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TBT: Tandoori-Style Cooking With or Without Electricity

Rolling blackouts! Mass unemployment and utility shutoffs! Shuttered restaurants and cafes! Social panic! This is not the 2020 I wanted, but I guess it's the apocalyptic time my husband and I have been preparing for since our mid-20s. I don't mean that we adopted "prepping" culture as seen on TV; rather, we studied climate change and sociology and did our best to brace ourselves for when we couldn't rely upon the comforts and conveniences of a reliable electrical grid. We shared a few experiences in countries where you can't take electricity for granted, and we practiced confronting power outages in the United States as adventures rather than catastrophes.

It was all fun and games back in our child-free "extended adolescence." Then we became parents and survived an epic two-week power outage during a cold-record-breaking ice storm that spanned Christmas and the New Year, while caring for a three-year-old. It was tough, but we managed to keep our wood stove raging around the clock and thanked our past selves for investing in a humbly-sized, energy-efficient home and a wood burning stove we bought from a farmer and popped in with the help of a buddy. We managed so well, in fact, that our toddler, instead of being traumatized by the experience, thought it was magical to "camp" together through the holidays, close to the ravenous wood stove, while using candles and glow sticks for lighting. She asked, for years afterward, when we could do it again.

Now that she's a much more independent and helpful older child who can wield an ax effectively, I say bring it! 

It's dreadful to think of what could happen to the majority of families with children in our country this year, most of whom have experienced job loss or other economic hardship during the pandemic, if we do not at least manage to end the current disaster of a presidency, which has disregarded and threatened all efforts to contain the virus, failed to adequately sustain small businesses and non-oligarch households, continuously undermined access to health care, and fanned the flames of racial violence and climate change.

So please, I know you're sick of hearing this, but if you haven't already, vote FOR BIDEN FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN and brace yourself, because even for those of us fortunate enough to have stable housing and the ability to keep up with our utility bills for now, and even if democracy doesn't die in this fall's darkness, it's going to be a tough winter. It will take time to undo the chaos sown by the current administration, if that is even the path we choose as a nation at all. We shouldn't have to fend for ourselves like characters in a dystopian sci-fi movie, but here we are, folks.

So here's the point of this brilliant blog post:

If you can get it, spicy Indian food helps. We all know that a flavorful, hot meal is a comfort. And Indian food is a comfort food like no other on Earth--warm, complex, exciting, creamy, soothing, and chock-full of nutrients that aid in digestion and immunity. Indian food cooked from fresh, whole ingredients is a communion with the divine, but most recipes take a very long time and a lot of labor (which is why it costs so much at restaurants). In an apocalyptic time, I suppose cooking a dish that takes days to prepare (like some dosas I made last spring--oh, they were good) can be a fine distraction or meditation, not unlike the trend of making sourdough bread from starter. In our current crisis, most parents don't have the time for anything but opening a few boxes and jars and heating stuff up with whatever we have--a microwave, a solar cooker, a gas stove, a campfire, whatever! And that's when pre-made Indian food comes to the rescue.

In the year 2020, happiness is a pantry stocked with convenience foods. I wrote the post below in simpler, sillier times, when my husband and I didn't know how valuable our little adventures with power outages would be in preparing us for our future. Everything is harder now, but a hit of Indian food--even pre-made--continues to be a joy that is accessible to us. (And if our kid doesn't like it, she can open a can of SpaghettiOs.)

Tandoori-Style Cooking With or Without Electricity

There was a power outage this morning which caused mass hysteria, an unusually romantic mood at the doctor's office, and a cup of free coffee for me. It also made me hungry for the prepackaged Indian food in my cupboard.

I'll start at the beginning. Last night, Mr. G and I were gossiping and giggling about someone we knew who hurt himself very badly because he worked on building his muscle mass quickly without learning proper lifting form. Then Mr. G said, "Hey, speaking of muscles, watch this!" and treated me to a circus-like show of push-ups balanced on two rickety bar stools. Ironically, Mr. G then experienced a back spasm and spent the rest of the night moaning in pain.

