My Pandemic Diary, Entry #52
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s a beautiful Thursday, warmer than yesterday and an overall gorgeous day. I know it’s Thursday but it feels like Friday because today Mark and I did an early morning shop at Whole Foods and all kinds of muscle memory were getting confused because for the past ten years, that’s what I would do every Friday. I’d be one of the first customers at our weekly Friday morning greenmarket and then less than a block away, Whole Foods would be waiting for me.
But that was then and this is now and we did a successful grocery run and got it done early. Mark would keep the cart in a socially distanced spot out of the way and I’d go off and forage and bring things back. He also helped with our grocery wagon which is such an urban thing to own. It’s Maserati red with four big wheels and it holds four large bags, stacked two on top of another two. I just love it.
Now back home and with everything unloaded and put away – the fridge is full! -- I’m returning to my never finished to-do list filled mostly with more of the same: paperwork, housework, writing, French, some kind of exercise when I force myself to do it, calling people, and at day’s end, maybe watching some news and pausing with a glass of something, then cooking dinner, lingering a bit, and finishing the day with whatever I'm reading. Written that way it doesn’t seem so bad. But of course, it’s an accommodation that’s not unlike being in a custom-fitted cage. Like everyone else, I just try to make it work.
Cooking and Groceries
I’ve always loved grocery shopping. Even as a child, it was my favorite errand with my mother. When I became an adult with my own kitchen, I loved it even more, especially experiencing the bounty of a big grocery store or the temptations of a specialty market, like shopping Zabar’s cheese counter or being almost delirious when facing the yardage of iced bins filled with fish and shellfish at Citarella’s. I’d always shop with a list but would leave myself open to suggestions and inspiration from whatever I’d find rather than what I thought I wanted. For me it was great fun and I would shop with far more abandon than I would if I were buying anything else.
But I don't love it right now because grocery shopping is very stressful and full of pandemic rituals and procedures. Still, there are good things to share from today’s shop.
First, the store wasn’t crazy and it was notably better than when we were last in this Whole Foods ten days ago. They still limit how many people can come in at any given time, but there weren't crowds; there were only three people waiting when we exited. And once inside, folks seemed a bit less tense as we all navigated the aisles.
Second, there weren’t any empty shelves. There were even 5-pound bags of King Arthur bread flour (although still no yeast, but KingArthurFlour.com has some in stock). I remember shopping at this particular store in early March, just before the lock-down, and there were no eggs and I remember thinking how I didn’t realize how many eggs Whole Foods would usually have available until you saw that there weren’t any. None. The hole they left, as if half the wall had been torn down, was so big it felt threatening. But today the egg shelves were all full, just like they used to be. Likewise, for peanut butter, canned beans, and olive oil which were once all gone at this Whole Foods and now there’s plenty.
I think that full shelves make people feel more calm and less prone to hoarding. It’s self-fulfilling. This morning I was filling a grocery cart but many of the other customers I saw were not and instead were just picking up a few items which suggests a sense of security. Or it could also mean they can’t afford to do a big shop. I am grateful to be able to get ten days’ worth of groceries all at once and I’m relieved that there is good food to buy.
Third, I bought some ingredients I haven’t had for two months which should add interest and appetite to my cooking and our meals. For example, I got a pound of wild shell-on blue shrimp, something that normally we would have every couple of weeks, cooked in a variety of ways. Seeing them – plus they were on sale – made me unexpectedly happy. Shrimp! Who knew what simple pleasures we can find in the midst of this terrible time. I’ll cook them tonight and my plan is to finish them with a teriyaki sauce. When I saw the shrimp, I detoured back to the produce area and bought the makings of a crispy salad to go with the shrimp – fennel, cucumbers, radishes, scallions – and I have in mind an Asian-flavored vinaigrette made with lime juice, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce plus a flavorless vegetable oil. I’ll finish the meal with plain rice.
Also in my grocery cart were a gorgeous rack of St. Louis pork ribs and a two-pound lamb shoulder roast, both of which, like the shrimp, we haven’t had in a very long time. We’ll have both of these in the coming ten days by which time I will have figured out how I'll want to cook them.
Last night’s dinner was one that used the remains of our refrigerator, plus a retrieval from the freezer. I defrosted two boneless butterflied pork chops, pounded them into cutlets and cooked them in the style of a cotoletta alla Milanese – dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried and topped with arugula and a squeeze of lemon. I also had two small bunches of broccoli which I cut into florets, tossed with sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil, and roasted for about a half-hour at 425° F. It was a little mis-matched; the cotoletta would have been better with some chopped tomatoes added to the arugula and a side of saffron-scented risotto, but the broccoli turned out nicely and it’s what we had on hand.
It was a good sign to see bread flour returning to our grocery stores and even more, to know that yeast is back in stock at King Arthur. But if you’re still yeast-less or are tired of the sourdough obsessions, here is an article from Eater that reminds us that there is a global bread tradition, some of which are made with either no leavening agent or something as accessible as baking soda.
Sam Sifton of The New York Times is heading back to YouTube on May 21 for another NYT Cooking Happy Hour, this time with contributing writer Yewande Komolafe. We love Sam so we’ll give him another chance for a fun conversation.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.