I scored majorly this week! We had a very good produce box this week, even creating one of those serendipitous moments of including a cauliflower and potatoes for the week when I was toying with the idea of Aloo Gobi (Indian Cauliflower & Potato Curry)! I am still really digging Asian–type flavors this week. Plus, after finding out that Aldi stock’s gluten-free imitation crab, I knew I would also be making California rolls. Super exciting!
Once the box was confirmed and I was making my list for the store, I knew I was going to have a fair amount of extra money left over…it turned out to be around $11, so I able to spend NINE DOLLARS to stock up on a 5+ pound pork butt! That is the toughest thing about this $50 budget–that there is rarely ever enough remaining money to cover those bigger cuts of meat (that are actually quite cheap in terms of dollars-per-pound, but still require a slightly steep investment up front). Believe me, I am trying to get creative with how I save up for them–maybe I’ll tuck the changes away each week until it builds to $10-$15. Either way, by using our pantry a lot this week, I did manage to squeeze in the pork butt (and a treat: potato chips!) I’ve already portioned the pork into 3 different 1.75 lb bags in the freezer. You can bet that Citrus Pork Chilaquiles from Ashley‘s Date Night In Cookbook will be on the menu next week.** The other ingredients with be a little bit of an investment–things like orange juice, avocado, tortilla chips, and queso fresco with run me between $1-$2 a piece at Aldi. But I will get creative with the rest of the week’s meals in order to make it work because these chilaquiles are HEA. VEN. LY!
If you are careful with your pantry items and invest in spices, there is absolutely no reason to boring, flavor-lacking food when you are eating on a budget. As you may noticed, M and I favor super bold cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Indian and eat dishes from those cuisines fairly often! Spices are the absolutely key to keeping things interesting! I’ve found that cheap spices can be found in the “Mexican/Asian” aisle of regular Giants. They have very cheap bottles of garlic powder, oregano, cilantro, etc and even had little baggies with a couple whole star anise or a few whole nutmegs for like $2! Check it out, and try to put together a few dollars towards spices every other week–you will soon be on your way to a flexible and useful spice cabinet!
**This is not a paid endorsement at all. M got me the book for Christmas two years ago and I just love it! The chilaquiles is our absolute favorite recipe…with Basil Mint Bourbon Jubilees coming in close behind!
This week’s tally:
- Hungry Harvest Produce Box: $16.50 (added on the grapefruits)
- Aldi: $27.75
- Lotte Asian Market: $5.28
- Total: $49.53 (If I hadn’t had those stock up/splurge items, we would have barely cracked $35 this week!)
This week’s groceries:
Hungry Harvest Box: 2 grapefruits (add on), 1 red onion, 0.5 lb brussels sprouts, 3 apples, 1 head of organic cauliflower, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce, 1 mango, 1.5 lb fingerling potatoes.
Lotte Asian Market: whole lemongrass, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, 2 lbs sushi rice
Aldi: dried cranberries (stock up), 1.5 lb pork tenderloin, 5.12 lbs pork butt (stock up), chips (splurge), cucumber, 5 lbs potatoes (stock up-forgot about the fingerlings in HH box), avocado, diced tomatoes, milk, sriracha (stock up), cooking spray, imitation crabmeat
Here is how we are eating this week:
Sunday: Paneer Masala, Aloo Gobi, Coconut-Creamed Spinach, & Rice I’ll be making the paneer with that gallon of milk and some lemon juice! It is so simple and I should get between 12-18 oz of cheese for about $1.50. I’ll cook down a masala sauce with the tomatoes, some spices, and some of the half-n-half from two weeks ago. The spinach is from two weeks ago and the coconut milk is from last week’s grocery trip. The veggies from the box will pair with spices for the Aloo Gobi and we purchased a huge 15 lb bag of rice ages ago, that we have been slowly working our way through.
Monday: I’m out late with meetings for my internship. I will probably grab something on the run.
Tuesday: Leftovers M is out and I work late. I’ll eat leftovers or some scrambled eggs when I get home.
Wednesday: Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, & Fingerling Potatoes with Mojo Verde sauce M will be cooking while I’m in class. Mojo Verde will someday make it up here on the blog–it’s similar to chimichurri. An herby sauce with cilantro, parsley, garlic, vinegar, and all sorts of tasty stuff!
