Monday, November 5, 2012

Heath Bar Crunch Cookies

When a hurricane is scheduled to arrive, it's a bit like the inverse of Christmas.  Does it exist?  Will it come?  You half-believe and don't believe.  You watch the television simulcasts, read the stories. You make lists.  You go to the store frequently, but keep forgetting things. Half of you thinks that it's all a myth to make you behave and buy lots of canned goods and DD batteries; the other half of you is scared to death.

The days before Hurricane Sandy made landfall at the Jersey Shore, even people states away from me were posting about how the skies were lowering.  But I didn't really think it was going to hit until the Monday of the storm. We've had so many false alarms at the shore before.

The winds the day before had been crisp and invigorating, but overnight they began to pick up, and by daybreak they were a firm, sustained 40-60mph.  But I live about 10 minutes away from the beach, not at water's edge, so I wasn't concerned.  I did get gas, more out of custom than fear and I bought my usual shopping order, rationalizing that if I kept the refrigerator closed, the yogurt, broccoli and turkey would keep just fine for a few hours.

They said 90mph winds and that I was only a county away from where it was making direct landfall.  I wasn't even sure what that meant.  Coal in my stocking, definitely.

The day after, when I awoke to a cold, powerless house, I opened up the window to look, much as you would after a snowstorm. My entire fence around my pool area had been blown clean through.  Not just a few fence poles down, but as if a giant hand had punched it like paper. I had no idea what to do.  I usually run in the morning, but it was far too dark.  I couldn't make coffee.  I waited, colder and colder by the minute.

Eventually, at daybreak I threw on my clothes, and, just to break my mental and physical frozen-ness I ran.  Ran 'till I was sweaty.  Ran past the massive trees snarled in power wires like cat's cradles.  I knew enough not to run to the beach, although I hadn't heard the stories of the people trapped on the top floors of their condos with their cats, staring at three feet of water on the first floor. Hadn't heard the stories of houses swept out to sea or seen the pictures of bars and restaurants which were familiar landmarks when I was growing up utterly destroyed.

My trees had seemed fine in the dark, but when I came back I realized that one tree was LEANING on another tree, entirely uprooted.  My neighbor, thank heavens, was willing to help me safely bring it down away from my house, cut it up and I dragged the pieces to the curb.   I called my fence guy and within a day or two he came and fixed the fence.

The major ordeal was being without power. The first day I was so exhausted by the cleanup effort, it wasn't too bad. The second day, I helped my riding instructor muck out stalls, mainly to keep myself warm and busy. But I work from home, so the fear of losing money was constant, as well as the racy, anxious sensation of being cold all the time. On Wednesday, the thermostat read 55F and I decided not to look at it after that.

My father has a gas fireplace, so every night I would go over to his place with the dog.  He had no power either, so we would play with the dog and talk in a civilized manner that I thought was impossible for the three of us--myself, my stepmother, and father.  Then I would go home, put on my great-aunt's long johns, which my mother had given me (they were made in an era before centralized heating and were the most hideous and warmest things I owned), throw on a wool sweater and parka, and go to bed around 6:30pm, exhausted and bored. My battery-powered radio didn't pick up NPR, only 880AM (a news channel) and ESPN radio.  I had envisioned myself writing and reading great things, with no work to do and with it being too cold to do housework, but mostly I slept.  Woke at dawn, went for a run to keep warm. More yard cleanup.

By Friday, I was growing desperate.  I had heard that my section of town might not get serviced for another 10 days, yet everyone else (including my father) was getting their power back.  I was growing hysterical, and thought of my Harvard Divinity School classes on the book of Job.  Part of me felt terrible being so miserable about being without power (I mean, I wasn't dead and my house was still standing) but then I thought: isn't that the nature of Job?  He accepts the mightiness of God, but he still allows himself to be sad?  He doesn't plaster on a fake smile and say, "gee, life is swell, I've just lost all my loved ones and money and health," he admits his sorrow but he also admits the powerlessness of us all....

And then the lights came on, as I slid to the floor from my sofa, like flipping on a Christmas tree.

