I am writing this from a café in Park Slope – the first significant amount of time I’ve spent outside my tiny apartment in nearly two days – after Hurricane Sandy made its grand entrée into the lives of New Yorkers and millions of others across the eastern seaboard.
To call the experience surreal is a gross understatement. I sat cozy by my laptop last night, binging on network sitcoms online with a glass of mellow red wine at my side, stopping every twenty minutes to get an update on the horrors taking place outside of my insulated Brooklyn bubble.
First, just after dinner time, my friends in low-lying areas of the city started systematically losing power, courtesy of a cautious Con Ed. Their Facebook posts signing off for the foreseeable future (made possible by waning smartphone batteries) were evidence not just of the modern mode of real-time, social media communication, but of the imminent storm damage.
Then came the reports of the spectacular Con Ed transformer explosion. Pretty soon, downtown was in the dark, along with the east side below 34th Street. The NYU Langone Hospital, on 34th Street and First Avenue, had to emergency evacuate 200-some patients down nine flights of stairs after their basement generators flooded and their first floor was underwater.
Along the way, the unimaginable continued to transpire. Facades literally fell off buildings, exposing their innards to the elements. A crane dangled precariously at the side of a luxury condominium construction site. One Hoboken PATH station was steadily submerged as water gushed in through the sides of a compromised door, and yet across the city a small but tightly packed beach community unquenchably caught on fire, fanned by the relentless winds.
It is hard to reconcile these reports with the otherwise quotidian experience I have had these last few days. It is easy enough to pretend that this is just an uneventful, exceptionally long Brooklyn-bound weekend, but the reality is that we are essentially trapped where we are, unable to access the lifeblood that is the New York City subway system. It won’t be until buses start circulating again and people like me in relatively unscathed areas are able to see more of the damage personally that the effects of the storm will seem like more of a reality, something that happened to us rather than something that happened to them.
Of course, I had no way of knowing what would transpire when reports of the storm’s severity started taking over the media, so I played it safe and stocked up on non-perishables and bottled water like a responsible little citizen. This is only the beginning of my loot; I went back to Duane Reade after I took this photo and bought two more liters of water, realizing that if I lost electricity, I’d probably want something with which to brush my teeth and boil for tea on my gas stove. And let’s not get started on the $70-ish dollars of groceries, including about $15 worth of artisanal candy (more on that in a later post).
See that petite baguette off to the side? I never buy bread, but as I was walking through Koreatown to the subway to get home before before public transportation shut down, I decided to see which carby options were left at the other French-Korean bakery I mentioned, Tous Les Jours.
Like Paris Baguette, Tous Les Jours has a tempting variety of fascinating sweet buns and exotic takes on classic French patisserie. However, Tous Les Jours also has a somewhat substantial bread counter, so I sallied over to pick up a small loaf for makeshift peanut butter-and-jelly, in case it came down to that.
Apparently, other people had the same idea and the bread shelves were more or less decimated. Luckily, I did spy this soft walnut baguette (no more than $5.00), perfectly sized for a day or two without power, sitting by its lonesome on an otherwise empty shelf. I snapped it up and headed home to continue preparing for the onslaught.
The storm was predicted to make landfall in New York City by 8:00 PM on Monday night, which is when the first reports of power outages started trickling in. I realized that even if I lost power that night, the bread would go stale if I didn’t eat it soon, so I decided to make some goat cheese garlic toasts to go along with my dinner.
I pulled off the top piece of the baguette, and lo and behold, this:
See that? That is a lightly sweetened buttercream. There was buttercream stuffed into my loaf of bread.
Since when does bread come filled with cream, like a doughnut? Apparently since Tous Les Jours came onto the scene, that’s when. I could have sworn I purchased a non-creamy, simple walnut loaf, but when I checked the Tous Les Jours website I realized I actually had purchased the walnut cream baguette.
A few things could have happened here. I could have simply overlooked the “cream” on the placard in front of the bread, or simply misinterpreted its meaning… if there even was a placard in front of this lone loaf, which I can’t remember at the time. I could have also picked up the baguette blindly, seen “walnut bread” on the receipt, and walked away happy. Regardless, goat cheese garlic toasts were out of the question.
I ended up eating the bread as dessert. Like a lot of Asian breads, the baguette was less of a traditional, crisp crusted, air-bubbled affair, and more of a soft, faintly sweet white bread strewn with small chopped walnut pieces. The whipped cream filling had a bit of an artificial aftertaste to it, like it was made with a chemical shortening or preservative, but altogether, the pliant bread and slightly sweet cream made for a nice bite. I easily ate half of the nearly weightless loaf.
And then, a few hours later, I ate the other half, partially out of boredom, but also as a comforting reminder that there can be sweet surprises in even the bleakest circumstances.
New York, you’ll pull through. You always do. My thoughts go out to anyone who wasn’t as lucky. I hope you, reader, and your loved ones stayed safe.