Recipes From the Road

Cook Me Like a Hurricane

August 29, 2011 • 41 Comments

Food52's News Editors Shelly and Fran read zillions of news stories in their quest to find the best for Food52/News readers. Each week, they'll take an issue or two and distill it down to its purest form: what matters to them. Oh, and you! Today: why we run to the kitchen when foul weather strikes.

- Fran


The skies had barely cleared before the griping began. People, especially New Yorkers, kvetched about the overkill of hurricane prep and evacuation orders.


I’m a few hours farther south, so the storm – and my disappointment -- hit earlier. It grew and grew with every passing hour (and shower) Saturday. Having lived through major earthquakes and a Category-5 hurricane, I wanted more from Irene.


It’s not that I wish destruction – or the fear that precedes it – on anyone. I’ve seen cities, homes, lives irreparably ravaged by the vagaries of nature. For me, it’s not an adrenaline rush.


Instead, like pretty much everything in my life, it’s mostly about the food.


Most weekends, I’m lucky to make a batch of waffles on Sunday, between the myriad sporting events my kids have to attend and the assorted ‘fun’ activities we try to squeeze in among them. Dinner parties? A distant memory. Spending a day in the kitchen immersed in new or beloved recipes is a thing of the past now that offspring have overtaken the calendar.


But natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards force a bubble of peace into our increasingly overscheduled lives. With events cancelled and businesses closed, we have nothing to do but hunker down and play games, visit with friends and, if the power holds, bake.


Even before the storm had us in her sights, I’d invited friends for dinner Saturday. As it turned out, they lost power that afternoon and were more than happy to bring some of their perishables (cold beer IS perishable) and ride out a blustery evening with us. Their loss of power was about as close to danger as we got. But the all-day rain and the fear of Irene translated into a lot of time in the kitchen.


I made a pot of soup and baked bread. Some foraged figs bubbled on the stove until we had enough jam to field a few fig-gorgonzola pizzas and plenty of breakfast toast. Worried we’d lose power, I baked cookies, convincing myself that at least I’d saved a pound of butter from going to waste (cookies will never perish around here).


And mostly, we just hung around. We don’t do enough of that. Ever.


A handful of times during Saturday evening’s ‘storm,’ my powerless friend and I walked out to the front yard or the back yard, checking to see what Mother Nature had whipped up. Each time, when we came back complaining, my husband scolded us for our insensitivity (maybe stupidity is the better word here).


“You should be GLAD it’s nothing.” “You’re not supposed to WANT it to be horrible!”


But I kind of did. Call me crazy. (Go ahead. He already has.)


When I read stories about people in the line of an oncoming storm defying evacuation orders, sometimes it occurs to me that they’re kind of nuts. I saw what happened to people who stayed in New Orleans during Katrina. I interviewed folks who rode out Hurricane Andrew in Florida and vowed never again.


Most of the time, though, I get it. There’s a reason people throw hurricane parties. Hunkering down at home – being forced to stay in – during wild weather has a lot of appeal when your home and life aren’t in any real peril. Even my youngest brother texted me a picture from Manhattan, showing off the pizza (‘Nine-grain crust!’) he’d made while waiting for Irene to do her worst.


I know exactly how he feels. When Snowmaggedon had us homebound for nearly two weeks in early 2010, I kept a running tally of the baked goods coming out of my kitchen. (12 days. Too many to count.)


Several days after an earthquake dealt a devastating blow to our then-home, San Francisco, my husband and I headed north with a Chicago friend who’d been covering the quake.


We wound up in Napa, far enough from the damage that we were able to check our survivor guilt at the door for a few hours. Had we ever laughed harder? Eaten better? We could barely find the adjectives to describe those plates of pasta, the tiny glasses of grappa.


I have to admit, I was kind of looking forward to a similar sort of camaraderie when I learned of Irene’s approach. For the most part, I got it. Our friends were here; I baked bread, made soup. The cold beer didn’t go bad. The only real disappointment? It was all so short-lived.



Comments (41)


almost 3 years ago Margee Brennan

Sadly, in our crazy,busy hectic lives it takes major events such as natural disasters to slow us down and allow us to appreciate what we have(family, food, friends...) It sounds to me that that is what Fran was getting at. She didn't arrange for the hurricane...I enjoy your pieces Fran. Keep it up!


almost 3 years ago Victoria Carr

Even though I was one of the people who was vehemently opposed to this reflection by Fran, I appreciate that you took the time to address the controversy it stirred up and respect your decision to stand behind the piece.

I also want to take this opportunity to let you know how thrilled I am at the feature Genius Recipes. It is outstanding.

I hope all your Vermont colleagues end up fine.


almost 3 years ago Food52

This is from your friendly editors at Food52.

We appreciate all of the commentary on this piece. It has inspired a lot of debate, and in some cases, anger and disappointment. As we were writing back to a Food52 member who had emailed us about this post, it occurred to us that many of the things we wrote to this person were things we also wanted to express to you here.

