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Journalist Report: 01/28/2013
Written by: Melanie Newfield, Journalist

A culinary guide to Mars, part one.

 I love experimental cooking with weird and wonderful ingredients, and the idea of having a captive audience for my culinary improvisations for two whole weeks inspired me to volunteer to do most of the cooking on our mission. I was so keen that I even emailed the food organiser to ask about the type of food available and if I could bring along some special ingredients to try out. In a moment my colleagues may come to regret, I happened to mention that I love trying strange and even anonymous ingredients, and will give anything a go.

After some discussion about the criteria for food I could bring, I packed my bags with dehydrated coconut milk, packets of yoghurt with culture, and 10 different spices. I was ready to make curry on Mars.

So, for MDRS crew 123, I'm journalist, mission specialist and unofficial steward.

My initial forays into the kitchen suggested that some tidying and reorganisation might be a good idea. Some kind predecessor had tidied and labelled the top two shelves of
the pantry, so I knew exactly which dehydrated vegetables we had. The rest was a little less organised, and I’ve spent the last couple of days sorting, tidying and generally just poking around in the cupboards.

A selection of unlabelled vacuum packs is currently intriguing me. There’s some sort of whitish substance in cubes, which people have variously suggested as chicken and tofu. Either way, I’m planning to curry it later in the week, unless when opened it turns out to be some sort of cheese.
There’s something that I suspect is minced beef, and given the abundant dried tomato and celery, I’m thinking about some sort of pasta with bolognaise.

I’m less enthused by the highly processed foods, such as popcorn butter, blueberry pancake mix which proudly proclaims it is made “with imitation blueberries” and giant cans of turkey stew and mountain chili. On the other hand, on day one when I was tired, jetlagged and couldn’t figure out where anything in the kitchen was, I was quite happy to eat rehydrated sweet and sour pork with rice.

And so the experiments began.

My first effort was a tomato-based pasta dish, made with freeze-dried vegetables and cheese. Yes, I do mean freeze-dried cheese. I actually attempted to fry the leek, but the lack of water meant it didn’t work quite right. After that, I just basically added all the vegetables and water, and then kept tasting it until the seasoning was about right. The saviour of that
dish had to be the dried porcini mushrooms.

Morning saw my first attempt to make a dent in the huge quantity of dried apple flakes that we have. There are two giant cans open. Some cautious sampling indicated that they tasted quite good, and so I cooked them up with rolled oats and raisins, with satisfying results.
 
I also decided to see whether the two open packs of yeast were alive, and to try a loaf of bread. I especially brought bread flour at the grocery store in Grand Junction, although I was a little disturbed to discover that there were seven different ingredients listed on the label. I made a loaf that was about half wholemeal and half white. The flour was quite different to the flour that I use at home –possibly the gluten content is higher. But that is the fascinating thing about bread; each flour is different and by handling the bread yourself rather than using a breadmaker, you get to know them by the way they feel in your hands. There’s just something about breadmaking for me, it is such an ancient art and bread so central to our culture, that when I’m kneading the dough in my hands I feel connected to thousands of years of human history.

It’s quite a magical thing really, to feel the connection of our earliest agricultural ancestors while simulating future life on Mars.

 

Clarifications
Dear Capcom,

The journalist's report included the following comments:
"A selection of unlabelled vacuum packs is currently intriguing me. There’s some sort of whitish substance in cubes, which people have variously suggested as chicken and tofu. Either way, I’m planning to curry it later in the week, unless when opened it turns out to be some sort of cheese. There’s something that I suspect is minced beef, and given the abundant
dried tomato and celery, I’m thinking about some sort of pasta with bolognaise.

I’m less enthused by the highly processed foods, such as popcorn butter, blueberry pancake mix which proudly proclaims it is made “with imitation blueberries” and giant cans of turkey stew and mountain chili. On the other hand, on day one when I was tired, jetlagged and couldn’t figure out where anything in the kitchen was, I was quite happy to eat rehydrated sweet and sour pork with rice."
Please let the crew know that the white substance in the vacuum packs is either chicken or turkey, freeze-dried, and that the freeze-dried crumbles may be either ground beef or pork sausage.  The dark colored dice are diced roast beef (well done, alas).  The freeze dried cheese is just cheese with the water removed. If a crew wants cheese, it has to be either the processed stuff in foil wrap or cans, very salty, hard cheese like parmesan, or real cheese with the water removed by freeze-drying. Otherwise they will have more mold than cheese.

Concerning the popcorn butter - the cook may be alarmed to know that it is actually a food industry commodity known as "anhydrous milkfat". Or she may be reassured to know that is is actually the traditional Indian food ghee - but ghee manufactured at low temperature under nitrogen blanketing to prevent formation of the oxidized, rancid aroma that makes real Indian ghee unacceptable to most Western users. It is entirely without additives.  We could have provided canned butter but it requires refrigeration after opening and is even more expensive than this stuff which already costs about $12/lb.   If the crew doesn't like the butter we recommend olive oil of which there is (or two weeks ago, was) a generous supply at the Hab.

Any ingredients that the cook finds unacceptable because they are highly processed or because the label shows additives, may certainly be left unopened for future crews. Unopened please, because  there are crews who don't care how processed the food is, but who will open a new $40 can of instant meal or $30 pouch of dehydrated potato, or ask us to ship in new food materials, rather than use an open partial package of the something left by an earlier crew. 

Thanks,
Jean Hunter

Food Study Coordinator


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