A MidWinter’s Tale

As promised, here’s the story on McMurdo’s  MidWinter party, the official halfway point of the winter season, the biggest party and apparently booziest night of the year (which around here, believe me, is saying something).

For me, it was a long (but not unpleasant or difficult) day followed by absolutely no partying since I’d drawn the short straw and had to work the early breakfast shift the next day (and also, because, well, this is me we’re talking about. My idea of partying is a Lord of the Rings movie marathon… the extended DVDs, oh yeeeeeaaahhh…). I’m not complaining about working early the next day, either, since it meant I got to leave early enough to do the Polar Plunge. And we all know how that turned out.

I couldn't resist posting one more Polar Plunge photo, this one taken by our doc. I love that he captured me at the moment of no turning back.

This MidWinter was a special deal as it marked the 100th anniversary of Scott’s final MidWinter celebration (he reportedly started the tradition) before he schlepped off towards the South Pole the following summer and perished in the frozen wastelands.

One of the MidWinter traditions is exchanging email greetings with other stations spread across the continent. Obviously this tradition does not date back to Scott.

The volunteers who decked out the galley for the event really took the historical theme to heart and did an amazing job on the decorations, including building a replica of Scott’s hut at Cape Evans to serve as a photo op.

At the entrance to the galley hung flag remnants filled with a painstakingly detailed chronology of Antarctic exploration

I especially loved that they used flags because they’re such a part of Antarctic culture. Using different colors and formations, flags tell you where to go, where not to go, what’s going on under your feet that you can’t see (crevasse dangers, seal breathing holes, etc.), how far you’ve gone…

A close-up of the flag chronology. I love the way the "retired" flags look, tattered yet (mostly) intact. It's amazing to think that a slender piece of bamboo and a scrap of fabric can withstand Antarctic storms that have done in many a more hardy structure.

Once inside the galley, festgoers were greeted with familiar props made magical with the addition of rope lights…

on the left, a Scott tent (named after Scott because he used them) and on the right, a bar made from a sledge... clever job!

Yours truly trying to look all explorer-y during a brief break from cooking. Keep in mind the camera adds ten pounds and my ridiculously baggy chef outfit adds another 20… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

At the hut photo op... I particularly love the Southern Cross seen through the window.

While the awesome decorating volunteers were busy transforming the galley and others were busy transforming themselves (see below), the galley crew was busy getting all fancy with the food.

Two of McMurdo's finest. I know. It's shocking I'm still single, isn't it. The guy in orange runs our waste treatment plant. Everyone calls him Poobacca, which I love. And yes, those are fresh greens on the plate. Emily our greenhouse goddess went all out securing us celebratory salad.

Among the “stuff we don’t do every day” on the menu was ice cream, made with nitrogren and a mixer since we don’t have an ice cream maker.

Aforementioned greenhouse goddess Emily looks on as our boss Justin puts the finishing touches on the ice bowl used to serve the ice cream. Safety first.

The desserts were out of control. I made a couple contributions in this area: French Macarons in two flavors, almond and chocolate-orange, and Limoncello Panna Cotta with Raspberry Gelee insert, which I made mostly because I wanted to eat it. And I did.

One of the dessert tables, including my panna cotta, all gussied up with chocolate work by Julia and sugar work by volunteers under Josie's supervision.

Josie and her man Neil made a most excellent gingerbread recreation of Scott’s Discovery Hut, the one that’s walking distance from McMurdo.

Josie and Neil's awesome gingerbread hut

And then there was Sir Oinks-a-Lot, our guest of honor, which Francis brined and primed and lavished much love on before stuffing and shoving in the oven.

You may be asking "how did a whole pig end up in Antarctica?" You wouldn't believe the random stuff we have in our food warehouses.

Among the menu items were sweet pea and carrot flan, tea-smoked duck, cilantro and coconut-infused halibut with beurre blanc and blue cheese and bacon-stuffed filet mignon.

The hot line... you can tell the food is fancy because they used calligraphy for the menu.

I volunteered to do the vegetarian entree. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but it took a few tries to realize my artistic vision, which basically was “let’s make the tofu no one ever eats here as fussy and complicated as possible.”

One of several pans of Tofu Fantasia

My suggestion to call it “Tofu Bird’s Nest Fantasia” was overruled, but I was happy with the look and taste and fussiness of the finished product, “Poached Tofu and Vegetable Ragout in a Filo Nest.” For the record, it was wine-poached tofu “eggs” with vegetable ragout, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction (and fresh parsley–thanks, Emily!) nestled in filo.

Good enough to eat... really... someone, please, eat the damn thing! (This is not a tofu kinda town)

Yes, the “eggs” are dumplings made from tofu. I experimented with a couple different concepts before getting it right. I found a traditional Hungarian dessert dumpling recipe that someone had tweaked online to be vegan, using tofu. I tweaked it further by getting rid of the sugar and changing the cooking method. And voila!

I made the nests in muffin tins, to give you a sense of scale. Thanks to my chef in New Zealand, Mark Sycamore, for teaching me the secret of keeping filo crispy no matter what you do to it.

And yes, every one of those damn eggs, each no bigger than a quail’s egg, had a “yolk” in the center. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I knew. And that’s what mattered.

Josie and I at the dessert table. She is an amazingly talented baker and a fellow cheesehead. I've learned a ton from her over the last few months, and when we worked together during WinFly last year.

A few final shots for those of you always whining that I don’t have enough photos with people in them. Happy MidWinter, everyone!!

The three kitchen amigos... on the right, bossman Justin, a hoot-and-a-half to work with and an excellent chef. In the center, Brian, another baker-turned-production-cook and the guy I wake up with every morning (he and I do the breakfast/lunch shift... he is such a workaholic that he makes me look lazy). And on the left, the guy proudly pointing to his genitals is my sous chef Shane, whom I adore. He is a goofball but incredibly skilled both as a chef and as a manager. He never loses his cool (even when, ahem, someone puts undercooked chicken on the line), has that cheffy awareness of everything going on in the kitchen and has a crazygood sense of smell. I told him I wished I could clone him so he would be my sous chef everywhere. And I meant it.

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