Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Remember the movie “Home Alone?” In the current surreal drama of COVID-19, I feel like Macaulay Culkin grasping his cheeks with his eyes and mouth wide open. Though staying at home and avoiding any crowd is the only way to “flatten the curve,” we still need to eat to maintain our immune systems and physical and mental health. So what are we to do now that restaurants have shut down their dine-in services?
Many restaurants are turning to take-out and delivery to survive. You may be thinking that though you aren’t exposed to hordes of other diners, the chef could still pass the coronavirus to you. True, but chefs and cooks aren’t exposed to diners like the waitstaff are.
Purchasing take-out meals helps establishments with cash flow, as COVID-19 doesn’t absolve any restaurant of expenses such as lease rent or insurance payments.
Also, farms that provide locally grown produce, or locally raised poultry, pork or beef are also affected by the restaurants’ loss of business. With take-out service, restaurants can continue to operate and you get a ready-made meal, especially since supermarket shelves are a little more than bare.
The folks at Frolic Hawaii compiled a list of establishments that are changing their business models and offer take-out. Some even offer curbside delivery for those who fear leaving the confines of their own personal vehicle. Just visit the website https://www.frolichawaii.com/stories/heres-what-hawaii-restaurants-are-offering-takeout.
The Windward area representatives — Representative Lisa Kitagawa and Representative Scott Matayoshi — have also started a site listing restaurants in the Käne‘ohe and Kailua regions that offer take-out or delivery meal options at the website https://www.windwardmenu.com.
What If There’s a Mandatory Shut Down?
As I write this, several states, including Hawai‘i, have already mandated statewide shutdowns for all residents with exceptions for medical care, food and essential work. I’m not sure what’s left at your local supermarket as most dry goods were wiped out several weeks ago. There are memes on social media stating that decades from now, archaeologists will find buried cities during the COVID-19 pandemic with legions of citizens who starved to death but had really clean butts.
I expected basic kitchen necessities such as rice, dried ramen and canned meats like Spam, Vienna sausage and corned beef to be decimated but didn’t expect other starches like pasta and flour to be wiped clean from supermarket shelves.
In early March, the Käne‘ohe Safeway had only three bags of whole wheat flour and four packages of orzo left on the shelves. The orzo was probably left because it was on the highest shelf in the back. Only an NBA player could reach those prized bags of pasta. Even when back-to-back hurricanes approached the 50th, packaged foods were a lot easier to obtain!
But a total shutdown does mean you have to prepare your own meals, so how about opening that pantry, and use canned items not really targeted by the hoarding masses, like my chicken tamale casserole? It requires only one fresh item: eggs, and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of local eggs right now. You can use fresh chicken that’s poached since shoppers aren’t hoarding fresh items due to their limited shelf life but canned chicken breast (I always keep a six-pack of the Kirkland brand on hand) and fresh milk (or rehydrated powdered milk) and dried diced onion bits. I think you’ll find that those “doomsday preppers” that are hoarding every imaginable product “just in case” haven’t raided most of the ingredients.
Chicken Tamale Casserole
2 cans (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes
1 can (16 ounces) cream style corn
1 medium onion, diced
1½ Tbsp chili powder
1 cup skim milk
½ cup cornmeal
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped olives
2 cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken breast
½ cup low fat Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup low fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 can (4 ounce) chopped green chili
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine tomatoes, corn, onion, chili powder, salt and pepper in a 5-quart Dutch oven and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together milk, cornmeal and eggs. Add cornmeal mixture to tomato mixture and cook over medium low heat while stirring constantly for 10 to 15 minutes until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in olives, green chili and chicken. Pour mixture into a 3-quart baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray. Top with cheeses and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Serve hot. Serves eight.
The Two-Week Supply List
I hate to break the bad news to you but your emergency two-week supply list is really needed until the end of November as hurricane season starts in another six to eight weeks. Unlike viral pandemics, hurricanes can destroy the very structures you’ll seek for your last-minute dry good and food hoarding. And hurricane season occurs every year so most of your emergency supplies should already have been sequestered from the previous season.
So, for COVID-19, I did stock extra bags of dried lentils and peas, which will eventually make their way into my usual hurricane supply of food along several extra cans of beans and tomatoes. And remember that whether you’ve stocked for a pandemic or simply for the annual hurricane season, you do have to check your supplies annually and replace anything outdated. I know we’ll consume foods less than ideal if we’re starving but consuming brown peas or beans from a swollen can is probably more trouble than it solves. And remember to wash your hands often and don’t touch your face!