Friday, August 20, 2021

The Pandemic Pantry Part 2 -- the Actual Plan


In the restaurant industry they call it "PAR level" -- Periodic Automatic Replenishment (or "Replacement" or "Resupply" depending on who is writing the acronym). It's a pretty structured method of making sure you have enough food on hand to prepare the meals until your next reorder time, without going seriously under (missed sales and unhappy customers) or over (food spoilage and storage issues). I'm quite committed to the concept, having developed an informal version years ago when we had little money and less time, and built a computerized grocery list organized by the aisles in our grocery store with the number of boxes/cans to buy of each item, the Saturday after payday. Little did I know I was reinventing the wheel.

In suburbia, if you planned wrong and ran out of an ingredient, it's inconvenient. You might have to run out to the store unexpectedly, or pay more for it. Or you might have to change your planned meal to something else. When we were cruising, we bought what was available on the little islands, and the list was more like a general guideline or suggestion than an inventory. Exploring new food possibilities was part of the adventure, after all. But at sea, whether on our own little Cinderella or the mighty El Galeon, if you're out of food it's way more than just inconvenient -- there's no popping round to the grocery store when you're in the middle of the Atlantic! So keeping the storeroom ("gambuza" in Spanish) properly supplied was a much more rigid process.  

While we were in lockdown it was like trying to apply every aspect of pantry management, all at once. Like being at sea, our visits to the grocery store were very infrequent and limited. Like visiting small islands, not everything was in stock at all times, so we had to buy it when we found it, or improvise. We were trying to save money, and we wanted to cook extra-healthy to keep our immune systems up. Put it all together and it was ... a lot. 

But wait, wait, there's more! I had learned on the Galeon how distracting it is to have that little background buzz of "what shall we make for dinner" popping up every day around mid-afternoon -- until it was no longer there. When I was crew, dinner was whatever the cook decided, and when I was assistant chef, that was part of my actual job, not something I did in addition to my job. Well, during lockdown I just didn't have the mental bandwidth for complex meal planning. So I built a basic inventory list of about 40 core ingredients. (Drinks, snacks, spices, plus some pantry staples like oil and salt and flour, weren't included in the 40.) Meal planning became simply deciding 2 nights per week would be fish-based meals, 2 nights egg-cheese-dairy, 2 nights plant-based. We found 5 or more recipes for each category that could be made with our basic 40, and put our kitchen on autopilot for a while. Now, if you're good at math you noticed that I only accounted for 6 days. One day a week was "wildcard." Sometimes wildcard would be experimenting with something new, sometimes it would be takeout, sometimes it would be instant ramen noodles, sometimes it would be inspired by whatever looked good at the farmer's market. Just enough to keep it interesting, but not complicated. 

At the end of lockdown we had saved an impressive amount of money by not eating or drinking out, lost weight, and stayed sane and healthy. I'm posting the "Basic 40"list (feel free to copy but make it your own; remember, it's a suggestion, not a prescription!) and the titles of some of the meals that can be made. It's not a shopping list with quantities, instead it's what you want to have going into the week so you can make whatever meal you choose pretty spontaneously and know that everything you need is on hand. You take inventory before going to the grocery store, and just buy enough to bring the level of food in the pantry up to PAR. There's some seasonality; we use butternut squash in fall and winter and swap that out for cucumber in summertime; use fresh tomatoes and corn in summer instead of canned, granola instead of oatmeal, and use fresh spinach instead of frozen when it's available; it's pretty flexible. Still working on the actual recipes in fits and starts. Some are in metric and some are in English; some need to be scaled down from a quantity that will feed a crew of 25. Someday it will be a book, for now, it's just fun. 

(PAR for all = 1, except as noted; easily feeds two of us for a week no matter what we decide to eat)

garbanzo beans (2)
cannelini beans (2)
mandarin oranges (2)
chopped tomatoes (2)
tuna (2)
black olives (2)
green olives 
roasted red pepper 
green chilis
mushroom pieces

small pasta (corkscrews, macaroni)
couscous or quinoa
bread crumbs
protein powder
flour (2 c)
instant potato flakes
corn starch

green beans
cut butternut squash
cod (2 pcs)
salmon (2 pcs)

eggs (12)
block cheddar
tofu or chik'n (plant-based chicken substitute)
butter (2 sticks)
sliced almonds
yogurt (2)
cream or milk (or full-fat powdered milk) 

onion (2)
purple onion
bell pepper (2)
potato (1 lb)
bananas (8)

