Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cooking Through The Storm -

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  Snow and ice storms have been sweeping across the country (here at Jungle Reds, we've been getting updates from Deb, who's been in the thick of it in her north Texas home) knocking out power in its wake. It's hitting New England and the East Coast tonight. And of course, this is just the beginning of December. There are still three more months of winter to get through (four in Maine.) Usually, we do recipes on Sunday, but today we're going to talk about eating during the power outage.

A few basics on hand will make the experience a lot less painful. 

1. Have a selection of canned goods on hand, including tuna and canned chicken if you're not vegetarian. Peanut butter, hard cheese and canned beans are also good sources of protein. Make sure you have an old-fashioned non-electric can opener!

2. If you know there's a potentially power-cutting storm on the way, prep some foods. Rice can be cooked, bagged and frozen. Brown stew beef and fry up some hamburger. Roast a sheet of veggies, or a chicken. Hardboil the eggs - they'll last much longer. Use up the stuff that's most perishable for dinner while you're waiting for the storm to hit. 

3. Stock in paper plates, disposable cups and plastic utensils. Trying to clean up the kitchen when you have no heat or hot water is grim. Promise yourself you'll be twice as good about recycling for the next two weeks to make up for it.

4. Remember, refrigerators are meant to keep cold in, heat out. Once you've lost power, open the door as little as possible. Know what you want and gather all your ingredients in one go. Once the power comes back on, chuck anything that you suspect may have gone off.

So what do you cook? Of course, you can get by without cooking at all. Sandwiches on a nice multi-grain bread with some trail mix or fruit will keep you going forever. But it's a truth universally acknowledged that being in the midst of a winter storm is when you most want a warm meal. 

Do you have a woodstove? You can cook just about anything that can be cooked on a stovetop. I've made soups, grilled sandwiches, chili, eggs and sausages, and of course, heated up any number of leftovers. Stoke it up high and keep an eye on the food - once the stove is hot, things cook much faster than you might expect. I also have a couple trivets that I can use to keep food warm but not boiling or scorching. Don't forget to keep a kettle going for moisture and to make hot cocoa. Here are some recipes from Backwoods Home Magazine.

Do you have a fireplace?  Were you a girl/boy scout? Remember those foil packets? They do just as well in your fireplace at home as they did in Camp Weetchi Watchi. You need coals and embers, not flame, so you may want to rakes the former to one side of the fireplace to cook in and keep an actual fire going on the other side. If you're a camper and you have one of those lightweight portable grills, so much the better. You can grill over the embers and keep some hot water going for the tea. Here are some foil-packet recipes and cooking tips from The Art of Manliness.  

No fireplace or woodstove? No, I don't suggest using a camp stove indoors. I know some people do, but it always seems like a 911 call waiting to happen. The best suggestion I can make comes from a friend who lives without fire. When she knows a storm is on the way (see preparation, above) she cooks a big stew in her slow cooker. She keeps it simmering on low once its done. Like refrigerators, slow cookers are designed to maintain temperature as long as you don't leave the lid off. She stretches the stew with crusty bread and has been known to wrap the slow cooker in a towel to insulate it even further. Our friends at have a few recipes you might want to try.

Wrap a cozy throw around you and your sweetie and dig into that warm meal. The weather outside is frightful, but your dinner's so delightful...


  1. So much great advice, Julia! We have no wood burning stove or crockpot or fireplace, so my fervent hope is: no winter power outage.

    We're hoping Deb is surviving this storm in Dallas... waiting to hear if she lost power.

  2. We hope Debs is okay! Yikes, the photos look awful.

    And yeah, we have no backup. We go with tuna, peanut butter, and crossed fingers. And vodka And batteries..

    NO charcoal in the house!. Its a terrible carbon monoxide thing. Horrible.


  3. WHat a nice blog, Julia! Just read it again..xoo

  4. Dashing in from church, just ahead of the approaching storm. Great advice . . . we have enough canned stuff to feed the whole town, a fireplace, and a gas stove [and a stove top coffee pot] so we're usually okay during the storm. Hope everyone else fares as well.

  5. Sending warm vibes and good thoughts to all of you stuck in snow and ice. Here in California it has dipped below freezing all this week which makes us complain but really I know we're wimps.

  6. All great tips! We have a wood burning stove as a fireplace insert. I have used it to make tea...essential to my well-being...haha. Our stove is also electric, as is our heat so power going out is a killer here (PA).

    I would also add...keep some empty jugs filled with water. We have well water so no power = no water. Those jugs of water have many uses.

    I also keep a huge stock of candles on hand. I then play young Abe Lincoln and read by the light of about 10 candles.

    As long as I have tea & books I can survive a few days of a power loss.

  7. Losing water is the worst! Though going without Internet can also be a bad shock:) I used to love our woodstove...

    Good luck to all in the path of the storm. My gosh this is an early winter. Maybe spring will come early too!