Thursday: Sushi! A big old batch of rice will get rolled into California Rolls, veggie rolls, maybe I’ll even break out the shrimp if I’m feeling fancy! Check out my last post for a step-by-step guide to rolling sushi!
Friday: Larb Gai I’ll mince up some chicken thighs with the freezer and sauté them with my pantry items (fish sauce, lime juice, etc) and cilantro and serve with the red onion and butter lettuce for a light dinner.
Saturday: Odds and Ends Whatever I’m feeling like. I know I need to use up the eggplant and do something with tomatoes! We will still have chicken thighs and a few sausages in the freezer, if I want some meat.
Breakfasts will be eggs or oatmeal or fruit and toast. Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches using the roast beef from last week!
Alright, confession time. I pronounce (some) words strangely. These days, its only really noticeable in my emphasis on “tt” when it shows up in the middle of words. Kitten. Mitten. Button… But I also said “pint” with a short ‘i’ sound for a little while and went through a phase with too much emphasis on the ‘w’s in words like sword and dwarf. My family will still tease me about it, occasionally. I was a kid who read A LOT (like, a chapter book a day… rereading Harry Potter books 1-3 over 30 times during the year before Goblet of Fire was published…yeah…) So I had a fairly large collection of words that I was most familiar with seeing. So, I tended to pronounce things as the y looked. I mean, obviously there are two T’s for a reason, am I right?
Anyways, I’ve noticed now that I am an adult, I’ve picked up a bad habit of dropping or even changing letters. I think it, again, comes from reading the words so often (on blogs, etc), except that I am a little too lazy and just presume a word instead of actually paying attention. So here’s the actual confession: Even though I have heard it said and I know that the “R” is there…I say too-meric. I also say xanthUM gum, and in my earlier recipes, have often written in with an M instead of an N. That one was more surprising when I realized my mistake. I’ve been aware of my turmeric error forever, but I just can’t seem to shake my bad pronunciation.
Have you tried turmeric lattes (also known as “golden milk” lattes) yet?
They sounded super comforting when I first heard about them and (no surprise to my spice-loving self) I love them! This is perhaps why I now have a little under a pound of fresh turmeric root in my freezer. That’s another story. But the short version is that it came in my produce box. And my sister also got some and asked me what I did with it. So, I came up with a few different versions of a turmeric latte to share with you today! Plus, it gave me an excuse to make designs with spices on my marble cutting board. Hello, beautiful!
The Quick Way (Turmeric Latte)-–Or when you just have dried, powdered turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
- hefty pinch ground black pepper
- 1-2 tsp honey
- 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract(optional)
- 1 c. milk*
*dairy or non-dairy–I love almond milk in these lattes
Heat the milk in the microwave. In ours, it takes about 2 minutes to get piping hot, but not scalded. While the milk is heating, add all spices, honey, and vanilla extract, if using, to your coffee mug. Mix well to form a paste. Add a splash of hot milk and stir until the paste is incorporated into the liquid. Add remaining milk, give it all a stir, and enjoy!
The Slow Way (Turmeric Tea Concentrate)—Or when you have fresh/frozen turmeric root
- 4 Tbsp. turmeric root, grated
- 1/2 inch slice of ginger root, split into a few pieces
- 3 c. water
- hefty pinch ground black pepper
- 1-2 tsp honey
- 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
- milk of choice
Add grated turmeric root and ginger slices to a small pot with the water. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to steep until water cools (at least 1 hour). If possible, I usually transfer it all to a jar, cover, and let it steep overnight. Strain the water from the roots and keep the concentrate in the fridge for up to two weeks. When ready to serve, heat equal parts turmeric tea and milk of choice. In coffee mug, mix honey, vanilla extract, if using, and ground pepper. Add the milk mixture, stir thoroughly, and enjoy!
