The only downside of our visit to Cat Island? Our refrigeration system failed the day we arrived. Oof.
Our fridge and freezer share a chill plate, which we cool down twice a day via a compressor that runs off the generator. (There’s also an engine-driven compressor but it stopped working several months ago.) The generator wouldn’t start after we anchored, and Drew quickly discovered that its raw-water impeller had disintegrated. (Impellers are like propellers, except they suck in water rather than push it out.) Not to worry: He’d ordered spare impellers in Seattle and brought them on board for just such an emergency. Only, oops, it seemed that pumpvendor.com had shipped the wrong parts. They were too small. No fix was at hand.
Cat Island is remote enough that you can’t really get anything repaired or have parts shipped in a decent timeframe, so we just had to throw our hands up and make do for a couple of weeks until Drew could get the right parts shipped to Eleuthera.
The first order of business, then, was cleaning out the fridge and freezer as quickly as possible. Eggs and bacon and sausage for breakfast! Steak and cooked veggies for lunch! Pickle that cauliflower and see if it keeps! Poach two chickens at once and eat as much as you can for dinner! We did pretty well, but we’d stocked up so heavily in George Town, knowing they had the biggest grocery we’d see for a while, that we couldn’t quite make it through our frozen meats before some things started to spoil. Oh well.
Then it was on to canned goods: tuna salad, pickled beets, and crackers for lunch; lots of ramen and mac n’ cheese for the kids. We learned that canned chicken isn’t all that bad, although its texture is oddly like tuna.
EXIT has a reasonably sized refrigerator — it’s about 5 cubic feet — and behind it, accessible from the counter top, is the freezer, which is about 1.5 cubic feet. Together they provide plenty of room for our perishables. Granted, the variety of produce here is pretty limited — little food is grown in the islands and most things are shipped in with the mail boat. Stores, as a result, tend to stock produce that keeps well. A few days ago, for example, we went into a small store in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, where it had been nearly a week since the last mailboat came though. All that was left in their refrigerator case was iceberg lettuce, green cabbage and some gigantic carrots. In boxes on the floor nearby they had a few potatoes and onions.
(Even when a store is well stocked, some of the choices are confusing. In the meat case we’ll find twenty or more styrofoam trays of chicken wings, but no other poultry. Then there’s the ubiquitous pork pack: cubes of pork, with and without bones, as though someone took a cleaver to a pig with no reference whatsoever to its anatomy. I’m still not sure how to use it.)
Anyway, the upshot is that we’ve had a lot of carrots and cabbage on this trip. (Creamy coleslaw, sweet-and-sour coleslaw, slaw with peanut sauce, boiled cabbage with butter ….) Green apples, too, which hold up better than other varieties. Oranges will last for a long time if you wrap them individually in aluminum foil — this prevents any mold from spreading from one piece of fruit to the other. We store potatoes and onions in the cockpit in separate wicker baskets tucked under seats, where they do well in the dark and relative cool. And of course we rely a lot on canned and dried things: rice and beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, UHT milk, etc.
We cook on the stove almost exclusively. EXIT has a three-burner propane stove with an oven, but unfortunately the oven never really gets above 200°F so we can’t use it for much more than a warmer. (The kids have valiantly baked brownies and blondies a few times — they pour the batter into cupcake molds and it’s done in about 90 minutes.) But we’ve managed just fine with no oven because we have a modern pressure cooker. These things are AWESOME. No more loud hissing or bean water spraying onto your walls. The new-fangled pressure gauge is nearly silent and releases almost no steam. We can cook presoaked black beans in 10 minutes. Poach a whole chicken in 20. Cook penne in its own sauce in 7 minutes. All of which means we’re using less propane and not heating up the galley as much. It’s fantastic.
I get excited about this stuff because I love food and cooking, but also because I’ve learned like never before that a well-fed crew is a happy crew. Just two afternoons ago, for example, everyone here on EXIT was pretty grumpy, stomping around belowdecks (quite a racket on a boat), when I realized it was time to start dinner. I began browning a chicken in the pressure cooker and within minutes the kids were saying “Mmmm! What’s that smell? What’s for dinner? Can I help?” Soon they were crowding around the galley, offering to help cook the potatoes, add herbs and garlic to the pot, etc. That night we had poached chicken with broccoli and mashed potatoes, and everyone enjoyed it so much it changed our moods completely. We were all laughing, telling stories, planning what we’d do when Uncle Jordan — Drew’s brother — joined us in two weeks. (He’s coming to help us sail EXIT back across the Gulf Stream and up to North Carolina. Our excitement level for his visit is HIGH.)
It wasn’t fine dining by any means, just basic, home-cooked food, but it was enough. Meals are about memory and emotion, after all, as much as they are about nutrition. And thanks to the setting and the company and our conversation, that will be a meal we’ll remember.
Here’s the recipe for our dinner, a variation on “Tasty Chicken” that uses a whole chicken instead of boneless thighs.
Tasty Whole Chicken with Vegetables
2 T olive oil
1 three-to-four pound whole chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and rosemary
salt and pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice, white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
3-4 cups cut up vegetables, like broccoli or green beans (fresh, frozen or canned)
Heat the base of a pressure cooker on medium high and add the oil. Pat chicken dry and season all over with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, brown chicken on all sides, about 5 minutes per side.
Turn chicken onto its back, then add garlic and herbs to an open spot on the bottom of the pot and cook for about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice or vinegar and 1/2 cup water, plus 1 teaspoon salt. Close and lock lid of pressure cooker and turn heat to high. When it reaches pressure, turn heat to the lowest level that will maintain pressure, and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and let sit until pressure is released naturally. Take chicken out and let it rest on a cutting board. When it’s cool enough to handle, carve chicken and serve on a platter. Meanwhile, put the vegetables in the pot with the remaining sauce and simmer until cooked through. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Fish vegetables out with tongs and add to the platter. Serve with sauce on the side. Oh, and with mashed potatoes with loooooots of butter.
p.s. (from Drew), In addition to the disintegrated impeller, the generator raw water pump appeared to be leaking water and I decided the best course of action would be to replace the whole thing. pumpvendor.com made good by expediting a new pump (and replacement minor spare kits) to Eleuthera. Getting the new pump on there took a morning, but ended up being relatively straightforward.