Times like these try men’s souls.
How trying it is to live in these times!
These are trying times for men’s souls.
Soulwise, these are trying times.
—Strunk and White’s Elements of Style
I feel pretty lucky. Coronavirus hasn’t changed my life drastically, it’s just made it a bit inconvenient; more optimistically, I could say it has forced me to get creative. People have been sharing their strategies for dealing with what used to be simple tasks. here are a few of mine:
On Socializing Distantly
Technology is a generally-acknowledged blessing in times like these, but it can also be a bit disappointing too. You try to buy something online, it’s sold out. When you do find what you need, it turns out the website’s screwed up and you’ve just wasted time putting things in your virtual cart. I haven’t done zoom, but I hear there have been problems. More to the point, virtual reality isn’t readily available or accessible for some people, and for others, it just doesn’t cut it.
But social distancing doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck indoors staring at screens. You could organize a social distancing block party. A woman who lives in my neighborhood came up with the brilliant idea of doing a dance party which morphed into dance lessons and workouts taught by people in the community as well as by professional personal trainers. The ‘serious’ workout classes take place in the community pool parking lot, where there’s ample space, and the dance parties take place right on the street in front of her house. She marked the sidewalks with chalk to ensure everyone stays appropriately distanced. She asked me to teach some flamenco one Saturday (since I’m still a student myself, it was kind of tricky!) and another woman taught belly dancing. Belly dancing wasn’t something I would’ve looked into myself, given all the other hobbies I have going on, so for me it was a great opportunity to see what it’s all about without the commitment of a class.
Getting together with friends doesn’t have to be even this complicated. I asked a few people to meet me at the community pool parking lot for a 10AM social hour, BYO coffee. Why not invite one or two friends to meet in your driveway for a real life chat? Tell them to bring a camping chair and whatnot. Give each guest a cement quadrant. Keep it small and intimate. In my opinion, these are the best parties anyway.
I realize not everyone gets to live in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, so if your place makes my suggestions impossible, at least try to get outside if the weather’s nice. Check to see if local nature parks are open. Avoid the ones that tend to be crowded.
On Acquiring Essentials.
A lot of people are trying not to go to the grocery store, but it’s not always easy to get delivery or even curbside pickup. I’ve found that small LOCAL stores and restaurants are better choices for curbside pickup/delivery. Restaurants might have groceries for sale (if allowed in your state) in which case often times you can buy online and just pick up. If they have glitchy websites, just call. You might consider signing up for restaurant email lists and checking out social media, as sometimes this information is more up to date. This is a good time to support local restaurants and stores, if you can afford to. Don’t forget farmer’s markets. Here in Tucson, they have a fantastic drive through set up. You tell them what you want. They place the food in your trunk. Easy peasy
As for flour, check and see if you have a local mill. I had no idea until very recently, but we actually grow wheat right here in Tucson! Here’s a secret for you bakers out there…shh…you have to buy ten pounds (as of April 29th), but you could split the cost with your baker friends. You’re welcome.
If you must go to the store, you’ll need a face mask. Maybe like me, you don’t sew. Well, in trying times, it’s time to get creative. Take a look around and see what you’ve got. If you can’t think of how to make a mask out of what you’ve got, Google it. A friend gave me this “disposable” one, which I’ve been using over and over. I’ve been tossing it in the laundry—even the dryer! How long will it last? We’ll see. My thought was, if this thing can’t be laundered, I’ll have to throw it away anyway. Might as as well give it a shot.
If you must shop in the store, keep in mind various substitutions for items on your list. Here’s an article for flour substitutions. Many fresh veggies can be frozen, but people don’t seem to realize this for some reason. Don’t forget the many uses for pancake mix (I’ve had smashing success making scones from it), as well as other baking mixes. No sugar? Check for honey or maple syrup. Some fruits can also be used as a sweetener. No dried beans? (Do you even really want dried beans or are you just buying them because you’re in apocalypse mode?) Well, get canned beans. No canned tomatoes? Maybe tomato sauce would work. (For spaghetti sauce, I like to ‘spike’ store-bought tomato sauce with mirepoix—equal parts diced onion, celery and carrots—sautéed in a little bacon and a cup or so of homemade chicken stock to give it that Julia Child flair. Let that simmer for a long time…time gives you deep flavor.) If there’s no tomato sauce, why not fresh tomatoes, then?
Speaking of fresh…why not start a veggie garden?
