pepperoni/pineapple/pickled jalapeno pizza
This morning I dreamt of fish tacos. The lightly battered ones you get in mexico, topped with cabbage and crema. Slowly awakening, the taste of fresh corn tortillas still on my tongue was heartbreaking. Soon I tell myself as I stumble from bunk to coffee maker and the disappointment held therein. Dreams of espresso and tacos are common these days. The Oasis closes for the winter in two days and my food production is slowing accordingly. Like a squirrel, I ferry the non-freezables in what’s left of my pantry out to the battery room where it will stay warm all winter. We are a closing crew of five and I’ve made a big pot of chili to carry us through the next couple days. The guys seem fine with that, but to break up the monotony I’m making pizza for dinner tonight- our last dinner with full water and power. The wind is up to its old tricks again, pummeling the building, sneaking in the cracks. I don’t feel sad about leaving this one room school-house, it is more like salvation at this point. I’m wise enough to know that you abandon the ship before it gets completely dashed to pieces. I’ll brave the journey back to land where I’ll fall to my knees, kiss the dirt and let the green things remind me what they smell like.
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waffles, berry syrup
black bean quesadillas
chicken & rice casserole, green salad(!!)
The end is near. You can feel it in the air, in the people coming and going, a subtle shift in attitude. Our focus evolves from sustaining to using up that last bit of toothpaste in the tube and going home. With the finish line in site, the pace quickens. Every day the helicopter deposits another load of last-minute plumbers, electricians, carpenters… it would seem that even Antarctica is not immune to procrastination. I’m in an endless cycle of cooking and dishwashing and cooking- to feed eight to ten people three times a day at a kitchen table with only six chairs. In trying to use up things in the pantry which can’t freeze or have been there for years(!?) I find myself facing down a decrepid can of cream of mushroom soup. I am the first to admit that the casserole chapter in my cookbook is a little thin. The casserole is often a family tradition- something most folks learn to love and make as a child. The casseroles of my youth were almost exclusively limited to the mysterious concoctions served by my grandma on Wednesday game nights. They were delicious, and unnatural in a way that, as a child of whole wheat, fruit juice sweetened upbringings, I craved fantastically. These mythical casseroles, like Froot Loops and Kraft American Cheese Singles were ephemeral delights gorged upon when visiting relatives, and never seen at home where my culinary foundation was laid. In Antarctica, I am learning to embrace the humble casserole as a convenient vehicle for feeding many people with few ingredients. While I have become comfortable with shamelessly disguising lackluster canned and frozen ingredients with a topping of cheese and buttered cracker crumbs, today will be my first foray into the world of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. Here on this frozen continent, I may be homesick for dim sum and taco carts, but I know that for my diners du jour- a group of electricians from Michigan, chicken and rice casserole tastes like home.
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buttermilk pancakes, bacon
chili beef burritos
pork chops, blueberry sauce, port cheddar polenta, garlicky mustard greens
Our mop bucket looks like a rusty medieval torture device with a bright blue handle. As I wrestle it around the kitchen table, “what’s the point?” comes to mind. Our building is a metal box bolted together at the seams and by no means air-tight. Wind controls the temperature, dust blows in all the invisible cracks and the bunk room actually fills up with snow in the winter. No amount of sweeping will keep the dust bunnies at-bay, making them the most successful species at The Oasis. With lots of sun and little wind, it’s hot in here today. Slapping the mop around, I work up quite a sweat, which is a bummer because I took my shower of the week last night. Down here, people like to go on about the winter and the darkness. Rarely do you hear about the summer and its never ending sunshine. Unable to escape the constant watchful blaze, I feel like an ant under the lense. Sunshine in the morning, sunshine at night, sunshine obscuring any view I might have out of the myriad windows that line our building. Thanks to Mr. Sun, it’s 23F and I take breaks out on the front porch in a tank top and flip-flops to cool down. I come from the clouds and rain of the deliciously dark Northwestern United States, and having spent most of my adult life working the night shift in restaurants, I can confidently say that I miss the dark more than I would ever miss a clear blue day.
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spicy mac & cheese, green beans
BBQ steak, mustard greens, french fries.
I am grilling steaks for dinner tonight. The rusty steel barrel barbecue is a permanent fixture outside the front door, seemingly impervious to the wind. It stands alone as one of the few features in the yard not wired and bolted down- yet it holds its ground throughout the summer, only going into hiding for the harshest of gales. The humble barbecue is a miracle worker. It can be a modified coffee can or it can look like a Cadillac, but as soon as that smoky heat infiltrates your hot dog of questionable origins, or that burger(?) you found at the bottom of the deep-freeze it does something magical. This is not the high-art of grilling, but with some properly applied condiments and the heady scent of briquettes still clinging to your clothes, that hunk of meat tastes pretty darn good.
The favorite saying around here is “it’s a harsh continent.” This applies to everything from the weather, to the selection of breakfast cereal at the morning table and is a perfect explanation for the meat I can order from the Big Base food supply. The tough assortment of mystery cuts come to me individually vacuum-packed and frozen, concisely labeled “beef steak.” I have discovered that extensive marination is the best way to go about preparing these cow pucks for the grill. After a day spent hanging out in red cooking wine, soy sauce and a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, my little steaks are ready to cook. Serve them with some expired french fries and pre-chopped mustard greens (thank you freezer) and you’ve got yourself a nice Antarctic barbecue.
