Food Lately: Musings & Meanderings

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This photo looks like it is trying out for the “one of these things is not like the other…” game

Honesty I don’t  remember exactly what we ate over the last couple of weeks, but these are the things I managed to grab photos of…

  • Skillet Lasagna
  • Sesame Chicken Stir-Fry
  • Pasta Pomodoro
  • Sausage, Sauteed Cabbage, Mashed Potatoes

Actually I did make curried butternut squash soup, although unfortunately I ended up having to throw it out because I didn’t remember to snag it when the power went out. You can see that quick and easy skillet meals are my saving grace right now.

The storm, as I have mentioned, wiped out a lot of food in my fridge and freezer. Not the big deep freezer, but my over fridge freezer. For possibly the first time ever, I have ZERO bananas in my house, fresh or frozen. Because I’ve been working to keep a more reasonable amount of food on hand, our fridge wasn’t as stuffed as it might have been. Which probably contributed to how quickly things warmed up, actually, but also meant that my losses there were comparatively low. My freezer, on the other hand, was pretty much not salvageable. Partly because that freezer has become the place where I throw things to “save” them but that we really don’t want to eat and because, frankly, everything just melted. The few things that I had in there to prolong life, but not because they need to be frozen, are what survived. Namely, nuts and yeast. I am looking on this as a golden opportunity rather than a tragedy. I’d like to use that space much more efficiently and keep only a small selection of convenience foods, anything that needs to be defrosted for the upcoming meal plan, and baking supplies that I use regularly in the small freezer. Basically this means moving the whole wheat flour from the garage freezer and stowing in a basket the frozen ravioli and precooked chicken that have made my life easier this semester. One other basket will hold items for the upcoming meal plan and one final basket will hold opened bags of fruit or vegetables so that I make sure to use them quickly.

I’m also getting serious about using up some of the stock that is STILL in my deep freezer. Several big roasts are on the meal plan in the coming six weeks or so, just to finally get them out of there. Going forward, I then plan to do a better job of storing food we actually eat rather than food I think we should eat. For example, the 40lb purchase of chicken breast from Zaycon was actually a good buy — we’ve almost completely eaten that down. The turkeys I bought after Thanksgiving, on the other hand, are not, since neither of us really ever feel like a full turkey dinner and for the two of us it’s kind of ridiculous. And so on and so forth. On the one hand I feel a little frustrated with myself, but on the other I’m pretty excited. This is me settling in to a better, more efficient way of thinking about food and cooking for us that reflects who we are rather than some mythical vision of us that absolutely doesn’t exist.

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Slowly Getting Back to Normal

Hi all. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers this past week. We were so lucky to only suffer power outage during Irma, although many in our neighborhood and city experienced much worse damage. Actually, as I was collecting a few photos to share here, I got a little teary-eyed. I have not always felt like Florida or Jacksonville is truly my home, but this past week has really emphasized how much this place has gotten under my skin and how it is my home. Michael expressed similar feelings — “I really feel like a Jacksonvillian now.” While I don’t recommend going through a hurricane as a way to deepen your roots, it is true that shared experiences build bonds, I guess!

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Source: http://www.coj.net/departments/fire-and-rescue/emergency-preparedness/get-prepared/evacuation-zones.aspx 

Anyway. We lost power Sunday evening. Although we are technically in a Zone A, the chance for flooding in our home/neighborhood is fairly slim. You can see in the map above that our red zone is surrounded by white — on the flood map the white areas are in no danger of flooding at all, unlike in other neighborhoods, where flooding means the zones taper out from A to F. This largely figured into our decision to stay, combined with the fact that transporting six cats and two snakes is a hassle on the best of days. Nonetheless, we did at times doubt our decision as wind Sunday night was intense. We also had a lot of trees and fences down when Matthew came through last year, but the wind this time around was so much scarier than then. We didn’t sleep at all that night. Monday was blessedly cool, although we were still experiencing frequent high gusts so we didn’t really get much done beyond taking a walk through our neighborhood. I took a few photos.

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This big tree was down a few houses up from ours. It’s a beautiful, huge old oak tree and it’s sad to see it down for many reasons. But everyone is very lucky that it fell into the street and not onto the house!

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The creek that runs behind our neighborhood (and is the reason for our Zone) was really high. There is usually space for a grown person to stand under the bridge. I don’t believe anyone in our neighborhood had any flooding in their homes (probably some had water in their back yards), but the neighborhood on the other side of the creek is lower and consequently suffered more damage. They are also a more wooded neighborhood, so their tree fall was higher as well.

On Monday afternoon we drove out to find (hopefully) some coffee. We were excited to see that San Jose — the main route through our neighborhood and where many, many businesses are located — had power and in fact it seemed that many locations had not lost power at all. We settled for a fairly gross gas station cappuccino (no regular coffee) and then headed home. Thankfully the night was still pretty cool, although I think we were still a little keyed up. We slept better than the previous night, for sure!

