My Pandemic Diary, Entry #56
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s Monday, a dull gray day, and the start of another week.
I’m anticipating a week like the others. I’ll be busy every day with the usual taking care of home, work, and body, as well as my state of mind, on which everything else depends.
Yesterday was a pleasant Sunday and it ended with our weekly bicoastal FaceTime chat with our San Francisco friend who keeps us posted on the state of things on that side of the country where more people who are not in health care or first responders are becoming deemed essential and slowly going back to work. And I saw this morning that in Michigan, the auto factories are opening, albeit with safety restrictions on the assembly lines. This feels prudent, whereas for some reason, for me still in shutdown and still feeling scared every day, other goings-on, like the bar and tattoo parlor openings in other parts of the country, felt more like risky business. We’ll know soon enough and I’d love to be wrong.
I’ve mentioned before how I can hear birds all day. We live close enough to the park that we always would hear them in the morning, but as the day got active, with more cars and people, they’d quiet. Now, with the streets empty of traffic, they bellow all day long. There is not much of this time that I will miss when it is over, but I will miss the birds.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was pieces of roast chicken served with haricots verts mixed with slices of red pepper that I had sautéed with shallots and olive oil, and topped with a spoonful of ricotta that was so freshly made it was still warm. I made the ricotta at the last minute, inspired by the red peppers, plus I had realized I had an extra quart of whole milk in the refrigerator and if I didn’t use it, it might spoil before Mark could use it all in his coffee.
I regretted not having the ricotta idea sooner because I now have about three cups of whey in my refrigerator that I could have used in the rye bread I baked yesterday. It was only the second time I had made this bread and while it turned out really well, I could taste the difference between yesterday’s and the first rye loaf I made almost two weeks ago when I used whey instead of water for the dough. The whey clearly had added to the familiar tang I expect rye bread to always have. Yesterday’s bread had a nice texture and chew and a flavor more complex than a plain white one, but even with its caraway seeds, it was not as interesting as it could have been. It looks like I’ll need to precede any rye bread making with a batch of ricotta, not that there’s a lot of rye bread baking ahead of me since I’ve only got about a cup of rye flour left and there’s none to be found anywhere. It must be in the same warehouse as all the missing yeast.
Late yesterday afternoon, while supervising the bread baking, I had the television tuned to PBS so that I could watch the usual back-to-back Sunday cooking shows. None of them really talked to me given whatever they were making yesterday and it made me miss a program that Channel 13 had broadcast last summer called Barbecue Bible, hosted by an equipment-obsessive man named Steven Raichlen. He may not have been wearing chef’s whites, but given his focus and meticulousness, he might as well have. I’ve never owned a grill and don’t expect to any time soon, but I loved this program, so remembering all that barbecue, I started taking cookbooks down from their shelves, looking for things I could make with my cast iron grill pan. I was mostly drawn to ideas for pan grilling vegetables; one of my favorites is to wrap tender spring onions or garlic in thin slices of pancetta and cook them on high heat until the pancetta crisps and the green stalks char. But I have no spring onions, at least not yet. It’s something else to look forward to.
While casting around in my cookbooks I kept noticing the many pages that I have scribbled on. When I first began to collect cookbooks, I treated them as precious goods. Other than writing my name on the inside cover and the occasional splatter stain, every page would stay pristine. But at some point, I made the books mine by adding notes. I’d record the date I cooked a recipe, or how I’d substituted an ingredient or recommended a side dish, or I’d memorialized the friends for whom I made the dish. Books are treasures but that doesn’t make them dear, certainly not cookbooks, and if you don’t write in yours, I highly recommend you give it a try. Recipes are not regulations, they are guideposts, and you’re in charge. So take notes.
For thirty years I’ve also kept a diary of the meals I’ve made for others. The first entry in my plain spiral notebook was Christmas dinner in 1990. This notebook is now full and on its very last page are the two dinners I cooked for friends in early March. Salmon for one, and chicken for the other. Reading these pages can make me blush for my earnestness, seeing how I strived to teach myself both cooking and hospitality. It also tells the story of family and friendships. I didn’t set out to make a remembrance; I just didn’t want to cook repeats for the same people. But I now have a book of memories. It’s almost magical that this three-decade written record will end right now. Since I am resolved to look forward, I can anticipate the future dinners for people I love and so I guess I’m going to need a new notebook.
Tonight’s dinner is going to be a treat. On my visit to Whole Foods last week I bought a rack of St. Louis pork ribs and I’m going to give them a dry rub and then slow cook them in my oven. I’ll take photos and provide a full report tomorrow.
Stay safe and have a nice dinner.