The Gourmet Food Experiment

Last week I had the occasion to prepare an elaborate dinner for over 30 women. That doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface; after all, I’ve created dinner for several wedding receptions, Christmas parties, and I actually love the occasion to spoil folks with yummy food. But this event was indeed different as I didn’t have all day to prepare, I was already exhausted from a previous day of 16 hours of non-stop filming and a day that already had more activity than I typically have to do in one week. All of the dishes had to be made without the luxury of refrigeration or electricity on demand, be worthy of the label of “gourmet”, and oh, yeah…the dishes had to be “camera ready” and tasty so that the cameras didn’t catch anyone spitting it out in disgust.

I have to say that I learned an awful lot about some of the ways that I need to step up my efforts at self-reliance and frankly, I think that that out of all of the Principles of Preparedness, the food category was my least vulnerable. Guess I had another think coming.

OK. I’m going to tell you a little secret. My husband and I are actually planning on helping more than just the two of us and 3 dogs and a cat. Perhaps it wasn’t a secret to you, per se, but it isn’t exactly well known that if you were to count just our closest relatives with their kids, we’d be looking at over 30 people easily.  Once Scott and I were able to get our own needs met, we proceeded to set a goal to prepare for family members who may lose their own supplies as a result of a natural disaster which might destroy their provisions or who might be displaced because of a crisis.  (We trust that such family members are doing the same for us as well if needed.) Having enough to feed that many people for a year is one thing, but having all of the other components down pat that must accompany that goal is definitely a whole ‘nother set of skills.

Tricks about Food

1: Not all recipes double and triple well.  If you’re planning on feeding the troops someday, then it’s best that you actually practice doing so before you plan on betting your life on it.  It only takes one botched recipe that calls for 8 cups of grated cheese to go bad to make you sick to your stomach and want to cry—cameras or not. Practice the recipes you plan on using. If a time arrives in which you’ve got that many people relying on you for 2 or 3 meals a day, the last thing you need is additional stress because your not completely familiar with the large party version of the recipe.

2: Big groups of people require big pots, pans, serving dishes, etc. I’ve actually done fairly well in this area over the years because I used to entertain people frequently at my home.  But I still have some vulnerabilities—especially in light of the wise saying that “three is two; two is one; and one is none.”  Only one large stock pot is just not going to cut it.  This is yet another situation in which practice will expose your vulnerabilities.  I’ve had another solar oven on my list of wants, but I can see that I’m also going to need more butane to bring such large pots up to the necessary heat too. Granted , I don’t anticipate making 12 different dishes in record time ever again, but the lesson was not lost on me.

3. The majority of the possible “doomsday” scenarios would actually require us to stay put for quite a while. If I’m staying put under such circumstances, then I better figure out how to get along with a whole lot of women in my small kitchen. I was fortunate last week to have two angels that helped me immensely: I would not have been able to get it all together had they not been there. However, since it was so stressful for much of the time and my kitchen is so small, I felt a great deal of anxiety surging within me.  I turned around to evaluate where we were on our progress and I noticed that these two angels were also working feverishly to put out dishes that would make me look good to the cameras and the guests, and yet the stress of the situation was enough to cause me to bust a gasket. As I watched them hustle and bustle and bump into each other, I realized that it’s quite possible that if I find myself in this same scenario due to a financial collapse, EMP, earthquake in which my home is spared, etc., there would be even more women in the kitchen as we’re trying to get three meals a day out to dozens and dozens of people.  I better learn how to keep it under control and organized or I just may be the reason why some folks would rather starve than have to work with me in the kitchen. *grin*

Food can go quickly

4. It’s no secret. I’ve got a lot of stuff and I’ve calculated, monitored, and inventoried it all on some level. But even I was surprised at how quickly a #10 can of produce can be used up with just one meal for dozens of people.  Under such circumstances, I don’t think that I’ll have the luxury of creating a French Country Asparagus dish which focuses primarily on the freeze-dried asparagus. Rather I will have to come up with more casseroles, pasta dishes, soups and stews in order to extend the food to as many people for as long of a time as possible.

5. In a crisis scenario, it’s easier to set up portion controls prior to the food dishes being set out in front of everyone than after it’s got them drooling.  In spite of my best efforts to give everyone plenty, we did run out of a couple of items. Having a smaller serving spoon will help keep the portions to reasonable sizes; and in such a scenario I’ll be certain to establish a “make sure everyone has eaten before you go back for seconds” kind of house rule.

6. The thought of cleaning everything up after the dinner was nearly enough to make me cry. Fortunately it never came to that. Before I could say “thank you for coming” there were a dozen women who just jumped in and went to work cleaning up. No excuses such as “I don’t know where everything goes” or “I don’t want to risk breaking your good china”. They just jumped in and cleaned up. There was never a whine or complaint. And in fact, the only “harsh” word I heard was when I was being told to sit my fanny down on the couch and let them clean up.  OK. Yes, I was grateful to be sitting down for a moment, especially when I was informed there was still more filming to do.  But as I sat back and watched these women work together to accomplish such a large task for one person, the mess just seemed to float away.  This is critical in any plans that we have to help others in tough times. Yes, we can feed and clothe them, but we must prepare and plan to require them to contribute to the best of their ability by providing the “man power” efforts necessary to make everything work well. It will make the world of difference.