The Twist (Turmeric Chai Tea Concentrate)–Or when you don’t want a ton of turmeric
- 2-3 Tbsp turmeric root, grated*
- 3/4 inch of ginger root, sliced
- 5 whole cardamom pods
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
- 3 whole allspice
- hefty pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (or 1/4 tsp. ground)
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper (or a few whole peppercorns)
- 4 black tea bags (regular or decaf, depending on when you favor your lattes)
- 3 c. water
- 1-2 tsp honey
- 1/4 tsp./a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
- milk of choice
*or 1-2 tsp ground, dried turmeric
Add grated turmeric root, ginger slices, and all spices (whole or ground) to a small pot with the water. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and allow to steep until water cools (at least 1 hour). If possible, I usually transfer it all to a jar, cover, and let it steep overnight. Strain the water from the spices and keep the concentrate in the fridge for up to two weeks. When ready to serve, heat equal parts turmeric tea and milk of choice (usually 1/2 cup of each). In coffee mug, mix honey and vanilla extract, if using. Add the milk mixture, stir thoroughly, and enjoy!
We got our first snow of the year this week! Just a dusting, but enough to make for a white morning. It’s cold, but dry enough, so it doesn’t feel like that bitter, seeping chill. Our winter has, otherwise, been fairly warm, so I’ll take it! All through the fall, winter, and early spring, Shepherd’s Pie is in my rotation at least a few times each month. It is one of a few select dishes that M and I will eat the leftovers with as much gusto as the fresh serving. (Given that my lunches are alway leftovers, I relish when a dish is just as good the day after.) Also, this recipe usually gives us between 6-8 servings, so it packs a real punch in my weekly meal plans. Better yet, it’s not too hard to double the recipe and it freezes well. (Just thaw for 24 hours/overnight before reheating!) Plus, I have successfully replaced half of the ground meat with finely chopped mushrooms and/or cooked lentils to great success. Tasty? Check. Reliable? Check! Cheap? Check!
I’ve been making Shepherd’s Pie from memory for several years now, though I shared my recipe, here, a long time ago. When M and I were planning for our trip to the beach house this year, we decided to make Shepherd’s Pie on our dinner shift. I was totally surprised to find that I had organically adjusted from my original recipe without even noticing. So here is how I make Shepherd’s pie now, in 2017. As my friend pointed out, the big difference that makes this dish so good is that equal effort is put into seasoning and flavoring the potato topping as well as the meat, keeping the whole thing in balance and making every bite delicious! (And in case you were wondering, it is pretty simple to multiply this recipe by 6, in order to feed 25 hungry people at once–just make sure you have big pans!)
Serves: 6-8 | Prep time: 20 min. | Cook time: 30-40 min
For the Topping:
- 1-1.5 lb potatoes (russets are ideal)
- 4 Tbsp heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 1+ tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
- fresh chives, optional
- 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling
For the Filling:
- -1 lb ground beef or ground lamb
- -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
- -1 large/2 medium carrot(s), finely chopped
- -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced
- -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
- -1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
- -2 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
- -3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
- -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
- -1/4 c chicken or beef broth/stock
- -3/4 c. frozen green peas
- salt & pepper
Start the potatoes:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Place in a pot and cover with water an inch above the potatoes. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are easily pierced by a fork. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make the filling:
While the potatoes are cooking, add the oil to a hot pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions. Sauté over medium-high for about five minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften, then add in the ground meat*. Cook, stirring often to break up the minced meat. Drain the fat if necessary. Add the minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 1-2 minutes more until the garlic is fragrant. Add the Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, stirring well to coat the entire mixture. Then add the wine, broth, and peas. Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer while mashing the potatoes.
Make the potato topping:
Drain the potatoes and add in the remaining ingredients. Mash together into one smooth mixture. Taste and add more salt or pepper, if needed.
By now, the liquid in your meat mixture should have reduced some. In a well-oiled dish, layer first the meat mixture, then the potato topping. Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden.
*If replacing half the meat: With mushrooms–add to the carrots and onions for the beginning, allowing the mushrooms to cook down before adding the meat. With cooked lentils: add after all the meat has browned.
We are falling quickly into Fall! I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable). Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame! Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings. Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time. Ahem. I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week. Seriously, I am still dreaming about it. I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker. My crockpot is my saving grace these days. I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week. Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call. And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic. We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.
That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job! Really, its more like an uber-promotion. I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee! Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job! Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything! Whoa. My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.
Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever! Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time. I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought. But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat. M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone. They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.
In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup. I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before. When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil. Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge. This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle. The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed. A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting. The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!
Tomato Basil Soup
Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.
- 1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
- 2 c. tomato juice
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
- about 10 basil leaves
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 4 Tbsp. butter
Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency. I like a slightly chunky soup. If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less! The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender. Do the soup in multiple portions if needed. Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer. Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter. Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients. Serve immediately.
It has been a long, hard winter. The cold has lingered and clung, with our last snowfall in April. April. The dark cold days and the stress of work and an arduous moving process left me with little motivation to do much of anything. I felt like March was trying to drown me in gloom, with snowfalls almost every week. But after this long winter, it finally seems like summer is hurrying in. These past few weeks have been mild and usually sunny. Last week, the temperature nearly reached eighty degrees. I have finally put on my first sun dress of the season and the weekend before Easter, I spent the entire evening in my backyard with a dozen friends. Even after sunset, we could pull on a sweater and stay out to enjoy the night air. Spring is finally here. I needed it. I think a lot of us needed it.
I’m starting to wonder about the new year. Yes, of course, even when it is miserably cold in January, the days are (slowly) getting longer. But sometimes its so hard to look ahead past the cold gray days. With these last month of warmth, I am finding the motivation and energy that has been lacking. I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions this year. I think I will be making May Resolutions and taking advantage of the initiative that this beautiful weather encourages in me. Even now, with a couple of post-graduate years under my belt, I feel a little unsteady in this “adult”, “real-world”, “job-based” life. I’ve spoken before about my ingrained sense of cyclical time: in school, I would have 4-6 busy weeks and then have a break. If some sort of responsibility came up, I could usually make it wait until that time where I was not busy–this was the time to finally catch up on what I had ignored. I getting closer to breaking these cycles. But as I started to merge these six-week spans in several months, and then into a full year; I found myself getting more and more disorganized. I didn’t have a plan for long-term. I didn’t have routine.
That is my main goal for these May resolutions. To find routine and organization. I realized that, somehow, after graduation, I stopped using a planner. My planner use has never really been as an appointment book: my phone’s calendar app can take care of that. In fact, I survived the year of 5 jobs by only scheduling in my calendar app without much trouble. But now, with my primary job at full-time hours, I have tasks and projects, lists and assignments to do. And that is what I have always used a planner for–a place to store my To-Do lists directly next to a schedule. I like planners that lay out a week over two pages, with a calendar by month to track important dates. I then use each day as a daily To-Do list, allowing me to mark future tasks on the appropriate days, or look back to see what was not finished on previous days. After more than a year adrift, trying to keep track of countless post-its and scraps of paper, I knew I wanted a new planner. I also knew I wanted more. I wanted something pretty, with options for meal-planning and grocery lists. I’ve been toying with the idea of meal-planning for a long time, and knew a pretty new planner with spaces to fill would prompt me to make a plan and stick to it.
I launched a full-scale search in December. But I never found a planner I liked. It seemed like the only planners with meal plan space were Mom Planners. I don’t need the space to keep track of four people’s schedules. I looked at options on Etsy, but still couldn’t find any I liked that seemed worth the money. I did find several “Print Your Own” planners on Etsy which gave me an idea. If I couldn’t find a planner that I liked, I could just make one! (I think I was still riding out on the tail-end of my Christmas crafting binge) Between all of the vacations and deciding what I wanted, I finally finished up designing my planner at the end of January. All-in-all, with my exceptionally basic Photoshop skills, it probably took me around 5-6 hours to actually make the design (with some time spent catching up on this newer version of PS that M has). This included: a 2-page month calendar spread, a 2 page weekly spread, a meal-plan/grocery list page, a 2-page notes spread, and a cover page. I left the dates to be filled in, so I simply had to organize it month, then the number of weeks+a notes/menu combo for each week. I planned for the months to rotate through colors.
