Someone’s In The Galley….
In September 2019, we stripped down Then Again to her bare bones. We did not want to leave anything aboard while she was in heated storage for the Winter of 2019-2020 in North Tonawanda, NY, at the western terminus of the Erie Canal. We packed up just about everything and moved it to a self-storage locker. I say, “Just about everything” because we gave all our unopened food items to the local food bank and trashed all of our open items that my brother didn’t want.
COVID-19 canceled the remainder of our Great Loop journey and we transported Then Again via the I-90 canal to Olympia Washington in October 2020. You can read about the details of our 2019-2020 boating in the entry “Then Again Is Home Again.” This involved re-loading the boat in North Tonawanda, then off-loading everything to a storage locker in Olympia. It had been almost 3 years since we initially loaded up R31 Then Again, and we wanted to thoroughly clean her and make some modifications before we began multiple trips from the storage locker to our berth in Olympia. It seems like whenever we are taking things to the boat or from the boat that it is always low tide. The ramp that bridges the gap between the parking lot and the docks is inevitably at a steep angle. (Or so it seems!)
Prior to making our first cruise of 2021, we therefore needed to re-load the boat and re-stock the galley and pantry. As the Chief Steward, I decided that this would be an excellent time to determine what had worked for both Lenny and me during our 16 months on the Loop, and what was a waste of time, money and/or space.
And we both had some modifications in mind for the interior space. We had agreed that we would not make any drastic changes from the factory build until we were really sure about the purpose of the modification and what we would gain. Both of us like to cook, and luckily, it’s distinctive styles. We didn’t want the other person to have to give up something that was important to them.
Top of our list was the space occupied by the microwave. We didn’t use the microwave. In the 7 years we’ve been Ranger Tug owners, both with a R25SC and now our R31S, we think we “may” have used it 3-4 times for popcorn. Never for anything frozen. We have a tiny freezer, about the size of one in a dorm room fridge. According to the Nova Cool website, the entire fridge has a capacity of 4.3 cubic feet, with the freezer capacity of 0.6 cubic feet. Freezer space is precious, and I used it to store meat and chicken, not a microwave dinner. One dinner would occupy almost the entire freezer!
We decided to remove the microwave, line the cavity with monkey fur, and have a custom-made door that hinges at the bottom installed. This space has become our “dog-stuff” locker, including food, their leads, treats, and the ever-popular poop baggies. All that dog stuff used to reside in a bin that was on top of the rear facing shelf in the cabin, except of course when it was strewn around the cabin, or the cockpit, or inside some other bin in the cave.
Trading a seldom used microwave space for a functional doggie cabinet brought a smile to my face. (I also considered designating that space for dry goods like crackers, cereal, chips etc., but I have a better solution for those items. More on that later.)
Ranger Tugs tout the installed wine cooler, that comes standard with many of their boats, including our R31. I thought a wine cooler would be a wonderful perk, since I don’t like beer. Give me a cool, crisp Riesling, Moselle, or Gewürztraminer any day and I’m a happy camper. Capacity is 6 bottles, which would hold me for a couple of weeks or so, depending on our dining out experiences. We took delivery of R31 Then Again in September of 2017, and I didn’t use the wine cooler while we were doing day trips on the Columbia River. But, I was sure anticipating daily use when we began our Great Loop voyage in June 2018. Prior to our launch in St Paul, MN, I stocked up at the local liquor store. I was all set for the first leg of our cruise down the Upper Mississippi River.
Or so I thought… If you know anything about white wines, you will recognize that these are all German white wine varieties. Rhine wine bottles are long and slender. Rhine wine bottles are too long to fit inside the wine cooler. Rhine wine bottles now lie on their sides underneath the V-berth and are only placed in the ice chest when drinking is imminent.
But that’s OK, I reasoned. I didn’t want to waste any storage space. I could transform the wine cooler into a produce locker! The installed wine cooler has 3 shelves and about 0.6 cubic feet of space. I just increased the cabin refrigeration by a little over 10%. I thought, “This good, this is great, we can have more vegetables, we can eat healthy at every meal, we can…. “.
Er, the wine cooler has a beautiful smoked glass door that is inevitably in sunlight from the helm door. Ugh, the wine cooler will only cool to 20 degrees below ambient temperature, despite what the temp settings are on the equipment. (And we don’t have air conditioning, having made the decision for no generator and a diesel heater instead). Oh, dang it! I sure ended up with some wilted lettuce and dried out carrots. Nuts!
