Blackout, Cookout, Dine Out!

So Tropical Storm Isaias came and went and left quite the path of destruction in its wake. A blackout that lasted 4 days, so no tv, no radio, no lights, and the worst was a fridge and freezer filled with goods about to spoil. Living in the dark for an extended period of time with only cold water to shower and battery operated lanterns for light made me feel like I was camping in my own home. Now I’m not someone who likes to go camping. Anyone who knows me knows that I will avoid it at all costs. I think it started with the trauma of my folks sending me to Girl Scout Camp in 4th Grade and being forced to sleep in a tent and use a latrine. I went with a friend from my troop and when she called her folks, they picked her up but well, my parents told me to tough it out. Ha, I’d like to see either of them do this for 2 weeks, they’d be calling me to come get them. Call me soft, and I won’t argue! Or maybe it was in 8th grade when my school forced us to spend 10 days roughing it as part of the curriculum. Oh yeah they had their own facility in the mountains and a Searchers like program, but the day they dropped us off in the middle of nowhere with just a compass and told us to get to the base camp, I knew I was in trouble. Yuck, a 3 day hike was how it was to end, and my group hated it so much, we decided to do it in 2 days. I think this was the school’s way of laughing at us — take away our subway tokens (now I’m aging myself) and hairdryers (it was the 80’s folks) and put us in the middle of nowhere to tough it out. I won’t even talk about the food in any of these outings — no glamping here!

Not that there’s ever a good time for a storm and blackout but this one’s timing during a pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time. Of course if you know me by now, my fridge and freezer were packed. Not only were they packed because as I’ve explained, it’s in my DNA handed down from grandparents to parents to me, but, because of Covid-19 I did not want to go out shopping as frequently. Panic set in, not just because at night my neighborhood was pitch black out, but because I was afraid I’d lose everything in the fridge and freezer. After the storm settled down and the skies cleared, I like everyone else in the complex started to grill. I live in the burbs in an apartment complex so thank goodness we all have grills. Nothing fancy, just hot dogs, and a chicken burger, but at least I had the grill — now what to do with all the rest of the food! The next morning I ran out super early and searched for coolers and as much ice as I could get. Score! Came home with both and packed the freezer with ice and hoped it would only be a day without electricity. Well no such luck, the power company had very little information but the rumor mill was that it could be as many as 5 days in the dark. I knew my ice would not hold out too long and luckily a friend came for the contents, took them home to her mom who had — now hold on, 3 freezers so she had room! A woman after my own heart, 3 freezers in her house, I knew my food would be in safe hands. The contents of the fridge, well that was another story. Sadly, and I mean sadly, most wound up in the trash. How horrible, in this time when food is in short supply due to the pandemic and folks are getting their from food pantries, I had to throw out food. What a waste but there was nothing else I could do — even the veggies were getting spoiled.

When I woke up the first morning without power, all I could think of was, coffee. Dilemma what would I do for coffee, I had no milk because I had to throw it out! Can’t live without coffee! Ok being melodramatic, but thank goodness down the hill they had power and good old Starbucks was up and brewing! I could tolerate the cold showers, but no coffee, that I could not tolerate! Now that the fridge was empty, the freezer bare, and the only way to charge my phone was in the car, the boredom started to set in. At least it is summer and I could be outdoors during the day, but at night, reading by camping light was not my idea of entertainment. I could have used the grill more for lunch and dinner, it would have worked for boiling water on it for pasta, or cooking eggs, if I had any, in a pan but I actually just didn’t want to. Besides I didn’t have much left in the fridge, so even with my still stocked pantry it was not easy to put a meal together. My complex became a ghost town with many fleeing to friends and relatives, because it was getting hotter outside and inside, so they left in search of electricity.

Night 2 a friend from the city surprised me and we had a lovely dinner outside by the Hudson River. Night 3 I got a call from one of the neighbors who suggested that we go out for dinner since she too had nothing left in her fridge, so we did. Maybe not the smartest move or best choice of dining because, the end result was heartburn on top of heartburn — who knew your heartburn could have heartburn, but you can trust me!

By day 4 this was getting old. I saw another neighbor who had stayed behind and we decided that we’d sit out on my patio and I’d grill what she had saved from her freezer. By the time I was ready to start, the electricity was back on and we were all happy again. Her saved steaks, sausages, were paired with grilled veggies a homemade chimichurri with my garden herbs, and of course wine! We celebrated the return to modernity with a feast.

