Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Armchair Sailing - Provisioning the Larder

2011 01 05

0500 I sit before a tenuous fire crouched over a bowl of oatmeal drawing every erg of heat from the thin wisp of rising steam.  Black light envelopes the house only hesitantly interrupted by the feeble emissions of the few intermittent porchlights in our courtyard.  Last night's fresh coat of snow is just visible on driveway and tree branches.  

Six days remain until our return to Meredith and the life.  Our minds are beginning to shift into cruising mode; increasingly our thoughts address the upcoming voyage and the likely needs of vessel and crew.

Before leaving Florida for home the Budget Committee took an inventory of foodstuffs.  She is now preparing a detailed list for food shopping so that when we return to Florida we can outfit ourselves in one or two days.

While she does this I am ordering parts online for delivery to Vero Beach Marina.  If the plan works everything we think we need will be on hand on or before the day of our return and we can escape Florida with a minimum of delay.

Here is how the Budget Committee approaches provisioning:

Food in the Caribbean:

Some boats, bound for four months in the Caribbean take four months of a North American diet with them.  One friend rammed 50 lbs of steak into his freezer the day before he crossed the gulf stream.  Hope his reefer is still reefing.

Here's the thing about people: they all eat.  They just eat differently is all.

If you eat locally you learn to enjoy samosas and how to make and enjoy cornbread instead of wheatbread.  Or you will not learn these things and you will go hungry.

Rarely is the local diet inedible.  Some North Americans seem incapable of coping with dietary change however slight or beneficial. We spoke last year with a woman who reviled Cuba.  She lost 25 lbs while cruising there and left the island starving and in poor health (in her mind at least).  This was perplexing to us.  In Cuba we found ourselves awash in an ocean of the freshest cheapest produce you could imagine.  Granted meat was unavailable and the local cheese and flour required some adjustment in both cooking methods and taste but minor ones.

One of the Meat Shops at
the Free Market in Holguin - 
temperature 40 degrees Celsius

Smiles still come to mind thinking of Wade aboard Joana at the outdoor market in Holguin.  He had just been handed 20 lbs of lamb chops, fresh cut before his eyes, outdoors.  The butcher handed him 20 lbs of lamb.  No bag, just an armful of meat.  Wade was covered in blood for the rest of the day.

Shortly thereafter I bought 10 feet of fresh pork sausage.  The vendor offered up a sample and it was obvious that I was expected to taste his wares - Raw.   You go with the flow.

In the Caribbean most food is in the nature of staples: flour, beans, rice.  You must cook from scratch.  The BC bakes all her own bread and always plans to buy her flour/fat/sugar/yeast on whatever island she finds herself.  She carries enough flour to deal with an extended stay at an out of the way anchorage followed by a local shortage.

Above left: The Cane Squeezing Machine.  Right: Connie drinks a glass of squeezed sugar cane.

We were still making and eating bread from Cuban flour in Toronto some 5 months after our return from Cuba.

Meat however was in short supply.  Here is the meat counter at the largest consumer market in Havana, their version of Costco.  This is where diplomats and high rollers shopped:

On the islands locally grown foods are available readily and at good price.  Most local economies are too small to make profitable the production of prepared foods and few islands have foreign exchange to waste on importing North American trifles.

Largely unavailable or expensive:

fresh or frozen meat
paper products
store bought bread
flavourful cheese
sauces/salsa etc

the cooking oil you are used to - olive or canola
prepared food or prepared packaged food
junk food

Available and  reasonably priced:

starch - flour, rice, cornmeal (not always all 3 but one or more)
cooking oil of some description
tea, coffee
beans & peas
corned beef
locally preferred spices
salt (I mean just scrape the stainless)

Some food availability is strictly a question of your destination.  The Bahamas is a desert: dry wind scoured rocks populated with scrub brush.  Do not expect to find fresh fruit in abundance, nor, therefore, fruit juices.  Beer is dear in Bahamas because the water is imported - local drinking water is RO and  has a relatively high residual salt content.  In Cuba beer is plentiful, cheap and mixes for alcoholic beverages are readily available.

