Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food was our only comfort in the storm

Afternoon sky over Hackensack New JerseyImage by Anthony Quintano via Flickr
Afternoon sky over Hackensack.

We lost power in the early afternoon Saturday. No lights. No heat. No hot water. 

And the beginning of the end for all the food we had in our refrigerator-freezer, and two smaller refrigerators.

A storm hit with unexpected fury on Saturday, and the heavy, wet snow brought down trees, branches and electric wires all over my neighborhood in Hackensack, across the rest of the county and beyond.

My desktop computer was dead and my wife's laptop couldn't connect to the Internet. Our house phones also were useless.

I couldn't get through to the utility for guidelines on how long it takes for food to spoil. And the advice I remembered -- to keep refrigerator doors closed -- was impractical, if we wanted to use what food we had before it spoiled.

My wife drove to the mall before the power failed -- a good thing. By the time she returned, we couldn't use the electric garage-door opener, trapping my car inside.

We have lived in Hackensack's Fairmount section for more than four years, and have weathered many furious rain and snowstorms, but this is the first time we lost power. 

I watched two families in neighboring houses pack up their cars and leave -- maybe to a hotel, maybe to a relative's house, I'm not sure.

We stayed put, as the temperature inside settled in the low 60s or high 50s. At the back of our house, a sun room stayed 6 degrees or 7 degrees warmer, even when night fell.

On Saturday afternoon, before we lost the light, I prepared dinner: a pound of Barilla whole-grain linguine in marinara sauce spiked with a can of anchovies and its oil, Italian seasoning and red-pepper flakes. 

I also had two small heads of red-leaf lettuce and hothouse cucumbers and tomatoes for a big salad. I drank wine.

I went to bed early, not long after 6 in the evening, but was up at 9 and famished.

I went downstairs, lit our stove's gas burner with a match and rustled up an egg-white omelet stuffed with smoked wild salmon, reduce-fat cheese and a homemade mint-and-basil pesto. I shared the omelet with my wife, and she shared her portion with her mother. I heated water on the stove for tea.

The next morning, I heated up more water on the stove for instant black coffee, and then we went out in search of breakfast, and a place to charge our cell phones.

We drove from Hackensack to Teaneck and then to Englewood, and traffic lights at many major intersections were out, streets were blocked by wood horses and most drivers were patient and on their best behavior.

I never saw a police officer directing traffic or a utility crew repairing downed wires on Sunday.

Many restaurants in Hackensack and Teaneck were closed, so we ended up at Las Maravillas de Tulcingo, a new Mexican place on Englewood's Palisade Avenue, where the menu offered desayunos or breakfasts.

My 14-year-old son and his friend, who stayed with us Friday and Saturday nights, had Puebla-style ham-and-egg sandwiches with hot peppers ($4.50 each). My wife had eggs with Mexican sausage ($6), and all three ordered large fruit smoothies ($4 to $5.50).

I ordered eggs a la Mexicana and was delighted when the waitress brought over a platter that also had yellow rice, a puddle of red beans and two pieces of white cheese. 

I grabbed a warm corn tortilla, added eggs, rice, beans, cheese and a teaspoon of a spicy green salsa, rolled it up and finished it in a couple of bites. 

A restaurant-made pink salsa was even spicier, and my son put some inside or outside his sandwich.

I had two big cups of strong coffee ($2), but they were lukewarm. And with one cook and one waitress, service was painfully slow.

We drove down Palisade and crossed the tracks to the wealthier side of Englewood, and saw that Wild Nigiri, the former Wild Ginger, has closed and is being replaced by a Mexican restaurant. 

A note from owner Charles Hamade said he will reopen later this month in Cliffside Park under the name Bushido, the Japanese word for the samurai code of honor.

For dinner, we rummaged in the freezer and found a whole Readington Farms chicken, which my wife cut up and cooked in Jamaican jerk and barbecue sauces. She also prepared white rice on the stove top.