7. The ability to communicate clearly is critical when living through a trying time such as an earthquake recovery.  Sometimes that communication gets muddled because of the stress that’s involved in the situation. But unless you want to have to redo something over and over again, or unless you want it done poorly—in direct response to the quality of your communication—then you need to learn to breathe, calm down, and move forward with a clear and concise plan. (I keep saying YOU and YOUR in this article, but obviously I’m really saying KELLENE. I have no idea if any of you need to hear this same advice as I certainly do). This is where the mental preparedness combined with the communication preparedness comes in.  This is also what qualifies a person as a good leader.  If you can’t clearly communicate the end results and the jobs that need to be done to get to those results, then you’ll have a whole lot of contention and mess on your hands.

8. Mistakes will happen and your ability to modify them and make things work in spite of them will make all the difference in the world as to how you and everyone else comes out of the experience. For example, I was using a new lemon custard recipe. One of my angels stayed home during the self-defense course to whip that together. Unfortunately, though, she wasn’t familiar with what the texture of the dessert should be, and as such it was cooked a bit long, which compromised the texture and flavor of it.  So I went to my little corner, thought about it for a little bit, and then came up with a solution. I went to my cupboard and pulled some of Shirley J’s Universal Dessert Crème.  Instead of making it with water, I used lemon juice to give it a sweet pucker and a beautiful, creamy look—kind of like the filling in cream filled donuts. It was great in taste and aesthetics. I poured it over the top of the subtle lemon custard pie and then took a couple of cups of freeze-dried blueberries, some water and sugar and made a glaze out of it. (A little less thick than a pie filling). I topped the dessert with the blueberry glaze. When all was done, a dessert that would have been ho-hum at best, ended up getting all kinds of raves with its three symphonic layers. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.  :-)

9. Keeping in mind that conserving your own physical energy is vital, I do plan to have enough back-up power so that I can operate those kitchen tools which will make my life so much easier in preparing food for an army, so to speak.  On the day of the filming I used the Humless Sentinel model generator (Mention TalkRadio and get FREE shipping) to operate the food processor, the Le’Quip blender, and even tried it out on my Bosch mixer and my wheat grinder. The unit is portable and just sat on my kitchen counter as we plugged in various electric tools to speed things up in the cooking. (While I didn’t have to prepare the whole meal with this reality of a rehearsal, we were at least able to demonstrate that it could be done with alternative power if necessary.  We also have back up solar power available as well. It’s quiet and fool proof to use.  As you’re making your regular meals, ask yourself, how will I be able to perform “this” process in cooking a meal without electricity?  If it would require a lot of physical energy, then you’re better off considering a silent power source.

In closing, if there is any message that I would love to convey to everyone on the one component that I feel I already have a solid grasp of—it’s this. Just because you’re using “shelf-stable” food doesn’t mean it can’t taste great and look great!  I created 12 dishes for this dinner party and I wanted each of them to look good. (In hindsight I wish I had come up with some different colors for a wide variety of dishes, so that each one of them stood on their own strength.)  Not all of them were blue ribbon winners due to different tastes (I discovered that no matter what, I really just don’t like canned salmon), but not a one of these dishes would be something that a person would typically associate with “food storage”—not even the whole wheat breadsticks that I dipped in butter and sprinkled with Salad Seasoning. So my suggestion is that you work backwards in order to meet your goals in this manner. As your cooking a popular meal in your household, reverse engineer it so that you can determine what you need to do now to have the ingredients and tools to make it for your family. A familiar meal goes a long way in establishing peace.


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Comments

I had some advantages when I started prepping. I spent 7 years in food service doing catering, a lot of which was off site. If you forgot something you had to adapt and make do with what you had on hand. Even though it's been 20 + years I still think cost per portion. To me a it's not a 50# bag of rice it's 500 servings of rice. The Army also reinforced the idea of making do with what you brought to the field exercise, so "Backward planning" was a must. Both of those jobs made me a fiend about sanitation. Kinda hard to get repeat business if you poison your customers or get work done in the Army if half your guys are down with some bug.
As far as adding to communication I've been picking up those little white writer boards and to do/chore posters. I like having things planned ahead and seeing them in writing makes them more real to me.

Awesome post Kellene....Most of these points are things that I have considered in the past! I, too, plan on feeding many. I doubt I will be able to aspire to the "gourmet" category as I've never really been interested in more than "good old home cooked meals." I've stocked up on large pots for soups and stews and feel relatively comfortable with my preparation. The part that does concern me is one that you touched on as well....I realize that people will be MESSING WITH MY STUFF! Especially in a prolonged situation this is something I've had to get myself mentally prepared for...MESSING with my stuff...possibly BREAKING my stuff....MISPLACING my stuff...etc. I tend to like to be in control of my little castle. Thanks for reminding me about something I need to still spend some time working on. Any suggestions on how to do that? I mean...until you have a bunch of people for a prolonged period poking around and getting in your way, etc. How do you prepare for something like this?