So this morning, I drove him to his doctor's office in a nearby town. A power line had gone down, so some of the traffic lights on the way were out. I dropped Mr. G at his doctor's door and ran across the street to buy some much needed coffee. The cafe was dark inside, and the girl at the counter apologized. She said they were out of power and had regular coffee brewed, but they couldn't make espresso. I cheerfully whipped out my debit card to buy a coffee... duh... but all was well, because the manager offered the coffee for free... presumably to make up for the fact that the lighting was dim. Anyway, it was nice of him.

On my way out, two women with a brood of children were coming in. One woman stood holding the door open and staring inside with a look of stricken horror as if she were afraid to go inside. (It wasn't really that dark--there were big windows on two sides.) I shrugged and said, "The power's out, but they have brewed coffee." The woman strained to see the counter and then shouted (still standing in the doorway), "You can't make espresso?" Nope, just brewed coffee for now. Free cup? "Oh no!" she said. "We NEED cappuccinos!" She whipped her head back and forth, as if not sure which way to run, and babbled something high-pitched about why would the power be out, couldn't they fix it, and how badly they needed cappuccinos this very second.

Happily caffeinated, I ran back across the street to rejoin poor Mr. G. The doctor's office, too, was out of power. The nurses were carrying around flashlights and setting rows of them on the counters in the examination rooms. It made an effect kind of like being in a spa or massage parlor instead of the doctor's office, normally lit with harsh fluorescent overhead lights. A nurse with a flashlight led me down the corridor to Mr. G's room, where we sat giggling and whispering until the doctor came in and made some crack about the mood lighting. The doctors and nurses were a bit flustered about the whole situation, because important things like the computer system and the adjustable chair/bed things were all out of commission.

OK, so this got me thinking about how much we take electricity for granted here in the U.S. of A., and how a simple setback like a power outage lasting a few hours can throw people for such a freaking loop.

After studying in Rome and taking two trips to non-resort Mexico, I stopped thinking of electricity as a given. Now when the power goes out at my house, it is No Big Deal. In fact, it can be an excuse (as long as you're prepared) to do some fun things you might not otherwise--like getting everyone in the house together to eat all the ice cream before it melts, lighting candles, taking a break from the computer, and preparing a fresh and raw food meal or a meal cooked in the fireplace or out on the grill.

I like to keep candles and matches around the house and non-perishable foods in the kitchen that are simple to prepare. First of all, there's the stovetop espresso maker that can be set over an open fire or on the wood stove, and its friend, the hand crank coffee bean grinder. Essential! As far as dinner goes, I find that there are a lot of nice, non-perishable but delicious and healthy convenience foods at my local grocery store. Check the labels--non-perishable, prepackaged foods often come loaded with garbage amounts of preservatives and high fructose corn syrup--but some do not.

I just bought these Patak's brand curry sauces and chutney on sale. They are 100% real food. The ingredients are all vegetarian whole foods and spices. Each jar makes about three servings, just enough for Mr. C, Mr. G, and me!

(Not pictured: tikka masala, because I already ate it. YUM!) The chutney can be eaten cold with crackers or flatbread, or as a side to a curry dish. All the curry sauces have the same instructions: mix with vegetables or precooked chicken, heat up for 15 minutes. Done. They are good served over rice, but they can also be served with this easy pre-made naan bread:

Mmm, Tandoori naan! Fresh from the same supermarket. The naan here only needs to be baked in the oven for a couple of minutes and then--ta-da! A flavorful meal that can be heated up easily in the kitchen or over a fire, if the power is out and your stove/oven is electric.

If you have an extra five minutes to make it extra fancy, you can add diced chilies or chili powder to the curry to fire it up (it's blander than homemade), and you can sprinkle dots of butter and crushed garlic on top of the naan before heating it up. DELISH!

It's nice to remind ourselves that most people in the world get by without dependable electricity. I don't feel sad about that--I feel comforted that we will survive. Not only that, we can have our espresso, too, Crazy Cappuccino Lady from this morning. In fact, power outages are a fun opportunity to get a little playful and creative. Instead of worrying or freaking out, we can declare a sort of surprise holiday from electricity and have fun with it. It's a POWERful experience to feel less dependent upon things you cannot control. Especially when you can whip out a delicious Indian meal in no time and enjoy it by candlelight. Survival never tasted so good.


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