9 August 2020
Two overnight passages wasn’t quite the start to our sailing season we intended but it certainly threw us back into the rhythm of life at sea and gives us the perfect excuse to close our series of food blogs with a look at what we eat and cook when we’re out at sea.
During any long passage food becomes very important. It provides structure to days and nights fractured by watches, energy to keep us going and a lining for our stomachs to stave off seasickness (most of the time).
Depending on distance and conditions we can leave on long passages at all hours of the day and night so breakfast is sometimes a banana eaten at 2am once lines and fenders are stowed away or a bowl of cereal at 5am with a sunrise. Any land schedule for meals goes out the hatch. Stefan has been known to cook and eat some pasta during a 4am watch.
I am more likely to reach for the peanut butter particularly during a long night watch or on an early start to give me extra energy. Keeping up our stock has not always been easy. In the supermarkets of the Mediterranean, it is harder to find than in the UK and when we do there is definitely no choice between smooth or crunchy.
In Albania and Montenegro we couldn’t find peanut butter at all so at anchor in the Bay of Kotor I resorted to making my own for our onward passage to Italy! It’s actually really, really easy. Just blend up peanuts in the blender for a few minutes. It will seem as though they aren’t going to turn to a buttery consistency but then suddenly it will go all smooth. Some recipes say add oil or honey or salt depending how smooth, sweet or salty you like it but just peanuts was yummy!
Lunch is usually a whatever’s in the fridge affair. Our unexpected crossing to France right back at the beginning of our journey taught us a lot of important lessons including not serving egg and mustard mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch to a crew already feeling slightly queasy from the gathering force 7 sea. In fact I don’t think we’ve tried them, even without mustard, on any passage ever again!
Instead we fill up on bread and cheese or humous and salads prepared before leaving. In Spain we relied on ready made tortilla (I must learn how to make them myself!). In Sicily we might have snuck a couple of arrancini on board and in Greece a slice or two of spanakopita from the bakery. For one long, slightly chilly, passage around Italy I ambitiously cooked up a batch of minestrone soup. It was very nice but it turns out soup is not the easiest thing to eat at sea even out of a mug!
A sweet treat is also essential for a pick-me-up at any time of the day or night. There is usually a ready supply of biscuits on board but occasionally we are treated to a friend’s baking. Farewell ginger biscuits from Babs in Agios Nikolaos and lemon cake from Sarah in Licata were just what we needed as we left our winter berths to head back out to sea. Our oven on board has not really been reliable enough for baking but preparing to leave Monastir in Tunisia for one of our longest passages to date I whipped up some biscuits with the local bsisa (barley) flour, almonds and cocoa. They tasted better than they looked although Stefan wasn’t overly convinced!
A good filling, warming evening meal is the vital start to any night passage. It is a chance for the crew to come together, refuel and prepare for the long night ahead. Having something tasty prepared is much easier than trying to cook something from scratch in the galley. We never know quite what conditions will be come dinnertime and so having something prepared and sitting on the hob ready makes reheating it underway possible in all but the roughest of conditions.
The gimbal on the oven really comes into its own when out at sea and trying to cook, avoiding hot liquids flying about!
And we never quite know what is going to happen so something that can be prepared and reheated if cooking is interrupted is essential. On one of our early sails across the Thames Estuary at night with our friends Aline and Adrian on board I had prepared macaroni cheese ready to heat in the oven for dinner. Just as it was ready to serve our main sail refused to reef in increasing wind. With a full sail out and 35 knot gusts, it was oven off and all hands on deck to sort out the sail whilst navigating the treacherous sandbanks of the estuary. When all was sorted about an hour later we could resume reheating and serving dinner.
Leaving the UK on the first overnight passage of this trip our friend Lee introduced us to his home made curry sauce which we enjoyed somewhere in the dark Thames Estuary and which has since become a firm favourite on board. Before leaving Montenegro I made fish cakes and homemade baked beans which girded us for a very long and bumpy night but usually its something simple like a veggie chilli or curry – anything that can be served from a bowl to avoid spillages!
More often than not our passage making meal will be Stefan’s favourite lentil dahl. In fact, ask Stefan what he wants for dinner most nights and the answer will be lentil dahl! It is the perfect recipe for long passages – quick and easy enough to make from scratch out at sea and so warming, tasty and easy to eat with one hand.
So here it is, our easy version of a lentil dahl that might become your firm favourite too.
Red lentils (about 250g), an onion (red or white), garlic, ginger, teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and turmeric, a chopped fresh chilli if you can get it or a pinch of flakes if not, a can of coconut milk, fresh coriander if you can get it but just as tasty without.
1. Finely slice the onion, garlic (as many cloves as you want) and thumb of ginger. Heat oil (we use coconut but any will do) in a pan and fry until soft.
2. Add the spices and cook a little before adding the lentils. Stir and coat with oil and spices before adding the coconut milk.
3. Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are soft. Add a bit of water if it starts getting too dry. Add some fresh coriander and it’s done.
Serve with rice, homemade chapatis or if conditions are too rough, just in a big bowl on its own. More than enough fuel for a long night of watches.