There ain’t no cure for the summertime blackouts

A powerful storm ripped through this part of the state Wednesday night, providing lightning and thunder, rain, and straight-line wind gusts up to seventy miles an hour. No significant damage happened on my property—just a lot of leaves and small branches to gather and bag. But two stately oaks in the neighborhood were shattered by the winds, one bringing down a power line, as was happening in multiple locations across the region.

The lightning was so profuse when the power went out that I was able to find my way through the house to candles and matches and a flashlight. With the air conditioner disabled, we opened windows for ventilation and went to bed. The power was still off Thursday morning, so I showered and dressed, ate two breakfast bars, drank a cold cup of coffee, and drove to work.

When I returned home that afternoon, my youngest daughter greeted me with a grumble—“Seventeen hours and forty-two minutes, and they still haven’t gotten it fixed!” It happened that her complaint was voiced roughly half-way through our outage. I told her what I had heard on the radio, about the thousands of people without power. When it was time, I drove to the campus where I teach evening classes, unsure if the campus was open, since they had no way to reach me if the power was out and the campus was closed. There were cars in the parking lot when I arrived, though, and the power was on, and students arrived.  So I taught, returned home, read by candlelight for a while, and went to bed.

Sleep was not hard Wednesday night, because the storm had cooled the air and there were still breezes stirring. Thursday night the house was hot, the air outside was hot and humid, there was very little breeze, and of course no electric fan would work. The power was draining from my daughter’s phone, so she went out and sat in the car and recharged it there. I went to bed early but slumbered fitfully through the night.

Friday morning’s shower almost seemed to have been pointless, as I was coated with sweat almost immediately after toweling myself dry from the shower. But I got dressed, grabbed two breakfast bars, and left early for work, buying a hot cup of coffee downtown. Before lunch, I received by text the single word “power,” and by the time I was home that afternoon, the air conditioner had made the house more comfortable in terms of heat and humidity. (I responded “yea” to the text “power”—my daughter, more creatively, answered the same text “to the people.”)

Today, as chain saws roar through the neighborhood, we are doing triage on food that was left in the refrigerator and freezer through the outage. One of my coworkers asked me Thursday if we had transferred any food to ice chests, and I said, no, we were simply keeping the doors of the refrigerator and freezer closed. He said, “I suppose for a while that makes them ice chests,” with which I agreed. The icemaker was leaking water by Thursday afternoon, but we just put a towel on the floor. Once power was restored, we emptied the remaining ice and water from the icemaker and set it to make new ice. So far we have discarded the softer dairy items—the cheeses appear to have survived unscathed. We are also discarding older leftovers.

I did eat some leftover tuna casserole for supper last night, reasoning that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” Before going to bed, I remarked that I did not feel any stronger and would probably die during the night, but of course that did not happen. Actually, when it comes to food poisoning, it rarely kills people and never makes them stronger. I have suffered from salmonella twice—both because of public salad bars, never from my own kitchen. It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger.

We have not had time to examine everything in the freezer, but it appears that the meat remained frozen through all those hours. Some ice cream bars lost their shape, but they refroze and are edible. We did have a little uncooked pork and bacon in the refrigerator that we have discarded, but fortunately our frequent supply of ground beef and of raw chicken had been cooked and eaten before the outage.

All in all, I would say that we survived the blackout admirably. My stress level listening to chain saws all day today may prove to be the highest cost of the experience. J.

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Hearty skillet recipe

During my one-year internship, when I lived alone in an apartment, I invented a recipe that was cheap, easy to make, satisfying, and easy to rewarm as leftovers. Somehow, this recipe became a default family lunch for snow days. Even if I had to walk a mile in the snow to the grocery store for two or three ingredients, I did so willingly because we all like this lunch.

Here are the ingredients for my recipe: One box of macaroni and cheese (which will require some butter and milk), one pound of cooked meat, half an onion chopped, half a bell green pepper chopped, two cloves of garlic diced, one can of diced tomatoes (14 ½ ounces), one small can of mushroom pieces, two teaspoons chili powder, 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning (or half a teaspoon each of oregano, parsley, and thyme), and half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the instructions on the package. While waiting for the water to come to a boil, chop the vegetables and cook them in the skillet in two teaspoons of vegetable oil or melted butter. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, meat, and spices. Stir occasionally. When the macaroni and cheese is prepared, add it to the skillet. Stir and bring to the table.

My usual meat for this recipe is diced summer sausage. We receive summer sausages in gift baskets every Christmas, and summer sausage on crackers is appealing for only a few consecutive evenings. Many other meat choices are possible: cooked chicken, diced; cooked ham, diced; ground beef; hotdogs or bratwurst, sliced; or just about any other leftover meat found in the refrigerator. Fish (at least canned tuna) does not go well into this recipe. A meatless version could easily be made with a cup of beans or corn in place of the meat.

This is a hearty meal that is easy to prepare. I’ve doubled it when my children had friends over to play in the snow. The leftovers store well and are easily warmed for a meal later in the week. J.