I retired from organized religion years ago, but remember all too well the dreariness of Lent, when good Catholics were expected to abstain from chocolate or wine or some other delectable indulgence. Ironically, for Lent this year, the Covid 19 pandemic compelled me to revert to being that “good Catholic” once more, for I had to abstain from a favorite indulgence: cooking dinner for friends.
Consequently, I have become obsessed with cooking dinner for family. Not just a meal, but dessert. Here is ourHoly Week of meals.
Apart from cooking, another source of solace in this time of social distancing is the view from my kitchen window. Some weeks ago, a pair of mourning doves decided to nest in the hanging planter of fuschias.
There will be no photos of Easter Sunday dinner, because even obsessive cooks need to take a day off.
After hearing horror stories about long lines of people storming Walmart to buy fabric for face masks, I decided to go shopping in my closet instead.
I donated my Victoria Secret bras after the company was disgraced by its association with Jeffrey Epstein and the #Metoo movement, but for some reason forgot to reattach their straps before giving them away! Serendipity must be the stepmother of invention, because I realized I could upcycle the straps as the base for face masks Dr. Fauci has advised everyone to wear.
If you have a strap with two panels like the one above, pull the two hooks together as though you wanted the strap to be as short as possible. Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut the seam between the two panels until they can open wide enough for the top panel to slip over your nose, and the bottom one, under you chin.
Any soft cloth will work for the mask itself – a handkerchief or a piece cut out of an old T-shirt. Since the neighborhood yoga studio is closed for the foreseeable future, I upcycled one of my Manduka headbands.
Fold the headband obliquely on itself so that it looks like a pair of parentheses lying down. Sew the outer edge of the top parenthesis to the bra strap’s top panel and the outer edge of the bottom parenthesis to the bottom panel. Stitch overlapping centers of the headband together.
If you’re using a handkerchief or T-shirt, ignore the parentheses bit and just stitch on enough fabric to cover your face. Extra points for ruching on either side of the mask.
If the mask is too tight, cut into the seams and pull the panels apart a little bit at a time until it fits comfortably over your ears without pulling on those eyebags.
Only a fool would refuse to use a face mask in this pandemic and I do not suffer fools gladly.
In other news, I did an interview last Friday on Chat And Spin Radio, a British talk show. You can listen to a recording of the full show at this link, or skip to minute 41 to catch my interview.
For the love of Bread, stay home! And we did, with the kindness of a virtual stranger. Yeast is as hard to find as hand sanitizers these days, but N. found several packets in an East Coast grocery and offered to send them out to her kneady friends. N. and I know each other through a private cooking FB group and I live on the other side of the country, but she refused to accept payment for the packets and postage. So I offered her a book instead.
The yeast arrived yesterday, and my daughter and I used one precious packet for our first attempt at Focaccia. I used Melissa Clark’s NYTimes recipe for Focaccia dough (sadly not allowed to share the link with non-subscribers).
A little over an hour later, the dough had risen impressively. Yay for N’s yeast!
Oddly, Clark’s focaccia dough recipe didn’t offer baking instructions. After much searching, I found them at Kevin Lee Jacobs ‘ site at this link: https://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2015/01/a-better-focaccia/
You can use his dough recipe or do as I did and skip to the part where he spreads the dough on the rimmed baking sheet.
In other news, Californians have been advised to wear a face mask whenever we venture outside. If you don’t have a sewing machine at home, here’s how to make one without sewing:
I’m a Catholic school survivor. Though we spent a year in 12th grade Home Ec class learning how to sew with dress patterns and sewing machines, I still can’t machine sew to save my life. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
For this no-sew PPE, I borrowed my husband’s silk pocket square and snipped up a widowed sock for the ear loops. Wore it to the post office to mail off N’s book and felt like only half a dork.
When I need comfort food, Mujadara is my Mac & Cheese. This Middle Eastern lentil and rice dish is fragrant with cumin, allspice and cayenne, topped with caramelized onions and parsley.
