My Pandemic Diary, Entry #24

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #24

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a gorgeous spring day and it’s Thursday. Just as I wrote that sentence, I heard the roar of low-flying planes and looked out my window to see two military jets in the sky. Nothing like hearing and seeing fighter jets zooming over your city to fracture your phony sense of calm.

Back to Thursday.  No walk this morning because both Mark and I have too much to do and we’ll exercise indoors today. He has a Zoom class, I’m behind on all kinds of work including my French homework, or les devoirs, as it’s called, and my dirty kitchen really needs a cleaning. Mark has taken to finding photos from various of our past trips and using them as backdrops for his Zoom screen. For his call today he used a beautiful Italian landscape, and put on a summer shirt and his dark glasses, pretending he was dialing in from a Tuscan sojourn. Yes, he is a riot.

One of my household tasks is to oil my cutting board, which is part of my regular kitchen maintenance and something I actually like to do. I use this large wooden board constantly and in between uses, I prop it up against the wall, in the counter area adjacent to my kitchen sink. I’ve had this board for more years than I can remember, including some when I was unfaithful to it and instead used a big, white polypropylene one, the kind we worked with when I attended The French Culinary Institute. I appreciated the synthetic board for how gentle it was on my knives and how easy it was to clean. If it got stained, a little bleach and water brought it back to pure white. But it had no glamour and I would keep it stashed out of sight, taking up precious cabinet space when I wasn’t using it. 

I still have that big white board but a couple of years ago, for reasons I can’t remember – maybe only for its aesthetics – I put my wooden one back to work and now it’s what I cook on daily. It measures 20 by 15 inches and is about an inch and a quarter thick. I think it’s made of oak and the wood is golden brown. Like the plastic board, it’s gentle on knife blades but it takes a little more fuss to clean. I’m constantly wiping it down with a soapy sponge (especially if I’ve cut meat or chicken) and then a clean one, but to sanitize all its little nicks and slices collected from cutting on it, it’s good to periodically give it a deeper clean. Some kosher salt or baking soda and the cut side of half a lemon does a good job; the salt or soda is abrasive and the lemon is acidic. Likewise you can use a squirt of antibacterial soap with an abrasive sponge, like one of those yellow and green 3M sponges (use the abrasive side). Regardless of what you do, finish with a good rinse and then make sure you let it completely dry, meaning for an hour or more, before you use it again.

All this use and cleaning will dry out any wooden board. You can see it happening as its grains lighten in color. A swipe of food-grade mineral oil, which is colorless and tasteless, will solve this and help your board last for many years. I wipe on enough oil so that some remains unabsorbed to soak in, letting the board sit on the counter for a few hours. I then go back and using a paper towel, wipe off any excess. I then turn it over, and do the other side; ideally I do the reverse side the next day so that I can be sure the first application is really absorbed. Food-grade mineral oil is also good to treat wooden spoons or the wooden handles of knives or kitchen utensils. This article from The Kitchn is helpful and it has photos.

Some people suggest using other products instead of food-grade mineral oil but be cautious.  Products like bees wax and distilled coconut oil, if formulated for this use, are okay to use but others like walnut or almond oil, vegetable or olive oil, linseed oil, bleach, cleaning solvents, or alcohol can be toxic or become rancid or provoke nut allergies. 

When shopping for food-grade mineral oil, watch the prices because they can really vary. This is not a precious product and any price differences are no doubt due to branding and packaging. But it’s all the same stuff. The last time I bought mine I got it at Chef’s Catalog, which has since gone out of business.  But you can also get it at Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, Crate and Barrel, or similar stores.

Cooking and Groceries 

This is an easy cooking day for me.  We have leftovers from three past meals: one za’atar-spiced chicken thigh, several slices of duck breast, and meatballs. I’ve put most of the meatballs and tomato sauce in the freezer but kept a few for tonight’s dinner. 

My philosophy about having leftovers is to always serve them with something freshly made so that the whole meal doesn’t seem too sad. Tonight I’m using my last cauliflower and will roast it with garlic in a way that the queen of roasted vegetables, Ina Garten, has created. It's finished with a squeeze of lemon juice, a scattering of parsley, and a couple of tablespoons of toasted pine nuts, which is just about what I have left, stashed in my freezer.  I guess tonight’s their night.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough




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