Last week I had the occasion to prepare an elaborate dinner for over 30 women. That doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface; after all, I’ve created dinner for several wedding receptions, Christmas parties, and I actually love the occasion to spoil folks with yummy food. But this event was indeed different as I didn’t have all day to prepare, I was already exhausted from a previous day of 16 hours of non-stop filming and a day that already had more activity than I typically have to do in one week. All of the dishes had to be made without the luxury of refrigeration or electricity on demand, be worthy of the label of “gourmet”, and oh, yeah…the dishes had to be “camera ready” and tasty so that the cameras didn’t catch anyone spitting it out in disgust.
I have to say that I learned an awful lot about some of the ways that I need to step up my efforts at self-reliance and frankly, I think that that out of all of the Principles of Preparedness, the food category was my least vulnerable. Guess I had another think coming.
OK. I’m going to tell you a little secret. My husband and I are actually planning on helping more than just the two of us and 3 dogs and a cat. Perhaps it wasn’t a secret to you, per se, but it isn’t exactly well known that if you were to count just our closest relatives with their kids, we’d be looking at over 30 people easily. Once Scott and I were able to get our own needs met, we proceeded to set a goal to prepare for family members who may lose their own supplies as a result of a natural disaster which might destroy their provisions or who might be displaced because of a crisis. (We trust that such family members are doing the same for us as well if needed.) Having enough to feed that many people for a year is one thing, but having all of the other components down pat that must accompany that goal is definitely a whole ‘nother set of skills.
Tricks about Food
1: Not all recipes double and triple well. If you’re planning on feeding the troops someday, then it’s best that you actually practice doing so before you plan on betting your life on it. It only takes one botched recipe that calls for 8 cups of grated cheese to go bad to make you sick to your stomach and want to cry—cameras or not. Practice the recipes you plan on using. If a time arrives in which you’ve got that many people relying on you for 2 or 3 meals a day, the last thing you need is additional stress because your not completely familiar with the large party version of the recipe.
2: Big groups of people require big pots, pans, serving dishes, etc. I’ve actually done fairly well in this area over the years because I used to entertain people frequently at my home. But I still have some vulnerabilities—especially in light of the wise saying that “three is two; two is one; and one is none.” Only one large stock pot is just not going to cut it. This is yet another situation in which practice will expose your vulnerabilities. I’ve had another solar oven on my list of wants, but I can see that I’m also going to need more butane to bring such large pots up to the necessary heat too. Granted , I don’t anticipate making 12 different dishes in record time ever again, but the lesson was not lost on me.
3. The majority of the possible “doomsday” scenarios would actually require us to stay put for quite a while. If I’m staying put under such circumstances, then I better figure out how to get along with a whole lot of women in my small kitchen. I was fortunate last week to have two angels that helped me immensely: I would not have been able to get it all together had they not been there. However, since it was so stressful for much of the time and my kitchen is so small, I felt a great deal of anxiety surging within me. I turned around to evaluate where we were on our progress and I noticed that these two angels were also working feverishly to put out dishes that would make me look good to the cameras and the guests, and yet the stress of the situation was enough to cause me to bust a gasket. As I watched them hustle and bustle and bump into each other, I realized that it’s quite possible that if I find myself in this same scenario due to a financial collapse, EMP, earthquake in which my home is spared, etc., there would be even more women in the kitchen as we’re trying to get three meals a day out to dozens and dozens of people. I better learn how to keep it under control and organized or I just may be the reason why some folks would rather starve than have to work with me in the kitchen. *grin*
Food can go quickly
4. It’s no secret. I’ve got a lot of stuff and I’ve calculated, monitored, and inventoried it all on some level. But even I was surprised at how quickly a #10 can of produce can be used up with just one meal for dozens of people. Under such circumstances, I don’t think that I’ll have the luxury of creating a French Country Asparagus dish which focuses primarily on the freeze-dried asparagus. Rather I will have to come up with more casseroles, pasta dishes, soups and stews in order to extend the food to as many people for as long of a time as possible.
5. In a crisis scenario, it’s easier to set up portion controls prior to the food dishes being set out in front of everyone than after it’s got them drooling. In spite of my best efforts to give everyone plenty, we did run out of a couple of items. Having a smaller serving spoon will help keep the portions to reasonable sizes; and in such a scenario I’ll be certain to establish a “make sure everyone has eaten before you go back for seconds” kind of house rule.
