We have been in Northern Nicaragua for a week, and we’re loving every minute. Well, except the stifling heat. We’re pretty sure it’s reaching 100°F during the day, but can’t bring ourselves to actually confirm.
We’re spending a couple extra days here, waiting for the infamous Papagayo winds to subside, which gives me extra time to share my latest ruminations.
(For the curious: The Papagayos are powerful winter winds that blow west across Central America. They begin as Trade Winds in the Caribbean and get reinforced as they funnel through the narrow and low lying areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, resulting in gusts of up to 45 knots along the Pacific coast. Fortunately, it’s now the end of Papagayo season, so we shouldn’t have to deal with this weather pattern much longer. In the meantime, we’ll be waiting by the pool, checking the forecast.)
Since so many people enjoyed my post about life as a cruising cook, I’m heading back into Pineapple’s galley for this week’s update! But this time, instead of focusing on individual meals, I’ll describe the specific foods, tools, and techniques we use to eat well and stay healthy while living aboard and traveling full-time.
First, I want to take a step back and describe how we think about food. It’s fun to geek out about gadgets, organization, and gourmet ingredients, but what really matters is the end result: healthy, energy-building, flavorful meals we enjoy when the cooking is done.
Here are the food fundamentals we try to keep in mind when planning and shopping:
- Minimize added sugar. Part of my shopping routine includes flipping packages and reading labels to see how much azúcar (sugar) is added to foods. We must rely on some packaged and canned goods, but a little attention goes a long way in avoiding totally unnecessary (and totally unhealthy) added sugar. (It’s amazing where it shows up, too. For example, a “healthy” multi-grain bread we’ve seen has high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient! Come on!) With a little digging, we can find simple items like plain no-sugar-added yogurt just about everywhere.
- Avoid processed food. Have you heard the advice to “shop the perimeter of the grocery store”? We think it’s smart guidance that helps save money and avoid processed foods. That said, we have stocked the boat with a couple months of shelf-stable (yep, processed) food. It’s not entirely avoidable given our nomadic lifestyle of long-term travel. But again, I always check the label and look for items that have fewer ingredients and fewer unpronounceable chemicals.
- Eat real food. That’s veggies, fruits, animal proteins, and healthy fats. Since we are sailing in relatively populated areas, we are able to buy fresh ingredients roughly once a week. And many of those fresh and real food items last a long time with no processing, either because we stick them in the freezer or because they’re naturally long-lasting. (See below for more about “back to basics” produce.)
After we moved to San Francisco from Chicago in 2010, we took steps to leave the heavy Midwestern diet of our youth, in all its deep-fried glory, behind. Moving to the land of acai bowls, cold-pressed juice, Soylent, and Impossible Burgers made overhauling our diet a normal, even easy, thing to do. We certainly didn’t adopt every trend—we don’t like quinoa, and I managed to miss the collagen thing completely. But food consciousness and healthy options were everywhere in San Francisco. We loved walking to farmers markets and spending time with friends who also enjoyed cooking and clean eating.
Now we’re translating that mindset to living on our sailboat and traveling full-time. Some of the less-healthy practices are slipping back into our lives, and we’re fine with it. We’re human. We need eating habits that are sustainable. The biggest change has been the amount of bread, granola, and chips we consume. And we’ve been known to occasionally enjoy the nectar of the gods, Coca-Cola. We’ve accepted those sugary, processed-food shortcuts, but we try to remember them for what they are—shortcuts, conveniences, treats—and not let them become mindless defaults. We try to balance these indulgences with our real-food fundamentals, and it seems to be working: My skin is clear, my digestive system is A-OK, I’ve only been sick once in the last six months, and I wake up each morning with a lot of energy. As long as I feel good, I’m not stressing about eating sandwiches more often.
(And since I’m… sharing… no, those aren’t the only unhealthy choices we make. Last week I made Buffalo chicken dip for dinner. So good. I’m already looking forward to the next time I make that bad decision. And our awesome friends aboard Gadabout gave us a box of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies (!), which is a welcome reason to have dessert for a few nights.)
This is what one storage area (of many) looks like. This one is below the floor boards. Yes, all the blue lids are jars of mayo, and yes we have too much. Can you guess what I’m most scared to run out of?
That said, here’s where we have been successful in translating our healthy eating practices to cruising life on our boat.
Great Drinking Water, and Lots of It
Yeah, we’re going to get really simple here. With the exception of the occasional bottle of water from a store or restaurant, we make all our water ourselves with our trusty Spectra watermaker. Pretty neat! But, the water we make is pure H₂0—there are no minerals. It tastes like nothing and is not as nutritious, or thirst-quenching, as U.S. tap water or bottled spring water. Thankfully we discovered that adding a few trace mineral drops not only replaces what’s missing, but improves the taste tremendously. We also drink Emergen-C regularly as an additional supplement.
