Monday, February 6, 2012

Mixed Plate: Snowmageddon II: Return of the Snow-Sith

Aside from the fact that the made-up term, "Snowmageddon" inspires awesomely-bad SyFy Saturday night movies (it really was, the proof is on IMDB), we recently had our arses handed to us by an arse-handing-snow-monster called Winter. But never fear, bad weather doesn't always have to ruin things, if nothing else, it just makes you get creative over how to pass the time when you're sitting in a cold, dark house, such as.... oh I don't know... figuring out how to eat. And perhaps some scrapbooking was involved...

The meal before the ice storm, when there was still power to cook it - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I don't know why it's worth mentioning, as this is probably not news to many, but the fact remains that when snow hits, even a light dusting, Liz Lemon from 30 Rock floats down from the sky and shouts across Seattle in a shrill voice: SHUT IT DOWN, PACIFIC NORTHWEST. Because that's literally what happens. It's like the Rapture. Cars are abandoned on roadsides and grocery stores are ravaged for bread, cigarettes and beer. Because really, those are the basic necessities, right? But enough bad winter storms have got us learned-up over how to prepare a few days in advance if the weatherman is threatening a bad winter spell coming our way. Days before a supposedly bad ice storm was set to hit the area, people were stocking up in a calm, collected manner, sharing pictures of everyone's "Snowpocalypse Grocery List" on Twitter and Facebook, usually including some sort of combination of dessert cakes and liquor. The only snarl was the lines at the gas stations, where everyone was getting fueled up to make sure they had plenty of dino bone juice to power the overpriced generators they bought during the last horrible storm. The Boy Scouts had it right: Be Prepared. And have a beer keg tapped and ready to go.

Enough snow for hot soup, some awkward shoveling, and a visit from Sno-toro - photos by Wasabi Prime
And the snow did come. Marching in with sort of a soft cadence, depending on where you lived. Since we live out in the Boonieville lands of Duvall, which is just on the outer reaches of BFE, we got about six inches' worth on the early end of the storm, while the rest of the Modern World got a light dusting. We had the luxury of enjoying it in a warm, heated house, with only a minor discomfort of periodic snow-shoveling. Not that either of our cars were going to be making it down the steep hill we live on. I think the shoveling was more about doing something other than sitting around and starting to write, "All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy" one hundred times over. But there was enough of the white stuff to make a Miyazaki-inspired bug-eyed Totoro from snow, which the neighbors called a cute owl. OK, whatever. And I managed to make one basic meal that in the back of my mind, I already knew had to be somewhat versatile, as the weather reports were only promising worse weather to come. But for the moment, things were under control, so I made a Southwest-themed meal with chili-rubbed chicken served on a warm corn and black bean salad. I also cooked up a side dish of spicy roasted tomato and pepper soup, using similar seasonings as the chicken, with plenty of avocado and cilantro to keep everything tasting bright and fresh. It was yummy, we ate well for at least one night, in the comfort of a house bathed with light, warmed with heat and not having to wonder if everything in our fridge would spoil. That was the next day.

Amid all this snow nonsensery, the Mister had developed a bad cold which of course blossomed into a lovely bloom of infection. Oh joy. His sinuses were in miserable shape, he was barely getting any good sleep, and then to top it all off, his eardrum ruptured. Double joy. All this on the eve of a bad ice storm, promising more snow and colder temperatures to just turn the melting snow into heavy, solid ice, which was the concern for power lines and the trees that would inevitably become heavy from the ice and tear down more power lines. There was no Neti-potting the sickness away with salt water and spiritual platitudes, he needed drugs before his head exploded like a giant zit, and luckily he was able to get to the ER and get some of the Good Stuff before hell broke loose. Or froze over, I should say. Because this is what the world looked like after the power went out and only snow remained:

When snow stops being fun and is just a big, fat jerk - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Not catastrophic by any means. But it was still disheartening to hear so many main roads were blocked from frozen/fallen trees, figures like "200,000" were being listed as the number of people without power, and it was only getting higher. The governor declared a state of emergency, to be able to enlist outside assistance to just get Western Washington back on the grid. Walking out into our own winter wonderland, you couldn't tell the difference between road and sidewalk, no plows were coming through, likely due to road closures -- not that anyone was driving around. I walked to see how far the outage was, in the hopes that it was just our grid, that others possibly had power, implying the outage wasn't too bad, but no such luck. Seeing a long row of bamboo that normally sits ten feet high, totally collapsed, either weighed down or broken by the weight of the snow and ice was something to see. And all the trees were encased in a layer of ice in the morning. Pretty super, right?

Before surveying the snow and reach of the outage, I opened our refrigerator for fifteen seconds, grabbing the leftover chicken, corn salad and soup, the last bits of a leftover pot roast, and a carton of milk. That's about all you want to risk, not knowing how long the power will be out, and wanting to keep everything cold for as long as possible. I took metal bowls and packed them with snow, placing them in the bottom of a large camping cooler, which was left outside on our front porch. Everything pulled from the fridge went into the cooler and I knew this would be enough to feed us for at least two days -- about the length of time I'd feel comfortable leaving the fridge without power, and then I'd have to consider cooking everything perishable in there and keeping it on ice on the porch. It sounds a little crazy, assuming days and not hours to get an outage fixed, but where we live is not considered a high priority fix when massive outages happen. Brock was in no condition to be moving around or walking to a cold weather shelter, so you hunker-down and do whatever needs to be done.

Keep Calm and Scrapbook, plus other power outage must-haves - Photos by Wasabi Prime
 Whatever needing to be done can include scrapbooking. Don't judge me, but I needed to keep busy and glue sticks are fun. It was like an analog version of Pinterest and the radio news stories were getting old. Brock was able to get our one emergency appliance working, an indoor kerosene heater. I have to say it makes you feel like a normal person in your own home, not freezing to death in the living room. And to repeat, it's indoor-safe; there's some fumes, but you leave a window partially opened to vent fumes and we only run it a few hours at a time. The propane burner Brock usually uses for brewing beer was set up on our porch, which became our ad hoc kitchen. We could have used our backyard BBQ, but snow was melting and ice was falling in large chunks, and we have an uncovered patio. Didn't need to add "headwound" or "massive concussion" to an already growing list of medical issues between us. We could boil water and keep it hot in a thermos for tea, as well as make French press coffee (thank god!). And the burner did a fine job of reheating the leftovers, which went from separate dishes to a hearty Southwest chicken stew. You'd never think this was a power outage meal, but it was. 

Dark times call for tasty meals - Photo by Wasabi Prime
We enjoyed our meals by candlelight, played some card games and reacquainted ourselves with Solitaire, like with real playing cards and not the thing you play on the computer, pretending to work. Of course, the power eventually came back on, thankfully it was just about 24 hours for us, which was a miracle compared to many who were without power for days. When we heard the low buzz and sudden "blip" of the kitchen microwave come on, half of me was cheering, but the other half stayed wary. We kept all the flashlights handy and the hand-crank radio close by. I left the propane stove and cooler on the porch just in case. The snow in the cooler never even melted, so that was comforting to know how insulated a basic beer cooler can be.

When something like a big power outage happens and you're basically trapped in your own home, not knowing when the lights will work again, you revolve that much more closely around food. It's the time of the day where you can feel normal again, just having a hot meal. All I can say is, it's been real, Winter -- let's not do this again anytime soon, okay?

The four stages of Snowmageddon - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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