  8. Julia, what a great post! And I didn't think about the paper plates and plastic-ware. Will do better next time. Otherwise I was pretty well prepared.

    We have not--crossed fingers--lost power, although a quarter of a million people in the Dallas Metro area have, including many of our next door neighbors. (We heard their transformer go out late Friday night--scary.)

    Our plan in a power outage is to "shelter in place", as we couldn't go to a hotel with our animals. We have a fireplace, lots of wood, and we have a gas stove, which gives us lots of food options.

    Rick did a lot of walking around the neighborhood on Friday, helping neighbors, but it's since gotten much slicker and I haven't been out except to take the dogs out in the back yard. My friend fell going out to get her paper...

    LOVE the crockpot idea. Will put something on the crockpot next time we have an impending ice storm!

    My favorite storm recipe so far: Last night I made an impromptu sausage gumbo. I had leftover fresh okra (one of the few things remaining in the produce section of the supermarket on Wednesday night,) a half a Kielbasa sausage, onions, garlic, celery, parsley, chicken stock, and canned tomatoes. It was so delicious it may become a non-storm staple!

    Oh, and Julia, thanks for the song! That was one of my dad's faves and he always sang it in this kind of weather.

  9. Some years ago we lived through a widespread ice storm/power outage. We personally had no power for almost 2 weeks. At one point I had 17 people and 3 dogs here.We did have hot water and a fireplace, a barbecue grill and camping equipment. My husband kept the food and the fireplace going and moved a generator around 3 or 4 different homes. It wasn't easy, but every time we see the tornado damage somewhere else we know we had it much easier. 2 very memorable things: playing charades one night and befriending elderly neighbors who became our great friends. We brought them hot coffee in the am, and they chipped in all their freezer food and we all kept each other going. They were the most scholarly, erudite people we ever knew, kind and generous...

  10. Being a Floridian, I'm used to the storm preparation bit. Our gas grill comes in handy. I've even cooked frozen pizzas on it!

  11. During our horrible ice storm several years ago, we used the fireplace to warm up food. The main problem for me was doing without a coffee pot. We were without power for only four days, but it seemed like an eternity. I was able to get out each morning to the mini-mart and get coffee for me and fill up a thermos. My mother-in-law loves coffee, too, so I'd take some by for her. I cannot imagine what going through a severe disaster and being without power for weeks would be like.

    I love the crockpot idea. I fixed a batch of chili before out snow and ice on Friday, but I've had to warm it up in the microwave. We haven't lost power though. Deb, I hope your power continues to stay on. Hank, good reminder about the vodka and batteries.

    Julia, I enjoyed the Dean Martin song, too. Love the older Christmas song versions.

  12. We tackled our storm prep right after we got home from church this afternoon. Mostly the remaining yard work that got put on the back burner while I was traveling hither and yon on book tour.

    (I should put in a plug: want more tips on surviving an ice storm? Read THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS!)

    Ross started his crock pot pulled pork this morning before we left, and I can't tell you how delicious the house smells right now. We also got a start on the Christmas lights, the wreaths up on both doors, and stowed all the miscellaneous bits and pieces that had been sitting around the property in the barn. I'm feeling VERY accomplished this afternoon!

  13. Great advice, Julia! Being from Buffalo, New York, I absolutely get it. Good thoughts to all going through it now.

  14. We have a Vermont Castings stove heating me right now. My tea kettle is on top. Hard boiled eggs in the fridge. I've cooked eggs on the woodstove - cast iron skillet.

    Make sure all your portable electronics are fully charged before the storm. An advantage of the electronic book readers is the light so they can be read in the dark.

    I hope you all are surviving. Our storm is coming tomorrow but it should just be snow.

  15. Julia, something I learned from my great-grandmother Troy was to put a big pot of oatmeal on top and toward the back of the woodstove at night. It would be ready in the morning and would last us throughout the day if we needed it. We were usually well-stocked with her home canned vegetables and fruits. The milk usually got through, although it would freeze and push the cream up through the top of the bottle. I would run to get it and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on the frozen cream. I usually waited until my great-grandmother was in the outhouse.

    Debs—stay warm and dry. xoxo

  16. I must confess that we have a big honkin' generator. It was here, all hard wired and just begging to come to the rescue, when we bought the house. We heat with pellet stoves which require electricity. So unromantic, I knoq. I feel like I've just taken my Maine-ness down a notch.

  17. I just finished "Through the Evil Days," and was going to say, no wonder the book had so many helpful hints on cooking and staying warm without power.
    I grew up in snow country, so I seem to have sense memory of feeling frozen in foot-deep snow, despite living here in S.Texas. Your descriptions no doubt had something to do with that, too.
    Cheryl in San Antonio