by Louis Bignami

You may be what you eat, but fresh air hones appetites, so galley food need not be complex.

Galley slaves who labor in tight quarters with often uncertain footing and minimal help muse about the Emancipation Proclamation as they try to figure out how to bake a 17-inch long casserole in a 16-inch long oven on a cabin cruiser. As my wife noted on a honeymoon houseboat trip, "Kitchen chores aren't exactly what I had in mind when you mentioned "cruising." In the 20 years since, we've cruised off the US, Mexico, Central America, British Columbia, Hawaii, the Bahamas and elsewhere in the Pacific. We've overnighted in everything from tin skiffs to power cruisers and houseboats and, in between, written eleven cookbooks. With nothing to prove, we spend little time in the galley on weekend cruises. We'd rather tend sail, fish or gunk hole. Could be this has something to do with our sticking together?

Galley management starts with KISS, the sound advice to "Keep It Simple Stupid." Never cook on board what you can cook at home. This avoids mess, wasted leftovers and cleanup. Even better -- cook a big batch, portion to suit and freeze. With two in our family, we cook for eight, portion for two and freeze "made" dishes until needed. We're also fond of fried or oven baked chicken, or barbecued chicken that can marinate in a container and then flip out onto the grill. 

Freeze food in foil-lined pans, then pop the contents out, wrap with more foil and segregate different dishes in common Zip-Lock(TM) plastic bags to free your containers and avoid "what's that" confusion at the freezer. When you head for the boat, replace the made dish in its initial container and it's ready to cook. Even if you leave home Friday you can thaw a frozen dish for Saturday's dinner.

Do, when possible use "real ingredients" such as wine vinegar, fresh herbs and fresh vegetables that taste much better than "the canned and bland." Granted, the right canned goods can save the day.

For example, a can of black olives, a small jar of capers, a tin of anchovies and a little Parmesan cheese container will, with a pound of pasta and a bit of oil, butter or margarine, cook up into Pasta Putanesca, an Italian classic ready in 20 minutes. Cook the pasta. Heat the rest. Drain the pasta, add the sauce and enjoy. Stash ingredients in a sealed plastic bag on board until needed.

Be creative. Breakfast all day. Consider a good mix such as Krusteaz (TM), or a wild rice pancake mix. Stash a container of maple syrup and, if you cruise with compulsive carnivores, some canned bacon. Note: Cook bacon in the oven if your burners are busy. Otherwise, fry it in a deep pot so grease won't splash.

Glean if you can. Pick berries to serve on your pancakes, consider fresh ears of corn and other items from your cruise ports. This is particularly important on longer trips. Don't fear something unusual. Fueled by exercise and fresh air, appetites expand on the water. Even a nice crisp apple can taste great. 

Break galley bonds! Consider barbecues hooked on a rail. Think shore picnic if bugs permit. On hot days, bring cold food -- we favor melon and ham for breakfast, or hard country sausage, water biscuits and honey or Dijon mustard for lunch. Must you sleep and eat where you cook?

Most important, realize galley cooking isn't brain surgery. If something turns out awful, feed it to the gulls. Then either dine on shore, or write the meal off as a nautical Weight Watchers (TM) program. If you get complaints, hand over the cooking spoon. If you get compliments, accept them with grace.