My Pandemic Diary, Entry #4

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #4

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

I overslept this morning, probably because I didn’t sleep well last night. Can’t imagine why. I had awoken at around 2:30 am and then did the worst thing I could have done – I reached for my iPad and read the news. I knew better than to do that. What was I thinking? Or not thinking. I did finally get back to sleep but it’s never restful to have a night like that.

It's a beautiful spring day and Mark and I are both craving to be outdoors, but we decided to stay in. No walk today. I would just love, love, love to be able to take a fitness class like the one I saw in the park the other day, with each person on a yoga mat, six feet apart. But I have this foreboding that the next week-to-ten days are going to be deadly and so more than ever, we should stay put. We instead spent the morning vacuuming and dusting the apartment.  Tomorrow I plan to do laundry. Doing something every day makes us feel like we’re keeping things under control, whether it’s true or not.  Plus it’s physical activity which is so difficult to replicate when we’re accustomed to walking our city and going to the gym. Still, vacuuming can actually be a bit of a workout if you lean into it, and plus -- you get your floors clean.

Cooking and Groceries

Last night’s dinner was cups of the remaining minestrone soup, Italian pork sausages cooked simply, and some broccoli rabe. I had waited too long to cook the broccoli rabe so an already small bunch had become much smaller by the time I edited out all the slimy bits. I cook broccoli rabe really simply, the way I learned in Italy – I rinse it well, shake off any excess water, and then add it to a covered pot to steam in its remaining drops of water until the stems are tender. Then I remove it, and in the same pan add olive oil, lots of thin slices of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes which I cook until the garlic is soft and slightly browned. I return the broccoli rabe to the pot, add a pinch of salt, toss it around until it’s combined with the hot oily garlic, and serve. You can do this slightly in advance and keep it covered and warm while you make the rest of your meal. I sautéed the sausages until cooked through and browned, and the soup, which was even better than on its first day, I just re-heated.  It was a very comforting supper.

While on the subject of Italian sausages, I like to buy mine at Esposito's Pork Store in Hell's Kitchen. It's a really wonderful, traditional and multi-generational butcher shop first opened in 1932 that sells all kinds of meats and poultry, not just pork, but their sausages are the best I've ever had. I buy both sweet and hot, sweet for me, and hot for Mark. It's also where I buy duck, both breasts and legs, and also duck fat when I'm being ambitious and make confit de canard. Their prices are good and the nice folks who work there are real butchers. When we get through this madness, you should make a special trip there or look for their sausages sold in some local supermarkets.

At some point in the next week I may need to venture out to the grocers because I’m running out of fresh produce but there’s a market that’s open 24/7 and I go pre-dawn when I’ve been the only customer in the store. I’ve decided to stay away from Trader Joe’s (many of which have been closed because workers are ill) and Whole Foods until things get eased a bit. They are just too crowded and people are too tense. Plus I like giving my business to a neighborhood business that is family-run, even if their selection is smaller.

Making Bread

It seems that bread making has become a major activity, enough so that there are reports of flour shortages, although the last time I was in my local market, there was plenty.  If you’re interested in using this time at home to give bread baking a try, there are lots of online resources, videos, and merchants, like King Arthur Flour which is superb for both supplies and instruction.     

Bread making can be extremely complex to do, or quite simple. I have a friend in Chicago whom I called a few days ago, and she told me she’s just grown her first sourdough starter and is working with a couple of bread-baking-specific cookbooks and teaching herself the craft. It’s trial and error; some turn out better than others, she said, but as I told her, it’s a creative adventure and then you get to eat the results.

If being a master bread baker is not your ambition but you’re still craving something much better than what’s still available at your local market, consider Jim Leahy’s excellent No-Knead bread recipe. The ingredients are all-purpose flour, salt, yeast, and water. You need an oven and some kind of ovenproof pot with a cover (a Dutch oven or similar cast iron pot is ideal) and you need 12 to 18 hours to let the dough rise.  Here are three websites that include the recipe, lots of photos, and some video that could get you started. 

https://leitesculinaria.com/99521/recipes-jim-laheys-no-knead-bread.html

https://pinchofyum.com/no-knead-bread

https://www.jocooks.com/recipes/no-knead-bread/

What I’m Reading

Every day I read The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. I do that when things are normal and so I’m doing that now. Speaking of normal, I take enormous comfort in opening my apartment door early each morning and seeing The Times and the WSJ sitting on my doormat. I’ll understand if they stop coming, but for now, it’s a talisman. My husband told me yesterday that he’s found that the most important part of his sense of sanctuary is that at 7:00 pm every night we sit down and have dinner together and a glass of wine. Like reading The Times, we do this when life is normal.  And we do it now. 

Other things I am reading are reviews of Hilary Mantel’s new book, The Mirror and The Light (here is Daniel Mendelsohn’s review in The New Yorker), the third and final of her Tudor trilogy.  I managed, with much frustration, to get through Wolf Hall, although the PBS version of it with Mark Rylance (love) playing Thomas Cromwell, I thought was outstanding so we should thank Mantel for that. You can watch it online but it seems that you have to be a PBS member; I think the minimum membership is $60/year. 

I am nearly finished with That Night by Alice McDermott whose work I adore. That Night is one of her earlier novels, written in 1987. Her style and ability to create character, era, and sense of place are so compelling that at least for me, her novels do what we so hope fiction can achieve – bring our consciousness from our lives into those of others. 

A reminder for those lucky New York State residents who have a New York Public Library card (you can get a virtual card but it seems that applications aren’t being processed right now while the Library is closed), our library has an amazingly huge selection of e-books. There are new releases and classics, travel books, novels, books for kids, and digitized books from the Library’s archives, and much more.  It's really a treasure. 

Stay safe and make a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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