Surviving #Sandy — cooking without power

I must start by recognizing the pain and hardship so many on the East Coast, especially in New Jersey and New York, are still experiencing from hurricane Sandy. The DC area and Alexandria, where we live, saw nothing compared to these other and more coastal areas.

That being said, we did lose power for about a day — and I did learn some sobering lessons about my own survival skills (or lack thereof). My husband, along with everyone else in the region, went into preparation mode Friday afternoon, as we read more and more reports about the doozy of a storm headed our way (and got more and more phone calls from concerned family in the Midwest). We started chatting about the necessities and quickly diverged on what mattered most…

My must-have list:

  • coffee, preferably with organic cream and stevia (ha!)
  • homemade meals (I went on a cooking spree Sunday to prepare, baking 3 pounds of bread and a vat of stew.)
  • a battery-charged charger for my phone and laptop

Husband’s list:

  • bottled water
  • Ramen noodles (ick!)

I tend toward the “won’t happen to me” mindset when these crises approach; my husband speaks worse case scenario. To him, the worse case scenario was no power or access to food or water for days, hence the stockpiling of foods that are virtually indestructible. To me, the worse case scenario would be having to eat Ramen noodles (thankfully, things didn’t get that bad).

Obviously, my priorities were a bit out of whack. But when we woke up Monday night (the power went out around 8 p.m.) to a pool of water on our comforter from a leaky roof, I snapped into something closer to survival mode. The wet bed situation got us out of it close to 5 a.m. You really shouldn’t get up that early when you won’t have daylight until after 8 a.m. But we were awake and hungry. We headed to the kitchen, lit candles and went into our version of survival mode: eating everything in sight.

We figured the power would be out long enough to knock out the most perishable items in our fridge, so we should eat them ASAP. But how to cook them without power? No power meant no coffee (I should have added French press to that necessities list!), no toasting the toast, no oven and, we thought, no stovetop. But lo! I had a stroke of genius at 6 a.m. when I decided to try lighting the gas stove with a hand lighter (with a long handle, mind you). And voila! We had a stovetop. This made living in the dark seem very doable — fun even as we tried to figure out what we could whip up with a limited kitchen.

We tore into a half carton of eggs and a half carton of milk to make omelets and French toast. The eggs were already harder to crack from not being refrigerated overnight (although I thought the house was as cold as a refrigerator), so they sort of crumpled into the bowl. We added to the omelet the last of some ham, onion, peppers and cheese and it turned out quite massive. As if that wasn’t enough, we cooked up a good portion of the hearty seedy bread I had made (see, my preparations were useful) as French toast. Whisk the eggs with a little milk and cinnamon and then soak each side of the slices before they hit the pan to get a nice crust. We were out of butter, but a spread of bananas and agave syrup was more than enough. Although, warming up the syrup in a spitting hot pan did make me miss the microwave.

By 7 a.m., we were stuffed. But very thankful that we could make do — and a big breakfast — with our powerless kitchen. The husband opted for a mid-morning nap (government employees were off for Monday and Tuesday) and I did some reading by candlelight. It was all quite romantic, until I tried to put on makeup by candlelight — not so much. We were thankful to find out later that our water is also heated by gas, so hot showers were an unexpected blessing. The Internet, however, was not apparently heated by gas, nor could it be powered by my well-meaning purchase of a battery charger for the phones and laptop. So I was off to a coffee shop in the afternoon to get some work done.

And boooooy was I thankful for that 2 o’clock cup of joe. And for the heated coffee shop. And to live in a place where the outages were sporadic and the grocery stores and gas stations were still open. Our power came back on that afternoon. I decided I could go for an outage like this every once in a while, just to remind us what we really need and can live without. My recommendations?

  • Have a few household necessities heated by gas. (Some people buy generators — we heard them humming all about us in the neighborhood — but I don’t see the point if I have hot water and a stove).
  • Cook up a storm when anticipating a storm. That vat of stew? We were able to plop it back on the stovetop for lunch and dinner, when we weren’t nibbling on that loaf of bread (and apple butter). The whole-wheat breads that include every grain and seed in my cabinet have been a favorite of late and make me feel like I’m eating real, sustaining food.
  • Know your neighbors. We loved getting the chance to share a pizza with ours on Monday night (when we found out the gym had closed, we rushed to the pizza shop before it did — survival mode people!). Natural disasters build and necessitate community, as I’m sure many people in the hard hit areas are learning.
  • Be thankful. That’s one of the biggest things I’m taking away from Sandy. It makes us all the more thankful for all the power- and food-filled days in between.
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