In the past decade-plus of living on board I have learned to cook, at first by necessity and later because I enjoyed it. When the Captain and I moved aboard Cool Change (Aaron’s dad’s Freedom 32) in 2009 we ate simply. Mainly because neither of us knew how to cook very well and the space was also challenging. The galley is pretty teensy with only two burners, an oven about the size of a toaster-oven, and an ice-cooled refrigerator. Since it was summertime, we barbecued/grilled chicken, beef, fish and veggies the majority of evenings.
Growing up, my mother did all the cooking for the family and never invited my sister and I to participate. (And the rare time we did, the majority of the meals were from cans and boxes.) In my previous marriage to Brett he did all the cooking. I worked 60 hours a week and came home after long days and late meetings to a warm meal nightly. I rarely ventured into the kitchen and when I did it was mostly reheating. He enjoyed cooking so it wasn’t an issue and we hosted many dinner parties for family and friends with him in the kitchen and me doing the event coordinating. It wasn’t that I didn’t like cooking; it was more that I never really had the encouragement, motivation or opportunity until I was in my forties.
Then we bought Sonho. At 42 ft she provides plenty of space for real living; not just “camping” on the water. Her galley, although nothing like a land-based kitchen, has deep sinks, three burners and an oven large enough to fit a 14 lb turkey (as long as it doesn’t exceed 8 inches in height). There is also enough counterspace for prep and a real (albeit small) refrigerator. Meals became more creative, especially as we moved into fall and winter and we didn’t use the barbecue as much. I experimented with casseroles and Dutch oven meals.
Bless my Hubby’s heart … he put up with some “creative” meals in the beginning! Now I have a large collection of staple menus but we still rarely eat the same thing twice in a month. We both like a variety of ethnic foods so I’ll often try new recipes I find on blogs and websites or simply use what’s on sale or I have in the fridge.
Baking has never been my forte. I lean more toward savory than sweet so cakes and cookies weren’t something I made, especially from scratch. But when a friend offered up some century-old San Francisco sourdough starter, I jumped on the pandemic bread-making bandwagon. Flour became a hot commodity and I’m blessed with several friends that made Costco runs and kept me stocked.
Bread-making is most definitely a science. It requires fairly accurate measuring of ingredients, the right temperature to make the starter active and the dough to proof and rise, and an oven that heats evenly. All of these things are easy to do in a temperature controlled house. We do have a heater that tries hard to keep us at an even temp, but with the galley next to the cabin door the temp fluctuates often, even with a cockpit enclosure.
Armed with a little scale, I closely followed recipes from The Clever Carrot and King Arthurs’s Flour websites. The first few loaves were “meh.” I hadn’t allowed enough time for the starter to get good and bubbly, or used too much water, or didn’t allow it to fully rise, making for a “blah” result that didn’t have much sourdough flavor or even worse, came out nice and golden-brown on the outside and under-cooked on the inside.
I learned that the proper percentage of hydration is important and depending on what you want to make, there is a whole lot of time management involved. A loaf of bread can take up to 18 hours from feeding the starter to actually slicing to eat! And after putting in the time, it was a real bummer for the result to be inedible.
The other thing that bread-making requires is patience. Anyone that knows me well, knows that is one of my character flaws. I used to keep a smooth oval rock with the word “patience” engraved on it on my desk at the Chamber. When I was frustrated I would pick it up and feel the weight in my hands and imagine throwing it at something or someone. (No, I never actually threw it.) I like to be in motion and don’t like to wait. Bread-making is teaching me to slow down and enjoy the process and then the results.
One of the most disappointing things about bread-making was discovering that you can’t simply take the finished loaf out of the oven and devour it, warm and fragrant. The loaf needs to fully cool in order to develop a good “crumb” and not be gummy. A properly baked loaf is worth it … dense with tangy sourdough flavor, airy pockets and a crunchy crust. Mmmmmmm!!!
I now bake weekly on the boat and even have a starter going at my daughter’s house so I can bake with the Grands, too. (My daughter believes that I have personally contributed to the flour shortage. She used to go through a bag of flour over the course of a several months and now I bring a fresh bag every few weeks.) I’ve graduated to making loaves with herbs and spices, rolls, English muffins, and biscuits. Hating to throw away anything thanks to the influence of my thrifty Nana, I’ve found that I can make crackers and pancakes with the starter discard. My learning curve has produced some delish results (and some carb pounds) and others that go straight into the trash (Waxed paper sticks to the bottom of bread and crackers; use parchment paper instead!)
I’m nowhere near being an expert baker, but I love knowing that some day we’ll enjoy San Francisco sourdough from home in foreign ports.
Vivo O Sonho … Living the Dream!