Getting Back to Basics with Produce
At most supermarkets and city markets, the produce leaves a lot to be desired. We just provisioned at a nice supermarket here in Nicaragua, for example, and the fruits and veggies are far from the bounty we enjoyed in California. I could barely bring myself to buy a few tomatoes—they were a sad shade of pink instead of bright red. And often the salad greens look like they are on their last legs, already a little wilted in the store. If we aren’t going to eat them within 48 hours of purchase, we don’t even bother.
We prefer to buy fruits and veggies that will last awhile, so when we go to provision, I just hope the store has enough of these long-lasting “basics” to last us until the next market: cabbage, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, carrots, limes, scallions, bell peppers, jalapeños, cucumbers, and apples. If I find something else that looks good, I’ll buy some, but I don’t get my hopes up.
In El Salvador, we started seeing sweet potatoes and butternut squash again (after a long absence in Mexico). My favorite starches are back! Butternut squash soup, sweet potato wedges; it’s all happening again. And in Nicaragua, the store had really great kale and green beans. Not knowing what surprises I’ll find might be one of the reasons I’m giddy when we go to provision.
Part of the produce section at a supermarket in León, Nicaragua:
We store lots of produce outside the fridge because it will keep just fine. These bins from The Container Store are perfect for our space, and we added some rubber feet so they stay put when the boat is rolling side to side.
For the produce in the fridge, we use these bins as mini crispers and they help us organize our top loading, two-layer deep fridge.
And while we’re on the topic: We absolutely love these sealing containers for dry goods. (Thanks to our friends aboard Interlude for the suggestion.) Containers are fun, right?
Keeping our “back to basics” produce well-stocked is key to making healthy choices about what to eat. Willpower has its limits, and we’re already tempted by the bread and chips we keep around for lunches. But having a good supply of veggies aboard makes it easier to choose nutritious foods when I’m planning our meals.
Salad Dressing from Scratch
We have not bought pre-made salad dressing in years, and that has turned out to be one of the easiest habits to bring into our nomadic cruising life. By keeping a few types of vinegar aboard, plus some extras like toasted sesame seed oil, ginger, or dijon mustard (plus shallots or garlic!), we can easily make a variety of dressings for salads, rice bowls, roasted veggies, or really anything.
Staying Stocked with Healthy Fats
Coconut oil has been remarkably easy to find, and we’re stocked up on ghee and butter from grass-fed cows. Those are our primary cooking fats. Avocados, my dwindling supply of nut butter, and nuts like almonds and walnuts are my go-tos for healthy fat. One of my few provisioning regrets is that I didn’t stock up on sunflower seed butter and almond butter before we left the U.S.
Other Foods That Make Healthy Choices the Easy Choices
Here are our go-to ingredients when we’re looking for quick ways to throw together a snack, make a sandwich more exciting, or add excitement to a meal. These options make it possible to enhance a meal while keeping it healthy:
- Capers: We love the salty taste and always use them in tuna or egg salad, or whenever we feel like it.
- Dried shiitakes: I bought these on a whim and I’m glad I did. We add them to rice bowls and stir-fries.
- Coconut aminos: Easy flavor burst for many sauces and dressings.
- Eggs: We buy two dozen at a time. I tend to hard-boil a bunch right away for an easy snack or breakfast. Cruising has also rekindled our love of egg salad sandwiches, with mayo, mustard, capers, and a dash of red vinegar and paprika for flavor.
- Salsa: We love this medium-spicy salsa from Herdez that we’ve been able to find literally everywhere.
- Canned chipotles: Adds spice to a dressing or marinate. And a can lasts basically forever since we really only need one chipotle pepper at a time.
- Chia seeds: Mostly so I can make this chia seed pudding for breakfast. It rocks. Although popular relatively recently in the U.S., chia seeds are native to Mexico and Central America, so they can be found everywhere.
- Spice blends: We keep a variety of pre-mixed spices aboard, which really speeds up prep time.
Simple Cookware for Small Spaces
Almost every meal is made with this sheet pan (the largest that will fit in our oven), this dutch oven, this stainless-steel sauté pan, this nonstick frying pan, or this small stock pot. Everything is blended with this hand mixer. We have a set of stainless-steel mixing bowls that we use constantly. We have some other cookware aboard, but we hardly ever use it. I do miss the Vitamix blender, full-size food processor, and large roasting pan we used back in San Francisco. And if we had an unlimited source of electricity, I’d add an Instant Pot or a bread maker to the galley. (As you may recall, our power comes from batteries, which are charged by our solar panels and diesel engine. No electrical grid here!)
And a little reminder, our galley is tiny:
What I’ve Been Cooking Lately
In addition to the detailed menu I published recently, here are some examples of what’s been coming out of the galley on Pineapple:
- Rice bowls: These have become a “use what you have” staple for us. They always start with John’s garlic-cilantro rice, and we use a variety of toppings. For example: Leftover cucumber onion salad, toasted almonds, sautéed shiitakes, and carrots. We’ll throw a fried egg or two on top usually. Or shredded chicken, pickled onions, toasted almonds, shiitakes, shredded carrots and topped with cucumber yogurt sauce.
