Allison Irwin: In the Kitchen with Kathy, July 17, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 17, 2019

Weather at 1000 Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday 17 July 2019

We’re expecting rougher weather at the end of the week. The wind is forecast to stay at 15 knots all day today with patchy fog. Then tomorrow and Friday winds double to 30 knots with waves of 12 feet. Currently the wind is 11 knots and the sea state is stable. The sunsets out on the water are spectacular! People gather on the fantail to watch the evening sun melt into the horizon when it’s exceptionally colorful or dramatic, and last night did not disappoint.

Sunset Tuesday July 16, 2019
Sunset Tuesday July 16, 2019


Most of the time during meals I sit with the science crew. Sometimes I’ll sit with my roommate, Lindsey, who works as an augmenter. Think of augmenters as floaters – they are employed full time but will move from one ship to another based on the needs of each ship. Lindsey helped me a lot this trip from learning how to do laundry and climbing in and out of a top bunk on a rolling ship (without falling) to understanding nautical terms. She’s also pretty good at spotting whales!

A couple of my meals have been spent talking with 2nd Cook Aceton “Ace” Burke. He normally is the Chief Cook on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, but he’s augmenting on this trip to fill in for someone who is on vacation. When he’s cooking for his crew, his favorite meal to prepare is pork ribs. He cooks them low and slow for hours until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender.

He and Kathy keep the kitchen spotless, the food hot, and the mealtimes cheerful. Kathy was kind enough to share some recipes with me and I intend to take every one of them home to cook this summer! For dinner one night soon I’ll make Kalbi Ribs with Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Macadamia Nut Cookies for dessert. I’ll reserve the Creamy Chicken Rice Soup for a cold winter weekend and be sure to add chopped, roasted red peppers and wild rice to the recipe like Kathy instructed.


Kathy's kitchen
Kathy’s Kitchen

After working in an office environment for a few years in Los Angeles, our Chief Steward Kathy Brandts realized she didn’t fit the nine to five lifestyle. Plus, who would ever want to commute to work in LA? So she left LA and moved back to Colorado to live with her sister for a while until she found something more appealing.

That’s when cooking began to kindle in her blood. Every night she would sift through cookbooks and prepare dinner in search of a way to express gratitude to her sister for helping her get back on her feet. But it would still be a few years before she started earning a living in the kitchen.

First came the Coast Guard.  At 27 years old, she was less than a year away from the cutoff. If she didn’t enter basic training before her 28th birthday, a career with the Coast Guard would no longer be an option. It appealed to her though, and a recruiter helped her work a little magic.  She made the cut!  While she initially wanted to work deck personnel so she could maintain the ship and qualify as law enforcement (some Coast Guard personnel, in addition to belonging to a military branch, can simultaneously take on the role of federal law enforcement officers), she was too pragmatic for that. It would have taken her three years to make it to that position whereas cooks were in high demand. If she entered as a cook, she wouldn’t have to wait at all.

So the Coast Guard is where she had her first taste of formal training as a cook.  She traveled on a two year tour to places like Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean visiting port cities in Hawaii and Australia to resupply. Ironically, to be out to sea a little less often, she decided to join NOAA as a civilian federal employee after her service with the Coast Guard ended.  She’s not exactly out to sea any less than she used to be, but now she gets to go on shorter trips and she can visit family and friends while NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker is in port between cruises.

Kathy is a perfect example of someone who wasn’t willing to settle for a job. She spent the first half of her life searching for a career, a calling, to energize and motivate not just herself but all the people her meals feed throughout the day. She believes that food is one of the biggest morale boosters when you’re on a ship, and it’s clear at mealtime that she’s correct. I watch each day as the officers and crew beam and chatter while they’re going through the buffet line. I hear them take time to thank her as they’re leaving to go back to work.

A well-cooked, scratch meal has the power to change someone’s day. Not only does Kathy take pride in her work as a professional, I also get a touch of “den mother tending to her cubs” when I see her interact with everyone on the ship. She says she provides healthy, flavorful meals because she loves food and wouldn’t want to serve anything she wouldn’t eat herself. In turn, this seems to make everyone feel cared for and comforted. When you’re packed like sardines in a confined area for a month at a time, I can’t think of any better morale booster than that.

  • dessert
  • Halibut Picatta
  • garlic and black beans
  • Chicken Pad Thai and Kalbi Ribs
  • roasted vegetables
  • Fresh Salad Bar


I think it’s hard sometimes for students to visualize all the steps it takes to get to where they want to end up. As with all people, teenagers don’t always know where they want to end up, so connecting the dots becomes even less clear. Take Kathy as an example. She started her adult life in an office and ended up in a tiny kitchen out in the middle of the ocean. I doubt that at sixteen years old, sitting in some high school classroom, she ever would have imagined she’d end up there.

