Wow, the last couple weeks have been a real eye-opener for me.
Of course I’ve been aware of racial injustice and systematic oppression and violence, but I’ve been guilty of looking away, retreating to my little privileged shell, indulging in the luxury of ignorance or skirting big conversations or pressing societal issues.
Consequently, like so many, we’re starting to have a lot of very interesting conversations at our house. I’m trying to look in the mirror and it clearly points to the fact that a lot of learning, listening and work needs to be done. By me. By my country.
And, of course, in the meantime, COVID.
David’s doctor say that this virus in particular could be life-threatening, so we are taking precautions very very seriously, and leave the house the house rarely (and always with a mask). I know that we are fortunate as we have the luxury of staying mostly at home, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t feeling occasionally squirrely, claustrophobic or a bit depressed at times (cancer+ covid + brutality/violence + economic slump will do that for you.)
Here are SEVEN things that are helping me right now as we largely self-quarantine.
ONE. Maximize every square inch and make it as cozy and pleasing as possible.
Now that there are the four of us working and living under one roof again, I’ve been trying to upgrade corners of the house that might have sat underutilized so that we have more space to get stuff done, talk privately or just relax with a little bubble of space.
That means my porch has gotten a little extra love —
it helps to have a comfortable place to talk to neighbors or friends from a safe distance.
As for peace and quiet, my tiny little upstairs porch off our bedroom, a narrow piece of real estate large enough for just a chaise and a chair and nothing more, has been spruced up too.
I mopped and cleaned it, discarding old leaves and making it more hospitable. It’s so tiny that there isn’t room for much
but vintage linens and new bunting made it cheerier (and I love looking up to see the latter as I drive up to the house).
It’s a wonderful place on the second floor to look out on my beautiful street and listen to the birds or the young kids playing down the block.
Someone else likes to share my seat with me and keep an eye out, too.
I have a comforter and a small white cashmere throw I bring out there and as the sun goes down it’s so peaceful up there.
TWO. Barter where you can for little luxuries or supplies– or just double down on sharing and watch the goodness come back to you.
I love to buy — and give flowers– regularly but my yard hasn’t been wielding much in terms of cut flowers. And my days of casual, frequent in-person marketing is over.
But I know those who do have opulent gardens, and I’m lucky that some have chosen to share their cuttings with me.
A number of neighbors have responded to my requests for cut flowers to share with seniors and first responders and they also tell me to save a few for myself — and that’s been a godsend to enjoy and share such fragrant beauties.
That one bucket above from a neighbor named Denise resulted in seven separate arrangements so half a dozen were surprised with porch drop offs.
Cookies and soup are a currency I use often to thank someone for such kindnesses — or to let someone know I’m thinking of them.
I love that sharing creates this continual loop of kindnesses.
Just recently I dropped off a plate of these incredible chocolate chocolate cookies from Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar
and then just a few days later, the recipient of those cookies dropped off on our porch a couple pints of these extraordinarily flavorful Hood strawberries.
I then used these ripe berries in part to make a simple syrup to make these cocktails
which were then shared outside (with lots of distancing) with someone else.
Voila! Sharing begets an ever-revolving door of delivered goodies and restores a sense of community, even in these days of social distancing.
THREE. Master the leftover game.
If you are tired of cooking (and who isn’t these days?), don’t create food for just one night of cooking when for nearly the same effort you can bank food to be enjoyed with little fuss a second time (or more).
But there’s a caveat.
If you are going to make something that’s delicious but distinctive (and doesn’t freeze beautifully) like this Tikka Masala-like chicken dish,
perhaps you will have few takers on day two so you are going to be eating this on repeat until the turmeric tinges your skin jaundice yellow. (I ended up giving half of it away because I ate it three meals in a row and no one else wanted more of it).
Food that shames or nags you into eating it is the last thing you need in this quarantine, so watch your amounts of polarizing foods or those that don’t freeze well. Better yet, use your labor to create food you can’t wait to eat again and again, and because of its neutral flavors, hopefully in numerous ways.
Case in point. Carnitas.
I cooked up eight pounds of pork shoulder last week and we enjoyed it for three days, meaning night two and three I did little more than assemble meals.
First night, there were tacos.
The second night there were burritos. A different vessel/application and varied salsas made it feel like a totally separate meal (although apparently not everyone in this house loves salsa, strange as it seems to me).
The third night the pork was crisped up and was the protein star in fried rice (I have no pictures of the final dish as it was gobbled up so fast I forgot to take them).
The best part about all this was there was still some delectable meat left over (which my crew would have happily enjoyed another day) but I’d purposely frozen the last of pork, saving it for a future dish.
It’s my experience that the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” holds true in leftoverland; if said cooked food is squirreled away while the appetite is still there, the desire for it will be even more ardent when it reappears after a brief absence.
I think the remainder of that crispy pork will adorn a smoked mozzarella pizza sometime next week. And my family will rightly think I’m a goddess.
