Accessing the Archives

The days after Sandy struck provided the perfect opportunity to travel down recipe memory lane.

by Karin Duncker • More.com Member { View Profile }

Back home again with electricity, hot water, and heat, and so very aware of just how lucky I am. Luckily, the water only came to the end of my block. Luckily, my friends and family here are all okay, though we will all be defining a new “normal” during the weeks and months to come. And most of all, luckily, I have a home to come back to. So before I launch into my usual pith, snark, and food-related fare, I need to express more than a bit of gratitude. Thank you to all the people I know and the many more I don’t who checked in, kept good thoughts and prayers flowing, and most importantly worked through conditions akin to a war zone to help us all. I may complain occasionally of the petty annoyances that come with living in a city of millions, but the experiences of the past week have made me even more grateful to be surrounded by so many kind, generous, resilient, funny, remarkable people who set aside individual needs and comfort for the needs of neighbors, strangers and community. You’ll never fully know how much it meant.

Like most of the East Coast, I spent a good part of the past weeks “urban camping” courtesy of a spiteful storm named Sandy. First let me say that I love living about a half-mile from the mighty Hudson, and thoroughly enjoy walking along its banks several times a week. I didn’t, however, feel the need to live DIRECTLY ON the Hudson, which is how it all started that week at around 8:30 p.m. There’s nothing like seeing your street turn into a coursing waterway to make you realize that things are going to change dramatically very soon. So after staring at it in blank disbelief, then staring at the darkness when the power went out almost immediately thereafter, “Camp Chelsea” officially began. Now I used to camp as a kid. So a degree of roughing it wasn’t a foreign concept. Why, it can be fun, romantic even reading by candlelight, playing board games, and if you have a partner, finding ways to keep warm in the dark. Of course I had heeded the advice pre-storm and made preparations to ride it out a while. Everyone has his or her emergency preparedness priorities and these were mine. A working flashlight with new batteries and plenty of candles. Drinking water, peanut butter, chocolate. A Malbec, a Cab, a Pinot, since red wine requires no refrigeration. With my gas stove and my manual can opener, I knew I would be able to heat up the canned soups and beans, pasta and sauces in my pantry, and more importantly, I could make coffee. This was going to be no big deal. But as the lack of current moved beyond a few hours and into several days, it became apparent I’d have to access “the archives.” And thus began my walk down gastronomical memory lane.

My freezer is a reference library. A culinary Smithsonian if you will, of past parties, romantic dinners, and ingredients to fuel future happenings at Chez Karin. So when I realized that either I would have to eat all this stuff relatively soon or toss it down the chute, the feast began. I started small with a bowl of chili from an early March post-movie night with friends.

But being a cook means you live to share, and I knew I couldn’t and didn’t want to eat through my cuisine catalog all on my own. The first beneficiary was my dear friend around the block. A January birthday dinner of braised short ribs became pasta with short rib sauce lunch for a weary basement bailer. When power came back on a few days later at family farther east, I packed the annals and on the road we went. The pricey artisan puff pastry originally meant for dessert with a now ex-suitor became salted caramel apple tart for mother, auntie, uncle and the neighbors who supply me with fresh figs in summer. The veal shank with caramelized onions and sage made for a post-Christmas Tree viewing party became a hearty lunch after loading up on firewood. The result of an experiment for a future blog became dinner, lunch, and lunch again, the experiment an apparent success.  And the meatloaf pooh-poohed by a past boyfriend in May made a hell of a great sandwich for two hungry gals about an hour after the lights came back on again.

So now I’m back home, cozy and warm on the couch, with a freezer freshly cleaned and vacant. And that can only mean one thing — it’s time to get working on restocking the archives...

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