I rose early the next morning, before my alarm went off. Unlike my special cook’s berth beside the galley on the Marlin, I slept alongside the crew in the midships compartment. It’s a giant belly of a room with three sets of bunks stacked three-high. When full, this compartment sleeps at least 18 people – possibly 24. It has two heads and doubles as the main salon with two giant picnic tables running down the center.
Unfortunately, almost all of the food is stored here as well, in a bank of cabinets like a library along one wall. The fridge and freezer are at the bottom of the companionway and large chests for dry storage are anchored to the sole at either end of the tables. In other words, if you don’t plan carefully the night before and take out all your ingredients and leave them in the galley, you’re likely to disturb a few slumbering sailors. No matter how carefully you remove the top of the chest where the potatoes are stored.
The first morning I decided not to overdo it. I made homemade granola, put out a bowl of freshly sliced peaches, yoghurt and honey. I had found some muffins that were on their last legs and I took those and sliced them in half and toasted them in the oven. I called it a Swedish breakfast.
While the crew did a deckwash and got ready for a day of deck tours, I got started on lunch. I made a bulgur salad with tomatoes, mint and feta, tzatziki and I used this recipe to create a variation on Chicken Shawarma. I didn’t follow it exactly. I substituted nutmeg for allspice. I used only chicken drumsticks. And I increased the volume by so much that I just threw in the spices in large quantities until it tasted good, but I have a feeling I obtained the results she talks about.
I’ll admit, I was a little worried about how the bulgur would go over. When I asked Captain Nash if there were any vegetarians onboard, he said he’d been a vegetarian for something like 19 years until, on a recent trip to Ireland, he realized he’d have to either eat meat or starve. “So… do you eat meat or not?” I asked.
“It’d be good to have a vegetarian option at every meal,” he answered.
I had meant to make falafel as the vegetarian option, but couldn’t find the mix and didn’t have the tools to make it by hand. So I grabbed the bulgur.
“What’s this?” almost every crew member asked.
When I told them, they joked, “Vulgar salad?!?!?”
“Yes, I said, “Vulgar salad.” Then every last one of them took a helping of it.
But here’s the kicker. After lunch Captain Nash asked, “What did you do to that chicken?” I told him that I never used chicken breasts, first off, because they have no flavor. Then I explained the recipe. “I don’t know what you’re going to make for dinner,” he said as he washed his plate, “because you’re going to have a hard time topping that.”
I smiled. I thought it could have been better.
A sweet ending to my first day
The boat had an obscene amount of Aunt Jemima’s (no high fructose corn syrup) syrup, but not a granule of sugar. I hadn’t even thought to check this before our Costco run. So I started replacing all the sugars with syrup. From the granola I’d made that morning to the marinade for the pork loin at dinner.
This is in my mind what makes me a good tall ship cook. When supplies are low, when there’s nothing but onions and flour, I figure something out. I riff. I riff very well.
I also threw in soy sauce, sriracha, and I can’t remember what else. But the most important thing: I cooked it perfectly. It was so large I had to cut it lengthwise. I pan-seared it until it was nice and golden-brown, then I put it in the oven for about 15 minutes, tested for the right amount of pinkness, then removed them and let them rest in tin foil until serving time. We had tours until late so the crew ate in shifts so I kept one loin behind and cut sections of it as each shift was relieved.
It was so hot, so instead of making hot mashed potatoes and other traditional sides, I made a potato salad, a black bean and corn salad (more or less like this one) and a tossed salad with apples and candied walnuts with an orange-olive oil dressing. I did slip up with dessert, though. I forgot that brownies and things like brownies take longer to bake on a boat because they are constantly being shifted. They turned out more like flour-less chocolate cake. Gooey, flourless chocolate cake. But the sailors didn’t seem to mind that much: there was no trace of them by morning.
“Better watch it,” said Skater after dinner. “We might not let you leave.”