And let’s just remember — not only is this frugal but it’s dish-savvy, too; I feel like any meal that enables me to lighten the volume or quantity of dirty dishes around here is a very good thing.
(Other dishes that work really well for leftovers are whole roasted chickens, marinara/meatballs, and big batches of grilled tofu and corn.)
FOUR. Grow something. Anything — as long as it brings you joy.
I have a beautiful backyard but little allocated space for food plants — and I’m okay with that. I don’t need to take away lawn or colorful plants to have my own zucchini or tomatoes (which slugs inevitably overrun anyway) but I do derive extraordinary pleasure from my fresh herbs.
I have a whole section devoted them, just outside the French doors off my kitchen, and at this time of the year I have a profusion of them: several kinds of chives, parsley, cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, shiso, a couple different kinds of thyme, mint, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, rosemary, sage, and a couple types of basil (even though I seem to have trouble with them every single year).
The pleasure I get from walking out to my little area and running my fingers through their tender tendrils and fragrant flowers is both immediate and immense.
Not only are they beauties to see and smell but they add a pleasing punch of fresh flavor to almost anything savory I make — and at this point it’s all both free and bountiful.
Sometimes I like to wrap up little bundles of fresh herbs and drop off to my seniors, too; it’s a wonderful way to bring the outdoors and the freshness of the season to them (and make their cooking taste better, too!).
FIVE. Perfect just one or two dishes that have been on your cooking bucket list.
What’s on your must-master list? Salted Caramel Shortbread? Homemade pasta? Paella?
I know that sourdough bread is all the rage right now but I’ve got to be honest — I’m just not there. I’ve tried countless times to make an impressive loaf –and there are so many people that can!– but I’m not one of them.
I do have to say that during quarantine I do feel like I sort of mastered two dishes I love: fried rice and focaccia.
I don’t have the corroborating photos for the former (I’ve made it probably ten times and YouTube cooking videos have really helped me to up my game) but now I can create fried rice better than almost any version I’ve ever had.
I also feel like I now have a firm handle on focaccia.
This picture below obviously didn’t turn out great but it gives you a sense of how pillowy (with deep finger indents that cradle the olive oil so nicely) the dough becomes.
Now that I’ve made this recipe a half dozen times, I can attest to the fact that the focaccia is much much tastier when you allow the dough to rest in the fridge and then proof, allowing for 12-24 hours before baking — and don’t be skimpy with the olive oil.
This last pic is from the second to last time I made it, and this week’s version had even an airier (yet still moist) crumb while still maintaining that golden crust and crunch.
It was almost as addictive as this one from Providore Fine Foods.
(What are you making/mastering, friends?)
SIX. With all this time at home, you might as well tackle some of those annoying little junky corners that bug you but you never seem to find the time to tidy up.
I had an epiphany last week when I went looking for a spice and not only did I spy a lot of dirty, yucky labels, I realized that 9 out of 10 times I use the same dozen spices but I was devoting space for about forty jars.
So not only was I constantly replenishing the jars that held my favorites (like cumin, red chili flakes, dried ginger, etc.), but so many of the others herbs and spices had barely been used and hence were no longer fresh.
I started pulling jars out while engaged in a very long phone call. I purged the old spices and made new labels for a couple dozen Bon Maman jars I had on hand. By the time my phone call was over I’d transferred what I could to the clean, larger jars (and moved the lesser used spices to my pantry downstairs).
It may seem like a little thing but now every time I open that spice drawer I can quickly find the spice I’m looking for and the cheeriness of these generous spice jars makes me smile. Every damn time.
Ditto my baking supplies, crafty stuff and other random areas in which lots of little pieces co-mingle and get easily junked up.
Welcome to my happy.
SEVEN. With all that’s going on, accept that there’s going to be good days and bad days. Roll with it. Accept that sometimes you’ll feel like a hero, other days a hindrance. It’s okay to feel freaked out, inept or depressed at times — how can you not?
The point is just forgive yourself for all of it. The missteps. The omissions. The manic energy. The lethargy. The lack of awareness or motivation. The non-stop yoga wear. Just keep going.
If it means turkey burgers and Fritos is all you can muster for dinner, so be it.
If this is what sits next to your hammock at 5 pm, I’m not judging you.
If it translates to “I just can’t deal with picking up another pan, so you make something or reheat mini tacos or whatever the hell you can find in that overstuffed freezer because this gal needs a bubble bath”, I’m 1000% with you.
Be kind to others, be generous with yourself, and keep going. Learning. Coping. Sharing.
And surround yourself with beauty to the extent you are able.
Lastly, keep eating as joyfully as you can.
I know I’m fortunate to eat as well as I do, but living with a cancer patient seeing the long lines at food pantries, I know it’s a privilege I will never take for granted again.
Be well, stay safe, and please wear a mask! Science shows that the more careful (and considerate) we are right now, the sooner we all can get back to some kind of normalcy.
Happy Father’s Day to you and yours.