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Entries in galley (6)


coconut oil popcorn onboard 

For a lot of our cooking needs, we've been exploring the use of coconut oil over other cooking oils, in no small part because of it's health benefits and non-food uses. It's a high temperature oil, so it's great for frying. We opted for an organic coconut oil that's been quite economical.

For those of us on boats, we generally don't have microwaves. Air poppers don't work either because of the power consumption. But we have a lot of heat, courtesy of the typical marine propane stove. How is a sailor to have some snacks when watching a movie on the laptop?

Well shipmates, all you need is some coconut oil, some regular popcorn, a pot of sufficient size (4 quarts or so), and a lid or some foil. We keep our popcorn (and all our dry goods) in Oxo containers (available at your local Target).

Drop the oil in enough to cover the bottom of the bot, turn the stove on high. Toss in a couple of kernels. When they pop, toss in three fistfuls and put the lid on. As it pops, jiggle the pot from time to time to get the remaining kernels to fall down. When a few seconds starts going by between pops, kill the power, and stare at it for a minute. If you take the lid off, you'll end up with some popcorn flying around the cabin as the straggler kernels explode.

One cautionary note: a lot of coconut oil (probably true of any oil) can cause an upset stomach. Especially if you're not used to cooking with it, I'd advise you to start a small batch before you you add six table spoons into a pot and cook up a huge batch.


the best way to have coffee on a sailboat

A sailboat, especially one underway, poses a unique and interesting environment by which to have coffee. By the same token, there are few things more appropriate than a warm cup of coffee in the morning or to hold you over during a balls watch. How to prepare a cup of coffee is almost a religious debate. On the super delicate side you have fair-trade shade-grown organic beans picked by Tibetan monks with ten percent of the proceeds going to an orphanage for burn victims. These beans must be ground in a $200 electric grinder with 12 settings, and of course only French pressed. On the other end of the spectrum, in the US Navy the joke is that the caffeine shouldn't keep you awake as much as the horrible pain it causes when your stomach knots up. No joke, you will get your ass beat if you clean a sailor's coffee mug. The filthier the mug, the longer it's been used and the more clout the owner has.

Hiding behind coffee in Gila Bend, AZStraddling the middle of these worlds is the modern sailboat. You are not at Starbucks, so forget your lattes and frappa-dappa-cheenoes. You are also not on a warship so forget about having as much electricity as a nuclear reactor can generate. Plus, there's no honor to be gained by drinking mud. So you're left in the middle: you need a solid way to make a good brew while at the same time keeping it simple and durable.

It was with that aim and many days and nights since that I have come to arrive at what I believe is the perfect system. I'll spill the beans (pardon the pun) right now and tell you the ingredients: a percolator and pre-ground coffee.

So right there the coffee snobs have x'd out of this tab, closing their MacBook Pro lids, and shaking their heads in disgust at the idea of either of those options. Combining them is tantamount to high treason. 


Developed in the 1800's, percolators were only knocked aside by the modern electric drip system in the 1950's and 1960's. For over a century and a half Americans and Europeans primarily used percolators, especially those out in the frontiers. They are still widely used in the wilderness.

Our personal favorite, and the one that has served many a warm beverages on Rebel Heart is the Yosemite Stainless Steel model, which comes in at under $20. You add ground coffee to the top, water to the bottom, let it boil enough that you just barely see it splashing in the little window up top, and kill the heat in ~5 minutes or until the color is as dark as you like.

All the parts are stainless or Lexan, it can be used to heat water for other purposes, it's simple to clean, and it makes enough coffee to fill up a thermos.

Coffee & Grinders (or the lack thereof)

As a somewhat coffee snob, I learned that pre-ground coffee is for prisoners and people who drink 7-Eleven coffee while going out to round up hogs in the morning. Great folks I'm sure, but hardly the type of elitist that I had morphed into.

You might think, as I did, that a manual coffee grinder will work. Yeah, have fun with that. You can make it work if you have a tremendous amount of time and patience. Think of it like rowing an inflatable dinghy across a windy anchorage: possible, but agonizingly stupid unless in an emergency. 

"Ah, well then I'll just use my my plugin coffee grinder!" you say. Yes, indeed, you can use that device. However, it's messy and requires AC power. Honestly I've used one in the past and I can see the value, but the pain-in-the-rear factor, and the simple fact that you need to minimize equipment on a boat that is non essential makes something like a coffee grinder end up on the gear chopping block. It's like a dehydrator: handy in theory, but in practice 99% of them just take up space until someone finally decides to get rid of it.

