My Pandemic Diary, Entry #53
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s a beautiful Friday here in Manhattan, the kind of day that can make you optimistic. Mark and I finally set aside our winter and virus-weary coats for light jackets, put on our dark glasses and masks, and took a long walk. Instead of our usual routes, we took advantage of how the City is closing vehicle traffic, to the extent there is any, on some of our busiest streets so that pedestrians and bikers can be outside with lots of room for distancing.
It was especially spacious for us because despite the sunshiny day, as an old song sang, we were almost alone. We did see some parents with young kids on scooters and little bikes, but mostly our only company were delivery guys. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday and people are working or trying to wrangle their children to do schoolwork. My weather app says that tomorrow will be “delightful” so I think the car-less streets will become more crowded this weekend. Nice that NYC is doing this for those of us who didn’t leave the city.
We don’t have any particular plans for the weekend. Since the weather is supposed to be gorgeous, I’m sure we’ll get outside. Otherwise we’ll have the windows open wide and we’ll do our usual housecleaning. I tried to get a little ahead of that yesterday afternoon when I cleaned out the shelves in a large storage closet that Mark and I share. It’s sort of like an indoor garage. He keeps his tools, spare electronic equipment, and cans of leftover paint despite knowing that by the time we need to do any touch-ups, it’ll be dried up. We also store extra rolls of paper towels, cleaning supplies, and in the summer, our humidifiers and in the winter, a few tabletop-sized fans.
For me, it's where I keep cooking stuff that can’t fit into normal-sized kitchen cabinets, like a huge pot for canning (I love to can local in-season tomatoes every August) and empty Bell jars, a tagine that has a beautiful but awkwardly tall chimney-like cover, my ice cream maker that got superseded in the freezer with real food, a slow cooker, and my Staub Dutch oven. My cleaning project was limited only to my cooking things because I don’t like to meddle with anyone’s tool kit, no matter what the tools are for. It’s personal and what to us may look like trash could in fact be an essential, like the only spare screw for our prewar frontdoor knob. Of course, it could still be trash, but that’s for Mark to discern.
I’ve observed how we're still doing our weekly cleaning on Saturdays even though right now Saturday is really no different than Tuesday. That’s totally a habit and not a conscious choice, although I’m glad it’s worked out that way since structure can be your friend. One way we do try to make Saturday special is by opening a chilled bottle of Prosecco before dinner and I try to make something non-routine for our meal. I expect that we’ll also be watching some television. We’re really enjoying “Call My Agent” on Netflix, Mark has been watching old opera productions either on YouTube or at the Met’s website, and I never did see the last season of “Grace & Frankie” (I am a huge Jane Fonda fan). I am also hoping for a big block of time to read. Mark is reading a collection of essays by James Wood, The New Yorker’s superb book critic and he's letting me borrow his e-reader to read Wood’s essay about Elena Ferrante whose last Naples novel I just completed but now I am so sorry that it’s finished. I think next for me will be Julian Barnes’ new novel, The Man in The Red Coat. The title refers to a portrait by John Singer Sargent. Even with all this time we have at home, there is just never enough time to read.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was sautéed shrimp with teriyaki sauce and petite peas served with a crispy salad. For the teriyaki sauce I cut a corner because I didn’t make it from scratch, despite it being so very easy to do. But I had half a bottle of sauce I had bought at Citarella about two months ago, just before lockdown. It looked promising and it was okay, just not at all as good as homemade. But I didn’t want to waste it so I simmered what was left in the bottle in a small pan to reduce the sauce to a glaze and then poured this over the shrimp which I had first seared with a little olive oil. It was tasty, but I know that next time, I will make my own and it will be better.
I had half a bag of peas in the freezer and after quickly defrosting them with a rinse in hot tap water and draining them well, I added them to the finished shrimp which added flavor, body, nutrition, and very appealing color.
While on the subject of Japanese flavors, my friend Ron Longe who works for Rizzoli and other fine publishers, recently sent me a copy of a new cookbook by Japanese chef and author Rika Yukimasa called Rika’s Modern Japanese Home Cooking.
If you are a fan of Asian cuisines and love Japanese food in particular, this is a very beautiful and accessible resource. My omnivore palate, if you haven’t noticed, tilts toward Europe, especially Italy and France. But when I was growing up in a small town in northern Massachusetts, my neighborhood second mother was named Ruth Yanagi. She was first generation and born in the U.S. but her husband had immigrated from Japan and both of their families were cruelly imprisoned in the internment camps after Pearl Harbor. I never knew what brought them to our small town, but they and their two sons lived in our small neighborhood where she worked out of her house as a seamstress. She also taught little neighborhood girls, like me, how to sew. I can still do a meticulous French hem. By hand. And if you don’t know what that is, you should look it up. Mrs. Yanagi, which is what I always called her, also hosted an annual New Year’s open house for neighborhood families and served only Japanese foods. I didn’t eat sushi until I was in my twenties, but I developed a childhood passion for seaweed, wasabi, and fish sauce.
If like me, you have missed Japanese flavors because the restaurants are closed, and you want to bring this great cuisine into your kitchen, this new book is a joy. The ingredients are available and the techniques accessible. And the voice and beautiful photography will make you love to open it.
In addition to my teriyaki shrimp and peas, I made a salad using my mandoline. Mine is a beast of a tool that looks like a guillotine, but it quickly makes perfect slices. A piece of important advice: whether you’re using a mandoline or another kind of slicer, always wear a protective glove because the blades are killer sharp. I sliced bright red radishes, one medium sized fennel, four past-their-prime scallions, and five peeled baby cucumbers and tossed them all in a bowl with a dressing made from the juice of two limes, which is about 1 ½ tablespoons, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (you could use canola but use something tasteless, not olive oil), 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar, and about 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Hold the dressing aside until just before serving the salad because the combination of all the salt in the dressing (the fish sauce, the soy) with ingredients that have a lot of moisture, especially the cucumbers, will mean that the salad can get wet quickly and that will dilute the flavors.
Tonight we’re having a beautiful piece of salmon I got at Whole Foods yesterday. I will probably pan roast it in my usual way, but I’d like to make the rest of the meal more special – it is the start of the weekend -- and since I have a stuffed refrigerator and pantry with lots of options -- I hope to come up with something outside of my usual repertoire. To be determined.
Bon weekend, everyone. Do something nice for yourself.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.