My Empty Refrigerator
As news of Hurricane Sandy’s ferociousness dominated our area two weekends ago, I alternated between frenetic anxiety (gotta get batteries!) and scornful denial (damn media hype!). When schools announced their closure, I scoffed at their overreaction, but decided I better get a lot of laundry done. Just in case. In my hyper anxious mood, I needed to work off the adrenalin – my son and I went for a walk/bike-ride around the neighborhood Monday morning. The wind kicked up while we were out and branches started falling. Hmm, maybe this IS serious. After all, my sister-in-law is usually right and she said this one would be bad. I began to panic. “Aidan, we need to go home!” We headed home, taking some “before” photos along the way. Just in case.
I decided to make dinner early. Just in case. We frequently lost power in storms and I figured we would lose power this storm as well. Around 5:00 I set the water on to boil for pasta. The wind was supposed to be quite bad after 8:00 pm. Plenty of time for a pre-storm dinner.
Around 5:20, we lost power. Shit! Spoiling my dinner! Not to be thwarted, we all hopped into the car, prepared to head to a local restaurant for dinner. We couldn’t leave our street. One tree up the hill had fallen on a telephone pole and knocked out the electrical wires and transformer. Another tree down the hill had fallen, knocking out more wires and blocking the road. We were trapped. Truly, it was shocking – too dangerous, indeed impossible, to drive. Shaken, we went back home and made the best of our candlelit dinner of room temperature leftovers and discussed possible sleeping arrangements. We decided on mother-daughter and father-son. Somehow that seemed the right combination for body warmth, love, and parental protection during a windy scary night.
The next day we rose with the sun (late for me, around 7:30 am) and began our vigil. Waiting for Con Ed. And wondering. How bad is the damage? What can we do? But first, coffee. As someone who is attached to my routines, I feel unmoored when my schedule is disrupted. I vaguely remembered being able to make coffee during the last outage. Aidan had insisted we could light the burners last night, but we didn’t listen to him – the baby of the family. Sure enough, he was right. Two burners worked in this way. Coffee and oatmeal for breakfast! That kept me busy for a while. That and pacing to the window to see what, if anything, was going on outside. Around 11:00, we embarked on a walk through the neighborhood to see how everyone fared. Many neighbors were doing the same thing, in shared dismay. Trees and wires down throughout the neighborhood, with several houses severely damaged by trees that had fallen on them. It was awful. We were lucky. We had no damage and we were okay.
Back home and it was time for lunch. Gotta use up the cold cuts. Grilled turkey, ham and cheese all around. Daytime was okay: we had enough light; we bundled up to stay warm; we kept busy. And we had hopeful energy. Stay positive! Stay busy! We’re lucky! Tuesday night’s candlelit dinner was pasta with more leftover sauce. The boiling pot brought the temperature up a degree. We huddled around our battery-operated dvd player and watched Ratatouille. We saved Finding Nemo for Wednesday night, crying over a father’s love and the beautiful connection between beings.
Wednesday my husband trekked to work and the kids and I began our new outage routine. My daughter and I took a yoga class every morning while my son read his book in the warmth of the sitting area watching over our charging electronic devices. I was so happy to be in the presence of people! But as the week wore on, more people got their power restored and returned to normal and I felt isolated in our misery. Remember, we’re lucky! By Friday, when the yoga teacher purred about how tragedy brings out the best in people I felt like screaming. ”Are you kidding? People are about to kill each other selfishly cutting each other off in gas lines!” I think tragedy brings out the most primitive emotions in people. Much of it good and caring, but not all of it. I wish I were a wise, compassionate, loving yoga teacher. Oh yeah, I AM a yoga teacher! I have to remember that! But I am also a selfish human who wants her electricity back so she can blow-dry her hair, eat her regularly scheduled foods, and drive to her favorite activities without worrying about a gas shortage! Lucky White Suburban Woman Is Miserable does not make a good headline.
I guess we’re all going to get generators. That ought to be good for the environment. Huddled in our individual houses with our gasoline-powered generators rumbling noisily away. At least we’ll be able to run our hair-dryers.
I am struck by the people who are galvanized to action during disasters. They deliver meals and clothing to the afflicted. They open their houses to anyone who needs a meal or a shower. They open their arms and hearts to all. My instinct is to hunker down – stoically. No I don’t need anything, but don’t expect me to give anything either. My way is a meager way and not the example I want to set for my children. So, we gratefully accept the hook-up to our neighbor’s generator, powering our heating system for a few hours a day so the house is warmer. So, we gratefully accept my sister-in-law’s generosity with food, warm beds, hot showers (and a working hair-dryer). I am not sure how we pay back their generosity. Perhaps it is simple. We say thank you graciously and pay it forward.
By Sunday, I gave up on salvaging anything from the freezer or the refrigerator and threw it all away. The 5 year old caramel topping for ice cream. The caper berries I bought when I couldn’t find capers. The vacuum packed smoked salmon from a Harry & David gift basket – about 10 years ago. I suppose some of this stuff lasts forever. But I threw every bit if it away. Time to move on and start fresh. It does feel good to have an empty refrigerator, poised with new possibilities. I cleaned the freezer compartment. It had never been cleaned. There was a gogurt from when the kids were little – also about 8-10 years old. And ancient frozen waffles. One package of regular. And one package of whole grain. And a melted ice cream sandwich. All gone. It was sad. It was freeing. Time to move on and start fresh.
After a week of oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese & omelets for lunch, and pasta & assorted leftovers for dinner, the most delicious meal we had this past week was (leftover) black bean chili served over brown rice.
Black Bean Chili
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 1-2 Tablespoons of chili powder
- 1-2 teaspoons of cumin
- 1-2 teaspoons of oregano
- 1 link of chorizo, chopped (optional add-in for meat-eaters)
- 2 15 ounce cans of black beans (use the liquid)
- 1 16 ounce jar of salsa (whatever is your favorite brand and level of spiciness)
- 2-4 Tablespoons of pickled jalapenos (adds tang more than heat)
- Cheddar Cheese
- Sour cream
Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, bell peppers. Saute until onions soften – about 10 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano – 2 minutes. Add in Chorizo, beans, with liquid, salsa, and jalapenos. Reduce heat and simmer – 15 to 30 minutes.
Serve over brown rice with desired toppings. Makes terrific leftovers! You can stretch out this meal by varying the ratio of rice to chili.
Serves about 6