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After graduating from UW-Madison, I moved to Washington, DC and took my first big job, with a $25K starting salary. I was too young and naive to even know how little money that was at the time, I was just so grateful to get to move to DC, a place I'd dreamed about living since a trip to the area in the sixth grade. My first winter there, in 1996, there was a huge snowstorm—large by Midwestern standards, so completely crippling by Mid-Atlantic measure. I didn't realize at the time, but I was about to experience a huge culture shift, an approach to winter that was radically different from the one with which I was raised.
My roommates and I had just moved to a new townhouse apartment in Arlington, and we had almost no furnishings. Our only television was a small (12 inch? 15 inch?) box with no cable connection, meaning that our only entertainment via that television was 24-7 weather coverage on the four prime-time channels. As the days dragged on—DC doesn't shut down for just a day or two when they are hit with snow, they go down for the week—I could not wait to get back to work. I remember attempting, on day four, to get into the office, only to discover my bus-to-metro commute was 3.5 hours, and I should have brought my own shovel for the walking portions of the slog.
Even with this inauspicious start, I grew to love the DC snow day. While Midwesterners—especially those of us from the Great Lakes—view snow as simply a reason to wake up even earlier to dig out and drive more cautiously—DC just stays home, tucks in, and declares a weather-related apocalypse. Once you embrace the time off, you can really enjoy the snow-imposed staycation.
There is one critical area of expertise that Midwesterners really understand about a snow-in that DC-area residents don't really get: how to shop at the grocery store, and what to make while stuck in the house. Maybe it is because we have so much more practice hunkering down (even if we don't usually take time off of work for blizzards), I don't really know, honestly. In the Mid-Atlantic, news of a snowstorm means buying three items: milk, bread, and toilet paper.
Now, the toilet paper makes sense. Why anyone needs three cases of toilet paper for 5 days stuck in the house, I won't ever know—scratch that, I don't want to know—but let's just call that a "safety first," move, and not dwell on the possibilities.
And while having a gallon or two of milk and some sandwich bread are lovely, is everyone really planning to dive into endless sandwiches and glasses of milk for days?
Cold weather and snow means it is time for baking, slow-cooking, and roasting. Cold weather = comfort food. Cold weather = EAT THE GOOD STUFF, PEOPLE.
My friend, Mary, already reported this reality at the store yesterday, the panic-induced hoarding of dairy and bakery had begun 72 hours before the snow:
As DC-area residents head out today to stock up before conditions become perilous, they don't need to worry if if the milk and bread are already gone. YOU GUYS CAN DO THIS, you just need to channel your inner Midwesterner (even if you've never even been there.) Here's some tips, along with a meal plan and ingredient list for your staycation that will leave everyone happy*:
Tip One: If you don't have the exact ingredients, don't fret. The chicken calls for fresh thyme, and all you have is dried thyme. Wait, that's dried oregano. No need to scrap it, just reinvent it with what you have. If you have a moment now to look up recipes before you shop, do it; if you don't, just pick up what makes sense (I have a list at the bottom of this blog), and try not to get clocked at Harris Teeter reaching for the last coffee creamer.
Tip Two: Plan for one big, hearty mid-day meal per day, with leftovers and fresh veg/fruit to fill in the rest of your hours. Yes, I know that little kids want their breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner, but trust me: put some time into the big mid-day meal, and you'll have all the food you need for everything else.
Tip Three: Think of how one recipe will lend itself to the next. You can cut down on the work and maximize the cooking fun when each thing you make either compliments or becomes a component of the next. My menu ideas show one way to do this, but insert your own and get creative.
Tip Four: Take advantage of this time to make those big, family recipes that you love so much. Your grandmother makes cinnamon bread that takes two days but tastes like heaven? MAKE IT. Your family has a brunswick stew that is fidgety to make but delicious for days? NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. Do these things with your family, and maximize the staycation by simultaneously making delicious food and sweet memories.
Tip Five: Prep coffee ahead of time. If you lose power, but have gas appliances, you can always do a pour over of hot water and grounds...IF you have already ground your coffee, and don't just have a bag of beans that can't go in the non-functional grinder. If you have electric appliances, consider brewing cold-brew coffee—simply pouring water over grounds tonight, then letting it sit in the fridge—for your caffeine needs.
Tip Six: Front-load the baking/making/preparing of staples to the beginning of the storm, in case of power loss. Again, if you have gas appliances, this may not be an issue, but better safe than sorry.
