Category Archives: Blog

Postcards from the Pandemic – Holy Week Edition

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Banana Bread with Spiced Oatmeal Crumble

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.

Miso Mushroom Pasta from Food52

https://food52.com/recipes/77676-miso-mushroom-pasta

Gochujang Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables and Radish Pickles – from the NY Times

Red Curry Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach from the NYTimes

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.

The floral facade conceals the birds in back
The cat watched those doves as eagerly as we did
On Wednesday the bird beat the Easter Bunny to the Punch

There will be no photos of Easter Sunday dinner, because even obsessive cooks need to take a day off.

Postcards from the Pandemic

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Tits up, mask on!

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.

No sewing machine necessary, but you will have to thread a needle

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.

Ujayi breath, optional

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.

Postcards from the Pandemic – a Friend in Knead is a Friend Indeed

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Newborn Focaccia

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.

Book for Bread Barter

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).

Taught my daughter to knead today!

A little over an hour later, the dough had risen impressively. Yay for N’s yeast!

Rose in the oven with the light on, beside a steaming quart of just boiled water

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.

Sprinkled with fresh rosemary, parmesan and porchetta spice

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:

http://blog.japanesecreations.com/no-sew-face-mask-with-handkerchief-and-hair-tie?fbclid=IwAR0CSbw6xDqZbt00BoC6ujNvmH5BCBDlGCFzA9SDP54NqGDFsnhLZ8Tg8cs

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.

Postcards from the Pandemic

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Mujadara with its toppings: parsley, spiced yogurt, lemon, caramelized onions & Aleppo pepper

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:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014804-one-pot-mujadara-with-leeks-and-greens

And this one from Food52 for the spiced yogurt topping https://food52.com/recipes/8565-mujaddara-with-spiced-yogurt

It was so good, everyone had seconds

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.

Postcards from the Pandemic

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Practicing yoga + watching MSNBC = not a good multitasking pair

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.

Roasted Mushroom Butternut Squash Tart

This NY Times cooking recipe https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018589-roasted-mushroom-and-butternut-squash-tart?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page&region=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.

Postcards from the Pandemic

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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.

Pinoy Shakshouka with Quail Eggs & Kaldereta gravy

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.

Spicy Ginger Miso Vegetable Soup

A nesting Turtle Dove shelters in place in our hanging planter

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.

Postcards from the Pandemic

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Culinary Therapy for Covid days

Rishia Zimmern’s Chicken with Tarragon

I’m not sure which is more stressful — losing audio on a Zoom Yoga class in the middle of a vinyasa,

Ohm at Home

or producing less than a page of decent writing between calls on the day job.

Dinner was today’s sole success.


Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli

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.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016135-rishia-zimmerns-chicken-with-shallots

https://food52.com/recipes/2678-roasted-bagna-cauda-broccoli

Postcards from the Pandemic

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I found eggs  at Trader Joe’s for the first time today after a two week absence.

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Why I love Trader Joe’s

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.

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Umami Garlic Noodles

And because today

Postcards From the Pandemic

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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.

Why I Love Trader Joe’s

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.

Umami Garlic Noodles

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

Postcards from the Pandemic

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Slow Cooker Collards

It took nearly two weeks and three groceries to assemble ingredients for Sunday dinner.  One night, smoked ham hocks were all that remained in the meat section at Vons. I froze them and hoped. Several days later, collards showed up  at the halal grocery  I grabbed 5 bunches. The salmon came from a third store.  Doing the groceries has turned into a scavenger hunt.

Recipes here:

https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/slow-cooker-collard-greens-30794

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017329-salmon-with-anchovy-garlic-butter?action=click&module=Global%20Search%20Recipe%20Card&pgType=search&rank=18

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Salmon with Anchovy Caper Butter 

In all other respects, Covid-19 has slowed everything down. In place of the regular morning routine of carpool duties and  yoga classes, I rise before 7 to disinfect kitchen counters, feed the cats and find some quiet time to write before the rest of the family gets going. Because now the three of us are in each other’s space all day, every day.

Yesterday Sofia laughed when I said  I was “going to yoga.” I wasn’t going anywhere but downstairs to the living room to follow a free class on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0H7gLahXEs

Yoga with Kassandra seems particularly apt these days, given that her namesake was the Greek goddess of catastrophic prophecies that no one believed.