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Cooking without electricity

Here in the greater New York area we had quite the spring storm yesterday – winds gusting up to 50+ miles per hour, and tons of rain. Of course we had a power outage, the way you do.

I was pretty pleased with my ability to find the candles and flashlights and a lighter (the power went out just as the sun was going down). I was even more pleased that I had a gas stove, which could be lit by lighter (without electricity, it’s not self-lighting, but it works fine as long as you can light it.

It didn’t help that it came at the end of what was already a long day, and before we were scheduled to go out to a school show. And of course I thought I was safe from food requests because the kids had been snacking all afternoon, but sure enough, as soon as I sat down with my wind-up radio determined to relax for an hour or two, I got, “What’s for dinner?”

Of course we could have answered “We’re going out!” but my husband didn’t quite jump on it fast enough and honestly, it never even occurred to me. I figured it was canned stuff time.

When the power goes out you want to leave the fridge and freezer closed as much as possible. We didn’t know if the power might come back on at any minute and you want it to stay cold in there. My fridge is packed with stuff so all that mass helps it STAY cold, as long as you don’t open and close the door.

So I was facing cooking without many meat options (no canned or dried meat available) and without dairy unless it was something I could do with powdered milk (which I keep on hand for emergencies).

Also, of course we had to be out the door in less than an hour, and one kid is a slow eater (which, to be fair, I am too) so I couldn’t mess around for long.

Here’s what I made:

EMERGENCY CANNED STEW
I chopped up two onions, and cooked them in a stewpot with some oil,
cumin, coriander, a little garlic powder, some dried mustard, (these are standard Mexican-flavoring spices),
black pepper and salt.

I then added a large can of diced tomatoes WITH all their liquid,
and drained cans of corn and black beans.

Voila! A complete protein, I believe, between the corn and the beans, and tasty and filling.

But I know I get hungry without protein, so I also drained a can of tuna, and split it between 2 bowls of stew. White meat tuna when stirred into something like this is not that different from cooked chicken. It didn’t taste fishy and it was in fact tasty and filling. By putting it in the BOWLS I didn’t get any meat in the STEW and you’ll see why later.

If I’d thought about the tuna before I started the onions (I didn’t,) I might have tried to get fancier and do Mediterranean flavors (basil and lemon pepper, maybe, instead of the Mexican spice mix) to go better with tuna. But honestly it didn’t make a bit of difference, and it was actually good.

Two people in the house wouldn’t eat anything with actual flavor in it like this, so they got white rice (which could also be mixed in the stew if you wanted more starch – I didn’t, the kid who eats did), plus apples and grapes. Not enough protein in them but then it was food they would eat.

If you’re curious, by the time we got home from the show, it was after 11 p.m. and the power had been out for six hours or so and we brought home ice from a store that was operational so I could in fact clean out the fridge. We put all the dairy – milk, cheese, and sour cream, cold cuts, and packaged meat that had to stay refrigerated – in the cooler with a bag of ice, and left the other bag of ice in the fridge along with things that didn’t actually HAVE to stay cold or which I was willing to throw away if necessary (salad dressings, opened applesauce, celery and scallions, that sort of thing.) Then we stayed up a bit late eating crackers with cheese and salami (which we couldn’t have earlier when we couldn’t open the fridge), and the last bits and bobs of things that were needing to be cleaned out of the fridge anyway (I finished the last of a half gallon of milk that wouldn’t have fit in the cooler anyway, some iced citrus tea that wasn’t worth saving, that sort of thing.) And of course the eggs I just left out. Why? Because eggs don’t actually require refrigeration. Remember? Though I will use them up fairly quickly this week too in honor of their night out.

The leftover Mexican stew? I just left it on the stove last night and heated it up this morning, let it simmer for a while to kill anything that might have decided to take root in it (I mean for like 20 minutes at boiling temperature, well hot enough to kill anything that needed killing,) cooled it and put it in the now-functioning fridge. With no meat or dairy in it that doesn’t bother me at all, and I will eat it for lunches this week. With some cheese and maybe sour cream on top, now that I have access to dairy, it will be yummy! And would have been for food today, if the power had stayed out. I used to camp quite often, I am comfortable dealing with cooking and storage from a cooler.

I laid awake for a while last night planning how I would spend the day cooking up whatever thawed from the freezer and taking a week’s worth of lunches to work TODAY and just stocking the fridge in my office. Also whatever I would cook for a meat-heavy breakfast, lunch and dinner. (I have a lot of fish, chicken and beef in the freezer, as well as frozen fruit for smoothies). As it happened I didn’t have to do that. The power came back on late this morning and what was in the freezer seems to be fine. I will do a ton of cooking and use it up quick just in case anything started to thaw and re-froze (not too bad, but shortens the life of freezer goods). And I will throw out things with white flour in them that actually won’t get eaten, I just was avoiding throwing them out. If they’re in there they’re older than a year now anyway and need to go.

And the fridge got quite cleaned out. So that was an interesting emergency dry run/spring cleaning activity!

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