Meanwhile, I heated up two frozen containers of wonderful Alaskan King Crab and Sweet Corn Chowder from Legal Sea Foods via Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

Even though it was more than 24 hours since we lost power, a bunch of fresh collard greens in the refrigerator still felt cold to the touch, so I chopped them up, washed them and blanched them in boiling water, before adding them to a pan with hot olive oil, seasoning and a little salt.

My dinner was two bowls of soup, collard greens, and fruit and cheese for dessert.

On Monday morning, we had another great breakfast at Galapagos Restaurant on Main Street in Hackensack, where the chunky salsa is made with onions and cilantro.

My wife had a cheese omelet with french fries and a side order of sweet plantains, and my son dug into a big mound of rice and eggs, topped with thin slices of beef. They both drank big cups of hot chocolate.

My scrambled eggs and hominy -- large, tender kernels of corn -- came with savory red beans. I drank black coffee. Our breakfasts were $6 or $7. 

On Monday night, we searched for an open restaurant. 

Washington Avenue in Bergenfield was dark and Amici Family Restaurant was closed. We turned right on Clinton, and drove to downtown Tenafly, which also was dark. Simply Vietnamese also was closed.

So, we returned to Hackensack and drove over to Lotus Cafe, our favorite Chinese restaurant, where we had to wait about 10 minutes for a table. I had a bottle of smooth chianti I opened at home to drink at the BYO.

Lotus Cafe has some of the freshest-tasting seafood around, so we ordered shrimp in X.O. sauce and filet of sole with ginger and scallion, plus curry chicken and fried string beans.

My son and mother-in-law had wonton soup, but me and my wife shared tofu-and-spinach soup in a rich broth. We had bowls of brown or white rice with the entrees.

Our terrific meal worked out to $20 a person, including tip and tax.

We went to bed around 9, with gas fireplaces warming a family room and the master bedroom. Our handy man came over Sunday night to turn them on for us. The rest of the house was freezing.

I tossed and turn until 11, when I heard beeping from our alarm-system panel in the too-warm bedroom. The power was back -- 57 hours after it went out. I could hear a neighbor on the other side of our rear fence turning off his noisy generator.

I awoke and turned off the fireplaces and lights that were on here and there, checked the thermostats and worked on the computer for a little more than an hour as the house warmed up.

This morning, I threw away milk, whole eggs, organic fruit yogurt and Greek yogurt. I ate a slice of reduced-fat Swiss cheese, which tasted fine.

I have three unopened half-gallons of Tropicana orange juice, frozen slices of Costco pizza, an unopened half-pound package of smoked wild salmon, olives, homemade pesto in the freezer and refrigerator, and lots of other food.

I don't have the heart to throw them away, but I'm worried about eating them, too.

Las Maravillas de Tulcingo, 84 W. Palisade Ave., 
Englewood; 201-568-1980.

Galapagos Restaurant, 222 Main St., Hackensack;
201-342-9222; credit card minimum.

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack,
in the Home Depot Shopping Center; 201-488-7070. BYO.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. After driving for nearly 4 hours from Albany, NY back home on Saturday night, I came home to no power. It was actually turned back on around 11PM on Sunday night, only to shut off again then turn back on shortly later. We made a point to open the refrigerator minimally and not open the freezer at all. We lost nothing. My parents are still without power and brought everything to my home on early Monday morning and ended up not losing anything either. It is a shame that it has taken this long to restore power. However, to make sure things have not changed much in North Jersey, Bergen County police were out on Route 17 South near Barnes & Noble bookstore at 5:30PM looking for people to write tickets too. Very classy move, people coming back from a day of work to a home with no heat or power getting the shaft by cops who are being paid to harass the public. If this pathetic spectacle wasn't enough proof that the Bergen County police force should be disbanded then I do not know what is.

  2. I agree. The new county exec should fire all their sorry asses, and then fight the inevitable lawsuit in court. That would be much cheaper than employing all these do-nothing cops.

  3. You are lucky you didn't get pulled over, and arrested for driving with an open container of alcohol, Victor!

  4. The cops had too much other stuff to do. It's the trunk next time.


Please try to stay on topic.