The past two weeks have been mostly hot and windless, although we got a few overcast days of reprieve. Given the rising temps, we have been breaking out the summer habits. As there are only a few weeks left before we housesit and will be chilling in air conditioning and experimenting in a gourmet kitchen, I thought I would cover this topic while we are actually living it.
Like many cruisers, we headed straight for the palm tree-studded destinations. These are great but they do share one thing in common—they can get hot. The Bahamas is relatively temperate until late April, but after that, whoa baby. Of course, even the Chesapeake gets steamy, so any Caribbean cruiser who isn’t going to flee far north (or to Patagonia) every year will face the heat sometime during the year.
Trust me, the last thing you want to do when it is 90 plus degrees out is heat up the cabin by running your stove or oven. But cold cuts get old quickly. What’s a boater to do?
Here are our answers, which we turn to even when staying the summer at a dock (which we haven’t done in years now) where we can run our A/C units, because why overwork the poor things?
· Cold caffeination. It wasn’t long after we started cruising that I basically gave up on hot coffee. Now I have it only when it is bitterly cold, which to me means less than 70 degrees. The rest of the time, it is iced. My Bialetti 12 shot stovetop espresso maker will brew up enough for two days. I make it in the evening so it can cool, and then I don’t have to start out the day ingesting steaming liquid. A frozen mochaccino style drink can even be achieved with instant coffee plus milk, cocoa, sweetener of choice, ice, and blender. Sun tea is another great option you can make on deck and toss in the fridge.
· Grill. Duh. Everybody does this, but like most things, it is better with the right equipment. We gave up on the crappy round grill that seems to come standard on cruising boats in favor of one of the larger Magmas. Expensive, but worth every penny. And don’t think only of steaks (you will have a tough time finding a good one in the Bahamas anyway). Thomas prefers to make our fire god offerings, so I have him do all kinds of veggies for me. We also have aluminum sizzling plates you can put right on the table after you drop them in their heatproof holders. These are great for pizzas, parmesan scalloped potatoes, and all kinds of other stuff you can’t cook directly on the grate…but really any pan or cookie sheet that fits your grill will do. Want to bake bread? Put water in a pan or foil packet under the grate as a heat diffuser and keep the lid closed while it cooks.
· Cook outside. Longtime readers of the blog probably know that Bozo built a custom cockpit table, which unfolds to reveal a built-in, two-burner propane cooktop. This may be more extreme than most are willing to go, but even in the days before this permanent addition, we made mad use of a portable Coleman camp stove we stored in the lazarette.
· Don’t cook. We’ve become big fans of anything that doesn’t need heat at all. Salads, of course, and for me at least, every kind thereof: grain and veggie salads, bean salads, green salads, you name it. Also cold soups. Some need to be cooked and chilled, but gazpacho and avocado soups are among the ones that don’t. Peanut butter balls—peanut butter, oats, and mini chocolate chips mixed together and formed into balls and rolled in dried coconut—make up for cookies (or eat cookie dough raw!) on those days, although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth the rest of the time. For breakfast, overnight oatmeal works. Just add the water or milk to regular rolled or steel cut oats the night before and it will soften overnight. Dried fruit will also plump at the same time. And then there is conch salad and ceviche…must haves even Bozo will eat!
· Boil water. I won’t do much of the add-water-and-it-grows type items (instant mashed potatoes and the like). But there are some options that aren’t overly processed: whole wheat couscous, bulgher wheat, and Asian cellophane noodles only need boiling water and are a good foundation for cold salads (with veggies!).
· Be pre-fab flexible. I am usually a snob about cooking my own beans from dried and all that, but I become more open-minded when it gets toasty and keep some cans on hand for hummus and other things. I have even made use of the prepared Uncle Ben’s brown and wild rice that comes in foil packets. I don’t eat it straight but turn it into rice and veggie salads with some sort of citrus dressing or whatever to cover the packaged taste. Noticing a theme? I really am a veggie nut. For Bozo, I like to have crackers, Vienna sausages, decent cheddar cheese, peanut butter granola bars, and whatever chips or such I can find that he will eat, or else he just won’t do so for long stretches.
· Pressure cook. This wonderful tool will cut down the cooking time on anything: rice and grains, pasta, potatoes and other root veggies, legumes from dried (and I pre-soak in summer to get the cooking time even lower). Plus, you can also bring it up to pressure for part of the time, turn off the heat, and everything keeps cooking for quite a while until you let out the pressure. For steaming veggies, a splash of water in the bottom comes up to pressure almost instantly, and for most types, you can turn off the flame right then. You just have to get a sense for when to open the top so you don’t cook them to mush. And lobster legs make a great alternative to king crab legs. If you meet up with some Bahamian fishermen, they’ll usually give you all the bodies (you have to break off the legs) you can take for free. Steam them in the pressure cooker over fresh or salt water, with or without Old Bay. Takes less than 10 minutes. And sure, you can do tails, crabs, and shrimp this way, too. Have extra? Lobster quesadillas, lobster salad, lobster chowder, lobster potato skins on the grill…I better stop before I become the lobster version of Bubba Gump.
· Cook for leftovers. When we have the grill or stove on, I tend to pack it full of things for the next day or so as well. I favor leftover ingredients, as in a pot of quinoa I can turn into various dishes, rather than leftover meals that can only be bad reruns of dinner. If there is room, I will even freeze certain things, like a Tupperware of beans, so I don’t have to eat the same thing for days but can still enjoy the efficiency of cooking in larger batches. Bozo will eat leftover meat, that’s about it. But if you can keep your hands off bacon, it is very useful. And yes, you can make bacon on the grill. Quesadillas are a perfect quick-cooking meal to repurpose steak, chicken, bacon, and/or seafood that you set aside.
· Cook in the evenings. This may just be our habit, but we find that after a hot day, we need to hose off anyway. Somehow it is less daunting to cook knowing you will be cool and clean soon afterward and will enjoy falling, rather than rising, temperatures.
· Blend. Our Magic Bullet gets a workout this time of year, too. We make smoothies and rum drinks from frozen fruit, or fruit we buy fresh and freeze. Better than those artificially flavored, sugary daiquiri syrups! And cheaper here, too. As bananas often come by the overwhelmingly sized bunch, it’s nice to freeze up some of the forty bazillion that ripen on the same day and then blend ‘em later. But make sure to put them in deep freeze, which for us is under other items toward the bottom of our Engel, as they need to freeze fast or they brown. Of course, anything from mangoes to peaches works. As I write, we have strawberries and blueberries on ice and ready!
· FIRE! You may not want to sit close around the bonfire when it’s sweltering out, but cooking over one is another way to keep the heat out of the boat. We often use a grate and Bozo has become quite the bonfire gourmet, going so far as prosciutto-wrapped shrimp, sausage, onion and tomato kabobs, and even whole chickens.
· Microwave. We no longer have one, but we may reconsider this decision. Now with a Honda 2000 instead of the original 1000 (we were early adopters), we may be able to get a microwave powerful enough to actually use. The possibility of making Bozo a hot dog or a scrambled egg in one minute without any actual flame is tempting. There are only so many summer-friendly foods on his “will eat” list.
There are some fringe things I have seen online that tempt me, including solar ovens, solar dehydrators, and making jerky in the sun on your deck. I will let you know when we step this far over the edge into wacko-land. Knowing us, it’s probably coming soon.
In the meantime, I’m going to dig out some well chilled pinot grigio and relax.