Are We In Canada Yet? How ‘Bout Mexico?

Did you read the sad news about the guy in Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, who was shooting at people from his boat? The story ends tragically as he was killed by police when he fired his weapon at them. I wish we knew more about the man. I hope we can eventually know why this person was shooting at people from his boat.  He was sailing Flying Gull, the 1940 Sparkman and Stevens sailboat we fell in love with and almost bought 4 years ago. Although we know we made the right choice in walking away from that boat, I find myself feeling very sad, indeed, that this beautiful boat would be the stage for such violence. Aside from the obvious human tragedy involved, this boat deserves better than that. I guess I hoped that when we walked away someone else had bought it and loved it like we would have. We have several posts about Flying Gull on the blog. If you are interested in reading them, just search ‘Flying Gull’ in the search box up top.

Our blog has seen lots of action on the Flying Gull page since this unfolded. I know this is because of the shooting, but I hope someone will read the review and decide that if Flying Gull ever goes up for auction, they will buy it and bring it back to its former glory.  This is a truly beautiful boat. 

Meanwhile in lighter news:

We’ve now been cruisers for over a month.  You’d think that by this time we’d be in Canada watching whales, or in Mexico eating all the fish tacos. But alas, instead we spent three weeks in Gig Harbor. By the time we got out of there we had become part of the local scenery. Now we’re anchored in Olympia in great anticipation of the coming week and hopefully, finally, getting this repair to the aft deck finished. Let’s all spit a few times and do some twirling together to let the gods of boat repair know that we’re seriously ready to get out of here. Okay? There are whales to watch out there and we need to commence watching them!

Since we aren’t in Mexico yet, we can at least eat well here. In preparation for all the long passages we have yet to make, I purchased the cruiser version of a slow cooker. Called a ‘thermal cooker’,  it works on the principle that says if you just get something hot enough and keep it hot long enough, it will turn out to be cooked by the end of the day. On paper, it sounds dead easy. In the galley, I’m not so sure.

Mt. Rainier lording it over Penrose St. Park.

I ordered a thermal cooker from Amazon and when it came, it was very small. I thought, ‘this is too small’, so I sent it back. I should probably have kept that one. Instead, I ordered one of these huge units from Saratoga Jacks. It comes with an insert that allows you to cook two foods at once.  Why cook only one thing when you can cook two? My friend Donna from SV Denali Rose has one and she likes it and uses it. So when these went on sale last year, I got one. I like to be part of the popular crowd. But I think Donna must be a better cook than I am.

Here’s my take on this unit: I’m lukewarm about it. I literally go ‘meh…’ and shrug my shoulders when asked if I like it. This thing is supposed to save propane on board, and we all want to save propane, don’t we? It’s supposed to allow you to fix dinner and heat up the galley in the morning when it’s less hot than the Mexican afternoons. So let me give you the low down on how I used it today to make tonight’s dinner:

Melissa’s Fabulous Mango Beef Soft Tacos

1.5 lbs beef stew meat (works well with chicken or pork, too)
1 quart size mason jar of Melissa’s home made mango salsa, canned in 2011
(What? You don’t have any of Melissa’s special mango salsa, you say? Just use any old salsa you have laying around. A pint, a quart, green salsa, red salsa, literally whatever you have. We don’t stand on ceremony or persnickety measuring in our galley.)

Taco fixings: Steamed corn or flour tortillas, shredded cabbage, avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and crema sauce. Make that with Mexican crema or sour cream. Stir in a little lime juice, some cumin, some chili powder, and a couple of drops of honey. Just go ahead and play with the amounts. You can’t really mess this up. Heck, add THREE drops of honey! Treat yourself!

Looks pretty good at the end of a long day. All the space above the meat needs to be filled with thermal mass.

Now you want to brown the meat in the thermal cooker pot. When it’s brown, add all the salsa. You will cook this for a few minutes until you know the meat is heated all the way through (I.E. already cooked) and everything is boiling hot. Meanwhile, you want to preheat the thermal unit. This is necessary or it will steal heat from your ingredients and they won’t stay at cooking temperature. So boil some water on the stove while you are cooking, I mean browning, the meat.