Soft drinks, being imported, are very expensive everywhere we have been.

Our Planned Food Inventory:

Here is what we will take with us as we leave North America this time:


6 packages chorizo sausage (keeps well and is delicious in everything)
6 cans canned chicken
6 cans tuna/ham
2 cans corned beef
our tiny freezer filled with frozen steak, pork chops and chicken breasts
2 dozen eggs
25 lbs of cheese: Asiago, Aged Provolone, Aged Cheddar, Jarlsburg
2 lbs butter
1 or 2 briskets
1 large cooked ham
maybe 1 precooked, sealed roast of beef

fresh vegetables:

10 lbs onions (curiously difficult to source in some areas)
15 lbs potatoes
2 celery bunches
10 or 12 green peppers which the BC usually freezes

canned goods:

4 large jars of crunchy peanut butter
3 large jars of cheese whiz (strictly for me)
200 tea bags
3 large jars of instant coffee
12 - 24 cans of tomatoes, whole and diced
12 cans tomoto sauce
12 cans tomato paste
18 cans kernel corn which adds lovely sweet cold crispness to salads

1 large resealable container (24 oz)minced garlic
12 cans mushrooms
12 cans kidney beans
6 cans black beans (great cold in salads)
6 cans Jalapenos or one large jar
4 cans chipotle peppers
1 large jar sundried tomatoes in oil
1 or 2 large jars olives for hors d'oeuvres
1 large jar pepperoncini
1 large jar pickled artichokes
3 or 4 large mayonnaise (read below for storage)


4 boxes of white wine
2 boxes red wine
72 cans diet coke
soda stream supplies - 6 gas bottles, 12 bottles of flavour
4 cases of Yeungling beer


4 large jars pesto Dijon mustard, relish, ketchup
Two litres of Kikkoman Soy
large bottle lemon juice
large bottle  lime juice
6 to 12 jars green sauce (Ortega medium for us)

dried goods:

5 lbs. of dried pasta
25 lbs flour
15 lbs rice
2 lbs sugar
2 packages or jars of bouillon cubes or powder
10 sealed foil packages of rice crackers
2 large bags of bagel bites
1 box dried milk powder
tortillas (last long, are very versatile)
dried beans - black and navy
spices -

cleaning products:

2 containers extra extra concentrated laundry detergent
3 large containers Joy dish detergent
1 gallon chlorine bleach
1 gallon vinegar

paper products

20 rolls of easily digested toilet paper
10 - 12 rolls of paper towels (critical to clean up engine oil or diesel spills)
200 paper napkins
1 box kleenex


12 bars body soap
4 women's deodorant
4 men's deodorant
6 tubes of toothpaste
6 containers of dental floss
2 one litre containers of shampoo
3 containers liquid hand soap in pump containers
3 containers hand sanitizer (jellied alcohol).

The BC bakes all of her own bread.  She buys her supplies locally and has never encountered difficulty sourcing her needs.

The cheese comes in very handy about the middle of month two when most cruisers have run out and are reduced to eating some bland form of curdled milk.  Very popular is a half pound of asiago in the cockpit of friends' boats.  Good quality cheese has a great shelf life.  Often our dinner is just a couple of good rum drinks accompanied by some cheese and crackers. 

Mayo does not require refrigeration contrary to the view of most North Americans.  Our Mayo is kept on the shelf not in the fridge.  To maintain purity you have to follow one simple rule: use only a clean spoon to remove the product from the jar (or use a squeeze bottle like we do).  Do not use a fork to stir the chicken and then use that same fork to scoop out a little bit more mayo.  If you do the resulting contamination will lead to unhappy results.  Using a clean spoon is all it takes to get great shelf life from mayo and many other such condiments/sauces.

 We will eat very well and will rely on local food wherever we find it.

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