My Pandemic Diary, Entry #44

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #44

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a dreary Wednesday, mild but with a low gray sky.

Mark and I took our walk this morning but we got a late start. I don’t know if it was today’s weather or yesterday’s fatigue from spending a day that started with 7:00 am grocery shopping and ended with magnificent black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream that made us both over-sleep.

Even though we were out later than usual, there weren’t very many people about. I think many of us are increasingly languishing at the same time that we’re feeling restless and suffocating from all the isolation. If you listen to Governor Cuomo, and many people do, we can expect a very slow and staggered unwinding of this tense state we’re in. We will not get the acute satisfaction of an abrupt new day even if we can’t help ourselves from craving that. As we get back slowly, many things will be different, but we’ll manage.

If you worry we won't, consider what happened after 9/11. Could we have imagined that we’d get used to routine metal detectors, mandatory photo IDs, airplane rules about shoes and water bottles, and having crash and attack-resistant bollards in front of city buildings? No, but we have adjusted and now it's normal. I believe that’s what is ahead of us – changes that we will get accustomed to. I say that while also believing that even after we finally have a vaccine, I suspect that anyone who will have lived through this Covid-19 era will never completely trust that it won’t happen again.

I continue to receive emails from friends forwarding jokes and memes and videos. I think most of us do. Many are funny, others are nostalgic, and some are political. I’m glad to receive them because I know that sending them is gratifying for my friends. But I read very few because I’m trying very hard to stay in the present. A day at a time. And if my attention is pulled to sadness for what I may not experience again, like overseas travel, or to a rage of how effective crisis management of this pandemic would have saved lives, I know myself well enough to know that it would only make me feel more helpless, not less. It’s not that I don’t feel the nostalgia and the rage, because I most certainly do. But right now I can’t do anything about either of them.  

What I can do is spend time every day emailing friends who ask for cooking help, and I can send checks, even if they’re small, to political candidates I believe in, and I can stay in close touch with people I know are going through this time alone. I can also take care of myself and my husband so that we minimize any risks to our health, like taking our walks, and eating healthy and regular meals, or not chewing ice (who’d want to go to the dentist right now?). I can be a good neighbor and I can be a good stranger by keeping to the guidelines, which also helps me keep my temper from flaring when others don’t. And I can write this diary, which I began for my own therapy, and if it speaks to someone else’s, I am grateful.

Cooking and Groceries 

Mark said that last night’s birthday dinner made him happy and that, of course, was my goal. I stuck to the menu of pan-cooked duck breast, fregola with sautéed mushrooms and minced shallots, plus a generous pinch of Espelette pepper which added a little smoky heat, and asparagus which I gently boiled until just barely tender. The main event, of course, was the ice cream and he was as happy as a ten-year-old. Ice cream does that to us. I lit a candle (our kitchen table is very small and there’s never really room for two candles), used my good china and handsome gray linen napkins. We had glasses of Prosecco and as an hors d’oeuvre, I cut thin slices of a dry salami I had bought about a month ago, saving it for something special and this was it.

Tonight we will have cod, which I’ve had in the freezer. I will make it in our favorite way, cut into portions and dusting with flour, dipping into a beaten egg, and then coating in panko and frying in a little olive oil. The fish holds together but is tender and flaky and the surface is crispy.

But the star of tonight’s dinner will be the broccolini I bought yesterday at Whole Foods. I think broccolini may be my favorite vegetable (spinach is a close second) but it’s hard to find. And when you do, it’s usually very expensive and slightly past its due date. However, the broccolini I found yesterday was perfect – deep green, with firm stems, and buds that weren’t falling off.

While I love roasted broccolini, whenever you roast a vegetable, you remove much of its moisture and so it shrinks. This also happens with cubes of butternut squash, with asparagus, with carrots, and Brussels sprouts. And with broccolini. So what might start out as four servings, after you roast it, it's barely for two. Instead, tonight I will simply trim the stalks of any rough areas and leaves, give them a quick soak in cool water to remove any dirt, and then boil them in a large pot of salted water until they’re tender, about four or five minutes. After they’re drained, I will finish them simply with a drizzle of my best olive oil and a pinch of salt, probably my large-grained sel de Guérande that I save for things like this.

When your vegetables are really fresh and in good shape, this is the best way to cook them. You’ll get the full flavor, plus the full quantity without shrinkage so they will go further. If a vegetable isn’t in prime shape, it may be better to cook it in another way, such as roasting, or as I did the other day with green beans that I blister cooked. But try not to waste the gift of a perfectly fresh vegetable. Plus it’s easy and takes less time that you can spend either on another part of the meal or doing something else. 

Pandemic Tips

I wanted to finish by sharing two articles from today’s Washington Post. The first is about a Brooklyn writer named Leanne Brown who five years ago wrote a book about how to cook well if you’re a SNAP recipient that won a James Beard Award. Her lessons and cooking philosophy have a lot of wisdom for this time for all of us.

The other is about how two English millers have re-opened a 1,000-year-old mill to grind flour to help meet the demands for modern home baking.  

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough




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