When the water boils, pour it into the thermal cooker and close the lid. Your meat will be brown by now but don’t let it cool. Just keep cooking it on the stove. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Thermal mass is everything when using a thermal cooker, so I decided to make up some rice at the same time. I retained some of the boiling water for this. 1.5 cups of rice, three cups of water. That makes a LOT of rice. But you want the huge pot filled up with thermal mass. Air in the pot is the enemy of thermal cooking.

Rice pudding, anyone?

Pour your hot water from the unit into the sink to do dishes later. Then put the pan of meat and salsa into the unit, the rice and boiling water on top. Put on the lid and close the unit and walk away. Open the hatches to let out all the steam and heat collected from boiling two things on the stove at once. Whew! I saved a ton of propane.

I put my pot to rest at 11:00am when we upped anchor in Penrose St. Park. I opened the unit at 6:00 at anchor in Olympia. The rice was done to perfection but cool to the touch. The meat was done, but frankly it was done when I put it in the cooker. It was, however, probably more tender than it would have been. I honestly do not know how long this meal stayed at cooking temp because the whole thing was less than lukewarm by the time we ate, 7 hours later. I needed to heat it up again to serve it. Still, I didn’t have to cook dinner. It was already done. So that’s a plus.

It’s hard to go wrong with a taco and Mexican beer.

I’m not ready to commit to this unit yet. Aside from the doubts I have that it’s actually going to save me much propane, I’m not sure it’s going to suit the way we generally eat. This thing holds a LOT of food and there are only two of us. I was hoping that this would take the place of my small crockpot, which I used several times a week when we were at the marina. Try this recipe in your own slow cooker. You won’t be disappointed, even without the mangos.

Do you have experience with thermal cooking? Any ideas on how to do this better?






9 thoughts on “Are We In Canada Yet? How ‘Bout Mexico?

  1. What you really need is a Billikin, the god of things as they ought to be. I keep a small one on top of my chart plotter, and rub its belly frequently. It is a Russian/Inuit thing. If you ever get to SE AK you will find them in various museums. A billikin can solve lots of problems, but hasn’t gotten rid of Rump yet.


  2. I’ve been envying those with thermal cookers, but after reading your post I think the Wonderbag I already have is working out for me just fine, and it was a lot cheaper. It seems like the same principles are involved – heat something up, let it sit all day and then stuff your face at the end of the day. I use my Wonderbag all the time. It’s great for saving on propane, lets me have something ready to eat at the end of a passage and it keeps the galley from getting hot cooking at night. The temp of the food at the end of the day is still hot, but I think that’s because it’s so freaking hot in the Bahamas that anything, in a thermal cooker/bag or not, would stay warm all day long.

    • It was a toss up between the Wonderbag and this unit. I chose this one because I had a place to put it that was just right and the size of the wonderbag scared me off. However, I think I may have chosen incorrectly. With the Wonderbag, it sounds like you can use different sizes of pots, etc. Well, too late now. I’m going to see if Donna has any words of wisdom for me.

  3. Hmmm . . . after reading about thermal cookers on the Boat Galley, I was sure they were the answer for me and was going to add one to my wish list for our future narrowboat (I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Wonderbag but they didn’t scare me off as much as the size did). I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me!

    • Yeah, I’d hold off unless you can get a small one. They sell some small ones at Asian grocery stores or home goods stores like Shin Shin in Tacoma. The size of the Wonderbag put me off as well. I rationalized the size of the thermal cooker because I can use the pots for other things. But frankly, I’m hoping our new batteries will stand up to a crockpot.

  4. We found our pressure cooker useful in Mexico (and here in Canada… Michelle made chicken cacciatore in it last night). Saves propane, time and, important for hot Mexico, doesn’t heat up the cabin.

    • We have one, but I haven’t used it yet really. I anticipate using it in Mexico, but we will see. I think it’s all about what kind of meals you generally cook.

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