My Pandemic Diary, Entry #73
Hello Fellow City Cooks,
It’s Thursday and it’s a bright but rather hazy day, with thunderstorms forecast for tonight. I’m hoping any storms will break the humidity, although if my faded red hair frizzes (and it will), there’s no one to see it except Mark and he says he doesn’t care. Only I do.
Despite so many of us still in our at-home bunkers, our building had to turn off the water for much of today so that the annual boiler cleaning can be done. We so love our pre-war building, but it is needy, and things like this have to be taken care of it. The cleaning was supposed to happen in late March but got postponed because our management thought it would be too uncomfortable, too stressful, for an apartment building full of folks sheltering from a virus to have to then have no water for seven hours. Smart move. But now, after more than two and a half months, we’re more supple so what’s a little inconvenience? I filled some water bottles plus a few bowls and pots with water so to wash our hands and whatever else was necessary and everything should be back to normal by late afternoon.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this daily diary and among my thoughts is that if I’m writing about things like boiler cleaning, I must be running out of copy. It’s clear that my life has fallen into a comfortable new routine and thankfully there are few surprises, or at least few bad surprises. My interests and activities are largely what I had before the shut-down; it’s how I engage with them that has changed, like moving my weekly French lessons from a classroom at Alliance Française to an at-home Zoom session every other week. I didn’t think I’d like the change, and I do still miss getting dressed up and heading to East 60th Street for my lessons, but I’m more flexible than I thought I’d be and I’ve realized that it’s my teacher, and not the platform, that matters and my new lessons are working well. We adapt.
Observing how Mark’s and my lives have settled into a quiet and contented routine is one sign that this diary has run its course because I have little insight left to share, except, of course, about what I’m making for dinner. But even that goes into re-runs. Another sign is that I am far less anxious and fearful than I had been on March 24 when I wrote my first entry. No small part of that recovery has been due to writing every day because that forced me to face myself and these unprecedented circumstances. A little diary therapy, it seems, is a helpful thing.
I’ve committed to a daily entry until Governor Cuomo gives NYC the green light to phase one re-opening. It’s still on track for this coming Monday, June 8. After that I’ll write when I have something to say, or to tell you about something I’ve cooked that I think merits sharing. In the meantime, there’s last night’s dinner.
Cooking and Groceries
Last night’s dinner was a piece of Norwegian salmon that I pulled from my freezer. It was unexpectedly dry but not bad. I cooked it in my usual way – first with a two-minute sear on top of the stove and then flipped and finished in a 450°F oven. After the sear I noticed that unlike most salmon I cook, it had produced very little fat – it was more like a sockeye than a wild or organic salmon – so I reduced the amount of time the fish was in the oven, pulling it out after five minutes instead of the six I would have ordinarily given it due to the fillet’s thickness.
To go with the fish I cooked haricots verts (boiled for about 5 minutes until tender) to which I added a pan-full of sautéed mushrooms; I had some button mushrooms that had become a bit aged and soft but they were easy to clean, stem and slice and so I just added them to a hot skillet with a little olive oil and let them shrivel and then brown.
Before making dinner, I made some chicken liver paté. After listening to Sam Sifton mention it on his recent YouTube NYT Cooking “happy hours,” I downloaded a copy of his new cookbook, See You On Sunday: A Cookbook for Family and Friends, from the library. It’s a good book, and engaging to read which is not surprising since if you read The Times’ cooking pages you can’t help but encounter his spirited writing.
The foundation of his cookbook, its advocacy, and its fancy-free recipes, are about cooking for large groups of people. Insisting upon its joyousness, he wrote, “the purpose of cooking regularly for friends and family is simply to do it, and to make better the lives of all involved in the process of eating the meal.” It could be a church group, a dinner party, a neighborhood block party, an after-school sporting event celebration, or a big family gathering, but it’s mostly about fellowship. However, there is one chapter at the end of the book called “Just Us,” which is a kind of refuge from cooking for the big groups to instead just for “the immediate,” which could be as intimate as for one.
But even when it’s just us, Sifton’s appetite for festiveness remains, and one of his recipes is for Chicken Liver Paté, which he positions not as an appetizer at a dinner party, but instead as a small family meal, as partnered with onion jam, toast and salad, or used as the base of a sauce for pasta. He credits the recipe to Brooklyn chef Javier Huerta. It comes together in minutes and chills to harden in a few hours. Tonight I will serve it with saltine crackers or FinnCrisps, and a glass of prosecco to make a dinner for two a little fancy.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 medium shallots, peeled and minced
1 pint fresh chicken livers (about 1 pound), trimmed of sinew with a small knife
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/3 cup Madeira or port (I used some Taylor Fladgate, which I had)
3 tablespoons heavy cream, plus more as needed
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent and soft, but don’t brown. Add the livers, thyme, and Madeira or port and raise the heat to high. Cook, occasionally stirring the livers with a spoon, until the wine has reduced and the livers are lightly browned but still very soft and pink on the insides, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the stove and transfer its contents to a blender or food processor. Add the cream and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Purée until smooth, adding a little more cream, if necessary. Taste and add salt, if necessary (I added 2 generous pinches).
- Pack the paté into a glass jar or bowl, then smooth the top with a spatula (I put mine into a small covered porcelain crock). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or up to 5 days. Serve with onion or other savory/sweet jam and toast or crackers.
Tomorrow morning Mark and I are heading to Whole Foods for a big shop as our refrigerator is again nearing empty. I’m hoping they might have some local strawberries or asparagus. It is June, after all.
Stay safe, stay engaged, and have a nice dinner.