Tip Seven: Stock up on fresh veggies, fruits, nuts and cheeses. Buy bags of salad greens or good looking heads of lettuce and cabbage. "Snow day" doesn't usually make folks say, "I'd sure love a salad!" but the dishes you'll be making are substantial and filling; serving them throughout the day with fresh salads filled with fruit and veg will make you feel great.
Tip Eight: Bottle up some water for drinking, just in case. Blizzards don't usually knock out water facilities, but with high winds and non-traversable roads, having water handy only makes sense.
Tip Nine: Don't forget your beverages. Can't live without diet coke? Make sure you have some, more than you think you'll need. We aren't big alcohol drinkers in our house, but even we like some Baileys in our coffee after we've been out shoveling. If you love to pair beers and wines with yummy meals, now is the time—you are not going to be driving!
Tip Ten: YOU CAN USE THE OUTSIDE AS YOUR FRIDGE/FREEZER. Keep things sealed and inside a closed container to keep critters away (a cooler works great for this.) Important reminder: carbonated things explode when they freeze, so don't leave your favorite bubbly (or soda) out in the cold too long, unattended.
Recipes for three snowed-in days:
1) Bake bread. Yes, you heard me. BAKE YOUR OWN BREAD. Do you have a bread machine? Great, use it. You don't have a bread machine? NO PROBLEM. Type "skillet bread" into google. SEE ALL THOSE RESULTS? You are in business. Don't want to fiddle with yeast? Look up "soda bread." You are welcome. Yes, some bread recipes call for milk. If you didn't get milk, don't make those. Problem solved. Serve warm with butter and your favorite jam. Save some to sop up all the juices from item #2 (or just make two loaves, who are we kidding?)
2) Roast a chicken. Heck, roast a turkey. My friend, Heather, a Wisconsinite living in Virginia, already baked an entire batch of cookies and had an organic turkey in the oven by 8:30 a.m. this morning. That is a woman with a plan, right there.
My favorite roast chicken recipe is Ina Garten's lemon chicken, from her book, "Barefoot in Paris," but since that is not online, let me recommend looking up "roast chicken" and discovering the many, many ways you can make this incredibly delicious food. I've also heard raves—RAVES—about Thomas Keller's roast chicken recipe.
Vegetarian? Roast some root vegetables. Get as many as you can, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper, and your favorite seasonings, throw them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and feel happy inside. Heck, non-vegetarians, do this, too. Those veggies will go great with your bird.
3) Make dulce de leche. Have a crockpot? Fill it with water, then take a can of sweetened condensed milk, remove the label, and put it in the water, so it is fully covered. Turn the crockpot on, and walk away. The interwebs have a million recipes for this, both in the crockpot and the stovetop, but it is always the same idea: turn milk and sugar in a can into dulce de leche by ignoring it in a pot of simmering water. You can either start this in the morning, and enjoy it in the evening, or get it going at night, and wake up to sugar magic.
4) Before bed, soak a package of dry beans over night. Black beans, pintos, black-eyed peas—pick your favorite (or favorites), and follow package directions. These guys will be rockstars tomorrow.
1) Bake a quick bread, scones or muffins. Seriously, you are going to spend hours today drinking coffee and tea, give your drinks the carbs they deserve. Plus, if kiddos are sad that they don't have their morning cereal with milk, they may not complain when handed a muffin. (I know, kids may still complain. They are kids.) One of our favorites is this simple banana muffin. You can reduce the fat if you are going to eat them straight from the oven, but keep the fat if you will be eating them for several days. (I substitute melted butter for the oil, and have also used yogurt instead of all the fat if I have it available.) You may have the urge to make pancakes or waffles, and if you do, go for it, but I like the added bang for my buck of making breakfast quick breads, as folks can enjoy them all day long.
2) Make chicken/turkey/veggie stock. Remember that carcass from yesterday? You didn't throw it out, right? RIGHT? YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT! Place that in a giant stockpot, cover it with water, and put in carrots, onion, celery, and whatever leftover veggie ends/peels/etc. you've got, along with salt/pepper/bay leaf. Simmer it for as many hours as you'd like, but at least 3-4. Want to go the extra mile? Before covering those bones with water, roast them in the oven until they are slightly browned. It will add a depth of flavor that you will really love. Once done, filter the liquid from the solids, let cool, and skim (if you'd like, but keep that chicken fat!)
