My first instinct when I heard New York City was going to be hit by Hurricane Sandy was to be prepared. To me that meant buying batteries to put into my headlamp which I wore in Peru (and sometimes in my apartment for fun), to make sure my flashlight worked and that I had matches and then I had to load up on food, water and wine.
There are three main categories of people in New York: 1) Those who shop every day 2) Those who load up on the week’s groceries once a week and 3) Those who order delivery or eat out. These categories are not exclusive. They’re more like landmark beacons along along a spectrum of metropolitan habits. I fall into category one. I shop daily which means I don’t have a stockpile of goods.
Yesterday, being late to the game, I entered the grocery store to find pandemonium and a lot of empty shelves. I was foraging for some things to eat in case we lost power, but mostly, I was looking for something to make for dinner. Because I go to the store daily I knew that the lone two pound piece of salmon on the shelf hadn’t been sitting there for long, but had been passed over by the exclusive shoppers of New York because of some extra skin or fat on the thinner part and because of a spot in the middle. Such wusses. Bad job by the butcher though. While I normally prefer to get it fresh off the butcher’s block, my choices were quite limited.
When I was high school, my after school job was that of a fish monger. Every day after school I would scale, filet and weigh fish. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we’d go down to the Fulton fish market at 3am to buy a fresh haul and bring it back up north 80 miles to sell. As a woman, my traditional Italian/Irish boss would only allow me to go during emergencies and I was never allowed to drive the van. Oddly, my status as woman did not exempt me from having to lift the barrels of little necks or transfer the frisky blue clawed crabs into and out of the walk-in cooler. In fact, my job at the Fulton fish market was to help lift. On our way down we would drive past the transvestites and prostitutes and watch the Mafia men kiss each other on both cheeks by way of greeting. I watched the van while the men bought the fish then helped load when they came back with their spoils: tuna, salmon, sturgeon, monkfish, scallops, squid, Patagonian tooth-fish, a.k.a. sea bass and so much more. I spent so much time at the fish store that a) the smell is indelibly stained upon my brain and b) when it came time for junior prom I ended up going with my coworker, Joey. We were the fish store’s proudest (and only) couple. Before we went to prom we stopped by the fish store to say hello to our adoptive fish store family. Our boss took Joey to the back and all of the Latin guys in the back, Oscar #1, Oscar #2, Caesar and Jose burst out laughing. When I asked Joey what that was all about he opened his hand and showed me the rubber glove tips cut off from the surgeon’s gloves that we used to handle the fish. They coiled up nicely into what looked like little mini condoms. We were both a little horrified. We were modest. Neither of us said a word. I digress. My point here is that I have credentials, real fish butchering credentials. The shoppers of this fine grocery establishment wiped the shelves clean of everything and yet left over this lone two pounds of salmon because of a butcher’s slip up. Score for me.
I didn’t have much of a choice for a vegetable side. The only thing the store had left was a bunch of mostly rotten acorn squash. I prefer butternut squash or broccoli or anything really, but I can deal with a rotten acorn squash. I simply cut away the bad parts added a little nutmeg, cinnamon and apple sauce (which I noticed had both “natural flavors” and “corn syrup” in the ingredients–why??) and there we go. I was hoping to make an herb-crusted salmon but there were no herbs. I ended up using rotting cilantro and dill (salvage the good parts, run them under cold water) and some dried rocoto pepper salsa that I brought home from Peru. While I didn’t have the best of ingredients last night, dinner turned out delicious.
Tonight, with flooding downtown and in grandma’s apartment in Coney Island (though dad ushered her to higher ground) and with power cut in most of my friends’ neighborhoods and the lights flickering on and off repeatedly in my apartment, the loss of power issue was a lot more real. I figured I should cook the only thing in my freezer even though I had a lot of leftover salmon. I blackened a pound and a half of chicken breast using some Cajun spice from New Orleans, then threw it in the oven to cook. I ran to the grocery store today and they had gotten a shipment of vegetables in so I made a proper vegetable side and some pasta.
Now I’m sitting near the window listening to the wind, watching the men tear the tarp off the giant awning that just flew off the impressive building across the street. I’m watching the weather patterns spin forth on the TV getting ready to finish the book I’m reading about North Korea, which kinds of puts into perspective my hurricane meals. I’m okay with making do with what is there. It actually made me feel almost as good as it did to order my own appetizer for the first time (instead of having to split one) or to buy a piece of fish from the store that I worked in that wasn’t the scrod cod (best only for frying). There is something important about maintaining the resourcefulness you were raised with. I would never admit out loud to my mother or grandmother that making do is enough. Such an admission would be an offensive sign of constitutional weakness to both of them who have striven for too long to elevate themselves from the circumstances of their parents. But when I listen to their stories of the Depression and flight and I read about life in North Korea I am grateful for all of the comforts I have and that having to “make do” is mostly an extenuating situation for me. The cable just went out and the lights just flickered again, as if testing my last point. This will not be the first time I’ve sat in the dark and it certainly won’t be the last.