It happened again a few days ago. I was on the sidewalk in our small California town when a family — parents, three kids, a sweet, goofy dog — began ambling towards me in a convivial cluster. Heartwarming, right? I reacted by leaping smartly into the street, heedless of oncoming traffic, to avoid their unmasked faces. Yes, thanks to COVID-19, I’m not only honing my agility, I’m finding myself far less fearful of everyday hazards. I try not to do anything too foolish, but I just don’t have the anxiety bandwidth to get exercised about cars, canned goods slightly past their sell-by date, the effects of excessive TV on my brain, or what shade of lipstick (if any) to wear under my mask.
A couple of days ago I stood looking in a boutique window at a flowery summer cocktail dress that seemed about as relevant to my current lifestyle as a hoop skirt or bustle. Then I walked past the newsstand (remember actual newspapers?) and reflected on how glad I am not to be the writer responsible for digging through the thesaurus every morning to find a compelling yet tactful new way to say, “The virus is winning.”
Later, strolling through a nearby village, I saw a sign that really stopped me in my tracks.
I realized that one of the things COVID-19 had driven from my worry list was the upcoming wildfire season.
As you may have heard, California’s vast forests and delightful climate — sunny, breezy, dry — create ideal conditions for wildfires. Since 1984, climate change has doubled the number of large fires tearing through the state; we had 8,194 last year, consuming 259,148 acres. Don't worry, Rich and I do have a family emergency plan and are updating our evacuation kit this week. And luckily we are well south of the worst danger zone, significantly reducing our chances of waking up in the middle of the night to find our home in flames (as happened to one guy we know). But our entire region is at risk. On hot, dry, windy days, if a live power line goes down, a single spark can create a conflagration of biblical proportions.
Last year, PG&E began declaring “extreme red flag days” whenever they felt it was prudent to avoid fires — and potential lawsuits — by shutting off the electricity for days or weeks at a time.
“I got a text from PG&E,” Rich told me Saturday over breakfast. “They say we should keep two weeks’ supply of non-perishable food on hand to live on during the outages.”
“Great idea. And it’ll come in handy if the coronavirus and the food shortages get worse. You know, when society breaks down completely and there are bands of marauders roaming the streets so we can’t get out to the market.” It’s possible I’ve been watching too many dystopian movies on TV lately. Or perhaps just reading too many these-are-the-End-Times articles. “The real question is,” I said, looking at our compact kitchen’s overstuffed cupboards, “where do we put all that food?”
“The attic?” he suggested.
Getting into our attic requires pulling open the trap door in the ceiling and unfolding the old, rickety wooden ladder — which is perfectly positioned so if you tumbled off it, the momentum would carry you all the way down the main staircase, across the tiny foyer, through the front door, and down six more steps to the street. Not something you want to do holding 10 pound bags of flour and a dozen jars of artichoke hearts.
“The crawlspace under the house?” I offered as an alternative.
“That’s fine unless there’s a flood.” This is only too likely to happen here in San Anselmo, which has waist-high floods about once every 20 years. We’re nearly due, and considering how 2020 has gone so far, it’s pretty obvious this is going to be the year.
In the end, we decided to purchase a small wooden shed and attach it to the side of the house. “We can call it the Armageddon Food Locker,” I suggested. “Or wait, I know, Apocalypse Chow!”
The shed is now on order, and I’m busy compiling a list of groceries to go in it. One of my first considerations was bread making, which I view as a spiritual, emotional, and physical necessity under any circumstances. Could I find a recipe that called for non-perishable ingredients only? Reviewing old favorites, the solution leapt out at me. My World’s Best Irish Soda Bread only has four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Would it work, I wondered, with powdered buttermilk? I got ahold of some and tried it last night. Yes! The dough was much wetter and gooier, so I added extra flour, and it came out fine.
Working out a way to make bread with survival rations was highly fortuitous, as I was really eager to try a recipe just sent by a friend: the grilled chocolate sandwich.
“It’s perfect,” I explained to Rich. “All the ingredients can be stored in the shed, at least until they’re opened. You take two slices of bread, drizzle them with olive oil, cover one with chocolate chips, and close up your sandwich. Then — and here’s the part you’ll love — you mix mayonnaise and brown sugar, slather it on the outside, and fry it up like a grilled cheese sandwich. They say since mayo is made from eggs, the bread is almost like French Toast. I feel I owe it to my readers to test it out. Are you in?”
“Are you seriously asking if I want to eat a fried chocolate sandwich? How long have you known me?”
As soon as I scooped it out of the frying pan, Rich tasted the sandwich — and closed his eyes in bliss. “Spectacular.” One bite and I decided that was an understatement. The lightly caramelized, sweet-salty exterior combined gorgeously with the burst of molten chocolate. At a friend's suggestion I'd added peanut butter to one half as an experiment, making the sandwich even richer. I couldn't decide which half I preferred and kept doing taste testings until all that remained were a few smears of chocolate on my fingers.
