This summer, a freak storm called a “derecho” ripped through Maryland, Virginia, and DC, pulling down hundreds of trees and leaving our neighborhood without power for a full week. I think the overall damage to power lines may have actually been worse than with Hurricane Irene. BGE's response was chaotic and disorganized and their customer service abysmal. I did my best not to abuse the telephone representatives, since obviously they couldn't fix any wires for me, but when one of them told me I should be better prepared for power outages and maybe I should get a generator if it happened often... I may have gotten a little rude. I still can't believe that the power company had the balls to tell me essentially “Yeah, we can't guarantee power to your neighborhood, so you should buy a generator. Oh, and keep paying those extortionate bills, please.”
We are planning on buying a whole-home generator eventually, one that runs on natural gas and would switch on automatically, but they're quite expensive and need professional installation, so we don't have it yet. That means I need a backup plan to save my food.
When the derecho hit us, we had recently filled up the freezer with stuff from Costco. Like many people, we use our freezer to stock up on meat when it's on sale, and to store leftovers after cooking in big batches. Just ask my pal Tasha how useful a freezer can be. Unfortunately, that means that if the freezer dies or the power is interrupted for too long, we lose a whole lot of food and, by extension, money.
Once it was obvious that the power wasn't going to return quickly enough to rescue our food, we filled up a large Rubbermaid storage bin with the more valuable stuff, like chicken breasts and tilapia fillets, and drove over to my brother-in-law's place. He was kind enough to give us space in his big upright freezer, allowing us to minimize our food losses. Since we only had the one big bin to use, we left some items behind in our freezer along with bags of ice to keep them cold. What was left was mostly things that weren't as expensive to replace or that could handle being thawed and refrozen, like bagels, cheese, and frozen fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me that the frozen fruit and vegetables, once thawed, would be very wet and squishy. Also unfortunately, the bags they come in are not completely watertight. Maybe they are when they come from the manufacturer, but once they've been shoved around in a freezer for a while, they develop very tiny holes. Holes that don't become a problem until the stuff inside is melting in an inadequately cooled freezer, releasing brightly colored juices all over the goddamn place.
Blueberry juice, for the record, is very difficult to get out of a freezer.
This weekend, we're waiting uncomfortably under the threat of another hurricane, Sandy, who is aimed directly at the Mid-Atlantic region. We're being told to expect several days of heavy rain and strong winds, because she's a very large storm. Landfall is predicted to occur Monday night somewhere between Virginia and New York, but the impact on the whole region is expected to be pretty huge. I'm obeying all of the rules of hurricane preparedness, except for buying eggs and milk and bread, because without power, those are fairly useless to have around. Why in the world do people buy those up when a storm comes?
This time around, I'm trying to avoid as much food wastage as I possibly can, so I have a plan. First, eat the food. And don't buy more. That's the easiest way not to waste any. I skipped my grocery run this week, knowing the storm is on its way, and we've been trying to cook up freezer foods for our meals. Spaghetti and garlic bread. Chicken breasts and pierogies. Lots of ice cream.
Then, a triage of the freezer contents. Here's what the freezer looked like on Friday evening. Pretty full, and very messy.
I pulled everything out and piled it up on the counter. I took out everything that could stand to thaw and re-freeze, and moved it to the second freezer we have in the mud room. It's not as good as the kitchen freezer and will probably lose its cold much more quickly. In the kitchen freezer, I used metal baking sheets and pans to contain any foods that might leak. Stuff I care less about went into the back of the freezer, and the meat, fish, and pastas that I'd want to rescue are closer to the front. Nearly everything is in a container of some sort, which will make it easier to retrieve if we need to move it to a neighbor's generator-powered freezer, or to a family member's place.
Here's the freezer after all that work.
I also bought a case of water bottles, both for drinking and for stuffing into the freezer for use as ice packs. They'll help keep the freezer cold longer when the power's out, and then they'll still be drinkable. They also fit into small spaces very well, so they work better than a big bag of ice. A full freezer maintains its temperature much better than an empty one, so I could have left the bagels and things in here, but I also want to be able to grab and go when it's time to transfer the food. Having the trays in there will make it easier to select what we want to bring, depending on the space available to us in someone else's freezer. I plan on consolidating important fridge items as well, just in case.
I've done all I can to be ready for the storm. I downloaded the American Red Cross Hurricane app for my phone, so I can get alerts and information. I programmed my phone with numbers for BGE, homeowner's insurance, and my employer's emergency information line so I can see if work is closed. I also have those numbers on a board in the kitchen. I have a full tank of gas in the car. I have cash, because if the power outage is huge, some places that may be open may not be able to take credit or debit cards if the system is down. I've got enough kibble for the cats, and some food for us, although last time we were powerless we just went out to eat all the time since most places got their power back within a day. If necessary, we can cook on the grill. I have enough of my medications to get me through a few weeks – I won't need that much, of course, but medications weren't something I had even thought about until someone at work brought it up. If I were right at the end of a bottle of something and needed a refill this week, it might be a problem. We have plug-in storm flashlights in almost every room so that we can have light at hand when the power dies. The big flashlight battery is charged in the garage. I've moved all the candles and matches to a central location so we don't have to rummage around at night to find anything. We'll be moving trash cans and plastic flower pots into the garage in case the wind gets really bad. We'll sleep downstairs so trees can't fall on us. We have a ton of water bottles, wine, and board games.
There's nothing else we can do now but wait. And keep eating.