Because I have more time to be finicky these days, I ended up drawing from three recipes. These two from Melissa Clark for the cooking:
And this one from Food52 for the spiced yogurt topping https://food52.com/recipes/8565-mujaddara-with-spiced-yogurt
Following our Dinner and a Movie routine, my daughter suggested The Shining. The premise seemed particularly apt for these quarantine times – – a family is isolated in a hotel by a snowstorm, just as we and thousands of other families are isolated in our home by a virus.
We could relate.
We warned her it would be scary but she insisted, and we made it through the first half. But when Jack Nicholson began to unravel and his son Danny showed up with strangle marks on his neck, Sofia switched over to The Great British Bake Off.
There’s only so much crazy we can deal with right now, and to be honest, I’d rather eat cake.
Yesterday I did an hour of Youtube Yoga, forgot what day it was, cooked this soup and shakshouka and forgot to bathe.Without the Monday – Friday routine of carpools and yoga classes, I’m beginning to feel like that matriarch in Downton Abbey.
As always, cooking forced me to focus, with delicious results,. We showed the tart off at the Zoom dinner party we hosted, then ate it it all ourselves as our guests watched.
This NY Times cooking recipe https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018589-roasted-mushroom-and-butternut-squash-tart?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page®ion=all&rank=0 was much improved by those who reviewed it. I added anchovies to the topping and minced rosemary to the dough as suggested by cooks in the Comments section. My personal riff on the recipe was to roast the vegetables before making the tart pastry, so that the 1-2 hours rising time it needed could happen in the cooling oven.
At the end of a fraught day, this healthy vegetarian version of pizza was welcome junk food.
Fusion Shakshouka is what happens when your family has eaten all the lamb shanks, leaving gravy to delicious to toss, and a dozen quail eggs too small to fry one by one.
Breadcrumbs from last week’s home baked whole wheat loaf stood in for tomatoes to thicken the gravy.
And as a special shield against the big C word, I made vegetable soup, fortified with ginger, garlic, chili and miso.
And as if to remind us that it’s best to shelter in place, a turtle dove has taken up residence in our hanging planter.
Culinary Therapy for Covid days
I’m not sure which is more stressful — losing audio on a Zoom Yoga class in the middle of a vinyasa,
or producing less than a page of decent writing between calls on the day job.
Dinner was today’s sole success.
This article explains my heightened obsession with cooking https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/how-cooking-became-the-perfect-recipe-for-my-spiralling-anxiety/2020/03/20/a56d068a-4832-11ea-ab15-b5df3261b710_story.html
Recipes from the New York Times and Food52 saved my day from turning into an epic fail.
I found eggs at Trader Joe’s for the first time today after a two week absence.
We stood in line the way folks do for a hot new club or the best Sunday brunch place but spaced farther apart. One TJ employee ushered an old lady in a purple bathrobe to the front of the line. She was pushing what looked to be her own wheelchair that doubled as a grocery cart. Another TJ person manning the door offered to some hand sanitizer spray, explaining it smelled really good. (It did). I took a twelve pack of eggs and enough alcohol to cover this week’s virtual Happy Hour and dinner parties on Zoom.
And because today
Ignorance is bliss.
Unaware that Mayor Faulconer had ordered the closure of all beaches, parks and boardwalks in San Diego yesterday, we took what turned out to be our last walk in Balboa Park this afternoon.
Unaware that Trader Joe’s has shortened its store hours , we arrived 45 minutes before it closed at 7 and stood in line with other last minute shoppers, as though it were the hottest new club or brunch spot. TJ store associates were unfailingly kind, and the woman manning the door offered a squirt of hand sanitizer to everyone she let through.
And finally, there were eggs! I bought the usual dozen, plus enough alcohol to get us through this week’s virtual dinner parties and Happy Hours on Zoom.
The last thing I didn’t know until today? That MSG and butter could conspire to make such a satisfying vegetarian dinner. Found this genius recipe in the NY Times collection. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020091-umami-garlic-noodles-with-mustard-greens