We had called them yesterday on the VHF and asked them to bring us some stuff. About half of what we asked for they said "No Hay" (we don't have it). Dave was bummed that they had no potato chips. We are completely out, including the stale chicken-flavored ones that neither of us wanted to eat.
One of the things we thought we'd ordered was chicken leg quarters. Later we realized that Dave was out of chicken breasts for lunch meat. So when they came by, we asked for 'pollo piernas y pechugas' (chicken thighs and breasts). They said 'no, solo entero' (only whole). So, well, yep, I guess we'll take it whole, if that's all you've got.
Well, 'whole' was correct...this chicken still had it's feet and head! When we bought whole chickens in Trinidad, they came with the head and feet cut off, stuck in the body cavity (which was, fortunately, empty). But this whole chicken still had his head AND his feet! Oh my god! I hope I don't have to gut it, too!!
Fortunately, they had gutted it at least (that's a health issue, I imagine).
Hmmm, wonder if any of my cruising books talk about how to cut up a whole chicken?
I set to work with a knife and was able to make some 'pechugas sin huesos' (boneless chicken breast) for Dave. And the leg quarters didn't look too bad--they went into a ziplock and into the freezer for a future meal. The rest of the pieces parts, neck, feet, wings, spine, etc, went into another bag for 'chicken stew'. I did throw the head and a lot of skin and fat overboard. So, my friends, next time you swoop into Publix for 5 minutes and buy a nice shrink-wrapped package of boneless chicken breast, think of us poor folks down here in the San Blas.
We'll let you know how the 'chicken feet stew' turns out.
We were also delighted to also find a couple of boxes of white wine in the launcha. We thought that $3 liter for boxed Chilean table wine is still a pretty good buy. No wonder some boats in our anchorage have become semi-perminent residents here.
What I did for provisioning was to make a '4 week menu', listing the foods we liked to eat in a rough rotation. You can get very detailed with this, or not so detailed. Mine was in between. Spaghetti, Chicken Parmesan, Shrimp Scampi, Beef Stew, etc. Some things you eat every week, some are a once every couple of weeks. You need to consider breakfast and lunch, too, and the side-dishes. And figure what you're going to do about things like bread. (more on bread later).
Once I had a menu laid out (and approved by Dave), then next to each day, I listed the general ingredients/quantities for that day. For Chicken Parmesan, it is "Chicken Thighs, 1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce, 1 can mushrooms". The Parmesan Cheese went on the Spices list, and the green peppers, onions, and garlic went on the veggies list.
The next pass through the menu I counted up all the stuff by food type, and ended up with a grocery shopping list. 4 Pkgs Chicken Thighs, 4 Jars Spagetti Sauce, etc. There are some recipe programs that will do all this for you, but I had it all done from cruising before on a couple of Excel spreadsheets. By the time I got finished cruising in '97, I could put in the number of weeks I was trying to provision for and it would make the buy list for me. I just had to adjust my list for Dave's tastes instead of Lenny's and Nicki's.
On making up the menu, I made sure that I mixed things up... type of food, complexity of fixing, type of dish (traditional vs one-pot meals). I also left one day a week for either eating out or 'caught from the reef'.
Once we got underway, we didn't follow the menu exactly, but I knew that we had plenty of food aboard in the right quantities. We ended up just posting the list of the meat we had next to the freezer, and when we took something out, we marked it off. The list of what's left in the freezer is our 'what can we have for dinner list'. I made sure to save the 'easy to fix' meals for nights when we were on passage or had just finished a long day. And I always keep a can of Chicken Chow Mein (includes meat and veggies) for an instant dinner if we're REALLY tired and hungry.
Bread: Store bought white bread in the tropics gets green very fast. Putting bread in the fridge or freezer extends the life considerably, though if you're provisioning for an extended trip, there's usually not much space in the fridge for bread. Whole wheat and rye bread lasts longer without refrigeration.
If you're planning on baking bread, you need to know approximately how often you need to bake, and make sure you have enough flour and yeast to cover it. At home, without baking bread, a small bag of flour lasts a year. On the boat, baking bread, we went through something like 2 bags a week. How much you need to bake depends a lot on the eating habits of your crew. I'm not big on sandwiches, but Dave really feels he needs a sandwich for lunch every day. That means a small loaf of bread every few days. Don't forget to check the expiration date when buying yeast. It does make a difference. Nothing's worse than bread that doesn't rise.
Many cruisers have breadmaking machines that you pour in ingredients and out pops a loaf of bread awhile later. In the States you can buy pre-mixed pre-measured bread machine ingredients in box, that you just dump in and add water. Dave originally had a breadmaker aboard, but I chose not to take it along. They are usually large, and I couldn't justify that much space for something I wouldn't use that often. They require lots of 110v power to run. When we are far enough from civilization that I need to bake bread, we usually don't have an abundance of power, and we do have the time to make it the old fashioned way. The biggest challenge is just remembering to schedule your breadmaking day around the other activities. It did take me a few tries on our last cruise before I made an edible loaf that approximated store-bought loaf bread so practice a few times before you go.
On fresh veggies... My best advice is to buy "The Cruising Chef Cookbook". He covers the prep and shelf life of fresh veggies very well. A few additional tips... we really like celery and green peppers, and they don't have a very long shelf life. If you have the freezer space, consider chopping and freezing some in small boxes for use as flavorings in cooking. They don't last forever but will extend your ability to cook with them as flavorings from about 2 weeks to 6 weeks. Make sure you take along at least one head of cabbage and some carrots. These last forever if kept cool, and when you are dying for a bit of green crunchy stuff, will taste delicious, when everything else is long gone.
In the Caribbean, unless you are going somewhere pretty remote (like the Aves in Venezuela, or the San Blas islands in Panama), fresh fruit and veggies are readily available. In prep for our Pacific crossings, I bought some sprout seeds at health food store. I experimented with them while out at the Belize atolls. Mung beans were the most successful. I had nearly 100% of them sprout, they took the least tending to grow, they lasted a long time, and would actually be a good sub for lettuce in salads and celery in cooked foods. We also enjoyed just snacking on them as we walked past the sprout tray. The alfalfa I sprouted was less successful. Only about 50% of the sprouts made it to maturity... some didn't sprout and some got fungus and had to be pitched overboard. And the broccoli seeds failed miserably. I didn't get one usable sprout. It is very difficult to sprout beans in the tropics because the heat makes the fungus grow faster than the sprouts. The ambient air is too hot and the fridge is too cold. So I am still working on perfecting the sprouting technique that works on our boat. But for sure take along some mung beans for very forgiving sprouts.
Hard to find foods: Of course the list varies by where you are. On our previous cruise, we ran out of horseradish and couldn't find it for months in the Caribbean. We finally had friends bring us some. This time, it's peanut butter. We ran out and I've yet to find a store that stocks it (however, we haven't been to Guatemala City yet). One unexpected item is Cheerios. They have Granola and Choconuts here, but no Cheerios. If you have a favorite sauce, marinade, make sure you ring lots along. What most people do is eventually learn how to make what they like from scratch. Books like the Cruising Chef Cookbook and Corinne Kanter's Kiss cookbooks help a lot with tips on 'making do while cruising'. In the larger cities and cruising hubs, there is usually a grocery store that stocks imported items, but the selection is usually limited, and the price is high.