In my opinion, a pot roast with a scrumptious gravy, vegetables that aren't soggy, and plenty of it is "gourmet" in my world--especially since that's my hubby's favorite dish.

I'm still finding things elsewhere, but you really can't complain because normally I'd have to pay a housekeeper $70 an hour to have her put things where they don't belong. Even after 12 years of marriage my hubby puts things where they don't belong. Instead, stuff was put where it doesn't belong by absolutely angels! So every time I have to look for something I get to ask myself "Now where would those wonderful friends of mine have put that?" It makes the day better.

I think when the time comes, our "stuff" won't mean as much to us as our OCD personalities may think of them now. On the other hand, the items which make our chores easier, I believe will be just as valued by others as they are by us. Additionally, it all goes back to communication. If I communicate very clearly, then things go very well. When I'm stressed and moments away from tears, I'm not a good communicator nor a good comrade in the kitchen. Have some dinner parties. Let folks help you as practice for yourself. Also, keep in mind that just because you've got lots of people to feed, doesn't mean all of them GET the access to the kitchen and the kitchen tools. If it's your castle, then you get to decide based on the strengths of those you've surrounded yourself with.

To remedy misplacing your stuff, I'd try putting labels on the shelves marking what things should go there. I've used a small battery powered label maker, with clear plastic backing, when I keep forgetting where things go in the kitchen.

great insights, thanks for taking the time to give this to us. Will you be writing up something with your recipes you used, would love to have that too!

Yes, but those will go in the recipe book that's also under contract and should be out in December. (What kind of a crazy person commits to three books in one year?)

Great advice, Kellene. I'm really looking forward to your cookbook. Will we be able to order autographed copies?

Great post, I've had a little practice cooking for large groups, about thirty is the most. I find it amazing how quickly a large group like that can go through pots of food in a hurry, let alone ones doing physical work. I used to cook for the fire department after a big fire. Big pots of stew, or spagehttie, or breakfast, but always something sweet.

I'm also looking forward to the cookbook.

Glad your doing a cookbook. Will it be out in time for Christmas? Would make a great present.

I live in an area with many Hutterite Colonies. My husband is the teacher at one that has approximately 80 people in it. They eat their meals together three times a day, every day except Sunday. The food is prepared by a small "crew" of women who take one-week shifts at a time...it is a very labor-intensive, exhaustive job! The ladies are willing to share their recipes, but I always laugh when they give me one because the ingredients listed are of such huge quantities! I've never actually made any of them! Recently, I found a copy of one of their cookbooks at my local thrift store. I didn't bring it home because of the "oversized recipes"...but, maybe I should go back and get it; to have in case of one of the situations you mentioned! Thank you for the good advice!
Also, I have been doing a lot of meal preparation with my pressure cookers, since you helped me realize how much fuel, energy, and time can be saved using them! Will you be including some pressure cooker recipes in your new book? I'm excited for it to be released!

Dang, if I can get a cookbook that makes large quantities, that would be fun!
Yup, there will be lots of pressure cooked meals. That's the only way to do Risotto if you ask me. :-)

Thinking about investing in that Humless Sentinel now that I know how you used it. Thanks again for all you do.

Just remember "talk radio" so that you can get a huge discount by not having to pay for the shipping. I love, love, love this piece. You can charge it a myriad of different ways.

Kellene,

Great article and insights. Having been blessed to be there I can attest that the food was scrumptious. I can't wait to see the Doomsday Prepper episode on television. It will be interesting to see what footage they choose to use.

Gourmet cooking may not be for everyone during a time of crisis but I would be thrilled to be there with you as you pull off more YUMMY meals from shelf-stable foods! Count me in as Sous Chef de Cuisine :)

Kellene, I actually felt tears come to my eyes when you said that in a crisis situation everyone needed to pitch in. The reason is because I have been preaching to my sister's family (my 15 year old nephew is the only one who listens because he's a scout) now for several years to PLEASE prepare for the upcoming collapse. She refuses to prepare in any way. They have a huge insulated outbuilding and enclosed pool but not one storage rack to use as a pantry. She stays home every day "for her family" but doesn't accomplish anything. No garden, no stocking up, no commodities for use as money later on, no home-cooked meals (only cooks processed foods) even though she can cook. They live in the country with 50 acres and her husband and son both work the farm (they have cattle). They even have to borrow a generator from his father for power outages because they won't buy their own. Neither one of them are prepared for anything even temporary. But they plan on coming to my house if it gets too bad (nice, huh?). I live alone, am 63, and have been a farm wife and survivalist and homesteader. I am always prepared and continue to do so. I have been wondering, too, just how they are supposed to "contribute" anything for the cause. (sorry for feeling resentful about the thought of caring for these thoughtless relatives). Thanks for letting me blow off steam.

Thanks for the information last night. Tell us more about the cheese Please.

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