Saturday, February 24, 2018
Cooking

How junk food helped us get through Hurricane Irma

Halfway through my third bagel, I began to wonder if it was really necessary.

It was Friday, a full 60 hours before Hurricane Irma was forecast to touch the state of Florida. Everyone still had power. It wasn't even raining.

And yet, all I could manage to eat were white carbs, slathered in cream cheese, chewy and warm and full of magical calming powers.

As a native Floridian, I grew up with hurricane anxiety and have lived through a handful, through days without power and trees in the streets. But the statewide panic leading up to Hurricane Irma felt new. We weren't just stocking up on non-perishables. We were soothing our souls with crunchy chips, cold ice cream, chocolate cookies, soda (lots of soda, so much soda, why so much soda?) and other things we don't normally allow ourselves to eat.

Food that could survive without refrigeration became a necessity, and also our main source of comfort. We doubled down on things we hadn't eaten since we were ravenous pre-teens — fruit snacks and pudding cups and Cheez-Its. We couldn't control Irma's path, but we could control how many Pringles we stuffed into our mouths.

We were shocked to discover how quickly grocery stores can run out of bottled water. We asked ourselves strange questions: Will my carefully curated supply of seltzer water quench like a gallon of drinking water?

Bananas will keep on a counter for several days, but we wanted no part of that.

Friday night meant stuffing our faces at a restaurant and living our best lives, because we weren't sure when the next hot meal would come.

Then came Saturday, and that turn right toward Tampa Bay, and lunch was a hasty collection of whatever was within arm's reach as we prepared our homes for the worst.

On an eerie car ride to Orlando, where my husband and I went to hunker down with relatives, there was caramel popcorn straight from the bag. I spent a few seconds wondering whether I had eaten way too much, or not nearly enough. Nights of fitful sleep only encourage binge-snacking. On social media, people were joking about exhausting their hurricane supplies before Irma even touched Florida. I opened a second bag of popcorn.

On Sunday, a friend and I texted, commiserating over fear and junk food. "Chips and candy and Goldfish," she said. "Fruit snacks for some nutrition."

As Irma took its time meandering over Cuba, and meteorologists became even less certain where she would make landfall, we fashioned ice cream sandwiches out of frozen cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream. We got in a hot meal, then promptly lost power. Even though we weren't that hungry, we inhaled oily tortilla chips with mounds of jarred salsa, blocks of cheese, bottles of wine.

And then on Sunday evening, when we huddled in a closet because the winds sounded like they might rip the roof off, we finished the ice cream, because it would melt in the powerless freezer anyway.

When the storm cleared out Monday, we nibbled here and there, by now totally sick of piddling snacks. For lunch, my husband and I ate two slices of our wedding cake, which we had been saving in the freezer for our first wedding anniversary in October.

The power was out all day, but it wasn't so bad, sitting on the front porch with a very fall-like breeze welcoming us out of hurricane hibernation.

Even days later, it feels like the weather has shifted ever so slightly, away from summer and into the best time of the year: Comfort Food Season.

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