Here in La Cruz there are a lot of cruisers preparing for the 2018 Puddle Jump and many others heading the opposite way with the Panama Posse. With so many of us about to make long passages there has been a lot of talk about provisioning, cooking and storing food for our adventures. Since we are somewhat ahead of the game, Dan and I were asked to prepare some notes for a seminar that was held last week at Marina Riviera Nayarit La Cruz. After preparing our notes we decided this might be some good information for others who may be preparing for a long journey.
Obviously provisioning for food is a very personal thing. After all, we all have different diets, favorite foods and galley equipment. Here on Dazzler we are fortunate enough to have a built in refrigerator & freezer as well as an Engel 42 quart refrigerator/freezer that we use as a freezer. With that in mind, we have taken a “fix it ahead and freeze it” approach to our provisioning.
I’m a southern gal so cooking for two is very difficult. When I make stew or anything else for that matter there is usually enough for the entire dock. The good part of this is it makes pre-cooked meals easy. Well, maybe not easy…you should have seen the salon and galley on Dazzler as I spent four full days cooking, packaging and freezing 80 individual meals!!! I looked like a mad chef with hair stacked on top of my head to keep it out of the food; food all over my clothes and dishes on the companionway stairs, in the cockpit and all over the galley and dining table. I love cooking but I’m not sure I was prepared to cook 80 meals over the span of a few days. Fortunately Dan was on a last parts/provision run to the land of plenty while I was doing all this. I can’t imagine having to do it with both of us on the boat.
So, what did I prepare in those yummy packages? Well, here’s a list of the meals I made:
- Beef Stroganoff*
- Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs*
- Macaroni & Cheese*
- Roasted Tomato/Pepper/Basil Soup
- Brunswick Stew
- Marinated Chicken & Garlic-Dill Roasted Potatoes
- Creamed Chicken with Veggies
- Frijoles de la Hoya
- Chicken & Gravy for Open Faced Chicken Sandwiches
- Crunchy Granola Bars (Great protein and filling plus they can go in dry storage!)
*Note that with the stroganoff, spaghetti and Mac & cheese I just made and froze the sauces. Cooking noodles on the boat isn’t a big deal and by just freezing the sauce it took up less room in our freezer.
So why did I choose to pre-cook and freeze our meals? Well, by vacuum sealing them I created boil in a bag meals that will be easy to cook underway. Just pop them into a pot of water, boil and pour into a dish. Much less mess and if the sea state gets a bit nautical I won’t have a pot of sauce on the stove…just water and possibly some noodles. I’d rather clean up spilled water and noodles than red sauce any day! Of course we have other meats and meals that we are taking along but this is really focused on what we will eat on the 21-30 day passage.
Tips On Packaging & Freezing Foods
- I chose to package individual portions so that we both don’t have to eat the same thing if we don’t want to and chances are that given our watch schedule we may be hungry at different times.
- Depending on who you talk to, foods with liquid, most of what I cooked, should be frozen in a Ziploc bag before you vacuum seal them. I tried this but found that it was an unnecessary step and really made things a bit more difficult. In the end I sealed stews and “wet” items without freezing them. I did make certain to leave a little extra room in the bag so that it didn’t immediately begin to suck the liquid from it. I hit the vacuum button and as soon as the bag began to collapse and liquid started to get sucked out, I hit the seal button. Yes, there is a little air in them but the fact of the matter is I’m not sealing them to last for months and months so I feel like they will be just fine.
- If you do freeze them first, be sure to make them as flat as possible. For example I froze the soup in quart size Ziploc bags and laid them on the bottom of the freezer. They flattened out to about ¼ inch thick packs that stack oh so nicely in the freezer.
- Even though I ultimately chose not to freeze my food first, I still made certain I laid the packages very flat when I did freeze them. This saves a lot of room and makes packing your freezer a breeze. I was able to fit all 80 precooked meals along with a few other meats and two ice cube trays in our Engels. I even had enough room left over to put three beers at a time to chill them to the perfect temperature! (NOTE: Make sure you put a piece of paper towel or waxed paper between your packages when freezing a lot of them at one time. If you don’t you will end up with a block of frozen packages that will be next to impossible to separate later. Yes, I learned this one the hard way!)
- If you cook all your meals in the span of a few days you might find, as I did, that you will be working the heck out of your freezer and it will take a long time to get
them to freeze. I found a solution to this problem very early on. We have a large cooler bag that we take to the grocery store to put our cold items in to transport them back to the boat. I bought a couple of bags of ice and placed the newly cooked items (after they cooled on the counter) into the freezer bag for several hours. By the time I moved them to the freezer they were cold and didn’t put as much strain on the freezer. They froze MUCH more quickly.
- For the granola bars I made packages of six. Once opened I’ll put them in Ziploc bags. This way they don’t all have to be removed from vacuum-sealed bags at once and will stay much fresher along the way.