Although we didn’t have power we were able to charge our phones using various battery back-ups that we own. We kept seeing really terrible flooding happening in downtown and other areas around Jacksonville. Historic levels of flooding, actually. It was really, really sad to see pictures of downtown and other neighborhoods were I have worked and/or lived underwater. We also felt so cut off –even though we had access to social media and a weather radio, we were limiting phone use and the radio stations were covering mostly local news related to the storm. It was hard to get an idea of what was really happening! Below are some pictures of the flooding in our city. You’ve probably seen a lot of these images because I think the flooding here was one of the bigger casualties of Irma.

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Source: http://jacksonville.com/slideshow/slideshows/slides-photos/2017-09-11/irmas-aftermath-first-look-flooding-damage-across#slide-1

San Marco/Southbank Riverwalk area

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Source: http://jacksonville.com/slideshow/slideshows/slides-photos/2017-09-11/irmas-aftermath-first-look-flooding-damage-across#slide-1

San Marco

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Source: http://jacksonville.com/slideshow/slideshows/slides-photos/2017-09-11/irmas-aftermath-first-look-flooding-damage-across#slide-1

Mandarin (this is loosely the area of the city where I live)

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Source: http://metro.co.uk/2017/09/12/pictures-show-waves-rolling-through-memorial-park-after-hurricane-irma-sea-surge-6921297/

Riverside/Metro Park

On Tuesday we woke up early with one goal: coffee. Actually the power came on just long enough for me to brew a pot…and then sadly went out again. At this point we really wanted a hot meal. A camp stove or burner is on my list to purchase — I thought we would be ok with our grill, but it seemed like such a hassle to get it up and running for just a pot of coffee that we kept putting it off. Anyway, because there was power on San Jose, a number of businesses were open and we were able to get a delicious breakfast. We also stopped by a convenience store that was open and had ice. Although we had to throw out a lot of food from the fridge, I was super grateful for the ice that helped me salvage at least a few things. And chilled our drinks!

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Good coffee is important to me. Making sure we have a way to prepare it is a priority for me, looking ahead to restocking our hurricane/emergency supplies.

Tuesday was also the day we helped clear up our neighbors’ yard — they are in their 80s and had a TON of debris and limbs down. One, in fact, punctured their roof, although luckily they didn’t experience any leaking below the attic. They had spent storm with their son. There were six of us working on the yard and it still took about three hours to clean up just the front yard and enough of the back deck to feel like they could walk outside without being in danger of falling. Right now there is about a five foot high wall of limbs and debris waiting for pick-up by the city. It runs the length of their lot.

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Later that afternoon the neighbors we helped brought us a bouquet of flowers as a thank you!

By the time we finished it was early afternoon and we were hot and sweaty and tired. Thankfully we still had hot water so showers were the first order of business. Then we pretty much watched the temps climb in the house (it got up to 84, ugh) and kept tabs of people nearby who were getting the power back on, in hopes that it meant good news for us. We also were paying attention to the return trips of friends who had evacuated. For many, what should have been an 8 hour drive took 14 or 15 or more hours. I was so glad we hadn’t left!

No power limited what we could do — I broke out some handwork that I hadn’t worked on since my MIL was in hospice in 2009.

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We went out to dinner and basked in the AC. The pizza place where we ate is owned by our neighbors and their son; we chatted with them and commiserated about the on-going lack of power. On our way home we stopped for more ice and passed a bucket truck working on a transformer near our street. We dared to hope….and yes! Power was restored late Tuesday night. We were SO SO SO GRATEFUL. We didn’t have internet connection Wednesday, but just having AC was such a blessing. Michael had already called to let work know he wouldn’t be in, so we spent Wednesday morning at helping out another friend (who had evacuated and returned to find a tree down in their yard) clean up after the storm. We pretty much just crashed in the afternoon–two days of working out in the heat, combined with not-great sleep really wore us out! In fact, I ended up with a migraine Wednesday night/Thursday morning, which was a bummer.

Yesterday everything was pretty much back to normal. My internship site follows the school’s schedule, so I’ve not been able to work there all week. Frankly that was a blessing. I did get some time in for my paid job yesterday and Michael has been back at work since yesterday, too. And even though I had to go through the fridge and freezer and throw out a bunch of stuff, I was really happy to be able to cook last night! We pulled the basil plant into the garage and I keep tomatoes on the counter so one of our favorite comfort foods was on the menu: pasta pomodoro.

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Truly I can’t imagine what it is like to live through a much more catastrophic storm; it is taking us a while to feel like we are back on track and this was relatively minor compared to what could have happened.

Waiting Out a Hurricane

Irma is a huge storm system! Strangely beautiful, in a terrifying way. This picture really captures the size of the storm compared to the land masses in her path. Once again I am reminded how small we are in the face of the bigger forces of the world.

