How not to gain weight on a transatlantic cruise

Norwegian Epic in St Thomas

We recently made a transatlantic crossing on Norwegian  Epic from Barcelona to Miami. It was a two-week cruise with port days in Madeira, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. This was our first transatlantic cruise, and we were looking forward to it as an adventure, but of course wanted to do some planning as well.

We Googled what was the biggest issue before a transatlantic cruise. It seemed that people were most concerned about weight gain and dress code.
Exploring Funchal, Madeira

As Norwegian’s dress code is casual as part of their Freestyle experience, we didn't have any concerns about dress code. For dining out we normally feel comfortable dressed smart casual. Because we are used to warm restaurants in the South of France, our only concern was the cool AC in American restaurants. So our smart casual evening wear needed also to be warm.

In order to maintain stable weight, our aim was to try and maintain approximately our normal activity level and not to increase our calorie intake. Because we are used to regular hikes which take several hours, the first aim was challenging on board a ship.

We set simple rules for activity:

1. Always climb stairs and never use elevators.
We one day estimated that by climbing stairs we made about 200 m vertical ascent! We were thankful to Epic’s long corridors which were excellent low-level activity.

2. We planned to use Epic’s gym every other day and the running track the other days.
The gym was fantastic and much more appealing than the running track on deck 7. So we went to the gym almost every day, except port days, alternating with weight training and aerobic training.
Epic's gym

3. We aimed to grab every opportunity for dancing.
The 2-day salsa course was great, and we did some ex tempore salsa when possible. For Halloween, we even tried to learn Michael Jackson’s Thriller steps.

4. On port days we wanted to pack in activities and not just sit in a tour bus.
Funchal in Madeira was great to explore by walking. We took Norwegian’s shuttle bus to the centre so we could walk in more interesting areas than in the port. In St. Maarten we participated in Orient Beach Rendezvous Tour. It was a great day with swimming in sea and walking on a super sandy beach; we could have stayed longer! We had visited Charlotte Amalie previously over 30 years ago and were curious to see how much it had changed. We took the 1,5 mile seafront walk from the ship to the old centre where we explored the alleys and shops.

5. We planned to do every day at some point stretching.
To our usual stretching we added some quiet time and tried mindfulness meditation. This was new to us, and felt so relaxing that we planned to continue with it. They had yoga on Epic, but it was at 8 am, too early for us unfortunately.
Orient Beach in St Maarten

But still with all this we couldn’t quite maintain our normal activity level so we had to be stricter with our eating. Having previously done a short weekend cruise with Norwegian we knew that it is easy to make healthy choices and at the same time enjoy the great cuisine. Even so, some simple rules would make things easier because on cruise ships one is tempted all the time. According to one survey the average weight gain is 14 lbs. / 6.4 kg for a two week cruise.

We agreed to the following rules:

1. We planned to eat three moderate size meals and a small snack in the afternoon.
There were no problems with this meal plan, our habitual, except that the small snack tended to increase from a small plain yoghurt to a slice of quiche.
Walking from the cruise ship to Charlotte Amalie, V.I.

2. We decided to continue with our healthy moderate breakfast.
We had no problems choosing a healthy breakfast similar to what we usually have at home.  Except that again the fruit portions quickly seemed to get bigger and bigger! Epic had wonderful soft Swiss style muesli, frozen berries and plain yoghurt. Luckily they also had small bowls to help with the portion control. Some days we skipped the muesli and had a vegetable omelet or egg Benedict perfectly cooked by a chef. This made us feel like a million dollar star!

3. We aimed to have lunch with plenty of salads and vegetables, a dressing with olive oil and vinegar, some protein and a slice of multigrain bread.
No problems with this. The buffet lunch was varied and tasty. We only drank ice water, never soda or beer which quickly add empty calories. On port days we enjoyed a glass of wine with lunch.

4. Sorry, no cocktails!
They are loaded with empty calories. Some examples: Mojito 160 kcal, Bloody Mary 168, Gin and tonic 190, Margarita 192, Cosmopolitan 200 kcal. A glass of dry sparkling wine has only 89 kcal, so we enjoyed a pre-dinner glass of Prosecco on special days like leaving a port or whenever there was something to celebrate.

