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Unfrozen: An Introspective Look at Power Outages

Faced with the unpleasant task of purging my freezer after five days without power, I take the opportunity to re-organize my food storage and my thoughts.

Well, I thought as I stared down into the frosty abyss, I suppose it's time to start making some decisions.

I was not a contestant for "Survivor: Antarctica." Nor was I strapping on goggles for a trip down the bunny slopes. I was simply contemplating, in the middle of another hundred-degree day without electricity, the contents of my slowly-thawing chest freezer.

In the grand scheme of things, four (soon to be five) days without blenders, hot water and e-mail was not a tremendous hardship.  Actually, in some ways, it was fun.  We spent days at the pool, evenings with friends and nights in the basement, sleeping on creaky cots from our college days and wearing earplugs to block out the noise of our neighbors' generators.

My husband, bless him, had made several trips out for ice, dry and wet, and we had managed to save a lot.  But, not knowing how much longer the outage would last, and simultaneously preparing to head out of town for the weekend, it was time to start using up, giving away and transferring to storage.

And throwing out.

It pains me to throw food away.  I hear the voice of the animated sorcerer from the Sesame Street animated short who proclaimed that such an offense was VERY WRONG, and I see the times I stood in line at the grocery store trying not to look at the total on the computer screen that mounted higher with alarming speed.

But here we were, and it needed to be done.  I had a huge black trash bag, sturdy and opaque; my sins would slip by unnoticed and be gone in the wee hours of the next morning's trash pickup.  And, truth be told, there were plenty of things here I would not use even if they had not, maybe, gone bad. 

A freezer is such a personal thing. I am always embarrassed when I have to shuffle the contents of a friend's fridge to fit in my contribution to the meal; it feels as intrusive as if I'd opened her medicine chest for clues about her personal grooming habits.  I feel the same way about mine, cringing when people rummage around in search of ice cubes, which by the way are in the back on the left, under the mostly-empty carton of soy ice cream that we couldn't bear to touch after Lent had passed, or the lopsided disk of chilling tart dough, or the precarious stash of cut corn (whatever you do, don't bang the zippered bag against the side of the fridge to break apart the kernels, or do so with less gusto than I used, memorably, some years ago.)

So. Out with the squares and squares of neat gingerbread cookies that had built Lowesville many Christmases ago: dozens of architect (and architecturally-minded) friends had created a gorgeous planned community with licorice eaves and sugar-wafer steps, and as we dusted the whole table (and most other surfaces in the room) with powdered sugar, we'd had so much fun that we were sure we'd repeat the event soon.  Those unused cookies would be great to have later, right?

I'd felt the same way about the extra sauces I'd made and frozen, sofrito and sherried beef and three kinds of pesto. I had popped them from the ice cube trays into labeled plastic bags, full of chilly promise, as a defense against exhausted and hungry evenings when we were tempted to call out for pizza. But we hadn't remembered them.  And now, slimy masses in plastic bags dripping with accumulated condensation, I said goodbye with little regret.

As I reached the depths, I got bolder, throwing away a package of scallion pancakes (hey, ) and another of smoked salmon, and many of bread that had gone stale before we could use it and had instead been sawed into chunks with the vague future intention of bread pudding. Even some of the ice packs we kept in the bottom couldn't be saved, having burst and spilled their viscous, gritty liquid on neighboring boxes.

The bags and bags of fruit that I had labored to pick, tote home and freeze on trays (separately, so I could scoop out a cup at a time for a smoothie or crumble)? They were slushy messes, but I couldn't bear to part with them. Instead I lit the stove and cooked them down with lemon and a little sugar, then mashed and strained them for slightly-chunky fruit purées that would fare well in summer cocktails before dinner and over ice cream afterward.  I was so happy to have used them that I didn't even mind cleaning up the mess the strawberries had made, leaking through a tiny hole to spread crimson sunshine all over the freezer floor.  

And I saved which not only had stayed frozen, but also helped to keep other things cold (as had the unopened jugs of apple cider I discovered, with delight, at the bottom.) These and a few other choice items went to live in a spare freezer at my parents' until, finally, the power came back on. I reorganized grains, nuts and other nearly-nonperishables with my rescued goods, and everything was clean and in place and indexed in a document I promised to consult more often when planning future meals.

My freezer is clean. Now I can't stop dreaming about what I'll put into it next.

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