My Pandemic Diary, Entry #2
Hello fellow city cooks,
A few days ago we were told our building has a case of Covid-19. Our neighbor is at home and thankfully is not ill enough to be in the hospital but the news still “gets your attention,” as my husband said. The family’s privacy has been completely protected; we know neither their floor nor their names, or even the gender of the person who is ill. That’s a very good thing, I think. We shouldn’t lose our respect for one another at times of crisis. Especially at times of crisis. That’s the kind of damage that fear can produce. Our building’s common areas have all been sanitized by outside professionals, our building staff is being rigorous and heroic, and our board is smart and reassuring. But still, such news gives new authority to our front door.
My day today is a mix. I have a couple of friends to call, including one who lives on Florida’s west coast so I’m looking forward to getting her perspective on things. I have housework to do; my husband and I each do some task everyday so that our apartment doesn’t get out of control. Today I’ve already changed the bed linens and still hope to tackle the kitchen, at least by cleaning the stove which is a soup-splattered mess. Due to Monday’s Zoom lesson, I have lots of French homework to do; I’m trying to master the passive voice which is needed to have a graceful conversation, or so my teacher says. There’s a novel I’m eager to get back to and finish. And I think today’s the day we’ll go online and give our Census information. It’s a good time to be a good citizen.
Cooking and Groceries
Dinner last night was a bowl of the minestrone soup I had made on Monday, plus chicken garlic sausages from Whole Foods which we love and I try to keep on hand, in the freezer, even in normal times because they make a great quick supper. I simply sauté them with a drop of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Being raw chicken you need to cook them thoroughly but it only takes about 10 minutes. I don’t make minestrone very often. I don’t know why because it’s so more substantial than a simple vegetable soup, probably because it has both potatoes and beans. But I was very happy with how the soup turned out which I’m sure was improved by my adding a couple of parmesan cheese rinds I had stashed in my freezer. It was a win-win: the freezer got a tiny bit more space and the soup got better flavor.
If this is something you’ve never done, the rind, with any remaining bits of cheese on it, adds umami, that savory “fifth taste” (the others are salty, sour, sweet, or bitter), plus it salts the soup. You just drop the rinds into the liquid along with everything else and leave it to the end by which time it will be soft and spent and you toss it out. I also added a small amount of ditalini pasta (cooked separately, not in the soup) just before serving. I had wished for a crusty loaf of ciabatta to serve with the meal. A small sacrifice to do without, but it made me think about baking bread which I’ll say a bit more about in a day or so.
I’m trying to do things that are normal and personal. For instance, I put on my pearl stud earrings every day. I wear them almost every day anyway, so I wear them now.
I get up at the same time every day and (try to) go to sleep at the same time. I do not want my schedule to become like vacation or an endless week of Sundays. This is life, I tell myself. Not a nightmare holiday and I’m convinced that if I lose the patterns of normal days I will get a little nutty and won’t get my groove back. So I’m up by 7:00 am and to bed by 10:00 pm.
I mostly stay off of CNN and MSNBC during the day. It only feeds my anxiety and it is a terrible distraction. I think I will also stop watching the daily coronavirus White House press briefing because my television is tired of my yelling at it. However, Governor Cuomo’s 11:00 am chat is so comforting that I’ve taken to recording it and playing it later.
No bacterial wipes? When I was in culinary school, we were taught to make a sanitary wash using ¼ cup bleach added to 1 gallon of water. Put it in a bowl and add a rag and as needed, wipe down surfaces. Be cautious that this is bleach so it will damage certain surfaces, like fabrics, and can be harsh on your hands. But if you are worried about kitchen and bathroom sanitation, it’s a good alternative.
My Pantry Shopping List
It’s long been my normal habit to keep a stocked pantry. But now it’s even more essential as we look for ways to substitute ingredients, or boost flavors, or experiment with recipes. Here are the items I’m now careful to keep on hand.
- Salt, pepper, Tabasco, spices (especially cumin, Espelette pepper, cayenne, paprika, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, dried mint)
- All-purpose flour, sugar
- Dijon mustard
- Canned and dried cannellini beans, chickpeas
- Canned tomatoes and tomato paste
- Boxed chicken stock and either BOU bouillon cubes or Better Than Bouillon
- Mayonnaise (I like Hellman’s regular)
- EVOO, canola (organic) or vegetable oil
- Red wine vinegar, rice vinegar
- Boxed tabouli mix (Near East brand), farro, couscous
- Pasta (orzo, thin spaghetti, penne or another short pasta)
- Canned tuna (oil packed), anchovies, sardines, salmon
- Capers, pickles, cornichons, olives
And not in a cabinet but in a bowl on my kitchen counter are usually garlic, yellow onions, red onions, and a package of cherry tomatoes (not grape tomatoes, which I don’t think have much flavor). There are also some pantry-functioning ingredients that need to be frozen or refrigerated. We’ll do those on another day.
Everyone’s pantry is different depending on how you cook. Here’s Melissa Clark’s take. Now is as good a time as any to re-think the whole pantry concept and how to make it work for you, not just in a crisis but every day. If we’re hoping to get something, other than survival, out of this experience, even a little thing like a good pantry wouldn’t be so bad.
Stay safe and make a nice dinner.