Posted in Tips and Tricks

Just call me a Boy Scout…

For obvious reasons I have never been and can never be a member of the Boy Scouts…however, I would say by default I live out their motto better than most of them probably do: BE PREPARED. Although, I just learned today that apparently the Girl Scouts of America claim this same motto; somehow in my brief (and I mean very brief…I was not the best at activities which required socializing as a kid) stint as a Brownie, I never learned that was our motto. 

Regardless, I don’t think 2 words could better sum up my subconscious approach to life. You can ask anyone in my family. I was the one who immediately located life vests and lifeboats when we boarded the Hudson Ferry, took note of emergency exits in movie theatres, and committed the escape routes on the back of hotel doors to memory within minutes of arrival. Whether it was cute or crazy, it was who I was. And though I like to think I’ve made great strides in the decades since those days, I’ll be the first to admit that girl is still in there trying to make sure I don’t try to take on too much of life without escape routes and contingency plans in mind. Whether it’s more preparedness or paranoia, I’m honestly not quite sure. What I do know is that this compulsion for preparation has proven invaluable during these past 3 years of food issues; so perhaps it is true what they say: God gives you unique gifts (or quirks!) which equip you to be the person you choose, or sometimes are forced, to be. 
Now preparedness is a good characteristic for all people, regardless of allergies/intolerances, etc. However for those of us with food restrictions, I would argue it is a little more important. And yes, of course, this refers to the various social functions we attend on a regular basis: lunchbox packed, ice pack frozen, Pyrex sealed and filled with a carefully-prepared dish or perhaps a lengthy phone call with the venue’s chef to plan ahead for your visit. However, it is so much more than that. Think about what goes into preparing/storing you-safe foods (HINT: gluten somehow keeps things from spoiling longer…hence GF things don’t keep very well). Now imagine a few hours, or even a few days, without power. Imagine multiple days without the use of your stove or your gluten-free toaster. (Or any toaster for that matter). Now I know what you’re thinking: “yes, Katie, but Al Roker is my best friend. (In fact he was just referred to as a National Treasure today for his role in Sharknado last night). If there is any kind of impending severe weather, he’ll give me plenty of notice and I’ll spring into action”. I hear you. You should have seen me in the days leading up to Superstorm Sandy. I think I had enough Katie-safe foods to feed a small village sealed in Ziploc bags. The same was true this past winter as storm after storm after storm struck the East Coast. Yes, this is important…but what about those little unexpected life emergencies which come without warning??
For example, let’s say you come home from a long day of teaching to find a note on your door that cockroaches have invaded your building and that you must clear out every drawer, cabinet, and counter space in your kitchen for spraying. Of course you then learn that the chemicals they use last for days so you can’t put everything back for a week and each night you arrive home to a kitchen floor covered in dead cockroaches. Yep, sounds like a kitchen I’d want to be cooking in. And sadly this is a true story. Welcome to my world. 
Yep, that’s my whole kitchen…in the dining room 😦
I don’t think I slept for days…
And what about another morning when you spend half an hour whipping up a new recipe for breakfast muffins only to realize the oven you actually remembered to preheat is still freezing cold. That’s right: broken stove. That happened yesterday. See, life is filled with these little hiccups and though I won’t be a proponent of living your life in a constant state of paranoia (take it from me, I’m pretty certain I did that for the first decade or so of my life…it’s just exhausting), I would suggest a few simple steps to prepare yourself for the unexpected surprises life might choose to send your way. I’ll try to keep it simple and concise. After all, I am a member of the Y2K generation; if nothing else we learned how to prepare for unfounded and yet massively publicized crisis situations 🙂
1) Fill your freezer…with cooked foods! I live alone now so filling my freezer with extra food has been an easy task. For example, if I buy a pound of ground beef, there’s no way I’ll come close to devouring that all myself. Hence, I used to cook half of the meat and then form the rest into hamburgers, throw them in a Ziploc freezer bag, date them with my trusty Sharpie, and throw them in the freezer. This is a logical thing to do…and I do still have a few frozen uncooked hamburger patties in there. However, when the power went out, I quickly realized that having a freezer full of uncooked meat is not at all helpful. Especially if the outage goes on so long that it thaws and spoils anyway. So now I always have a supply of already cooked and THEN frozen hamburger patties from my ground beef purchases. This came in handy during the cockroach crisis: just moved a frozen cooked burger into the fridge to thaw while I was at school and then a quick visit to the microwave when I came home had me ready for dinner. Also, I always have a few extra bags of frozen veggies…not that eating them after just thawing and not heating if there’s no power would be ideal, but at least I’d be getting some nutrients 🙂
2) Get a grill…if you’re allowed. A downside to apartment living? I can’t have a grill. I dream about one some nights though. There’s nothing like grilled veggies on a summer night. Not to mention, when the electricity is out, the grill could be a lifesaver! So if you’re lucky enough to get one, do yourself a favor and do it.  If/when I eventually move out of apartment living, expect my wedding registry to be filled with grill supplies 🙂
3) Stock your cabinets with cans. Believe it or not, there are still canned foods you can eat! You do have to be ridiculously cautious because SO many canned things have that pesky “processed on shared equipment” label…but it can be done. Plus, go when they’re on sale and you can have a cabinet filled with canned beans for less than $10. Granted, cold beans from a can is not the most appetizing meal…but you know what they say about desperate times!
I’m ready to survive on beans for days if need be…
4) Have a “rainy day” fund. I know, this seems like common sense. However, I feel like this recommendation often gets brushed aside with the “you really should floss everyday” recommendation. The reality is sometimes (i.e. when your house is overrun with dead/dying cockroachs and smells like chemicals) you just can’t eat there. By now, I’m sure you’ve found at least a few places with dishes (or A dish) that is safe for you to eat. Go there. You might have to go there everyday for 3 days until they fix your home. It’s not ideal…and it’s certainly not cheap, especially on your “my-loaf-of-bread-costs-$6” budget…but again, desperate times. Have a little savings fund for unexpected weeks like this. Plus, I don’t know about you, but if my power is out, I will need to go out for coffee every morning…even though they make about 400% profit on every cup. Priorities 🙂
5) Make friends near and far 🙂 The good news is that in the more localized situations described above (cockroaches and stove), you don’t have to travel far to find friends who will loan you their stove or grill. Just don’t forget to pack your aluminum foil! The other thing is even in times of major disasters (outages on the city power grid, hurricanes that batter multiple states, etc.) there are usually places within reasonable travel distance that are safe. Granted, I’m extremely lucky in this regard because due to my 2 years in ACE, I have friends scattered across pretty much every corner of the country. (In fact during ACE many of them provided such aid to one another in the form of Hurri-cations…another thing we missed out on up north) So stay in touch with friends who live far away. You can never underestimate the fun found in an otherwise frightening situation if you have a place to find solace with friends far away!
Thanks to ACE, I have friends as near as Baltimore and as far as China!
 So, take it from me (or really Ben Franklin): an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t live your life in a state of total paranoia…but take some steps to make sure you’re ready. I mean you just never know when a “twister with teeth” may strike 😉

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