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UAB in Antarctica

Traditions can be lots of fun. And they can be tasty too!  My first trip to Antarctica in 1985-86 was as part of Robin Ross’ and Langdon Quetin’s krill research team from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Maggie’s third through twelfth trips here were with Robin and Langdon (that season I was along was her fourth). The Ross/Quetin team had a tradition of cooking a Mexican dinner for the station every year. They would even ship down special ingredients ahead of time some years.

    Every Sunday is a day off for the station staff, including the cooks. So for Sunday meals we all eat leftovers from earlier in the week. Also, from March through September the station is on what is considered the “winter schedule”  and on the first weekend of each month the staff has both Saturday and Sunday off. Although the food is wonderful both the first time and as leftovers, two days in a row of leftovers can get a bit dull.

   I really liked the Ross/Quetin group tradition of cooking dinner for the station, and when our UAB team started working here we established our own tradition of cooking a pasta dinner for the station.  Since we are usually here when the station is on the winter schedule, we wait until one of these two-day weekends and cook dinner for the station on Saturday night. That’s just what we did this weekend.

   We had really wanted to do our dinner for the two day weekend last month while Jim was here.  However, it turned out that that weekend was when we were able to use the ship for the dive trip in the Lemaire Channel that Kate wrote about in her blog on diving from the Tin Can. But Jim was here in spirit and before he left he cooked omelets made to order for anyone on station who wanted them one morning at breakfast.  (I’m not an egg eater but the folks who are still talk about Jim’s omelet mastery!)

   Joining Kate, Maggie, Ruth, and me with the dinner plans were our two chemist colleagues from the University of South Florida, PhD students Alan Maschek and Jason Cuce.  Unfortunately, Jason was not feeling well and so couldn’t participate. But the rest of stopped work at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon to begin preparing for the 5:30 dinner.

   Our “traditional” menu includes a couple kinds of pasta to go with red spaghetti sauces both with and without meat.  Sometimes we also make a white sauce, but not always and we didn’t do that this year. We also make fresh bread, a salad, desert, and usually some kind of hors d'oeuvres.

   Lots of things here require one to be somewhat flexible. Usually we make a big green salad but the last shipment of fresh food came in with us and there have been no “freshies” on station for weeks.  So Ruth planned a bean salad that turned out wonderfully, although not with all the planned ingredients. 

   We had not planned any hors d'oeuvres this year.  But some of the beans that Ruth planned for the salad got a bit overcooked. So she and Kate mashed them with spices and spread them over toast.  Some were served just like that, but for most were garnished with canned red pepper on the left, white goat cheese in the middle, and dried basil and other green herbs on the right. Edible Italian flags to go with our pasta theme.

   One of the meals I like to make at home is spaghetti and so I always make the red pasta sauces for our dinners.  Alan helped me.  At home I use ground beef for the meat but the station is out of ground beef.  The cooks suggested substituting raw Italian sausage that Alan diced up and browned on the stovetop.  At home I brown the meat with fresh green pepper and fresh mushrooms.  Those are long-gone here too but canned red and yellow pepper along with canned mushrooms worked fine.

   The one fresh vegetable that is left on station is onion and so that at least was like what I would use at home.  And as at home, I threw in a little bit of most everything in the spice and dried herb cabinet. I doubt that many people in Italy use things like salsa, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or Vietnamese pepper sauce (just a dash) in their spaghetti sauce, but I’m not in Italy.  With the sausage instead of ground beef the result was different than what I’m used to, but it all worked.

   Maggie is a wonderful bread baker and she made four loaves of bread: two basilly loaves (bread flour with a fistful of dried basil) and a pair of mixed grain loaves both with dried rosemary but one was glazed with balsamic vinegar.  Kate made two delicious apple pies (the only fresh fruit left are some baking apples). Together they made small rolled pastry with fruit jam inside. Then we set the tables with red and white checkered table clothes and finally, boiled up angel hair pasta and spinach linguini.

   We transferred the pastas and sauces into the kitchen steamer table to keep them warm while people served themselves. The cooks always label each item in the steamer tables so that people will know what is what. That is particularly important for marking vegetarian options and anything that has something someone on station is allergic to. We named our dishes after the things we work with.  For example, the spinach linguini was named for a stringy green alga that grows here. 

   We opened several bottles of red wine for folks to have with the meal while Kate and Ruth served the hors d'oeuvres.  After dinner, pretty much everyone pitched in to help clean up.  It was a delightful evening, and now another special Palmer Station memory.