My Pandemic Diary, Entry #75
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s a beautiful Saturday in Manhattan, although it’s very humid today. One of the plusses, maybe the only plus, of not having had a haircut in so many months is that my normally chin-length hair is now long enough to stay pulled back in an elastic so at least I can get it off my neck when Mark and I are out taking a walk, as we did this morning.
The streets were quiet, as was the park, except for the birds who have been having a riot with the city in lock-down for so long. Never have I seen so many cardinals, blue jays, and robins. This morning we passed an apartment building with one of those ubiquitous Local Law 11 scaffolds wrapped around its frontage and as we paused to cross the street, we noticed – actually, we heard it before we saw it – a tiny bird’s nest tucked in a small space about ten feet above our heads in the alcove of an exposed steel girder. It held hollering baby sparrows, their little beaks wide open. What an adorable racket they made. And as Mark observed, life goes on.
Tomorrow will be my last daily diary, at least for a while. On Monday, Governor Cuomo is opening NYC to phase one and I’m using that milestone to slow down my pace. I will still write and send you diaries, just not every day. As I’ve written, I feel like I have little new to say, aside from what I’m making for dinner. But it’s also because I really need the time. I have projects to do and books to read and I want to take back the hours I spend on this diary and use them in some other ways. Instead of daily, I expect to do something weekly and I thank those of you who have written to me with encouragement and asking that I continue. So I will, just not as frequently.
Back to the quotidien – This week our vacuum cleaner finally died. I hated the timing, but I shouldn’t complain as we’ve had it for more than 23 years. I know that because I remember the apartment we were living in at the time we bought it. We considered it a splurge because we chose a Miele which was out of what we considered our vacuum league, but after 23 years, it seems like we got our money’s worth. Given that good experience, we decided to get another, although this time we bought it with some of the frequent flyer points we’ve been stockpiling. Who knows when we’ll next get on an airplane? It seemed smart to get some tangible value out of the points we used and with any luck, we won’t have to think about vacuum cleaners again for another 23 years.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was Shrimp and Asparagus with Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette. It was based on a grilling recipe I had seen in which all the ingredients were grilled together and at the same time. I thought the flavor combination seemed really appealing and I knew I could move it indoors to a stove by cooking each component separately and then combining them with the vinaigrette. Besides, asparagus and shrimp don’t respond to heat at all in the same way and this may even get a better result than grilling.
First, I made a vinaigrette with two finely minced shallots, the zest from one lemon, the juice from half of that lemon (about 2 tablespoons), one tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, a big pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. I took the remaining half-lemon and cut it into very thin slices, removing and discarding any seeds.
Then I cleaned and trimmed two bunches of local asparagus. They needed multiple rinses and soakings in cold water because these were particularly sandy. Once cleaned, I used a peeler to remove any thick parts on the stem – if you just snap asparagus to remove the ends, which is a popular thing to do, you’ll waste a huge amount. It’s far better to take the time and trim each stalk individually, peeling off any coarseness. I then dried the asparagus with a paper towel, spread them in a rimmed sheet pan I’d lined with foil, tucked the lemon slices among the stalks, and gave everything a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and roasted the asparagus in a 450°F oven until the stalks were tender with slightly browned tips, and the lemon slices were caramelized, about 20 minutes.
While they cooked, I peeled and cleaned one pound of wild shrimp I bought yesterday at Whole Foods and put them in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper and tossed gently. Then I sautéed them in a non-stick skillet at medium high heat, until cooked through, about two minutes a side.
Finally, to add both body and flavor to the dish, I tore half of a loaf of bread I had made on Thursday into about two cups of large croutons and stuck them in the oven for the last 7 minutes that the asparagus was cooking, just enough to crisp their jagged edges but leaving the body of the croutons still tender.
I combined everything in a large serving bowl, first adding the asparagus along with a couple of tablespoons of the lemon-shallot vinaigrette and tossing to coat. Then I did the same with the shrimp, adding more vinaigrette, and finally adding the croutons, finishing the dish with a sprinkle of grated pecorino. I was mostly happy with the final result, although I think had the asparagus been a little thicker, the overall texture of the dish would have been better. But it was delicious and great bowl food.
I am an urbanist. Although I grew up in a small town, I have lived in cities my entire adult life, I went to universities located in cities, we vacation in cities, and I studied city planning in graduate school. I love cities for what they are, what they represent and what they can achieve and produce. It is meaningful to me that the word city comes from civitas, Latin for citizenship and civas, or citizen. But now I’ve watched my city, my New York, suffer, first from the virus, and then in protest against injustice, and it has crushed me. Many have started to say that New York is over, and that cities will ebb. Yes, there will be changes, but is it over? Not so fast, I thought; history says otherwise. And I was gratified to read that Paul Goldberger agreed. If you have a few minutes, you might find his interview interesting because whether it’s about NYC or any other city, his views are thoughtful and reasoned and his voice has been a wise calm among the hysterics.
Stay safe, stay engaged, and have a nice dinner.