Katrina Herringbetter

My life used to be perfect, but then I went sailing.

I was young, single, and a manager in a big company in San Francisco. There was this person I didn’t like in my office who was always bugging me to go out on dates. Not with her, but with somebody, anybody, because she said it would improve my mood. She really just wanted me distracted to get me off her back.

So when this guy showed up somewhere on the periphery of my perfect life zone, she was all for it. He started bugging me to go sailing on San Francisco Bay. “A sunset cruise,” he called it. Being a native Western Washingtonian, I was raised knowing full well that the only good boat is the one you’re skiing behind, and that it doesn’t have sails.

“I’ll grill a steak,” said sailing guy, like that was something I couldn’t do on my own.

“It’ll be fun,” said office woman. “You can impress him with a great side dish. Unless you don’t think you’re up to it.”

That’s all it took.

San Francisco Bay, it turns out, looks great from a distance but up close it’s rough, cold and covered with lunatics in all manner of watercraft. Instead of a sunset cruise, it was more of a survival slog through two-foot wind waves and sheets of flying saltwater. It wasn’t much of a date; there were two other couples, so six of us, half of whom were seasick.

After a couple hours of aquatic torture, we anchored somewhere out of the wind and sailing guy started up the grill while his seasick guests hung their heads over the side and longed for death, preferably his. I climbed down into the kitchen, which sailing guy insisted on calling a “galley,” where I did my “gal” thing, which was preparing the prefect side dish for grilled steak: creamed spinach.

Couple problems with that, some best left unsaid. The biggest: the stove was mounted on hinges, so that it would supposedly stay level while the boat rocked. 

The reality was that when a good wave hit us, even at anchor the boat rocked one way and the stove rocked the other, sending the hot spinach and cream in my skillet all over the place.

Obviously this classic saucy side dish wasn’t going to work, so I rooted around in the cupboards for solutions and it turned out that sailing guy, being a bachelor, had many of the predictable bachelor foodstuffs handy, including bread, cheese and wine, and some kind of dehydrated potato specks, because real potatoes were too much for him to handle I guess.

I scrambled some of this stuff together in the skillet (not the wine, I drank that) to sop up the excess moisture and found I could roll up what was left into little clumps that, after sufficient frying, weren’t half bad.

I carried the steaming skillet up to the cockpit with one hand while brandishing a bottle of wine in the other and said, “Hey kids, have some fried spinach balls!”

They weren’t as popular as I’d hoped but sailing guy was impressed, and that impressed me.

We didn’t date for long. Instead we got married and bought a bigger boat with a proper stove, and now sail out of Filucy Bay with hardier friends and stronger stomachs. The office woman I never liked who started all this took over my job after I left and then got fired.

I honed this recipe over the years into something more manageable and transportable that is ideal for bringing to dinner on a boat, or even ashore.

2 packages (10 oz.) frozen spinach
1 6 oz. package Stove Top stuffing mix
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
6 eggs lightly beaten
½ cup melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt and pepper

Cook spinach per package. Drain very well, press moisture out with paper towels. Combine all ingredients. Roll into balls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream to dip in.

Pat Thompson: Gardener and Artist
New Playground at Volunteer Park