Where you can get your ground coffee from is endless. Trader Joe's has a terrific selection, especially the "Winter / Holiday Blend" which you can only get around Christmas time, so stock up on as much of it as you possibly can. I usually get about a dozen and load up the bilges. And of course you can always buy Starbucks' "house blend" in 2.5lb containers.


Nearly every time I have a cup of coffee onboard Rebel Heart, or have a piece of gear that is non-essential, I'm reminded of Colin Fletcher who amongst other things was the first modern man to hike the entire Grand Canyon. He backpacked across massive expanses of the world, and in keeping with his British heritage always stopped to have tea in the afternoon no matter where he went. Non essential for sure, and you won't find anything else in his pack that hints of form-before-function, but even for someone who has to carry every ounce of equipment on his back he continues the ritual of a caffeine impregnated day.

So if you disagree with my findings or come up with your own way of doing things that works for you, so much the better. As normal I offer up my hard and clear mandates with the full knowledge that I'll probably disagree with my own conclusions in short order.


I'm healthy! Time to re-route the propane!

Oh propane! Behave!
Last night I thought I might head into work, because I'd feel well enough. I instead decided to play it smart and take today off as well, and I'm glad I did. I managed to get a lot done around the boat, but I needed to move at my pace, and I was still hacking up gross stuff.

I had installed the new stove a while ago, but the propane line wasn't routed properly. Propane is a great thing to have on the boat, but it's extremely flammable. The previous stove was kerosene, which is very safe, but a real pain the ass the cook with. Propane is clean, hot, cheap, and insanely dangerous. The main problem is that it's heavier than air, so if it leaks in the boat, it collects in the bilge. Then a spark shows up from somewhere, and the entire boat explodes into a huge ball of fire.

1161984-938098-thumbnail.jpgThe secret is to be safe with your install. My propane hose is roughly 50' long, and there's only two openings. One at the tank, and one at the stove. No T fittings, no nothing. Barring abrasion or hose cuts (which a good install and regular inspection protects against), the only two places it can leak is the tank (on our boat it sits over the water, so that's no big deal) or the stove itself.

Check out the technique that I use to check for leaks. It's the common "suds method", where you take some soap suds water and put it around the seals. If it bubbles up, you have a leak. Re routing the propane is a bit tricky, because you need to go through bilges and a lot of the ship's structure. You need to be cognizant of things that might heat up, bump into the line, and certainly things that might cause abrasions.

Bilge! You stink!
If you check out the picture on the left, you'll notice all those hoses going across that black thing. The black thing is our 150 gallon diesel tank, and the hoses are all the multitude of fuel, air, sea water, fresh water, and now propane sources coming and going, all that make it so that the boat runs like a champ.

Dahon Helios
Like all projects, I needed two screws that I didn't have. I've been monopolizing Charlotte's bike lately, but it makes for such convenient access to San Diego Marine Exchange. I hopped on the bike, and ten minutes later I had the screws and washers I needed, and was back doing the install.

When I yanked the stove I also cleaned behind it again. I think I'll make that a regular field day item, since it also allows me to inspect the propane line and fittings, which is important.

Charlotte and I went to Pizza Nova for dinner, and tomorrow I have a pile or work in store for me at my day job. I haven't touched Visual Studio, or anything related to my professional life, in nearly a full week. It's funny, but being sick is the only time that I really disengage from my technical life. I feel guilty admitting it, but it was really nice to be able to distance myself from .Net for a week. My motivation for being as go-go-development as I am stems from it helping me to achieve other things in my life, and those "other things" are truthfully where my priorities rest.

That being said, I'm looking forward to going back to writing some code and building some good products. The meetings and political stuff gets a little old, but I think I'm recharged and motivated to the point that even those won't be able to shake my smile. New idea.


Geneva Eggs

1161984-935898-thumbnail.jpgWhat do you get when you take eggs, put them into a fry pan, and don't know your ass from a whole in the ground? Geneva Eggs. I think Charlotte gave them that name because my treatment of those eggs wouldn't pass the Geneva Convention's standards.

Great blog post, huh? Yeah, I know. You're amazed at how I can keep cranking out quality content like a picture of some eggs in a pan. Don't hate me because you're jealous.