- Butternut squash soup: Made for our last overnight passage. I added chipotles for an extra kick. Really could have used some cilantro, but we were out!
- One-pan oven pork chops: Covered in olive oil, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and lemon pepper seasoning, then roasted with onion, apple, and kale. Served with yogurt and hot sauce.
- Roasted chicken with sautéed kale (cooked with shallots, chili flakes, and toasted sesame oil) and sautéed cauliflower (cooked with garlic and cumin).
- Shredded BBQ beef over homemade cabbage cole slaw.
- Pizza with chorizo, jalapeño, and cilantro. (Pizza’s healthy, right? 😇)
That’s the latest from the galley: A look at how we’ve adapted our healthy eating habits for the realities of sailing, living aboard our boat, and traveling constantly. If you’re into food and have suggestions for simple, healthy cooking, I’d love to hear them! And if you have a tiny kitchen and you’re willing to share advice on must-have equipment or organization, I’m all ears! Thanks for reading.
Love reading about the adventure you are having. The cooking is so interesting and healthy. Happy sailing.
Glad you enjoy reading, thank you for the comment!
I love this post. Scott and I had a wild time eating on the boat in 2016-2017 because 1) our fridge wasn’t working and at one point stopped working altogether (https://sailingjuniper.com/2016/11/25/life-without-refrigeration/) and 2) I was vegan for the majority of 2017. Good produce is challenging, and while I’m used to shopping several times a week when on land, provisioning fresh produce for a boat has involved a lot of trial and errors.
I wish I had that Le Creuset dutch oven. That would be great for bread-baking.
Do you have a pressure cooker? I use ours All. The. Time. Cooking black beans, chickpeas, rice, steaming sweet potatoes, making curries. It’s awesome.
I actually have a food post from when I was eating vegan sitting in our blog’s draft folder. You’ve inspired me to dust it off and update it. 🙂
BTW, we briefly met you guys in La Cruz. We were too shy to ask you two over for sundowners.
Hey! We totally remember you guys! Loved your no refrigeration post. I think that’s been the most common problem people have mentioned to us since we left. A month without would definitely be an interesting challenge.
I need to come up with some good lentil recipes, love them but never eat ours. And I did consider a pressure cooker, but we don’t really eat beans and I know that’s a main reason people like them. Did not consider steaming veggies though, that would be great and we don’t have a good way to do that now. I know there’s lots else you can use it for, we may buy one in Panama. (And, that’s not actually our exact dutch oven, they don’t sell ours anymore, suppose it’s almost 10 years old now, so I linked to that one instead. The rest is what we actually have.)
Where are you guys now? I’d love just one more visit to the La Cruz market – the bread, the tumeric hummus, the empanadas, the salad greens….
Let me know when your food post is up!
Regarding lentil recipes: if they’re brown lentils, they taste really good cooked with sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), chipotles, garlic, and some greens added right at the end so it doesn’t get too cooked out. 3 cups water to 1 cup lentils. If I have coconut milk, I’ll add that to taste, and reduce the water. Another recipe I make a lot is a sweet potato dal. Again, 3:1. Spices are cilantro, ginger, green chilies, turmeric, garlic. Add sweet potato, lentils, water. You can also add coconut milk to this. Yet another recipe that’s really good is a Mujadara, a rice and lentil dish with caramelized onion. You caramelized the onions separately and place them over the rice and lentils. Ideally, you cook the rice and lentils separately and mix them in a sautee pan w/EVOO and garlic, but as cruisers conserving on water and propane, I cook them together. If you have access to yellow or pink/red lentils where you are, you can make all of these and also make a proper Indian dal (and I can give you a proper recipe for that ).
We’re still in La Cruz and waiting to head back into the SoC. Unfortunately, our cat Sam is very sick, so we’re here until he’s well enough to leave. He’s 15, has hyperthyroidism, and the medication made him very ill. He lost a lot of weight and is in pretty bad shape. 🙁 Thankfully, the vet here has been very attentive, prescribed a different medication, and we’re hopeful that Sam can recover as he misses sailing and enjoying the cockpit.
It’s Sunday, and yes the La Cruz market is such a good treat!!
So sorry to hear about your Sam, poor guy. I hope he will make it through. Our cats love sitting in the sun and enjoying the cockpit (the sailing, probably not as much), so it’s probably so hard for you to watch him in misery. We had to take Chase to the vet in La Cruz after he snuck into a bag of plantain chips. Also had a good experience with the vet there. Our cats are 11, so far in good health, but I know their old age is right around the corner.
I made a lentil recipe really similar to the first one you listed! Used green lentils though. With curry and chicken broth instead of coconut milk and added kale at the end. It was pretty good. And a rice, lentil mix was the other recipe I saved, will make that one next. There must be a common journey for those new to lentils. Grocery stores in Costa Rica seem to have a pretty good selection, but quite pricey. Glad I stocked up on the staples before we left Mexico.
Take care! Our best wishes for Sam’s recovery.