The East Coast dodged major damage when Hurricane Earl (and what’s with that name, will there be a Hurricane Bubba in our future?) danced away to make landfall in Nova Scotia last Saturday. And while Tropical Storm Hermine played havoc with traffic and the roads today, it was a very minor event by Texas standards.
But wait, Gaston (and why not Goober?) is cruising out there and we still have to wait until the official end of the hurricane season on Nov. 30. So let’s not get too complacent. Even though Texas has only been hit three times with hurricanes after mid-September in the last century, one of those was Ike in 2008, and we all know what that aftermath was like.
So maybe it’s time to take stock of the hurricane closet.
My hurricane closet is in the interior bathroom, per hurricane experts' planning advice. But it’s pretty bleak. An assortment of old towels and linens, extra toilet paper, a couple of flashlights with several packages of batteries of various sizes, a hand-crank radio-slash-flashlight-slash-phone charger (bought after Ike), a gallon of distilled water (bought before Rita, can distilled water go bad?) and the only purchase made this year: The economy pack of 32 bottles of water.
There are also a few candles, basically illegal to light in a high-rise, and a whole box of Molina’s matchbooks from the days before the smoking ban.
So where’s the food?
Glad you asked.
The pantry in the kitchen, which is also in an interior room (I’m not completely hurricane challenged), has a couple of cans of black beans, some canned sardines and smoked oysters. Yep, that’s about it. At least I do have a nonelectric can opener to go with them.
The Chihuahua fares better. He has his own stash of bottled water and a bag of dry dog food.
I usually wait until a storm threatens, like the day everyone evacuates, to stock up on cigarettes and wine.
I was lucky after Ike, as my neighborhood had power within two days and the restaurant across the street was up and running in three days, as was the local Whole Foods Market — otherwise I might have starved.
But what should you be stocking up on in the face of a storm?
Well, guess what. There is a book for that.
Florida International University has produced The Healthy Hurricane/Disaster Cookbook with recipes and instructions on what should be in your hurricane closet in case the worst happens. And no, wine and cigarettes are not listed in the book. Not that that means I won’t be stocking those.
What to Avoid
Fatty, salty, canned meats. Oops, put those Vienna sausages back. That goes for Spam, too. See, my smoked oysters are a good choice, about a third of the sodium as canned meats.
As for a whole side of cow: not a good idea unless you have a freezer on a generator and an outdoor grill.
I personally would like to add guacamole to this list. Please don’t ask.
What You Should Buy
The Healthy Hurricane/Disaster Cookbook is big on canned beans. Ah ha, me and generations of cowboys were right, beans are good for you and they last for eternity.
Also, canned chicken and seafood (again with the oysters!), a good source of non-salty protein. Instant oatmeal and peanut butter are also recommended staples. And don’t forget the dried fruits, nuts, seeds and granola bars. Apparently in the wake of a disaster you can also go on that weight-loss diet you’ve been meaning to get around to.
Other tips include storing fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and crackers stuffed into your fridge (the fuller it is, the colder it will stay after the electricity goes).
So, the big one is on the way, you’ve made the final trip to the grocers. Now, set your fridge and freezer to the coldest setting. Store water bottles in the freezer, put that manual can opener in the cupboard with your cans. If you have meats, cook them now and put them in the fridge. In the event of an actual hurricane, meats, fresh fruits and veggies will be the first things you eat. Also the white wine. Reds you can drink at room temperature.
As days of electric withdrawal drag on, you resort to cans of fruits, veggies, Chicken of the Sea and those wonderful smoked oysters. Also bourbon, which can be drunk warm. Trust me on this.
By now you will be having serious Tex-Mex withdrawal symptoms, but you can indulge in a can of black beans with some salsa mixed in. It’s not the same, but these are tough times so put on your big girl pants and deal with it.
In the final stages you may be eating the peanut butter. That’s OK. My mother once spent an entire semester at nursing school eating only peanut butter on crackers. She survived, and she was really, really slender.
What I’m saying here is this: We survived Ike, if we do get hit again before Nov. 30 we will survive again. Just get that hurricane closet in order and be prepared.
And remember, by the time the peanut butter jar runs out, there will be a Whole Foods and a Vallone restaurant somewhere that’s open.
Because, after all, this is Houston and our foodies would expect nothing less.