So, after 16 months, we decided that we would really like some additional cabin storage space, where we could stand up tall items. Out came the wine cooler! After the wine cooler was removed, we found the space was larger than we anticipated, since the wine cooler had needed space for air circulation. We also had it lined with monkey fur and a custom-made louvered door with a hinge on the right side, so it would be easy to open.
This cupboard now holds the Holy Trinity of Cookin’ In The Galley: The Omnia Stove Top Oven, the 2 Qt Crock Pot, and the Kuuma Nesting Pans.
The oldest piece of boat cooking equipment is my Omnia Stove Top Oven. I got it in 2014 for use on our R25, which only had a single burner cook top and no oven. I had read about it in one of my favorite newsletters, The Boat Galley, and decided to give it a chance when we began doing multi-day cruises on the Columbia River. It simply sits on top of the burner and uses a combination of direct heat and convection to bake. There was no chance that the Omnia would not continue to accompany us on our cruises. It definitely came back onboard.
I have had crock pots ever since we got married in 1973. A bright red one was a wedding gift, and they had just come on the market. I’m on about number 5 at home, and for a while, we were a 2 crock pot family, since I had a large one that I could make pot roasts in, as well as the standard 4 quart. However, for the boat, I needed a small one, since that tiny fridge had no room for leftovers or pot roast. I stumbled upon a cookbook that was spot on for what we were eating: Slow Cooking for Two, published by Mendocino Press. The introduction was invaluable in re-orienting me to small portions. I purchased a 2 Qt Crock Pot for less than $20. It has a manual switch to select Off, Low or High. I found through sad experience on the R25 that the digital crockpots didn’t work, because they are relying on a constant alternating current and a stable cycle. Although we have the inverter on while using the Crock Pot, the digital ones just didn’t like the “Square” wave. We have empirical evidence of this effect, in the form of half-done beef stew with still crunchy turnips after 7 hours of cruising. Although the R31S has a true sine inverter, there is no need to replace a proven winner. Back on board she goes!
The third member of the Holy Trinity of Cookin’ In The Galley is our Kuuma nesting pots. When we had the R25, we just used our camping pots and pans. They were marginal but were not an extra cost when we were outfitting. We had so many other essentials to purchase then. But now we were ready to upgrade. Some considerations were durability, selection of pans and the ever important, amount of space they take up.
We picked the Kuumas because they store in their own bag in less than a cubic foot of space, and they have detachable handles. They are exceptionally durable, made of stainless steel, with an inner layer of aluminum and a ceramic nonstick coating. I use fabric pot separators to keep them from scratching each other and rattling. (You can find those at Amazon or Bed, Bath and Beyond, for example). The handles detach and I just store them in one of the drawers. We have Calphalon cookware at our dirt house and find these comparable. Gotta make space for those Kuumas!
Prior to re-purposing the wine cooler, the Crockpot was stored in a lower cupboard way in the back, just behind the Kuuma stack of pans, on a lower shelf. The Omina oven was shoved in either next to the Kuumas or else in the cupboard underneath the stove. To get any of them out required that either Lenny or I bend our old bodies down and at least partially unload everything else that was stored there. Now we can just grab them, without the unloading or bending and creaking.
I mentioned that we have an oven on the R31S. It’s a Force-10 propane oven, and we don’t use it very much. It’s so small that a 1.5-quart casserole dish takes up the entire space. No roasting a whole chicken or a beef roast, and to be honest, the oven doesn’t seem to heat evenly, even with an oven stone to disperse the heat. Others have had better luck with their ovens than I have.
We considered getting an Insta-Pot but after research, decided against it for the following reasons: (1) Takes up a lot of space. (2) Can’t cook steaks or burgers or anything else that you would cook on a grill. So, it just didn’t seem worth it to us, given our cooking preferences and existing equipment.
One of the things that absolutely did not work for us was a barbecue grill. We have tried both the Magma (round and rectangular) and the Kuuma grill over the course of 7 years of boating with our Ranger Tugs. I know many people are probably shocked to read that we currently don’t have a grill on board, nor do we intend to get a grill for on board.
