My Pandemic Diary, Entry #40
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s a gloriously beautiful day, a Saturday, and we’re back from taking our walk. We went out early, knowing a day like this would later bring out a lot of people craving the warm sunshine. As it was, we saw folks wearing shorts and flip-flops, a bit optimistic but understandable. And everyone we passed by seemed just so happy to be out of the house.
I’m glad it’s the weekend because I can treat it as a marker of the end of what was a not-great week for me. I’ve been thinking how the drama surrounding my computer problems revealed how shallow my emotional reserves are. I believe that at another time I could have had the same event but it would not have rattled me so much; it would have just been a problem to solve. Instead it pushed me past the state of calm that I’ve been maintaining (or faking) for all these weeks and I found myself having little accidents, like breaking some things, or when I twisted my knee just getting out of my desk chair, and how on the night the computer died, I drank too much wine at dinner. I’ve long considered myself a rather unflappable person but as it turns out, I’m flappable after all. As for what to do about it, I’m hoping that just acknowledging our fragile states is a start because then when we have a bad response, or get pissed about something insignificant, or claim a grievance that is actually not important, we can ask ourselves “so which is it? The dirty dishes in the sink or the fact that I’m so scared?” I am not, however, giving up the wine.
Our plans for the rest of the weekend are as usual. I hope we take another walk tomorrow (my knee is, thankfully, fine) when the forecast is for another gorgeous day, I hope to finish my French homework so I can send it to my teacher in advance of my lesson on Tuesday, and I have lots of reading to get to. I have finally started book four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet; I've delayed reading it for years because I just didn’t want it to end. Now seemed like the time to give myself that gift.
But today is a cleaning day and my tasks are the kitchen, bathroom, and mopping all our wood floors using a new Bona mop and cleaner that I recently got on Amazon that does an excellent job, much better than Swifter which I think makes floors sticky, plus at $30 it was a very good deal. Mark is doing the vacuuming and dusting and, to my delight, he’s washing the windows “to let more sunshine in,” he said. Our windows are the kind that tip in so it’s easier to get both sides. Plus he’s been the window washer in this family for years and has his own squeegee and custom cleaning solution he makes using vinegar. I don’t ask questions.
I have a late afternoon phone visit with my girlfriend in New Orleans who has also been staying home alone with her husband for the past six weeks and finally, I have some fun cooking plans for dinner.
Cooking and Groceries
On the way back from our long walk this morning, we stopped by our neighborhood fruit and vegetable vendor to pick up some things that will let me not have to go to the grocery store until next week. I got strawberries, blueberries, three oranges, a bag of three romaine hearts, a lovely head of broccoli, and two packages of white mushrooms that I’ll use in the dinner plan that’s coming together for Mark’s birthday on Tuesday.
Last night’s dinner was pan-roasted salmon and a mixed green salad, plus we each had a cup of the split pea and ham soup from two weeks ago that I had frozen.
The big cooking project for later today is that I am going to make fresh ricotta. I’ve always wanted to make it and this will be my first attempt. It looks easy to do and aside from whole milk, an acid (white vinegar or lemon juice) and salt, all you need is cheesecloth, which I happen to have. Tia Keenan, who is a wonderful writer and person and who is also one of the country’s leading cheese experts, told me that ricotta is the only cheese that home cooks should make on their own not just because it’s so simple, but because it’s so vastly superior to anything you can buy. Here's a link to the second of two podcasts we did with Tia, this one about cooking with cheese.
I’ll take pictures and will let you know tomorrow how it worked out. I wanted to make ricotta not only for the experience of it, but also so that I can include it in tonight’s dinner which will be spinach spaghetti – the dried pasta made by DeCecco, which is very good – topped with a quick-cooked chunky tomato sauce (diced tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, cooked for about 15 minutes) and a dollop of the ricotta. Alongside will be a couple of Esposito’s pork sausages and a salad.
One more cooking tip. I often say that I’ve pan-roasted salmon and I wanted to explain what that means and share what I’ve learned is a consistently PERFECT way to cook salmon. I learned it from an Ina Garten recipe for Salmon With Lentils from her Barefoot In Paris cookbook. You start it on top of the stove in a hot, dry skillet and finish it in a 450° F oven. Remember to keep a potholder on the pan's handle when you take it out of the oven because the blazing hot pan is a burn hazard (I learned the hard way). The link I've included here is for the whole recipe but if you only want the salmon portion, just use step number 4. And if you want your fish cooked more than rare, just add another minute to the cooking.
I’ve since cooked salmon this way maybe a hundred-plus times and it has never failed to be perfect. And it works for both organic salmon, which tends to be fattier, as well as wild or regular farmed. Sockeye, however, is very thin and has far less fat so I'd suggest cooking that only on the stove top. I’ve always only cooked salmon with its skin but I imagine it would also work with skinless, although if you have the option, leave the skin on because if you want to, you can remove the skin after it cooks and the skin will make it easier to turn the fish over in the hot pan.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.