Power Outages and Freezer Safety

If you suffer a power outage, keep your freezer closed!   Little or no thawing should occur within the first twelve to twenty hours.

If you know a storm’s heading your direction, fill empty milk jugs with water and freeze them solid before the power goes out.  A full freezer will stay frozen longer than a partially empty one.

A simple way to know if things have thawed and perhaps refrozen during a power outage is to put a bowl of ice cubes into the freezer prior to a problem.  If the ice cubes have melted and become just a bowl of water (or refrozen into a bowl of ice), you’ll know that the contents of your freezer have experienced the same thing.  Your frozen goods would no longer be safe to eat in that case.

It’s actually a good idea to keep a bowl of ice cubes in your freezer at all times in case the freezer comes unplugged or if the power goes out at some point when you’re not home or on vacation.  I keep my ice cube “indicator bowl” inside a freezer bag so the ice doesn’t dry out and evaporate.

If your freezer is full of food and the power will be out longer than one day, you have two options.  You can either move the contests of your freezer to a rental frozen food locker, or you can purchase dry ice for your freezer.

If you use dry ice, lay cardboard over the packages in your freezer and place dry ice onto the cardboard.  Never place dry ice directly onto your packages of food, and always wear heavy safety gloves when handling dry ice.  A 50-pound block of dry ice should keep your food frozen for two to three days.

Stay safe!

~Debi (author of Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month)

 You can order your copy of Frozen Assets right now from Amazon.com by clicking here. (Currently discounted!)


Musing on Vacuums

file000428351951The first electric vacuum cleaner was simply a pillowcase attached to an electric blower. It wasn’t developed to simplify the life of the housewife, but to ease the dust allergy of a hotel janitor.

I can’t even begin to imagine how badly beating dusty carpets over the back fence would’ve aggravated asthma and allergies. With all our family’s allergies, I feel lucky to live now during the days of efficient units of the best vacuum for pet hair and air filters.

I remember helping Grandma beat the throw rugs outside on sunny days, but my main carpet cleaning memories involved the monstrous vacuum my grandmother had hiding in her hall closet. It was so noisy, it scared me. It was almost as scary as the haunted freezer in the basement. On a side note, if you’re getting the idea I was an anxious child, you’re probably not far off the mark. While I don’t think appliances caused my childhood anxieties about monsters, they certainly didn’t help ease those concerns with all their loud noises.

I’ve gotten over my fears of appliances, but even as an adult, I tend to have a love/hate relationship with my vacuum. It seems like the vacuum cleaners in my life have had a tendency to pick up what they shouldn’t. Pennies, buttons, needles, long strings. Inevitably the motor burns out (with a horrible smell) due to something solid being sucked into the housing that shouldn’t, or the roller stops spinning due to hair and yarn coiled endlessly around it. There’s nothing quite so lovely as the fresh smell of friction-burnt human hair mixed with the scent of burning rubber as the belt once again wears out.

Somewhere along the line, I guess someone forgot tell me that the roller needs to be cleared of long hair and strings regularly. Or I forgot to read the instructions. Either way, I’ve burned out more than my share of vacuum cleaners over the years.

Recently, I was given a brand new vacuum without bags, a stronger dust filter, and an easier turning capacity (which is nice but not something that ever really bothered me about the older models). It also works great as a vacuum for the car. And since its light weight I can carry it outside with ease. Its best feature is that it has non-stop suction that doesn’t quit even when the dustbin is full.

So far, so good. It’s been six months. And I haven’t killed it yet.


Musing on Kitchen Stoves

file8021294449903From prehistoric times until the advent of the cook stove, family cooking was done around the fire or the hearth. Most meals consisted of something like meat that could be roasted over a spit, or simple porridges and stews that could be cooked all day in a single pot over an open fire. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s stove for heating, which eventually morphed into a means of heating water and then entire meals, the age of the kitchen appliance had begun.

When wood burning kitchen stoves were first introduced, the idea was nearly universally rejected by women. People who had been raised around the family hearth in the main living area — keeping warm, telling stories, reading books — couldn’t imagine raising a family around a stove in the kitchen. The original wood-burning iron stoves were collapsible, allowing pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail to store their stove flat in their covered wagons, and then to set up their kitchens before they even had a house to call home. Armies during the Civil War used small versions to cook in their encampments.

My Great-grandmother Taylor never did switch to an electric stove or oven. Even into the early 1970’s, she was still cooking family holiday meals on her giant wood-burning iron stove that had traveled with the family from their homestead in Anacortes, through several moves to finally end up in Kirkland.

Grandma Taylor’s adult children frequently offered to replace her wood-burning antique with a new, modern appliance, but Grandma Taylor would have none of that new-fangled mumbo-jumbo in her kitchen. I have vivid memories of her standing over the stove in her house dress and apron, shoving wood into the opening of the stove, and sweating profusely. And she loved every minute of it. It was how she took care of her family.

557757_10150830759832386_932313432_n (2)I remember my first stove. It was made of turquoise colored cardboard and plastic. I was four-years-old and one of my other grandmothers had decided it was time I learned to be a “lady,” so she gave me a play kitchen set for Christmas that year. Becoming a young woman in the early 1960’s was evidently equal in my grandmother’s mind to playing with the trappings of modern American kitchens.