This hurricane has touched us as well. One of our staff members is still in Vermont, without power or water, in one of the isolated towns. Another person we work with was airlifted from a location in Vermont. Nothing tragic, and we are grateful for this, but we have certainly felt the effects of the hurricane.

Fran, who wrote this piece, had her own harrowing experiences in the 1989 earthquake and Hurricane Andrew, covered both disasters (spending more than a year reporting the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew), and delivered food to families who had lost everything. We felt she was unusually qualified to write about the conflicting emotions that one feels when natural disasters occur. And we believe that despite having feelings that she herself acknowledged were both irrational and insensitive, it was terrain worth exploring. Rather than a fluff piece on comfort food, she wrote candidly about natural impulses related to survival, and how a desire to cook ties into all of this.

We can understand if you don't agree with Fran, or find her piece dismaying, but we hope you'll respect our decision to leave this piece on our site. This comment thread, in which there are strong and strongly differing views, worked as it should. People expressed themselves and they compared views, and we value that -- our community doesn't always have to agree, and if they don't, we want them to explain why.

All our best,

Amanda & Merrill


almost 3 years ago lovetocookandeat

If Fran had stuck to describing the benefits of weathering a storm and not highlighted her secret desire for something more "horrible"--as well as her disappointment that it was not so--the story would have been excellent. Instead she deliberately and specifically evoked the memory of a hurricane in which thousands of people died, as well as the nightmare of an earthquake in which only one of the horrors was when a dead mother had to be sawed in two by rescue personnel in order to free her seriously injured (and conscious) son from beneath her. Breezily claiming she doesn’t wish destruction and fear on anyone doesn’t eradicate the cruelty of *wishing* for a natural *disaster* in the public forum you provided her. Fran may be unusually qualified to write about the conflicting emotions that people unscathed by a natural disaster experience but she completely disregarded the feelings of people who have been permanently scarred by one—many of whom may try and escape the memory of their horror by visiting this site.


almost 3 years ago MotherWouldKnow

Though I love to cook when the weather is stormy (and have had to cook up the contents of my freezer of that of neighbors several times when power went out and our old fashioned gas stove was the only operable one), I couldn't revel in this story. Irene has brought tragedy to many communities. I read the post as my husband was telling me of family in NJ - barely an hour from NYC - whose neighborhood in Cranford is devastated. Many families have lost everything (and some their lives) - I can't see this as an opportunity to enjoy the changes that Mother Nature has brought upon us.


almost 3 years ago MotherWouldKnow

Though I love to cook when the weather is stormy (and have had to cook up the contents of my freezer of that of neighbors several times when power went out and our old fashioned gas stove was the only operable one), I couldn't revel in this story. Irene has brought tragedy to many communities. I read the post as my husband was telling me of family in NJ - barely an hour from NYC - whose neighborhood in Cranford is devastated. Many families have lost everything (and some their lives) - I can't see this as an opportunity to enjoy the changes that Mother Nature has brought upon us.


almost 3 years ago Juicy Bits

Hooray for Fran! Of course she doesn't want anyone to be harmed during the storm, she was looking at what can be a wonderful by-product of a horrible event. Being home, being with family, and staying close to the kitchen are wonderful things and yes, it's a shame that it takes a storm to get us there, but there's nothing wrong with her pointing out how wonderful it is when you do get there.


almost 3 years ago Tarte

"Hunkering down at home – being forced to stay in – during wild weather has a lot of appeal when your home and life aren’t in any real peril."

You don't say.


almost 3 years ago Janet Teacher

I found this piece loathsome. I had intended to make blueberry jam, ketchup, tomato sauce, and pickled jalapenos during the storm. But we had no electricity, water, or internet for four days, and having lots of pretty produce in the house does not always make things cozy. Food rots, and it's a bitch when you can't wash mud off your hands before making dinner, or take a shower, or run the dishwasher. Forget about trying to sterilize jam jars. A young woman drowned in her car nearby. Is that bad enough for you, Fran? I watched 10 quarts of beautiful blueberries go bad, and the San Marzanos and big yellow Brandywines in my garden are mired in smelly mud. Amanda and Merrill have shown very poor judgment. This is food writing at its oblivious, self-absorbed worst.


almost 3 years ago Victoria Carr

I completely concur, as evidenced by my own comment. I was so annoyed when I wrote it, it wasn't even grammatical!

