Thursday, February 23, 2017

CHOWMAGEDDON: Post Apocalyptic Author Ann Christy

As part of the ongoing Chowmageddon series, I talked to Post Apocalyptic Author Ann Christy about doomsday dining.

1. How long have you been writing post-apocalyptic fiction or non-fiction?

Since July 2013. I happened on writing almost by accident. I spent almost 29 years in the navy. As a naval officer and navy scientist, I never thought about writing, but that but can bite anyone and it got me good. 

2. What kind of apocalyptic event do you find most interesting?

They’re all interesting, aren’t they? I mean, so many ways to die. Which do you pick? Personally, I think technological ones are the most interesting, because we’re adopting new tech so quickly and it’s bound to go wrong at some point. I’ve written a series with a sort-of-zombie apocalypse created by medical nanites. Because I happen to know quite a bit about them, it’s super scary to think about what could happen with them. That said, I like to end the world in many ways. I’ve got a series with tailored bio-weapons (Texas launches them against the US and world, very sneaky like), and my shorts/novellas have some truly dreadful ends in them.

I think it of it as warding. If I write it, then it can’t happen.

3. What kind of apocalyptic event do you fear the most?

Economic. Those are the worst ones because it turns people into something other than what they want to be. It’s almost like they are the zombies. Nothing is out of bounds when the world is starving. 

4. Are you a prepper? At what level do you consider yourself?

Yep, but I’m not as intense about it as before. I actually de-prepped a large amount of stuff (I’m sure the trash pickup folks wondered what was going on.) I’m advanced in my knowledge, but less comprehensive about my actual prepping now. 

Even so, I’m ready for what’s most likely to come my way.

Also, I have learned over a few apocalypses that there is one very common element to most long disasters and that is this...they are dreadfully boring. I’m not kidding. It seems to be a common element to those that survive well that they found ways not to be bored, because boredom makes you think about how horrible things are. 

Think about it. You’re getting your gear up and ready, you’re stashing your ammo within easy reach, and setting up watches. But what then? You’ve got a month, a year...a lifetime...of this. No more Netflix or free Kindle books. 

You might say that you’ll be busy gardening, doing patrols, or fashioning a rudimentary lathe (2 points if you get the reference). But no, that’s actually unlikely to fill all your time. Most apocalypses have ebbs and floods and every hour can seem like a day. It’s not good for morale.

So, I have prepped boredom relievers too. I have enough watercolor paper and tubes of paint to paint for years if I take time with each one. So stash some colored pencils and card stock, grab a few zentangle books and some micron pens. Whatever floats your boat, but avoid boredom at all costs. Attitude is the best prep of all.

5. Where do you think the ideal place to live is prior to an apocalyptic event? 

Well, I was learning a program we use in the military and decided to create something real to get better at it. I created layers with all sorts of factors involved (natural, chemical, geological, historical, meteorological, etc.) and came up with a series of spots along a rough line in the US, plus a blob or two in places way too cold or dry for me. I immediately checked my results, called a land agent, and bought property in one of those spots. While I don’t live there, I like having it in my back pocket.

But the important thing from that overly long story is that there are almost NO good places to be before a catastrophe, because all catastrophes have their own ways and areas. That said, I live on the Chesapeake Bay (Inner) so I can leave by boat if land gets dicey. It also has a chokepoint over land (it’s a tiny peninsula) so that no one can approach without being seen. One or two shooters can cover all approaches. I aint’ dumb. 

My advice is live where you have two ways out, but others have just one way in.

6. Shelter-in-place, or bug out?

SIP if I can, BO if I have to. I want to keep on cooking great food and would much prefer to do that at home. Those Mountain House pouches get old fast. Plus, I want to stay home and paint the apocalypse.

7. What do plan to eat in the apocalypse?

I will not just eat...I will enjoy dining. Seriously. One of the main reasons I de-prepped so much stuff was that I knew I would never eat it and if I did, it would be yucky and no fun. That’s no way to experience TEOTWAWKI! 

When I retired from the military and went to full time writing, I decided that I would make a concerted effort to create food that is prep- and pantry-friendly, while still being amazing to eat. I was surprised to find that this has been a truly enjoyable experience and it is both more economical to eat better, while also keeping preps in rotation. Without prep prices. 

I subscribe to Blue Apron, and one of the things I do is try to adapt favorites to being prep or pantry friendly dishes that will delight the palate and make any mealtime (even without a disaster) a beautiful experience. I share them sometimes on Facebook, but I only recently actually put on up on my blog. I don’t think my readers (who are largely Science Fiction fans) read it much, but I’m going to keep putting them up because it might help someone who also hates pinto beans as much as me.