[Want to try this at home? My version of the recipe (two servings) calls for 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 4 slices Irish soda bread, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, a generous 1/4 cup chocolate chips, 1/4 cup peanut butter. All measurements are very approximate, as I measure by eye and with ingredients like these, I believe it's really the more the merrier.]
When I could speak again, I said, “I know it’s not the usual healthy stuff we eat. But this is Apocalypse Chow. The sugar will give us quick energy, and there's enough protein in the peanut butter to keep us going.”
“If zombies attack, we can distract them with these sandwiches and make our escape.”
“If zombies attack, I’d say our days — our minutes – are numbered. But hey, as a last meal, this is just about perfect.”
If you don’t happen to live in a zone prone to fires, floods, earthquakes, and/or zombies, you may (rightly) be worried about the fat, cholesterol, and sugar content of the grilled chocolate sandwich. And despite Rich’s requests, I’m not adding this to our regular meal rotation. But on days when the world seems to be spinning out of control, it’s good to know you have something in your repertoire suitable for occasions that call for eating like there’s no tomorrow.
Do you have any recipes that only require non-perishable foods? Suggestions for what to store in our emergency food locker? I'm working on my shopping list, so please share your advice in the comments below.
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7/30/2020 01:36:10 pm
You two! You never fail to give me a chuckle with your latest adventures even when the adventure takes place in your kitchen!
7/30/2020 04:12:45 pm
Thanks, Jackie, so glad you enjoyed the post. As you can imagine, Rich was more than delighted to help me out with the research for this one!
7/30/2020 04:55:50 pm
You had me on the grilled chocolate sandwich until you mentioned mayo. Gross! You also might want to try a grilled peanut butter and bacon sandwich. Delicious!
7/30/2020 05:45:47 pm
It sounded gross to me too, Lisa and Robert, but I decided to do the taste test, and was so glad I did. As for peanut butter and bacon, that sounds outrageously good. I feel sure I won't have any difficulty persuading Rich to help me research that recipe!
7/30/2020 05:44:06 pm
I really enjoyed this edition of your always entertaining blog. I have one gripe: the link to the recipe for the grilled chocolate sandwich goes to a site with a paywall, so I can only read the headline. I can probably figure out an approximation of the recipe from your vivid description, though, and I will not be deterred. This reminds me of one of the best things I’ve ever made and eaten: chocolate toast. Toast a slice of sourdough or good French bread in the oven. Brush lightly with olive oil. Grate a bunch of dark chocolate over the top and put back in the turned-off oven for a few minutes until melted. Sprinkle coarse salt over the top, and, if you like, another drizzle of olive oil. It makes life worth living.
7/30/2020 06:08:49 pm
Mary, I really appreciate the heads-up on the paywall; for some reason I was thinking you could whitelist and get through to the page. Thanks to you, I have just added my own adapted version of this recipe right into the post, so people can find it without any trouble. As for your chocolate toast: I can't wait to try it. It sounds marvelous and a bit easier than the grilled sandwich version. I totally see how this treat would be a great way to remind ourselves that life really is worth living!
7/30/2020 10:13:39 pm
Yes to all the above comments! I mean chocolate has *always* been one of the primary things that makes life worth living, and along with humor, it might well become an essential ingredient of survival in these times. (In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if a chocolate martini wouldn't be a good addition to pandemic cooking...)
8/1/2020 03:48:22 pm
I've made a note to add chocolate martini ingredients to my shopping list for the pandemic, Tobey. For medicinal purposes, of course. As for the colorful clothing, I've read that back in the 1918 pandemic, they thought the virus "didn't like the color red" so they wore a lot of it as part of their self-protection. I'm assuming that's mere superstition, but I find I'm wearing lots of bright colors these days to lift my mood, so maybe the color red does have some therapeutic benefit after all.
7/30/2020 11:25:25 pm
Your blog made me belly-laugh, and it’s been a long time since I’ve belly-laughed. A friend is putting together a bug out bag for me that includes a pup tent, fire starter, astronaut food from the 70s as well as necessities such as toilet paper and a can of Mace. All these goodies will be tucked neatly inside a Boy Scout backpack and will well equip my husband and I for the impending apocalypse. I’ll share a photo and contents list when it’s delivered.
8/1/2020 03:54:14 pm
Linda, I am delighted to hear about your belly-laugh. We all need more of those these days! Your bug-out kit is a lot more extensive than mine; maybe Rich and I need to consider adding a pup tent and Mace to ours. Although I sincerely hope none of us are going to have to sleep rough or fend off attackers, you can never tell what kind of apocalypse you're going to have, and it's best to be prepared. Please do share a photo and list of contents. I think a lot of people are trying to figure out what kind of a bug out bag makes sense in these crazy times.
7/31/2020 06:16:57 am
The book you arre reading "Where There Is No Doctor" was written by David Werner whom I worked with for a couple of months in the early sixties in Sinaloa Mexico. David unfortunately had a serious fall from grace after committing some unforgiveable misbehaviour and the organization in Palo Alto which had formed to promote his good works around the world erased his name from their rolls. Excellent book though.
