Kitchen Shrink: Eating healthy on the high seas

My clan recently returned from a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean celebrating my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. I brought back great memories and a couple of bonus pounds.

The cruising world’s chief claim to fame is food orgies, which create tasty food available ‘round the clock that you don’t have to shop for, prepare or clean-up afterwards. Moderation and restraint are thrown to the ocean winds the moment you board the floating hotel. Having had ample time to figure out how to survive a cruise with my digestive system still in operating condition, I came up with some healthy cruising solutions.

As you are hurdling over the culinary obstacle courses - the formal dining rooms, pizza pit stops, help-yourself frozen yogurt machines, multiple bars scattered inside and out on various levels, and the ever popular all-you-can stuff-into-your-face buffet - do a quick tally about what will cause the least stomach woes and the most sensuous pleasure. If you are your family’s kitchen angel, you’ll likely choose to luxuriate in having others serve you in the formal dining room (and it doesn’t hurt to let your eyes feast on the young and gorgeous international and multi-ethnic wait staff).

For the buffet buffs, before you load your plate, do a walkthrough of the opulent offerings making mental notes of your four or five most enticing items. That is, if you do not mind competing for a table with 3,000 people and watching them shovel Costco-quantity vittles down their gullets. Believe it or not, if you choose carefully you can actually enjoy each forkful while you’re indulging in mostly healthy fare.

To decrease your chances of contracting food-borne illnesses, eat salads with cooked veggies rather than raw ones like beets, peas, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, corn, etc., and pick vinaigrette over mayo-based dressings.

If you have a sensitive tummy, the dining room is a safer place than partaking in the buffet where you can catch something nasty from contaminated serving utensils, as well as foods exposed to multiple dippings.

Choose grilled fish (salmon is a safe bet) over beef or chicken as the latter are probably not organic, loaded with hormones and antibiotics, and quite often not thoroughly cooked. Ordering rare meat, raw sushi or other breathing creatures, means taking your life in your hands.

Although pastries and other bakery items tend to look spectacular on cruises, they are mostly made of refined sugars and flours that are not kind to the human body. Tiny morsels will satisfy your sweet cravings.

If you are prone to seasickness, go easy on the liquor, spicy and fried foods.

Order the steward’s recommendations and the daily specials - they are freshly prepared and a notch above the other menu items. However, when you see the daily specials recycled days later, steer clear.

Although I like variety, I enjoy being served even better. While perched on my throne in the elegant dining room, the steward from Bombay with George Clooney suaveness whispered British diphthongs in my ear while seductively slipping my tiger prawns out of their shells.

Even the most judicious traveler who tries to avoid gluttony would be able to stay within reasonable calorie intake if they consider the visual delight when gazing at fabulously-presented food (and delicious-looking stewards) as a substitute. Although the elaborate ice sculptures of dragons and palominos left me cold, the cantaloupe and watermelon face carvings and other works of edible art were pretty impressive.

If you don’t require antacids after a meal, pat yourself on the back because you’ve done good.

Sous Chef Jun Geem of the Mariner of the Seas has kindly shared his treasured recipe for sweet and tangy halibut ceviche with mango drizzle.

Bon appetite and bon voyage!

Halibut Ceviche with Mango Drizzle

  • 1 pound of fresh halibut cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • Juice from 4 limes and 2 lemons
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon of cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate the halibut completely submerged in the juices for 2 hours in the refrigerator, then drain. In a mixing bowl, gently toss the diced halibut with the remaining ingredients. Scoop dollops of ceviche on salad plates and drizzle with the mango vinaigrette.

Mango Vinaigrette

  • 1 mango, peeled and cubed
  • Grated zest and juice of a lime
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of honey mustard
  • 1 cup of grapeseed or safflower oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the ingredients (except the oil) in a food processor and puree. Continue to blend while drizzling in the oil. Refrigerate until ready to use for up to 3 weeks.