Sunday, September 16, 2012

Eight Bites on a cruise ship

I just returned from a ten day cruise to Alaska. I will not say on which cruise line because I was a bit disappointed in them. But going on a cruise after weight loss surgery (WLS) can be a bit scary. Cruising is really just about wasting time between meals. They feed you often and a lot on cruise ships and you can get carried away. I set out to be sure that I did not over eat and yet enjoy the culinary offerings of the various dining areas.  
Breakfast can be eaten either in the dining room (Deck 6) or at the buffet on Deck 14. Sitting up on the higher deck gave you a great view of wherever you were and was almost always very busy for breakfast. On the trip we ate breakfast at the buffet every morning but one. The buffet always included lots of fruits, hot and cold cereals, toast, croissants, muffins, bagels, and a wide variety of sweet rolls and Danish. The main menu items ranged from breakfast staples like pancakes, French toast, sausages, bacon, and eggs in various forms. They also had fish, including smoked fish and a variety of ethnic dishes, which included fried rice, oriental eggs (deep fried hard boiled eggs in a crust), and vegetables.  

After my WLS and the subsequent removal of my gall bladder last year, the volume that I am able to eat has been reduced substantially. At home breakfast is my major meal due to the fact that my stomach (or what is left of it) is empty. I often eat eggs, a piece of toast, or oatmeal or granola. So at breakfast at the buffet with its wide selection I was able to take small amounts of a variety of food items and then eat what I wanted. I would take a single egg (fried, oriental or poached), a small croissant, some butter and jam, a sausage link or a small spoonful of corned beef hash. I always skipped the pastries, and took only small amounts of fruit. I ate slowly and instead of focusing on cleaning my plate, I concentrated on enjoying the flavors and talking with strangers sitting next to us. The conversations were almost always lively and interesting. And the side benefit was to slow down the eating.  

I bought a ticket for specialty coffee drinks so I had my morning capuchinno (and maybe and afternoon one as well).  

Lunch was normally at the buffet as well. Lots of meats, cheeses, breads, pre-made sandwiches, fruits and a lot of hot dishes as well. I was singularly unimpressed with the majority of the hot dishes at the buffet. For some reason they didn’t keep them hot and often they were lukewarm and often cool. I realize that cooking 10,000 meals per day is a logistical problem; I do believe that hot food should be served hot. I normally took a few pieces of cold meat and cheese or the individually made sandwiches (a vitello tonnato sandwich was quite good), and a diet soda. The cookies were my downfall. They made a molten chocolate chocolate chip cookie and an excellent oatmeal raisin cookie and we offer took 4-6 cookies back to the cabin for later.  

Dinner was always in the main dining room and was ordered off the menu. There were dishes that were always available (fettuccini alfredo, medallions of beef, and shrimp cocktail) as well as daily dishes that included three appetizers,  a couple of soups, and salad, three main courses, and three to five desserts. The appetizers were normally small and in general were good. A smoked duck breast and a small filled puff pastry shell with chicken, sweetbreads and wild mushrooms in a cream sauce were nice. I decided to limit my main dishes to those I have not had before or have not had in a long time. Some were successful (a shrimp curry) and others were not (roast pheasant with a cranberry sauce).   

Actually it was pretty easy to maintain my Eight Bites eating. The buffets allowed me to take a bit of different things and try them. If I didn’t like them, I just left them on the plate. It made it easy to eat limited amounts and yet try a lot of different things. Lunch was lunch. I just focused on eating sufficient protein and not eating too much. Dinner was by definition an exercise in limited consumption. The appetizers were generally small bites. I normally didn’t eat the soup or a salad, and while the main courses were OK they were nothing to write home about.  

In discussions with other passengers, some were enthusiastic about the food and others had the same problems I did. Working as a chef did not give me any great insight onto why things weren’t that great. Foods were often not served at the correct temperature, and flavors were bland and under-seasoned. So while I enjoyed the trip, I did not particularly enjoy the food. This allowed me to eat the things I wanted to eat in the amounts that made sense. I did not eat the overly sweet desserts at lunch and dinner, and never left the table overly full and uncomfortable. 
When I got home I found out that I had lost an additional three pounds so not only was I able to eat Eight Bites I was able to do so, enjoy the trip, and not over-indulge.