It's been a year since Sandy welcomed me to the lovely town of Hoboken.
When I was moving from Warren, New Jersey, a few months prior to her arrival, I was repeatedly asked why I would ever want to leave the tranquility of suburbia. People I knew couldn't fathom my giving up 3 acres and a beautiful 5500 square foot house for a new home half the size, nearly void of privacy.
My response now is the same as it was then: It gets tiring spending every weekend hangin’ with the squirrels and deer! (Not that I don't adore the woodland creatures. But the nice thing is, if I should ever want a wildlife fix, it's a stone’s throw away
from Hoboken.) Simply put, I wanted to be where there was life, and Hoboken provided me with that. Even better, Hoboken is a “No Car Necessary” zone. (which is funny since Ironically ,the number one complaint in this city is the lack of parking.) I can walk almost everywhere, and when I’m not inclined to travel on foot, a $5 taxi ride will get me anywhere in this great little community: I love all the mom and pop shops, the various festivals, the restaurants and the people here.
( A little triva : Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken)
I could go on and on. But most of all, I absolutely LOVE that NYC, my "sandbox," is literally in my backyard. In a mere six minute ferry ride– yes, six minutes! – I can be smack dab in the middle of the city that never sleeps. The Big Apple is the view from Hoboken, and to me, there’s nothing better. To quote Nora Ephron, “I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” Nora read my mind.
But when Sandy hit, I couldn’t help it: my feelings for this town waivered for a bit (okay, a lot more than a bit), and for a few months, I thought maybe I should pack it in and move West – at least out there, you only get flash floods, not Trap-You-in-Your-House floods.
But once the debris and grime were cleaned away and businesses began to reopen, I found myself falling back in love with this one square mile town. As Sandy wreaked her havoc, my neighbors were all looking out for each other, including me, the Newbie on the Block. When Hurricane Irene hit Warren the year before, the response from my longtime neighbors on my quiet street was, to say the least, very different (Melissa and Mike excluded – thanks again, you guys)!
As luck would have it, I had a friend from Burgundy, France visiting the week Sandy was scheduled to arrive. Ominous news reports prompted me to ask anyone and everyone I encountered, “What it was like here during hurricane Irene???” The consensus was that it was no big deal, and that residents evacuated for nothing…still, I was warned: Be Prepared Just in Case. Like everyone else, as Sandy approached, I
shopped in anticipation of a power outage.
As the winds kicked up, my friend, in his heavy French accent, said, “Let’s go to the water! I want to see!" According to him, France never experiences hurricanes, so being the good hostess that I am, we trekked down to the river. It was still early, and Sandy had not yet revealed her power and intensity. Surprisingly, other than the wind gusts, there was only some flooding by the Path Train. Nothing alarming, really – more like a clogged toilet that shouldn’t have been flushed. So back we went.
The four of us – me, my friend, and my two boys – were preparing for a comfy night at home: the Monopoly game was set up, the wine was chilling, and homemade banana bread was being readied for baking. Suddenly, the power went out, and against my warnings, my friend decided to take one last look by the river. I had visions of reading about him in the morning paper. Headline: Crazy Frenchman Found on Shore Wearing Only a Beret! Thankfully, he returned quickly with the latest report on the storm- he told us, “The river is rising!”
For dessert, I made French Toast using challah bread (although I actually prefer Panattone – recipe to follow!) paired with a 1997 Condrieu "Ayguets", Yves Cuilleron. A lot of people don’t seem to be interested in dessert wines and to be honest it was a long while before i found myself ordering a glass instead of coffee but you must take my word for it that once you do you’ll never request a cup of “joe” after you entre ever again. (If you're interested in trying it, you can find it here: http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1031113) .
Moments later, my older son looked out his bedroom window, calling me over to see the sight. My street had turned into a river! Quickly, we ran down to our barricaded front door to investigate.
The water was not gushing in like an open fire
hydrant, but more like that toilet bowl I mentioned early, seeping into our foyer in spite of the fact that earlier, our neighbors secured the front door with sandbags. My neighbor Ann and her husband Jim, who live above us and whom we just adore) were already downstairs trying to move their belongings out of harm’s way. Here is part of my story where I’m going to ask you NOT to judge me: without thinking (emphasis on the without), I pulled out my dry- vac (hey, no judging, remember?) and tried to vacuum up the water as it entered. That lasted for about a 30 seconds when it dawned upon me just how ridiculous this was.
My younger son asked if we should be worried, but I told him no, as worst case scenario, we could head for the roof.
Moments after we were back upstairs, the smell of gasoline filled the air. So now, not only did we have sea water and sewage cascading down our street, we had our very own version of “Valdez.” (This was never confirmed, but I was told later that an old building up the street from us had an ancient, corroded oil tank which spilled almost 2000 gallons of oil). The water was rising even higher. We saw a car parked across the street, but just barely, as the water had almost reached its doors.
We raced downstairs once again to assess the damage, and found the water had reached the second step into our house, which meant that our garage and storage unit – where I stored clothes,( if you recall I just moved in and had not finished unpacking ) holiday decorations, furniture, business materials, part of my wine collection, and personal memorabilia – were also filling up. But nothing could be done. We were helpless against the storm, so back we went to our endless game of Monopoly.
When faced with a crisis, never ask, “What else could possibly happen?” This time, it was a resounding boom from the back of the house caused by an exploding transformer. All I kept thinking was, “Where the hell did I move?!" My cell phone rang, but I was hesitant to pick it up. The voice, muffled by the sounds of sirens in the background, said, "There is a power line down in front of your home. Do not go outside." Not that I would have, or even could have, since my street now mimicked the rapids of the Delaware River.
So there we were, water filling up my brand new home, the smell of gasoline permeating every corner, and sirens blaring non-stop throughout the night, and into the days to follow. (It wasn't until a month later that I realized that I, like so many of us who lived through this, had PTSD. For the longest time after Sandy, I couldn't hear a siren without my stomach automatically go into knots.)
The next morning, the water had stopped rising, but unfortunately, had not receded. My son was able to reach out to my friend and savior in Manhattan, Ed (who, BTW, also came to our rescue during Hurricane Irene), which meant that once we were able to get out, we had a place to stay. But for the immediate future, we were trapped: no electricity, no hot water, no heat. The sirens would occasionally intermix with warnings from the National Guard trucks driving down the street. Guardsmen would
intermittently shout warnings via bull horns for us to remain in our homes.
In the face of all this chaos, I was neither afraid nor worried. I knew we were going to be fine.
It was Halloween when we were finally were able to get out. With plastic garbage bags tied over our shoes and around our legs so not to be exposed to the contaminated water ( garbage bag leggings were the latest in fall “floodwear” that year), we began our journey to the 14th Street Ferry. The only way out of town was on foot, and there was a route from our home where the water had receded enough for us to maneuver.
As we headed for the ferry, we looked like refugees, carrying our backpacks and trudging through the muck.
It is during times like these when life tests you, and you discover things about yourself that you may have never been aware of. Are you strong emotionally, or do you fall apart when there's an emergency? Would you want you around during a crisis? It is also a time when an epiphany or two may strike - not immediately, mind you, as disasters have to be addressed on the spot. But once things are under control, enlightenment happens- at least for me it did.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to see the silver lining while in the throes of a chaos. It's only afterwards when your normal life returns that you see the gift you’ve been given. Call it God, Mother Nature, the Universe…the blessing cloaked in sea water and sewage made me take a step back and reevaluate my life; Are my days filled with busy, are they spent with those most important to me? -memorbilia that I was holding on to- for what? it's the past - move on… stuff… so much stuff… how I still managed to have things in my garage of “you never know” like the lonely one tile left over from redoing the bathroom is beyond me
Now as promised, my Hurricane Sandy Menu and Recipes!
Simple Tasty Grilled Chicken
Chicken thighs, breasts, etc. Just be sure not to remove the skin.
3 tablespoons of olive oil
The following fresh herbs:
3 sprigs rosemary 2 bay leaves 3 sprigs oregano 3 sprigs sage 3 sprigs thyme
Remove herb leaves from stems and finely chop them. In a mixing bowl, place all ingredients. Rub the mixture on chicken parts, saving some to place under the skin. Cook on medium flame until the juices run clear, approximately 6 minutes on each side (cook larger pieces longer).
Scrumptious French Toast Dessert
Panettone or Challah bread
Melted 1/2 pint of vanilla ice cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Cap of vanilla extract
Butter or coconut spray optional -
powdered sugar (optional)
Trim the bottom crust of the bread. Starting slicing it into ¾ in. slices, then gently toast them in your toaster. (If possible, use the “bagel” setting on your toaster if you have one; if not, cut the slices thinner so they can fit nicely.)
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended. Add the ice cream, and whisk until evenly mixed. Melt 1 teaspoon of butter (or coconut cooking spray) on a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Dip slices of the toasted bread into the mix, turning to allow both sides to absorb it. Grill the soaked bread slices until they are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven as you repeat the process until all the bread is used. Plate the French toast, lightly dusting it with powdered sugar. Allow your guests to pour their own syrup to taste. (For an extra treat, I like to heat the syrup just before serving.)