Why? Every grill needed to be cooled and cleaned before it could be stowed away. We were generally too busy to do this chore right after dinner. Also, we determined that we didn’t have a good place to stow it that couldn’t have been used for something more important to us, like a spare anchor. Many people mount theirs on their swim platform or another cockpit rail, so… shouldn’t that take care of the cooling and stowing? In our case, we have our dinghy mounted on the swim platform, and a full cockpit enclosure that precludes mounting on a rail. And, oh yeah, our Ranger has pop-out cockpit seats that fold/retract, so there is no railing on either side of the cockpit, only the stern.
But there is a solution! When we wanted steaks or grilled fish or burgers, we just ate at a local restaurant. I personally think trading a BBQ grill for a lunch or dinner out fits me just fine!
One thing chefs need are a good set of knives. We agreed that we would go all out on purchasing a knife set for the boat, instead of relying upon our Ginsu knife and a couple of small, mis-matched steak knives. Then Again was going to be our home for a long time. We splurged on a 15-piece set of self-sharpening Calphalon knives in a knife block. We had to carefully measure the dimensions of the knife block to make sure it would securely fit behind the stainless-steel fiddle that runs the length of the galley area. We both had nightmares of sharp objects flying around the cabin during rough seas and devotedly wanted to avoid that scenario. There was some consideration to taking these knives to the dirt home. We looked at each other and said, “Nah, these fit perfectly”, so back they came.
We rounded out re-outfitting the galley by bringing aboard our Correlle ware square plates, a set of KitchenAid mixing bowls with non-skid rings on the bottom, heavy-duty non-breakable soup bowls, a melamine munchie platter and a collapsible cutting board, all of which are stored under the sink.. By the way, the large size of the mixing bowl doubles as our salad bowl, and square plates are much easier to store. Our wine and beer glasses are also non-breakable, and the majority of our cooking utensils are rubber or silicone, so we don’t have to worry about rust.
We also brought a Corning Glass trivet with us. It’s 15” by 11” and fits nicely on the counter next to the sink. The counter tops are not heat resistant, so we knew we needed something to put our plates on. We also have several silicone square trivets that double as pot holders. We have a blue enamel coffee pot that has been with us for about 40 years – a tried and true veteran of our camping days. All these items were returned to their usual spots in the galley. We were back in business!
We’re all set to cook, but what shall we cook? Time to re-provision, to support that first cruise.
I am very meticulous in my menu planning to make sure I have all the ingredients I need. I have been known to write down all the ingredients for a dish on a sticky note, then pull out my bins to make sure I have the right type and quantity. When shopping there is no room for additional items, and if I forget something, I am out of luck. I can’t afford to just wander the grocery store seeing what looks good. I have limited space. As a rule, I shop for about a week at a time, usually on the same day as laundry day and boat maintenance day.
Before we left on the Loop, I took a look at all the recipes that either one of us was likely to cook and purchased the spices, oils, and vinegars. Even if a spice was used in only one or two dishes, I got it because we didn’t want to be making the same dishes over and over. I continue to store my spices in airtight bins in the cupboards under the sink area. Previously, they frequently shared space with the Holy Trinity while we were on the Loop, but no longer have to. I had made a list of what these spices were, so I was able to pick them up as part of re-provisioning.
I store dry foods like crackers, rice, barley, pasta, instant mashed potatoes, and gravy packets in plastic bins, some in open top bins and some in closed bins. Also, I have a large sea grass basket that resides on the rear shelf above the cave. I store potato chips, sandwich bread, rolls, cereal, potatoes, onions, apples, and anything else that I don’t want banged up. I also store a spare roll of paper towels there, for easy access.
Sometimes our fridge looks like a 3-dimensional puzzle block, especially just after grocery shopping day. The Nova Cool came with a long bin that fits in the bottom. I store eggs, dairy that shouldn’t be frozen, and fresh vegetables in it. I go for convenience when getting my vegetables, such as precut celery and bags of mini carrots. A bag of premade salad is a treat on grocery day. Otherwise, it takes up too much space. (And they had also been victims of the failed “turn the wine cooler into a produce locker” conversion.)
My middle shelf in the fridge contains two bins to hold meats and cheeses, especially lunch meat. I may also store a package of ground beef or chicken thighs in those bins if I know I’m going to use them in the next day or two. Otherwise, all the meat goes into the freezer. I re-wrap and label meal size portions so that I can easily defrost only what will be needed. I will also put pre-made potato salad and pasta salad in those bins.
