Birthdays at the Bottom of the World

seashepAs I write this, we sail across the Southern Ocean only a few miles away from the Nisshin Maru (The Japanese whaling fleet’s factory ship which ‘processes’ the whale meat), along with another of Sea Shepherd’s vessels, The Steve Irwin following closely behind. So far our presence with the fleet has meant only three whales to our knowledge have been killed, although ask anyone aboard my ship, the Bob Barker, and they will say that’s three whales too many. Whilst we are with them, whales are spared from a slow and brutal death and we all hope we can keep the current set of circumstances as they are until the end of the whaling season. During this time, everyday life aboard the ship carries on as normal as we wait for more developments to happen – no matter what situation arises though, the galley is always in action.

Feeding a crew of 32 strong, made up of about 13 nationalities including Australian, American, French, German, Italian, British, Swedish, South American, Singaporean, Spanish, Canadian and  Dutch can be challenging when everyone has such a broad range of tastes and preferences but we do what we can to keep everyone happy and full.

Whenever it’s someone’s birthday on board they’re lucky enough to dictate what we cook for dinner that day and it’s always interesting to see what people opt to have given the choice of everything we have to hand or are able to create. It seems pizza is universally loved and it’s no challenge to make the dough, toppings and a ‘cheesy style’ sauce to drizzle on top: the galley becomes more of a pizza production unit and somehow we manage to make seventeen or so pizzas in a space smaller than most people’s kitchens at home. The tricky part is trying to cook that amount in the two modestly sized ovens we have and trying to make sure they’re all hot at the same time, but even when they’re cold no-one cares and everyone’s just excited to see ‘Pizza!- Four slices each!’ written on the menu board.

Another favourite, which it seems every single crew member looks forward to, is any sort of Mexican meal. Chilli is one of my all-time favourite meals to cook- it’s so easy to cook up a load of beans, tinned tomatoes, onions, extra veggies , finished off with spices and if you’re lucky enough to be able to find it in shops, an amazing little secret ingredient  called ‘liquid smoke’, which is literally what it says on the bottle.   As well as being really tasty, chilli is also really nutritious and adaptable in the sense that you could probably chuck in whatever produce you’ve got in your fridge! On the Bob Barker we serve it with homemade vegan sour cream, ‘cheezly’ cheese, guacamole (at least until the avocados run out), grated carrot, lettuce, salsa, rice or if we really want to push the boat out (no pun intended), we make our own tortillas to wrap it all up in.  Recently we brought out the nachos in addition and the crew reacted as if they’d all won the dinner lottery.

‘Mac ‘n Cheese’ also repeatedly appears on the board we have in the mess where crew can write down requests for what they’d like us to cook. This is more of an American speciality rather than a European one but it’s a meal that most people here seem to look forward to. I’ve been told that last year the crew celebrated finding the fleet by having Mac ‘n Cheese that day and so we followed tradition this year by baking trays of the stuff up to mark finding the fleet once more. Its comfort food at its best: macaroni pasta covered in copious amounts of cheesy style sauce and topped off with an Australian brand of dairy free Mozzarella. To give the sauce a distinctive cheesy taste we use ‘nutritional yeast’ : a food substance that sounds a bit disturbing if you’ve never used it before, but proves itself to be an essential store cupboard ingredient  if you’re trying to avoid dairy but don’t want to miss out on the taste. You can find it on the shelves at Rice Up and check out our vegan cheese fridge for more flavours and styles than you will ever need!

A particularly well-loved meal unique to the Bob is something we call ‘Yum Bowls’, a tradition brought to the ship by a previous American crew member, Katie,  who discovered  it in a restaurant in the U.S and has since been spreading the ‘yum bowl’ message to all she meets! It comprises of a delicious sauce made up of seemingly plain ingredients that when blended together make the most delicious thing I’ve tried in ages. This sauce can then be served over or alongside various food such as rice, beans, vegetables, nachos, potatoes, bread, pasta…anything you can think of really and almost everything tastes better when you’ve got this magical concoction poured on top. See the recipe at the bottom of this article!

One of our galley crew is from Singapore so we’ve also been able to indulge in authentic noodles and stir fries  and everyone goes crazy for homemade deep fried spring rolls and dumplings- although it’s a general rule of thumb around here that anything deep fried gets snapped up very quickly! We’re not so keen in the galley when it means we finish our day smelling of greasy oil, especially when the weathers too rough to use the washing machines…

We also make sure crew get a dessert of choice on their birthday: chocolate cake being the number one choice unsurprisingly! Other popular choices have been brownies, chocolate mousse…essentially anything involving chocolate goes down well and custard has proven to be inexplicitly popular with the crew, despite half of them not knowing what it was the first time we made it!

With so many different tastes on board it’s not uncommon to see things which remind me that everyone has a different idea of what comprises a tasty meal… I’ve witnessed people pouring balsamic vinegar onto curry; tomato sauce into Chinese stir fries and even strawberry jam on top of potato hash browns!  Despite our differences, there’s one other thing everyone agrees on no matter where they’re from: cocoa pops are far superior to any other breakfast foods.

Birthdays on board are also celebrated by putting up well used decorations, boisterous singing and the recipient receiving an individually designed card signed by the rest of the crew. Everyone on board loves birthdays and it can be a welcome respite from the monotony of ship life; its daily chore routine and the sometimes seemingly endless wait for something to happen!

We’re around half way through the campaign already: although sometimes it does feel like we’ve been floating around in this tin can we call home for a lot longer than a few weeks. We’ve had our lows: incredibly rough weather and losing the fleet the first time round but we’ve also had our highs: seeing whales, dolphins and other wildlife in their natural environments and sailing alongside beautiful ice burgs in bright cobalt blue seas. Here’s hoping our biggest high is still yet to come: the whalers giving up completely and heading back to Tokyo with their smallest catch yet.

‘Yum Sauce’ ~ Serve with rice, beans, salad, vegetables or whatever you like really.

1 cup of Water
1 cup of Olive Oil
1 cup Almonds (whole or ground)
2/3 cup Chickpeas
2/3 cup Nutritional Yeast (Rice Up sells the Engivita brand)
½ cup Soy beans or Tofu (any variety will work)
¾ cup Lemon Juice
4 Cloves of Garlic
1 tsp each of salt, curry powder, oregano and coriander

Directions: Blend everything together really well. Note, if you haven’t got any chickpeas you can substitute them for more tofu and vice versa. Add more water or oil if you want a runnier consistency.

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