6. The thought of cleaning everything up after the dinner was nearly enough to make me cry. Fortunately it never came to that. Before I could say “thank you for coming” there were a dozen women who just jumped in and went to work cleaning up. No excuses such as “I don’t know where everything goes” or “I don’t want to risk breaking your good china”. They just jumped in and cleaned up. There was never a whine or complaint. And in fact, the only “harsh” word I heard was when I was being told to sit my fanny down on the couch and let them clean up. OK. Yes, I was grateful to be sitting down for a moment, especially when I was informed there was still more filming to do. But as I sat back and watched these women work together to accomplish such a large task for one person, the mess just seemed to float away. This is critical in any plans that we have to help others in tough times. Yes, we can feed and clothe them, but we must prepare and plan to require them to contribute to the best of their ability by providing the “man power” efforts necessary to make everything work well. It will make the world of difference.
7. The ability to communicate clearly is critical when living through a trying time such as an earthquake recovery. Sometimes that communication gets muddled because of the stress that’s involved in the situation. But unless you want to have to redo something over and over again, or unless you want it done poorly—in direct response to the quality of your communication—then you need to learn to breathe, calm down, and move forward with a clear and concise plan. (I keep saying YOU and YOUR in this article, but obviously I’m really saying KELLENE. I have no idea if any of you need to hear this same advice as I certainly do). This is where the mental preparedness combined with the communication preparedness comes in. This is also what qualifies a person as a good leader. If you can’t clearly communicate the end results and the jobs that need to be done to get to those results, then you’ll have a whole lot of contention and mess on your hands.
8. Mistakes will happen and your ability to modify them and make things work in spite of them will make all the difference in the world as to how you and everyone else comes out of the experience. For example, I was using a new lemon custard recipe. One of my angels stayed home during the self-defense course to whip that together. Unfortunately, though, she wasn’t familiar with what the texture of the dessert should be, and as such it was cooked a bit long, which compromised the texture and flavor of it. So I went to my little corner, thought about it for a little bit, and then came up with a solution. I went to my cupboard and pulled some of Shirley J’s Universal Dessert Crème. Instead of making it with water, I used lemon juice to give it a sweet pucker and a beautiful, creamy look—kind of like the filling in cream filled donuts. It was great in taste and aesthetics. I poured it over the top of the subtle lemon custard pie and then took a couple of cups of freeze-dried blueberries, some water and sugar and made a glaze out of it. (A little less thick than a pie filling). I topped the dessert with the blueberry glaze. When all was done, a dessert that would have been ho-hum at best, ended up getting all kinds of raves with its three symphonic layers. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. :-)
9. Keeping in mind that conserving your own physical energy is vital, I do plan to have enough back-up power so that I can operate those kitchen tools which will make my life so much easier in preparing food for an army, so to speak. On the day of the filming I used the Humless Sentinel model generator (Mention TalkRadio and get FREE shipping) to operate the food processor, the Le’Quip blender, and even tried it out on my Bosch mixer and my wheat grinder. The unit is portable and just sat on my kitchen counter as we plugged in various electric tools to speed things up in the cooking. (While I didn’t have to prepare the whole meal with this reality of a rehearsal, we were at least able to demonstrate that it could be done with alternative power if necessary. We also have back up solar power available as well. It’s quiet and fool proof to use. As you’re making your regular meals, ask yourself, how will I be able to perform “this” process in cooking a meal without electricity? If it would require a lot of physical energy, then you’re better off considering a silent power source.
In closing, if there is any message that I would love to convey to everyone on the one component that I feel I already have a solid grasp of—it’s this. Just because you’re using “shelf-stable” food doesn’t mean it can’t taste great and look great! I created 12 dishes for this dinner party and I wanted each of them to look good. (In hindsight I wish I had come up with some different colors for a wide variety of dishes, so that each one of them stood on their own strength.) Not all of them were blue ribbon winners due to different tastes (I discovered that no matter what, I really just don’t like canned salmon), but not a one of these dishes would be something that a person would typically associate with “food storage”—not even the whole wheat breadsticks that I dipped in butter and sprinkled with Salad Seasoning. So my suggestion is that you work backwards in order to meet your goals in this manner. As your cooking a popular meal in your household, reverse engineer it so that you can determine what you need to do now to have the ingredients and tools to make it for your family. A familiar meal goes a long way in establishing peace.
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