I’m often told that I’m not positive enough because I point out all sorts of deficiencies in the world without offering solutions. This irritates me. Perhaps this irritability reinforces my reputation as a curmudgeon. Deep cleansing breaths. In with the good air. Out with the bad. Squeeze the little rubber ball. Okay…
First, some problems simply don’t have satisfying solutions and I believe it’s important to be honest about that. Second, in the absence of a solution there are often perfectly good responses to how to live with a predicament without resolving it per se. Third, when I describe a rational work-around for an obvious dilemma I’m typically informed that I sound crazy for thinking there’s a problem in the first place. This takes me to… Fourth, when too many people agree that there is no problem when there really is, failure ensues and eventually fixes itself – although usually in a messy and unpleasant fashion. So why not get ahead of the curve as an individual even if no one else does?
Enter a new series of posts I’m calling, “How to Ride the Slide.” Installment One is, “Apocalypse Lite.”
Each night our kitchen table is surrounded by wonderful people with pleasant meals and lively conversation. By any measure, life is good. But these meals do double duty as part of my preparations for the Zombie Apocalypse. (Fill in whichever cataclysm you prefer: earthquake, unemployment, terrorist attack, hurricane, flood, ill health, divorce, the Rapture, supply chain disruptions, bank failures, Sasquatch…) Let me explain.
Earlier this week I made tagine. It’s a Moroccan dish with many variations served on a bed of couscous. The primary ingredients are chickpeas, potatoes, and bits of dried fruit along with the appropriate north African spices. That base works perfectly well on its own, but you can add meat or other veggies as desired. In this case I cubed a small amount of good quality lamb and stirred it in for added flavor and texture.
As I cook I reach for ingredients in my extended pantry. Keep in mind, I live in a seven hundred square foot one bedroom apartment, not a spacious suburban home. I keep lots of couscous on hand because it’s tasty, versatile, has a very long shelf life, cooks in minutes, and costs almost nothing – particularly when bought in twenty five pound sacks with a bulk discount. The same is true with chickpeas, rice, pasta, and all sorts of other staples. I keep a small amount of each item in easy to view glass jars. Along with these ingredients that can last for years, I have semi-durable items like dried cherries, prunes, dried apricots, and raisins. They don’t keep forever, but they hold up a lot longer than fresh fruit and are exactly what the tagine recipe calls for.
Yesterday I noticed I was running low on basmati rice so I went to my reserve supply of five gallon buckets under my bed to refill it. I had a limited amount of real estate to work with so I did some research and tinkering. Turns out, a queen sized mattress is exactly the right size to accommodate twenty five of these five gallon buckets. I estimate that’s about six hundred pounds of dry food that will translate into twice or three times as much when cooked. Each bucket has a different ingredient in it. Cuban black beans, split peas, sugar, wheat berries, powdered milk, oatmeal, and so on. Most of these items cost a dollar per pound or less, especially when bought in bulk. I didn’t buy them all at once either. This is an accumulation that’s built up over years so the cost was modest and spread out.
When I notice one of the five gallon buckets running low I go down to the storage locker in the garage and rotate that ingredient upstairs. Then I make a note to buy a fresh sack and replenish the supply at the back of the rotation. Where did I learn how to do all this? Mormons. Strange bedfellows, but it turns out they’re incredibly nice people who are happy to share their wisdom on this particular topic.
I don’t love canned fish. I much prefer a gorgeous fresh wild caught salmon fillet. But fish is notoriously perishable. In a genuine crisis I’d like to have a back up supply of protein in addition to beans and nuts. So I keep a generous stash of canned salmon on hand. Again, I buy a few batches incrementally over time and use the oldest cans first. I mix the salmon with left over cornbread or breadcrumbs and diced onions and I make little fried fish cakes. They’re actually pretty good so I make them once or twice a month. The point here is to incorporate “emergency” food into a regular routine that’s tasty and cost effective first and merely coincidentally good for disaster preparedness.
By the way, the salmon cans are stored in a side cupboard that we carved out of a hollow cavity in the wall that was previously dead useless space. A pair of miniature French doors were $130 and the shelves are plain old plywood I painted white. The resulting space is only twelve inches deep and two feet wide, but it’s tall and I fit a huge amount of pantry items in there.
These dinners with neighbors, friends, and visitors of all kinds are also part of my Apocalypse Lite plan. I have no idea what the future might bring. I don’t know the nature of the problems or what the appropriate strategies might be. I could try and guess at what I suspect is the most likely scenario and I could be totally wrong. What I do know for sure is that come what may, it’s going to be a lot easier if I have good people all around me to work through it all together. The more numerous and varied my army of friends and acquaintances, the better prepared I am. And how much fun is it to be surrounded by good people and good food everyday anyway?