So our job as teachers is not to push students in one direction or the other. Part of our job, I believe, is to help students get out of their own way and imagine themselves in settings they won’t hear about in their counselor’s office. One way to do this is to invite people from our communities to come in and share how their profession connects to our curriculum. I can think of plenty of people to invite – the local candy maker, a trash collector, a professor researching octopods, a farmer, a cyber security professional or white hat, a prison guard, military personnel, an airline pilot, or a bosun (even though I probably won’t find any of those in my local community since I don’t live near the water). Reading about the profession is one thing. Talking to someone who lives it everyday is another.

One lesson I’m taking from my day spent in the kitchen is the value of scenario based activities. If student teams are posed with a problem, given a text set to help them form their own conclusions and plan for the solution, and then asked to present their solution to the class for feedback, that is a much more enriching lesson plan than direct instruction.  In November my students will be tasked with preparing a budget and presenting a plan to feed 30 people for a three week cruise. I like the idea of the cruise because they can’t just run out to the store if they forget a few things – the plan has to be flawless. This one activity, though it would take a week to execute properly, would have my students making inferences and drawing conclusions from text, communicating with one another using academic language and jargon specific to the scenario, solving a real-world problem, and critically evaluating an assortment of potential solutions.

We can prepare students for “the career” regardless of what that ends up being. Every career requires critical thinking skills, problem solving, patience, a growth mindset, and the ability to communicate with others.  And all these skills are essential to the classroom regardless of grade level or discipline.


Kirk Beckendorf, July 16, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 16, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time 8:00 AM ET
Latitude- 42 44.24 N
Longitude- 70 41.99 W
Air Temperature 19 degrees C
Water Temperature 15 degrees C
Air Pressure 1002.6 Millibars
Wind Direction at surface Southwest
Wind Speed at surface 7 MPH
Cloud cover and type Partly cloudy

Personal Log

What do I do all day?

I received an email asking what life is like on the ship, and what my daily schedule is. The schedule revolves around breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is an hour for each and if you want to eat you had better be there at the correct time. Actually, the stewards do have snack foods out for us 24 hours a day, they feed us very well. There are always a lot of vegetables available and at least two main items to select from. For lunch today the main entrees were shrimp and hamburgers. (Check out the pictures.)

So my schedule: Keep in mind that nothing is very far away here on the ship so you don’t have to give yourself much travel time, everything is literally down the hall. In the morning I roll out of my bunk and walk the 5-10 feet to the shower. See the pictures of my stateroom. After a shower, shave (I skip that part), and brushing of teeth it is time for breakfast. Down the hall, up the stairs and through another hall. On the way to the mess hall I usually go outside to the railing, on deck to get some fresh air and to check the weather. Today it is a beautiful sunny day at sea.

Other than the rocking of the ship there is no way to tell what the weather is like while in the ship’s lower levels. There are no windows in the lower levels of the ship (that would be really dumb), and only small ones on the middle levels. At night, all windows are covered by metal plates, except for the windows on the bridge. The crew on watch, in the bridge, should not have their night vision compromised by light from the windows. In their around the clock observations, they need to be able to see out into the darkness. But back to my daily schedule.

Breakfast is served from 7:00 – 8:00 AM Eastern Time every morning. At 8:00 AM Tim Bates, the chief scientist, holds a morning science meeting to discuss the day’s plans and the weather forecast. This is usually a pretty short meeting. After the meeting, I usually try to finish typing up the previous day’s log. Around 10:00 AM Ann Thompson launches an ozonesonde which I generally help with. By the time we are through with the sonde, it is almost time for lunch which is served from 11:00 – 12:00. It is that time right now and I obviously haven’t completed the log.

After lunch I visit with one or more of the scientist about their research topic, data collection and measurements. On sunny days, I often help Drew make sun photometer measurements. By then it is time for dinner which is served from 4:30 – 5:00. (I told you the meals drive the schedule.) Afterward dinner and dessert I start typing the day’s log and also visit with the scientists some more.

At 7:30 PM there is another science meeting. It is a science version of show and tell, longer than the morning meeting. There is a discussion of what happened during the day in terms of where we went and what pollution was seen. Some of the data collected is reviewed and discussed. Usually someone will also discuss their specific research. Possible plans for the following day are debated. Following the meeting, I will sometimes visit the BROWN’s gym for a ride on the exercise bike. Eventually I find my way back down the halls to my stateroom and bunk.

This evening there was a very nice sunset so many of us enjoyed the view from the BROWN’s fantail.

So there you have, a day in the life of a teacher at sea.

Questions of the Day

What time do our breakfast, lunch and dinner start in Pacific Time?

What color of light can be used at night so you do not lose you night vision?

What can you do with your flashlight so that you can use it at night without losing your night vision?