I was the envy of all my friends with my new child-sized kitchen.

But what did I personally think of this modern marvel of play equipment? I hated it. I wanted to use the real thing. I wanted to cook on the real stove, make a real cake in the real oven, or broil a real steak under a real broiler.

I remember my grandmother being worried that I wasn’t going to grow into a real “lady” when I didn’t play with the cardboard kitchen. I often wonder now why she never noticed me at her elbow faithfully stirring the batter for the birthday cupcakes, or setting the timer for the casserole in the oven?

Musing on Freezers

vintage ice box MGD©I can remember standing in my great-grandmother’s kitchen and looking into her ice box. Yes, she had an old-fashioned ice box, complete with regular deliveries from the iceman. The Iceman continued to “cometh” into many homes well into the 1960’s when electric refrigerators and freezers finally made the ice box and its daily deliveryman obsolete.

My great-grandmother’s ice box was a beautiful piece of furniture. It was lined with metal throughout the inside of its thick walls. The main thing I remember coming out of the icebox was the glass milk bottle, complete with little cardboard cover over its opening. My great-grandfather used to take swigs directly from the milk bottle when his wife was out of the room, winking at me to show he trusted me to keep his “secret” from my great-grandma.

At my other grandparents’ house, they had a large deep freeze in the dark recesses of the back of their basement. The kitchen refrigerator only had a tiny freezer compartment, just large enough for holding two metal trays of ice cubes. Anything else to be kept frozen was kept in the deep freeze.

Certain that the dark basement with its gigantic noisy freezer was haunted, I was always terrified to be sent to the deep freeze to retrieve the box of ice cream. Even though being sent to get the treat meant I could have my choice of flavors, it was still my least favorite duty when visiting Grandma. I don’t think anyone in the family ever fully understood I was truly terrified of the basement. Especially of the freezer.

Oh, the imagination of childhood. It isn’t all rainbows and fairies. Sometimes it consists of haunted freezers and demons hiding in dark corners. I was so excited when Grandma finally bought a new refrigerator for the kitchen that had enough space to store the ice cream. No more trips alone down the steep stairway into the belly of the house’s basement. This was one time when the siren call of new-and-better Consumer Culture was a good thing, at least to my tiny childhood self.

Back at my house, my parents were young and somewhat “hip” and usually the first on our street to get the latest and greatest appliances. For example, we were the first house on the block to have color television. We were also the first to have a full-size refrigerator/freezer.

My clearest memory of our freezer was my mom making frozen treats from orange juice or lemonade. Whenever the neighborhood kids and I heard the tell-tale music of the ice cream truck, I was told by my mom that it was the signal for me to come in the house and get one of Mom’s homemade popsicles. At the time, I didn’t realize it was my mom’s way of saving money. It was much cheaper to make frozen treats with juice than to purchase the individual ice pops each day from the ice cream truck. My friends were jealous. Mom’s juice pops were better than any blue or purple freezer-burned offering from the truck. It wasn’t long before my mom had a line of children at the backdoor asking if they could give her their ice cream money for a juice popsicle. She let them keep their change and gave out popsicles freely.

My mom’s nickname in the neighborhood became The Popsicle Lady.  I miss the Popsicle Lady.


What Foods Don’t Freeze Well

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Frozen Assets bookOne of the most common questions I hear from people who are interested in freezer-meal cooking is: “How do I know what will freeze well, and what won’t?”

If you’re unsure of how well something will freeze, then freeze a single serving when you prepare the dish for a regular family meal. This way you can check on how well the item holds up to freezing and reheating. The following lists should give you a good start at identifying potential freezing problems with various food items.

Don’t Freeze Well:

  • Greasy foods (they just become greasier)
  • Cake icings made with egg whites
  • Cream fillings and soft frostings
  • Pies made with custard or cream fillings
  • Fried foods (they tend to lose their crispness and become soggy)
  • Fruit jelly on sandwiches may soak into the bread
  • Soft cheese, such as cream cheese (can become watery)
  • Mayonnaise (it separates; use salad dressing instead)
  • Sour cream (it becomes thin and watery)
  • Potatoes cooked in soups and stews (they become mushy and may darken. If using potatoes, cook until barely soft and still firm; then freeze quickly.)

Change During Freezing:

  • Gravies and other fat-based sauces may separate and need to be recombined by stirring or processing in the blender

  • Thickened sauces may need thinning after freezing; thin with broth or milk

  • Seasonings such as onions, herbs and flavorings used in recipes can change during freezing. These are best added during reheating to obtain accurate flavors

  • Vegetables, pastas and grains used in cooked recipes usually are softer after freezing and reheating (Undercook before freezing, or add when dish is reheated)

  • Heavy cream can be frozen if used for cooking, but will not whip

  • Some yogurts may suffer texture changes
  • Raw vegetables lose their crispness, but can be used for cooking, stews, etc.
  • Many cheeses change texture in the freezer. Most hard cheeses turn crumbly (which makes them okay for grating, but not for slicing)

This list was adapted with permission from the bestselling Frozen Assets:  Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month.