Are you among the 55 million people expected to be affected by Hurricane Irene this weekend? Are you already tired of newscasters telling you to "batten down the hatches" and "hunker down"? I feel your pain. I know hurricanes. I lived through a summer of three major hurricanes in Florida, and after I moved back to Ohio, a freak inland hurricane nearly upended my plans for making my own wedding cake and ice cream
. Hurricanes can be frightening and messy, so prepare well. Here are some tips, from my own experience, for staying safe and well-fed. These tips are just for food-related matters; pay attention to your local newscasters and authorities on more general safety issues. (If, of course, you can bear with the heights of absurdity that local news stations achieve in such times; are they broadcasting from the beach yet? Getting knocked over by the wind?)
I will say, though, that generators are overrated in hurricanes; they don't power very much, and they can be extremely dangerous if not vented properly. Every time a hurricane hit Florida there would be a generator-related death or two. So unless you know exactly what you're doing with an in-home generator, don't run out in a panic and pick one up.
OK, on to feeding ourselves.
- Know your food safety facts!
Have a thermometer in your fridge and freezer so you can make sure the freezer stays at 0°F or below and the refrigerator stays at 40°F or below. If your power goes out, the freezer will be OK for about 24 to 48 hours, provided that it is packed full and you don't open the door. The fridge, on the other hand, will only keep things safe for about four hours.
• See more food safety tips from the USDA.
- Stock up on ice and dry ice.
If your power goes out, if your fridge and freezer are stocked with ice or dry ice, this will prolong the life of the food inside. (Again, make sure you have a thermometer to check! Don't ever check food's safety by tasting it.)
- Light your kitchen.
Make sure your kitchen is well-supplied with light, whether that's candles, flashlights, a battery-operated floodlight, or something else. It's hard to be safe in the kitchen if you can't see when cutting bread or cooking an egg on your gas stovetop. Make sure there are light sources in the kitchen (don't count on any sunlight!).
- Make food ahead of time that doesn't need to be refrigerated
Some ideas: Muffins and quick breads for breakfast. Chana masala and other bean stews for lunches and dinners. Also stock up on cured meats, hard cheeses, good bread, beer, wine, olives, pickles, fruit, tomatoes, and crunchy vegetables for snacks.
- Gather together with others
A long hurricane can be a crashing bore. After you've watched the newscasters get knocked over a few times by the wind, you're left with nothing but a slow, seemingly interminable wait for the storm to pass. Then the power goes out, and the internet, and you can't even amuse yourself with technology. It's time for old-fashioned get togethers.
Some of my most memorable hurricane moments involve gathering with friends by candlelight, making the most of the long hours with card games, homemade food and old-fashioned fun. Batten down the hatches with a few friends, stock up on beer, and amuse yourselves.
It's actually a good time to do a big cooking project, too, especially if you have a gas stove (not electric) and can bake bread or make tamales. Think about making a huge batch of homemade pasta, to be frozen after the storm, for instance, or tomato sauce.
Are you prepping for the hurricane? How are you preparing? What are you cooking?
Related: On Hurricanes, Refrigerators, and Wedding Ice Cream