5. We planned to have Norwegian's three-course dinner as we knew that the portions are moderate.
The exceptions were pasta, steaks and cakes which came in large American portions. We normally almost never order pasta anywhere in restaurants because the portions now are huge also in Europe and they never have whole wheat pasta.  The steaks were good but we couldn’t eat them all.  We were careful with the breadbasket. I gradually started to hide the breadbasket after my husband had had his slice. We had a glass of wine and ice water. In short, we enjoyed fine American dining at its best, and often to live music! The menus were varied; from fish and seafood to meat and vegetarian dishes. For dessert, we tried to avoid cakes and often chose fruit-based desserts. Epic’s Warm Dark Chocolate Volcano was super, and soon became our favourite dessert after a lighter main course.
Epic's Warm Dark Chololate Volcano

6. Epic had a nice selection of wines by glass.
We enjoyed a glass of different wine every evening and made some new discoveries. We never had soda or beer, only ice water. After dinner we only drank water and always kept a water bottle in our cabin.

How did it go? We measured our waist line at the start of the cruise, one week later and at the end of the cruise. We used this measurement as a proxy to weight maintenance because most of the rapid weight gain accumulates on the waist. The result was that our waist measurements fluctuated plus or minus 0, 5- 1 cm, which can be considered a normal day to day variation. We certainly felt fitter and and stronger!


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European cooking Thanksgiving turkey in U.S.

Turkey breast a la Ina Garten

Last November we spent Thanksgiving with family in the U.S. I was asked to cook the turkey. I have never before done this and had only a vague idea how the Americans tackle this. So I felt a bit like Julia Child travelling to Paris to cook the classic French dishes, only the other way round; now it was me travelling to the U.S. to cook their most classic dish.

In this internet age, I did a bit of googling about Thanksgiving turkey. It soon became apparent that even Americans can be apprehensive of the task. Thanksgiving is often a big party involving cooking in huge amounts and at the level of the traditional pilgrim cuisine. As ours was only a small family party of four, this at once lessened the stress level.
Placing herb mixture under the skin

The first thing to decide was how much one should cook for four persons. The whole turkey was out of the question, but should one cook one turkey breast or two breasts, and what do the Americans mean by a “double turkey breast”? To understand this better, I had to calculate the American pounds into kilograms. As most internet sites that I saw recommended a “double turkey breast” for four persons because the tradition is also to have enough leftovers the next day, I settled for this. A “double turkey breast” weighs about 5- 7 lbs. / about 2, 3-3, 2   kilograms, although opinions about the weight varied hugely on the net.

The next thing was to find an appealing recipe on the net. After reading several recipes I finally chose Ina Garten’s because it had fresh herbs, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, olive oil and white wine; a typical  Italian combination of ingredients. For this recipe one needed a “double turkey breast” with skin, and I suppose that it always comes with a bone in the middle, or maybe not? After further googling it became evident that this is not a common thing to find in American
Double turkey breast ready for oven
supermarkets because they mostly want to sell whole turkeys.

Because we would arrive only a few days before Thanksgiving, our family in the U.S. would order our “double turkey breast” as most websites recommended. So a few days before Thanksgiving we went to the local specialty supermarket to collect our “double turkey breast”. After some hassle in the shop our order finally arrived from the back room. To me the package seemed suspiciously large but I didn’t think too much about it. So it went straight into
Making the fresh cranberry compote
our fridge.

When the package was opened on Thanksgiving it became clear that they had given us the whole turkey minus legs and wings! It was a moment when I missed the skillful French butchers, but at the same time felt that the situation must be dealt with true pilgrim spirit.

We started removing the “double turkey breast” from the rest of the body. After a lot of effort and my husband using all his surgical skills the “double turkey breast” finally sat in its oven
Testing the temperature of the double turkey breast
dish. Now I could continue placing the herb mixture under the skin.

Garten recommended to roast the double breast in 325 degrees F for only 1 ¾ - 2 hours which to me seemed a bit short. Other recipes recommended to roast 2 ¼ - 3 ¼ hours in 325 degrees to reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. I felt very American using an instant-read thermometer, I never do this in France and I don’t think they are very reliable. After more than three hours the temperature never reached 170 degrees so the turkey was taken out of oven and tested. It then rested covered for a while before being sliced.
Thanksgiving dinner can now start

The turkey was served with sweet potato mash, fried mushrooms, microwaved Brussels sprouts and sweet cranberry compote. The compote was cooked in a few minutes from fresh cranberries, orange juice and a little sugar and water.

The turkey was declared a great success, and we had plenty of leftovers for next day’s picnic sandwiches and a simple dinner of vegetable and turkey gratin.


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