My Pandemic Diary, Entry #30

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #30

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a gorgeous Wednesday, a day fitting for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, although it’s forecast that we’ll have snow flurries later today. Our poor planet has been so abused it still doesn’t know that it’s spring and not winter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our cancelled Italian trip and today was when we were supposed to be taking the train from Rome to Florence. It’s a city we dearly love and we know it well, and going there was to be a sentimental journey. Instead of having an aperitivo sitting in the Piazza della Signoria, this evening before dinner we are going to have some wine while we look at one of the many photo albums that Mark always makes after any of our overseas trips. We have albums from all our many visits to Florence and he said he’ll choose an early one.

Mark has made an album for every journey we’ve made over the thirty-plus years we’ve traveled together. He makes an album, filled with photos and ephemera – postcards, menus, bar coasters, maps, ticket stubs, receipts -- and while on the trip, I write a detailed diary noting what we saw, who we met, how things affected us, and what we ate at every meal. We started this practice with our first trip which was to Rome, Perugia, Florence and Venice. Mark always said that someday we’d be too old to travel and that these albums and diaries would keep our memories. Who knew they would be such a premature comfort? So tonight we’ll take an old-technology kind of virtual journey to remember. 

Back here in NYC, one of my sisters-in-law had to be tested for Covid-19 due to her symptoms (a bad chest cold) and very gratefully, she was negative, although the three-day wait for the results was agony. The same day she got her results I also learned that the beloved uncle of a close friend of mine died from the virus. And while it is completely unscientific, I am positive that the number of sirens that for weeks I had been hearing all day and through many nights, has notably reduced which is a BIG stress reducer.

Cooking and Groceries

Yesterday a friend called to make sure I was okay when he saw that I used the same photograph of slices of ham on a cutting board here at the website for two days in a row. I had to explain that I was trying to be funny (never a good sign if you have to explain humor) with my plan to run the same ham photo for every day that Mark and I were eating our way through the 9-pound ham I roasted last Sunday. Two meals down and who knows how many more to go. But not tonight. Tonight will be pan-roasted salmon and steamed asparagus, both finished with a drizzle of my best olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

An easy and budget-friendly cooking suggestion that may help add flavor to recipes you’re already making is to slow-roasted tomatoes. Right now, aside from some cherry tomatoes, all supermarket tomatoes are tasteless. With in-season ones not due, at least here in the northeast, until July, this is a delicious way to satisfy your tomato cravings. I always use plum tomatoes, although I did once slow-roast an entire sheet pan of halved cherry tomatoes and then used them in a tomato risotto, which was excellent.

Here’s how to do it: cut tomatoes in half on the vertical – stem-to-stem, not on its equator – and place each half, cut-side up, on a rimmed sheet plan, give them a drizzle of olive oil, a few pinches of salt, some grinds of black pepper or red pepper flakes, and cook in a low oven – 200°F for 225°F – for at least four or as many as five or six hours until they’re shriveled. Since our weather is still cool, you can have your oven on for five or six hours without overheating your home. Most of the tomatoes' juices will cook off, the skins will loosen, and the tomato flesh will concentrate, darken, and sweeten so that they will actually taste like tomatoes. If you like, you can add garlic to the pan, either minced or as whole cloves, while the tomatoes cook, and sometimes after they're done, I will drizzle on a really tiny amount of balsamic vinegar.

Tomatoes cooked this way are really versatile and healthy for us. Use them in pasta as they are or puréed into a sauce, as toppings on bread for crostini, add them to cooked farro or couscous or cooked vegetables (I love them mixed with green beans – cook the beans first, then add the tomatoes), toss with slices of chicken sausages, or drop them into soups or stews. Cook a lot at once and store them refrigerated with a small drizzle of evoo. A tip: line the sheet pan with a piece of foil or parchment paper because as the tomatoes slowly roast, they will caramelize a bit and make the pan tough to clean.

Pandemic Tips

A shopping piece of advice that may seem self-evident, and maybe it is, but it didn’t occur to me until I started ordering things online in this midst of this shut down, is to not wait to order something until you need it. Order it as soon as you realize you will at some point need it, because right now, deliveries are almost always unreliable. While Amazon may have ruined us for being patient and reasonable for getting what we want, when we want it, this is our new normal and a little strategy is in order.

Three examples:  We were running low on coffee beans and I dawdled a few days before placing my order at Zabars.com only to find out that the first available shipping date was three weeks later. I hope Mark will be content with decaf because he won’t get his Vienna roast beans until May 5 or 6. A similar thing happened with Williams-Sonoma from which I ordered coffee filters; when I placed the order I expected to receive them within a week but the next day, the delivery date got pushed back by three weeks. An order placed at Target.com for things like dish soap, razor blades, and dental floss got broken up into multiple deliveries and all were slightly stalled. I completely understand the reasons for such delays and these are really minor inconveniences, but maybe you’ll need something that isn’t so minor. I’m just suggesting you stay ahead of things. And if it's something you always need, don't get one, get two.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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