By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
I am not the expert to talk about earthquakes. I recently moved to California and have had little experience with them. Earthquakes are another one of this state’s chronic occurrences to worry about. Put it up there with wild fires, drought, high taxes, expensive real estate, extra regulations on everything from light bulbs to low-flow toilets. Why would anyone want to live here, let alone make a conscious choice to move here? The flip side: gorgeous weather, gorgeous scenery like the ocean and the mountains, an active outdoor lifestyle, a can-do spirit, laid-back citizens, and for us ladies, gray hair and no makeup. Perfect!
My editor asked me a few days ago “How about writing about the earthquake that just happened near the San Francisco Bay area?” It was on October 25, a 5.1 magnitude quake five miles east of San Jose in the mountains. The quake made the national news. Friends from all over called or texted and asked if we were affected. I appreciated the sentiments, for sure. I happened to be in the pool doing laps. There was no tsunami, I didn’t feel a thing.
Upon getting out there, I found a lively discussion taking place on the pool deck about the earth shaking. The young lifeguard was sitting in a deck chair and he thought someone had jokingly grabbed him from behind. Nope. It was the quake. My husband felt it standing in our house. Lucky us: new buildings in California have to be reinforced for earthquakes, so maybe we’ll have a fighting chance with a more direct hit.
In truth, people who who live here don’t think about earthquakes on a regular basis. It’s sort of a casual attitude. For me, it’s a mental survival technique. If you want to freak yourself out, look at the seismology reports from the state of California. We have quakes often, even daily. Usually the quakes are like little “burps” that the earth exudes. This is a good thing as it relieves pressure along the fault lines, so as maybe to avoid more catastrophic events. We live on the San Andreas fault line. Nice, huh?
I have experienced a few quakes even in my meager, almost three years of living in California. When we have one while we’re all at home, my sisters and I text each other immediately and say, “Did you feel that? A quake?” Usually they’re over in a few seconds. I’m most surprised about the noise quakes make. Some say it’s like doors slamming, or whooshing, or a train passing by. Folks, that’s the earth moving. I want to break out into Carol King’s 1971 hit on Tapestry, “I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet.” I bite my tongue. I have a terrible voice.
The last “big” quake in the Bay Area was in December, 2016, when there was a 6.5 magnitude shake. It was more than 100 miles west of the California coastline so little damage occurred. If you want to talk about BIG quakes, who could forget the tragic San Francisco earthquake on October 17, 1989, a 6.9 magnitude with an epicenter 56 miles south of San Francisco. Sixty-three people were killed, thousands became homeless, and $6 billion of damage was reported (today that $6 billion would be $12 billion).
Part of the upper deck of the Cypress Freeway (Interstate 880 in Oakland) collapsed onto the bottom lanes, killing at least 43 people. Parts of San Francisco, such as the Marina, built on landfill, had the most damage where buildings crumbled to the ground. I’m not moving there anytime soon!
My cousin, Carol, who lived in San Francisco in 1989, was walking her two- and five-year-olds home from daycare when that quake struck. She immediately sat down so they wouldn’t fall down. The front windows on the shops popped out. They witnessed the above–ground commuter rail train fall off the tracks. People were pouring out of the train confused, screaming, and crying. I can’t image trying to stay calm with young children watching wide-eyed.
When Carol and the children arrived home, it was clear that had it been just a few minutes earlier, they would have been crushed by the marble ceiling crashing down in the foyer. Carol managed to crawl up the stairs to the kitchen, which was strewn with the refrigerator contents, dishes, and glasses. Having that survival instinct to help others, she whipped up a batch of cheesy vegetarian pasta on her gas stove to feed the neighbors who camped out on their sidewalks, afraid to go back in the buildings. It was dinner time after all!
In the spirit of sharing food with others, I’m offering “Earthquake Cookies” for the recipe today. These delightfully chocolatey cookies are easy to make and a joy to give to others. The tops resemble cracks in the earth. A little too literal, maybe?! Tell us here at The Insider if you have ever had a “shaky” experience in your neighborhood.
Yield: 32 1 oz. cookies
2 c. sugar
1 c. dark cocoa powder
1/2 c. vegetable oil
4 lg. eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
In the bowl of a stationary mixer (or a hand mixer), put the sugar, cocoa powder, and oil. Beat with the paddle until well incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping batter down as needed. Beat in vanilla.
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add to the mixer and blend. Cover bowl; refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Reserve. Measure the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Scoop the cookie dough into 1” (1 oz.) balls. Roll between your palms and drop into the sugar. Coat thoroughly. Do only 4 at a time. Place the cookies evenly spaced on the baking sheet, 16 to a pan. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until barely set. Allow to cool completely on the baking pans before removing to a service tray.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.