Eric's Potatoes!

1161984-935867-thumbnail.jpgI'm sure this is a common recipe, and in fact it's so basic I don't know if it qualifies as a "recipe". But I like it because it's healthy, simple, and makes you look like you know something about cooking. It also takes nearly zilch ingredients, and is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.


  • A couple of potatoes. I like russet (brown), and keep the skins on. Just rinse them under some fresh (or salt) water.
  • Basil.
  • Rosemary.
  • Olive oil.

Chop up the potatoes with a knife into kinda-sorta French fry size, although about half the length. Throw them in a fry pan with some olive oil in it, and put basil and rosemary in. I put a lot in; it's kind of hard to overdo it.

1161984-935880-thumbnail.jpgThis also tends to throw a lot of oil around, so I use a makeshift tin foil lid to keep things under control. Ever since I cleaned the stove area when I replaced the old stove, I've become sensitive to making a mess back there.

1161984-935882-thumbnail.jpgIf you don't keep tabs on the oil, it really will trash your stove.

Well, that's really about it. It's hard to overcook potatoes. With full heat I think I keep them on there for 20-30 minutes or so; maybe a little less, maybe a little more. Flip them around a bunch, keeping tabs on your oil again, and I think you'll be happy with the results.

1161984-935887-thumbnail.jpgSo cook them up till they look like the brown-ish ones in the pan there, and you're done.


Meet our new stove!

oldstove.jpgThe old stove was kerosene, and probably built around the same time that man first ventured out in canoes from the shorelines of some primitive tribal land. Only two burners of the three worked, and then only one of the remaining two worked, and it was only a matter of time until the last one went away as well.

True, I could have hunted high and low looking for replacement parts, calling people in Akron, Ohio (or wherever), trying to find the one guy who has the one part I need. But it sucked as a stove, Charlotte and I both hated it, and we wanted to get rid of it. The details on why kerosene is so bad is probably understood to every reader of this blog, but essentially it stinks, cooks slow, smokes (generates soot in the cabin), and takes a trained professional to prime and use.

The stove I went with was the Seaward Princess 2 burner gimballed. The measurements looked close to my existing, and I've heard nothing but great reviews of this stove. Here's a link, although I got the 2 burner instead of the three.

nostove.jpgSo first I had to remove the old stove, which I did by myself, and I don't recommend you try that. It's heavy, sharp, and will trash your bright work on the way out. It's also filthy, which is a reason that after I removed the old stove, I scrubbed the crap out of the stainless firewall that it sits in. It took about an hour just to clean it out, and it was pretty gross. One nice thing about switching out the stove was that the previous owner had a fire onboard it seems. Nothing huge, but they used a dry chemical extinguisher (the correct thing to use), and it caused a really crazy amount of residue that was still falling out even when I threw the thing into the dumpster.

ondock.jpgThe new stove showed up via UPS, and the driver was nice enough to use his dolly to take the stove all the way down to my boat, where's it's pictured. I ripped the packing material away, and then took the old stove completely out.

Getting the new stove in was a challenge. I lucked out a bit on the gimball blocks, and the width was pretty much right on the money. But the height was off; the new stove was much taller than the old one, and the gimball mounts are higher on the body, so although it fit, it slammed into the firewall and couldn't swing free at all.

I had to call in some backup on this one, and Ryan showed up with his arsenal of wood working tools to help. We figured out that we needed to take the old blocks and carve a groove in them, so they'd fit over the moulding.

ryanstove.jpgAfter we got the blocks grooved out properly, we dropped the stove in, and it didn't fit so well. So we took the mounts off, and re did it again. If you're planning on replacing a stove, understand right now that you'll probably be getting very comfortable with your gimball mounting blocks. However wide the stove is, there will be gimball posts that stick out a little wider, and your job will be to position some blocks with the exact height and width you need, in the exact position you need them. It's really not that complicated, but it's difficult conditions to work in, and the stove is heavy.

I ran the propane line as well, but I'll make another thread about that, since it's not entirely done yet, and I don't have a lot of good pictures yet.

newstove.jpgI haven't filled up the fuel tank, but by all accounts, it should be working like a champ now. One of the nice things with propane is that there are only two ends to the hose run: one at the stove, and one at the tank. Barring those two being screwed up, everything else should be fine.