

OpenCPN screenshot of our route from Panama to Mexico

OpenCPN screenshot of our route from Panama to Mexico

Departure day – Costa Rica – March 29

Cabo Santa Elena has a reputation like Punta Mala for washing machine seas. We play slack tide again and anchor in the lee to eat lunch until the timing is right. Did it make a difference in the sea state? We aren’t sure. But we did have very comfortable conditions, relatively flat water and a breeze in the mid-teens. Ironically it had been much windier at our lunch hook in the lee of the point, where the wind was probably funneling and spilling over the ridge line.

Crossing into the Gulf of Santa Elena, the seas built to only about 1.5 meters at the greatest point of fetch, when the coastline fell off to a little over eight miles from our rhumb line course. The islands here are beautiful, and all along this coast are mental marks of bays we hope to revisit at leisure.

Scanning the Murcialagos islands

Jamie scans the Murcialagos islands through the binoculars: this is a place to revisit

Along the way, marine life puts on a show. Twice there are pods of whales; nothing is close enough to identify. Part of me is wistful, but part is grateful. It’s actually terrifying to be too close to whales in the water! Dolphins come to play several times, the magic of their directional shift to join our course always heartwarming. A meter-wide ray jumps behind Totem, and three turtles swim by later in the afternoon.

Passage eating: skillet bannock for breakfast, a lunch of couscous salad with beets, garbanzos, chicken, and eggplant parm for dinner… prepared at anchor to enjoy without effort.

Day 2 – Nicaragua – March 30

We wake up in Nicaragua, Totem’s 47th country/territory and what turned out to be our 1,500th anchorage while cruising! Papagayos are worse at night; this curve of bay in the surf town of Pie del Gigantes was a good place to stop. Winds were in the mid-30s, nothing like the force they can pack but still enough to whip up some nasty seas. Picking a mellow bay to get another night of sleep while the wind blew was definitely the right course for us. Although close enough to shore to watch families on their Semana Santa holiday romp in the surf, we remain aboard and don’t try checking in. Technically we should… our usual rulesy selves are passing on the hassle, still smarting from the 10 hours to check in and out (concurrently) in Costa Rica.

Kids swim from the bow of the boat

The kids want to chalk up a swim in every country: Niall and Siobhan get ready for a dip in Nicaragua

Diurnal winds bring better conditions than expected, and with nice morning breeze Totem makes miles under sail. It fades at midday, we fire up the engine and then 15 minutes later breeze is up in the opposite direction… without a change in course we just pull the jib out on the other side and BAM making 7-8 knots again! Flat water in the bargain. Reminds me of being back in Madagascar, except the difference at night in our northern hemisphere carpet of stars.

Passage eating: a late breakfast of ham/cheese/egg sandwiches, snacking our way through lunch pangs, a hearty bean ragout with sautéed cabbage at sunset in the cockpit.

Day 3 – El Salvador – March 31

Some hitchhikers are especially fun, and today was Bird Day on board. The booby on the spreader was cute until it flung fishy poop on our strataglass. But the pair of terns that snuggled up on the bow in the evening, cooing and grooming and occasionally nipping each other, were nothing short of adorable.

Painfully cute pair of nuzzling terns on Totem's bow

Painfully cute pair of nuzzling terns on Totem’s bow

We have a full moon on this passage, and it’s a particularly stunning strawberry color as it rises from behind low-lying clouds this evening. As a general rule, full moon is a welcome feature as it makes it easier for the on-watch to see the sea state at night. It’s also something we have had comically bad timing with in the past! But the seas are board flat, our nights will mostly be motoring as the wind dies after sunset, and I find myself missing the carpet of stars as most are eclipsed by the bright moon. Yet during my watch in the wee hours of the morning, I can see the southern cross on our port side and the north star to starboard. The unusual occurrence of these pole harbingers never fails to feel special. As if to agree, I hear the huff of dolphins aspirating somewhere just out of my sight.

Passage eating: make-your-own-oatmeal-when-you-rise, team lunch of arepas with sweet potato/black bean hash, and a rich, creamy beef stroganoff in the cockpit for dinner.

Day 4 – Guatemala – April 1

Apparently, it’s Easter. When we started cruising this would have been preceded by a week of eggy crafts and making natural dyes to tint blown-out eggshells; on Easter morning we’d have hidden chocolates in the cabin and hoped they’d all be found before melting in the subtropical heat. This year is lower key, we’d almost have missed the holiday if not for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) that takes over in Central America. The thump of music from beach revelers reaches us as far as 12 miles offshore.

Mairen and a plate full of hot cross buns

Mairen and a plate full of hot cross buns

Our subdued nod to the holiday is a big pan of hot cross buns, complete with shortcrust pastry decoration. Checking social media through our Iridium GO, I learn that Easter is becoming like another Christmas with Santa suits swapped for bunny outfits. This addition to the consumer driven holiday panoply is startling. I’m glad it’s absent from our reality, and reflect on how our relationship with Stuff has been changed by the way we live.

