Hi friends. I hope this Friday morning finds you all well, or as well as can be expected given the current state of affairs. By my estimate, today is roughly Day 19 of self quarantining. We officially began distancing ourselves socially around Monday, March 16. While at the time all advice was suggesting we were in this for only 15 days to flatten the curve, my skeptical mind shot immediately to the end of April. I can’t explain it well, but I see the calendar in my head.
As I went to bed on night six of “isolating”, my last thought was to look up the origin of the word quarantine the next day. Amazingly enough, Instagram addressed my curiosity the next morning via yet another American living in Rome. Maybe you know, but the word quarantine comes from the Italian word quaranta – 40. The term referred to ships that were kept at sea to prevent any disease onboard from coming into port. This policy of “quarantine” was first used in Venice in the 14th century. You can read more about that in this post here. It makes sense, and locally here in Massachusetts if you count the number of days between our mandated stay at home order (March 23) to our new “release” date (May 4), it’s a little over 40 days. Collective sigh.
I’ve tried to manage the tightening I have felt in my chest over the past few weeks, wondering if I am infected or if this is just me feeling especially anxious. My body, like yours I’m sure, takes the blows of what’s happening inside my head hard. It’s hard to swallow what has happened to our lives in such a few short weeks and I am afraid for the aftermath. My family would argue that I’ve been more of a worrier than usual. I would suggest that I’ve been managing my duties with all the dignity I can muster when you are elbow deep in rubber gloves carrying around a spray bottle of diluted bleach in some form of “soft clothes” with hair that really would look so much better tucked under a baseball cap. Who ever thought you’d need to take a shower and get dressed to use your computer (Zoom cocktails and book groups, etc). But, here we are.
So, while there is so much to unwrap with the state of affairs as they are, let’s pivot and talk about shopping and cooking and all the wonderful things that we must still do to survive and perhaps even thrive during this time.
At the outset of the quarantine, I did a fair amount of shopping but did not hoard. There are so many who can’t afford to hoard, let alone store perishable food and I really didn’t want to be part of a bigger problem (sorry, soapbox). For me, my purchasing was driven by the desire to know that under the worst of circumstances I could somehow feed my family. Let’s face it, like many of you I’ve been in training for this moment of intense housewifery for 25 years and I didn’t want to start failing now. But there is a balance between having enough and having too much at the expense of others especially (ahem, toilet paper).
We are fortunate to have an extra fridge/freezer. Fun fact – it is a 55 year old GE that was the first fridge my parents bought for their new house in 1966. Crazy right?!!! My buying strategy was to get ground meats (chicken, turkey, beef) that I wrapped in 1-pound packages, boneless chicken, one whole chicken, some pork chops, a flank steak and a package of wings. For pantry items, I purchased broths, canned tomatoes and tomato paste, tunafish, beans, artichoke hearts and several shapes of pasta. My pantry tends to be well stocked with grains and baking items, but I did get another bag of Arbrorio rice and some AP flour. I was late to the yeast game so was only able to get a package of a brand I had never heard of but it worked fine. I also got a number of bags of shredded cheese and froze a few along with flour tortillas (also froze some) which I thought would be a good substitute for bread should it come to that. I also secured some frozen vegetables but not on the first try as those were quick to leave the shelves.
For fresh vegetables, I got some things that wouldn’t last terribly long but that the family loves. I also bought things that would last such as squash, cabbage, potatoes, cauliflower and fennel. If you do have a second fridge, it’s good to put some perishables in there because if you keep it closed and the temperature remains consistent, produce should last longer. I also purchased some boxed greens trying to get some that had expiration dates as late as possible. Note-if you find yourself with some wilted greens, throw them in your next soup or freeze them to use later in a soup or stew.
We also got lots of citrus because we use lemons and limes quite often. However, I did purchase a 32 ounce bottle each of fresh lemon and lime juice for when supplies run low and they have already come in handy. Lastly, I got a fair number of fun condiments like pickled jalapenos, banana peppers and things like capers, anchovy paste and buffalo sauce because a little of some ingredients can go a long way to flavor your dishes.
Let me just stop to say that I never thought I would be hesitant to go to the supermarket. It makes me sad. I’m not sure who is doing our next shop. Last time, my husband went and I told him if he went he had to play by the rules wearing gloves and a mask (I only had a bandana to offer him until he found some he uses when working outside so that sufficed). It broke me a little when he said there wasn’t a box of pasta to be had in the store. But our next shop may just be for a new supply of fresh vegetables so it will likely be me to go, and I will probably go to a farmstand to support smaller business.