I’m really grateful for the modern science and technology that allows us to track major weather systems like hurricanes, giving us time to prepare as best we can. But it’s also so strange to spend a whole week in nervous anticipation of total destruction! The westward shift of the hurricane’s track is actually good for us, although the sheer size of the storm means that pretty much everyone in Florida is going to have some kind of wind going on. And, of course, many places are going to experience chaos and loss. Each time the track shifts, I have been thinking of people I know who are in those areas and hoping that they are ok.

We are pretty well prepared. We did go out one evening earlier in the week to pick up a few supplies — I realized that we were almost out of toilet paper, which could have been a very bad thing! And I was hoping to find a camping lantern; since power outage seems likely, I wanted to bulk up our opportunity for light in the evenings. Also I think we just got a little panicked, which is probably natural. We grabbed the following:

  • another bag of cat food
  • rats, for the snakes
  • a rechargeable work lantern (one of a few things left — in the automotive supply area, I don’t think people realized what it was or it would have been gone)
  • toilet paper (Charmin — there was seriously about 12 packs of toilet paper on the shelf, kind of disconcerting)
  • extra-strong garbage bags
  • couple of extra candles (just in case)
  • Lysol wipes
  • Tang
  • Gatorade powder
  • another case of water (the store had just restocked — we have some, but another case won’t hurt…)
  • random snacks (basically this was an excuse to grab some treats we mostly never buy)

We actually have plenty of flashlights and batteries, and probably enough candles on hand, so a lot of those purchases were motivated by the need to do something. I thought maybe the Tang and Gatorade powders would be good to have on hand if for some reason we are really stranded for a while — one is a good source of vitamin c, the other electrolytes. Everything else will be used in our regular life, so that’s fine, too.

Going forward I do want to have the following:

  • a camp stove that runs on bottled gas of some kind — we have a charcoal grill, and that’s great, but a camp stove would be less production for making such essentials as coffee
  • a case of these glass candles from dollar tree — again, we have candles, but these are simple, straightforward and pretty sturdy
  • more cat carriers — we really should have two more
  • a set of road atlases for each car — this has been on my mind since our trip last month, it’s pretty basic common sense to have one and we don’t

We go back and forth regarding whether or not to get a generator. For now we don’t have one. Maybe our perspective will change.

Good luck to all my friends in Irma’s path! And thanks to everyone who has reached out to share concern and/or let us know they’re thinking of us — we appreciate it!

Meal Plan, Meal Prep

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I was a busy bee this weekend and got quite a bit of things prepped for the upcoming week or two. On Saturday I had a baking day and went a little crazy. I made four loaves of zucchini bread, one loaf of chocolate banana bread, two loaves of white wheat sandwich bread, and a chocolate zucchini bundt cake. We’ve eaten a loaf of zucchini bread and some of the cake, but most of the dessert breads/cake are in the freezer.

On Sunday I went grocery shopping and then prepped the food that came home in bulk. I cut up a huge watermelon and added some lime juice because it wasn’t the most flavorful. This had the added bonus of using up some limes I had forgotten to use when I made oven fajitas a week or so ago. I also cut up the two pounds of strawberries and they are in another container in the fridge. While I was making a big chicken stir-fry for dinner, I chopped up two onions to use during the week. It is really convenient to have a them on hand in the fridge. Finally, I used one loaf of the white wheat bread to make up some freezer PB&Js. I used up the dregs of a few jars of jams that had been lingering in the fridge as well as finally getting to the natural, organic peanut butter I bought a couple of months ago. It had really separated so I ended up slowly having to reconstitute in a bowl — kind of tedious, but now that the remainder is in the fridge it should stay together. It did cause me to ruminate on the benefits of hydrogenation, though. 😉

On Monday Michael and I made up a batch of salad base, as well as a bag of shredded cabbage that I will use in egg roll in a bowl. I also baked a tray of chicken tenders for lunch salads and cut a few ribs of celery into sticks for snacks. While I was making the lasagna, I portioned the rest of the Italian sausage into bags and froze them for later.

I also have a goal to sometime this week make up one ham and cheese pie and one spinach and feta quiche. The spinach and feta quiche is for breakfasts this week (if I get it made), while the unbaked ham and cheese pie goes in the freezer for a later meal.

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Meal Plan: September 3 – 9

  • Sunday — Chicken and Veggie Stir-Fry over Rice
  • Monday — Skillet Lasagna, Garlic Bread
  • Tuesday — leftovers
  • Wednesday — Curried Butternut Squash Soup, Mustard & Cheddar Grilled Cheese
  • Thursday — leftovers
  • Friday — Green Peppers Stuffed w/Sausage, Rice & Mushrooms
  • Saturday — Broccoli Cheese Stuffed Baked Potatoes