In which Fefe Noir and caribougrrl are reminded what winter on an island in the North Atlantic Ocean can be like. Plus, instructions for making corn tortillas whether the power is on or not.
|Even the boats outside our kitchen window were feeling the cold during the polar vortex.|
*well, one city anyway... er, with a bit more than 100,000 people - twice that if you count the sprawling suburban/ superural area around the city
The Deep Freeze
Winter happens every year, it's no surprise. Contrary to popular belief, a vast expanse of Canada gets much harsher winters than Newfoundland does. Sure, the Labrador current is like a refrigerator for the island, but we're still surrounded by water, so we aren't used to the extreme cold of a continental winter.
But, hoo boy, did we get cold. Laugh if you will (I probably would before I was acclimatized), but we were well below freezing for days (double digits Celsius below freezing! during the day!)... with wind chill temps that made you look around for Dementors, just in case. Unfairly, we also got snow. (We labour under the illusion here that it can either be bitterly cold or it can snow, but not both.) Massive amounts of snow fell over several days...10 cm here, 35 cm there... and it added up. and it piled up. We shoveled ourselves into fatigue.
|The snow was pushed up level with the eight-foot|
retaining wall that runs along the side of our property.
So we hunkered down and stayed inside. Perhaps we let our cupboards deplete in an attempt to add more insulation to our frames and, let's face it, to avoid the cold 14-second walk between the house and the car. Besides, we were still leftover-turkey-complacent and steamed-pudding-sluggish.
Our thermostats fought against the deep freeze. 'Twas the season that many were home rather than at work or school, so our thermostats didn't get a break during the day. Feeling like we could never get warm, we might have even turned up the heat because you can only put on so many layers of wool socks before you can't actually walk.
Along with the snow and the cold, it was windy, making both seem worse. It's no surprise though, Newfoundland is a windy place: gusts in the 60-100 km/hr range are not all that unusual. The thing is, our connection to the rest of the world relies heavily on our ferry system. Stormy weather leaves those ferries tied up at the docks instead of making the crossing. Which leaves produce sitting in trucks, going nowhere and feeding no one, as it continues to approach it's sell-by date. Then when it does get here, blowing snow slows traffic to a crawl, causes accidents, closes highways, and generally creates further delay.
The province only produces a fraction of the vegetables and fruit we consume. In the mid-late summer and through the fall, getting a variety of local produce from the garden, from farm markets and from roadside stalls is fairly easy with little effort. By late December, the garden has long stopped producing and the markets are shut down until the new season. We are more reliant than any other time of year on supplies from the mainland, at precisely the time when transit is most unpredictable.
The more disruptions to the ferry schedule, the emptier our shelves and refrigerators got. Normally common items became rare. Coming up to New Year's Eve, it took stopping at 5 stores in 3 different towns before finding a bunch of green onions.
All that snow we were shoveling in the frigid air was blowing back in our faces anyway. More motivation to retreat to our houses, turn our electric fire places on and watch a marathon of Glee.
The Power Outage
The lights went out. The lights, the heat, the stove, the hot water.
The refrigerator and freezer cases in the shops.
|Toasting orange-almond flavoured marshmallows over|
an open candle fire was a good replacement for screen-time.
The entire 110,000 km2 island. Because of a transformer fire. Okay, a big important transformer by the sounds of it, but still, what a way to find out we're wired up in series instead of parallel.
But the power companies and the Powers That Be reassured us.
Not to worry, the light and power b'ys were hard at it (and they really were, I'm not being saucy) and additional help was on its way. From the mainland. They could get here in two days. As long as the weather cooperated...
Not to worry, this was all perfectly normal: if you stress the system, things go wrong. Electrical doohickey bits and pieces trip to prevent problems. Large bangs and blue-green flashes and fires are just part of doing business.
Not to worry, some minor overcapacity issues. The only thing that's wrong here is that we're on an island. By 2017, we'll be all geared up to tap into the continental power grid if we need some extra juice once in a while.
Nothing to see. Move along.
In the meantime, in the cold and dark, we began to regret staying at home eating our way through our pantries...
|Why (a) you shouldn't throw out the burnt batch of pork|
buns and (b) maybe you shouldn't bother putting away
your barbecue for the winter: you may need to produce a
feast during a power outage.
I made the mistake of going into a grocery store the day the power came back on. I was over-tired, not because of hardship, but because of an early morning trip to the airport of deliver house guests into Air Travel in the Canadian Winter, which would subsequently turn their 3 hour flight into a 36 hours adventure of delays, cancellations, re-bookings, more delays and misdirected luggage. But I digress...
The supermarket was complete and absolute madness. The battery displays were stripped bare, bottled water shelves were practically empty... nary a candle, flashlight, propane cylinder, or Sterno can to be had.
I got swept up in all the panic. I know full well that it's obscene to buy canned salmon when you live in a place that produces fresh salmon year round. Yet there I was, standing in line with 2 cans of baked beans, a tin of salmon and what might, for all I knew, be the last bag of masa harina on the island. It was certainly the last bag on the shelves of one of the largest grocery stores and although I walked by it initially, I practically ran back when I started to worry that might be my last chance ever to buy masa harina. (Ridiculous, I admit, but the atmosphere was heavy with foreboding, it's amazing I didn't buy every olive in the store, just in case...)
Besides, tortillas are cooked on dry cast iron, which means they can be done with a skillet and a single-burner camp stove. And the dough doesn't require precise measurement, as long as you know what it should feel like. You can make them in the dark, more or less. Perfect bread for a power outage. And 2017 is still a few years away.
|Lettuce could not be got for love nor money...|
Or is this just the state of Newfoundland in the winter? Do I forget year to year as a defense mechanism against fear and dread?
Not to worry, there's always root vegetables. Guaranteed Fefe Noir can find some devious way to serve turnip up in a tortilla.
How to Make Corn Tortillas
for 8 small or 6 medium tortillas:
1 c. masa harina
a good pinch of salt
3/4 c. water
In a mixing bowl, combine masa harina and salt. Add water in mix with a fork or your fingers until thoroughly combined. The dough will form large clumps and crumbles but will stick together easily with a bit of pressure. If it doesn't stick easily, add water, a bit at a time until it does. If it feels like it's actually wet, add masa harina a bit at a time until it feels like fresh playdough. Knead lightly a few times in the bowl until it forms a ball.
|Don't worry if some of the balls of dough are smaller or|
larger than the others. Unless you are obsessive that way.
If you have a tortilla press, get it out. Put your cast iron skillet, dry, on med-high heat. Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap big enough to lay over the top and bottom parts of the press. (In my ideological fight against plastic wrap, I have tried waxed paper, parchment paper, and used plastic bags, but have had to admit that plastic wrap works best here. I am, however, open to suggestions for things I haven't tried yet.) Place a ball of dough on the press, just above center (toward the hinge). Lower the top, press with the lever and, voila, beautiful round tortilla.
If you don't have a tortilla press, you can roll these out with a rolling pin, but you should consider buying a press. It might be the best $15 I ever spent.
Place the tortilla on your hot skillet cooking for about 1 minute on each side. Adjust the heat as needed to cook through in the two minutes, but not so high as to burn it. You have time to press the next tortilla while this one cooks.
|Cover cooked tortillas with a cloth to slow the escape of|
steam and soften the tortillas.
If you won't be using them right away, allow them to cool completely, then wrap and store in an airtight container at room temp (if you are using in the next couple days) or in the freezer (thaw before use). To soften them up, you can reheat on a hot dry cast iron skillet, one at a time, or you can wrap the whole stack in aluminium foil and heat in a 350 F oven for about 10 minutes.