Saturday, 8 August 2015

Nicki's Notes on Provisioning

Hi everyone,

I've had a few questions about meals on passage, so this post will be all about Zen Again's meal plans.  I always find it hard to advise other cruisers about provisioning as there are so many individual dependencies which influence decisions on what and how much will be obtained, stored and prepared.  Some people I know survive on cheese and crackers during their voyages, while those blessed with large freezers can make multiple home cooked meals to enjoy on passage.  Provisioning is also determined by stowage space - our boat is towards the smaller end of the spectrum and we don't have a freezer, but we do have a 60L fridge, Mike's construction of which is described in earlier blog postings from this year.  Therefore most of our meals must be prepared on passage, with only the essentials being kept in the fridge (e.g. dairy, bacon, hams etc.)

Provisioning for this passage was particularly challenging given the limited availability and high cost of goods on Cocos-Keeling, therefore I planned for our supplies to last the journey from Carnarvon to Cocos, our time in Cocos and our passage from Cocos towards the next available supermarket in Rodrigues.  All up our supplies were to last 8-10 weeks!
Because I prepared meals each day on passage, it was important that the meals were simple and quick to prepare to reduce the chance of them sliding off the counters onto the floor which is always very annoying. 

So, what did we eat on passage?  For breakfast we usually have cereal, weather permitting - if it's too bouncy a bread roll and butter will suffice.   For cooler climate sailing, instant oats was great as it is filling and warming, and dead simple to make.  

For lunches, I pre-prepare as many rolls and sandwiches as I can stow for the first 3 - 4 days, as these make a great quick meal while we're getting our sea legs.  Once these have gone, I prepare sandwiches or salads using tinned cannellini beans, 3 bean mixes and so on.  I add a tin of tuna or chicken, some diced tomato, cucumber and capsicum, add some olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and lunch is ready.  In better weather I furiously pre-prepare salads to store in the fridge - that way if there's a blow developing we have food already available to grab and tip into a bowl, ready to go.  I also cook rice, pasta and couscous for salads - couscous is good in the warmer climates as it requires minimal cooking.  Again it's just a case of adding some fresh veg and tinned tuna or chicken and we're all set to eat.   I also bought some smoked chicken breasts, and some quality hams from the deli sections of the supermarkets as these have a shelf life of up to 2 months and provide a nice fresh change in salads or sandwiches.  When I open the packets I wrap the ham in a Chux cloth that has been moistened with white vinegar and it keeps for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.  If the weather permits then sometimes I will make omelette for lunch too.

We have our main meal in the evening: if I can, I make some meals beforehand for first 2 days to provide meals that are tasty and easy to heat up when we're starting a passage.  When these have been eaten, it's onto the canned meals -  Stagg Chilli is by far the best tinned meal we have tried.  It comes in several varieties and is substantial enough in itself although I may add some nachos for extra interest and crunch.  The Chunky Soups are less satisfactory and seem to consist mostly of goop, so require additional bulking up in the form of a tin of vegetables, beans etc.  Of the tinned veg, only the corn and potatoes are really palatable.  I may also cook some instant rice (Continental or Uncle Ben's) as these require minimal cooking and very little water.  We tried the instant pasta on previous voyages and didn't think they were too good. That said, I haven't cooked much instant rice due to the pressure cooker being so good at cooking regular rice.  More on that later….

Following dinner, we like to finish with dessert.  In cooler places we may enjoy tinned rice, otherwise we usually eat tinned fruit with some evaporated milk.  However for this passage, the amount of tins required made it prohibitive. So I bottled fresh fruit into several Mason Jars (pictured) and using the waterbath method, are still as good as ever after bottling them in May.  I intend to reuse the jars (have bought extra lids) when we get to another place which sells good fresh fruit.  We have found that the bottled fruit tastes much better than the tinned varieties as they haven't been boiled to death.  This approach also reduces the amount of trash generated, always a good thing.

Bottled plums ready for dessert

In the tropics I sometimes make jelly as that is very easy to make, and fits very well into screw topped containers which I keep in the fridge.

For snacks, we tend to stick to fresh fruit, although I often bake a cake or 2 before departing and store it already cut up in an airtight container so we can grab a piece when we need it.  We may have muesli bars and/or fun size chocolate bars, but on this passage they were quickly depleted, and I prefer to minimise my consumption of highly sugary foods and stick to sandwiches and fruit instead.

Standbys - if the weather really is lousy and we just can't face a full meal, we have a number of instant meals available to fill the gap while the weather improves: Cup a Soups are invaluable and make a great snack on the 3am watch.  There are some really nice varieties out there - so far my favourite is the Asian Laksa - very tasty!  We also have lots of instant noodles, and some very good instant Indian meals that are boiled in the bag and tipped out into a bowl ready to go.

Other points to make:
growers markets definitely provide better longer lasting produce as they haven't been prechilled on transport. That said, Woolworths in Carnarvon sold excellent potatoes that are still fine 2 months on, and some excellent oranges from Moora - good to see local produce being sold!   There were excellent growers markets in Fremantle, Geraldton and Carnarvon where we bought tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum for salads, and potatoes and onions for meals. It's important to check carefully for soft spots and blemishes as they will turn bad very quickly   We don't store and fruit or veg in the fridge, instead they are stored in plastic crates in the quarterberth (pictured) between layers of newspaper.  Every other day I carefully check each piece to check for spoilage - if any are on the turn, I rotate them to the front to be used immediately to reduce wastage.  I am also careful to keep the potatoes and onions separate, as they will cause the spuds to start sprouting.

Fruit and veg stored in the quarterberth

Using a pressure cooker:  I have been very impressed with our small pressure cooker as it has been invaluable in cooking rice, pulses and fresh vegetables with less water and a fraction of the time required for regular cooking.  This saves on gas and water (always a consideration as we don't have a watermaker), and doesn't heat the cabin up so much which is great for sailing in the tropics.  For example I can cook green beans in under 2 minutes to be added to the evening meal or a salad, and we have found this to be much more palatable than the green-brown mush that passes for tinned beans, peas etc.  So I will definitely be making much more use of the pressure cooker for future passages!

I hope this answers all the questions you had about meals at sea, but if there's anything else you'd like to know about life on board please don't hesitate to ask!

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