Some U.S. Coast Guard Culinary Stories…..plus a thought or two.

Jun 30

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JULY 4 TH is almost upon us again. The energy is in the air ….. time to celebrate what we are thankful for in our great country. My thoughts and memories skim over past  picnics, fairs , trips to relatives that lived in country houses, back yard fireworks , and  “Wienie Roasts ” on the beach in San Diego. What really sticks in these recollections are my times in the galley…. while in  the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

I spent my first four months in the UCCGR without a uniform, any training or knowing what and when it would all start. I went to my monthly meeting as required ( they did pay me ) and just hung around. Finally I was ordered to Government Island in East Oakland, Ca. for what turned out to be a 13 week stay. No one told me that the ” Coast Guard Boot Camp” was almost as tough as the Marines, but I was young and eager to do my part. I got lucky and was placed on the base football team ; the physical training now was daily football practice-I surely got by a bit more easily than the mindless physical exercises that were a part of the program. We played games all over No. Cal.; graduation day went by and I was soon home for two weeks. I was stationed at Terminal Island Coast Guard Station in Long Beach , Ca. Since I was only a 6 months reservist, I did not get assigned to a cutter for sea duty. They stuck me in the galley to wash dishes. It seemed my next month or so was to be wasted for 10 hrs. a day. That’s not what happened……

“What? You can cook?” Before I knew it, I was elevated to cooking three meals a day for 300 people  (officers and enlisted mess too). My only help was Juan, a 50 year old Commisaryman 3 rd Class . His home was in the Phillipines; he had spent 25 years in the U.S.Navy as a Steward working mostly the Officers Mess. His wife made him get out of the Navy.. then she promptly left him and took their kids. Lost without a support system, he joined the CG-they would let him cook! He liked cooking better than being a glorified waiter and valet anyway (were his words). At Terminal Island, the  men in charge of the galley- a 1 st and a 2 nd class petty officers- mostly sat in the office,drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, telling dirty jokes and tall tales about their younger days as “Coasties”.

I was a very happy guy! Juan helped me to learn some bulk cooking, a few of his native recipes and I was doing something that wasn’t even remotely connected to my hobby cooking.  Since that morning at 7 yrs. old when my mom showed me how to cook eggs for breakfast. One day I twisted my back and had to go to the infirmary. A Lt.JG came in while I was there…said the CO was concerned about how I was doing. Not for the reason I thought…later I learned he wanted to make sure that I was still going to be cooking their meals!

The Commanding Officer said that the food  I was cooking was an immense step up from what they usually got on their plates (the only difference for the officers was they had tablecloths and were served on china plates. The enlisted mess had no such amenities-just a S/S rectangle tray with 5 compartments-cafeteria style service). Who would have thought such a thing would happen. I was just a guy from San Diego who had worked at an auto parts store and was trying to figure what to do with my life. Many of my friends were fighting in Vietnam…mostly, we were all befuddled, scared and not sure what would happen in the world. Looks like I should become a cook! More about that later……

Juan’s Pork Stir Fry-His Grandmother’s Style

3 lbs. Boneless pork shoulder -cut in 1 ” cubes     8-10 Bay Leaves     1 Whole head of garlic- cloves peeled , separated  and chopped

2 Bell peppers (any color) trimmed and cut  julienne 1/4 ” strips    Light soy sauce 3-4 oz.   Freshly ground black pepper

1 Medium red onion peeled and cut julienne    1 Cup fresh bean sprouts (optional;I added this in later preparations )

1 Peeled and cut julienne a  3 ” piece of fresh ginger     2 Tbps. cornstarch stirred into cold water to use as thickener(slurry)

Heat on high, a wok or large saute pan. Add 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil…do not let oil smoke. Brown pork in three batches and set meat aside. Do not let it burn! Add a bit more oil if needed.  When all the meat is browned; add a little more oil if needed, stir in onions, peppers,ginger,bay leaves, stir for 2-3 minutes. While still on high heat, add garlic for 30 seconds… stirring all the while, add meat, stirring; season with pepper to taste and soy sauce-about 2-3 oz. Still stirring well to coat all ingredients, add in the cornstarch slurry to coat all. Do not let get gummy-if it does, add a bit more soy sauce to make smooth. Stir in optional bean sprouts well. Serve with steamed rice. Encourage diners to not eat the bay leaves!

Oefs Sur Le Plat (Fried Eggs) Fernand Point     Chef de Cuisine / Owner    Restaurant de La Pyramide        Vienne, France

Melt some unsalted butter in a small skillet but do not let it sizzle. Break fresh eggs onto a small plate and slip them into the skillet. Cook over very LOW HEAT so that the whites of the eggs become creamy and the yolks are hot. In another pan, melt some unsalted butter very gently. Salt and pepper it lightly and pour over the eggs at the last moment. Serve with freshly baked baguette .

WHEN I STOP in a restaurant I don’t know, I always ask to shake hands with the cuisinier (chef) before the meal. I know if he is thin, I’ll probably eat poorly. And if he is both thin and sad, the only hope is flight!    Fernand Point

 

 

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