Journalist Report: 02/06/2013
Melanie Newfield

A culinary guide to Mars part four – The Accidental Calzone

When I was writing my story about MDRS as a proving ground, and then yesterday when we were struggling with the practicalities of how to collect dust from the exterior of a space suit, I started thinking about the origin of ideas. Sure, sometimes a stroke of genius appears in the middle of the night, or from sitting in a brainstorming meeting with a flip chart, or even while putting the world to rights one night in the pub. But some of the best ideas occur when things go wrong. In my experience failure, and not necessity, it the mother of invention.

Never was this more apparent than when I was making pizza last night. In the absence of any appropriate tools, like a pizza stone, a pizza peel or even baking paper, I had the idea of heating the oven tray, making pizza on the bench and transferring pizza to tray. Oops. Needless to say my beautifully elastic pizza dough did not want to cooperate.

And so I folded the whole thing in half, pressed the edges together, transferred it with no problem at all and announced we were having calzone.

At that point I concluded that the invention of calzone surely resulted from exactly that situation – a failed attempt to make pizza. Actually, I have no idea whether that’s true, but it makes a good story.

Overall, the crew have been fortunate that not too many inspirational failures have occurred in the kitchen. Nothing has been completely inedible, although the occasional experiment – such as the “greyberry” muffins – turned out a little unexpectedly. There was another near disaster when making the pizza though.

In general, freeze-dried and dehydrated food can be rehydrated with either hot or cold water. I’ve found that hot is usually best, it just seems to work more quickly.

All this makes perfect sense, but when I went to rehydrate the cheese for the pizza, I was very tired and not thinking too clearly. There was spare hot water in the kettle and so I tipped it over the cheese, which promptly melted into a gooey lump. While I did manage to use the cheese on the pizza (and in the calzone), it was a useful reminder – don’t rehydrate freeze-dried cheese with hot water.

At the other end of the scale, I’ve had some real culinary successes and have been pleasantly surprised by much of the food I’ve tried. One positive experience has been the dried chopped onions. Most of the dishes I make start with frying chopped onions – except the curries, which start with frying whole spices followed by onions. Now dehydrated food doesn’t generally fry to well, but if I rehydrate the onions first, they behave almost like normal onions.

Honestly, if I can find some and get them back to New Zealand, I’m taking some on my next hiking trip!

Another success has been the freeze-dried meat. Now I admit that those vacuum bags look a bit scary – we had some discussion about what the contents actually were, and I had to reassure some of the crew that I was absolutely confident that they were not pet food. But the dishes I’ve made with them have been a great success. The spaghetti bolognese was one of the best things I’ve made here, as was the chicken and coriander curry – that’s one of my favourite dishes and it was great to produce it so far from home with such an unfamiliar selection of ingredients.

Another success has been the yoghurt. Many New Zealanders will be familiar with the instant “yoghurt and culture” packs which are simply mixed with water and then left to stand in an insulated flask with boiling water added. I brought some with me (with permission of the Quartermaster) and we’ve got good use from it. I used yoghurt to make my saag aloo (spinach and potato curry), I eat it on my cheerios for breakfast with freeze-dried blueberries and served it instead of sour cream with Emma’s chili con carne (since nobody seemed keen on the powdered sour cream).

We have largely left the more highly processed food and instant meals for crews with less enthusiasm for cooking, we’ve really embraced some ingredients that we were initially wary of. Dried egg powder made French toast and scrambled egges, dried apple flakes and popcorn butter made a spiced apple scone, freeze-dried bananas made banana muffins and tomato powder went in nearly everything. While I haven’t yet tried everything in the kitchen, I feel like I’m really getting into this space food.

Those that know me well may be surprised by this. At home, I live mostly on unprocessed foods – and a big part of my diet is fruit and vegetables from my garden. But I’ve done my bit here too. Tonight we dine on sprouts and salad lovingly tended in the greenhab. It’s nice to have something “homegrown” when you are so far from home.


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