Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Hurricane Season: Prepare Your Kitchens

June 5th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Hurricane Andrew wiped out the city of Homestead

There’s really no excuse these days for not being ready for a hurricane. After watching the devastation from tornadoes, which strike with little to no warning, we in Florida should be thankful for the sometimes weeks long watch over tropical systems that can affect us, giving us plenty of time to prepare.

This year may stack up to be a rough one. Along with trimming trees and cleaning up the yard in advance, there’s plenty to do now in the kitchen – long before you’re glued to the Weather Channel. We forget how long the lines are and how empty the shelves become at grocery and home improvement stores – and say we’ll prepare ahead next time. Well, here’s your warning – don’t wait! Even if you get a little each week, you’ll be ready.

Here’s a list. Add your own hurricane prep tips, and favorite foods, in comments below.

First: Clean out the freezer

Hurricane season is no time to be storing half a cow in the freezer, or large meats that will go bad if the power dies – and chances are 99 percent that it will. Start cooking off those roasts and start buying only what you need for a few weeks out. Many insurance policies will cover freezer losses, but they’re minor if you’re dealing with a missing roof or room, and people won’t remember to claim them.

Besides, the freezer’s where you want to store water jugs. Stock up on frozen water. Ice is a commodity when it’s 98 degrees out and there’s no air conditioning. You must keep hydrated if working outside to clean up in the heat. Cool water is the best for this.

Freeze gallon jugs of water (pour some out to create expansion space) and you’ll have clean drinking/cooking water, and ice, at least for a while. Avoid buying bagged cubes of ice – ice blocks last much longer and can keep your freezer iced for about 48 hours before you have to start eating or chucking its contents. Fill your freezer as full as possible, or pack with newspaper; a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one and will last longer if the power goes out.

Do buy bags of frozen peas and carrots, or corn, with no sauce – these do not need cooking and can be eaten out of the bag when thawed or added to salads or stirred into a box of ramen noodles for some vegetable action.

Clean out the fridge while you’re at it – you’ll thank me later. When it’s 100 degrees outside, and you’re tackling a smelly refrigerator, it’s grim. Do it now, while you have air conditioning and tidy things up. Get rid of year-old salad dressings, half-tablespoons of jam or mustard, and pare down. Start buying smaller bottles of mayo, sour cream and things that would go bad after 2 days. Some sauces and dressings (soy, oil and vinegar based only) are OK out of the fridge; most others need to be tossed. Golden rule on this one: If in doubt, throw it out. Think this way: Questionable food: Maybe $4. Hospital visit for food poisoning, $4000. Do the math!

The Hurricane Pantry Box

A separate box or shelf of food and supplies that can see you through a week without power is essential; a two-week supply might make you the neighborhood hero if we’re hard-hit.

Get these things now, a little at a time, to avoid panic-buyers:

  • A small source for boiling water and cooking. If it’s a grill or a small 2-burner propane stove like the chefs use or a camping stove, if you can boil water you’ve got a lot of options, including a hot cup of coffee in the morning. (I like this model, Stansport Propane Stove with Piezo Igniter, which costs around $50 online and uses propane cannisters.)
  • Protein foods that provide energy and nutrition. Shelf stable proteins such as tuna and chicken in vacuum pouches, nut butters, canned fish such as sardines or other fish can be eaten without cooking. Shelf stable sausages, bacon or jerky should be used sparingly – they are salty, and in the heat, make you thirsty, but do add a lot of flavor to a bean salad.

  • Little boxes of shelf-stable milk. You’ll have ice at some point to keep leftovers, perhaps, but by using small boxes for cereal and thinning soups, you won’t have much waste if ice isn’t available.
  • Canned soups. Splurge for organic soups that have less sodium than most others. Gazpacho, vegetable and bean soups are not bad at room temp, 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.
  • 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, and 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 refried 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 ’em with some ramen noodles you’ve poured water over or rice from a boiling bag, and you’ll have a and a jar of spicy pasta sauce, it’s a meal that’s better than canned spaghetti.
  • Canned fruits and shelf-stable pudding. Dessert is easy; layer some canned fruits, the pudding and crushed cookies (splurge: amaretti or chocolate wafers). It doesn’t have to be cold to be good; the pudding gives you the creamy flavor you’ll miss from milk. Gourmet hurricane parfait.
  • Dried fruit. Figs, apricots, dates and dried cranberries have nutrients that boost energy and help hydration, such as potassium.
  • Coffee, tea, fruit and vegetable juices. 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. (I like this Vacuum Insulated Stainless-Steel Coffee Press since it is a Thermos, too.) Pour boiling water over coffee grounds, and press down after a short steeping time. Voila! Very good coffee if you use good grounds. 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 dehyration.
  • 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.

