Disarming Disaster

Disarming Disaster with ‘Wine and Chocolate’As hurricane season approaches, it’s wise to be prepared. But there is no rule that says you can’t have fun too.By Zandra Wolfgram

Brenda Barnes doesn’t fear disaster; she invites it into her home and offers it a glass of wine and a bite of chocolate. When she looks into the jaws of death, she names it, blames it, tames it and … publishes it.

Meet the antidote to disaster: “The Wine and Chocolate Evacuation Plan,” a self-help book written and published in July 2009 by our heroine and party hostess, Brenda Barnes. The book includes an invitation template, a sample menu and recipes, shopping lists and some easy decorating ideas for your evacuation party. Category 5 Bite Size Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Seismographic Chocolate Strawberries and Death by Chocolate Bites are some of the evacuation-party treats to serve guests while you and your friends become better prepared for the new hurricane season.

A retired nurse from Memphis, Tenn., Barnes says she was “trained to think on my feet, plan things out, move quickly and stay focused.” She now calls Destin home and, apparently, multi-tasking still is her middle name.

Ironically, despite having served as a community health nurse for years, Barnes didn’t get to practice what she now preaches. She typically remained behind, holed up in crowded evacuation centers in Crestview, listening to the stories of the distraught. However, in 2008, disaster seemed all too real when wildfires in Los Angeles threatened her daughter’s home. Barnes worked the phones, trying to find out more. Unsatisfied with the information she was able to piece together, she flew into action, traveling to California. What Barnes saw there was unsettling.

“The whole community seemed underprepared,” she said.

Her instincts kicked in. Barnes wrote key directives for her daughter to follow in order to get through the emergency. In time, those notes and many more were carefully shaped into a sprightly book that has become an unofficial bestseller along the Emerald Coast.

“An emergency is scary and threatening,” Barnes said. “The book is intended to make it not so scary and not so threatening. It guides you to do a little bit at a time, so you are not overwhelmed.”

Written in a series of steps, “The Wine and Chocolate Evacuation Plan” outlines commonsense solutions for handling the evacuation process and offers creative ways to jumpstart brainstorming. For example, one suggested party exercise is to take only three minutes to write down the first 10 things you’d take with you. Once you edit your list, Barnes asks, “Can you take it with you? If so, how do you pack it safely? And if you must leave it behind, how should you best care for it?”

And above all, “Write it down — that’s critical,” she said.

The book is sized to fit into a purse or small bag, so you can take it with you. And the brightly colored pages are visible in the dark, making the book easier to consult if the lights go out.

The biggest response from readers has been to the section on packing procedures. At parties, Barnes likes to give a live demonstration of how to pack correctly.

“It’s very different from what we are taught,” Barnes said. “Everything you take has to count. Don’t wrap a fragile heirloom in newspaper; wrap it in clothing you are also taking. Use waste cans, small chests and large cooking pots. Put a lid on it and pack it in the car.”

Although she has worked through the worst of hurricanes, including Andrew in 1992, Barnes admits that when she faced her first hurricane evacuation while living in Pensacola, even she made mistakes.

“I did everything wrong,” she said. “I took my frequent-customer Smoothie Card and left behind my grandmother’s handmade quilts.” Barnes encourages readers who hold evacuation parties to discuss their own mistakes in order to avoid repeating them in the future.

If holding an evacuation party has you quaking in your boots, take heart. Party planner Barnes rescues even the least likely hostess by including a convenient to-do list so that no one is left stranded. The list includes an invitation template, a sample menu and recipes, shopping lists for groceries and party supplies, a timeline and instructions for advance party preparations, a foolproof method on how to present the evacuation information like a pro, and quick and economical decorating ideas.

For the bookworm turned author, writing about a serious topic in a light tone was intentional.

“In an emergency, you want people to be confident, prepared and relaxed,” said Barnes, who added that she worked hard to make it seem effortless. She used the people in her book club as a focus group, asking them to weigh in on everything from the title to the number of pages, the format, even the recipes.

“I tormented my book club and perfect strangers in Walmart,” she said. “I asked them what they wanted.”

They answered, and she delivered. The popular book is on its second printing and has led to an informative site (wineandchocolateplan.com) and a series of “evacuation parties” that the author personally attends when invited — all going strong a year later.

Although most Gulf Coast residents would likely use the book to prepare for hurricane season, Barnes says that “the book is for all natural disasters — flooding, fires, basically anything you need to prepare for.”

Ellen Zamorano, who owns a home in Seagrove Beach, is a friend of Barnes’ and a faithful follower.

“The book is invaluable for being organized,” Zamorano said. “It’s easy to read, and I love that it has lists.”

Some things that jumped out to her while reading the book are the preparation tips for the home.

“I loved the idea of packing a dishwasher with your best china. Who would think of that?” Zamorano said. “In fact, she suggests packing up the washer and dryer and refrigerator, too!”

Zamorano is confident she is better prepared since reading “The Wine and Chocolate Evacuation Plan.” She has even applied some of the tips to her everyday life, such as dressing her child in bright colors to attend crowded attractions. She also follows Barnes’ blog (wineandchocolateplan.blogspot).

“She puts a lot of great information and tips on there as well,” Zamorano said.

For Barnes, something she didn’t anticipate when her book was published was having it appeal to one particular audience.

“The No. 1 surprise is that at least 10 percent of the book was purchased by or for victims of domestic violence,” she said. This revelation pleases her because Barnes reports that more people are affected by what she calls “manmade disasters” than any other.

“By virtue of not mentioning domestic violence, this book can be safely brought into a home in an unthreatening way,” she said. Barnes was so inspired to learn of this audience base that she has donated books to locations where women are counseled on domestic violence.

So what kind of person writes an evacuation party planner?

“I am a contradiction. I am a dreamer, but I’m realistic,” Barnes said. She also is a willing hostess whose favorite quote is one by Emerson that says, “The ornaments of a house are the friends who frequent it.” If you are invited to a party at Barnes’ Regatta Bay home, be prepared.

“I’m very casual; I wear yoga clothes and no makeup,” she said. “And unlike what is in the book, I am cooking-disabled.”

So if worse comes to worst and disaster strikes, what three things would the disaster diva take?

“My husband, an unlimited supply of good wine, and a good library,” she said. And we know one book that will likely be on the library shelf.


Why Should You Host a Party?

• For fun, and because we have done all the planning for you.
• You will help your friends become better prepared for an evacuation, and everyone will have a good time in the process.
• You will definitely be better prepared for evacuation because you will have to read and explain the material to others.
• It gives you an excellent altruistic reason to go out and buy wine and chocolate.
— Excerpt from “The Wine and Chocolate Evacuation Plan”



Quakin’ Cupcakes

    3/4 cup self-rising flour
    2/3 cup all purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
    1/4 cup milk
    1  teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 drop red food coloring
    3-4 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
    1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

Cupcakes: Line 12 mini-muffin tins with mini-muffin papers. In a small bowl, combine flours. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add flour mixture a little at a time until half has been added. Then add milk and vanilla, beating all the while. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Fill the mini-muffin tins three-quarters full. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Frosting: Beat butter, milk, vanilla, food coloring and 2 cups confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually add remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Pipe or spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes.

Recipe courtesy Sarah K’s Gourmet in Destin