When the weather forecast turns frightful, true Pittsburghers turn to a time-honored ritual: They rush, en masse, to the nearest Giant Eagle or Shop 'N Save, where they stock up on milk, eggs and bread --the Big Three, the Holy Trinity of critical winter emergency supplies. (OK, it's really the Big Four, but toilet paper goes without saying).
Why does everyone in the region suddenly need milk, eggs and bread? There can only be one explanation: Pittsburghers -- when faced with the threat of major ice, snow or freezing rain -- apparently develop an overwhelming, communal desire for French toast.
There's something primeval in this drive, and it begins as soon as the meteorologists start their dire, dramatic predictions. Off we go, people with a mission, purposeful in our cars, on foot, on bikes or the bus. Everybody does it, with a sense of urgency that sometimes borders on hysteria. The supermarket parking lots fill up, and the checkout lines snake down the aisles. Little old ladies armed with shopping carts will take you down in their rush to the dairy case or the bread aisle. It ends when the stores are completely cleared of these essentials, and you don't want to be the one who gets there late, only to find that the only eggs left are cracked and bleeding their yolks, or that the one little loaf of white Wonder Bread sitting there all alone and sad is untouched because on closer inspection it's literally blue.
Fortunately, milk, eggs and bread are available at convenience stores, drug stores, even gas stations and some hardware stores. It doesn't matter where you get them -- just that you get them. Even if you don't eat milk, eggs or bread. Even if you are lactose intolerant, allergic to eggs and gluten sensitive.
What is it about these three food items? They're perishables that we use often and therefore risk running out of. They form the basis for many meals and blend easily with other staples and the things you may already have in the freezer or pantry. And if the kitchen is empty, you'll still have the makings of decent meals -- including French toast. Milk, eggs and bread can get you through any disaster.
What else can you do with the Big Three? You can be creative with omelets, filling them with whatever you find; one of my favorites is roasted red peppers and goat cheese. Quiche, frittata, souffles, egg salad and breakfast casseroles are easy comfort foods, great for those days when you're hunkered down indoors. My personal choice for the perfect milk-eggs-bread winter comfort food is bread pudding, which is like French toast with pretensions. I also love to make Welsh rarebit, something that hardly anyone else seems to make anymore, but it's an easy winter meal.
If an impending storm sends you out for these three staples, do a random act of kindness, and buy some extras for housebound or elderly neighbors.
The idea really is to draw upon that pioneer spirit that dwells in each of our souls, that calls upon us to stand up to Mother Nature in her winter frenzy and shout, "Bring it on! We're ready for you. We are armed -- with milk, eggs and bread! We WILL survive!"
This recipe isn't hard, but there's also a lazy version: Buy a box of Stouffer's Welsh Rarebit. Cook according to directions and serve over toast.
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
Dash of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
1/2 cup beer, ale or milk
8 slices good bread, lightly toasted
Melt butter in top of double boiler; add cheese and heat carefully until cheese melts. Add seasonings, and then Worcestershire sauce and beer or milk. Cook until thick, stirring frequently. Pour over toast.
Self-frosting Nutella Cupcakes
This is what I would make sure to buy when the weather looks to turn bad:
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup canola or mild vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup Nutella, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter, oil and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt; add to the butter mixture and beat on low speed just until combined. The batter will be thick. It needs to be in order to swirl in the Nutella!
Divide the batter between 12 paper-lined muffin cups. Drop a spoonful of Nutella on top of each, and swirl through the batter with the tip of a bamboo skewer or toothpick. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until springy to the touch.
Makes a dozen cupcakes.
-- Adapted from babble.com
Egg custard pie
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash of salt
Unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350.
Beat everything together until sugar dissolves. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing. Store in the refrigerator.
Nancy Kennedy is a medical writer who lives in Crafton and regularly runs out of milk, eggs and bread. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.