Cook Me Like a Hurricane

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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.