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How to Prep Your Kitchen for a Coronavirus Pandemic

Fresh Market in Sunset Harbour is calm — for now.
Fresh Market in Sunset Harbour is calm — for now. Photo by Jen Karetnick
click to enlarge Fresh Market in Sunset Harbour is calm — for now. - PHOTO BY JEN KARETNICK
Fresh Market in Sunset Harbour is calm — for now.
Photo by Jen Karetnick
This past Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned us that owing to the inevitable spread of the coronavirus strain COVID-19, "disruption to everyday life might be severe."

Translation: Sooner or later, our Uber Eats and Postmates accounts might get shut down, much like our plans for Sunday brunch.

How should Miamians respond? If your first thought is, The way we always do, remember we can’t party our way through this — at least not together. Once we’re isolated, it’s shots by Skype.

In some ways, of course, this situation is similar to hurricane preparation, where we frantically load up on nonperishables.

For starters, we might want to think about cooking. A month’s worth of supplies is a good estimate.

Also, we won’t lose electricity or our roofs. So along with the usual shelf-stable canned and packaged items we’re used to purchasing, we can buy perishable foods. But many fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs go bad quickly or will be eaten before we’re able to go out and mingle again.

In that case, Linda Gassenheimer, host of Food News and Views on WDNA (88.9 FM) and columnist for Quick Fix Dinner in Minutes, says, “Your freezer is your friend." She advises stocking up on flash-frozen vegetables and fruits such as blueberries and strawberries. Because they're frozen just after picking, they often have more vitamins and minerals than fresh. “That broccoli in the produce section can be three weeks old,” she notes.

Nutrition-wise, Gassenheimer endorses lean proteins such as those big bags of frozen scallops and shrimp. “You can take out what you need and put the rest back. Plus, they’re already peeled," she says. "Just put them in a pot of cold water. Once they’re defrosted, you have cooked shrimp ready to use.”

Pulling from large batches — whether store-bought or homemade — is clearly a smart idea. If recycling and trash services are disrupted, you don’t want a kitchen or garage filled with dozens of sticky, smelly containers.

Betsy Karetnick, who formerly worked as the Morning Drive host for Martha Stewart and is familiar with prepping, cooking, and freezing in large quantities (and is this writer's sister), recommends stocking supplies for soups, i.e., hearty produce that lasts: potatoes, beets, carrots, celery. She also notes that of all fresh fruits, citrus keeps well in the fridge. “Bananas, like mangoes, can be peeled and frozen for smoothies and baking,” she adds.

Baking is an excellent idea for families with children — it’s entertainment with an edible end — so add flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract, and eggs to your list. Plan to freeze whatever you don’t eat right away.

If you don’t want to bake, preservatives will do the trick. Writers are best at practicing solitude, so what would they buy? Poet Catherine Esposito Prescott says she'll go for “those potato rolls that never go bad, and Entenmann’s products because they also never expire.”

For fresh herbs, buy them now and make pesto or purée them with olive oil. Then freeze in ice-cube trays, release when frozen, and store in plastic bags so they don’t take up much room.

Feel free to treat yourself to gourmet items as well. Go to Marky’s and buy truffles preserved in oil, as well as mustard, cornichons, foie gras, and sustainable caviar. Head to Costco and grab some hunks of cheese that make Jason Momoa’s head look small. In addition, rather than buying sliced deli meat that's sure to go rancid, opt for cured and dried sausages.

What’s that, you say? Fats, salt, and nitrates? Forget about it. This is no time to worry about long-term harm to our arteries.

That said, don't load up the cheese drawer with pungent washed-rind cheeses such as Époisses de Bourgogne, which urban legend says is so odorous it’s banned from public transportation in France. Even if you live alone, it flavors everything in the refrigerator.

Think quarantine might last longer than a month? Take a page from Doomsday Preppers and order a year's supply of freeze-dried goods from Walmart. The BaseKamp cheesy lasagna reportedly rocks.

And above all, be sure to stockpile your sense of humor. We'll all need plenty of that no matter what coronavirus brings.
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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick