By Jan Norris *
* Jan Norris originally posted this story on Aug. 18, 2017, while serving as editor of Florida Food & Farm.
Don’t wait to prepare your home — including your kitchen — for a hurricane. The season begins June 1, although most hurricanes don’t develop until later — usually in August and September.
During the past two years, since then-Florida Food & Farm Editor Jan Norris posted this story, the U.S. has seen several devastating storms. Harvey, which passed far to the south of Florida in 2017, hit southern Texas as a Category-4 hurricane with severe flooding and caused about $125 billion in damages.
Michael roared ashore in 2018 as a Category-5 hurricane, targeting Florida’s Panhandle and destroying the town of Mexico Beach. Michael was the first Cat-5 storm since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew to hit the contiguous United States.
Considering that hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30, we have a long way to go before the threat of a tropical cyclone passes. So how can we prepare for what we all know is an eventuality — a direct hit, or at least a glancing blow?
Even “minor” storms can cause problems
Of all the storm effects, power failures are the most common, and even a thunderstorm can cause them. The power outage may last a couple of hours or a couple of weeks – either way, it’s problematic – and the “minor” storms can happen anytime – hurricane not needed.
Moral of the story: It’s never too early to stock your “emergency food box” and to prepare your kitchen for a hurricane. Smart people prepare – the others regret. So get busy and get ready. It’s so easy to say, “I’ll get to it.”
Prepare your kitchen for a hurricane; stock up with essentials
A separate box (or two) of non-perishable foods and supplies that can see you through at least a week without power is essential. A two-week supply might make you the neighborhood hero if we’re hard-hit.
Today’s laws require grocery stores and some other places to have emergency generators, but that doesn’t ensure they’ll have stock on their shelves. And there’s no guarantee you will have places to put perishables, so don’t rely on this plan.
Get these things now, a little at a time, to avoid panicked buyers.
- A small source for boiling water and cooking. If it’s a grill, or a small two-burner propane stove like the chefs use, or a camping stove, you can boil water and have a lot of options, including a hot cup of coffee in the morning. (See below about using these inside the house.)
- Gas or charcoal for your grill. Fill your tanks now and buy a spare. If you have a gas grill, you can cook anything. Get out your cast-iron skillet and a spatula and there you have it: a total kitchen.
- Charcoal – a warning – don’t use it in the house or even the garage without total ventilation. Same goes for propane – even the little stoves put out dangerous gases that could be toxic in an enclosed area. It’s best to cook under a cover, outdoors if at all possible. If you need a windbreak, do not make one out of cardboard – use metal baking pans to shield the sides of your stove from the wind. (This is why the camping ones are good – the windbreaks are built-on.)
- Remember to have matches or a grill-lighter in your box.
- Protein foods that provide energy and nutrition. Shelf-stable proteins such as tuna and chicken in vacuum pouches, nut butters, and canned fish such as sardines or other fish can be eaten without cooking. These are the first shelves to empty when a hurricane approaches, and they’re non-perishable. Get them now.
- Shelf-stable sausages, bacon or jerky should be used sparingly – they are salty and, in the heat, make you thirsty; but they do add a lot of flavor to a bean salad or a quickly scraped-together ramen-noodle dish. Beans have protein, and many canned varieties aren’t bad. Frozen ones can be used if they have no sauce on them and have thawed out but are still cold. Buy plain ones, but don’t stock up on them.
- Small boxes of shelf-stable milk. You’ll have ice at some point to keep leftovers, perhaps. But by using small boxes for cereal and for thinning soups, you won’t suffer much waste if ice isn’t available. Milk is great for making the instant, boxed mac-n-cheese for the kids to keep them satisfied, at least for one meal.
- Canned soups. Splurge for organic soups that have less sodium than most others. Gazpacho, vegetable and bean soups are not bad at room temperature, but if you have the little stove, you can heat up stews and make boil-in-bag rice or couscous to put with them for a decent meal. Conserve your fuel, however – more may be hard to come by if you are out of power for a lengthy time.
- Salsa is a terrific flavor-booster for several other foods. With tomatoes, peppers and onions, it’s a vegetable drawer in a jar. Quick meal: Combine it with chicken from a pouch, pour it over couscous, and sprinkle a little box of raisins over it. Add a pinch of cinnamon, and you have a somewhat exotic meal. Layer salsa with canned re-fried beans mixed with a little cumin, and the pouched chicken, diced. Serve it with tortilla chips, or just as-is with a fork.
- Canned vegetables. They’re already cooked; toss them with some ramen noodles you’ve poured water over, or rice from a boiling bag, and you’ll have a jar of spicy pasta sauce. It’s a meal that’s better than canned spaghetti.
- Canned fruits and shelf-stable pudding. Pudding affords diners who’ve been without something creamy a way of satisfying that craving. For dessert: Layer canned fruits, the pudding and crushed cookies (splurge: amaretti or chocolate wafers). It doesn’t have to be cold to be good; you’ll enjoy gourmet “hurricane parfait.” Pick up some mangoes that blew down if you have them.
- Dried fruit. Figs, apricots, dates and dried cranberries have nutrients, such as potassium, that boost energy and help hydration.
- Coffee, tea: The ritual of a hot cup of coffee or tea can be a comfort after a storm. For this, get a press-pot, also called a French press. And remember to buy ground coffee or to grind some just before the storm. Pour boiling water over coffee grounds, and press down after a short steeping time. Very good coffee if you use good grounds. Or go with a good instant coffee – espresso if you like it strong.
- Juices: Buy vegetable juice for the vitamins. Try to find low-sodium types. Canned fruit juices are also good for vitamin benefits if they’re not full of added sugar. Avoid giving too much fruit juice to kids and infants; it will cause diarrhea that can result in dehydration.
- Instant potatoes and boxed mac-n-cheese. Use your boxed milk and the grill or little stove to make these special treats that provide a taste of comfort when you’re really bummed out.
- Fresh fruits: Apples, oranges, bananas, lemons and limes – all keep at room temperature for several days.
- Cheese spreads or American cheese: These keep at room temp and can enhance a sandwich or crackers.
Remember your pets and have extra food for them. Have extra formula or Boost drinks for infants and the elderly.
Foods to avoid
- Salty and sweet snack foods; salty nuts. It’s easy to reach for a box of peanut-butter crackers or chips and salsa, but the temps are going to be very high and you’ll be thirsty. Water and ice will be scarce – try to avoid creating thirst.
- Candy and sweets. Sugar makes you thirsty, too. Eat a can of fruit or pudding if you want something sweet.
- Sports or energy drinks. Take care when drinking these – while they add potassium, they also contain sodium and huge amounts of sugar. Hydrate with water or low-sodium vegetable juice.
- Alcohol. It’s well known that most of the deaths from hurricanes occur not during one, or as the result of winds — but of people doing stupid things after a storm. Like using a chain-saw while under the influence. If we have a serious storm, you’ll need a clear head. Save the margaritas for celebrating long after the storm is gone and when you don’t have power tools in your hands.
Dry goods – clean-up and packing items
Garbage bags. Heavy-duty contractor bags are great non-square alternatives to tubs. They also hold heavy, pointy things, so you can pack food boxes and utensils in them without tearing them. Highly recommended for a variety of uses.
Paper plates, napkins, cups and plastic utensils. You won’t have an easy time of dishwashing, so for this week or so, use paper and disposables.
Moist towelettes, paper towels and waterless hand sanitizer. Gloves are also a good idea.
Pack up the kitchen. If you know you’re in for a flood, or even suspect you’ll have water pooling in the kitchen, bag up all your non-perishable foods and put the things from the lower cabinets, such as pots and portable appliances, onto the countertops. Cover them with plastic tarps (a contractor-grade plastic bag – available at home warehouse stores – slit open makes an OK water barrier; fasten it down with duct tape or clamps to keep water from leaking into it). Just in case, use a permanent marker to write the names of the canned goods on the cans in case heat or water causes the labels to be lost. Date them at the same time. Before using them, if they’ve been wet, wash them in soapy water. If the can is bulged at all, toss it; the contents have been compromised.
Manual can opener. The power will be out, remember? Propane lights. The same canisters used to power the portable stoves can be screwed onto lamps that are bright enough to cook by. Use judiciously and with ventilation. Better to employ battery-operated lights if possible. Fuel for your gas grill – another reminder. Tank up now, and buy an extra tank of gas to see you through the storm. Charcoal and matches. Extra coolers. You’ll want to be able to get ice whenever you can find it after a storm, and to keep it. These are a lifesaver for some. Extra batteries and a charger that pulls from your car battery. Flashlights and phones are very useful in emergencies. Make sure you have batteries for the lights, and a way to charge your phone from your car. There is also a charger on the market that works with a 120-volt plug, so you could, ostensibly, plug in your toaster or coffeemaker to your car’s lighter. Cash. If there are restaurants open for business, there’s a chance they can’t take credit cards and will ask for cash payment. It’s a good idea to have some on hand, too, for paying the neighbor’s kids to haul that debris out of your driveway.
Plan to have a week’s worth of water per person. Stock your freezer with at least two 1-gallon jugs (leave head space). These will be ice blocks – and if you can do it before the storm hits, fill the freezer with them. Ice lasts longer in block form. Defrost and drink it – it will not go to waste.
Water is more essential than food. And if water lines are compromised – not typical, but it can happen – you will need water.
Packing up: What’s in your kitchen that you can’t replace?
In all of this, remember what matters most. For many of us, the kitchen is where we keep our cherished family recipes – stuffed inside a cookbook or in a folder or bursting from a recipe box. In a flood, they’d be ruined and, in dire instances, blown away.
My good friend and fellow food editor, Judy Walker of New Orleans, wrote the book Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans about retrieving recipes for readers after Hurricane Katrina. She compiled the favorites to replace those that were lost in the flooding there. The stories were heart-wrenching.
Treat recipes as you do beloved photos – pack them safely in a waterproof box and seal it securely. As a back-up, scan them and put them on a flash drive and put that somewhere safe (and waterproof!) – and do it now.
Here are links to other sites that can guide you in further preparation, and a previous post of mine.
Get busy, folks!
This article first appeared on JanNorris.com
(* Jan Norris originally posted this story on Aug. 18, 2017, while serving as editor of Florida Food & Farm. For a variety of food-related advice and other information, visit www.jannorris.com.)