Homemade chimichurri: combine 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or more I like more vinegar) 1/4 tsp jalapeno minced (more if you like it spicy) some minced onion, maybe 2 tablespoons, and a blend of fresh parsley, oregano and I added a bit of mint, salt to taste. Chimichurri in my opinion has no formula! Every cook has her own tastes and things on hand so have fun with it, play with herb combinations. This makes 1 – 2 servings

Food and wine brings us together, I’ve said this many times. Sharing a meal, sharing stories around the table, these are some of life’s greatest pleasures. The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The wine doesn’t have to be the most expensive. It’s about the sharing, the caring, the nourishing of your belly and the nourishing of your soul.

The New Norm?

As I sit in my kitchen while dinner cooks in the oven, I first want to wish all reading this, good health and if you are sick from Covid 19/Coronavirus, a speedy recovery. To our first responders, doctors, newscasters, folks keeping supermarkets open and stocked, truckers, wine/liquor shops, restaurants, (sorry if I have missed anyone) thank you for your commitment and sacrifice. Thank you to the military for helping my city – New York and for helping all of us in the trying time. For those of you in any industry who have lost your job, or business, but especially for my industry — Food and Wine, my heart goes out to you. I was grappling with the title of this blog, as I don’t really want to think that what we are experiencing is the new norm. I keep hearing this phrase over and over again each time I tune into the nightly news. But I don’t think anything about this situation is normal. Stay Home Stop the Spread, Social Distancing, Self Isolating, Flatten the Curve, shortages of food, no human contact, shortages of toilet paper, pandemic, and so many other descriptors; how is any of this normal? New Yes, Normal No.

In times like this I am grateful for what does make my life feel almost normal; my friends, my work, wine, cooking and the occasional Bourbon. I can’t believe that a month has past since I came home from an amazing trip to Argentina. Forgive me if I have mentioned this before but I really can’t believe it was a month ago. Now today I sit in my kitchen, or my office at home as so many of us are doing. I find that a good part of the day revolves around meal planning. In general I love meal planning for friends, entertaining is second nature to me, passed down from my paternal grandmother (about whom I’ve written in so many past blogs) and my mom and dad who were the ultimate entertainers. But now I plan lunch and dinner every day for me with the occasional delivery or curbside pick up — support your local restaurants folks! Previously I might have gone grocery shopping 3 or 4 times a week — leftover habits from city life and a small kitchen! But now I go once and load up so I don’t have to be out more than necessary. Some days I feel like a contestant in an episode of Chopped! I look in the fridge survey what’s in there and whip up a meal. Dad you’d be proud that I’m actually using my culinary education. Remember this is the man who said to me — “You Want to Do What; You Want to Go to the CIA and become a Chef?” Well glad I did because now that I live in the burbs, there are not that many delivery choices so cooking is the best option.

Now that I live in the burbs with lots of space I have a stocked pantry — this is something mom insisted on and I am so glad she did. I have a full freezer filled with soups and sauces — a carry over from dad. And I’ve inherited from both an obsession for keeping as many cans of tuna fish and beans in the pantry as possible because you never know! Cooking for me is soothing and has become a great distraction right now. I love the cadence, the rhythm the pace in the kitchen. When you find the perfect ingredients and marry them together and get the timing right, it’s like composing a symphony.

I love looking at my social media feed and seeing others making fantastic meals and thoroughly enjoying the process. We may have physically shared meals with our friend only a month ago, now we are doing it virtually. So here are a few of my favorite meals that I’ve recently made. I’m sharing them virtually with you all in this new norm that’s not really a new norm as I’ve been posting these recipes and images for the past year hoping to inspire people to cook, and enjoy food and wine.

The Curried Chicken Pot Pie was made with poached chicken, carrots and peas, onions sauteed in curry powder, thickened with flour and chicken broth and made richer with a splash of heavy cream. Brush with egg wash, put a vent in the center and bake at 350 until golden brown. This was my favorite! As for the Mexican Peppers, I sauteed some beef and onion, add a tablespoon each of cumin, chili powder and oregano, cook until done. Add in some chopped green olives, shredded pepper jack and about a half cup of black beans. Moisten with tomato puree then stuff the peppers. Add some more tomato puree to the pan and bake at 350 until the peppers are soft and easy to cut through. These are my “Chopped Kitchen” recipes. The Chocolate Olive Oil Cake I must confess comes from Nigella Lawson, the Raspberry White Chocolate Scone is from a book of Scones I got from England and the Banana Bread is from the NY Times.

Is this the New Normal, that’s up to you, but for me I hope not. I don’t want to think that I will get used to being isolated and that this is something normal. New Yes, Normal No. I long for the day when we can all be well and un-afraid. I long for the day when I don’t have to converse with my friends via FaceTime or Zoom. I long for the day when we don’t have to have virtual cocktail hours. New Yes, Normal No. Keep cooking, drinking wine and, keep doing things that make you happy, but most of all stay safe and healthy. And again thank you to all the heroes out there working to make our lives safe and well. I virtually toast you all, you are the true heroes out there and I say Thank You.