Passage eating: hot cross buns, eggs optional; yogurt and fruit; a Provençal stew (if only we had rabbit).

Day 5- Mexico – April 2

At dawn we’re off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico. If the Pacific felt like home, arriving in Mexico is yet another homecoming: it’s a few skips north up this coast where we will cross Totem’s outbound track to complete circumnavigating. In a twist of fate our landfall is within 24 hours of the precise eight year mark that we pointed Totem away from Mexico to begin our passage for the South Pacific.

Cownose ray winglets disturb Marina Chiapas water at dusk

Cownose stingray winglets disturb Marina Chiapas water at dusk

Puerto Chiapas is the jumping point for the Tehuantepec, and as the forecast has held the window to cross. We have just enough fuel to make it, and it’s tempting, but could have us arriving on fumes; we’d rather have a buffer. The window won’t close if we stop overnight here to check into the country and top up diesel, so by 8am we are tied to the dock at Marina Chiapas. The marina staff are smiling and friendly; the ebullient welcome from the charismatic manager Memo buoys us further.

Arrival celebration: bacon and eggs for breakfast, because bacon; lunch on the run during clearance; chicken on the braai; tequila. Viva Mexico! ).

Rest, then northbound again

Passages have a rhythm. There’s a stride that sets in on the third morning; no longer sleep deprived, accustomed to the body clock shift into multiple sleep cycles. Stopping in Chiapas was the right thing to do, but it resets the rhythm. That the passage across the Tehuantepec is only one night is awkward again, but a mixed-up body clock is not even a blip in the decision to go. The window is open, and what we’re paying closest attention to is… well, look at our PredictWind screenshot below. What do you think?

PredictWind view of Tehuantepec

Meanwhile, we heard from friends on the far side of the Gulf – a family we last saw in Mexico just prior to departing for the South Pacific, and they’re waiting with bubbles. Time to go!

Boobies wrangle for spreader ownership

MY SPREADER.

 

Easy bread to feed a hungry crew

monkey bread

A well-fed crew is a happy crew: this is no secret. Food is a love language for many, myself included. Feeding people, seeing their pleasure in something I’ve made, makes me so happy. I dug the minor challenge to create a yummy and totally gluten free dinner from our dwindling provisions for friends last week (who knew quinoa could make a tender chocolate cake?!). In the Chesapeake last fall, it was pull-apart bread (garlic herb deliciousness, dunked in soup) that made several nights with friends extra memorable: at Camp Quigley, soaking up the good vibes from Mary Marie, getting to meet her Frank, and catching up with the R Sea Kat crew… on Totem with friends from Annapolis as the main cabin on Totem filled not just with warm yeasty yummy aromas but with laughter and signing and the strumming of a guitar and ukulele. Food gets inextricably woven with wonderful memories. Another night, helping a boy-child-turning-man make the same recipe, I felt like I got to pass a baton of understanding how good it feels to see people appreciate the floury work of your hands.

Eleanor Q, Totem, and R Sea Cat at Camp Quigley

Eleanor Q, Totem, and R Sea Kat at Camp Quigley

Yesterday I made that pull-apart bread kind of at last minute as a way to fuel our crew up before a trip back to Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island. This natural wonder is one of the deepest known blue holes (sinkholes in the world); when we visited a few days prior, there was a busy class of learners. A lot of expensive gear being used for the first time. We kept to the fringe and hoped to come back for a quieter visit. Help with a ride (neighboring SV Akira had a rental car) made it a lock!

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0169.JPG

Cliffs… 30ish feet off the water? High enough to get adrenalin pumping on the way down!

There was going to be swimming, and blue-hole-diving, and cliff jumping, and possibly a longish walk back to town afterwards. Fuel for humans required! The bread packs along well, it’s an easy recipe (OK, maybe it takes a little attention the first time), and how many fantastic yeast breads take less than two hours from start to finish? I started while sipping my morning coffee, and it hot out of the oven before our mid-morning dinghy ride to shore.

Slightly fuzzy screengrab from the video of Niall's jump

Slightly fuzzy screengrab from the video of Niall’s jump

This recipe is often called “Monkey Bread” (why? because you can easily eat it with your hands, I guess, pulling at hunks that peel effortlessly away from the loaf?) and typically prepared as a sweet cinnamon bread– but the same basic recipe and method, just a few ingredient tweaks, makes a killer garlic bread. Unable to choose between sweet and salty, I just made a loaf of each (doubling the recipe below).

I couldn’t resist posting a picture as we departed for our swim/hike/explore:this is for everyone that requested the recipe! When I looked it up to pass along, and realized just how different Real Boat Life can be in a step-by-step retelling of the recipe. Enjoy the “hardships” (not really) of cruising.

