Friday, January 26, 2007


-29.8 C (-21.6 F)
wind chill: -40.1 C (-40.1 F)
wind: 6.7 knots

Last week I had my first glass of real milk since October. Being the huge milk drinker that I am, this was a huge treat! One of the flight crews brought us a case and we had a little milk party complete with brownies. Normally there is only powdered milk which the DAs make and is actually ok when it is really cold. Most of the mild was saved for the winter-overs to enjoy.

Milk party with Michelle and Charlie and a plate full of brownies.

It’s interesting to learn that an architecture firm from Hawaii designed this new, modern station at the South Pole. I don’t know much about designing a building and I think those guys in Hawaii only know slightly more that me about designing an extreme cold weather building. I did think that one of the main rules for any structure was for the kitchen to be placed close to the garage for the simple reason of delivering groceries. For some strange reason, the guys in Hawaii put the galley on the second floor, farthest away from any convenient delivery method. The main gathering area of the station is the one area that requires the most deliveries of goods and generates the most waste.

When freshies (fresh produce) are delivered, approximately 50 people are required to form a human chain to cart the freshies from the palates up a large outside set of stairs, into the main station and then up an internal set of stairs. The freshies are then all stacked in the hallway until they can be put away. This process needs to be done very fast after the palate is dropped off the plane or everything will freeze. About a month ago we received a box of fresh mushrooms and a little bug survived the trip. Francie became really excited and watched the bug for some time before putting it down the drain. She’s wintering and so it’s hard to imagine that it will be the only bug she will see for 13 months.

All of the freshies we receive are very precious since they go very fast when feeding 250 people. Therefore, anytime we have fresh produce we try to serve it as much in its raw state as possible. For example, it would be a crime to use fresh carrots in a soup when they can be used on the salad bar along with the fresh lettuce. That way everyone gets the real raw flavor of fresh fruit and vegetables. A few days ago the Prime Minister of New Zealand was here and she and her crew brought us several cases of fresh cherries. They might as well have been edible gold for their value to us. Working in the galley has huge benefits as we are able to eat more than our fair share of freshies as well as hold on to the really valuable ones for our friends. I love the looks on peoples’ faces as you give someone who is having a bad day a mango or fresh avocado. It really is the main reason most people get into culinary arts – to make people happy. At the South Pole it’s easier to do as everyone is so appreciative for the most simple of things.

Our little greenhouse at the station has been doing an amazing job providing us with fresh lettuce. We have had fresh lettuce almost every day, for every meal for the past 2 months. The greenhouse has a large variety of hydroponic lettuce that is better than anything I’ve ever bought in the stores. The greenhouse also provides us with many pounds of cucumbers per week as well as fresh basil. On the rare occasion we don’t have any freshies for the salad bar we make cold pasta and canned fruit salads. I made that canned fruit salad with cookies and whipped cream although I had a hard time convincing everyone that it was a salad and not a dessert. I explained that in North Dakota some relative always brings this salad to every family function and it is served as a side salad along with jello with various fruit suspended in it. We then proceed to have dessert usually consistent with bars, pie, and cookies all make with the latest recipes being passed around in which the main ingredient is chocolate. I then further explained that we North Dakotans are a very healthy group of people. Someone wrote Nord’Dakota Salad on the menu when it was served and a few more ND people came out of the wood work. I met someone who was born and raised in Wishek as well as a grumpy old cuss from East Grand Forks who now finds daily amusement in making fun of my NDSU education.

Most of the food we prepare and consume is frozen. Since there is limited space in the galley freezer, our most common items are stored on the second floor deck just off the galley. The less common items and/or overstock items are kept in the Dome and are pulled once or twice a week to be delivered to the galley depending upon our menu. We have cases and cases and a wide variety of frozen vegetables, potatoes, and potato flakes on the deck which we commonly go shopping for. It’s still such a novel experience walking through these giant freezer doors to retrieve product and be on a deck in the bright sun looking across the entire South Pole campus and giant white snow banks. We use only powdered milk which is actually pretty tasty. Our dry storage room in the galley is very small and so most of the “do not freeze” merchandise is kept in 2 storage rooms on the first floor of the station in which we make frequent trips to haul up food.