At this point in the process, though I much prefer 5″ x 8″ inch-or-less planners (so that I can hold onto the deluded hope that it will fit in my purse), I had given up on that desire and designed my planner for a full 8.5″ x 11″ size. I thought that trying print and chop in the correct order on half pages would be far too difficult. I looked into online printing and binding for my design, but that was even more expensive than the Etsy planners. M offered to pay for it as a Valentine’s day gift and I refused. The printing cost really was not worth it. Just when I was about to condemn myself to a giant planner, M sprang into action (probably because his girlfriend has spent a week staring at a design file in utter hopelessness) and figured out that with an In-Design file and Adobe Reader’s printing options, we could make this planner happen in the correct order (in a way that did not require me flipping and feeding each individual page) and would allow me to print them on the half sheet! He really is amazing. So finally, one night while everyone was at work, I set up my old printer and let it go. After about an hour of bated breath, I was finally able to be certain that it worked! I chopped the pages at work, where I have access to a straight edge trimmer, purchased an Levenger hole punch and accouterments from Martha Stewarts Discbound system, and after a morning of paper-punching, I had my planner.
I spent the first first weeks giddy with achievement, and, happily, I’m been using it religiously. Since it was made to fit 8″ x 11″ pages, the Daily columns are now a little thin. Certainly still workable, but I’m already working out little fixes because you can bet I’ll be making my own planner again for 2015! #PlanningForTheFuture. Ahem, anyways, I am thinking that I will make the day spaces horizontal across the page. I soon realized that I forgot to put day titles in the monthly calendar. I also, now, several months of meal planning in, have realized that the weekly column on the Grocery page is enough for my meal-planning–writing my meals out twice uses more time than it saves me. In next year’s, I may devote that space to a daily cleaning planner or a workout planner or something like that. In the meantime, I do like my “Goals” on the month pages. Since my daily categories are really To-Do lists, each day/week already gets ‘goals’ in the tasks. But the the over-arching goals for a month help me stay on track with bigger projects and also all of those “I-Really-Should-Do-This” sort of tasks, like researching classes or planning to clean out my car. The “Inspiration” section on my weekly pages usually gets a quote. Again, I like being reminded to actively look for something positive and/or inspiring each week.
This planner has certainly been a life-saver and is getting even more use as I try to sort out my life after winter and after our students’ performances. I’ve got six weeks before the crush of summer camp begins, and many tasks to catch up on. Luckily, now, I have a way to keep track of it all.
Linking, once again, to Katherine at I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog, because she writes, more beautifully than I could ever hope to, about the pressing issues of working in theater/the arts.
Adventure on the High Seas (First-hand account of the fire on the Grandeur of the Seas, May 27, 2013)Posted: May 29, 2013
*This is my personal account of the events occurring on the Grandeur of the Seas on Monday, May 27, 2013. My words cannot be quoted or used in any other reports without prior contact and consent from me, as well as linking directly back to this blog. Please feel free to comment or contact me for further information.*
I wanted to be writing to you sometime next week, after 7 days filled with crystal-blue ocean and Caribbean sunshine. I wanted to be nursing a sunburn. I wanted to tell you about this beef carpaccio:
this sour cream panacotta:
and about the deliciously soft, springy gluten-free bread, and the roasted duck with a port wine and current sauce, and the prime rib, and the Roman salad, and the Bailey’s-caramel-banana creme brulee that were so good, I forgot to stop to take pictures. I will tell you about all of this food, very soon. But first, I am going to talk about the reason that I am home and writing this post on Wednesday, two days before we were due to return to port.
For anyone who has not yet heard, a fire broke out aboard Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship: the Grandeur of the Seas. M and I, my mother and her friend J, and E and A were on that ship. The fire broke out on the mooring deck of the ship between 2:30-3:00am. Investigation of the cause are ongoing. The ship was carrying over 2,200 passengers and close to 800 crew members and was en route from the first port in Port Canaveral, Florida to the second port at CocoCay, Bahamas.
We woke up to the captain’s over the loudspeaker. Our inner cabin on the aft (back) of the second deck is pitch black, and all that I can make out through his calm, but thick Norwegian accent was “muster”. Muster Stations–our assigned positions for boarding life boats in case of an emergency evacuation. We had run a muster drill first thing upon boarding the ship– lining up at Muster Station 10 (the aft-most station on the port (left) side) on deck. We stood in lines of six on the fifth deck, 250 passengers at a station, memorizing the faces of our muster team: an auburn-haired woman, A, we would soon learn was part of the cruise director staff, and a petite Australian, J, whom M quickly pegged (correctly) as part of the performing cast.