8/1/2020 05:09:39 pm
Paul, someday you must tell me about working with David Werner in Mexico. I wasn't aware of his fall from grace, and from what I've just read, it was a pretty hideous scandal. Very sad. The book, however, remains a valuable resource. For decades Rich and I hauled it around on all our really rugged trips in remote regions. So far we have never actually been required to splint a broken leg or deliver a baby or cope with snakebite. But these days it seems that anything could happen anywhere, so we're glad to have this basic instruction manual in our emergency kit.
KIM DE GONZALEZ
7/31/2020 09:14:42 am
Karen, I too wanted to comment on your current read. That book was my Bible during a stint in the Peace Corps back in the 80's. In fact, I held onto it all these years until we sold our house and moved to Panama. Valencia, Spain was our second choice, and we just moved here 5 days ago! Renting an apartment with a large terrace in preparation for future quarantine(s). And we are beginning our stockpile (we actually have a shed on the terrace with a nifty grill).
8/1/2020 05:17:50 pm
It is an amazing book, isn't it, Kim? I can imagine how useful it was during your Peace Corps stint. Just knowing it's around makes you feel a bit more able to face up to any medical challenges that may arise. Sounds like you've lived in some interesting places. My brother and his wife are living in Valencia at the moment and they are loving it. Like you, they've rented a larger place with potential quarantine conditions in mind. I think we're all bracing ourselves for the next phase of the pandemic, including stockpiling supplies and figuring out what to do if the power goes out. One of the advantages of adventure travel is it does prepare you for roughing it a bit, something we all may face in the months ahead.
8/1/2020 04:06:12 am
“No” to the mayonnaise but the other ingredients sound yummy!
8/1/2020 05:24:56 pm
Faye, I was aghast at the mayo myself at first. But having some reduced fat mayonnaise on hand, I gave it a go. And all I can say is: don't knock it till you've tried it! On the other hand, grilling it in olive oil would work just fine as well. In fact, as long as there's chocolate in there somewhere, I don't think you can go wrong. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! It was great fun to write, and Rich was thrilled to have an excuse to eat something that was totally outside the realm of our usual healthy Mediterranean diet. He said the grilled chocolate sandwich is right up there with the deep fat fried Snickers bar we tried in Scotland.
8/1/2020 04:56:49 am
Love your writing! Our mutual friend, Nedra, introduced you up to me! More, please!
8/1/2020 05:27:45 pm
Hi Cindy and welcome to my readers' circle! Don't worry, there are plenty more stories where this came from. One thing about living in crazy, chaotic times is that I will never run out of stuff to write about. If you haven't already done so, be sure to sign up on my Contact page, so you'll get a notice every time one of these stories gets published. Thanks for joining the conversation.
8/2/2020 12:21:36 am
Fried Chocolate Sandwiches for brunch tomorrow! I just discovered you today and am looking forward to reading the archived posts
8/2/2020 01:21:17 am
Susan, it's great to have you in my readers' circle! Enjoy those fried chocolate sandwiches for brunch and let me know how you like them. Send photos! You can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bon appetit.
8/2/2020 08:02:09 pm
Since Harvey recently redid our emergency stuff, I asked him what he thought was most important. He said, "Underwear," because we didn't put that in. I didn't specify food but they do make edible underwear which probably lasts a long time and has 2 uses!
8/3/2020 03:30:28 pm
Kitty, how could I have overlooked the efficiency of stockpiling edible underwear?!? I just checked on Amazon and discovered they aren't selling that exactly, but they do offer a bra made out of hard candy. It looks hideously uncomfortable, but hey, we all have to make sacrifices in these uncertain times!
8/4/2020 07:24:02 am
I bought mine on Castro St many years ago as a prize for a Valentine's Off Color Coffee for women that my friend and I used give. It looked more like a plastic bag. I have seen the candy ones at Good Vibrations on Mission. I went there last November to buy a dildo for our Nica kids to use with condoms. It was purple. I guess the candy ones are more practical to eat than wear. Google "Edible Underwear."
8/3/2020 02:56:52 pm
You are such an excellent writer! You give me laughs during a time when we all need laughs. Thanks!
8/3/2020 03:33:56 pm
Ingrid, I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying a few chuckles over my blog. You are right, laughter is just what we all need right now, to keep up our spirits in these crazy times, and remind us that we're not alone.
8/4/2020 01:20:44 pm
So funny...I wander is your life is easier in Sevilla....stay safe, my best wishes in case of wildfire, flood, whaever happends....
8/8/2020 04:24:34 am
Albert, my life is easier in Seville for sure. Here everything is so crazy and the virus seems to be winning! Thanks for your good wishes, and I do hope we'll be returning to Spain in November. Of course, it all depends on the pandemic, and the US response to it. I'm taking a "wait and see" attitude.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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