My Pandemic Diary, Entry #12

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #12

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

Until yesterday whenever Mark or I would leave our apartment, which we’d only do to take a cautious walk or to go the supermarket, we would not wear masks. That’s because we didn’t have them. We always felt exposed which made us even more cautious, more afraid. But as new information became available about masks and what gives them efficacy, he searched out a pattern and info about air filtration, and he asked me for some fabric, something washable with a tight weave. I reached into a closet and handed him a cotton bandana.

This bandana was a souvenir gift from a 5K I ran about fifteen years ago, before I had two surgeries on the same knee, although that makes me sound like I am a frustrated competitive athlete when I am not that at all. The truth is this was the only 5K I ever ran. I did it to raise money for breast cancer at a time when my dearest friend was dying from that killer and part of me believed that if I could only complete the race, she would recover.

The race organizers gave each of the many hundreds who ran those 5 kilometers in Central Park a vibrant cotton neck scarf made in a Lilly Pulitzer print. Quite posh, I thought at the time, when I also noticed the navy blue oval Ford logo on one of its corners, Ford being one of the race’s corporate sponsors. I didn’t mind as I was glad to have it as a souvenir of that day. I never wore it again but kept it tucked away where I’d only see it whenever I would clean out closets.

Yesterday, when Mark asked me for something to make the masks, I thought this bandana was the perfect choice. The cotton fabric is a fine weave, the print makes me smile, and I value the connection between a race I ran for health and now this fight for our lives.

Mark, who is obviously a very handy and multi-skilled person, pulled out our sewing kit, found some lengths of leftover ribbon, and constructed two masks out of the single bandana. In between the two layers of fabric used for each mask, he placed a third layer of coffee filter paper.  As odd as it may sound, I can’t wait to wear mine.

Cooking and Groceries

Last night’s dinner came together at the last minute. I had two boneless pork loin chops and I couldn’t figure out what to do with them because I didn’t want to fuss with a marinade or a sauce. I wanted something quick and easy but I wanted an appealing meal, and I knew that pork loin can be tasteless and easily overcooked. So I first turned to the rest of the meal and left the chops to be the last thing I’d decide. I put two sweet potatoes in the oven to roast, which I served with a little bowl of labneh, made from yogurt but with a sour cream-type of density. The tang of the labneh is a nice contrast with the potatoes’ sweetness. And I made a green salad of baby romaine, radicchio, sliced red onion, and my usual vinaigrette.

Finally turning to the pork chops, I lined a plate with seasoned flour – salt, black pepper and a generous pinch of Espelette pepper – and dusted the two room temperature chops so to give them a surface. I heated a glug of olive oil in a hot skillet and cooked each 1-inch chop for about two minutes a side until the internal temperature was about 135° F and then let it rest for about five minutes (knowing the temperature would rise a bit more). That was dinner.

But before dinner I made us a treat, an hors d’oeuvre to have while I dithered with the pork chops. Using a recipe from Lola Milne’s book, Take One Can, which I mentioned in a diary entry about a week ago, I made Smoked Mackerel Pâté.  I happened to have a can of Wild Planet mackerel (it wasn’t smoked) as well as half a container of crème fraîche left over from something I can’t remember that I needed it for several weeks ago (it lasts a long time).  I drained the mackerel of its oil, used a fork to flake it and combine with about 1/4 cup of the crème fraîche, a squeeze of lemon juice (about one tablespoon), and black pepper (no salt as the fish was already salty). The recipe also called for crushed fennel seeds which I’m sure would have been lovely, but I was tired and decided to skip them.

I cut two thin slices of my no-knead-needless bread, cut those into small pieces and spread a little of the pâté on each. Excellent, I thought (it would also make an amazing and wickedly luxurious sandwich), so I say thank you to Lola Milne. I think that if you didn’t have mackerel or crème fraîche, you could easily substitute sardines or even oil-packed tuna and use softened unsalted butter.  Keep the lemon juice and black pepper, though. Maybe add the fennel seeds if you can.

Tonight’s dinner will also be a bit of an adaptation, plus it’s a bit special for Saturday night.

Several weeks ago I saw a David Tanis recipe in The Times for Slow Roasted Duck Legs With Smashed White Beans, Sizzled Herbs and Olives, a dish that evokes the flavors and textures of cassoulet.  Here’s the link, although The Times’ cooking pages have a pay wall.

It’s just the kind of recipe I love, where there are elements that are cooked differently (e.g., one thing in the oven, one thing quick to finish, and maybe one thing with a slow braise that maybe you can do in advance), the seasonings are sophisticated, and each element adds interest and flavor. I was up for the challenge but I had never gotten around to buying the duck legs at Esposito's, a favorite butcher that has excellent prices and now I can't. While I know their quality is first rate, I didn’t want to buy the more easily available D’Artagnan’s duck legs for the expense.  However, I do have chicken legs, and I also have dried white beans, rosemary, and olives, the other main ingredients.  So when I did my shopping on Tuesday, I added a packet of fresh sage leaves to my basket. Much less the cost than D’Artagnan duck legs and I suspect, a more important ingredient for the recipe’s payoff. 

I’ll let you know tomorrow how it turns out. 

Pandemic Tips

For New Yorkers who depend upon our weekly Greenmarkets to buy local ingredients, and especially at this time of year when our produce farmers are starting to bring the first results of spring farming, folks may be worried that these markets may disappear. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case and GrowNYC is striving to keep it that way.  Most of the Greenmarkets are open as per usual.  If you want to check yours, here is a link that shows which markets are currently closed or have a schedule change.  If you can, please try to give them your business.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough



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