Avoid these foods:

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 are in short supply – 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 vegetable juice with low-sodium.

Alcohol. It’s a well known fact 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’s gone and when you don’t have power tools in your hands.

Dry goods and clean-up helpers

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 foods and put the things from low cabinets such as pots and portable appliances onto the countertops. Cover them with plastic tarps (a garbage bag slit open makes an OK water barrier; fasten it down with duct tape or clamps.)

Just in case, use a permanent marker to write the names of the canned goods on the cans in case heat or water causes them 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.

Garbage bags. Heavy-duty contractor bags are available from the home improvement stores and make terrific tarps. They also hold heavy, pointy things, so you can pack food boxes and utensils in them without tearing them.

Paper plates, napkins, cups and plastic utensils. You won’t have an easy time of dish-washing, so for this week or so, use paper and disposables.

Wet naps, paper towels and waterless hand sanitizer. See above.

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.

Fuel for your gas grill. Tank up now, and buy an extra tank of gas to see you through the storm. Having an iron skillet to cook with on it protects your good kitchen pots. Charcoal for a grill that’s used only outdoors if you need it. Never use charcoal in a house or in an enclosed space like a garage – it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and death.

Extra coolers. You’ll want to be able to get ice whenever you can find it after a storm, and keep it.

Grill lighters. Useful for lighting propane lights and more. Avoid using bare candles – they’re simply too dangerous. If you must use them, put them into a heavy weighted container or jar (a canning jar works well) to prevent tipping, and keep them well away from anything flammable.

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. They also sell a charger 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 chop and haul that tree out of your driveway.

Pack up your family recipes. Some of the saddest stories we read after storms are of families who lost photos and recipes tying them to relatives who also were lost. Take a minute and box up treasured recipes or cookbooks, as you pack photos and other important papers you’d hate to lose.

More hurricane help

Here are about hurricane prep.

Hurricanes and food, Jan Norris

Hurricane supply list, Sun Sentinel

Hurricane food supply list, St. Pete Times

Hurricane food preparedness, Hurricanepreparedness.org




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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lorna // Jun 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Lots of good advice here. The hurricane pantry box and dry goods and clean-up helpers give me concrete aids to follow. Thanks!!

  • 2 Jan Norris // Jun 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I have some nits to pick and some other suggestions.

    1. Don’t count on the inverter that plugs into your car cigarette lighter to have enough amperage to handle a toaster or coffee pot.

    It’s a good idea to have spare fuses for the power jack and / or the inverter just in case you try to get power greedy and plug in more than it can handle.

    Don’t run your car inside the garage unless you want to wake up dead.

    2. That propane light source puts out carbon monoxide the same way as the grill. Not as much, but be careful using it in an small space.

    3. Chemical glow sticks last 8-12 hours, put out a fair amount of light in total darkness and, tossed on the floor in a hallway, can be used as walking guides, even when they are almost exhausted. They have a long shelf life and are waterproof.

    4. A lot of the preps Jan mentions can be done away with if you have a generator. I bought a 3K unit after Hugo and didn’t use it for 10 years. It had enough power to run the fridge, a window AC unit and some lights, if I juggled what I turned on at the same time.

    (A small generator won’t have enough oomph to handle central air, so a small AC unit stashed away for emergency use means the difference between sleeping hot and sweaty or comfortably.

    After the first storm, I bought a 7,500-watt unit and converted it to run on gas, propane and natural gas. I tied it into my breaker box, so now I could pick and chose whole circuits to fire up, not just individual appliances. If you have natural gas, you don’t have to store anything, you won’t run out of it and you won’t have to get up every few hours to fill the tank.

    5. If you still have a landline, make sure you have at least one old-fashioned phone. Cordless phones won’t work without power.

    6. While covering hurricanes, I found that pizza joints are the restaurant most likely to be open if the power is off. Most of their ovens are gas-fired, and they want to use up all the food in the freezer before it goes bad.

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