The top shelf is for items that will be OK even if they freeze since there is no separate freezer door. This includes fruit cups, applesauce, pre-made puddings and other things of that ilk. It took me awhile to fine tune my fridge settings to make sure the freezer was freezing in the compartment, but not on the top shelf. Depending on the ambient temperature, I also needed to re-calibrate it on a regular basis.
We found that the door is good to hold butter in a tub. Real stick butter was a luxury item, and I usually got it in the small amount possible, since it was going into a dish that needed the real stuff. Other things that fit on the door were the small bottles of mayo, ketchup and mustard, jars of marinated vegetables (good for munchies) and reusable water bottles. We often use Crystal Light to flavor our waters, for a treat.
Our usual MO at our dirt home is to eat out 3-4 times per week, about evenly split between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Overall, we probably go out at about the same frequency when we are cruising; however, it’s almost exclusively happy hour/dinner.
On our cruising days, we are always eager to get underway, so our breakfast is something quick. First off, is coffee. We have a 4 cup French Press thermos, which makes enough coffee to get Lenny underway and a mid-morning refill. We get the individual cereal cups, which stack easily to store and are self-contained so no dishes, except spoons. We have mini bagels with cream cheese. Some days, I will make quick bread in the Omnia oven. Our favorites are generally made from the Krusteaz brand of mixes. They usually require additions of eggs, oil, and water, so I have to make sure I have enough eggs in that little fridge. The bread comes out in a ring, and we happily slice off chunks and put some butter on them. For the two of us, one batch of bread is good for about 3 days of breakfasts.
A cooked breakfast, such as scrambled eggs, is a special treat for us, reserved for non-cruising days. Lenny will slice up bacon or left-over ham as a part of his mix. No fake bacon bits for us because of taste and texture, and no room to store a slab of uncooked bacon. However, the pre-cooked slices come in a box, usually from Hormel or Oscar Meyer, and they stack nicely in the fridge or cupboard.
Lunch underway can be many things: sliced cheese and meats with crackers, tuna salad, egg salad, sandwiches made with cold cuts, cottage cheese and vegetables, or anything else that can be put into a plastic bowl and eaten with your fingers or a fork. We use plastic bowls instead of plates because the food is less likely to slide off and end up on the floor. Hot soup is a special treat for a chilly day in port. Also, if we are in port, we may look for a beer and burger place.
We don’t cruise at night and we are almost always tied up at a marina for the evening because of walking our dogs. Much as we would like to, we don’t go out to dinner every night. Menu planning really comes into play here. If I know it’s going to be a long cruising day, defined by us as more than 6 hours, I will frequently plan a Crock Pot meal. Some of our favorite recipes include Beef Stew, White Bean Chicken Chili, Loaded Bake Potato Soup, Coq Au Vin, or Chicken Cacciatore. Nothing like the smell of dinner to pervade the cabin as we finish up the day. We have also cooked beef ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, rice pilaf, couscous, and various pasta dishes with our Kuuma pans.
One of our favorite dinners coked in the Omnia is chicken thighs cooked with various vegetables, like potatoes, onion, zucchini and/or mushrooms, often flavored with some fresh thyme or rosemary. You can adapt any casserole type recipe to the Omnia as long as you can evenly distribute the food around the ring. A meat thermometer is my best friend when determining cooking times.
I always stock some pasta like rigatoni or penne, along with a jar of premade tomato sauce, so that if worse comes to worse, we have something to eat that’s quick and easy. You’ll also find a can or two of tuna fish, some Chunky Soups or Lenny’s favorite Vienna Sausages in our pantry.
Finally, time for clean-up. From Day 1, we always carefully wiped off any items with food stuff on them and put those paper towels into the trash. Left over coffee and other beverages were dumped over the side. The only things we wanted going into the drain were soapy water and rinse water. Because we are such fanatics about this, we have never had any smells from our drains, in any of our sinks. We keep our trash under the table and empty it each night. We have a separate lidded bin in the cockpit for recyclables. It sits along our ice chest, which is where we store our beer, wine, extra water, and occasional cans of soda.
We’re all set to resume cruising, this time in the Pacific NorthWest. Then Again still has many adventures in store for us.