Three years ago a group of us took an online writing course with the fabulous and respected food writer Molly O’ Neill. We established our blogs and started a new path. During the course we would conference call each Sunday night. A storm was brewing one of the weeks of our course and we decided to skip a week just in case this storm headed our way on the East coast became something substantial.
The following is an essay that appeared on the Cook n’ Scribble website three years ago about our family and the storm.
Alice Knisley Matthias lives, writes, gardens and cooks on Staten Island. Her essays have appeared in EatingWell, Boys’ Life, Highlights for Children, Benchmark Publishing, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and America’s Test Kitchen Cook’s Country Cookbook. Her blog, herbinkitchen.com celebrates the organic lifestyle and is launching this week. She writes:
The hurricane is here now and the lights flicker one last time and plunge the kitchen into darkness. We light candles and the flashlight on the counter is pointing at the ceiling, giving an even canopy of light.
I strike a match, touch the blue rings of gas on the range and — whoosh, whoosh — two burners are ready for cooking. I slide a knife from its block and mince shallots and garlic, using my fingers as a guide in the candlelight. Fumbling around in the dark cabinet next to the stove, I recognize the handles of the pots and pans that I use most. Cutting a stick of butter in the dark produces a very generous pat of butter for one pot. I estimate the exact location of the back burner, the almonds make a plinking sound as I scatter them in the pan.
The gas burner is bright beneath the pan, the almonds are in the dark. A nutty aroma signals that they are toasted.
POP goes the lid on a Mason jar of chicken stock. I fill a cup until I feel the liquid lapping the rim. The pan hisses when the stock hits its hot surface. I pour a stream of vermicelli and rice from a box. I can’t see it, I know I’ve used it all when the container is weightless in my hand.
Heading back into the blackness of a cabinet I Braille read handles for a pot in which to sautee the green beans that I blanched the night before, when Sandy was a worrying blotch on the weather screen. The pot announces itself when my groping sends its lid crashing to the tile. Rotating a lemon against a microplane, hovering over warm beans, the scent of the citrus zest wafts up as it lands on the beans.
Identifying the correct seasoning is a great challenge when cooking in the dark. I am groping for a remembered glass jar of ancho chili powder, for the shakers of onion and garlic powders, the metal box of Old Bay seasoning, with the top that never stays closed, the canister of kosher salt.
I touch and smell a spice mixture together. It’s grainy beneath my fingertips as I rub a pork tenderloin. A splash of olive oil in a pan. The tenderloin sizzles as the spices cook and a crust is formed. I touch, touch, touch. Sniff. Prod. Hope I remember the sensory signals of doneness, beyond the familiar color of the meat, which of course doesn’t register in candlelight under a flashlight chandelier. I position a cutting board directly under the flashlight, place the meat on the cutting board — is it done? The beam of light glows along the metal edge of the knife.
Do I date myself by saying that somewhere a Meatloaf song can be heard?
— Alice Knisley Matthias