By now you’ve taken all the standard hurricane precautions—closing the drapes, double-checking to make sure you have an umbrella in your coat closet, duct-taping your pets to the walls, and so on—but you’re at a loss when it comes to the most important challenge of a natural disaster: what to do with the single can of SpaghettiOs you snagged from the barren shelves of your local supermarket because you waited until the last minute to stock up on supplies because you are a derelict. Specifically, you’re wondering how to gussy this thing up so that you can both eat and have dignity at the same time, and/or so that you can use the last of your iPhone’s dwindling battery power to post photos of your meal to Facebook and make everybody praise you for your ingenuity and twee cuteness.
Take quick stock of your capabilities. The power is out, so you won’t be opening your refrigerator or using your stove, but that’s OK. Do you have a bowl or other vessel for assembling foodstuffs? Great. Do you have a hand-powered can opener? Wonderful. Can you make it all the way from the living room to the kitchen in your canoe? Best of all! Let’s get started.
The first and most important ingredient you’ll need for preparing an Improvised Emergency Hurricane Feast is imagination!, which will enable you to imagine how the various random things in your pantry might combine to form a delicious meal, and then, when you have assembled them and prepared them and are eating them, to imagine that you are eating something else altogether that does not taste like it should be eaten around the crackling garbage-fire whose faltering light keeps the skin-eating glow-in-the-dark raccoons at bay long after the nuclear apocalypse.
You can give your imagination a boost by aiming your efforts in the general direction of familiar recipes; you won’t get all the way there, but maybe you can get close enough to make a cognitive leap across the remaining distance. Do you have a dusty can of kidney beans and some sriracha? Of course you do. Combine them with your SpaghettiOs to make “chili”; use it as a dip for the salty shards from the bottom of the 75 percent empty bag of corn chips on the top shelf of your pantry.
The Foodspin archives: Chicken thighs | Popeye’s biscuits | Salad | Candy corn Oreos | Chili | Red Bull Total Zero | French toast | Sriracha | Halloween candy | Nachos | Meatloaf | Thanksgiving side dishes | MacGyver Thanksgiving | Eating strategies | Leftovers | Mac and cheese
Do you have a 30-year-old can of pumpkin mix, a can of coconut milk, and a box of stale Cheerios? Mix the pumpkin with some of the coconut milk, top it with crushed Cheerios, and have a “pumpkin pie” for dessert! (Probably ought to put some sriracha on there, too; it can only taste so bad if it’s hotter than hell.)
Are you looking for something more portable—an on-the-go snack for your busy day of pacing, looking out the window, muttering, “Holy shit,” and checking Twitter on your phone? Spread some peanut butter on a raft of uncooked ramen noodles. Yum. Couldn’t hurt to put some sriracha on that, too.
Heck, even if all you have is that strange bottle of sugar-free maple syrup you can’t remember buying or using, but there it is and it’s half-empty and the bottle is sticky with residue, at least you’ll have something with which to hit yourself over the head until you pass out and wake up after the world has returned to normal and you can get something better than that to eat.
Look. Nothing you cobble together and eat cold by flashlight during a natural disaster is going to taste all that great, nor should you expect it to. But a funny thing happens when you mix shitty circumstances with gumption and darkness: not atrocious becomes hey, this isn’t really all that bad becomes you know, this is actually kinda good! becomes we should totally make this next week when the power is back on and we can add some heavy cream to it becomes it was funny when we ate SpaghettiO chili dip during the hurricane but let’s never ever do that again ever. You don’t get to switch the weather off, so try to make the best of it by relaxing your expectations. Make cigarette-lighter s’mores with those stale marshmallows, some Ritz crackers, and the assorted Halloween candy you will not be giving out this year (remembering, of course, that just because there’s a disastrous hurricane bearing down doesn’t mean that decency and good taste have been suspended, and so you must discard your plain Hershey bars as always). Top your sardines with French onions and call it a casserole. It’s all going to be part of the story someday.
Have fun. Eat well. Stay safe. Good luck.
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com.