Teeny, tiny tips for big bad times
By Claire Wolfe
"Hey, Mrs. Nat. How you doin'?"
She rolled her cart south down Aisle One, while I rolled north -- both of us rolling along at Pickle's Groce Mart*, Hardyville, Middle-of-Nowhere, USA. First thing I noticed was that she had the kid-seat of her cart heaped with seed packets.
"Awful big veggie garden this year," I commented.
She picked up a handful of packets and fanned them, showing triplicates of Scarlet Nantes carrots, beefsteak tomatoes and leaf lettuce. "Some for this year, some for next, some maybe to share."
"But they don't germinate as well if you save 'em until next year."
"Well, that's generally true. But I'm gonna wrap extras in tinfoil and put 'em inside a nice, dark, dry coffee can. They'll be fine. In an emergency, you know. Never can tell when an emergency might come along. We've got some non-hybrid seeds ordered, so we can save our own seed out of our garden, which you can't do with these hybrids. But it takes months to get the other, all of a sudden. And these ... well, they're here and they're cheap, just in case."
"Good thinkin', Mrs. Nat," I said. "Well, see you later."
She trundled south and I trundled north, past the fresh veggies, colorful in their bins. I gave some thought to that emergency she mentioned.
If you recall (or if you don't) this Sunday Hardyvillians celebrate For the Ones You Love Day, during which we prepare for emergencies -- anything from downed power lines to ... well, okay, that Y2K business again.
I know, I know. You're sick of hearing about it. Either you've already got your three tons of dried lentils and you're hunkered and ready, or you just plain don't believe Civilization will experience its first Regularly Scheduled Collapse. Really, though, even the most rosy optimist needs a few emergency supplies on hand, just in case.
Either way, some basic food items, chosen throughout the year at your local Groce Mart, can help. If you're well prepared, they can buy you time to adjust to your storage foods. (Believe me, you don't want to be figuring out how to concoct Freeze-Dried Mushroom and Carrot Delight in the middle of a catastrophe.) If you're not into serious preparedness, some familiar, easy foods will get you through a rough week or two -- be it Y2K or the Blizzard of Ought-ought.
These preps sound almost too simple -- and they are. But simple things often fall below our mental radar. Lately, too, some people have begun showing signs of panic. Ordinary, bite-sized tasks keep the brain productive. So...
As I passed the fresh fruits and cornered into Aisle Two. It occurred to me that produce is one of the first things to go, if supplies get cut. We don't normally eat canned fruits at our house, but some aren't bad. Best of all, they belong to an important category of emergency goods: stuff you can eat with no preparation. All you need is a can opener.
As I was pulling down pineapple and pears, here came Mrs. Nate, going north and pausing to load Brussels sprouts and peas.
"Well, hello again, Mrs.," I said. "Fancy meeting you here. But you know, I think I'd starve before I'd eat a canned Brussels sprout."
"Then don't buy 'em," she shrugged. "Even for an emergency. Just buy what you're sure you can use."
Aisle Three. North for me to the refried beans. In a short-term emergency -- power out, water off, lots of things to worry about besides what's for dinner -- prepared beans are one of the best possible things -- protein, fiber, good taste, no cooking required. All you need is a can opener. They're also cheap -- a big plus on my budget. Peanut butter will do, too, if you've got something to put it on.
South came Mrs. Nat, aiming for the soups. She grabbed the add-no-water kinds like Campbell's Chunky, Healthy Request and Home Cookin'. They're best when heated, of course. But in an emergency they don't have to be. Don't need anything but a can opener, when it comes right down to it.
Aisle Four. South to the mac and cheese. Okay, macaroni requires water and heat. Milk and butter, too. But it's the next thing up the food chain from items you just open and eat. And cheap? Four for a dollar on sale -- and that makes four small meals for two people. Can't beat it. Don't even need a can opener. Just make sure you have a stove to use if the power goes out.
Speaking of milk, here came Mrs. Nat again, navigating north and bending down for a box of the powdered kind.
"Just in case," she nodded, also spilling a hoard of Ramen noodles into her cart. These, too, fall into that wonderful category requiring nothing but heat, water and pennies. As a perspicacious stranger also observed, "The shelf life of Ramen noodles is determined primarily by the life of the shelf."
Aisle Five. As I forged northward, I grabbed our favorite luxury, pudding snack packs. And there came Mrs. Nat, sailing southward, headed for the chocolates.
"Keep you cheerful when it's cold and miserable," Mrs. said.
"Comfort foods," I added. "Man does not live by dried lentils alone."
Southward. Aisle Six. As I hovered over the granola, a voice behind me recommended, "Oatmeal. Stores about forever. And sticks to the ribs."
"Cheap, too," I agreed. "But you have to cook it."
Northward in Aisle Seven for bleach, soap and rubber gloves. Three dollars spent here could save your life. A little further down, I was busily heaping my cart with toilet paper and paper plates when Mrs. waddled up across the aisle to mull the best flavors of canned cat food for Fluffy.
"We feed our critters bagged stuff," I said, hefting a ton of dog food and thumping it onto the lower deck of the cart.
"But this is real meat. Fluff likes it. Anyway, we could even eat it ourselves, if we had to. All we'd need is a can opener."
"You done?" I asked, eyeing her full cart and the end wall of the Groce Mart.
"Not quite. I've got to hit the drug store, still. Get cold medicines, aspirin and the like. But I have a feeling there's something I forgot here."
"Me, too. I've still got to go to the water machine over there and fill up some empty milk cartons. But that's not it. Something else."
We couldn't think of it, though. So I went to stand in line while Mrs. Nat went back for another pass. Pretty good, I thought. Quick, convenient, cheap, edible meals to get you though a couple of weeks of rough times. And you can do it all during regular shops, and on your regular budget. If only I could think of the Very Important Thing I was forgetting. ...
Just then, Mrs. rounded the end of Aisle Six, waving a silvery object over her head. "An extra can opener!" she called. "Just in case!"
Oh yeah. That.
*Formerly Pickle's Grocery Mart. But the "ry" fell off the sign in '73.
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