My Pandemic Diary, Entry #43
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s Tuesday, May 5. It’s a beautiful but cool day and it’s Mark’s birthday. We started this birthday unlike any of the many others we’ve spent together by putting on masks and gloves, sticking a bottle of Purell in my pocket, taking the grocery cart out of the hall closet, and getting on the early morning line at Whole Foods.
Cooking and Groceries
It had been my intention to make one of my pre-dawn shopping trips to my neighborhood market this morning but I changed my plan after having a conversation with a friend yesterday afternoon, in which he told me about his cautious daughter’s good and un-crowded experience shopping in the same Whole Foods I normally go to. So I thought, okay, I can try this. My reluctance to shop there has been entirely due to my fear of crowds and all that goes with that, including less sanitation. But by going early, and being the twelfth in a very conscientiously-distanced line to open the store, and learning that the store closes earlier now just to do extra cleaning and also limits how many can be inside at any given time, I decided to try. Once in, it was fine and we got out in about 40 minutes.
The store was well stocked; the only shelves that were empty were where flour and yeast normally are. No surprise there. There was also no unsalted butter, by any brand. Any other items on my list that I couldn’t get were things that I usually can’t find there anyway, like my favorite brand of cottage cheese and Heinz’s white distilled vinegar. I also discovered that the people traffic inside was far more stressed by the home delivery shoppers than actual customers. The professionals notably outnumbered us, wore their masks as if they were protecting their chins, and they were just always in the way. It wasn’t terrible and I appreciate that they were there to shop for other New Yorkers, but it didn’t help. There were also lots of store workers re-stocking shelves, maybe due to the time of day.
I know this particular Whole Foods really well and I've long been a set-your-watch-by-it regular Friday morning customer there. After being away for nearly two months, and these particular two months, I knew there would be changes. How could there not be? Anything self-service was gone. The olive bar was empty and the bulk section was closed off and its area replaced with home delivery bins. There were prepared foods but everything was in a glass case and could only be decanted by a store employee, and of course, no eat-in-the-store tables. Each cashier was behind a seriously large plexiglass barrier and we had to bag our own groceries which is not as easy as it looks. The store’s cheerful light-rock music system was regularly interrupted with social distancing messages and there were signs limiting the elevator traffic. It wasn’t quite dystopian but noir enough that Ridley Scott could have been its set designer.
Being back in Whole Foods made me alternately feel almost giggly to again be in my regular grocery haunt with a distracting fear that I had made a terrible mistake and should leave immediately. Of course, since neither response made complete sense, Mark and I soldiered on and nearly filled a shopping cart with many, but not all of what was on my shopping list. I was happy to get a 3 ½ pound Bell & Evans chicken, boneless chicken thighs, two pounds of very nice ground beef that was on sale, and best of all, I got beautiful produce that was far better than what I usually find at my local market, including broccolini, haricots verts, naval oranges, gala apples, organic strawberries, a big box of baby spinach, three heads of radicchio, and organic asparagus for Mark’s birthday dinner. Also for his dinner we scored an ice cream favorite – a pint of black raspberry chocolate chip by Graeter’s, the legendary dairy in Ohio. If you’re only going to have ice cream a few times a year, go big or go home.
Today’s diary is accompanied by a photo I took of the best loaf of bread I’ve ever made. It is my first loaf of rye bread and I made it yesterday using the Jim Leahy no-knead method (I followed the process in this article from Leite’s Culinaria). HOWEVER, I used the ingredients from a bread made by Kristýna Koutna and featured at her YouTube channel and website, both called Czech Cookbook. Here is her ingredient list and here is her YouTube video showing every step of her making the bread in her kitchen. She is a serious home cook, dedicated to sharing the foods of her native land, but also adorable and I like to watch her if only for her apron and coordinating oven mitts. I also recommend watching her companion video with extra tips for making her rye bread, such as what to do if you don’t have a cast iron pot.
Kristýna's rye bread uses both all purpose and rye flours (I used Bob’s Red Mill Dark Rye Flour), more yeast than the conventional no-knead breads, and caraway seeds that are added to the dough and sprinkled on top. I also took advantage of having about a quart of whey on hand, left over from making ricotta a few days prior, so I used that instead of plain water. I don’t know to what extent the whey affected my bread’s flavor but I’m not going to take any chances the next time I make it and so it seems I'll have to make ricotta again, if only to produce the whey, a small sacrifice, especially since homemade ricotta would be amazing on a slice of this rye bread.
You can watch Kristýna’s video for how she makes her bread and then read the Leite Culinaria article for more technique. As for the differences, I let my dough rise for 5 more hours than she did and I baked mine at 450° F for longer periods of time (30 minutes with the cover, 20 minutes without). I also did a 90 minute second rise (the Leite Culinaria recipe calls for 2 hours) after taking the dough out of the bowl and before adding it to the preheated pot.
My bread came out of the oven having a sturdy crispy crust and a somewhat dense interior that is tender and chewy, just like a great deli rye would have. Its flavor is tangy but not extremely so, and the caraway seeds absolutely make a difference, adding a subtle anise sweetness.
I just might put a candle in what's left of my bread for tonight’s birthday dinner for Mark. A glass of prosecco, a dish of black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, and a thick slice of homemade rye bread. Now that’s something to make a wish on.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.