Another dreary winter day, snowing again. It’s a left-over quiche kind-of afternoon. Every other day it’s leftovers. Cook one day, warm-up left-overs the next. Some foods, like soup and stew, often taste better after they’ve been left to ferment overnight. Blah month, blah weather, blah food, blah attitude. Seen one, seen ’em all. Where’s that bottle of hot sauce?
One of the good things my mother did for me was to get me cooking at a very early age, about three as I recall. I soon learned about hot stove tops when I’d stand on tip toes on the kindling box at the wood stove and stir up a batch of porridge or some other blupping concoction. I was lucky not to be seriously scalded or loose a finger splitting firewood.
Having a reasonable understanding of basic meat and potato cooking has served me well at times. I always had a place working on the tugs because of my culinary skill. Savoury, plentious meals are deemed a due of the job and woe to anyone in the galley who produces slop. You knew you’d done well when conversation around the supper table fell silent. The crew was too busy stuffing their pie holes. A skipper once offered an accolade, “you’d make a good wife if you weren’t so f―king ugly!” Terms of endearment, right?
I have a lot of funny anecdotes about cooking at sea. Full-time cooks on the coastal tugs were rendered redundant. Deck hands were then required to prepare one meal a day on the day watches, lunch and supper. Apparently grub often improved over what the cooks had been producing. I took the mate’s watch, twelve to six because on the night watch I often had a few free hours to write. The crew worried who I was writing about.
One afternoon we had been very busy putting together our tow. I did not have the time left to put together a full effort meal so I slammed two cans of chicken soup into a pot, added some vegetables, lots of spice and a little seafood. While that was simmering up on the back of the big diesel stove I knocked together a quiche with lots of spice and a little seafood and bacon. I often referred to this meal as “Quicky” and to hell with what real men eat. The skipper expected his supper served on time, so he could eat without rushing to his watch in the wheelhouse at 18:00.
At 17:30 hours I was hauling the quiche out of the oven just as he was stepping into the galley. “Wots that shit?” he queried in great suspicion with his usual screeching voice and weary red neck perspective.
“ It’s uh,,,tugboat pie, skipper, something new!”
“Looks like freakin’ quiche to me! Jeehesus!” Just then our new engineer was stepping into the galley. He was a sweet young fellow from Kitsalano. “QUICHE? I LOVE quiche!”
“Keehrist” Exclaimed our captain. He made his way up to the helm with a bowl of soup and a plate of peanut butter sandwiches.
On another trip, with that same old red-neck captain, a new deckhand had come aboard and was clearly determine to make a good impression on his first-ever trip. He stowed his gear in the foc’sle and was putting a few cookbooks up on the galley window sill. Into the galley stepped old “Turkey Neck”, our nickname for him. “Jeesus! Cook books! Wot kinda freakin’ cook are you? Cook books?” Most novice deckhands would have been quivering at that point. This boy calmly looked the skipper in the eye with determined insubordination. “Skipper, when I come up to the wheel house I’m going to find drawers full of charts, collision regulations, tide books, sailing directions and lord knows what all else. Tell me sir, what kind of freakin’ captain are you?” Those two got on famously for the entire trip. Every ship needs a cat but this kid wasn’t it.
“Never trust a skinny cook.” so saith the Fred