I am a Lower Manhattan refugee.
At least, that’s what it feels like, as I lug my laptop to a Turkish Café in the Upper East Side. Up here it feels as though the hurricane never happened. And yes, I know I tend toward the over dramatic (ahem) but still- this is all a little surreal. I suppose, actually, you could say it feels as though the hurricane never happened if it wasn’t for the hordes of displaced Lower Manhattanites sharing corner generators to charge their laptops, and ripping Christmas lights out of trees to get at the power source. There are lines at nearly every pay phone. Sandy ripped through the city, and when she left she also took standard modernity along with hot showers.
Honestly, this Sandy. She’s like some cranky high school girl, sick of being shunned, and who decides to show everybody that she should not be messed with. So she came to town on some random autumn Monday, as we were all expecting just a bad rainstorm, and she went all Carrie on us and dumped the equivalent of eighteen tons of pig’s blood on Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn before flouncing off. I get it, bitch. You’re a hurricane. We know now, thanks. Now we’ve had no power for three days, no hot water or wifi and the Big Man and I are sick of looking at each other in the candlelight. I mean, I love the guy but…
Tuesday afternoon, when we woke up still electricty-less, we headed down to the Financial District, to the Big Man’s workplace, to check out the damage from the storm. Hopping over huge piles of seaweed as we made our way to the front door, we could see the windows to the basement had busted open. Inside, things were worse than we had expected. wine glasses had fallen off the shelves but had not been broken, just filled to the brim with murky green sea water and left sitting on the floor as if on purpose. Enormous wooden booths had fallen over and floated to random corners of the restaurant. A reusable shopping bag had floated two rooms away from the Lost and Found, and was sitting placidly in the center of the main bar. The floor under our feet was warped and uneven. We couldn’t even make it down the stairs to the offices, as seawater came up to the first landing. We swept our flashlights slowly, room by room, in a daze. It was if “Oh, my God” and “Look!” were the only things we knew how to say anymore.
Down the street, cars lay piled on top of one another in a lake of seawater against the Goldman Sachs parking garage. The smell of gasoline was enough to make your hair stand on end.
We made our way around the corner of Broad Street, lit only by the emergency lights of nearby ConEd trucks, and walked past the Stock Exchange. It was empty, lit with red ,white and blue spotlights that reflected off the puddles in the street.
We rounded the corner to Broadway, where ahead of us, the first spot of light came from the Chrysler Building, nearly forty blocks away. We made our way up the avenue in near total darkness, waving our flashlight at street corners to alert passing cars of our presence. We stepped gingerly over potholes and by tiny corner bodegas lit only by candlelight, their owners standing behind counters watching us silently as we passed.
Crossing Houston Street was overwhelming. I’ve crossed that street a million times, and always against a flurry of whizzing bikes, honking cars and loud pedestrians chatting on cell phones and to each other. Now it was dark and quiet, cars coming slowly off the Williamsburg Bridge like members of a funeral procession.
We made it another fifteen blocks or so before giving up and hitching a cab. Speeding out of the darkness of Lower Manhattan and towards Times Square felt like coming back from the dead. We met friends in the Upper West Side and had noodles and sake, as if nothing had ever changed.
Things are different though, and we were reminded of the harsh reality as we started for home. Once we passed 40th street the lights went dark again, streetlights stayed black, and police flares spit and burned at street corners. At home, we lit dozens of candles and made a pot of tea. We listed off ways that we’re lucky- a gas stove to heat our chili, plenty of warm blankets, a meager-but-existing income, milk chilling on the windowsill, hot tea. Each other.
I prefer my chili with dried beans, but I’ve made it with canned bean enough times to know that it doesn’t really matter. Do whatever fits your schedule best.
2 pounds beef, ground round
1.5 pounds ground turkey
5-6 fresh tomatoes, diced (in the wintertime I go for greenhouse vine tomatoes)
2 medium red onion, diced
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cups red kidney beans, soaked overnight in water or out of a can
1 12oz bottle beer (I prefer something dark, like Negro Modelo)
3-4 chili peppers, minced (seeds or seedless- go with your heat preference)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
shredded cheddar cheese
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the bottom of a large pot until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until they have just started to turn soft. Add the tomatoes and chili peppers and cook until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is very sauce-like, about fifteen minutes.
While the onions and tomatoes are cooking, heat a large saucepan over medium heat and brown the beef and turkey until no pink remains. Add the meat to the tomatoes and onions and deglaze the pan with a little bit of beer, scraping the bits up off the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the beer to the meat, onion and tomato mixture and cook off the alcohol.
Add the crushed tomatoes and kidney beans and combine. Cook on low heat for half an hour, then add the seasonings. Cook for one half hour more, until spicy and fragrant. Add hot sauce to taste and serve with diced avocado, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese.