Crisis on Mount Washington: The Empty Sugar Barrel

During the server maintenance, the observers had to take down pencil-and-paper recordings of the wind speed at ten-minute intervals.(check)

During the server maintenance, the observers had to take down pencil-and-paper recordings of the wind speed. One person times for a two-minute period while signaling every five seconds. The other person manually records the wind speed from this Hays chart during that five-second interval.

Saturday was a crazy day for the weather observers, as the information technology observer took down the computer servers for some infrastructure maintenance. As with most IT endeavors, the process took much longer than anticipated.  Usually the weather instruments are constantly feeding data into the computers, but while the servers were down, the observers had to take their wind and other measurements the old-fashioned way, by jotting down data from the weather instruments with pencil and paper (for a more detailed explanation, see this comment by observer Michael Kyle).  For most of Saturday, no information on current weather conditions on Mount Washington was available to the general public, or the National Weather Service.

Pumpkin bread, coconut macaroons and chocolate chip cookies. But how long would they last?

Pumpkin bread, coconut macaroons and chocolate chip cookies. But how long would they last?

Down in the kitchen, we had our own crisis.  I was whipping up a double batch of chocolate chip cookie dough in anticipation of three day trips scheduled for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  Each trip would bring about 11 visitors to the mountain for a mid-morning snack and lunch.

After emptying the counter-top sugar canister into my measuring cup, I began to look around the pantry for more sugar. Surely, I could find more sugar.  We’re cooking on a frigid mountaintop.  On their 12-hour shifts, the weather observers go outdoors in all sorts of weather to bring in the precipitation can, chip ice from the tower instruments and work the old-fashioned “sling” that provides information on temperature and humidity.  Sweet breads and desserts, in small quantities, are almost an essential food for the soul and the mind, sugar be damned.

In the pantry, I checked all the Kitchenmaid food storage containers.  Hot cocoa, peanuts, rice, spaghetti, par-boiled rice, coconut flakes, unsweetened chocolate.  But no sugar. I checked the small sugar bowl by the coffee maker. Not a scrap.  There HAD to be sugar.  Back into the pantry. Then I spied the ten-gallon trash barrel flour bin. Did a similar sugar bin exist? I pushed aside the flour bin and there it was — the sugar bin!  Now I could complete the chocolate chip recipe as instructed.  I pulled the bin towards me and pulled off the lid.

When I opened the mega-gallon barrel of sugar, I found this scoop and a few sprinkles.

When I opened the mega-gallon barrel of sugar, I found this scoop and a few sprinkles.

The bin was empty.  Completely, totally barren.  Today was Saturday, and we had 3-1/2 more days on the mountain, with three groups arriving and a hungry crew of observers. Which crisis was more grave – the server issues, and the fact that the weather station couldn’t get its observations out to the world? Or a potentially bare dessert plate? You be the judge.

I was only short about a half-cup of the white sugar I needed, so I finished off my cookies with a little bit more brown sugar than called for in the recipe.  The cookies came out fine. I set aside some dough for the next day, when the group was coming up on the SnoCat. With this huge batch of cookie dough, plus our existing stash of sweets, I figured we would sail through the sugar crisis.  It might even pass unnoticed.

We were sure we would be eating this beef stew for days, but the day trip visitors polished off most of it at lunch.

We were sure we would be eating this beef stew for days, but the day trip visitors polished off most of it at lunch.

But on Sunday, our first day group of 11 people arrived.  We had made a huge crock pot of beef stew with a five-pound package of defrosted stew meat. By the time the group left, the stew was decimated. The pumpkin bread finished.  The macaroons had evaporated.  And three dozen chocolate chip cookies were gone with the wind (although I still had plenty of dough).

By then, we had another crisis on our hands: the eggs. Two-and-a-half  dozen came up with other fresh groceries for the Wednesday shift change.  Although the Observatory wasn’t hosting any overnight trips, we knew that those eggs could quickly disappear if the observers ate eggs for breakfast.  That would mean no eggs for baking, or for a meal like a quiche for vegetarian visitors (or for the observers).

We debated on whether or not to hide the eggs, and tucked the larger package behind some other food in the pantry fridge. Not exactly hidden, but not in plain sight either. At first, the eggs seemed safe, but then when the two IT observers came up for a couple of nights, the eggs started to rapidly disappear.  These were men who liked their eggs; they even found the ones we had concealed.

Suddenly, we went from 2-1/2 dozen eggs to only six.  We took charge and hid the eggs.  But we felt bad about depriving the egg-centric staffers. They were working on the servers non-stop while they were here, stopping only to grab a bite to eat or get some sleep. When they are hungry, they want to eat what they want to eat. The observers definitely appreciate the volunteers cooking their evening meal, but if we weren’t here, they’d get by just fine.  The volunteers, however, are essential for cooking for the day and overnight trips. We need to take stock of what’s available and plan the regular evening meal as well as the visitor lunches and snacks.  If push comes to shove, we can get by too.  We can make something other than quiche.  We can cut back on the baking.  But we know that the group as a whole likes the baking and the quiche.

Once a big hunk of meat is defrosted, we have to figure out how we can use it all within a couple of days. The frozen broccoli is actually pretty good.

Once a big hunk of meat is defrosted, we have to figure out how we can use it all within a couple of days. The frozen broccoli is actually pretty good.

Fortunately, no one needed to fight over the English muffins.  Or the pork tenderloins (at least a half-dozen in the freezer).  Apples and bananas were dwindling fast, but even with the blueberry pie, we hadn’t made a dent in the frozen blueberries.  No blood would be shed over frozen broccoli, although we consumed several 32 ounce packages (it was pretty good).  And there was no need to hoard the piles of frozen green beans, peas, and asparagus, or the potatoes and onions. Just the eggs.

In addition to the items already mentioned, here is a sample of our menus thus far:

  • Turkey tetrazzini, made with a huge hunk of leftover turkey breast cooked by the previous volunteers;
  • Beans and rice with sausage, corn and peppers;
  • Pulled pork (which I made for the first time ever with this recipe I found online, and it came out great);
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, made from part of a five-pound tube of defrosted ground beef;
  • Hamburgers melted from the same tube of beef;
  • Lentil soup;
  • Tofu with veggies and rice.

Today we are making tuna melts for the visitor lunch. For tonight’s meal, chicken breasts are defrosting in the freezer for a low-fat version of chicken broccoli alfredo. Before going to bed, I’ll put pork tenderloin in the crock pot to make a pulled pork lunch for tomorrow’s visitors.

The servers are up and running again. The weather instruments are feeding their data into the computer.  The world is getting the information it needs out of the Mount Washington weather station.  The IT guys have left. The eggs are safe.

About Dianne Fallon

Maniacal Traveler Dianne Fallon writes from a house in the woods in southern Maine. Her interests include travel, hiking and the outdoors, and history, and she is quickly becoming an Instagram-aholic, @themaniacialtraveler.
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3 Responses to Crisis on Mount Washington: The Empty Sugar Barrel

  1. Jonathan Hubbard says:

    This cracked me up. I had some close calls when I was a hutman at the Lonesome Lake Hut back in the day, but nothing like Diane has faced. Keep up the good work, D., and make sure the cat doesn’t run out of food, either!

  2. Jonathan Hubbard says:

    Make that Dianne, not Diane. Sorry bout that.

  3. Our crisis did resolve when one of the Observatory staffers leading a day trip brought up a fresh batch of sugar and a few dozen eggs. On our last evening, we enjoyed blueberry cobbler for dessert. It was a close call, though!

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