Ingredients

Bread
1/4 cup warm water
1 package (2 ¼ tsp) yeast
2 tablespoons softened butter, plus more for pan and bowl
3/4 cup milk, warmed
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus pinch for yeast 1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 1/4 cups flour

Coating
Choose either…

  • Sweet: ½ c butter, ½ c chopped nuts, 2 tsp cinnamon (or whatever! I pounded a couple of teaspons of cardamom seeds in my little mortar yesterday, because I love all things cardamom), ¾ c sugar
  • Savory: ½ c butter, 2 cloves crushed garlic, herbs of choice, ¾ tsp salt

…or do as I did, double the recipe and make a loaf of each of sweet and savory!

Real recipe instructions Boatlife version
1. Proof yeast: in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water to which a pinch of sugar has been added. Stir; let the yeast soften and dissolve, about 5 minutes. 1. Water in kettle still warm from morning coffee. No fresh milk, will add some milk powder later, so start with a big mixing bowl and use a full cup of warm water now to take make up for that liquid. Stir in a bit of sugar, then sprinkle a spoonful of yeast on the top.

This is done from muscle memory as coffee has not yet hit bloodstream and exact measurements aren’t critical here.

2. In a mixer bowl, combine butter, warm milk, sugar, salt, and egg. Grease Bundt pan and a medium bowl. 2. Skip milk; add veg oil instead of butter because it’s easier and less precious, and nobody can tell in the recipe. Crack the egg in a separate bowl first, because you got the eggs from a roadside island stand and it’s not 100% clear that it’s fresh and unfertilized.

Stir mixture by hand, because a mixer is a waste of space on board. Don’t bother to grease pan, and absolutely skip the step of greasing another bowl! The dough will have plenty of melted butter or oil on it later and we don’t need more dirty dishes to expend fresh water on.

3. When the yeast is foamy, add it to mixer bowl; mix well with dough hook, then slowly add flour. Knead on medium-low 1 minute. Place in the greased bowl; cover with plastic. Set dough in warm place and let rest 20 minutes. 3. Ingestion of coffee times nicely with yeast proofing. Over the top of the yeast, add about 2 cups of flour, salt, and about 3 tablespoons of powdered milk. If making sweet (instead of savory) bread, add ¼ cup of sugar too.

Stir to make a thick batter, then gradually knead in additional flour until dough is ready . It MIGHT be the 3 ¼ cups specified, but different flours and different climates mean variable moisture-absorption qualities; you have to do this bit a little by feel. Sorry/Notsorry. When dough is soft, a tiny bit sticky, and springs softly back from a poke- it’s ready.

No sane (power/water conscious) cruiser would dirty a second bowl, so clean dough bits off the sides, glug in a few tablespoons of veg oil, roll the dough ball to coat, and set it aside to rise… under a TEA TOWEL, because hello, we are not into single-use plastic! Turtles and whales and the future of the planet and all.

4. Make coating: Melt butter and put it in a bowl. In another bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts; sprinkle 2 tablespoons of nut mixture in Bundt pan. 4. Melt butter. It really is better with butter, but in a pinch (ran out of the last canned butter from Tahiti? Not lucky enough to have subsidized Kerrygold Irish creamy buttery goodness in the Bahamas?) Vegetable oil is fine. Making sweet bread? Put ingredients in a separate bowl. I never include nuts, because the kids object with interference from the sugar/spice mix, and we often don’t have brown sugar—just white. Whatever. I never measure this, either, just keep making a sugar/spice ratio that seems right. Making savory bread? Stir garlic, salt, and herbs into melted butter, no need for a second bowl.
5. Cut dough into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll into balls. Dip balls in butter, then roll in nut mixture; place in prepared Bundt pan. 5. CUT? What a waste of time and dishes! Just pinch off a golf ball sized glob. For sweet bread, dunk it in the butter (or oil), roll that slippery lump in the flavor bomb sugar/spice mix and toss in your pan. Savory bread is easier still with the all-in-one-bowl combo!

Perfection here is highly overrated; irregular globs offer more places to grab seasoning. Did you really think this was carefully braided or trimmed? Ha!!! This is dead easy and creates a beautiful, delicious results.

I like our trusty bread tins, but break out the bundt if we’re feeling fancy.

6. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise about 1 hour or until doubled in size. 6. Again, not with the plastic. Dish towels are your friend. If you’ve been motoring, the engine compartment is a great place to set the bowl. If it’s sunny out, a warm spot in the cockpit well works too.
7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in oven preheated to 350 degrees. Let cool 15 minutes in pan when done. 7. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! AS IF A BOAT OVEN COULD HIT AN EXACT TEMP! Crank it up, set pan on a rack and hope for the best. If your oven is uneven (what, a boat oven uneven?!) rotate partway through as needed. Don’t worry about time so much, I mean, we’re not even sure what temp this is hitting! Just watch it.
8. Turn bread out of pan; cool 20 minutes on rack or plate. 8. You think I can keep anyone on board out of this when the boat is permeated with the tantalizing aroma of warm fresh bread? It doesn’t matter if you go sweet or savory, it’s irresistible. I can usually get them to wait till it’s been turned out onto a plate, and maybe a little longer if we have guests, but that’s it.

walkingpinterest monkey bread