The iceman cometh, and saveth the day


It wouldn't have been so bad, only I had bought a new car less than a week before.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was looking forward to my day's first glass of iced tea. I put my glass against the lever in the ice cube dispenser, and only water came out.

That was a bad sign. Ice is supposed to come out in solid form, not liquid. 

A repairman came out to the house and grimly informed us that we had a leak in our system and that all the freon had escaped. Finding the problem, fixing it, and recharging the system with freon would cost a cool $1,000.

Say what, now?

Obviously, it was time to get a new fridge. So we bundled up and went out to an appliance store where we found a fridge that admirably met our needs. It had a couple of small dents, and was a manager's special on top of that, so we managed to get an otherwise expensive refrigerator for 60 percent off. It cost ever so slightly less than the repair bill for the old fridge would have been.

But this was a Saturday, and we could not get it delivered until Tuesday. And that was bad news for all the food left in the old, now totally dead refrigerator.

Fortunately, we've lived in Richmond, Va., so we've had a lot of experience in dealing with refrigerators and other appliances that aren't working (the power company's unofficial motto is "Whoops! There goes another squirrel!"). So we knew what to do.

The plan was to make full use of the great outdoors, Nature's Refrigerator. This was a few weeks ago, when the high temperatures were in the mid-to-low 30s, and the lows got into the teens. While the mid-30s is just about as low as you want to keep things refrigerated, the teens will ruin some foods and even freeze others. What we had to do, then, was keep foods chilled without letting them get too cold.

I put ice in the bottom of four coolers, covered it with everything in the fridge, and placed them outside on a screened-in porch. The idea, which I thought was pretty clever, was to keep the food chilled by the ice yet keep the coolers cold enough from the ambient temperature to keep the ice from melting.

If it worked right, and it did, the food would stay more or less the proper temperature for the whole time we were awaiting the new refrigerator. But the big problem was with the food that had been in the freezer.

Freezers are generally set to around 0 degrees, and even the nighttime temperatures in the teens would not approach that. Neither would coolers full of ice, which at best will keep the temperature a little above 32 degrees. Basically, we were going to lose whatever we had in our freezer.

The good news is, it's not that much. Because of unusual circumstances, we happened to have a small steak and a smaller packet of frozen lobster in the freezer, which means the night the fridge died we had a lovely meal of surf 'n' turf.

My wife kept a couple of frozen dinners in there as well, and while one did not make it past triage, the other one became a satisfying and apparently non-spoiled meal. Most of the rest of the items in the freezer were containers full of homemade stock — beef, chicken, and shrimp — from a story I had written a few weeks before. While the frozen stock had thawed, it was still essentially refrigerated out on the porch, so we enjoyed more soup than, frankly, we wanted for the next few days.

Which leads me to the slice of wedding cake. In accordance with tradition, we froze a slice of our wedding cake when we got married, intending to eat it on our first anniversary. But we forgot all about it on our first anniversary, and our second, and our third. So far, we've had it for 17 years. In 2003, when Hurricane Isabel knocked out power for a week, we found it, wrapped in plastic but floating in a pool of melted chicken goo.

Now it is safely back in our new freezer. Ever eating it in the future seems unlikely.

Contact Daniel Neman at: or 419-724-6155.