A few weeks back Western Washington State had the first big windstorm of the fall season. And you’d think that these never happen – most people seem to have no memory of how it happens every single year, in October or November. As with every year, all the dead or damaged trees came crashing down in late fall, and dawn brought some real carnage to deal with. Then the cleaning starts, and assessments on what needs to be done. And most likely, no power.
Being that we live on an island, repair work takes time (which is something that you start noticing that some cannot handle that it will take days for recovery). In particular this storm cut the island in half, in the narrowest section of the island so many trees came down the state highway was closed for nearly 2 days as crews worked around the clock to get the highway back open.
We were out for 3 days, which for me was not horrible. When it hits a week, that is when it sucks. My first winter on the island was the 1989/1990 winter, and it was bad. We lived in a tiny shack, between the 2 transmission lines that come over from the mainland and watched the massive poles fall from the sky, wondering if one would land on us. That was a bad storm. This recent storm….wasn’t that bad. We had about 20 trees go down, but thankfully none landed on anything but on other trees, and one part of our chicken coop fencing (but it didn’t break thankfully). Although I do realize it comes down to perspective on if a storm is bad. For many people even an hour without power is scary and overwhelming.
And December nearly always brings a power outage as well.
One can angrily shout at PSE (Puget Sound Energy) for incompetence, but the truth is…it’s an island. The power lines won’t be buried, and our island is covered in tall evergreen trees that will come down. Instead, we should work on our prepping. We need to look at these storms/events as a way to work on being able to get by. Take what works, note it, and expand on it. And if one chooses to live rural, they must accept the bitter pill that you will be last in line, long after the urban areas are repaired. It’s on us to be prepared.
The day after the storm I encountered a young family, who were not used to storms/losing power. They lived in an apartment. No running water, no toilets, no way to heat water. Most homes don’t have gas cook tops anymore (which you can light with a match or lighter when the power is out). They had come out to the one coffee shop that has a massive solar array on the roof….and a hidden generator, and the place becomes insane as so many show up to charge phones, use their laptops (because the building is owned by the local telecom company it has wi-fi that still operates). It can get mean in there, with limited ability for everyone to charge stuff, but also so many just wanting a hot drink, or a hot breakfast sandwich. I only showed up because I was bored and wanted to check my email/messages (the tower near us dies within 2 hours of no power).
But back to the family. They had a young child and no way to feed the child with what they had on hand. I had to break it to them they’d need to toss the deli meat, and possibly all their frozen meat soon. As I said, they had no way to get hot water, much less to cook all that frozen meat (and just feed the apartment building outside!). So I chatted with them to give them ideas for the next power outage that was extended.
The biggest issues I see in extended power outages are:
- Lack of power
- Lack of water (directly related to to power because many homes are on wells)
- Lack of functioning bathrooms
- Lack of heat
- Lack of fuel
- Lack of communications (cell phone towers go down within hours unless they have a generator, no internet – T-Mobile brings in generators often 2 days out)
- The inability to heat water or make food
I could go into depth on all of the above, but today I will talk about being able to heat water and cook food. For if you can do that, you will be far happier. You can wash your hands and faces with warm water, make hot drinks and have a warm dinner. And not once open your refrigerator or freezer (every time you open it, you are quickly cutting down how long it will stay in the safe zone).
Building a kitchen for power outages, in what you need on hand for gear:
- Small camping stove that is reliable
- A 2 burner stove can be more attractive to some, as it sits low to the ground and has built in wind protection.
- Fuel canisters (Find at Wal-Mart, sporting good stores like Cabelas, REI or hardware stores) (have at least 4 on hand at all times, tall ones are not necessarily better, the lower ones are more stable)
- Fuel can stabilizer (this allows you to use wider pots with less risk of knocking anything over)
- Matches (Keep plenty on hand, store in a plastic bag or container to keep dry)
- Lighter (long handled is easiest/safer to use)
- Pot set (sized for backpacking or camping, while I don’t use nonstick at home, it is far easier for emergencies if it is for cleaning up. A 1.5 Liter and 2 Liter pot set are usually good enough for a family up to 4, a 3 Liter pot will allow more room for big soups and cooking pasta.)
- A small hiker’s tea kettle
- Disposable utensils (forks, spoons and knives – look for compostable brands) or wooden sets (they burn)
- Disposable paper bowls, small plates and large plates
- Disposable hot cups
- Plastic cups for drinking (ones with lids mean less spills if you have kids or are known for being clutzy)
- Paper towels
- Garbage bags (both kitchen trash bag size and grocery store size)
- Disposable gloves (food grade) (If you wear gloves, you cut down your chances of making others sick quite a bit)
- Baby wipes, unscented, for cleaning hands and faces
- Clorox wipes, for sanitizing counters and the hands of the cook
- Bottled water (1 gallon per person, for at least 3 days worth, cycle through it periodically)
- First Aid Kit. Need not be big, but it’s good to have stuff for cuts, burns and similar.
- Source of light that is safe: A flashlight or lantern that doesn’t get burning hot when you use it. Use candles only under direct supervision! Point the flashlight above you and put it above your head for more light. Headlamps suck because you tend to blind your family if they are helping. Keep the headlamps for other duties.
