Soulwise, these are trying times…

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

Feeling stuck?

I’m ready for my video conference.

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 Image may contain: textrestaurant 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

Why are we suddenly baking our asses off? Anyone?

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.

Believe it or not, the one shown here has been washed many times already and shows little sign of wear.

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:

The carrots here are thinnings… my favorite, actually. They’re candy-sweet.

I should mention that I cheated…this butter lettuce is actually a store-bought ‘living’ lettuce that I planted. I it got on sale a long time ago (a dollar a head at Sprouts!), before the pandemic hit. These lettuces are still going today. You can even plant regular grocery store green onions. Just use what you need of the green parts, leave the white parts and the roots, then stick ’em in dirt. That’s it. They grow pretty fast.

Okay, maybe it’s not less crowded in the garden…

Sugar snap peas…

…these are so tender and sweet, even Geordie likes them.

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:

Lemon bars with preserved lemon.

cheesecake with preserved citrus

 

Jeffery Hammelman’s hot cross buns with candied citrus rinds.

Orange cheesecake with orange curd and preserved orange rinds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

11 thoughts on “Soulwise, these are trying times…

  1. Well, that left me with all kinds of cravings.

    What kind of contraption is Geordie in? Is he in traction?

    The lockdown hasn’t been particularly hard on me. I was already a homebody. Although not being able to go anywhere is starting to get old. I can only walk around the neighborhood so many times.

    We’ve been using Zoom a ton for work meetings, but we require authentication, which generally keeps the trolls out. We’re also using MS Teams a lot. I’ve found that having video meetings makes you feel like you’ve been somewhere. The ones where everyone has their video on are a lot more enjoyable. Although not everyone can, either due to equipment limitations, or because they’re in a room with their kids.

    Looks like you made it through the editor, or got back to the old one. The joys of blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Geordie’s groomer recently bought this suspension harness that looks like a torture device, but it’s actually pretty useful for clipping nails. This way dogs don’t have to balance on a bad leg or get twisted about. They really just hang there, and it looks pretty comfortable. For Geordie it was nice because his groomer didn’t have to pinch his arthritic ankle quite so hard to hold him still. He was scared before she started the clipping, mainly from the loss of control, but he didn’t fidget about like he normally does. Didn’t make a peep in fact. I think it’s a game changer.

      I haven’t tried zoom yet, but I will pretty soon. Every year the Tucson Festival of Books holds a weekend long writing workshop for its top 50 contest entries, and although the event was cancelled, the writer whose group I’d chosen to workshop with volunteered to host a virtual workshop instead—very very very generous of him. Anyway, that’s been put on hold for a while now, but I just got word it’s about to begin next month. I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be strange meeting people for the first time that way, but a new and exciting experience for me.

      I did do one virtual meeting with my writing group using google hangout, and I think it helps to have a fairly new computer, at least for the audio quality. (Boy did I miss the food we usually have during our meetings! It’s a big part of our get-togethers.)

      I know what you mean about feeling like you’ve been somewhere with the video component. I like seeing/hearing what’s going on in people’s houses. Part of going over to someone’s house is just a matter of seeing the house…it’s interesting.

      As for the editor, let’s just say I made it through somehow. Formatting was mind boggling. When I previewed my drafts, they didn’t look like what I was seeing. I guess I started out in block editor, but then switched to classic editor, and that screwed up everything. After I hit “publish” I noticed a typo in the post, but I can’t do anything to fix it because when I try to do it, I get a message saying I have to go back to some earlier draft—which means I could lose most of what I’ve written. What a pain! Another thing I noticed is that I can’t change the font or font size to what I want. Or at least I don’t know how. Too many options, but not enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geordie has arthritis? He seems too young for that. Glad they have something to make the experience easier for him.

        I actually found Zoom to be better on equipment requirements than some of the others. MS Teams actually gives my four year old laptop trouble. (And it’s a Microsoft Surface Book. Go figure.) I went to a GotoMeeting the other day and couldn’t get my mic to work for anything. It’s been a while since I used Hangout, but I think I heard Google is offering it for free again, so I imagine that will change.

        Wow. Sorry to hear that about the editor. I suspect since you did this post in block, you’ll always have to edit it with it. In my test blog, I noticed when I tried to use classic on the post I did in block, that the content was fouled up but recoverable, at least aside from stuff that classic just can’t do, like widgets. I do see some interesting future possibilities for it, like maybe the possibility of user defined themes. Hopefully they’ll keep improving it. But your experience is going to make me more cautious than I was before.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to hear you are staying well, Tina.

    As with Mike, this lockdown business hasn’t greatly affected me – at least not directly, and in the short term. Stay at home and work all day? Sure, already got that. My older son is home from university and is studying online. My younger son was already being home-schooled. We are extremely fortunate to own a large property with a home gym and plenty of outdoor space, so I can get exercise and outdoor time without going anywhere.

    Longer term, the economy is collapsing and I am worried about the future, especially as a full-time writer with no pension. I wake up some nights picturing myself living in a cardboard box one day. But who can know the future with any certainty?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear you’re doing all right! This moment is an opportunity to reconnect with family for some people, and for some, that’s a good thing. (Maybe for others, not so much.) 🙂

      I know what you mean about the economy and the future. I’m worried about it myself. That’s part of the reason I’m trying to support local businesses rather than Amazon, but it’s hard to do that sometimes. I think the economy will bounce back, but it could take a long while, maybe longer than we imagine. A lot people are switching gears, and if they’re not, they will have to do it soon. As a writer, I think you’ll be all right. I’m certainly keeping my eye on the stock market, but trying not to panic about it. As you say, we never know what the future holds, but at least we’re doing all right now, and we have our families with us.

      Like

  3. The lock-down hasn’t impacted me much either. In fact, I’m actually enjoying it. It’s a lot more relaxing to stay at home, and I’ve been getting more reading, writing and random projects done. As for shopping, I just go to the grocery store. Supplies are fine; some of the canned goods were a bit low, but for the most part, it was much like it was before. The big difference is seeing a bunch of people in face masks, having to go through a cordoned off area just to go in the store at Walmart, and then having to wait for a shopping cart because they’re disinfecting them. But then I discovered curbside pickup and that was pretty awesome 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you were about to get curbside pickup. Around here the websites for nearby chain stores are all screwed up, or there’s a long wait for pickup times.

      I hope you’re not having to deal with idiots at the store. Around here they come with their entire family, no masks, kids running around, bumping into people. They don’t give you a way out of the aisle and don’t stay six feet apart. I guess it’s to be expected in the wild west.

      Like

    • Ha, I know what you mean. I’m sort of the same way. I keep thinking of what I’d normally be doing, and it’s not too different from what I am doing. Actually, I think my social life has picked up a bit since all this started. And, come to think of it, we’re spending more at restaurants now that they’ve started selling groceries. We hardly ever eat out.

      Liked by 1 person

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