Cooking in Extreme Circumstances

Work in Progress

For many reasons, I have had the opportunity to cook in challenging circumstances: on a winter training expedition in Alaska, on a sailboat, in at a high-altitude ski lodge, and the most dreaded of all places – the vacation rental apartment kitchen. This is not about Instagram-ready food or TikTok self-consciousness, but about how to get a meal on the table when everyone is tired and hungry. These are stubs for what could be expanded into chapters with a few recipes. It occurred to me that people might find this interesting, but I’m not sure.

At High Altitude
*Water boils at 180F in our ski lodge which is at 8500 ft/2591 m. . The water doesn’t get hotter if you boil it longer. That means your pasta will turn to mush on the outside and stay crunchy in the middle. Only use thin spaghetti.
*Tubes of paste, soda bottles and other unexpected things will explode from the air pressure. Anchovy paste oozes out of the tube like it’s looking for an escape hatch, slight shaking of a beer will erupt in fountains of foam.
*Recipe for roast chicken
*How to cook beans or better yet buy them pre-cooked
*Freezer and fresh food management
*If a dish does not come out as expected, you can always blame the altitude.

On a Boat
Before boarding a boat, for at least 8 weeks prior, practice balancing on one foot whilst holding a very sharp knife, alternate with holding a large heavy pot of boiling water.
Bring a first aid kit. Include waterproof bandaids (plasters).
Essentials: chef knife, paring knife, serrated knife – all very sharp. At least one metal bowl. Strainer. Wooden spoon. Whisk (Immersion blender is very handy although you may not have enough power to use it. Does the boat have a generator?) Small ziploc baggies with key spices/herbs. Sense of humor. One large non-stick frying pan.
*Curried whatever you can find
*Food storage – do not put the yogurt or prosciutto in the freezer. Do put the butter in the freezer. *Seal up everything – dry or wet. Dry foods become soggy, wet foods make a huge mess. Olive brine will escape no matter what type of container is used. Practice acceptance.
*Salad variations using the same three ingredients
*Fish Stew – do not tell anyone you are using chicken stock cubes – it freaks them out
*Box wine tastes delicious on a boat

Over a Fire
Choose your wood wisely. Ask your campmates to forage (or buy) dry, hard, wood. Light, dry wood burns at a low temp and won’t even make good toast. Lighter fluid makes food taste terrible. Long tongs are essential. A leather apron is great if you are car camping, but not so much if you have to backpack it in. Butcher your protein at home, not on a rock in front of your new boyfriend who will get very nervous when he sees how you handle a filet knife.
*Roasted fish in salt (foolproof, but not if you are backpacking)
*Sardine pasta (simple, satisfying, and delicious, suitable for backpacking, but only on the last night of the trip because you will never get the fish smell out of your clothes)
*If you are melting snow for water, be aware of water content. If your stove flame is too high you will evaporate the water before it can properly melt. Yes, burnt snow can happen

Why Men Make Big Paellas
Woman job: Prep everything for the paella – the broth, the protein, the vegetables
Man job: Shake the paella to keep things from burning. (Do you have any idea how heavy a pan of paella for 25 people can be? Besides men like standing around an open fire, it’s primal.)

Vacation Rental Survival

The Ikea Stove
They look slick and efficient. Do not be fooled by the little burner dials with numbers on them – that is for show. Ikea stoves have only one temperature: HOT and sometimes if it’s the upgrade model: VERY HOT. Matches may or may not be needed, carry a long candle lighter for emergency use.
If you are more than four people, learn to cook in small batches – those stoves can’t handle a big pot.
Consider using the oven if you want to keep something at a low temperature. Just don’t use a pot lid with anything but a metal handle. Plastic melts. This is basic science.

The Ikea Oven
They usually work. They usually are big enough to accommodate a roasting pan for one chicken leg cut into small pieces.

The Tilted Stove
From time to time or AirBnB to AirBnB, you will encounter The Tilted Stove. It looks flat but pans will slide right off the burner. This is most annoying and requires constant supervision.
Master the art of the pan tilt. This means holding the panhandle at the angle that will keep most food from falling out of the pan; however, it also means you will have hot spots and will have to keep rearranging the food in the pan.

Pro tip: if you would like your olive oil to be garlic scented, add a few generous glugs of oil and two or three, or ten (up to your taste preference) cloves of garlic. Tip that pan so the garlic is floating and begins to sizzle. Keep the oil at medium heat and remove at the first sign of any brownage on the cloves otherwise, you will have created the dreaded bitter garlic effect.

Kitchen Cabinets
Inspect every cabinet for contents. You never know when the drip coffee filter will come in handy to strain the pasta. If near the sea, assume the salt will never, ever come out of the salt shaker. Put it in a bowl, and crunch up as needed. Don’t cook the rice that people put in there to ‘absorb’ moisture. Sponges absorb, and rice is indifferent to ambient humidity.

Wear rubber-soled shoes when using an outlet for the first time.

Bring your own. Invest in blade covers – they’re cheap, and they’re worth it. Knives that have been thrown and stored in a drawer are dull, unhappy knives and will bring you no pleasure.

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