Other Food Tips
As you can probably tell, we love our vacuum sealer and use it A LOT! Here’s some other things we have done with dry foods.
- Flour is supposed to be good for trading so we bought a lot of it to bring along and
- we packaged it in 2-cup bags as well. (Of course, don’t forget to freeze your flour for at least 24 hours before you package it to prevent weevils.)
- We divided rice into 2-cup bags and vacuum sealed them so that we have portioned out rice for dishes like chicken and rice.
- Nuts, dried fruits etc… were also divided into smaller vacuum-sealed bags to keep them fresh.
- We seal our pasta as well. One point here is that pasta such as Rotini has sharp edges that can poke through the seal a meal bags. I line the bags with paper towels before putting the dry pasta in the bag. This prevents puncturing and has worked beautifully. I do the same with crunchy granola.
- Milk…I LOVE FRESH, COLD, WHOLE MILK! But, I HATE boxed milk. Dan, on the other hand, likes it. I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be drinking much milk for a while. I can handle that but when it comes to cooking it is a must. Dan calls me a milk snob but I refuse to use the boxed milk in my southern cooking. It has a strange aftertaste and I refuse to put that in my lovingly cooked meals. So what do I use instead? Well, I’ve found the best alternative is Evaporated Milk. (Called Evaporado here in México) It actually makes things much creamier than milk does and has fewer calories than heavy cream. The awesome part is the obvious fact that it doesn’t need refrigeration. One tip though…You will probably want to add some water to the dish as it does thicken quite a bit. It’s my favorite new cooking ingredient and I highly recommend it.
- Sour cream! We love our Mexican meals like tacos, burritos and enchiladas and sour cream is a staple in our diet. Of course it requires valuable refrigerator space. While we will be taking a few small tubs of the real stuff, we also make our own using canned Crema. All you need to do is add a touch of white vinegar to Crema and voila! Sour Cream! Of course you have to refrigerate it after making it but you can make small batches for a meal or two. I’ve saved some of the small sour cream containers to use when we make it so it won’t take up much room in the refrigerator.
- Spices…we love spicy, flavorful foods and from what we know about the food in the islands it tends to be rather bland and spices are not easily found. Stock up on spices and hot sauces etc… before leaving México. We also stocked up on taco seasoning. Just because we won’t be in México doesn’t mean we can’t have the flavor!
- I created pre-packaged mixes for things like my granola bars, cheddar biscuits, butter biscuits etc… I measured out all of the dry ingredients and then vacuum sealed them into one package. This way when I get ready to make them I just dump the dry package into a bowl, add the wet ingredients and with very little fuss or clean up they are ready to make.
- For things like Mayonnaise and other things like that which require refrigeration after opening, we always get small jars/bottles. It’s not as cost effective but a small jar of mayo takes up a lot less room in the refrigerator once it is opened.
Where, When & How To Buy Your Provisions
Before you go shopping, take the time to inventory your food. You’ll be glad you did! Throw out or donate the things that you never eat and discard those that are expired. I know we have gotten rid of quite a bit of food that we thought we’d eat but found we didn’t. Things that are on the cusp of expiring have been discarded as well. If I don’t think we will eat it in the next couple of weeks, it’s out of here! We need the room.
Now I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to the inventory thing. I have an inventory spreadsheet that lists all lockers on the boat and what is in them. It helps not only with locating tools and parts, but makes shopping much easier. For food, I keep all items listed on one spreadsheet in alphabetical order. I list the item, quantity on hand and location. For parts & tools I list the individual lockers and what’s inside each of them. (I’ll go into detail not this in another article.) I did this for food but found it to be a bit cumbersome when you have diced tomatoes in three different lockers. By having it all on one list I can see exactly how many of each item I have which makes creating a grocery list much easier.
Here is a screenshot from our food item spreadsheet…
Here on Dazzler we have a “two ready cabinets”. In one cabinet we stow the dry goods we use almost daily. In the other we stow the canned goods we use daily. This keeps us from having to get into several different stores each time we cook a meal. In the “storage cabinets” we stow the rest of the food. As we move food from the storage cabinets to replenish our ready cabinets, we change it on the inventory log. Before we go shopping we review the inventory and know exactly what we have and what we need. Yes, it’s a little work but we’ve found it to be completely worth it. We keep our laptop on the nav station next to the galley so it’s just a matter of opening it up and making a couple of changes when something is moved or removed. We also track what’s in our Engels and our built in freezer. We don’t do it for the refrigerator so much because we are in that all the time and we just know what’s there and what is needed.
Before we started provisioning I prepared a list of meals I’d be making and what ingredients would be needed. I compared that to our inventory list to determine what we would need to buy.
However you decide to track your food, make sure you prepare a list of the meals you will be making beforehand or underway and do a good inventory before you start provisioning. It will make it a whole lot easier and less confusing. Plus, you aren’t as likely to end up having too much of one thing and not enough of another.
