I didn’t list the temperatures because I haven’t been outside. That means it doesn’t matter.
I had one of the many best days of my life yesterday. I was released from work a little early in order to help Deany, (his last name) one of the VMF Supply personnel with the chili cook-off, one of many New Year festivities here at McMurdo. Oh, heck yeah. Our office has been very quiet since Christmas, so I knew they would not miss me, and the chance to spend some time with a new person doing anything different here was welcome. Most of you who know me understand that I have an impressive list of accomplishments in the kitchen environment because of the time I spent in the Quality Control department at Dawn Food Products, my regular job. But this was a chili cook-off and something I knew very little about. I am used to cooking for two. Two dogs. Or two people. My beautiful and loving wife Jenny does most of the cooking for us, because she doesn’t like to eat what I make. Closer to the point is I do most of the cutting and stirring, and leave all of the spices and timing to her. That made me the perfect assistant to Deany. He had a plan and was going to stick to it whether I liked it or not, so off we went.
Well, I’m no Chili chef. My job was to stir. Anne and Lavonne did the prep work and Deany did the browning of the beef in one of the 5 gallon cook pots while I just kept things from burning and sticking in the second 5 gallon cook pot. All of this was done on a Coleman cook stove fueled by kerosene. There were 5 other teams competing in the cook-off. The firehouse, who have a great reputation for burning their food curiously enough. The Galley team, who as professional chefs should win all the time, the Crary Laboratory people who have never won, but refuse to stop trying, some guy from Texas who says he is the best chili cooker ever, and the VMF who, with Deany at the helm have some wins and a some losses but who always put on a show. We were fortunate that the Kiwi’s (our friends from New Zealand) who won last year were not in the competition. Lord only knows how them foreigners won an American food competition, but my guess is that the Kiwi bird tastes a lot like chicken and that was why they had enough meat to go around.
That leads me to this years gourmet extravaganza. We had no ground beef to cook with. None of us did. Apparently the Galley has gone through ground beef at an alarming rate this season, or the supplies we got last season were below expectation. (Don’t worry, there is no shortage of food here, but an excess of ground beef for the chili cook-off was just not available.) We kinda had to make do with what we had, so Deany got together with the staff in the Galley and got his hands on as much steak as they could part with and he tailored his recipe to that. Anne and Lavonne were slicing up raw steak for almost two hours and then working on the onions, celery and whatever else was on the list while Deany kept browning and adding more and more beef to my 5 gallon pot. It was a little like stirring cement before he decided to add more water and tomato paste. My arms had the workout of their lives!
All of the cooks knew that the judging would be done under the one main rule that whatever you made had to feed at least 150 people. That meant I was stirring for the better part of four hours. I got there at 3:30pm and the judging began at 7:30. There was some real creativity taking place for the substitution of ground beef. I won’t give away all of the secrets, but I did see that the Galley team was breaking up prefabricated hamburger patties to get what they needed. (Cheat to win Baby!) On the plus side, the music started at about 6pm so we had musical accompaniment for our misery. Oh what pleasant misery it was. We were laughing the whole time. Someone brought out coffee and Bailey’s to ease the suffering and from there on it was just cooks bantering and sharing supplies, war stories and family histories. We had a blast!
Just after the judging began, I had to slip away for a while. The music was good, and if you look closely at the pictures I have added to the post you’ll see some very clever names for the bands that came together on the ice this season. Many of which refer to task we all do here, (like house mouse) or aspects of our paperwork we all hate (like EISI or Special Project Other) Of course anyone with a brain will recognize that Icestock is a rip-off of Woodstock, the famous music festival from the 1960’s. But here, there are both bands who have played together all season and there are a lot of loose coalitions of musicians pulling together at the last minute and playing mostly what they love to play regardless of what is popular…or in some cases, what they have the skills to play. I am not being rude. I have a profound respect for people who challenge their fears and perform under adversity. And this is clearly one of those environments where a person pushes his or her luck to the very edge of their imagination. Just qualifying to come to the Antarctic program is an achievement in itself! What you do when you get here is all gravy.
And then I danced. I danced like a gerbil on a wheel. I didn’t care what music was playing. I didn’t care if I had a partner. I didn’t care that the ground was so un-even that people all around me were twisting ankles and knees and they didn’t seem to care either. They just got back up and danced on the one good leg they had left. It was magical. And at some point during the festivities, a band began to play covers of the band “Green Day” and I think “Beastie Boys” and the mosh-pit just happened spontaneously. All around me people were slamming into each other and bouncing around like too many pinballs on the machine. I did have the sense to move off to the edges at that point. I never hit the ground, but my knee is telling me this morning that the dance floor claimed at least one more victim.
Toward the end, I met David Sullivan again. I mentioned him on the post referring to Happy Camper. He and I worked together on Alyssa’s dug-out, and he is also one of the chefs in the Galley. Last night he was also MC for the stage, making the introductions and naming names. What I may not have mentioned is that there are 3 Sullivans at McMurdo station this season, and we all got together and took this picture of the “Irish Mafia”. Paige Sullivan works in the Galley with Dave, and I see them daily. It makes me very happy to know that the adventurous spirit runs in all of our blood. The shirt we are holding in front is my lucky goal tenders jersey I got from the Denver Gaels Irish Rules Football team. It has the formal Irish spelling of the family name as it was before Ellis Island got involved and simplified it to what you see on my signature today.
This was just amazing. And even though I didn’t get a single kiss at midnight, this is a New Years Eve I will remember for the rest of my life. Or at least until my knee gets better.