What I have found interesting about this time is that usually, I pick a recipe and then shop for the ingredients. During quarantine, we are shopping in our own fridges and pantries and saying, now what? This “reverse cooking” is what I used to love to do on occasion, but now it is our everyday right. I try to plan. And I am being as creative as possible with leftovers and scraps that I might normally toss. So, let me share a few of the things I have been cooking. I try to make things that all of us can eat together in the evening and sometimes it works and other times the girls make something on their own. Nobody is winning quarantine awards so as long as everyone is fed, I’m happy. Or as happy I can be with my roots growing out…
This dish was really yummy. The inspiration recipe is here, but I ommitted the rice and instead used a can of black beans and 1 cup of frozen corn. I used ground beef, 1 jalapeño, 1/2 of a red pepper, skipped the chipotle in adobo and added 1 teaspoon of chili powder. Make it – you’ll love it. I think I’ll make it again this weekend…
I got inspired and made some homemade gnocchi from this recipe. It was surprisingly easy and the gnocchi were tender and light, just as they should be. You need to use a dry potato, like a russet. The recipe forgets to mention that after rolling out the dough into logs, you need to cut them into 1 inch (or so) pieces just fyi. We had some cherry tomatoes that were about to go so I roasted those in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed the whole thing with some store bought pesto. A good weekend project!
I’m grateful for two things. First, that my husband loves leftovers and also that he doesn’t mind vegetarian dishes. I did buy more than 1 head of cauliflower which our daughter had broken down into florets for easy storage (it’s the small things people!). I decided to roast off some chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and call them a filling for tacos with some shredded iceberg, avocado and a home chipotle mayo sauce…
Pre-quarantine, one of our girls gave me a hard time about “all the little jars” in our fridge so in an effort to both start working my pantry and to de-jar the fridge, I used the leftover chipotle mayo to spice up a salad we had for lunch that I made with some hulled wheat, celery, canned artichoke hearts and olives (preserving our fresh olives), scallions and some leftover chicken…
I guess we are carbo loading here at our house so after a Zoom cocktail party with some friends and before settling down for some more sitting while watching television, I used up a pound of mushrooms to make a pretty straightforward pasta that was delish. I posted the recipe to Instagram and it is in the next picture if you care to make it. You can substitute other vegetables if you aren’t a mushroom fan…
True confessions – during quarantine I have been texting my husband some lunch ideas so that when he emerges from his office famished, he doesn’t have to….why don’t I let you figure out how I would end that sentence lol. Anyway, I usually remind him of the leftovers, ask if he wants in on what I am having or do his own thing. All kidding aside, he’s super flexible. Again, with the spirit of reverse cooking I have been looking through my recipes to see what fits with what I have and happened upon a recipe from Alison Roman’s latest cookbook, Nothing Fancy for Tomato-y Beans with Preserved Lemons and Breadcrumbs. These might have been the best thing we’ve had and no, I didn’t have preserved lemons because “quarantine” so I squeezed some lemon over the finished beans and added some flaked salt to try to mimick the flavor of preserved lemons. This was a saute of some garlic, onion and tomato paste in olive oil with a pinch of red pepper flakes, one can of cannelini beans and some water, allowed to cook down until saucy. Finished with the aforementioned squeeze of lemon and flaked salt. The kicker though is some crispy toasted breadcrumbs on the top to give the dish some texture. I added some leftover chicken to our bowls. Oh, the humble bean. It asks nothing from us and gives us so much in return…
On my last shopping mission which was a week ago Monday (March 23), I grabbed a good sized eggplant and it needed to be used so I made Pamela Salzman’s recipe for Eggplant “Meatballs” which are delicious. Tossed with some Rao’s sauce and served with spaghetti, the whole family was happy. I used only 3 eggs this time in the recipe because I’m conserving ingredients and that worked just fine. Who am I??? I also added a pinch of red pepper flakes but that shouldn’t surprise you…
If you’ve read this far into the post, I want to say that now is the time to use your ingredients in as many new ways as you can. Take an inventory of your condiments and those jars in the back of your pantry. Instead of stuffing a chicken with the usual garlic, shallot and citrus, I rubbed the inside with some Calabrian chili paste which gave off some good flavor. I’m planning to use a jar of ginger preserves with a few other ingredients for a coating for some chicken thighs or maybe pork chops.
I imagine this time is so stressful for those who don’t know or even like to cook so if anyone needs some guidance or knows of someone who does, please have them reach out to me. I’d love to help.
There are a few bright sides to the current state of affairs. My daughter has turned into her own barista, making her multi-worded Starbucks drink right here at home. Oh the savings! And I have sixty year old friends getting questioned about their age when attempting to enter grocery stores during senior hours!
There is so much more to say and share, but I hope you have a good day ahead of you filled with some nourishing food, some exercise and fresh air, and other things be they work, a puzzle, book or tv show that bring you great joy. And if you are doing the majority of the care taking, find some way to take care of yourself alongside if you can.
Until next time, stay safe and stay home!!!!
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Four Years Ago: Orange Sesame Chicken
Five Years Ago: Asparagus, Ham and Gruyere Tart
Yum! Looking forward to making several of these recipes, Val, as we have the ingredients and they need to be used.. Take good care : ) xox
Dave is making a big batch of Ina’s cosmos as I type this and read your post. Yes, a stressful time for all. XO