I’ve been married for 25 years and I’ve raised four kids, but I still call my mother with food questions.
On this particular evening, however, I started out very confident in my culinary abilities. The sky was storm-cloud gray outside and the wind was blowing the patio furniture from one side of the deck to the other, but the ominous weather didn’t deter me. I had a bag of frozen seafood, and I was going to whip up a week-night defying dinner of linguine with sautéed scallops.
I had stocked up frozen seafood for my daughter’s return from college. She had a recently announced she was a pescatarian, and the rest of the family were the beneficiaries of her lifestyle choices.
My hungry 14-year-old twins were already in their Boy Scout uniforms, prepared to go to their meeting that night, and in my own predictably last-minute fashion, I was starting dinner exactly 25 minutes before it was time to leave. I followed the package directions to quick-thaw the scallops, as butter melted and water boiled. Pasta went in, scallops began to sizzle, lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and then it happened — the power went out.
“Oh, NO!” I cried. I really did not know what to do. The scallops were only partially cooked, and I didn’t want to waste them. They were the expensive bag — wild, not farmed.
“We have a Coleman stove,” my eager little Star Scouts said from their perch at the breakfast bar.
I dialed my cellphone. “Hello, mom? It’s me—is it raining there? Well, I’ve got a quick food question. The power just went out here, and I just started cooking scallops. No, they were frozen, and I quick-thawed them. Yes, under cold running water. So I don’t know — can I put them in the fridge now and finish cooking them later?”
I started going through the dark refrigerator, pulling out bread and jelly. “Boys, I guess you’re just going to have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tonight.”
“We have a Coleman stove.” They had found their spelunker headlamps and were back at the barstools with the lights secured around their foreheads.
I continued my cell phone food-crisis conference. “OK, but here’s the thing, Mom. I don’t know when the power will go back on or when I’ll be able to finish cooking them —“ I had found the lighter and was walking around the house, lighting Mediterranean-fig-scented candles. Meanwhile, my boys were on their own cellphone, informing the Scoutmaster about the power outage and discussing how that might affect their meeting.
Still a bit dubious about the cooling power of my refrigerator and the staying power of the uncooked scallops, I addressed my Scouts, “Boys, I’m really sorry. This was going to be such a great dinner. But we’ll eat it tomorrow — I hope.” I had found a package of lunch meat that didn’t smell too strong and set that on the breakfast bar, alongside the strawberry jam.
“Mom! We’ve got a Coleman Stove!”
Before I knew it, they were climbing back up the basement stairs, one carrying a lantern, one carrying the stove, and both wearing their spelunker type headlights. One took off his headband flashlight and put in on my head, the other set up the stove and lit both burners, and 10 minutes later, they were eating linguine with sautéed scallops. We looked like coal miners hovering over French cuisine.
I drove my twins to the Scout meeting (which had not been cancelled), and on the way back I noticed that the lights were on in the house two doors down from my home. The blackout began at exactly the house before mine.
I entered my own dark house, opened my kitchen windows to air out the smells of burnt butter and seafood, removed my headlight, relit the candles, and settled down with a glass of wine.
Some things are better by candlelight, anyway.