Food glorious Food








Image Caption 1: Breakfast on a Tent Day…blueberry pancakes with maple syrup!

I feel like Bill Murray. Well, not exactly Bill Murray, since not even my considerable hubris lets me think I am that funny, but I do feel a little like Phil Connors at least. I’ll wait a minute while the uncultured among you looks up who that is. Any time now. Finally. (Incidentally, SHAME on you and your family for those of you who needed to look up who that was.)

For the non troglodytes among our readership, you immediately got that we’re stuck in our tent again today (Groundhog Day), though at least it is for a slightly different reason. Yesterday it was blowing 35 mph and that kept us tent bound. Today, the wind has died down to a mere 15 mph, but with all the clouds and blowing snow, it’s nearly a whiteout out there, which makes walking a challenge since sastrugi and snow drifts leap up and attack ankles and knees as we walk to the poo tent (either that or the Rhinoceri have recruit little silent ninja ankle-biter dogs as auxiliary troops). You wouldn’t think seeing the snow drifts would be hard, but they’re very ninja like! Taking out the snowmobiles would be even more of a challenge (though a very exciting challenge), as unexpected sastrugi at 10-15 mph could get a bit sporty!

Needless to say that Johnny and Jim never let us have any fun, so we’re more or less confined to the tents for the second day. Even worse, the prolonged cloudiness has reduced the efficiency of our solar panels, and we’re more or less down to the battery power we have. This means we are running out of electronic diversions and soon we’re going to have to revert to reading actual books for diversion. I know, we’re pretty much savages at this point…I’m just trying to figure out who is going to be Piggy (though I suspect if you don’t know who Piggy is, that pretty much makes you Piggy).

Luckily I was able to wrangle a couple of the stealth rhinoceros force roaming Antarctica (the ones who formerly trampled me), and I’ve got them on a treadmill outside powering the computer for the blog (and the tunes…the Guardians of the Galaxy sound track…ooga chaka ooga chaka).

I thought today was a good day to discuss one of our main diversions out here in the field (on any day not just tent days), food and the cooking of said food. Now these are my views on food, and others in the party probably have slightly different experiences. To this I would say, if they really cared about you guys, they would be the ones blogging about their food (really you should all like me best), and secondly, if you’ve seen me you’ll know I am something of a connoisseur of eating (though not necessarily of fine foods), thus I think I bring a fairly “wide” viewpoint to Food (in the field or otherwise).

In any case, a few basics you should know about our food situation: (1) We have a fairly wide selection to choose from in terms of frozen, canned, or dried foods, but we have essentially zero fresh food, (2) you have to “shop” for everything you might need 6 weeks in advance, (3) all water used for cooking, cleaning, and drinking needs to be chipped out of a glacier and melted, (4) all “cleaning” is necessarily brief and cursory, and (5) each tent is responsible for feeding itself.

Let’s address these things one at a time:

1. You like frozen meat? Then you’re golden here. We got frozen steak, hamburger, pork, bacon (though sadly only a single pound), chicken, chicken patties, salmon, halibut, shrimp, scallops, and even a whole frozen Turkey (12 pounds). There is a similar range of selection for vegetables, shredded and bulk cheeses, bread products (even pizza crusts), and even some more esoteric stuff like fresh frozen garlic, guacamole, and turnovers. As for canned and dried food, imagine going to a corner store in a small town, and you’ll get an idea of the selection available. Want canned fruit, fine, but you better like canned pears and mandarin oranges, because those are your options for this year.

2. We spend nominally 40 days in the field on this program. That means you need to go and select your food for the whole trip all at once. Seems easy, but try figuring out exactly what you’re going to eat for the next 7 weeks all at once, right down to things like oil, spices, variety, etc. No matter how much you think you like oatmeal, it’s tough to eat it for 42 straight days. Also, people always overdue something. To steal a story from Ralph, you notice they have dark bread, which you love, thus you get 2 loaves per week (i.e., 14 loaves), and after 1 loaf you realize…huh…this kind of sucks. Guess who just wasted 13 loaves of bread that travelled ½ way around the world! Thus, a great deal of planning needs to go into this in order for you to do a good job. Or you can do what Ralph and I did and show up and wing it…which is working okay so far, but we only have 2 boxes of cookies and 1 bag of chips left. I’m trying to convince McMurdo that this is a state of emergency and an airdrop of Fudge Strips and Pringles should be the highest priority on their list over some of these other “science” programs (seriously, like the world needs another seismic study), but they aren’t coming around as fast as I would like!

Note: One thing you quickly come to terms with here in Antarctica is that expiration dates are really just “suggestions.” I mean, we just had pancake mix that was only 6 months expired, and we were fairly aghast at the oversight on their part. Much of the bread we took into the field was marked 2010-2011. Our cliff bars are 4 years expired…and almost fully inedible. It gets to the point where the little bits of non-expired food you brought from home starts to taste weird!

3. You know what’s pretty impressive? Drinking water that you chipped yourself from a glacier in Antarctica, especially knowing that the water you are drinking is 10’s to 100’s of thousands of years old. You know what is less impressive? Having to go out into a 35 mph blizzard to chip ice that’s roughly the same hardness as concrete with what amounts to an ice pick in a blinding snow storm, then having to change the $%^&** %^&*ing propane tank in order to warm the tent back up and get the ice to melt. Never underestimate the usefulness of running water! Seriously, most of the time it isn’t that bad (we can all use the exercise), but it does mean you get used to a few things. One, you preserve water! We go through a 5 gallon bucket of ice about every two days, so we’re probably using about 2 gallons of water a day (though the smell in tent is commensurate with that). Two, you get used to gravel in your water. A glacier isn’t pure ice, so after a few days the bottom of your water melting pot (yes, that’s a technical term) gets a bit stream-bottom like. As you’ll see in the next bullet, a tolerance for filth is an intrinsic part of the ANSMET experience (and that’s just dealing with your less savory teammates).

