Deep breath. You can do this, Heidi. You can focus and get back into that groove, that happy place, where words come easily and you pull stories and recipes and musings about living aboard out of your brain and heart and soul (and yes, sometimes it seems, out of your ass!) and they flow into your lightning-fast typing fingers onto the page. You’ve faced far worse challenges where you felt like you were drowning and always burst through the waves for that big gulp of fresh air and a fin-flip to take you in a new direction. So why not NOW?
For two solid years I posted at least once a week on this Blog. If I knew I’d be busy, I’d write the posts and schedule them to go live so I wouldn’t miss a week. Not a single week for two years … over 100 posts and now at nearly 200. I had a nice following of people from around the world that read my writing and the feedback was always positive from friends and family. I would joke to my husband that I was an “International Blogger” and I had to keep up my Blog so as not to disappoint my “Fans.”
I wrote daily and scheduled time to write. I went on writing retreats, met with our writing group at local coffee shops, and found inspiration all around me. I submitted my work in competitions and read it aloud in front of live audiences. After not believing that I was good enough for decades, I proudly proclaimed myself a “WRITER.”
Then COVID-19 swept across the globe. Life turned upside down. Our plans to go cruising were put on hold. Again. I became the caregiver and Head Schoolmistress for my beloved grandchildren. I had to cease swimming at the gym and working out with my personal trainer. Grocery shopping was more for survival than for enjoyment so meals became boring. We watched the terrifying news of the infections and deaths as they rose and panic and fear were the prevailing emotions. Add the election, with so much hatred from the Trumpers, and there seemed to be very little light in the world.
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.
Macaroni and cheese is one of our favorite comfort foods. I’ve made it a kazillion ways using different varieties of cheese, baked, straight from the pot, with a bread crumb topping, and without.
This recipe was invented because I had a half cup of Alfredo sauce in my fridge and didn’t want it to go to waste. I figured it would meld well with the other ingredients I had on hand, and I was right! It was ooey, gooey cheesy and so easy to throw together.
Variations: Choose your own cheese blends and try different flavors of creamed soup and Alfredo sauce. (The sauce I had was garlic flavored; otherwise I would have added a couple of minced garlic cloves as we are garlic lovers.) Add a diced jalapeno pepper or a dash of cayenne if you like it spicy. Use different pasta shapes, but I suggest staying with one that will hold the cheese, such as shells, elbow or penne.
Sometimes my recipes are created out of necessity, as in this case. I bought a 4 lb pork loin that I thought would be great for my hubby to smoke. I’ll be the first to admit that I have no clue as to the fine art of barbecuing, grilling and smoking. He mentioned that this cut might dry out but went ahead and brined and smoked, spending all day tending to our main course for the evening. And lo and behold, he was right. It was far from tender and juicy and instead almost inedible.
I come from a long line of thrifty cooks, so wasn’t going to throw away the whole loin and thought long and hard hard to bring moisture back to the protein. (Although, I did pick this up from our local Grocery Outlet for a bargain price!) I knew I needed to simmer it in a liquid and with fall just beginning, our evenings have been getting cooler so a soup came to mind.
My hubby is a huge fan of mole sauce. He loves the bold flavor profile of chocolate and smoky peppers and a healthy bit of spice. Traditional mole sauce made from scratch calls for literally dozens of ingredients and a whole lot of finely grinding of spices. I took the easy route and started with a store-bought jar of sauce and doctored it up to what hubby says was “perfection.”
Hubby smoked the chicken thighs and they shredded up nice and juicy. You could simply buy a rotisserie chicken or bake or poach breasts, but make sure you don’t dry them out.
It’s hard to describe this sauce … It is velvety smooth and rich with an earthy-sweetness that mellows upon baking. And best of all … so easy to whip up in a few minutes! I made a package of Spanish rice for the side and added a can of diced tomatoes and a dash of chile pepper and it was the perfect compliment. Black, pinto or refried beans would also go nicely.
Hubby has been doing a ton of meat smoking since we were gifted with a mini-Traegar barbeque from his Dad. We’ve done salmon, whole chickens, corned beef (which makes pastrami), and beef and pork roasts. Roasts end up in recipes for two or three meals and I try to be creative in changing up the flavor profile so we aren’t eating the same thing every night.
This was a 6 pound lamb roast that started with a nice fat cap, making the meat tender and juicy. After serving it sliced the first night, I cut the leftovers into bite-sized cubes and made a stew for my daughter with potatoes, celery and peas, Shepherd Pies for us and finally this curry served over jasmine rice.
Chicken wings don’t have to be a guilty pleasure. I’ve found that baking them is as delish as deep frying, and far more heart-healthy (not to mention less messy).
You can take the easy-peasy route and simply make a batch of basic wings and then serve a variety of dipping sauces on the side. Or you can go a bit more fancy and flavorful by tossing them in one of the sauces below near the end of the cooking time. I usually serve with a platter of raw, cold veggies.
Variations: Recipes for my basic wings and two favorite flavors are below: Buffalo and Ginger-Soy. You can toss the wings in a multitude of sauces of your choosing and finish in the oven. Oil based salad dressings are a good option. Stay away from cream-based sauces as they will burn; offer them for dipping instead (ranch and bleu cheese are a favorite). An easy way to create your own dipping sauces is to start with a base of 1/4 cup sour cream and simply stir in herbs and spices of your choosing.
A dear friend gifted me with a literal armload of fresh herbs from her garden. I used them in daily recipes for a solid week, keeping them wrapped in damp paper towels in the fridge, and then needed to find another use before they turned brown. There are a plethora of ideas such as tying them in bunches, hanging by their stems and letting dry, making pesto or chimichurro sauce, and freezing in ice cube trays. I opted to make simple syrup, compound butter and infused oil.
Simple Syrup … the name says it all. It takes all of 5 minutes to make and the result is a thick, sweet syrup. Herbal infused simple syrup adds a gourmet flair to cocktails and desserts and lasts for about two weeks when stored in a sterilized glass container in the fridge.
Compound Butter … Another easy way to add flavor to everyday meals with a pat of herbal butter on warm rolls, rice, mashed potatoes or veggies. It is also incredibly delicious served on a steak hot off the grill or pan. It can be frozen for up to six months or about a week in the fridge.
Olive Oil … Store-bought infused oils are expensive, especially when they are so easy to make! The big difference is that manufactured products have a longer shelf life than homemade versions. So you’ll want to make these in small batches and use within two weeks. Use the lightest olive oil you can find so the flavor doesn’t compete with the herbs. You can use the herbs that are strained out in future recipes. The rosemary and garlic gets nice and crispy and is wonderful added to soups and stews.
Kugel is a well-loved staple of Jewish family meals and can be made sweet or savory, with noodles or potatoes. Although I’ve seen some fancy schmancy recipes, traditionally it’s a baked pudding or casserole with simple ingredients, served as a starch side or dessert. It can be made in a regular casserole pan but I like the presentation of a round pie dish.
Potato kugel is made with grated potatoes, but when I’m making a special holiday dinner with many components such as Passover, the use of frozen hashbrowns makes for an easy side that can be prepped in the morning and popped in the oven an hour before serving. It can also be baked, cooled, frozen and reheated if you want to pre-make it.
I live aboard a 42 ft Tayana Vancouver sailboat, hull #5 laid in 1979, with my husband and little dog. We are preparing to head to Mexico in Fall 2022 and I enjoy blogging about our preparations for our journey, cooking in my tiny kitchen and writing short stories.