If you need advice on how to survive a snowstorm on the contents of your cupboards, ask someone who lives in the Sierras — namely, the Eastern Sierra ski town of Mammoth Lakes, California. I know because I lived there for two El Nino winters which dropped record-breaking warm, wet storms on the West Coast. A ski town is at the mercy of Mother Nature. No snow, no tourists, no business. Luckily, Mammoth Mountain's geography ensures no shortage of precipitation. It was not uncommon for a foot to fall overnight. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. A serious weather system could drop four to five feet of snow in a day, ten feet in a weekend. Not even the most heavy-duty plows could clear the roads. Not to mention the ski lifts that were raised to their highest positions and still buried.
A major snowstorm could also shut down Highway 395, the only route in or out of the town — also the only route for the delivery trucks carrying food from a Southern California warehouse to the only grocery store in Mammoth. On the evening before a big storm, the supermarket shelves were bare. I don't mean "Oh no, they're out of canned pumpkin!" I mean looted — as if Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Rodney King riots and the apocalypse were all rolled into one.
Luckily, the scarcity of grocery stores was balanced by an overabundance of restaurants. I happened to wait tables at one of them, a new Italian eatery owned by a well-known jazz musician. But sometimes, a large crowd coincided with a large snowfall, stranding lots of (hungry) people and depleting the restaurant's cold storage.
"Carpaccio? Sorry we're out of that."
"Veal? We ran out of that, too."
On a particularly busy night, the manager sent someone to the aforementioned grocery store to buy supplies, only to come back with about half of what was needed. A customer asked me for Parmesan cheese, and when I went to retrieve it from the kitchen, a frazzled cook thrust a ramekin of mozzarella in my hands.
Shouting over the kitchen din, I clarified, "Parmesan cheese!" The cook just shrugged.
There was one dish the restaurant never ran out of: Pasta Puttanesca. With a sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, capers, and olives, the recipe was rumored to have originated from Italian ladies of the night, who could prepare it easily from provisions in a typical cupboard.
Although the San Francisco Bay Area has not in recorded history been snowed under, I can still easily cook up a pot of Spaghetti Puttanesca from the items already in my cabinet.
1 can tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
4 fillets of anchovies (drained canned tuna can be substituted, but the sauce will take on a different character)
1 tsp. capers
1/4 c. sliced olives
1 lb. dry spaghetti
chopped fresh parsley, if available
- Mince garlic.
- Cut anchovies crosswise into about 1/2" pieces.
- Heat 2-3 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet, add garlic. When garlic is golden and aromatic, add anchovies, then olives and capers.
- Add canned tomatoes, breaking up large pieces by squeezing them through your fingers, if necessary. Reduce heat to simmer.
- Meanwhile, boil spaghetti.
- Add cooked, drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss to coat. Garnish with parsley and serve.
- Be thankful that you have food to eat and a warm place to sleep.
Text and images © 2011 Grace Hwang Lynch