It's so strange when the lights go on after a long time.  You're suddenly reminded: hey, I was at the computer/ in the bathroom/ in the kitchen all those days ago when your house gasps to life again.  It is as close to a witnessed resurrection that most of us will ever experience....And I really did have no hope because frankly, the nature of a power outage and a storm reminds us how arbitrary who is deprived of life-giving light can be.  In terms of money, we can pretend life is a meritocracy, but with death and acts of nature (acts of God, if you will) being very, very nice to people won't necessarily get your power back more quickly, as the poor neighbor who helped me with my tree is still in the dark. Being a good person won't protect your house from being swept away.

Anyway, I am very grateful to be back on the grid, a productive member of society once more, and eating cooked. food. And I was far away from the flooding.

My oven is gas, but does not operate without electricity, so I ate mostly almond butter, avocados, canned tuna and salmon and the occasional sprig of broccoli (raw). And lots of nuts. It sounds really healthy, but my philosophy is, if I'm going to eat fattening foods, they are going to taste good, versus stale Oreos in a freezing cold kitchen while drinking instant coffee made with warm tap water.

One of the things that surprised me the most was how much better I felt, physically, when running, riding, doing yoga and just about anything. Even though I was freezing, not sitting hunched in front of my computer 10 hours a day, doing yard work, and talking to people did seem to have a beneficial effect. Unfortunately,  giving up technology is not a viable option for me, financially, even though my spine might thank me for it...

These were the first cookies I baked after the power was restored. It's a great way to get rid of Halloween candy, although these are so good, I'd say even if you don't have leftover Heath bars, it's worth going out and buying them!  An early Christmas present to yourself...


Heath Bar Crunch Cookies
--yields 12-18 cookies--


1/2 cup room temperature butter
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 large, beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup caramel baking bits
 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
 6-9 mini Heath bars


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add egg and vanilla.
3. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.  Incorporate wet and dry mixture.  Fold in caramel baking bits and peanut butter chips.
4. Snap mini Heath bars in half.  Scoop dough out into 1-inch balls on the parchment sheets. Insert 1/2 a candy bar into each ball of dough.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just set. Do not overbake.  Cool and remove from baking sheet.


  1. I wish I had memories of what I learned at Harvard Divinity School to fall back on. Oh, and your lung capacity. That is a lot of running. As for the cookies, I just used up all our Heath Bars in some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, but I'll try yours too. Are they really crunchy or is the crunch just from the Heath bars?

  2. @Anna--these cookies turned out rather crisp. Normally, I like softer chocolate chip cookies but I liked the crispness with the caramel, peanut butter, and Heath bar flavors.

    I still have more Heath bars, so I will give your whole wheat chocolate chip cookies a try too!

    I suppose the HDS comment makes me sound really intelligent, but I think it was just complete insanity brought on by exhaustion and cold. And I have never been more motivated to run! It was the only time I felt reasonably warm the entire week!

  3. I can't imagine being without power for days on end. Especially since it was out everywhere and there was nowhere for you to go to wait it out. It happens around here during major snowstorms, but it's only the people in the suburbs who have to suffer through the days-long outages; in the city, we have a separate electric company and they generally get power up within four or five hours at the longest. I'm not sure what would happen if we ever had a disaster of the magnitude that you guys had. I know what you mean about that moment when all the power returns though; even after only a few hours, it's like coming back to life. It's at those moments that I know I would have been a terrible pioneer. At any rate, I'm sorry you had to go through it.

  4. @flurrious--while I would like to give myself a 'Little House on the Prairie' gold star, I have to remind myself that there are people in the area STILL without power, even now.

    Some people in some areas hit by the storm might not get power for another week or so--even more. And the snowstorm that hit today just makes matters worse.

    I know you guys get earthquakes out there, so that is the 'natural calamity' particular to the West, while hurricanes usually hit at least us at least once a year. But I've never been without electric for this long before. When feeling really wimpy, I remind myself, dredging up my studies of the 19th century, that if I were a pioneer, I would have at least had a house designed to heat and cook without power...

  5. Ack I can't even imagine being without power for that long, but I'm happy it was much more abbreviated than you had anticipated! Movement and action of any kind really is the best distraction and at least makes you feel like you're DOING something. And I definitely approve of baking post-hurricane. These cookies look delicious!

  6. @Joanne--that is so true! Being active is the only way to deal with stress...particularly freezing-your-ass-off-stress!