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Cooking Up a Storm

In case you haven't heard, the DC region got some serious snow this past weekend...some have been referring to it as "Snowpocalypse" or "Snomaggedon"

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In case you haven't heard, the DC region got some serious snow this past weekend...some have been referring to it as "Snowpocalypse," "Snomaggedon," or just "SnOMG!"

Digging out after the February snowstorm in Washington, DC.

The world didn't end when about 24 inches of snow fell in as many hours, but life did come to a screeching halt for most of us. No work, no shopping, no driving; even walking wasn't really possible for a while (I tried; it took me 20 minutes to slog through one unplowed, uphill block). And although our power fortunately stayed on, the satellite TV and Internet connections conked out for a while, so other than reading and playing games (Scrabble, Monopoly, Wii, jigsaw puzzles...been there, done that), there was only one thing to do: Cook!

We had some groceries on hand, so I can't report any further data on the question of eating snow, sorry. But situations like this certainly inspire more patience and creativity in the kitchen than usual, don't they? One coworker tells me she baked this lovely gingerbread cake with blueberry sauce, which would never have fit into her normal schedule.

I took on lasagna, a task I normally leave to my Italian-blooded husband, and discovered that it's downright amazing when you take the time to create layers of caramelized onions and fennel, oven-roasted eggplant slices, and greens sauteed with garlic.

I also made a stew from red lentils and frozen spinach; this was the first thing beyond eggs that I've ever cooked without glancing at a recipe (even when I know what I'm doing, I usually cross-reference several cookbooks for reassurance). The result was good enough to rouse my husband from the other room--where he'd been on a conference call when I brought him a bowl of it--with a look of wonder on his face. "What is this?" he asked. "It's the best soup I've ever tasted!" Which is wonderful...except that I've already forgotten how to make it. I know it involved a vegetable bouillon cube, minced ginger and garlic, garam masala, crushed red pepper, and a scoop of creme fraiche on top; but the times and amounts were just guesswork. This recipe looks similar, if you want to try something like it.

And though I rarely bake sweets, I started craving cookies. With not quite enough flour and sugar, I did some math and tried to make this classic chocolate-chip cookie recipe in 2/3 the amount, adding a few tablespoons of maple syrup to make up for missing sugar, and tossing in a handful of dried cranberries in place of nuts. The cookies were ugly as heck (flat, flimsy puddles stuck to the baking sheet), but they actually tasted quite good.

Storms can also be a catalyst for communal eating experiences, as we found. Neighbors served up waffles and breakfast eggrolls (chopped hardboiled eggs and bits of turkey in wonton wrappers; a novel idea); homemade chili and jalapeno cheddar cornbread; coffee and cocktails. These were people we'd have otherwise missed getting to know in the bustle of daily routines, so I'm grateful.

What do you cook, or eat, when the weather holds you hostage at home?
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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