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Hot meals on cold days

By: Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

Survival expert Les Stroud promotes the importance of little things, like a warm drink, in keeping your morale up during a survival situation. Keeping that advice in mind I did my best over the past week to make sure my family had at least one hot meal a day, and that Nicole and I had hot coffee in the morning, despite the fact that we had no electricity, no telephone, and for several days in a row no way off our hill. 

Granted, we weren’t in an emergency survival situation lost in the wilderness. But we were four people packed into one bedroom with a kerosene heater for warmth, and no electronics or television to keep the kids occupied. If that isn’t a recipe for poor morale, I’m not sure what exactly is. (You’ve not seen a meltdown until you’ve seen a toddler – who has been asking for Mickey Mouse cartoons for three days by pointing to his toy and then at the television – finally get to watch half an episode on the last remnants of a laptop battery only to be denied the conclusion of the show when the battery finally dies.) 

Nicole said she was fine with peanut butter sandwiches and cold cereal, and we did some of that. We moved all the perishables out onto the back porch as soon as it was obvious the power wasn’t coming back on right away, so our meats and dairy didn’t go bad. If anything, it kept it too cold, and our milk constantly had ice crystals in it – when it wasn’t frozen solid, that is. 

But I wanted to give them all more than that. 

To be honest, the cooking – cold as it was to stand on the back porch at a propane burner hunched over an iron skillet – was just as important to my mental well-being as it was to our overall comfort as a family. 

Cooking is something I enjoy a great deal, and though I couldn’t complete some of my signature recipes without the benefit of an oven and other kitchen gadgets, making something simple like paprika and garlic pork chops on the grill and heating a side of home-canned green beans over the kerosene heater lent a sense of normalcy to a situation that was anything but. 

Likewise, my morning coffee routine went on without much change. Other than dragging out one of my old hand crank grinders and heating my water on the outdoor propane burner instead of the stovetop, it was very much the same. Even when we accidentally broke the pour-over carafe in our over-crowded room, we improvised and overcame. Instead of using the broken carafe, we reduced the amount of beans we were grinding by about a third and put the cone filter over a large mason jar and – voilà – the hillbilly pour-over was born! 

There were some challenges, like the half cooked omelet that I had to finish on the kerosene heater – with heat shield removed – after the propane ran out halfway through making breakfast. But like with the mason jar coffee, it was simply another test of our ingenuity. 

And no matter the conditions, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather cook for, or be stuck in a room with for a week, than this bunch. They make my life pretty great. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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