Friday, November 14, 2008

Winter is coming...

After such a warm summer it’s almost hard to believe that winter will soon be here. Living in Nebraska I know that even early fall is never too early to prepare for the first snow or cold days. This is a good time to get out your check list and make sure you are ready in case of emergencies or accidents.

1) House: weather-stripping and/or storm glass for windows. Weather-strip your doors. Every year do the candle test for drafts so they are all plugged or fixed. If you have wood floors throughout, this is a good time to get the winter rugs down to help hold in the floor heat. Make sure all emergency supplies, radio, and winter food pantry is stocked, have batteries, and all in good working order. That includes replacing everything in the first aid kit in both you house and vehicles that you used from them in the last years. Cut and stack wood for any wood burning appliances (check all smoke alarms). Replace spring/summer wardrobe with fall/winter wardrobe in clothes. Remake beds with winter blankets and sheets. Bring out throw blankets and extra pillows you may need. Check cots or inflatable beds for leaks or broken pieces. Find all extra linens and towels. Go through coat closets to check coats for any needs (replacements, repair, washing, throwing away) and restock with winter coats and accessories. Check hot water tank for winter readiness.

2) Outside the House: Check leaf and snow blowers and give them maintenance checks. Check garage and clean to make room for bikes, sleds, boat, both cars…..etc. Drain hoses and roll them away to be stored. Do final maintenance on lawn mower after last lawn trim. Finish yard maintenance (fertilize, draining small ponds, ..etc) to ready your yard for winter (lawn, trees, shrubs, and flowers).

3) Vehicles: Emergency kit with flashlight that doesn’t need battery or flashlight with extra batteries. Protein and energy bars, bottled water, radio, thermal/solar or regular blankets, extra socks, boots, candle, tin can, waterproof matches, car tools, small shovel, ..etc. Your kit should contain as much or as little as your driving commutes or driving conditions in your state recommends. (more for northern states much less for southern states). It also depends on how much extra room you have in your car for your kit. Always pack a bright orange flag or big bright rag so your car can be spotted from sky or if the car is partially buried. Have a sharpie marker and cardboard to write on too if possible. Use your head folks but I’d prefer to be over prepared then under myself. Never allow your tank to get less than ¼-1/2 a tank a gas (depending again on your driving circumstances). Keep all fluids and oils full and well maintained. Keep maintenance schedule appointments. Check tires for correct thread depth before winter sets in. Have correct tires on car for winter months.

4) Family: Begin dressing in warm layers. Always have gloves, hat, and scarf in the car if you are not going to be wearing them. It’s always a good idea to have an extra coat in the car just in case. Check weather report before dressing for day. Keep an extra pair of boots in car. Know the directions to where you are going before you leave the house. Check road conditions is you are going a far distance or if there is a storm forecasted. If you have kids “practice drive” with them when road conditions are poor to make sure they are comfortable driving and can “handle” the vehicle on bad roads. Take a cell phone with you and with each of you family members who have to leave during storms or bad roads with plans on keeping in touch every ½-1 hours depending on your schedules. Or have someone monitoring a home phone for “I’m ok” calls on storm days/nights when more than one family member must be out of the house/on the road. If you are going to be home late, just call and let them know…don’t try and make up for lost time on bad roads. Remember that a shortcut that was fine in the summer could be a mess in the winter months and will only get you stuck, not home any faster. Stick to well traveled, well maintained, roads if at all possible for your trips. Never pull to the side of the highway or road unless you have no other choice and it constitutes a real emergency. Always try to wait until you can find a gas station, parking lot, or another well maintained road to turn off onto to safely park, and then stop.

I’m sure there are things I have left out but these are some of the most basic things you should be thinking about as fall is beginning to turn into winter so you can be ready when the first snow or ice storm hits.

No one cook...

Once the fall chill creeps in, it's hard to resist turning on the oven to bake or roast something on weeknights. After all, don't we sing the praises of comfort food these days? But in some coastal areas (i.e. Florida or Southern California), the heat can hang on until the "official" start of fall (late September) and then some.

So, it's important to have a few no-cook fall recipes at the ready. Some of my favorites include:

Gazpacho: Otherwise known as "cold tomato soup," this ordinarily summer favorite can be an ideal fall dish. Since autumn is a time when most garden harvests are in full swing, you can throw this together quickly with tomatoes and cucumbers right out of the backyard. Peel and dice them, add some vegetable cocktail juice (you know, the brand with a letter and a number in its name), a little minced garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil. If you like some zing, shake in some bottled hot pepper sauce. Pair with your favorite dinner bread, and you have yourself a meal.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches: Okay, maybe this is cheating, because it does call for you to cook an ingredient at one point; obviously, pork isn't safe (or desirable) any other way. But if you have leftover roast pork from a previous night, serve it cold on kaiser rolls with a cole slaw piled between the layers. They key to success for this one is making sure the pork is sufficiently pulled; if it wasn't pulled at the time of cooking, go ahead and shred with a fork and knife right there in the storage container. You can also stir in some BBQ sauce - chipotle is super-popular right now - to elevate the texture and taste of the cold pork. Yum!

Pre-cooked meat skewers: Chicken, shrimp, and scallops can all be purchased pre-cooked in some form or fashion today, and the skewer is a fun way to serve quickly put a meal together; think protein and vegetables all in one bite. And while we don't hear about it often, there's no reason they can't be served cold. Choose your favorite of the aforementioned meats, and place on a skewer alongside cherry tomatoes and pineapple chunks (or, if it's to your liking, raw zucchini or squash). Again, if you need a little starch, serve with bread or a pasta salad.

Pasta Salad: Well, speak of the devil! The quintessential potluck dish, pasta salad can actually be good at home too. The key to turning a pasta salad from the deli counter into a signature meal is, of course, the add-ins. Again, your pre-cooked chicken strips are a good (if not expected) way to go. But why not shake things up a little? Try rolling up some black forest ham slices with cream cheese and olive filling, then cut into pinwheels. Three slices of ham should yield about twelve of these (more if you cut the wheels thinner). If anyone asks, call it "Mediterranean fusion." Enjoy!

There's no shame in stretching out summer-style eating into the fall. It can help to save on energy costs, and increase comfort for those who aren't privy to cold weather yet. And, if the above ideas aren't your glass of iced tea, get creative and dream up some of your own.