3) Make beans and rice. Remember those dried beans from last night? Here's their moment in the spotlight. Using some of the stock you are preparing, make your favorite beans and rice dish. I love the black beans and rice from Cook's Illustrated (and if you are willing to pay for their online recipe access membership, you can make this gem of a recipe, in either a meat-eaters or vegetarian version), but any favorite recipe will do. Yes, you can always use canned beans, but this is a great opportunity to use dried, save money, and get that toothsome texture that canned beans can't reproduce. If you are a carnivore and can add a bit of pork or bacon, you can make this lovely dish even tastier.
4) Make snow ice cream! By now, you should be waist-high in the stuff, you might as well make it an ingredient. If you are worried that it can't be made without milk or cream (and the stores had no milk or cream, oh no!), our old friend, sweetened condensed milk, comes to the rescue. The interwebs abound with recipes for snow ice cream with sweetened condensed milk, so have at it. In fact, warm up a bit of that dulce de leche you made last night and pour it over your fresh snow-cream. Yes, you are in heaven. You are welcome.
1) Start your day with an omelette or scramble. EGGS! Eggs are your friend. I always wonder why there isn't a run on eggs before a snowstorm, but let other shoppers' folly be your advantage. You'll need the protein to get to all of that shoveling, and with left-over poultry, along with both fresh and roasted veg, your entire family can get what they'd like. Add some cheese—you wouldn't forget to buy cheese before the storm, right?—and go nuts. Bake a package of bacon in the oven on some parchment paper at 350 until crispy. Smile, because BACON.
2) Make taco soup. Starting with the pulled chicken or turkey, the stock, and the roasted veggies you have left, you can make a really lovely soup. Add a bag of frozen corn, and 2-3 cans of tomatoes (diced, pureed, whole—it truly doesn't matter, whatever you have.) Mix in a couple of packages of taco seasoning (or the equivalent), and let simmer. I also like a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar, just to brighten it up. If you'd like something creamier, you can thicken it with a roux (remember that chicken fat you saved?), or if you grew in in the truly Midwestern tradition of "add a can of cream of [ingredient] soup," now is your moment. Serve with tortilla chips, slices of lime, salsa, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado, and cheese. Go crazy and either mix in or ladle over some beans and rice from yesterday. You are now at a fiesta. Ole!
3) Bake cookies. Call neighbors and ask them if they's like to tunnel over. Make ice cream sandwiches with snow ice cream, cookies, dulce de leche, and any other toppings you scored at the store before the snowpacolypse. Don't worry if you have extras: let's face it, someone is going to have to go into the office tomorrow, no matter what. Bake cookies that will fortify you for your eight-million hour commute, and remind you of your time in your warm home.
A whole chicken or turkey (if this isn't available, get a cut up bird, or get any other cut of meat you might enjoy slow-cooking)
Peppers (Green/red/jalapeno/whatever looks good and makes your palate happy)
Salad greens/heads of lettuce/fresh veggies for snacking
Vegetables for roasting (Root veggies, cabbages, potatoes/sweet potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts, etc.)
Any fresh herbs you love
Lemons and limes
Fresh fruit for snacking/salads
Butter (unsalted for baking—you can freeze this, so stocking up never hurts)
Buttermilk (can work beautifully in recipes that you may typically make with milk, just check for modifications via internet search)
Apple cider vinegar (or your favorite)
Oil (olive oil/regular)
Sweetened condensed milk (2-3 cans)
Rice (grain specific to your recipe)
Canned tomatoes (any type, you can't have enough cans here, as you can use them for everything)
Any frozen veg you and/or your kids like
Eggs (go crazy and buy 18)
Critical beverages (only you know what they are)
Soft tortillas (consider these a back-up to bread if you lose power—rolled up they make great PB&J sandwiches)
Cheese (for shredding over soup)
Cheese (for snacking)
Sprinkles/whipped cream/chocolate sauce/any snow-ice-cream topping that makes you smile
Nutella (Nutellas is in none of the recipes, but trust me, you want Nutella.)
Your favorite peanut butter and jelly (splurge on the kind you don't normally get—you'll be happy eating it on all your baked goods, and will be extra happy if you end up without power eating PB&J)
*If you lose power and don't have gas cooking available, you may not be happy. I'm sorry about that.