If you are here in México you know finding what you want can be a challenge at times and you probably won’t find everything in one place. We divided up our food gathering into several trips. So far we’ve made two trips to Costco to get the bulk items like Evaporated Milk, Giant Jars of Peanut Butter, Canned Tomatoes, Sodas etc… And remember, if you see it in Costco and think you want it…BUY IT! Chances are it won’t be there the next time you go. We’ve also made trips to Mega and La Comer (grocery stores) where we’ve found most everything we need.
We divided our trips up to give me some breathing room when it comes to stowing it aboard Dazzler. I know it can be overwhelming when you see a grocery cart overflowing with food and you start wondering where in the heck it is all going to go. My advice, just take a deep breath and calm down. You will find a place even if it’s tucked in your clothing locker or underwear drawer. Just make sure you document where you put it, especially if you are putting food in different places than normal.
How Much Food Do We Need To Take?
This is a loaded question for sure. How much food you take is entirely dependant upon your personal situation. How many people are you feeding? How many meals a day do you typically eat? Do you eat big meals or do you snack throughout the day and then eat smaller meals? Where are you planning on stopping along the way? How long before you reach the bigger islands where larger stores can be found? How much are you willing or do you have to spend on food once you get there? Do you eat more veggies or meats? Red meat or white meat?
It’s really hard for us to say how much you should take but if you answer those questions you should be able to figure it out. In all of our reading, of which we’ve done a ton, we’ve found that items like staple items, fruits and veggies are pretty easy to find in the islands. Chicken is there as well. Red meats will be much harder to find until you reach Papeete so if you like your red meat, I’d stock up now. As for us, we will be bringing filets along for our first anchor down meal in Hiva Oa.
Fruits & Vegetables
Veggies, oh those veggies! Well as you probably know most won’t last more than a couple of weeks unless you can them or refrigerate them and we all know how precious refrigerator space is on our boats. Root vegetables and onions will last the longest. For others you will likely have to resort to canned after a couple of weeks. This is another reason I chose to pre-cook meals. I was able to use red meats and fresh veggies and won’t have to make these meals with canned ones later. Of course we will buy our fresh fruit and veggies at the very last minute.
Some simple things I’ve learned about stowing veggies:Some say to wash and dry veggies before storing them. Others say not to do this. We will be washing our fruits and vegetables in a solution of water and vinegar then drying them thoroughly before storing. The vinegar helps to kill bacteria and spores that spur ripening.
- Don’t store potatoes and onions in the same place! In fact, store your onions far from other veggies. They gas off and promote ripening.
- Root vegetables should be stowed in cool, dark places. We will be placing ours in paper bags made from food grade brown paper. They need some ventilation so we will just poke some holes in the bags. It’s important if you do this that you check them often. When you find items that are getting ripe, remove them from the bag and use them up. If you find items that have bad spots, remove them immediately to prevent them from rotting and affecting the other food in the bag.
- Don’t just buy fruits and vegetables that are ripe and ready to eat. Buy some that are still “green” as well as some that are ready to eat.
- Buy vegetables and fruits that have never been refrigerated. Those that have been will ripen much more quickly if you don’t refrigerate them.
Beer, Wine and Liquor
These items will be expensive in the islands. We don’t drink underway so it’s just once we get there that we will need these items. After all, what’s fun is anchor down without an icy anchor down beer?
We received a great tip from some friends who have already done this trip. We bought a
5-gallon Jerrycan and will be filling it with vodka. This serves a couple of great purposes. One…we won’t have all those bottles to contend with and two, we can stow it along the rail on deck where we have our extra fuel so we don’t have to make room down below! HUGE BONUS!
We also drink beer and have heard of others who have lined their bunks, under their mattresses with beer. While that’s a great idea, our bunk is at the bow and we don’t want to put that much weight up there. We will likely stow it on the settee with the lee cloth up where we will be putting some other items. We have a few bottles of wine on board that we put in old socks and stowed in our clothing lockers to give some cushion. Of course we have other miscellaneous bottles of liquor that will just stay in their normal lockers.
It’s All Personal
As we said at the beginning, provisioning is a very personal thing. What you do and how you do it depends upon your circumstances, wants and needs. This information is just what we are doing based upon what we’ve read and learned from others. As with everything there are many ways to accomplish this task and we certainly are not experts when it comes to provisioning but if some of the tips here are useful for you then we are glad to have been a part of helping you on your adventure.
We’ll be posting the recipes for the pre-cooked meals I prepared here in the coming week. I’ll also have some other recipes for things like my refrigerator granola bars, one pan, no roll butter biscuits etc…
We hope this was helpful. If you have questions, other ideas or suggestions we’d love to hear them. Please email us at Jilly@DazzlersWatch.com.
Wishing you all happy, safe sailing and great meals!
Until Next Time…
P.S. Do yourselves a favor… spend some time eating out while you can. Whoever is on galley duty during the crossing will greatly appreciate the break now! I know I will!