8. What foods do you regularly stock in your home that would be adaptable to a post-apocalyptic situation?

I’m a fresh and whole food junkie. I love fresh greens and veggies and all that jazz. That said, I also try to be smart. Anything that’s not a fresh veggie is likely okay for prepping in my house. And even the stuff in my freezer and fridge is almost all canning or dehydrator friendly should the need arise.

Some things that are prep friendly and also awesome to have on hand are tomato powder (ditch those metal-tasting cans of paste and sauce and store just one can of that to make your own quick-like), dehydrated onions (these are powerhouses and I can’t say enough great things about adding onion), and dehyrdrated mushrooms (I carry shiitake and white ones). 

Just these three - which I call the holy trinity of flavor preps - will save you money, untie you from last minute grocery trips, and elevate your prep meals. 

I have dozens of these...truly...that I have tested and tried in myriad ways. My pantry is happy and my meals glorious. Someday, I will get fat, I think. 

9. What is your preferred preservation method for post-apocalyptic foods?

To do myself, I like canning and dehydrating. I like dehydrating because of the compression factor and lower weight. I love my Excalibur! Canning in jars means some danger should things get rattled, but I do love to can. Opening up a jar of tomatoes or corn sends out a smell like a hot morning in July. 

I like freeze-dried meats for storage, but I only used them for testing recipes due to cost. I like that they’ll last forever, but they take up so much darned room!

10. What's the primary factor for you in deciding on a survival food? Taste? Weight? Nutritional Value? Ease of preparation?

I balance all of those things, but I include cost and replacement potential as well. Some things can have less nutrition if they have high satisfaction levels. Other things are high on nutrition, but harder to fold into tasty food. It’s all about balance with me.

11. What's the worst "survival food" you've ever tasted?

Any non-breakfast MRE. OMG, those things are from the devil. I actually used to get nauseous when they were passed out. I just can’t do it. So gross, like salty glue.

12. What's the best?

What I call Indian MREs. On one deployment, I figured we might have some issues with resupply, but couldn’t know for sure, so I replaced a lot of my non-essential items on the ship with those Indian pouches. Punjab eggplant over jasmine rice was my favorite. My roommate and I ate well on the ship when things were nasty after so long with no supply. Of course, I also created a fancy coffee station in my crew’s workspace so they could have good coffee and mochas and stuff during deployment, so I’m not a good example. 

But if you’re a prepper, check those out. They last a very long time (I did some testing over a 7 year period, so they *do* last a long time). They are less hassle than almost anything else and extremely tasty. Also economical to prep and keep in rotation.

13. Any special survival recipes you have up your camouflaged sleeves?

Oh sure, about a hundred. Seriously, probably more now. If you want my absolute favorite, here it is:

Thai Inspired Chicken with Soba

Makes enough for four very hungry people (adjust chicken for protein needs, 1 cup minimum)

½ package of soba noodles (1.5 bundles). 
1 cup reconstituted freeze dried chicken (chopped into chunks). 
Chicken broth crystals to make 6 cups. 
Rehydrate the following: 2 scallions worth, ½ cup shiitake mushroom dice, 2 tbsp ginger mince (or use dried ginger, but it’s not as good), 1 green pepper worth of dice, 2 stalks worth of celery cuts. 
If you have dried garlic mince, use about 3 cloves worth, otherwise garlic powder to taste. 
Dried cilantro flakes. 
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce.
Red curry paste to taste. 
Lime powder. 
(If you don’t have dried scallions, using 2 tsp of dried onions will work fine).

In a big pot, brown the chicken briefly in oil, then set aside. Saute your mushrooms, green pepper, celery until it warms up and looks normal. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and saute for just a minute. Add curry paste to taste and let it brown and grow fragrant for about 30 seconds. Then add the Worcestershire sauce, broth, chicken. Bring to boil, then simmer until the liquid reduces and flavors incorporate for about 15 minutes. Add soba noodles and let them cook. Remove from heat and stir in about 1 tbsp of prepared lime juice (or enough sprinkles to make that much, which is a very small amount so be careful). Sprinkle a few cilantro flakes on each bowl. Enjoy!

14. What's the best survival food tip you've ever heard? 

It’s silly, but it’s correct. If you pretend it’s salad, eating weeds isn’t so bad, so carry vinegar and spices, even if you have nothing else, to make dressing.

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