4. Clean is a relative term here in Antarctica. We don’t really use soap when cleaning dishes. In fact, in the 2.5 weeks I’ve been here, I’ve yet to use soap on anything I eat off of. Clean means you’ve wiped it down with warm(ish) water and a paper towel. If you’re particularly fastidious, you’ll use an alcohol or antiseptic wipe on things that raw meat has touched (that seems a bit overkill to me). This also means that you strive to use as few dishes as possible. A recipe that takes 3 pans in a normal kitchen can often be done with a single pan here. And using more than 2 pans is just cadillacing and wasteful. Now, does this mean that most new meals taste a little bit like your last meal? Sure. But actually, it gets to be a little bit of a game, where you try to see how many previous meals you can taste in your current meal. This mornings blueberry pancakes definitely tasted a bit like last nights Salmon and Shrimp Scampi…and that wasn’t really a bad thing by Antarctic standards!

5. You’re very much stuck with what you have. Our utensils for cooking are fairly rudimentary, a frying pan, two pots, a water pot, and basic plates and utensils. If you and your tent mate have a similarly rudimentary knowledge of cooking, well, you make due with that. For example, if your tent mate needs to call home to figure out how make hard boiled eggs, well, better get used to lots of ramen noodles (once they figure out the recipe). If your tent mate thinks dropping frozen tater tots into very hot oil is a good idea (over two open flames no less), better have good reflexes and have the burn ointment handy (hi Ray Jay!).
Each tent comes to a happy medium with cooking. It is fun to make something fancy on a tent day (hence blueberry pancakes this morning, or Salmon Scampi last night), but after 9 hours in the wind you’re happy to come home and throw everything into a pot of boiling water and eat it out of your cup (also know as the Full Ralph). Now some folks just can’t fathom the usefulness of cooking with multiple pots (and by multiple I mean anything more than 1), or using a plate to eat with. I’ll finish up with a couple of stories to illustrate this.

The Cult of the Chicken Patties. For many ANSMET veterans, the height of haute cuisine are these processed precooked frozen chicken patties we can get (think giant chicken nuggets). I’m pretty sure these folks sneak off behind the nunatak on mid-summer’s day and sacrifice a steak in their honor. I actually don’t like them very much, so when Ralph asked me how many dozen chicken patties I wanted for the season, I said none. The look or shock and horror on his face was palpable. I could see his brain thinking of a way to get this heathen out of his field party. Either that, or he thought I was answering him in ancient Sumerian. My point here, is that tent mates have to find a way to compromise…or at least conquer!

My other story involves getting invited over to steak night at Chez Ralph during my last visit. That trip my tent mate was a vegetarian, which was actually nice as it helped me keep my calories down a bit, but made out and out steak night in my tent unlikely. I asked Ralph if I should bring a vegetable or something to contribute, he went, “huh” (with that same sad look on his face). Turns out Steak night in Ralph’s tent was just that, two steaks each. Nothing else. Ralph ate his steaks off a fork until they had cooled off enough to eat with his hands. The rest of his effort during dinner went into mocking me for eating off a plate with a knife (and tasty tasty A1 sauce), and bullying poor Jim into not using either of those new fangled modern contraptions! There is no point of this story other than to tease Ralph a little bit!

Okay, we’ve been invited over to the neighbors “house” for lunch, so I’ll have to wrap this overly long blog up. If you’ve noticed there haven’t been any lessons learned in a while, that’s because we’re all brilliant scientists and we haven’t anything left in the world to learn! Or maybe it’s because we keep making the same stupid mistakes and I’m embarrassed to have to list things like “water will only boil when the burner is on” 3 or 4 times.

Hope everyone out there is having a nice New Years. We miss all our friends and family, and look forward to seeing everyone in a few weeks! Hopefully we’ll get back to the collecting of meteorites tomorrow (I think the sun just came out)!

Image Caption 2: One half of the dynamic cooking duo on Tent Day (obviously I’m Batman). Notice the cunning hat for scale (Rhiannon, notice the other more useful hats within easy reach). All decorations on my side provided by my expert interior decorator back in Vietnam…ANSMET spares no expense.




Image Caption 3: A view out the tent flap showing today’s weather after it cleared a little bit (I was too lazy to walk out into the storm). Two days of blowing snow is starting to bury our food…we’re going to have to get out there and move stuff around. Notice the hockey stick for scale (that’s how Jim keeps everyone in line).







Image Caption 4: A view of the weather earlier. These flags are either (a) what it looks like if a flag spends 4 years out in the Antarctic weather, (b) what a flag looks like after Johnny finishes with our daily beatings to ensure our good behavior, or (c) a modern publically funded art project (you’re probably right, it’s too interesting for that).







– written by Ryan Zeigler, Davis-Ward, 1/3/15

P.S. As always, a special hello to my lovely wife…the sms texts you sent have come through just fine and are the highlight of my day (unless there are pancakes…then they’re a close second).