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As a widow, cooking for one, I have surprised myself in resorting to techniques I learned in Sri Lanka. In late December 2005, one year after Sri Lanka was struck by a tsunami, I went with a small construction team from my church to help build a new village for those whose homes had been swept away. We were to live on the site, and I was to be the cook.

In researching Sri Lankan food (which is similar to Indian), I learned that they follow the same guidelines as Mexico and most tropical areas where refrigeration might not be reliable: Boil or bake everything over high heat long enough to be kill any bacteria, and disguise any “off” flavors with lots of spice.

I packed spaghetti, beans, spices and sauce mixes and went to the markets every day to buy meat, vegetables and dairy products. Rice was readily available. I cooked outdoors on a two-burner propane cooktop, and the only temperature setting was “high.” When I wasn’t cooking meat, I was boiling water, because sanitation was a challenge. We had a microwave, but microwaves are not the answer for killing bacteria. Only long-time boiling or baking–cooktop or oven–will do.

Spicing It Up…Heating It Up


Salvaging leftovers Spicing it up

Now I apply similar techniques to suspicious leftovers in my refrigerator. I come home from a trip, go to HEB to re-stock the fridge and pantry, and by the end of the week things are a little iffy. Recently, I was faced with enough pulled pork, ground beef and roast beef and gravy for several more meals; but everything was a tad old. I filled three small casseroles, added spicy condiments, covered them and baked at 250 degrees for one hour—three nights meals plus two in the freezer. And no food poisoning–in Sri Lanka or at home.

Photo collage: We lived in the unfinished future water purification tower on a former cinnamon plantation in a rural area outside of Hikkaduwa, a popular beach town. One wash basin served the kitchen and the bathroom. We used a large plastic tub for washing dishes, then poured boiling water over them. Our refrigerator was upstairs (via a homemade bamboo ladder) in the men’s bedroom. Each day I was driven into Hikkaduwa to the markets: The open-air market in the photo, for fruit and vegetables (I didn’t buy the fish!); the dairy store, for meat, cheese, butter; and a small convenience store primarily for tourists, where I could get items like bread and crackers.