Loathsome, oblivious, and self-absorbed. Perfect words to describe this despicable piece.


almost 3 years ago BubbleChild

Excellent post. I could not agree more!! It was absolutely a blast being stuck inside, and all I did was cook, as well. Priorities are straight, my dear.
I chronicled my brother and my adventures in sibling bonding and eating over the storm here:
Recipe for goat cheese pasta and tarragon white wine chicken, included!


almost 3 years ago Debbie Morgan Nisson

Cookie recipe? Pretty please..


almost 3 years ago Anniebz

Really? A few weeks ago we lost our power for 5 days, it rained 9 inches in two days and the winds reached gusts of 60 miles an hour. I live in a suburb of Chicago. We sucked it up and lived like we were at Camp Windigo (my old girl Scout camp 50some years ago). We carried water to flush our toilets. We cleaned up the mess outside, cut the tree limbs into smaller pieces, and waited for the water in our backyard to go down. I didn't see it on TV. (of course we didn't have power for a TV) No one made a big deal. No news man was here. We got a little mad at Commonwealth Edison but we did slow down and guess what - we were happy. Good article - this is about the food part of a storm not about the storm.


almost 3 years ago Rick

I concur about the sad, untimely quality of this post. I am writing from Vermont, where 13 towns have been cut off from the outside world (some without communication of any kind, including cell). As a public school administrator, I have students -- and teachers -- whose homes were completely destroyed, and others who cannot get to whatever IS left. There is tremendous destruction and hardship up here, to say nothing of multiple deaths.

I love Food52, but this post should be pulled.


almost 3 years ago Bevi

Rick, as a former Vermont teacher I have seen tragedy through the eyes of my students and families. It's heartbreaking to hear about and see the destruction in our state. I am going to stick my neck out there and suggest to any posters reading this who are so inclined to make a contribution to the Vermont Foodbank. I have worked directly with this organization in the past and know how diligent the staff is to get food to as many Vermonters in need as possible.

In my case, with two children in Brooklyn waiting for the storm to touch down, I found my solace in the kitchen, as usual.


almost 3 years ago Bevi


almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you for posting the link, Bevi.


almost 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Yes, thank you Bevi. This is exactly what we need. It doesn't help anyone to worry, wring hands, get angry or call names. That only adds to the general misery. When there is something to be done, or a way that we are capable of helping, then we should do it. To paraphrase something I heard from the Dalai Lama, if tragedy strikes and you can do something, then do it, and why worry. And if tragedy strikes and you can do absolutely nothing, then why worry. Of course we all feel horribly, horribly sad for the people who have lost lives, livelihoods, property, and many other things in this horrible devastation. But being worried and feeling horrible on behalf of others doesn't actually accomplish anything. We should feel empathic, and help in the ways we can, and honor people by being incredibly grateful and celebrating and nourishing the life we do have. Let's see if we can drive up those donations to the our neighbors if they need helping, and cook for our loved ones if we're stuck at home.


almost 3 years ago garlic&lemon

Fran's point that storms give us the (forced) opportunity to slow down, visit, cook and share looks at the silver lining in a potentially bad situation. This is good. But the good core of the piece does not excuse the unskillful way with language that offended some of us who have experienced disasters. By defending that unskillful language, Food 52 excuses it. Fran says that she is not looking for tragedy while at the same time acknowledging that she wanted things to be worse. And her flip way of excusing that opinion (Call me crazy. Go ahead. He already has.) just added salt to the cut. Food 52 chided dymnyno for a disrespectful tone. I found Fran's unskillful remarks disrespectful, although they were by no means the heart of the piece. Still, they are there.


almost 3 years ago Victoria Carr

I am shocked a piece this offensive would be published here. Maybe it's just too much Food52 All the Time, and you're running out of anything worthwhile to say.

I understand what human hunger is all about. I read, and enjoyed, and, especially as a New Yorker, related to Amanda Hesser's Food Diary about eating with friends after September Eleventh.

But really, the Passaic River was still rising this morning, and food and aid is being airlifted to Vermont,

" 'You’re not supposed to WANT it to be horrible!' But I kind of did."

Pathetic and disgusting.


almost 3 years ago deanna1001

I was most happy to test the cherry tomato recipe for Bloody Sunrise Grits Casserole - and seeing as there wasn't much of a sunrise to be had here, it was fun! The night before I made a vat of chili and cornbread. Yes -- much cooking is done in times of weather hysteria. Dymnyno - I feel your pain. I had friends who were devastated by that event and I tend to agree with you - language is a powerful tool and though the intent of Fran's post was clear, the words can still cause pain. Fortunately, this event was not as horrific! At least here on high ground in NYC.


almost 3 years ago Cindyatbeach

So I'm not the only one who made jam during the hurricane, here in Virginia Beach. I brought 5 pounds of rosa rugosa rose hips home from a trip to Maine last week and made the jam on Saturday. I didn't have pectin but had a wonderful recipe using natural pectin - apple and oranges with their rind. Came out great - a real labor of love and it kept my mind on something other than worrying about my roof lifing off my condo!!


almost 3 years ago Shelly Peppel

My kids and I once experienced a small (but scary to us) tornado when visiting friends in Virginia. Our hosts basement was severely flooded, and there was a good bit of damage throughout their town. But all our spirits were lifted when the owner of