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chicken/vegetable/bean soup, fresh havarti biscuits
meatloaf, roasted red potatoes, broccolini
The smell sneaking out the back door of the galley building is fresh homemade Chex mix. I’m seven years old, helping my mom stir hot cereal and nuts in the enamel ware roasting pan. My favorite bits are the rice Chex, and I have a love/hate relationship with the pretzel sticks which are fun for spearing cheerios, but kind of a bummer to eat. I am monumentally disappointed to walk into the galley and see the actual source of the scent. The sign on the steam table proclaims it to be tarragon chicken, although I see no immediate evidence of either ingredient. I watch a table of firemen make scale models of the nearby mountains with the gray stuff on their plates. As I stand in the cold sandwich line I cross my fingers for an afternoon flight back to The Oasis. The weather has so-far condemned me to an additional day and a half of Big Base galley meals after my planned two-day visit. When the call finally comes in the late afternoon, I can’t get down to the helo hanger fast enough. The pilot sees a small break in the snow cloud which has been blowing around the frozen ocean in front of the base and decides to make a run for it. Seven of us in full outdoor gear are packed into the seven rear seats of the helicopter. Seven sardines in fat red parkas. The rotor plucks us into the air and with our nose pointed south we take off towards The Oasis. If you’ve never been in a helicopter, the movement takes a little getting used to. Unlike a plane which has wings and flaps which help stabilize against turbulence, the body of the helicopter swings below the blades. It feels like a ride on the giant swing at the carnival. A disembodied motion that makes each bump an extra surprise. As the body of the helicopter hops and lurches we can hear the pilot and helo tech glibly discussing the altimeter in static tones over the head sets. My fellow sardines assume the forced stoic nonchalance of fearful passengers, but looking out the windows, I feel more delighted than afraid. From the west where icebergs usually dot the horizon, there is nothing but the cloud of snow chasing us across the ice. To the east the outlook is steely. Heavy clouds coughing out fits of flakes and mountains waiting patiently for the smack of snow. Ahead of us the hand of the storm reaches down to stoke the rocky black ridge of The Oasis which burns like a woodcut backed by the pure gold fire of Antarctic sun.
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eggs and peppers, tortillas, salsa, paw paw
BLT, potato/parsnip herb soup
It was not a white Christmas at the Oasis. The snow started three days later. At about 2am when I often find myself prowling the hallway to watch the light turn the icebergs on the horizon into Carnival cruise ships, I heard the wind start like a switch being thrown and knew I would awake to a featureless world. Foul weather keeps the guests subdued. This snowy stillness in the main room is a rare treat. I am delighted by my own little noises- the ice tinkling in my glass, the tick tack tick of my keyboard. The only other human sound is Boss cloistered behind the curtains of his bunk snoring lightly through an afternoon cat-nap.
Christmas was more of a coincidence than an event. No friends and family, no carols or parties. The entire holiday arrived, condensed down to a two-day weekend and an extra-large ration of freshies delivered by a helicopter full of people wearing santa hats and antlers. The Santacopter is sent to all accessable field camps under the guise of spreading cheer. Guests in silly hats bearing veggies are always cheer-inducing, but in truth, the trip is more of a gift to the worker bees from the Big Base who get to leave the hive for an afternoon to go on a look-see.
Meal planning with a cold room full of freshies is a joy after weeks of manipulating frozen bags of “Tuscan Vegetable Mix” and “Fajita Blend” into something I’m not ashamed to serve. While assembling BLTs at lunch, I find a colony of stowaways in the lettuce. I haven’t seen an aphid in months- now I have a whole bowl of them, swimming for their lives in the rinse water. I feel a bit conflicted sending them to a certain death in the gray water evaporation pond. In their rarity I find these normally abhorrent pests charming. I pause with the bowl over the drain and watch their spindly legs beat uselessly, moving their transparent green bodies absolutely nowhere. I’d love to keep one in a jar. Poke some holes in the lid and give him a good aphid name, like Steve or Dale.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Antarctica, Aphid, BLT, Christmas | 2 Comments »
french toast, bacon
green chili chicken enchiladas
cornmeal dusted halibut, red beans & rice
The dead seal is right where Boss said it would be. Northwest from the big satellite dome, straight down the hill past the second rise. The cinnamon crescent of seal stands out and would have been easily visible from the top of the hill but for the rolling waves of rubble. Years of freezing and thawing have scarred the island’s crumbly topping with depressions and craters giving it a Land of the Lost, B-Movie feel. Walk in any direction and you’re greeted by dinosaur foot prints and flying saucer landing sites. The mummified seal looks at home in this alien landscape. I kneel down to look in its mouth and see broken teeth and the rocks below it’s belly. Every tiny hair has been preserved except for a few patches where the weather has worn it bare like the arms of a well-loved leather chair. I poke it and find it amazingly hard and heavy, the thing doesn’t budge. It has no smell, but it does have little toe nails on its flippers. I’ve been told that it is 800-1000 years old. I ponder the logistics of seal mummy stock.
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