That was a first-day drill–a precaution. I never expected to be recalling the drill procedure at 3:00 in the morning on day 3. M and I stumbled to pull on sweatshirts and shoes. We both had the forethought to quickly use the bathroom in our suite (the best decision of the night). The captain’s voice was still calling guests to move to their assigned muster stations. I opened the door to find J, our room attendant, in his life jacket, knocking on doors and urging passengers out. That is when things started to sink in. We grabbed our life jackets and SeaPass cards, M had the good sense to grab our passports. We entered the slow flood of people dutifully climbing to the fifth deck.
When we reached the deck, we turned to the left to reach our muster station–the final station on the port side–and hit a wall of crew members. We could not go to our muster station, we needed to go to the front of the ship, then to the interior to the casino. The fire was in the aft of the ship, two floors below our muster station. So there was the culprit: a fire. We quickly found our way to the casino, some part of my mind marveling at how quickly the other passengers at the muster stations moved aside to make a pathway through the crowds. We checked in, listening as the muster leaders tallied and rechecked their station lists until all of our group was accounted for. Over the next hour, along with regular updates from the captain over the intercom, the details began to come together. The fire started on the mooring deck at the back of deck three, where the anchor and mooring ropes are stored. The ropes caught fire and blazed–our muster leader told us she knew that the fire was serious when she looked back at the water in the ship’s wake. The whitecaps were glowing amber, reflecting the firelight.
We were in for a long night. Soon after our muster group was accounted for, the crew members encouraged passengers to find seats and began handing out glasses of water from the bar. The captain updated us at regular intervals, even if he was just broadcasting to say that there had been no change. At one point, the captain announced that they were lowering the life-boats to the boarding level, in preparation only to save time. The captain assured us that it was only a precaution, and that we were not anywhere near taking the next step of physically evacuating the ship itself. From what I had heard, many people outside at their original muster station became alarmed at this point–understandably so. I realize that we were actually incredibly lucky–because our group had been moved to a secondary muster station, we had the good fortune to be inside. We were sheltered from the elements, and allowed to sit down. We could hear the captain’s announcements clearly–between his accent and the wind, I’m sure his announcements were difficult to discern outside on deck. That was also some cause for the greater degree of worry outside on the deck. Ultimately we were at our muster stations for over four hours. It took near three hours to put out the fire completely and then another hour to inspect the ship’s public spaces before they could open the fore (front) of the ship to passengers, allowing us to find seats and get breakfast.
By 9:00am, all guests were allowed to return to their rooms. Several state rooms were without power, some suffered water damage from the fire-fighting, others had smoke damage. We were never told if the power outage was due to damaged electric lines, or if it was turned off as a precaution, given the water damage. Our room was on the second deck, one floor below where the flames broke out. About twenty feet down the hall from our door, the fire hose had been brought out to help fight the fire. The hallway smelled faintly of smoke, mostly drifting down from upstairs, but our rooms was perfectly fine. I know our ordeal was much better than most. Being moved to the casino, as I mentioned, kept us out of the elements, away from the smoke, and in more comfort than the majority of passengers kept outside on deck. Several outside became chilled and seasick. Later into our holding positions at the muster stations, the crew began to bring in older and more infirm passengers inside.
Through it all, what stood out most was the incredible care and dedication we received from the crew members. Even before the emergency, we marveled at their boundless energy and continued efforts to make sure that we were all entertained. A smile and conversation were readily available from each and every crew member. Dance breaks were common, laughter even more so. Working with entertainment professionals, myself, I was astounded by their drive and energy. This crew is available from 7:00am to past midnight, seven days a week, with the only goal to keep all of us entertained. They did a spectacular job. Now, in the middle of the night, with the smell of smoke drifting to our noses, these same crew members were here with the same amount of energy–now channeled into a calm, collected surety. Though I had a few brief moments of alarm, I was never scared. The easy smiles of yesterday became caring acts: I watched staff fetch forgotten eyeglasses, medications, diapers and formula. They held babies while their parents used the restrooms, and tirelessly made rounds through the crowd, checking with passengers every few minutes. They steadied the sick, collected every glass and bottle in the vicinity to hand out water, and–finally–sat down beside us.
