One cook’s best dish

Enjoying their chicken on the sea

The Jost family sits down for dinner on their boat in Boston Harbor where they live. The Jost family sits down for dinner on their boat in Boston Harbor where they live. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Jane Dornbusch
Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2009

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CHARLESTOWN - It’s probably a common fantasy, right up there with running a cafe or buying a winery: living on a boat. For the Jost family, this dream became a reality. Cheryl and Jeff Jost and their children, Zach, 15, and Becca, 14, live in Constitution Marina on a 49-foot Gulfstar they named Galileo. And not just in summer. They’re in residence in Boston Harbor year-round.

A little over a year ago, the veteran boaters - they always spent a lot of time on board during the warmer months - sold their big Milton house and made the decision to be “live-aboards,’’ which means become year-round boat dwellers. “We had always intended to move onto the boat when the kids went to college,’’ says Cheryl, an optometrist who now walks to work at her Cambridge Street office. “But they said, ‘Why wait? Why not do it now?’ ’’

So the Josts, who’d lived aboard as newlyweds, took the plunge, so to speak. Says Zach: “I don’t miss anything [about living on land]. My friends think it’s sick.’’ (For those who don’t speak teen, that would be a term of approbation.) And Becca has sworn she will never live on land again.

“It’s been so much better than we expected,’’ says their mom, who feels as though she’s stumbled upon a hidden way of life in the heart of Boston. To her knowledge, they’re one of the only (perhaps the only) live-aboard families in Boston. The other 50 or so boats occupied year-round in this marina tend to house young couples, retired couples, and singles. (“Divorced dads,’’ notes Cheryl. “She got the house, he got the boat.’’)

Jeff, who has his own business, shows a visitor the Galileo and offers an impromptu boat-lingo lesson. “Each stateroom has its own head,’’ he says, gesturing toward three bedrooms and bathrooms.

Moving onto the boat, which is like a snug, cozy cabin but with better views, meant downsizing in a big way. The Josts got rid of about 80 percent of their possessions. Jeff gave up a grand piano, though he’s made room here for an electric keyboard. “I can’t live without some kind of piano,’’ he says.

Cheryl used to entertain 25 friends at a time. Now, the group at the dinner table maxes out at nine, and is really a better fit for six. “There’s no wok, no crock, no fondue pot,’’ says Cheryl, bustling around the small galley preparing family dinner. The one cookbook she kept is the “The Joy of Cooking,’’ 1975 edition.

“I do sometimes miss my gadgets,’’ she says. There’s no longer a press for garlic, certainly no room for a food processor. “It’s back to basics, but once you adjust, you do find you have what you need.’’ It’s not unlike cooking in the kitchen of a typical summer rental; she makes do with what she has.

Food shopping is different now, too. “We used to go to Stop & Shop or BJ’s for a big shop, buy all kinds of stuff, and have a huge amount of food in the house,’’ says Cheryl. Now, because of the limited storage space, “We buy more frequently, and we more often have fresh food. We go to the North End, and to Haymarket every week. We buy as we are going to consume, and we cook a little simpler.’’

This evening’s meal is typical. It’s boneless chicken breasts, slit with a small pocket and stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil snipped from the communal containers of herbs growing on the marina’s dock. Cheryl laughingly dubs the dish “chicken Galileo.’’ It cooks on a stovetop griddle, though grilling is an option. The boat is equipped with a small grill that hangs off the back deck. Since grilling while docked in the marina is prohibited, when they want to grill, the Josts untie the boat and sail out into the harbor. “We grill, watch the sunset, then go back,’’ says Cheryl, giving a whole new meaning to the expression “backyard barbecue.’’

The Josts have also tried their hand at eating locally - as in fresh from the sea. They’ve got a lobster trap tied to the end of the boat; a couple of days earlier, they hauled in and ate their first lobster. On this evening, Jeff and Zach pull in the trap to find a couple of lively crabs dancing in it; into a pot of boiling water they go, to accompany the chicken, salad, broccoli, and bread.

When the family gathers around the table, they can enjoy panoramic views of the city, the harbor, and the USS Constitution, which is docked nearby. Cheryl and Jeff raise a glass and toast their simpler, richer life.

“We’re not collecting material things now,’’ says Cheryl. “We’re collecting experiences.’’