My Pandemic Diary, Entry #45

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #45

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a sunny, lovely Thursday and it’s a day when we should have taken a brisk walk. But both of us have lots of things to do (laundry!), enough to talk each other into staying in. Instead of a walk, Mark vowed to start his day by exercising and has placed his yoga mat on the living room floor, put on his earphones, and is already working with these nifty barbells that he originally bought for travel that you fill with water to adjust the weight (need 15 pounds? Fill ‘em up. Need 5 pounds? Pour out some water). And I’m sitting at his computer, typing, as my computer problems are still unresolved (we’re attempting a repair; the drama continues).

Trying to stay fit has been a challenge. I’ve tried doing Zoom exercises and it just doesn’t work for me. In normal times I didn’t particularly like classes and preferred to work out on my own. I’d combine an hour of cardio on a machine, usually a bike, with a hand weight routine I learned from a wonderful trainer I used to work with. But even with motivation, and even with our long and well-paced walks, I could tell I was losing ground.

So what to do? Mark and I agree with the forecasts that we will be living a long time in a cautious world, certainly until we have a vaccine. Maybe longer. Even if the gyms re-open, it will be a while before it will be prudent for us to return. We’re not talking months. More like a couple of years. Confronting reality is rarely fun but facts are facts and so last week we bought a Schwinn recumbent bike. It’s due to arrive in mid-June and will go in our living room, the only place it can fit. Do I love the idea of having a large piece of exercise equipment in my living room? As the French would say, Zut! But it’s more important to stay healthy than it is to be pleased with my interior design choices. A friend smartly told me to just drape a piece of fabric on it. I’ll probably just add a pretty pillow.

We did lots of research before we bought because it’s an investment and we wanted something sturdy – I am 5’8” and Mark is 6’1” – and we didn’t want to receive a box of parts that had to be assembled. A little finishing is fine, but we didn’t need a mechanical engineering project. This article at Top Fitness Magazine was extremely helpful,  as were the customer service people at Schwinn where we decided to buy direct instead of at Amazon because the price was the same and we can get it faster.

Life changes. We’ll adjust.

Cooking and Groceries

Last night’s dinner was, as promised, crispy pieces of panko-coated cod, with lots of broccolini which did not disappoint. I also had a small piece of the rye bread I made a few days ago, with a little cheese. I can tell that the bread is starting to get stale and before it gets moldy, I will cut it into small-ish pieces, place them in a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and toast them in a 350° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t like to over-toast croutons because if they get too hard I think they're less pleasant to eat. I want them crispy on their surface but still tender inside. That way they can work in a salad, or with soup, or in any way you might otherwise use toast, as with eggs.

A favorite recipe from Diana Henry’s fabulous book, which I’ve mentioned before, From the Oven to the Table, one of my favorite new cookbooks in years which was just nominated this week for a James Beard Award -- as it should have been -- makes delicious use of croutons. The recipe takes cubes of bread or croutons, mixes them with crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh tomatoes (I quarter cherry tomatoes) and seasonings like grated garlic and dry oregano, and uses this to stuff a chicken. Because of the size of a chicken’s cavity, it doesn’t accommodate a lot of stuffing, but its flavor is so intense that it’s a satisfying little side dish. The rest of the dish is also splendid. Henry has you rub the chicken with oregano and cayenne, roast it in a cast iron skillet part-way just as it is, and then sprinkle orzo around the chicken and add chicken stock and not many more minutes later, you have a juicy roasted chicken with crispy and spicy skin, tender orzo that’s been flavored with the spicy chicken juices, and that feta-flecked bread stuffing. Yes, it is that good and worth the whole cookbook, which thankfully has many other inspired recipes.

I think it’s a recipe worthy of my rye bread croutons and I’m very happy I happen to also have a whole chicken and a piece of feta in the fridge.

Three other grocery and cooking items: First, our coffee bean order from Zabar’s arrived right on time. Even though we ordered our four pounds of Vienna roast beans three weeks ago, they said they’d ship on May 4 and they did. The beans arrived the next day, via UPS. And they didn’t charge my credit card until they shipped.

Second, I’ve had a few inquiries about where to get fregola. I buy mine at Kalustyan’s, the spice and imported food emporium in Manhattan, but you can also get it at Amazon and at various grocery stores because it’s become much more popular and in demand. Online I've seen the Roland brand; Roland isn’t a producer but rather an importer and I’ve always been happy with anything I've bought with their label. And at Amazon there are a variety of brands including Rustichella D’Abruzzo, which is a superb pasta producer, however, they are rather pricey.

While I think you can do better by buying from Kalustyan’s, they charge for both shipping and handling, although if you’re in NYC and can get to their store on Lexington Avenue at East 28th Street, you can place an order and do next-day store pickup and save the shipping costs (the details are at their website). But if you decide to order from Kalustyan’s, think about anything else you may need, like Tellicherry peppercorns or Greek oregano, since you’ll already be paying the shipping and handling. I've bought from Kalustyan's for many years and have never been disappointed.

If you see the phrase fregola Sarda, that only means that it's from Sardinia, which is where fregola originated, or is in the Sardinian style. And sometimes Kalustyan's refers to fregola as Italian couscous. To the best of my knowledge and experience, there's only one kind of fregola, despite what it may be labelled.

Here’s a link to the fregola I buy and I've included a photo here with this article of what my two-pound bag looks like. Kalustyan’s sells fregola in two sizes, small, which is the size of Israeli or pearl couscous, and medium, which is closer to the size of a pea. Both have the same toasted flavor, and both, when cooked (you boil fregola in salted water), enlarge, just as pasta does. I make it often enough to buy the two-pound bag of small fregola and find that about a cup makes two generous side portions.

Three, and this is for today, The New York Times food section duo of Kim Severson and Sam Sifton are hosting a happy hour at YouTube tonight at 6:00 pm EDT. And won’t that be much more fun than watching the evening news? Here’s a link to the event and all you have to do is watch. If you want to add to the conversation you'll need to be registered at YouTube. Otherwise, there's no logging in, no Zoom, no app, no fees. Just have a glass of your favorite beverage.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough



Pandemic DiariesFregolaBread

Newsletter Sign-Up

Spicy: Like Shishito Peppers




The City Cook Newsletter

You will receive an email shortly, please follow the link to verify your subscription.

More Pandemic Diaries