My Pandemic Diary, Entry #49

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #49

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s Monday and the start of another week in our state of uncertainty. It’s a gray morning and for some reason, it seems even quieter than our recent normal. We have the windows open but even with that, there’s hardly a faint hum of sound. We live near an elementary school and when life was as we knew it, you could set your watch by the children’s voices when they would arrive in the morning and then head home mid-afternoon. I miss that.

A few minutes ago I received one of those Notify NYC emails, this one alerting us to a possible power outage in our neighborhood. Had someone said this was The Onion gone bad, I would have easily believed them. Instead it's another real thing to worry about as we maintain our delicate states of mind, to worry we may lose power when our devices and our freezers are as much our sanctuaries as are our apartments. But the notice got my attention and I immediately plugged in my phone and iPad to top off their charges, plus right now I’m clicking the “save” icon after every two sentences I type. I just don't want to be tested any more.

Yesterday was a busy but rewarding day and a very good end to the week. After writing to you, I got my computer back to work by installing its new operating system and then transferring files and apps from my Time Machine external drive. I called Apple twice to hold my hand as I navigated how to do this but by the time I was transferring the files, I felt I knew what to do better than the very nice but apparently rather new Apple person who took my call. When you start answering the “how do I do this” questions faster than they can, it’s time to fly on your own. Right now I'm doing the last major transfer by downloading all my emails. It’s taking about four hours because it seems I have 717,368 of them. That makes my head hurt just to type that number and while they say data doesn't lie, I'm doubting this one.

Last night's weekly Sunday 7:00 pm call with our friend in San Francisco got postponed to this evening because of a Mother’s Day fête (she has been staying home with her three adult children, three young grandchildren, and three dogs - for that I hope they all made her a tiara) which was just as well because yesterday ended with too much to do, leaving both of us spent and ready for a Sunday night off. Just as we had done on Saturday night, and with bowls of supper in our laps, we watched episodes two and three of season one of “Call My Agent” and continue to love it. By the way, I’ve noticed that the four main characters never change their outfits, an interesting directorial choice, and as someone who is always interested in French style, I’m a little disappointed. Maybe they change them in season two.

The rest of today is busy. I started the day by washing my hair, and no matter how I try to style it, nothing makes it look any better. Trying to give myself a little dignity as the week begins, I put on my pearl earrings and some lipstick. It doesn’t help. I may soon start draping covers over the mirrors. My completely chaotic desk needs to be organized, and I must clean up the kitchen (which is where my desk is), boil some eggs, cut some of yesterday's fresh bread into croutons so that they can be faux-stale by the time I need to make dinner, and generally pick up the apartment which all too easily can slip into a mess since we tend to only remove the trash and stacks of newspapers on those days when we take a walk. And there was no walk today. At 2:30 I have a call with a very dear girlfriend. She lives in suburban Boston but we’ve been friends for our entire adult lives, having met when we worked together in our early 20’s at a television station in Boston. As a wise woman I know once told me, “you can’t make new old friends.”

Cooking and Groceries

While waiting yesterday afternoon for computer files to transfer, I was also baking bread. But getting to the bread late in the day caused a change in yesterday’s dinner plans. I had intended to roast a whole chicken using the Diana Henry recipe I wrote about a day or so ago, that stuffs the bird with a crouton/feta/tomato/oregano mixture. But I lost control of the day and it became obvious that baking bread at 6:00 pm wasn’t going to let me get my crouton-dependent chicken cooked and served much before 9:00 pm and Mark and I always try to have dinner at around 7:30 pm. I'll make the chicken tonight.

But in my refrigerator, and fortunately not in the freezer, was a very nice sirloin steak I’d bought on sale at Whole Foods last week. I also had a bag of baby arugula and in my pantry, some farro which Mark and I love. Those three ingredients are the primary elements in a favorite recipe that’s from a favorite cookbook by Sara Jenkins, Olives & Oranges. I think I mentioned this cookbook in an earlier diary entry for its Carrot Salad With Lemon and Sea Salt. This time, Jenkins’ Flank Steak Salad with Farro, Arugula, and Fresh Horseradish is easy and quick to make and for meat lovers, very satisfying.

I make a few adjustments to the recipe. While flank steak is a great cut to use sliced in a salad like this one, sirloin, skirt steak, or even a strip steak work just as well; I just wouldn’t use rib eye (too fatty) or a filet of beef (not enough flavor and a bit of a waste to add it sliced to a salad). Since I had a sirloin, that’s what I used. And if you’re lucky enough to have a grill, this salad would be delicious with the steak having a grilled flavor.

Jenkins calls for grated fresh horseradish but that’s not often a pantry staple. But jars of Gold’s horseradish is. She also calls for radishes cut into matchsticks and radish sprouts, but I've found that any ingredient that adds a bit of crispiness works just as well. I had baby cucumbers, which I peeled and cut into thick pieces, and a red pepper, which I thinly sliced. I also added a little red onion but I add that to almost every salad I make.

The rest is easy: Cook about 2 cups of farro in boiling salted water until tender. This takes about 20 minutes. Drain but do not rinse and hold aside. You do not want it to be cold. Warm is better.

While the farro cooks, in a cast iron or stainless skillet, cook the steak (season it first) about 4 or 5 minutes a side until it’s well browned and medium rare. Let it rest for 5 minutes and then slice into ½-inch pieces. Try to capture any juices that are released as it rests.

In a large salad bowl combine the baby arugula (or you can use any other lettuce that is not too fragile, e.g., romaine or radicchio or endive but not butter lettuce) with your crunchy vegetables. In a small bowl mix together 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon jarred horseradish but press out any liquid first (if you do have fresh horseradish, use 2 grated tablespoons), and any juices that you can collect from the resting steak, and a pinch or two of salt. Give it a good whisk with a fork and pour over the vegetables and toss to combine. Add the drained farro and slices of steak. Toss again. Serve immediately while the steak and farro are still warm. I served it with slices of my just-baked bread.

Pandemic Tips

If you read The New Yorker, make a point of reading Ethan Kuperberg’s hilarious piece for the Shouts & Murmurs column called “Quarantine Stew.” A friend called me the other day and read it to me over the phone and I think it may be even funnier to hear it read so if you have a friend who doesn’t have access to The New Yorker, call them and share a laugh.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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