Position: Over a Hot Stove
The standard metric for sizing a kitchen is how may ‘butts’ it can accommodate. Butts equate to the number of working chefs in a kitchen. Most American houses have 2-3 butt kitchens. Most British kitchens allow for 1-2 butts. More if you own an AGA stove. Aleta’s is strictly a one butt galley. There’s not even enough room to lean in and help. Thus, if you’re shucking corn or shelling peas you’re out in the cockpit.
Given the tight quarters, how is it possible to create dishes of enviable culinary excellence? Setting aside the inherent genius of the chef, there is the galley itself. Over the years we have tuned the layout and built on our experience cooking in our little space to tease out the maximum yumminess our meagre skills will allow.
Let’s talk layout. Aleta’s galley is U-shaped. Our gimballed stove swings at the top of the U, against the port-side hull just about amidships, the widest section of the boat. To the right along the forward side of the U is the fridge and freezer, a small drawer and the rubbish bin. To the left, aft side, is a deep locker we call the glory hole*, a double sink, and three deep drawers to. Above the sink is a cupboard with our spices and coffee makings.
Beneath the sink is a functional cupboard filled with cleaning supplies and the electric freshwater pump. Two foot pumps, one for sea water and one for fresh, supplement the electric one. If and when we return to land and have a kitchen of our own, I plan to install at least one foot pump. They are that useful. Whenever I extract myself from the engine room my oily hands need scrubbing. With a foot pump I never touch the taps with my grimy fingers. Fantastic!
Above the stove is a long, low cupboard that houses our glasses and cups. Below this cupboard is a series of three cubbies that keep our plates and bowls secure. The glory hole is deep and capacious. In it we store bottled water, mixers, and occasionally potatoes. Underway we put our organic recyclables bin in it to keep it secure and prevent it flinging coffee grounds and peelings everywhere.
While we lived in Italy, we adopted the local practice of tossing our organic waste into a small bin, then recycling everything once it filled up. The Italians, almost uniquely in Europe, recycle banana skins and potato peelings via their municipal sanitation services, rather than flush it down a disposal. Eventually, it gets composted and is spread on allotment gardens. For us, separating organic matter keeps the rubbish less smelly.
The pantry is a thing of splendour. Four shelves on rollers store most of our dry goods. A small cupboard above the pantry is where chips and biscuits are kept. It’s Aleta’s highest locker and furthest away from the dampness of the bilge. We seal all open packets in a Ziploc bag anyway.
Aleta’s stove is a three burner Dickinson Mediterranean. Three burners is something of a luxury. Most boats our size have only two. The surface is snug and fitting a large pot alongside the frying pan isn’t wholly practical.
But three smaller pots will happily simmer side by side. The oven will reach temperatures of 450F (232C) and the grill will brown toast all day, once it warms up. It will also fluff an omelette if you are patient. Below the stove is a small locker for storing cooking sheets and plastic wrap and suchlike. It is just above the bilge and a little more prone to dampness.
Speaking of cookware, we have reduced our needs to a set of nesting Magma non-stick pots and pans. The set includes a deep 10-inch skillet with a cover, a five-quart stock pot, and three saucepans that nestle together like babushka dolls. The entire thing fits into the oven as a unit. It’s all we need. It’s all anyone needs, really. According to the sales literature it’s as happy with gas as it is with an induction hob. That’s important since we may be induced to go electric one day.
All in all, this arrangement means we can roast a chicken in the oven, boil potatoes and steam carrots on the stove while we slice apples and blend flour, sugar, and butter for the crumble. Nothing is more than half an arm’s reach away. It’s worth remembering that if you’re given to second guessing the chef from the sidelines. (That you’re no more than an arm’s length away.) Wooden spoons land with deadly accuracy at that distance.
The fridge and freezer were designed in the middle of the last century (that would be the 20th) and behaves like it. To keep things in their place, each compartment has a hatch that opens into a deep dark hole where all matter vanishes.
Naturally, when you peer into the event horizon looking for a chilled tin of tonic water, you are guaranteed it is at the very bottom of the fridge, some three or four feet down. For shorties this leads to a lot of diving: heads down and legs akimbo up. While taller crew may bump their head on the cabin top, with their longer reach they are spared such indecorously gymnastic displays.
Large 1950s style cooling plates line the insides and get cold enough to make ice and keep the milk from curdling. As good as that sounds, the insulation isn’t up to the most modern standards and, like your home, the fridge/freezer is the biggest consumer of electricity on the boat. If money were no object, I’d rip the entire thing out and replace it. We might even add a vertical door for improved accessibility.
When we arrived back on Aleta in April, we had a big post-Covid clear out and tossed a bunch of stuff we didn’t use. What did we retain? Here’s a list of some of our favourite galley gear still on the boat:
- Insulated stainless steel cups. They are unbreakable, keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. Ours come from WalMart for about $7.00 – $9.00. You can buy functionally equivalent things from companies named for mythical Tibetan monsters for several times that price. That’s your call.
- Acrylic wine glasses. We’ve experimented with glass wine glasses, but they break. That’s a pain. So, we bought some unbreakable ones. Carol prefers a wine glass with a stem. I prefer a stainless-steel insulated goblet (see above), because I believe it keeps the wine cooler in warm weather.
- Melamine dinnerware. That’s plates and bowls, enough for four-ish diners. These work well. They’re not fine porcelain, but we live on a boat. That scene in Titanic when all the plates tipped forward and smashed so satisfyingly simply won’t happen on Aleta.
- A magnetic knife rack sits below the cupboard where we keep the coffee. We used to stash kitchen knives in a drawer with plastic blade protectors. The rack is much better, and thus far the knives have stayed put in all kinds of weather.
- We love hearty soups. They’re delicious, nutritious, easy and cheap to make. Our Kitchenaid immersion blender is just the thing for smoothing out the chunkiest chunks. It’s 120v, so we have to turn on the inverter when we use it. But those three minutes are some of the most productive in the galley.
- Pressure cooker. Sailors swear by pressure cookers for their speediness and versatility. The faster something cooks, the less propane you’re using. In truth, we’ve used it once to prepare dried beans for soup. But kept it anyway.
- Other essential gadgets include a small, functional IKEA salad spinner we’ve used for years. A silicon colander that can double as a steamer in a pinch, and a collapsible bowl that is simply the most useful thing imaginable. It can be used to make bread dough, serve popcorn, or salad, or act as a Frisbee when collapsed.
- Among the things we tossed was a mandolin(e) (a kind of razor-sharp veggie slicer). Personally, I like mandolines (and mandolins), but Carol has a morbid fear of slicing her fingers off with one. It’s not an irrational fear. As a child she once saw her mother do it, and it’s stuck with her. The one we tossed was a cheap Borner V-100 knock-off. If you’re in the market for an efficient finger-tip remover, get the Borner.
The Quartermaster’s Stores
When we first boarded Aleta and set sail, we purchased an Armageddon’s worth of tinned food and immediately squirreled it away in every available nook and cranny we could find. Two years later we cleaned every locker of the rusting tins and donated what we could to a food bank. Since then, our only back up stores are a stack of chocolate bars and a few bags of roasted peanuts. If you have fresh water you can live on empty calories for a very long time.
For economic reasons we tend to eat in more than out. That’s especially true when we reached the Baltic, where restaurants are easily twice the cost of Spain. Besides, each new country has new supermarkets and they are always an adventure. What is it with the Swedes and liquorice? Anyone?
* You may blame my father for this descriptor. I refuse to take credit for it.