With these items, you have the ability to get going and not be as miserable.
Basic Safety Thoughts:
- The #1 reason people get sick during power outages related to food is….unwashed hands. And the gross part is it’s under the fingernails that is the worst offender. It’s the same when you hike/camp.
- Keep it to one chef. Control how many hands are in the mix. Just say no to cute kids in this case. Don’t let anyone stick their hands in communal bags like chips, candy, jerky. That’s how you get sick.
- Wash your hands with foaming soap/wate,r if you can, after using the bathroom. Always. And before handling food.
- Go one step farther and use a Clorox wipe to clean your hands, and get under your nails. Don’t be shy. Hand sanitizer doesn’t do much of anything, the wipes rather, they use friction to get it off. Similar to hand washing. I hand wash, and wipe. Or wear gloves.
- When using ANY gas powered stove, be it your cooktop in your kitchen or a portable stove, you MUST have ventilation. Our house is propane run, and we have a propane stove. But in power outages, I always open the window next to the stove, cold be damned.
- When you use a small portable stove, you should be doing it outside. Please. Do. It. Outside. In a sheltered area, of course – even a porch or under your front door will work. Do not use them inside unless you have no other choice, and then, it better be by an open window. Ventilation is everything. NEVER USE THEM INSIDE WITHOUT PROPER VENTILATION.
Onto the Prepper Pantry:
If you plan it out, you can eat full meals with no refrigeration needed. It doesn’t have to be a 5 gallon tub of Mountain House meals you bought at Costco that no one wants to eat. Nor do you need to live on energy bars. You can have hot meals with minimal cooking.
If you can produce a hot drink in the morning (and again in the evening a few hours before bed), people just tend to be happier. They get warm twice – from drinking the hot drink, and holding the warm cup.
When thinking out meals, try to plan everyone eats the same thing. That just makes cleanup a lot easier. Then you only get one pot dirty. Pro-tip? As soon as you are done with the pot you cook in, wipe it out with paper towels, getting any oil left out. In nonstick pans this is far easier. You can boil water in it to sanitize it. You don’t need soap if you remove any food before. I don’t use nonstick at home, but I sure do for emergency cooking. The cast iron that we use 99% of the time gets ignored when I cannot wash dishes properly.
Things to have on hand?
- Instant Rice
- Precooked and dehydrated pasta
- Instant couscous
- Stuffing mix
- Freeze-dried and dehydrated meat, beans, vegetables and fruits.
- Dry cheese powders/freeze-dried cheese
- Crunchy cheese crisps
- Canned or in pouch chicken, beef, tuna and salmon
- Canned food such as beans, vegetables and fruit
- Olive and avocado oil
- Instant espresso powder
- Hot cocoa, chai mix, tea bags
- Powdered milk and other dairy like sour cream and butter powders
- Freeze-dried eggs
- Powdered drink mixes (be it sugar free or full sugar, having lemonade, fruit punch, etc improves moods)
We are consultants for Thrive Life, which carries many ingredients that are freeze-dried for easy cooking.
The grocery store. Just go wander a store and look for things that only require water added. Don’t be shy. Buy 4 serving packets of instant mashed potatoes, stuffing mix, instant rice. Single serving cups of instant cup of noodles (yes, we all know it’s a crap food but whatever, it’s not like you eat it daily! Don’t be a food snob), ramen, couscous (the tiny type, not the big Israel type), powdered soup packets (these you can add canned veggies to to make a bigger batch of soup). Look for single serving packets of oils, nut butters and pretty much anything that is shelf stable (for example you will sometimes find cheese that doesn’t need to be chilled with “Refrigerate after opening” on it, but it’s sold in the cheese area cold. Always read the fine print!)
Learn to dehydrate your ingredients. You can do quite a bit at home and have stock year round.
On Never Free Farm, Pantry Staples is a mix of recipes, where many are good for planning.
Think how easy it would be if you had a box of mason jars where you could offer Deluxe Hamburger, Beef Fajitas, Italian Chicken and more – and all you needed was boiling water. You can even cook the meals in the mason jars and serve them that way (after eating, wipe out with a paper towel, put the lid on, and pray you get water soon to clean them 😉 )
Visit our sister site, TrailCooking. The page, Freezer Bag Cooking Recipes, is what you want. These are recipes that only need hot water added and 10 to 15 minutes to wait. You can prepare them in yes, a freezer bag, a small pot, an insulated mug or bowl – you have options. Also see “no cook” for more ideas.
Deluxe Hamburger is a really good meal – serve it in a bowl, or on tortillas. It’s got lots of protein to keep you happy.
Prepping doesn’t have to be over whelming. At all. Every step you take, is one step more ahead you are. It means you are taken care of in emergencies and one less family the government must help. It means you can stay home and stay safe, instead of going out to try to find food. It means you can help neighbors – especially those with young children or the elderly – if they have nothing “Hey, we have a little extra, was thinking maybe you could use a hot drink or food? Need to clean up?”
Don’t put it off. Start today!