V-8 (4)
ginger lime ice (4)
BlackWing beer (4)
red wine (3)
cherry juice or concentrate

no dead birds boullion concentrate
coconut milk powder (3) or can
olive oil 
canola oil 
sherry vinegar
white vinegar
lemon juice
tomato paste tube
hot sauce

curry blend 
herbes de provence
fish blackening


smoothie with yogurt, banana, cherry juice, and protein powder
oatmeal (winter) or granola with yogurt (summer)

generally leftovers rolled in a tortilla, or a room-temperature salad (the "mixed" salads below are great for lunch) or tuna or egg salad, or cheese quesadilla; or veggies and couscous 


Basque scrambled eggs (or other egg-and-veggie skillet scramble)
Cheese or veggie omelet with green beans and sliced almonds
Crustless quiche (spinach and mushroom; tomato and peppers; whatever inspires)
Spanish tortilla 
Butternut squash mac-and-cheese

Fish cakes
Pasta with olives, tomato, onion and tuna
Blackened salmon with wilted spinach salad
Potaje bacalao (Spanish cod stew with potatoes and chickpeas)
Moqueca (Brazilian cod stew in a coconut milk sauce)
Lemony lentil and salmon salad*

VEGAN (some have a little crumble of cheese)
Bean soup, stew, or chili
African squash/peanut stew
Curry night -- chana masala or trini aloo, and saag paneer and basmati rice 
Stir fry with tofu and vegetables
Baked tofu Veracruzana or Caribbean jerk tofu
Chik'n and rice with vegetables
Bean and rice variations – Peruvian tacu-tacu, Mujeddrah (middle Eastern lentils, onions, and rice), red beans and rice, etc 
Spinach-feta-garbanzo pasta salad
Bean, mushroom, or lentil burgers

MIXED (hard-boiled eggs + tuna)
Papas alinas (marinated potato salad) with gazpacho*
Salade Nicoise
Traditional Spanish salad

pizza, dinner out, happy hour munchies with friends, ramen noodles, something from a can, the eggplant looked good at the farmers market so make pistou, etc. Tapas or Greek night – dolmas, olives, nuts, tzatziki*, spiced chickpeas, felafel, hummus. Breakfast burritos.

* Gazpacho, tzatziki, and lemony lentil salad also need cucumber; which is not on the basic 40 list. A  couple of soups, and the Spanish salad, also need a carrot; not on the basic 40 list. My favourite blend for stir fry includes red bell pepper, mushrooms, and tofu or chik'n (plant-based chicken) and also broccoli and zucchini (not on the basic 40 list)

Monday, August 16, 2021

When the Room is Complete Chaos (a step-by-step guide)

When the room looks like this ... 

... this is your tool kit!

Not directly boat-related, but the same approach that moved us from 3,000 square feet on land to a 33-foot sailboat I've found are helpful in other aspects of life. A couple of my land-based friends have been inundated/devastated/overwhelmed by a chaotic disaster of a room, and asked for help. 

 Not sure how to start? Here’s one approach designed to break down the "overwhelm." When you get right down to it, there are only 5 categories of things in a chaotic mess like the room above -- trash, dishes, laundry, things that belong somewhere else, things that have no home. 

So, pick up a big tote bag and a trash bag, and make 5 passes through the room. Each pass will require a bit more brain power, but by the time you get to the tougher ones your "decluttering" mental muscles will have been thoroughly flexed and ready for the challenge. 

The first step is the simplest. For #1, trash, just walk through the room picking up trash and putting it in the bag. Don't worry about anything else. No tough decisionmaking required. When you've gotten all the trash, put it out in the bin (or wherever trash goes where you are). 

Then, do #2, dishes. Walk through the room a second time. This time, pick up every dish or cup, bring it to the sink or dishwasher. Leave it there for now, you'll get back to it in a bit. We don't want to slow your momentum. 

Pass #3 is laundry. Go through the room a third time. Pick up the laundry, put it in the laundry bag/basket. Bring it to the washing machine if you have one in your house, or put it in the hall closet on it's way to the laundromat. The room by now is getting a bit better, yes? 

Time for #4, items that are out of place. Get your tote bag, walk through the room picking up the out of place items. Put them in the tote. Now, walk around the house emptying the tote and putting things in their proper places. 

Go back to the room for the last, and hardest, pass, #5, homeless things. Have you noticed that the first 3 steps were no-brainers? Then #4 needed a bit more thought? For this last step, we're going to seriously level up the decisionmaking. Take all the things that have no designated home, and put them in the tote. With them out of the way, the room should look somewhat orderly now. Congratulations! Pour yourself a cup of tea (or a glass of wine, we won't judge.) Now walk around the room with the tote bag full of homeless items in one hand and your cup in the other, define homes for the things you want to keep (whether in this room or elsewhere in the house), and put the rest by the door to donate at the next opportunity.

Congrats! You're done!

You earned this!