My Pandemic Diary, Entry #15
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
I’ve been having bad dreams lately. Maybe you have, too. I had one last night in which Mark and I were driving somewhere and had an accident because the car brakes wouldn’t work (fact: Mark and I don’t have a car) and then we had to confront a maddeningly unresponsive bureaucracy that wouldn’t help us. You don’t need a therapist to figure that one out. It made me nostalgic for silly pre-virus dreams, like the kind where you eat too much ice cream.
This made me think about nostalgia, which in turn made me think about the things I’m missing the most. Of course, I miss my friends and family. But I also miss strangers. We New Yorkers live and work and travel while on top of one another and we like it that way, so take all that proximity away from us and it’s disorienting.
I miss going to the gym and seeing my gym family. I miss that a lot. I crave being able to walk my neighborhood and do my errands and visit with the people who I may have first met through transactions but they entered my life, like Ray and Orlando, my favorite butchers at Whole Foods, or the doormen on my block who say hello as we recognize each other. I miss grabbing my MetroCard and heading to Midtown and jumping into all that intensity and scowling at the tourists walking six-abreast on the wide sidewalks. I miss going to the theater and sitting in the little seats in our gorgeous old theaters while complaining about the crowds in Times Square. I miss taking the crosstown bus and recognizing the drivers. I miss not being afraid to watch the news (except for some political stuff which was scary enough). I miss being able to assume that I will travel again and see more of this extraordinary world. And I miss the delusional belief that I could predict what the future will look like and that I could control my place in it. It is a loss of innocence.
Most of us go through life believing that the future will look like the present, only more of it. I suspect this is one of the reasons it’s so challenging to explain to our children what is to become of us. It’s been almost nineteen years since 9/11. We’ve had a good run and history is proof that good runs don’t last forever.
Now it’s our responsibility – our only option, actually – that once the world is safe again, we must dive back in, wake up from those bad dreams, and make a new normal. Not quite yet, but oh, how I hope it is soon.
Cooking and Groceries
Speaking of normal, when on our walk on this gorgeous April morning, I asked Mark what he wanted for his dinner. I loved his answer: Do you have any chopped meat? How about cheeseburgers?
I had exactly two half-pound servings of hamburger in the freezer, and a package of Whole Foods 365 sharp cheddar. Two cheeseburgers and a salad. A good Tuesday night supper.
For those who know how I like to cook, it’s my practice to make a mostly simply meal using the best ingredients I can find and afford, but also make one thing that needs more effort, that will add more complexity to the table. Last night’s dinner is a good example. I pan roasted a piece of salmon in my usual way – rub with olive oil and cook on top of the stove in a dry, hot pre-heated pan for two minutes and then in a 450° F oven for six or so minutes.
But before cooking the fish, which obviously is a quick thing, I put the main effort of the meal into a vegetable side-dish of Crisp Gnocchi With Brussels Sprouts and Brown Butter that I adapted from a New York Times recipe by Ali Slagle whose work I really like. However, in this recipe, I found her method more complicated than it needed to be to essentially get the same result but with half the fat. She has you cooking one pound of trimmed and halved (if large enough) Brussels sprouts in a large skillet, then using the same pan to brown a package of shelf-stable gnocchi, adding a lot of butter and honey and then cooking everything together. I found that the Brussels sprouts didn’t cook well this way; better to roast them with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and her pinch of red pepper flakes on a sheet pan in a 400° F oven for about 25 or so minutes until they’re tender and brown.
While they roast, use a large skillet that has a cover to brown the gnocchi (right out of the package without pre-cooking; if you’ve never cooked packaged gnocchi this way, it is a revelation; I buy DeCecco’s) in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, with the pan covered, for about four minutes over medium heat without stirring, until they’re not just brown but also tender. Then add a little butter (two tablespoons should be enough) and a clove or two of minced garlic and stir until the butter is melted, the gnocchi are coated, and the garlic has begun to soften. Combine the fully roasted Brussels sprouts with the browned, buttery-garlic-y gnocchi in a big serving bowl, add the zest of a lemon, some salt and pepper, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar if you want a touch of sweetness, and a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan, and this is heaven. It’s a good way to add pasta to a dish that is primarily about the vegetable. It’s also hearty and good to serve with a simple fish or poultry.
On the subject of grocery shopping, I keep hearing from friends who are discouraged by the long un-socially-distanced lines at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, as if these were the only two stores in New York City. A reminder to shop at your smaller neighborhood supermarkets. Their prices may be higher and you may not find your Trader Joe favorites, but their shelves are stocked, the stores aren’t crowded, especially if you go early, and you can even buy toilet paper.
Also consider the increasing number of wholesalers who are selling retail and delivering. Here is an article from Eater that has a large list of some of the city’s best purveyors. Depending on your budget, some can be pricey. Some also have minimum orders. But if these work for you, they can be excellent options. I have not yet shopped from any of them so I can’t vouch for the experience, but these are established companies that have been serving some of the city’s best restaurants.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.