Grilled Cheese Cooked On Shutters? After Irma, Floridians Got Creative With Food
The power outages that followed hurricanes Harvey and Irma are unfortunately a common reality with powerful storms, just as is the fact that the affected people need to eat.
Hurricane diets can consist of a lot of processed, prepackaged food, but with a bit of imagination or preparation, hot meals are possible.
After Hurricane Irma hit Florida, Tara Gatscher and her family returned to their house in Tampa Bay to find that while the house didn't have any terrible damage, they didn't have power.
During their hurricane preparations they had put up metal shutters around the house, but without any power they needed some light, so they removed a few and laid them on the patio. It was around this time that Gatscher says her 14-year-old son, Evan, started getting hungry.
"My husband is going to work and trying to deal with their power issues [and] my son is like, 'Man, I'm hungry. I don't like cold food. I'm starving, I need something warm,' " she says.
They had one propane tank, but hadn't set up the grill yet and were unsure how much longer the food in the fridge would stay good.
Jokingly, Evan told his mom that he could probably cook some food using the metal shutters that had heated up from the sun.
"So he took some bread and some cheese before it got bad, he wrapped it in foil and he stuck it on the metal shutter that was laying on the ground and waited like five minutes and he had himself a grilled cheese sandwich," Gatscher says.
She says she was surprised, but that the sandwich turned out well and was a large improvement from what the options the family had during the storm.
"I mean we were hungry, we were living off cereal in like an office room. We were living off crap ... from the vending machines for a few days," Gatscher says. "He just had to find something to eat that was real food."
Evan even offered to make grilled-cheese sandwiches for the whole family if the propane tank didn't work. The propane tank ended up working and Gatscher says the family had some stuff on the grill later.
And grilling food is a popular cooking method after storms like this, but some people do it better than others.
In Gulfport, Fla., Veronica Champion is in charge of . As Irma approached, the entire area was evacuated and Champion went to stay with some neighbors. Unlike, the Gatschers though, Champion wasn't eating junk food.
She calls her neighbor a "grill master extraordinaire," and for good reason. She says that while a lot of what her friends ate was basic fare that included eggs and sausage, there were some specialties, including a grilled cherry pie.
"A real cherry pie, it was perfect. It was the best cherry pie I've ever had," Champion says. "We had no power, the cherry pie was frozen and he cooked it for an hour and a half on the grill. It has the flakiest crust, it was perfect. I don't know how he did it, but it was amazing."
Champion says this particular neighbor had quite a bit of experience with hurricanes and did prepare some items — like hushpuppies — ahead of the storm so they could be heated up and prepared later.
In between the bites of cherry pie, Champion also had to think about her business. Upon her return, she says the inn was without power, but did get it back in time before the food they had went bad. Some of the other restaurants nearby didn't get power back as quickly, though. Champion says once the fridges at the inn were functional, they started to store food from other restaurants there, too.
That sense of community is something that Ramon Hernandez, owner of the Cuban restaurant, emphasized as well. In St. Petersburg, Hernandez said neither of his two locations lost power, but as they were getting up and running again, and in between the larger than usual crowds, the restaurant made sure to give back.
They worked with others in the community and provided at least 200 meals to those who still didn't have power. Many families had gone without much to eat for two days.
"There are a lot of people less fortunate than us and I just feel blessed that we survived the storm and that we're able to provide some relief," Hernandez says. "It's a time when everyone should come together and help out in rebuilding."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.