My Pandemic Diary, Entry #55
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s Sunday and a beautiful day. We walked the neighborhood this morning, taking advantage of the no-traffic streets that again were empty. I can only guess that everyone else had gone to the park, or else there is no one else. Maybe they’ve all left. Or they just slept late today. I prefer to think it’s the latter.
I was watching Governor Cuomo this morning and he reminded us that it’s been two and a half months since we shut down. Seventy-eight days. No wonder so many of us feel restless and itchy to get out. But we’ve invested so much – our children out of school, our work dislocated, once-in-a-lifetime events cancelled, economic lives hammered, the masks, the fears, the distances, the isolation – why would we stop now just as safety is almost within our grasp?
It confounds me when I see the protests and restaurant crowds. We humans can be so thick-headed and emotional that we do dumb and dangerous things and can’t be counted on to be rational, no matter how smart we think we are. I’m sick of the damn virus, too. I’m tired hearing about it, reading about it, writing about it. I want my life back like everyone else. But there is peril and that is our reality right now and the worst we can do is give up out of boredom or impatience or so we can have a beer with a pal or get our hair done. Really? It would be like quitting a marathon when you’re within 100 yards of the ribbon.
I’m grateful that our governor is as prudent as he is but we don’t live only in New York and the virus doesn’t respect state lines. I’m not alone in expecting that trouble and heartache lie ahead and consequently, many of us aren’t ready to dive back in. These past 78 days of isolation may have been dominated by an abrupt change in life’s logistics, but at its heart, it’s a head game: what does home mean, what does community mean, what does it mean to be safe, what is happening to my career, can I find joy again, can I ever be carefree again, what do I want the future to look like, can my family survive, can I survive? Governor Cuomo is right to keep attention on not only our physical safety but also our mental health.
This is why I cook. It distracts me from the risks and the fears, it lets me turn off the news, it requires focus and concentration, it’s creative, and of course, we get to eat.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was a bowl filled with salad and topped with 8 oz. medium rare hamburgers. I also re-heated some leftover ziti with tomato and artichoke sauce. Pasta doesn’t really re-heat well so I used a slightly larger baking dish than had it been a new batch of baked ziti so that there would be more surface to get crispy. That helped but the best of the meal were the salad and burgers. We ate dinner while watching the national 2020 high school graduation event which was a remarkable combination of technology, media, star power, and emotion. You had to just love and admire all those kids.
At the moment I’ve got a loaf of rye bread baking in the oven. It’s the second time I’ve made this no knead recipe and I’ve been eager to try it again because my first try was a big success. I was thrilled, actually, for both its flavor and texture – it was a real deli-type rye bread. But the first time I made it, I had also made ricotta the day before which produced two cups of whey that I used in the bread dough in place of water. But I had no whey this time so we’ll see how the flavor compares. The other difference with today’s loaf is that I used King Arthur all-purpose flour instead of Hechers. King Arthur’s has a higher protein content than most other all-purpose brands (I don’t have a precise Hechers-to-King-Arthur comparison) so I’m curious if the “chew” of today’s loaf will be chewier. I’ll know in about three hours after the bread finishes baking and then cools.
Tonight’s dinner will be simple and quick to make and it’s a meal that Mark loves. I’m roasting two chicken leg/thigh pieces that I bought at Whole Foods the other day. They sell Bell & Evans chicken which I always find to be good quality and flavorful. To serve with the chicken I will cook a package of haricots verts which we love. I also have two red bell peppers that are starting to show their age and I will probably slice them thin and sauté in a bit of olive oil and minced shallots and add this to the beans which I’ll cook until just tender so that the dish will have both the slightly firm beans and the soft, velvety pepper slices. Texture matters in our food and I like to combine them when possible. As I think of it, maybe I should make some ricotta after all because a dollop of creamy ricotta on top of the beans and red pepper slices would be very nice.
Being that it’s Sunday, it’s a day that many would normally like to go out for brunch. I personally never got into the habit but here in New York, brunch can be a big event both for the social fun and the foods that you otherwise might not see on a menu – like croque monsieurs, omelets, cinnamon rolls, waffles – and Bloody Marys.
Today’s New York Times Magazine has a terrific piece by chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton about her personal history with the Bloody Mary. Her recipe is so appealing that there’s no need to add vodka, but don’t let me stop you.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.