It was then that we learned that most of the staff had been up since the previous morning, and were just wrapping up to slide into bed when the alarm began. Our muster leader had been awake for 23 hours straight when she spoke to us towards the end of our time at the muster stations. Through her, we also learn that most of the staff quarters were located in the aft of the ship on decks 3 and 4. Their rec room, convenience store, and bar, along with several cabins were almost certainly destroyed. We were in a dangerous situation, of course. We were worried and scared and enduring several hours of discomfort. But the crew was focusing on comforting us, and fighting the flames for close to three hours without a flicker of worry to betray that their homes and belongings were being threatened.
We brought some food down to our muster leader. She shared it with two other crew members as they stood to keep a boundary along the ship’s middle divide. When we saw her three hours later, we learned that the shared plate of food was all she had eaten. We were happy to learn that shortly after we saw her, she was relieved of her post and allowed to get some sleep and find some food. I cannot fully express just how dedicated the crew was, placing the guests entirely first and working through exhaustion to keep us in as much comfort as they could.
The ship’s engines were not damaged–she was completely self-sufficient after the fire. Aside from some power outages in select staterooms, and a few hours of slow toilets while the water pressure equalized, post-fire-fighting, the Grandeur was in operating condition. We continue to sail to Freeport, Bahamas, an industrial port that provides dry-docks for most cruise lines when their ships undergo repairs or renovations. It was only after we went off-ship and into port that we had a chance to see the true extent of the damage. Most of us stood in awe to see the blackened and gutted back of the ship. I had no idea that the fire had been that large. To think that the ship’s staff extinguished such a huge blaze, in the middle of the ocean, entirely on their own, is mind-blowing. Again, my respect and gratefulness towards this crew increased tenfold.
Finally, late in the evening on Monday, May 27, 2013, the captain informed us that they would have to stay in Freeport to repair the ship, and they would have to cancel the remainder of the cruise. We were refunded for all of the cruise, excluding those excursions we had already taken previously at Port Canaveral, Florida. Even gift shop purchases were refunded. We were also given comparable credit in a certificate for another cruise, completely free, meaning we received a combined refund/credit worth 2 entire cruise vacations. The crew returned to schedule, and while they coordinated refunds, flights, hotels, and transportation for over 2,200 passengers, they also returned to the schedule of meals, opening the specialty restaurants and reinstating the dining times. The performing cast put on an incredible aerial show that evening. As we watched in awe, the pieces fell into place–we recognized J as one of our muster leaders, and our cruise director confirmed it: these artists were also all of the muster leaders, who had led us through the entire emergency early that morning. A standing ovation was all we could give them, and it certainly wasn’t enough.
We stayed on the ship overnight and then through the day as staff coordinated with immigration and began to bus passengers to the airport for their flights. Things quickly backed-up. Though the Freeport Airport was generous enough to stay open after hours, it was clear that they did not usually encounter passengers in such force. Much of the paperwork was handwritten, we were responsible for bringing our check bags to several different places in the airport. Procedures, inevitably, slowed down the return process, and weather created some delays as well. We finally took off from the Bahamas at 11pm on Tuesday night, landing in Baltimore after 1:30am. Royal Caribbean representatives were waiting, directing us to a desk for hotel rooms, or to charter buses waiting to take us to our cars at the port parking lot. M had to shuttle E and A home before returning to take the rest of us back home. We finally arrived home at 4:45am. It was all over.
We turned on our phones to find voice messages and texts and facebook inquiries asking for interviews and photos from news sources all over the country. All of our bosses had been contacted, also M and A’s parents, by reporters looking for stories. This is a mind-boggling experience, and I am sure that I will continue to process this experience over the next few weeks. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with Royal Caribbean. Though I had many reasons to prefer them before now, their spectacular handling of the entire situation has ensured my loyalty from here on out. We are already looking for times when we can return to the Grandeur for another cruise.
As mentioned, I do have more say about our time on board before the fire, but that will have to wait for another time. Right now, I am happy to be home and enjoying a few quiet, slow days with family and friends before returning to work.