The latest weight-loss fad is the Superstorm Sandy Diet, and it's not one you go on by choice. In the aftermath of the powerful storm, foraging for safe, edible food was a challenge -- and after a few days without power, preparing food by flashlight in a small, dark kitchen was tricky, to say the least. I discovered that during a blackout, a flashlight becomes a permanent attachment like a leg. You can't move around without it.
But I had to eat, so I gave food prep a try. But was anything bacteria-free in my fridge? I had to make the choice between starvation or the possibility of contacting a power-outage-related illness. A salad seemed a safe bet. I had half a head of Romaine lettuce (surely safe), leftover Jarlsberg cheese (probably OK), sliced deli ham I bought a day after the storm (safe), a zucchini that wouldn't pass my normal test for crispness, and several senior tomatoes. I had the makings of an actual chef's salad.
With one hand, I assembled the ingredients on my counter while juggling a flashlight in the other. Obviously, I needed a co-chef: Someone to hold the flashlight while I sliced and chopped. But I was alone to make do. Able to set the flashlight on the counter beam-up, I now had two free hands. But the beam lighted the ceiling with little but limited illumination on the moving knife. Clumsily, I managed to create dinner.
As for dressing, I rejected the jar of chunky blue cheese that could be potentially threatening for a traditional mix of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. When completed, I felt victorious over Mother Nature. Then eating by candlelight was a small joy even though the meal wouldn't have earned a point on a star.
Dinner over, I had four dark, evening hours ahead of me without TV, Internet or radio to distract me from my chill and hunger. But I could still read a book but not without considerable discomfort. I could prop a heavy flashlight on my shoulder and hold it steady with one hand -- creating a bright circle in the center of the page but I had to keep moving the flashlight, which was something like following the bouncing ball. The next day I had a sore shoulder and early symptoms of carpal tunnel but I made it through that night.
I also began to see some small advantages to living without power. I had a good excuse not to floss; I could eat all the readily available junk food I wanted; and with no computer, I didn't have to work. The washing machine inoperable, I could wear days-old clothing like everybody else.
By the fifth day of no power, I had joined the legions of bag ladies, un-showered, un-shampooed, wearing layers of dirty, rumpled clothing -- and lots of it, fleece leggings under fleece sweatpants, and that was only on the bottom. My shopping bags held overnight necessities in case I found a warm shelter for the night. No luck.
When the power finally reappeared, I sought out George at my local grocery to find out which foods in my fridge were safe to eat after lack of refrigeration for days. I went prepared with a list. First off, butter. He said that if it's still in the package and cold, it was OK. How could it be cold if the power had been off for five days? Reading my mind, he said, "Feel it and see if it's soft. If it's hard, you can use it." That didn't sound right to me. "In olden days," he went on like a veteran history teacher, "people never refrigerated butter."
How about eggs? "Hard boil them as soon as you get home." Well, "as soon as you get home" took the bite out of deviled eggs. Bread: "Smell it," he advised. Well, that didn't encourage confidence. I went home and threw out everything on the list. I had lost a few pounds that week on the storm-starvation diet. Maybe I could write the book.
Barbara L. Smith is a published, produced playwright and a literary consultant. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.