Cooking when the power is out

Story by Priya Hutner  ·  

The recent series of winter storms that dumped a ton of snow on Tahoe found many residents with downed trees, power outages and an enormous amount of shoveling to undertake. After three years of living here, I deem this my first real Tahoe winter. Those with gas stoves or fireplaces might not have found cooking a problem. For those with electric stoves, creativity was imperative.

Cowboy coffee is a great way to warm up after shoveling.
Just place on top of the stove before heading outside. | Priya Hutner

Coffee is a must in the morning before facing the insurmountable amount of shoveling that awaited. Keep the wood stove fed so the house is warm and hot enough to cook on. You might want to keep a battery-operated coffee grinder on hand for power outages or keep your coffee ground. Brewing up some cowboy coffee is a breeze with a wood stove. All that is required is heating a pot of hot water on the stove, add the ground coffee and allow it to simmer. Keeping soup on hand is also wise.

I had a fabulous mushroom barley soup I had made the day before. I placed some in a pot on the stove and went outside to attack the piles of snow on my deck while it warmed. That was breakfast the first day of the power outage. I realized between my experiences with Burning Man, a number of Category 3 and 4 hurricanes while living in Florida and as a personal chef, I was relatively prepared to eat well and take care of all of the people who came by to help me shovel and chainsaw the numerous felled trees on my driveway.

Prepare meals that are high in protein to sustain the energy levels you need while working hard and maintaining day-to-day activities during a storm.

I found that I craved warm, comforting foods with protein. Scrambled eggs, kimchi and arugula with rice is a standard breakfast and easy to make on the wood stove. A pot of chicken and farro in the freezer was easy to defrost and reheat — and came in handy.

Tahoe Weekly owner Katherine Hill whipped up a grilled cheese, jalapeño and Tofurkey sandwich in her cast iron skillet in her fireplace along with tomato soup. While my friend Itzi Camio Jacobson, CFO for the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, set up her camp stove and prepared a stir-fry dish, as well as poached eggs and avocado toast for her some of her blackout meals.

A cast iron skillet is great for cooking in a fireplace,
including tasty grilled cheese sandwiches. | Katherine E. Hill

Remember to use camp stoves in an open garage or front or back porch and never inside. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen easily and without detection. Of course, a gas barbecue grill is extremely helpful when there’s no power.

It’s best to keep extra food on hand and, when an incoming storm is predicted, make sure to get to the store in advance of the weather and power outages. Keep fresh fruit, nut butters, trail mix and dried jerky in the pantry for easy nourishment — all of which are also helpful during emergency situations.

When the power is out, break out the coolers
and use the readily available snow to keep perishables. | Katherine E. Hill

Meals in a bag are another great way to stay nourished and are easy to heat up in a pot of boiling water. Tuna fish and canned salmon provide protein and nutrition and can be stored in the pantry for these kind of special circumstances.

It’s important to not open the fridge while the power is out for a short time. But, if it is out for more than half a day, you should break out the coolers. The beauty of Tahoe winter weather is we can put food in coolers and store our perishables in the snow.

Be mindful to eat the things that are likely to spoil first. Greens, such as spinach, arugula and lettuces won’t last long. Also, they’ll freeze in the snow.

Prepare meals that are high in protein to sustain the energy levels you need while working hard and maintaining day-to-day activities during a storm. While the storm was intense and challenging and there was much damage to many homes, our community rose to the challenge. Neighbors took care of neighbors and our local personnel worked hard to restore power, respond to emergencies, and get the streets plowed and cleared.

Priya Hutner is a writer, health and wellness consultant, and natural foods chef. Her business, The Seasoned Sage, focuses on wellness, conscious eating and healthy living. She offers healthy organic meals for her clients. She may be reached at [email protected] or visit Visit to read more.