If garden nurseries are open where you live, this might be a better way to get out of the house than going to the grocery store to look at empty shelves. Much less crowded in the garden.
Anyway, gardening makes for a good hobby nowadays. You don’t need a ton of space either. Here’s a little salad harvest from my container garden:
On Stretching Your Supply.
Freeze things, of course.
Or preserve them.
Here in Arizona, we’ve just come out of citrus season. It’s the time of year when neighbors share their bounty with neighbors. Every year I get bags of lemons from a friend who got them a from a friend who…and I’m always happy to take whatever people want to unload on me. Why? Because…I love preserved lemons. They do so much work in the kitchen, it’s not even funny.
And preserving them is so easy. Just slice them, take out the seeds (if you want to), pack the slices into mason jars—rind and all—between layers of either sugar or salt. Let them sit out a few days, shaking the jars occasionally, then stick the jars in the fridge. After about a week (maybe two), the rind will no longer be bitter and is perfectly edible. Not just edible, delicious. Think kumquats, but lemon-y. Think of all those recipes that call for lemon zest. Now you’ve got an abundant supply of it, both sweet and salty. But not only that, you also have the juice. With the sweet lemon juice, you can make lemonade, of course, or lemon curd, or:
Lemon salad dressing: Equal parts sugar, lemon juice, white vinegar (I use white balsamic) and olive oil. With sugar preserved lemons, it’s 2:1:1. (2 Tablespoons of sweet lemony liquid, 1 Tablespoon vinegar, 1 Tablespoon olive oil). My husband likes his dressing ridiculously sweet—think Brianna’s poppy seed dressing—so I add a touch of honey to his.
For the sweet lemon rinds, make pretty desserts:
For the salty lemons, you’ll chop up a little bit of rind as needed to use in place of lemon juice. Keep in mind the salt in the preserved lemon and subtract salt elsewhere in the recipe…or not if you like things salty. Great in Mediterranean dishes. Last night I did Israeli couscous with sauteed oyster mushrooms and garlic scapes, to which I added a tablespoon of diced salty lemon rind. (Garlic scapes are to garlic as green onion is to onion—both flavorwise and the way they grow.) It was a hit.
But lemons aren’t the only thing you can stretch out. Got fruit that’s about to spoil? Make a quick refrigerator jam. You don’t always need pectin. Remember, apples have a lot of pectin in them, so mix things up and get your jam on. I didn’t strawberry lemonade jam…this is what happens when you have loads and loads of lemons.
And aren’t we about to go through a MEAT shortage? Maybe. Probably. So here’s another tip—hurryhurryhurrynononeverminddon’thurry—buy rotisserie chickens and bone-in “city” hams (the kind you find in most grocery stores). These will last and last…and last…..and….last….at which point you can switch things up by making casseroles from them. Type “rotisserie chicken recipe” into Google and you’ll see the options are endless. Same for ham. I like ham in mac and cheese.
Then you have the bones for chicken stock, which you can freeze for later. Hang on to those yogurt containers! Even if you have nothing but the carcass and water, you can make stock. And you should.
Chicken Stock: Just drop your carcass into a soup sock and cover with water and bring to not-yet-a-simmer. If you have onion, carrots, celery, thyme, you can add any or all of those to the bag, a few handfuls, roughly chopped, quartered, whatever. Add salt, or not (you can always add some later when you’re tasting for flavor). Let it go for a few hours, then turn off the heat. When it’s cool, just lift the sock, toss it, and voila, you have broth. I don’t get into clarifying it. If it’s too much trouble, I won’t do it, so I make sure it’s not too much trouble. Even so, it’s way better than store-bought chicken stock. Think beyond soup. Use it to cook rice, to make tomato sauce, to boost flavor in stews. Sometimes the stock itself is not super flavorful, but it still adds a lot of flavor when it’s used in cooking. So just do it. You can’t screw this up.
Then you have ham bone soup—doesn’t have to be split pea soup if you hate split pea soup—which you can freeze for later. Google around for a recipe you like. I actually ended up using some of the meat for puerco verde burritos, which did not taste as weird as it sounds.
While you’re at the store, consider buying refrigerated pie crusts and/or phyllo pastry for using up leftovers. You could make your own, of course, if you’re willing to use up your precious flour (I’m not). In any case, I find having these things around helps when I’m in a rush. Chicken pot pie, anyone?
How about you? What have you been doing to cope with quarantine? Any tips?