Snowy, sleety weather calls for cassoulets and shepherd's pies. But unless you've already stocked your pantry, it's unlikely you'll be able to throw together an impromptu blizzard menu: Risking the streets to buy a duck leg seems silly, which is why perfectly good stay-at-home, cooking days end up wasted on mahi mahi filets or whatever else you'd planned to make before the sudden arrival of winter.
And, depending on the severity of the weather, a lack of supplies isn't the biggest problem. Snow and ice have a knack for knocking out power, leaving home cooks shivering and disabling refrigerators, microwaves, ovens and electric stoves.
So forget the French onion soup and chicken pot pies. Serious winter eating is about making do, as I discovered last winter when my husband and I were forced to make three meals from half a tube of Pringles. After the jump, a list of my favorite blizzard eats.
1. Open-faced turkey melt, Michigan, 1991
I don't remember any particular weather event from my high school years, but distinctly recall my favorite winter snack. Back before global warming, I'm pretty sure it snowed every day in Michigan from November until March, and driving home meant multiple icy rotations. Nothing warmed me up or calmed me down better than a plate of turkey cold cuts covered with slices of Swiss cheese and melted in the microwave. (I have a hunch this recipe wouldn't be sanctioned by the new federal dietary guidelines.) If I was putting together a piece on winter comfort food for a fancy magazine, I might get away with calling it a modified Croque Monsieur.
2. Pancakes and bacon, Washington D.C., 1995
I was working as an investigator for the Public Defender Service in D.C. the year the blizzard that shut down the government - and facilitated the Clinton-Lewinsky affair - struck. I was also house-sitting. The home owners didn't say anything about not cooking bacon in the fireplace in the event of a power outage, so I gave it a go. I failed as an open-hearth cook, but I succeeded in not burning the house down, so I was able to make a proper plate of bacon and pancakes when power was restored mere hours later. It made for a terrific snowbound meal.
3. Biscuits and gravy, northern Ohio, 1996
Blizzards and breakfast go together nicely. A serious blizzard had the bad form to hit my college on the last day of finals period, stranding a campus-worth of tired, stressed-out students who just wanted to go home. Most of the cafeterias were already closed up for the semester, and I'm pretty sure the produce truck had long ago made its last delivery. But Dascomb Hall served up a superbly satisfying cream gravy that turned out to be a better après-sled dairy treat than fondue or scalloped potatoes.
4. Hot and sour soup, upstate New York, 2002
Much like Michigan, upstate New York is in a constant state of blizzard. Or so I think: The sun goes down there at about 3 p.m., so it's almost impossible to tell what's happening outside the window. The real threat's the cold: It's not uncommon for a month or so to pass without the mercury surging past zero. On certain nights, my apartment became so frigid that my oil and vinegar froze in their bottles. That always meant a trip to Fu Kin John (no kidding), for a heat-restoring bowl of hot and sour soup.
5. Denny's, western North Carolina, 2009
Southern Appalachia had gone almost a decade without a significant storm when last winter's blizzard hit, uprooting trees, downing power lines and making a general mess. Twitter was just catching on (I swear I'm not rocking in my chair as I write this), so most residents relied on their battery-powered radios to keep up with weather news. I believe the announcer actually said "this just in" before announcing a Denny's was opening, two days after the initial snow blast. We were among the hundreds of hungry eaters who walked about five miles to reach the restaurant. I can't remember what I ate. Because when you're cold and tired and encased in a layer of ice, it really doesn't matter.