A few weeks ago, I was delighted to have a chance to talk on the phone with Lynnelle in Dallas and Rhoda in Santa Fe at the same time. It allowed them to share a laugh at my expense, but I still say they were laughing at an uncharacteristic solution I developed to the problem of meal planning. I told them, “I just created an Excel spreadsheet for meal planning and I think it’s going to help a lot.” Instead of a “Good for you!” or at least an interested “Hmmmm”, I heard silence followed by two of my dear friends laughing at me. With her charming Dallas accent Lynnelle hooted, “Did she say spreadsheet?!” “Yes!” said Rhoda, “Yes! She did! She said Excel spreadsheet!” and they laughed again.
OK, I admit that this act is not how I normally attack meal planning and provisioning – and that’s the problem! Before we left Maine, I took the wonderful SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) provisioning course by Barbara Theisen. Then I declined to take the time to plan meals before provisioning. I still am not up to planning menus for 30 days. That’s just not going to happen. And when anchored in a harbor among cruisers, I have to be very flexible, as parties happen and frequently involve lots of appetizers and tapas that take us all through the dinner hour. Consequently, I stopped planning meals, and then would have no idea what to serve EW for dinner. He likes popcorn. Still.
While we were in St. Thomas, I reflected on my lack as a provisioner and chef. EW has never complained. Not once. But I know that we had popcorn for dinner many times in Grenada and that really isn’t acceptable to me. I also purchased way too many produce items that were subsequently tossed out after going bad. I needed to get better at this, and decided to tackle the problem while we were in St. Thomas. This is a real issue for many cruisers; after all, we can no longer stop by Beale Street Barbeque in South Portland and grab two bowls of their chili du jour to go – with Cole slaw on the side. Mmmmm. None of us are near our favorite take out option from home, and no one has yet delivered pizza while we are on the hook. Popcorn became the option when I didn’t feel like cooking.
So, if popcorn is the result, what is really the problem? I like to cook (sometimes) and have tons of recipes and cookbooks on board. The challenge is to find a meal I wanted to make for which I had stuff on board. On hot Grenada afternoons, I would languidly peruse recipe after recipe and think, “No, I don’t have that,” or “This needs to marinate 2hours.” And I would make popcorn.
OK. So, lack of planning is the problem. What was the solution? That Excel spreadsheet. (Laugh if you will, but it’s working for us.) I spent an afternoon going thru my recipes, from cookbooks, cruising cookbooks, my files, and those shared by other cruisers through email. I pulled out twelve recipes that could be considered Quick Meals, and noted what ingredients they needed from my on-board stores and what ingredients were “special’ items, such as fresh veggies, protein, and perhaps a special cheese. On La Luna parmesan cheese is a staple, feta cheese would be a special item. Most of the Twelve Quick Meals only require a salad or some veggies. A few need special fresh veggies, such as broccoli, and chicken. My definition of “Quick” in the Twelve Quick Meals is that I can prepare it in the time it would take for EW to pick up a pizza – about 20-30 minutes.
My plan is simple, with only two goals:
1. Every day, I will have on board all the ingredients for 3 of the 12 meals.
2. Each recipe must always make at least four servings.
That way, I can participate in a pot luck or have food for unexpected guests – or have left-overs for another meal. By only having three meals, I’m not purchasing too many veggies for the week and there is less waste. We don’t eat out a lot, and try to do so at lunch more than dinner. On days when we eat out at lunch, no dinner meal is required – except a salad, fruit, appetizer or, (OK) popcorn. I also keep on hand a few items that allow me to make any of my staple five or six appetizers to share at impromptu sundowner parties.
I’ve been using this system for a month or more, and it works. I also added another spreadsheet with 10 not-so-quick meals, such as home made pizza, chicken satay, and fish tacos, and I try to keep stuff on board for two or three of those, as well. When the mood strikes and I’m feeling more creative, I’ll look through my recipes and cookbooks for something else. So far, we aren’t bored with the list and we are eating a lot less popcorn.
As for organizing the recipes, I simply noted on the spreadsheet where I could find each recipe – which page of what cookbook, or which file in the computer, or which of my two three-ring recipe notebooks. (Told you I have a lot of recipes.) I hope to change out the top Quick Twelve Meals every so often as I find other recipes that fit the requirements. in the meantime. We are eating well.
FLASHBACK: EW has never complained about my cooking or popping, although there are meals he would prefer not to eat a second time. Usually we both agree on those. Let me tell you about the first meal I made for him.
We’d been dating for a few weeks and I was already smitten, so I invited him to my tiny apartment for dinner and decided to make Fettuccini Alfredo. I’d never made Fettuccini Alfredo before, but I had a recipe (of course) and figured it would be hard to mess up. Right.
We had wine, I made garlic bread, and salad. The instructions were clear. Once the pasta is done and you pour the cheese on, you must only heat it for a very short while – just until the cheese melts. But the bread wasn’t quite done and I figured I’d better keep the pasta and cheese mixture hot, so it stayed on the burner some minutes after being perfectly done.
Have you ever eaten natural peanut butter – the kind that you have to mix because the oil is separated from the peanut gunk? And have you ever not quite mixed all of the oil in so you have really sticky peanut gunk that refuses to spread? Well, that is roughly the consistency of the Fettuccini Alfredo that I served EW that night. I couldn’t eat it. He kept at it, chewing each mouthful. When I protested that it was inedible, he said, “Hm ----- um ---- n ----“ holding his index finger up for time as he worked on masticating and swallowing the cemented noodle mixture. When he had finally cleared his mouth, he said, “No, it’s fine. It’ wouldn’t taste bad at all if you didn’t have to keep it in your mouth for so long.”
That’s when I knew I wanted to marry this man.