What To Do When The Power Is Out, Other Than Panic

Richmond is a strange place for power outages. We tend to lose power in the winter more than in the summer, because we have ice storms. But when we lose it for a LOOOONG time it's usually during the summer. Maybe the summer storms are more violent, so they can cause more damage.

My neighborhood is on the end of a circuit, apparently, and we have underground electrical wires. However, they only go underground two blocks over, so we're at the mercy of the tree-trimming abilities of our neighbors to prevent limbs from taking wires down. We don't lose power very often, but it does occasionally happen.

The last two or three hurricanes that came through didn't cause us any problems at all. Other people had no power for a week, but our lights didn't even flicker.

Then there was the hurricane about 7 or 8 years ago... That one knocked out our power for 6 days. It came back on as I was on the phone making arrangements to go to a friend's house to do my baking for the week.

And that's the point. You have to have a backup plan. When the hurricance that took power out came through, it was predicted to hit us on a Friday. I had a Friday wedding scheduled, and at least one on Saturday.

I called the Friday bride and said "There's a hurricane coming through on your wedding day. What's your backup plan?" She later thanked me and said that I was the ONLY one of her vendors who had called to fnd out what was going on. Really? That was surprising to me, to say the least. She ended up moving her wedding to Thursday, since the venue was booked for Saturday already (it was the same place for both of my weddings, coincidentally, so it was interesting to see the before and after at the venue after the storm was over.)

So this week when the power went out I figured out my contingency plan and put it into action. Of course, this was the same weekend that we were going to be having temperatures up to 105 degrees for three days in a row. And another of course, one of the receptions was going to be outdoors. That cake was going to be fondant due to my no-buttercream-outside-in-June policy, but the other two were buttercream.

So I had finished the cakes and everything was in the fridges. I have two refrigerators, and all three cakes were in them. Two were stacked already and one was in separate pieces. That one was seven tiers tall and the bottom tier was 6" tall on its own, so it was going to be too heavy for my bad shoulder to pick up if I had stacked it.

So when the lights went out at 10:30pm when a gust of wind came in at the beginning of a rainstorm, I was irritated but not panicked. How long could the lights be out if it ws just a gust of wind that turned them off? I told everyone to leave the refrigerators closed and it would be fine.

When the lights weren't on at 3:30 in the morning I was slightly more worried, because we're usually not out that long.

When the lights weren't on in the morning I wasn't happy. I couldn't deliver the big cake until noon, and by that time the fridges were going to be warm and the outside heat was going to be warmer. I had tight delivery times because I didn't want to take more than one cake at a time in 103 degree heat. I also knew that when you move an unrefrigerated stacked cake there's a much greater chance of the tiers shifting during transport.

So I decided that it was time to start my backup plan. I went to the grocery store and bought $50 worth of dry ice. One bag went in each of the sections of the fridge and the freezers (Yeah, I also had a lot of food in the chest freezer that I kind of didn't want to lose but at this point I was more concerned about the cakes.)

So that would keep everything cold, but then I realized that two of the cakes had gumpaste on them. Now, I refrigerate gumpaste all the time, but I started thinking about the fact that if the house wasn't cooled off it would also be more humid. I didn't want to take a chance on that being the reason for a cake fail.

I decided to pack the two cakes that had gumpaste on them up and take them to my mother-in-law's apartment at the nursing home. Yes, the nursing home. I had no doubt that they'd have power...dealing with a bunch of elderly people who were too hot isn't anything that anyone wants to do, so they have generators. If that wasn't an option I'd have called around to my friends to see whose house I could stash a couple of cake boxes at for a few hours.

I boxed the cakes up, put them right next to the AC unit, and cranked it up. No humidity problems there!

I boxed up all of the individual sections of the first cake at noon and delivered that. It took about 45 minutes to set it up since it was in sections, so I got back at about 2:00. I picked up cake number two and delivered it, returning about 3:45. I dumped the boxes at home and went to pick up cake number three, which was the outdoor cake.

I had called the venue and emailed the bride earlier in the week to tell them that I was going to deliver the cake as close to the start of the 5:00 ceremony as possible to minimize outdoor time. I got there a little early, so I sat in the car with the air conditioning running until 4:45. At that point I put the cake out and got out of there so that I wouldn't be blocking the road for the guests.

Then I came home and tossed all of the dry ice into the chest freezer, along with all of the food from the refrigerator freezers. One freezer had the milk and some of my cake ingredients like butter in it, since putting ice in a freezer will keep it cool enough to act like a refrigerator. We learned that during the week-long hurricane outage.

(Just an FYI...four packs of dry ice in a full chest freezer will keep everything at about 10 degrees for a couple of days. When the power came on I thought I'd have to do a little chicken-cooking marathon to cook the meat that would have thawed out, but everything was still solid as a rock.)

So think it through and figure out what you'd need to do if something heinous happened. Planning ahead of time will prevent you from having to figure it out as you lie awake at night waiting for the lights to come back on...

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com