For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Allison Robicelli is the co-owner (with her husband Matt) of Robicelli's, an award-winning cupcake business in New York City, and author of the upcoming "Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes." Follow her on Twitter @robicellis.
My husband and I lost our first business in the fall of 2009. There were a billion contributing factors: a collapsing economy, a rent hike, a horrific family tragedy and a crumbling marriage that needed to be saved. Talking about it four years later seems like a trivial footnote in our story - some sort of inciting plot device that occurred offstage, scarcely remembered by the time the curtains closed. They hustled, they persevered, they became Q-list food celebrities and they all lived happily ever after.
No matter how far into the story we get, like a broken bone that never quite heals, I can still feel those initial moments of fallout as if they were yesterday: the fear of truly having lost it all; the jarring realization that in an instant, everything we had built may be gone forever and we might not not be strong enough to rebuild. I recall looking at my children and wondering how we let this happen, if we could have prevented it and how we can protect them when we couldn’t even protect ourselves.
It was worse than terror; it was a life without hope. A life I thought of ending more than once.
While we survived, I have been unable to purge the memory of what I felt in those months. The feeling rose again and turned into empathy in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and again this week watching a tornado destroy Moore, Oklahoma.
On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.
More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.
At least he's got some company. There's not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he's alone. The catch that's coming in is light, particularly for crabs.
"Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that," said Stander, 26.
The Dekalb seed company recently shared a poster on Facebook depicting the top corn yields of 1940 and it got the gears turning in my head. For many decades, corn growers at the local, state and national level have competed in yield contests to see who can grow the most corn per acre. Bragging rights are at stake (and sometimes cash and prizes), and the 1940 yield contest winner for my home state of Indiana harvested 94.81 bushels per acre.
What about that clicks in my ag-nerd brain? The fact that in 2012, hopefully the worst drought of my farming career, saw our farm garner an average corn yield of 94.7 bushels per acre. For all intents and purposes, that's equal to the best of the best in my great grandfather’s day.
The poster shows a 102.38 bushel average for contestants over 12 states. The U.S. averaged about 123 bushels per acre following the horrendous drought of 2012. By those numbers, today’s worst is better than yesteryear’s top dogs.
On a cold, rainy day, people lined up around the block for supplies from a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Far Rockaway, Queens, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.
More than 100 days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, leaving power lines, houses, family heirlooms and human lives decimated in its wake, it's a clear sign residents are still figuring out how to cope.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the recent storm would cost New York State alone nearly $42 billion. Despite the odds, the recent reopening of small businesses, like a tiny, neighborhood bagel shop, indicates a new day is dawning.
From midtown Manhattan, the trip to Far Rockaway takes a little more than two hours. That’s because there is still no subway service past John F. Kennedy Airport. To access the Rockaways, riders have to transfer to a shuttle bus, then back onto a fare free shuttle train, which only started service in late November. It’s a couple more transfers than residents are used to, but it’s better than the lack of transportation they were saddled with for quite some time.
No matter if they're honey-dipped, sauce-slathered, mild or volcanic, chicken wings will cost more for Super Bowl party hosts and pub patrons across America this year.
That's mainly because the most severe and extensive drought in 25 years blazed a path of destruction through the Midwest during the sizzling summer of 2012. It damaged and destroyed major portions of fields, caused crop prices to rise and created a domino effect on overall food prices.
“The prices of corn and soybeans went way up. That caused many of the [chicken growers] to cut back on production,” said David Harvey, an agricultural economist and specialist in poultry at the United States Department of Agriculture.
The past year saw a mild winter give way to a balmier-than-normal spring, followed by a sweltering summer and high temperatures that lingered into the fall, all punctuated by extreme drought and intense storms.
Now 2012 is officially in the books as the hottest year on record for the continental United States and the second-worst for "extreme" weather such as hurricanes, droughts or floods, the U.S. government announced Tuesday.
Way back in July, I spoke to Eatocracy readers about the drought. It was hot, and dry, and it had been that way for too long. By late July all of our corn had pollinated under the stress of extreme heat and extended drought. Some amount of rain was needed for plants to have energy for grain fill. So what happened when harvest equipment finally entered the field?
Given their context, the three words scrawled on a chalkboard outside Jeremy's Ale House in New York are defiant, even victorious.
"We are open."
The pub is one of the few survivors in one of New York's historic districts devastated by Superstom Sandy, which ripped through the region last month.
When the floodwaters began to lap at his hip, Rahmell Ortiz's stubbornness finally buckled. He ran for his life, unsure of where he was going, or what had become of the other 6350 residents of Brooklyn's Red Hook Houses. Ortiz knew only that the Superstorm Sandy was showing no signs of mercy, and that his friend Horace Jackson, who had been banging at his door, wasn't taking no for an answer.
11 days, and a terrifying chest-high wade later, the two men stood in line for a free twice-daily meal dished out by volunteer-manned tables and trucks stationed outside the Calvary Baptist Church of Red Hook. It was by both men's accounts, the highlight of the day for local residents, many of whom still were living without power, heat or any idea when either might return, due to extensive saltwater damage in the basements of the 33 buildings that make up Brooklyn's largest public housing development.