Before we moved onto Sweet Day and embarked on the Great Loop, we lived in NYC, which kinda prepped us for life on the water. We were used to taking our clothes to a laundromat, we hand washed our own dishes, and understood the benefits and challenges of living in a small space. But it didn’t really help with teaching us how to cook. In a city that had any type of food you could want available almost any time of the day, we ate out way more than cooking at home. It was a total privilege we were lucky to take advantage of, and one of the reasons why living in the big apple can be so fun.
Moving onto Sweet Day and cruising the Great Loop, we couldn’t be farther from our previous culinary lifestyle. We are often way out of Uber Eats delivery zones, we rarely get a second chance if you forget something at the grocery store, and what we have on the boat to eat is usually all we have to work with. We are not roughing it by any means and throughout the trip, we’ve always been lucky, and realized the privilege we have, to be in comfortable access to food. But compared to our previous life, we’ve had to change our relationship with our kitchen--which means we actually had to use it. While there are days where we dream of being able to grab a slice of Joe’s Pizza at 11 pm on a weeknight, living on Sweet Day has made us appreciate the joys when you can eat through your fridge and the chance to learn new skills in the kitchen. Here's why cruising the Great Loop and living on Sweet Day has helped teach us how to cook.
1. You have to be creative with what you got
Before starting the Great Loop, I imagined tiki bars and fun waterside restaurants dotting the shorelines almost everywhere we stopped. The hardest part, I thought, would be resisting the temptation to spend all our money on the local fish sandwich every night.
This is definitely true in some parts of the trip--and we’ve had some great meals out along the loop. But more times than expected, we are nowhere near a place to grab a meal, much less a grocery store. This means we have to work with what's on our boat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Due to our space capacity, we also are limited on how much we can have on board. So we’re learning how to build meals with what we’ve got (and a lot of help from NYTimes Cooking) and realized as long as we have some flour and a little butter, homemade tortillas can transform a couple sides into tasty fusion tacos.
2. We rarely waste food
In the daily hustle and bustle of our lives in the city, it was common to get caught up in an after-work happy-hour-turned-dinner or to forget the leftovers you packed for lunch. We hate to admit it, but we ended up wasting a lot more food than we’d like. The opposite has been true on Sweet Day. We typically only buy enough fresh food for 3-4 meals because that’s all we can fit in our fridge and we know we’ll have access to a grocery store usually at least 2 times a week. A home-cooked dinner is easily stretched to lunch the next day. And since we travel with our fridge, leftovers never get left behind. (Plus, they’re Tim’s favorite thing to eat). It feels great to know you’re making the most out of the food in your fridge.
3. We don’t have fancy kitchen gadgets
We have a small oven and a 3-burner stove that runs off of propane. We can use this with barely any electricity, making cooking underway and at anchor seamless. When we’re plugged into a marina or if we run our generator, we can also use our microwave (which we end up rarely using because it now is mostly a storage closet for our onions and potatoes). Some cruisers have Instapots, toaster ovens, air fryers, and more but our boat isn’t set up to handle that amount of electricity easily. Plus, we just don’t have the space. I used an Instapot in NYC and it was great, especially for cooking fish and meat. But now that we're only equipped with a propane burner, I’ve had to learn (with a lot of practice) how to cook juicy chicken or tender salmon without the benefits of modern cooking technology.
4. We have access to our kitchen all the time
One of the biggest (and underrated) benefits of cruising the Great Loop is your stuff travels with you. No longer do you need to carry a container of olive oil and salt/pepper with you in your suitcase or your sharpest knife because the AirBnB probably doesn’t have it. Heck it’s been awesome never having to pack or unpack a suitcase! Even better than your clothes traveling with you, your kitchen travels with you too. This means we can make a marinade in the morning while cruising and cook the chicken at anchor that night. Or kneading a loaf of bread underway to make sure it’s ready to bake the next day. Spending time and experimenting in the kitchen helps break up those long cruising days too, all while rewarding you with a tasty meal once you reach your destination.
5. We have to know the steps ahead of time in order to plan out the meal
One quirk of our galley is we can only run the oven or the stove as our propane system can’t support running both at the same time. Sometimes it can be a pain and definitely prolongs some meal preparations (hence the benefit of #4). But, it also requires knowing the recipe and its steps ahead of time to ensure we have the right equipment and ability to cook the meal. Needs a blender? Nope save that for land life. Roast the chicken and saute the vegetables? Roast the chicken first, prep the veggies, then saute so everything is relatively warm at the same time. Has an ingredient we don’t have onboard? Gotta look up a substitute or save for later--no last-minute trips to the grocery store! And like most things, if the meal is good enough to be part of the rotation, the steps become easier to remember the next time we cook it.
6. We're learning what meals we can make quickly
Just like on land life, there are days where you may feel excited about prepping and cooking a more time-intensive meal, and others where you’re hungry, it's 7 pm and you just need to get something in your stomach. In NYC, that meant heading downstairs for a slice of pizza. That doesn't work while cruising. Learning what meals take time (especially in Sweet Day’s kitchen) and what meals can be thrown together quickly (hello mac and cheese and tuna fish) is extremely helpful. Because then when you’re stocking up on food, we make sure we have enough of those go-to meal items for those inevitable times where you just need something fast.
Here are some of our favorite items we use in Sweet Day's kitchen.
(We also have most of the basic kitchen utensils, but here are some of our most-used and favorite items. Check out all the items we couldn't loop without here.)
High-Quality All-Purpose Knife
We had a full knife set in NYC, but when we began our nomad life and were living in AirBnBs, we completely forgot to pack a sharp knife. So we treated ourselves to a really good, all-purpose knife that we could use for all of our cooking. We landed on a Zwilling Santoku knife which has cut pretty much everything we have cooked in the last year. It has been great and really the only knife we feel like we need. (Except bread, we have a separate knife for that). Zwilling $150
This is perfect for baking fresh bread (especially if you're far from a grocery store) but it also has been great for making soups, rice, and other meals on the stovetop. We store it in the oven while not in use, so doesn’t take up space and is well protected in rocky waters. Le Creuset $160
Stainless Steel French Press
We didn’t want to have to rely on electricity to make coffee, so we found a sturdy french press and it’s been great. Since it’s hard to find coffee beans ground for a french press at the grocery store, we visit local coffee shops wherever we are to stock up. It’s been an unexpected but fun activity along the loop. Amazon $30
NYTimes Cooking Subscription
This is a game-changer. They have tons of tested recipes, with helpful comments you can easily search to make almost anything you'd like, without having to search through tons of text/photos you often find accompanying most recipes on the internet. I'll usually type something I have on board like "sweet potato" and then all the recipes you can make with sweet potatoes pop up. More times than not, I'm shocked we have all the ingredients for some delicious dishes I never would have thought to make otherwise (who knew roasted chicken, peaches, ginger, and basil would be so easy and tasty?!) $40/annual subscription
Pre-Cut Parchment Paper
This is a tool I was taught to use by my dad and having pre-cut parchment paper you can easily line a baking sheet with onboardis awesome. It keeps food from sticking to the pan and makes clean up way easier--a big plus on a tiny boat, where you may need to quickly clean the pan to put another item in the oven (we only have one rack). Amazon $14
We still have a ton to learn (Sweet Day Thanksgiving will be a real test and no we have no idea what we'll make yet) but thankful for all this experience has taught us so far!