What Hurricane Sandy taught me about cooking without electricity

Enduring Superstorm Sandy in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. taught me a lot about myself and about my survival cooking skills.

The one thing I did very right was take Sandy seriously. I remembered the extensive power outages of Irene, and I wanted to make sure we had enough food for at least a week. But, what do you make when you might not have a fridge or a freezer to rely on? The first thing I did was bring up the big cooler from the basement. That Sunday before the storm hit, we bought two big bags of ice; one for the cooler and the other to keep in our stand up freezer.

The next thing I did was think about the menu. What will keep if I cook it now? What will we have for breakfasts if the power goes out, milk goes bad, etc? I didn’t want to buy donuts. I wanted something more substantial with at least a smidge of nutrition, so I made these apple cheddar scones. Scones are great because they don’t require refrigeration and you can heat them up on the grill in some foil and serve with jam, butter, or just plain.

Next, I cooked two pounds of pasta and tossed the first pound with every vegetable I had in the fridge and some Italian dressing. It can be served at room temperature or heated up if you have a gas stove, or a grill. This pasta is great with canned tuna, chicken or sausage, practically anything. The second pound of pasta I tossed with a whole jar of salsa and called it our desperation dinner. You can add beans, cheese, and any meat that you have. It was actually quite tasty.

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The last of my food prepping consisted of a big pot of brown rice and a tray of brownies. This was to keep my kids happy during times of no video games or television. The brownies went, the brown rice, not a big hit. It eventually got thrown away. I think healthy food just couldn’t compete with comfort food. We needed comforting.

We vacated our home on Monday, the day Sandy was due to hit. Power was knocked out but our house survived with no flooding.

But by Tuesday afternoon, our good friends weren’t so lucky. They had to evacuate their home and took refuge in our home. Their home eventually became flooded with three and a half feet of water.After returning home on Wednesday, we now had no power, no heat and four more mouths to feed. Add to my challenge the fact that I have an electric stove top. Three things that proved indispensable during our week without power;

• Our little Weber charcoal grill• A Propane grill with one side burner• And our trusty Fire pit

The one thing I can’t live without is coffee. The morning after the power went out, I Googled “How to make coffee on the stove” and made my first cup of sauce pan coffee. It wasn’t great, but it quieted the caffeine addict in me. Eventually I started perfecting the technique of boiling the grounds for a few minutes and then filtering them through a coffee filter nestled in a small strainer over the coffee cup in the sink. While I fared well with this technique, believe me, a french press is on my Christmas list.

As my freezer started to defrost, I actually got quite creative and frankly, we ate very well; ribs with bakes beans, sausage, peppers and onions with pasta, cheese burgers with three bean casserole. I even made scrambled eggs and toast on the grill.

Another saving grace during this whole ordeal was our local food pantry. Knowing that we had taken on another family to feed, one of my friends put us on the list for hot meals from St. Gregory’s. Our first delivery was 12 styrofoam containers of spaghetti with meat sauce. To jazz it up a bit, I took all of the spaghetti, and made a spaghetti pie with some added eggs, ricotta cheese, sausage and parmesan. I stretched it even further and everyone loved it.

We recently got a delivery of turkey with boiled potatoes which I turned into a Thanksgiving casserole using leftover Italian bread for the stuffing and a can of turkey gravy.

Some of the things I learned during our week without power.

• Keep your butter wrapped and in the fridge. If you are buying butter and you know a storm is coming, buy salted butter, it helps preserve it. Our butter lasted the whole week in the fridge without even getting soft.

• Eggs last a long time too and don’t have to be refrigerated. Most people in other countries do not refrigerate their eggs. From everything I’ve read, you can tell by the smell if the egg has turned. As far as salmonella concerns go, a fully cooked egg is nothing to worry about.

When your propane grill stops igniting and you know you have a full tank of propane, the internet via smart phone comes in very handy, e.g. “Common gas grill problems.”

• A fire pit will keep you warm and entertain two familes for hours, but now, I think it will be a long time before any of us wants to get anywhere near that fire pit.

When the lights came on last Sunday morning, we were wind burned and cold and we celebrated. We also realized how lucky we were with only 6 days without power considering we’re half a mile from the Ocean. It would be a week before the rest of town got power, and then there are those who are still waiting. This event will be forever etched in the memories of everyone who lived through it. When the storm started and in its aftermath, I went to my comfort zone, cooking, and it served us well. My hope is that through cooking, I was able to bring a little warmth and comfort to my friends and family. I have to say, everyone had a hearty appetite, which made me smile.

My Survival Shopping List:

• Baked Beans• Black Beans• Butter Beans• Pasta, pasta and more pasta• Canned Tuna, Chicken, Salmon• Salsa• Eggs• Snacks like chips, pretzels, etc.• Bread. Be sure to freeze some.• Frozen meats; ribs, sausage, ground beef• Veggies that keep: Onions, pepper, celery, carrots• Potatoes• Supplies for baking before power goes outPaper Plates and Plastic Cups, no need to wash dishes in a disaster• Patience and a good sense of humor.

Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and everything else that tickles their taste buds.

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