I think the galley does an excellent job of minimizing our food waste. Everything that is left over we reuse in a soup or for another dish. We have a 4 day rule in which leftovers need to be reused or consumed. The challenge comes in having to be flexible in your meal plan for the day. If you were planning on making a vegetable soup you may have to make a beef stew instead because there are several pounds of roast that need to be used up. We had several requests for chicken noodle soup, but were unable to make it as we never had any leftover chicken. We never pull protein to be thawed specifically for soup, but only for the main entrée. Since all countries have strict food importation laws and regulations, all of our food waste is frozen, air lifted to McMurdo, and then placed on a huge boat and shipped to California to be burned. As you can imagine, this is a huge expense and therefore everyone is expected to eat everything they take.

Some of our best and most popular meals are steak and crab legs, seafood scampi, lobster tails, and pizza night. Every Friday is steak night and Saturday’s alternate between pasta bar and pizza. I am most tired of pork loin used in a thousand different ways and instant potatoes (mashed, scalloped, or any other). I’m probably tired of these the most since I’m the one who usually makes the instant potatoes and dice, chop, or roast the pork. It feels that I’m always preparing pork.

I’m very proud of that quality of food we do produce with the limitations we have. There is some frozen food in the dome which is over 10 years old and we’ve done an excellent job making 10 year old pizza crusts taste great. I found a can of dried onion soup mix with a date of 1990 on it. Since it’s dried and frozen, it’s still good to eat. The MSNBC reporter who was here a month ago had really great things to say about our food. Francie and I were especially proud since the day he ate here was girl’s day in which it was just us preparing the meal. We have a few people who are extremely high maintenance about their food and nothing ever satisfies them. In my opinion we are all extremely lucky to even have lobster, fresh lettuce, and steak – we are at the South Pole, Antarctica after all. For those few people who have unreasonable complaints, we have a whiner bell which rings very loudly and we aren’t afraid to use to call someone out and embarrass them in front of everyone in the galley.

Our dry food goods consist of mint Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Fritos, Triscuts and Nilla Wafers among others. These are stocked in the galley for everyone to take whenever they want. Most of them don’t last very long after they are stocked as the various work groups resupply their offices around the Pole campus. If we hear any complaints regarding what’s available someone is always around to say “It’s a harsh continent” essentially meaning that in reality we are really spoiled with what we do have, after all, we are at the South Pole.

Galley Christmas Party. The entire crew except for Francie who was on R & R in McMurdo.

All season long we had been anticipating a food drop by the Air National Guard. Since the ice breakers and food delivery by the shipping vessels over the past few years had been getting later and later in the season due to the ice conditions off of McMurdo, they wanted to practice a food drop in anticipation that may be how some food in the future delivered. (The ships bring in a 2-year supply of food for air delivery to the Pole after the ice channel is cleared to McMurdo. The Pole “closes” for flights in or out around mid-February as soon as temperatures drop again since no flights arrive after -50C is reached.) If the ship isn’t able to deliver the food stores until late February to McMurdo it may be too late to fly in supplies to Pole.

The main goal of the food drop was proof on concept since all previous drops had been conducted by older aircraft (C-141 and LC130) and computed by the navigator. (all air drop photos here were taken by my friend, Forest Banks) Current drops are done by newer aircraft (C-17) and computer calculated. The food drop also ensures relief for winter-overs that such a maneuver can be safely conducted before it is needed in an emergency. On Dec 20, 2006, approximately 17,000 pounds of food were delivered on four, 16-foot platforms to a large group watching Polies with expert precision. The Air National Guard volunteered to do the air drop at no cost to the NSF as part of a training mission. The last air drop was a delivery of medical supplies in 1999 and prior to that, modular building pieces in 1991.

My friend, Charlie, is the materials person for the galley and is responsible for the delivery of all the food to the galley from the food stores and air deliveries for menu production. He shares his extremely interesting perspective (and much more up to date) of life at Pole on his blog in which I posted his link. He became engaged to his girlfriend, Alexis, while here on the Ice.

At the beginning of the season I was asked by someone how I liked my job. I said then and still strongly believe that I have the best job on the station and wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

1 comment:

Blur said...

Wow, your spirits are still high. Glad to see they have not burned you out. Milk is a rarity at the Pole. Last winter we were getting flack about milk from Denver HQ, we were drinking too much powder whole milk and not enough powdered skim milk!!! Who drinks powdered skim milk when there is absolutely no real milk for eight months??? Anyway I know Michael Rehm is in route to the galley for this upcoming winter. Give him hell...