Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stormy Weather. Just Couldn't Get My Poor Self Together.

Twenty years ago today, I called a client in Richmond, Virginia to explain that I might miss a deadline.

“The electricity's out, but I’m sure it will be back up in a couple of hours.  No problem.”

Oops.  That was my first mistake.  That was no simple storm that had blown through the night before.  It was full-forced Hurricane Hugo, downing trees, snapping power lines and severely debilitating Charlotte for days and weeks to come.

I’d known Hugo was making landfall, of course.  Just not here.  Indeed, I’d been urging my Charleston family to come to my new home in Charlotte -- which we'd owned for less than a month -- and “be safe.”  Not one of them would consider it. So I spent the entire night worrying.  It never occurred to any of us that Hugo could come so far inland.  As the storm raged and transformers blew and oaks the size of bridge pilings tumbled like blocks, crushing homes and cars, I peered out the windows, thinking, “Wouldn’t you know it.  We bought one of those houses where you hear every single drop of rain.  Damn.”

I was still in denial as the sun came up.  Alongside our neighbors, we lurched like zombies, still in robes and pajamas, surveying the aftermath, climbing over fallen trees and mystified by the thick green confetti (leaf shreds) and swarming yellow jackets (apparently, they nest in the roots of trees -- who knew?)   "Well," I thought, “it can’t be like this everywhere.”

That was my second mistake.  Of course ours wasn't the only neighborhood hit.  We weren't the only ones who couldn't get their cars out of their driveways.  Even if we could, there was nowhere to go.  All – and I mean all – the streets were blocked.  (Miraculously though, as we stood outside, dazed, the delivery guy from The Charlotte Observer swashed a path through the neighborhood, tossing the day's paper in our driveways.

Just the day before, I'd stood in line at The Fresh Market.  I'm a Charlestonian, so with a storm abrewing I knew it was time to stock up on the basics -- milk, bread, beer.  Duh.

The woman ahead of me bought 10 pounds of shrimp (on sale!), and I remember thinking:  She's not in her right mind.  Southern storms often bring power outages.  What would she do if her freezer thawed?

I thought about that woman for days.  Maybe she just wanted to cook to settle her nerves.  Lord knows I did.  But post-Hugo, without a stove or oven or refrigerator, there was little I could do.  Yes, we grilled.  And grilled and grilled.  (Grilled coffee became a specialty of the house, as were scrambled eggs with almost anything tossed in, and grilled meat four or five times a day.)  In all, we were without power for about 10 days.  Faced with rapidly defrosting freezers we gorged on steak and shrimp (and one neighbor's venison).  We sipped warm beer.  Yuck.  We piled clothes in and around the hamper, in anticipation of an eventual laundry day.  Once some of the streets were cleared, one neighbor ventured out of town and returned with a bag of ice for us.  Upon receiving it, I kid you not:  I cried.  But most of my time was spent scheming about what I would cook when electricity once again graced our home.

Truly.  When power finally returned (and the Harris Teeter re-stocked and re-opened), I had all four burners going -- with chili, my favorite pasta sauce (the way I like it -- with peppers and mushrooms -- because I didn't have any kids to please), soup, you name it.  I was filling my stomach, filling the freezer and filling the house with comforting aromas.  I was like Scarlett O'Hara -- I would never go hungry again.

And that was my third mistake.  It wasn't bread or milk or even beer that I should've stocked up on before the storm.  Non-perishable, savory food would've been wiser.  Next time I'll know better.  As the next storm takes a turn, I'll be taking my first batch of Super Savory Cereal Mix out of the oven.  And stocking up on ice.  Warm beer is the pits.

Super Savory Cereal Mix
This is your basic "chex mix," but amped up.  I like mine much more flavor-filled than most recipes allow.  This is a particularly zesty version -- with lots of nuts, but no peanuts.  And it keeps for weeks.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and each impaled on a toothpick
1 stick of butter (not margarine)
1/3 cup worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1, 12-ounce box of Crispix cereal
1, 6.6 ounce bag of Goldfish snack crackers
1, 2-pound jar of deluxe mixed nuts (no peanuts)

1-2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat oven to 250.  In a very large roasting dish with high sides, stir in first five ingredients.  Put pan in oven until butter melts -- about five minutes.

Once butter has melted, gently stir in Crispix, Goldfish and nuts.  Bake for one hour, stirring (gently) at 15 minute intervals.

Remove from oven, and while still hot, sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.

Allow to cool and serve.

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