August 24th will be the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida in 1992 with Category Five fury and practically flattened Homestead and Florida City.
My home in Coconut Grove, six miles south of downtown Miami, lost electric power for a week. Further south, from Kendall down to the Ocean Reef Club resort at the north end of Key Largo, the outages lasted longer. Some families endured cold showers and warm soda for more than a month.
More recently, in 2005, Katrina passed through Miami en route to New Orleans, followed later in the season by Wilma. Neither packed Andrew’s punch, though the cleanup afterwards was almost as exhausting, and the power was out for days or weeks after each storm. We waited three weeks after Wilma for the lights to come on.
Preparing for the next storm is a year-round activity in my household. We buy and rotate canned goods and fight a constant battle to reduce the quantity of food in our refrigerator and freezer during hurricane season.
I test outdoor cooking equipment, and store the best of these products where they are easy to reach. I also store empty coolers that see little use between storms.
A chilling problem
My solution to the lack of refrigeration is to fill a large cooler with ice as a storm approaches, and store in it some items I know I will need during and after the storm, such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, milk, and sesame oil. I have to chill many of these items in regular-sized containers because they aren’t available in small containers.
Just in case, I always put eggs and bacon in a cooler for ready post-storm access, and I store bread, nut butter, and jelly on a countertop for quick snacking.
Early each morning in the days following a storm, I drive a local circuit looking for ice. I’m usually successful. Local merchants bring in large bags of ice and sell them at reasonable prices. They and we know we will continue to shop with them after normalcy is restored.
The Milam’s Markets store in Coconut Grove now has 100 percent power generation, so it will be able to sell ice and food, and not sustain huge losses as in the past. Our local Publix Supermarkets also have generators now. Most homeowners have not purchased generators, so we need to buy food we can eat immediately with no leftovers.
Based on past experience, my house is a hurricane survivor but my yard is a debris magnet. Cleanup is time-consuming and exhausting work. Before a storm, I bring into the house various outdoor clean-up tools: rakes, wheelbarrows, and shovels (including my husband’s old snow shovel).
Hungry family members have to be fed. We clear the pool deck, and set up an outdoor kitchen with a folding table we keep just for this purpose. To keep hot items from burning the table top, I use some insulating pads my father gave me half a century ago.
We cook outdoors and eat early. Without air conditioning, the sun and heat awaken us early. Breakfast is a sandwich or eggs. We boil water to wash the dishes, and simplify cleanup by using paper plates and plastic eating utensils.
Lunch is even simpler — something we can eat quickly that requires little or no preparation time.
Although we can cook something for dinner if we have to, we often rely upon restaurants in our neighborhood that have opened with limited hurricane menus. We may find out who is open by flagging down a police officer. About 4 PM we shower and then walk to a nearby restaurant. Sometimes we must eat dinner early because a curfew is in effect. At least once in the past, we’ve dined near members of Miami’s SWAT team in full uniform.
Note: Click on the “Subscribe” button above to receive an email each time the Miami Food and Drink Examiner publishes a new article.