Monday, May 18, 2020

Interesting Quarantine Take-Out Food

I belong to a writing group that meets once a week, now via ZOOM, and part of our group routine is to do ten-minute timed writings on common topics suggested by the group organizer.  Then, if the individual wants to share and read her writing to the group, she does.  This practice is part of a writing technique taught by author Natalie Goldberg.

Recently, the topic was “Interesting Quarantine Take-Out Food.”  Most people wrote about what kinds of take-out food they’ve ordered during the pandemic shelter-at-home directive.  Ricky and I haven’t eaten any take-out food during our quarantine.  We used to eat out 3-5 times a week, but for two months, from March 15 to May 15, all our meals were prepared in our kitchen.  

I notice that it’s healthier for me to cook my own food.  I limit the sodium, I never fry foods, and I control the portion sizes.  We aren’t vegetarians, and I made different kinds of cookies on several occasions, but even so, I've managed to lose a few pounds during our time at home.  

My sister said she read that by the end of the quarantine, people would emerge a monk, a chunk, a hunk, or a drunk.  Ricky suggested a chunky, drunk monkey, but I’m not sure whom he was describing.

The only take-out food we’ve experienced is the food I’ve “taken out” of my kitchen to share with friends and neighbors.  I doubt anyone would describe it as interesting, but the recipients thank me and seem to appreciate it.  So far, my food hasn’t poisoned anyone.  

We even made a path on both sides of our wrought iron fence to make food sharing with our next-door neighbor easier.  It lessens the chance of stepping in cat poop.

Food sharing path way 
For the most part, my menus are reminiscent of the fifties and sixties.  For example, I’ve taken a variety of jello treats to an older neighbor, walking to her house with quivering and quaking jello and our hyper-excited dog Treble, a terrier mutt, in tow.  I’ve also shared old-fashioned potato soup, Brunswick stew, deviled eggs, baked chicken, rice and gravy, baked egg custard, green beans, tuna noodle casserole, and different variations of chicken salad. 

Deviled eggs
Baked egg custard (we had a surplus of eggs)
From Ricky’s kitchen repertoire, we’ve shared his ham and spinach frittata, red beans and rice, mushroom pasta, and shrimp pesto pasta.  Ricky has mastered the few dishes he makes, so only lucky people who live close by get to sample them. They don’t last long in our kitchen. 

Ham and spinach frittata 
Chocolate chip cookies
I like to bake but my products need to find other homes quickly.  Outgoing cookies include oatmeal cookies, lemon sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies and a variation on this theme—Bailey’s Irish Cream chocolate chip cookies.  

My friend Sydni gave us some homemade salsa and Ricky made huevos rancheros for brunch one Sunday.  Everything was delicious, and here's the proof:

Huevos rancheros and fresh carrot juice
Some friends have reciprocated with their own homemade creations, e.g., tabbouleh, salsa, banana nut bread, chocolate-covered strawberries, and vegetarian chili.  A neighbor who received a windfall 50 pounds of flour gave us a loaf of his homemade bread!

Homemade bread
I keep coming back to the assigned topic of  interesting take-out foods.  What interesting take-out have we experienced?  It had to be my attempt to make potato cabbage chowder, which I’ve made in the past.

This time, I decided to use my food processor to chop up the potatoes.  Clearly I did something wrong, because the potato pieces immediately started to turn a reddish color.  I decided I needed to get the potatoes on the stove right away.  I quickly chopped the cabbage and added it to the potatoes.  I cooked the potatoes and cabbage in broth, then added some seasoning, milk and cheese just as I’ve done before.  The soup turned gray, it looked horribly unappetizing.  My brave husband ate a cup of it and said it didn’t taste bad.  I ladled the rest of the soup into a container and put it in the refrigerator to re-evaluate later.  When I looked at the soup the next day, it was a congealed gray mass.  I was going to dump it out when a friend stopped by.  I told her the sad saga of my soup and showed the results to her.  She hates to see food to go to waste so she said she’d take it home to her son—and for some strange reason, he even ate it!

I like the writing of MFK Fisher who often wrote about food.  She said, Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.  Maybe our take-out food was interesting after all.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Decision-making During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I’m contemplating my daily choices during the COVID-19 quarantine and feel fortunate to be retired and able to hunker down indefinitely if need be. 

My husband Ricky is a retired Registered Nurse who worked at our local VA Hospital, at one time in the ICU before he moved to the heart cath lab.  I only worked occasionally before the pandemic, but when I did, it was in the School of Allied Health at our local medical school.  While this post is generally lighthearted, the world has a heavy heart, as do Ricky and I.  We ache for those in the medical field fighting the pandemic, we cry with those families who have lost loved ones, we sympathize with our friends and strangers who must fight off the disease while quarantined from the world, and we despair at the national political situation, and the lack of leadership and sound decision-making at the highest governmental levels.

My choices during this COVID-10 pandemic are many, yet virtually meaningless. 

Outside views from cottage porch
Patio as seen from cottage porch

Morning coffee in the plant room
Plant room fountain adds ambience
Should I sit outside on the cottage porch or in the old-fashioned, indoor plant room with its louvered crank out windows to drink coffee and write?  

If I sit outside, should I pet my cat, Katrina, or Treble, our mutt, who always craves attention? 

What should we fix for lunch? For supper?  We’ve eaten comfort foods, e.g., tuna noodle casseroles, roasted chicken, turkey burgers, chicken salad, salmon and fish, steak and potatoes, a variety of homemade soups, and several of Ricky’s specialties, e.g., shrimp pesto pasta, mushroom pasta, and huevos rancheros.  

Another culinary decision—what flavor of jello should I make?  We probably have eaten jello that I prepared less than a dozen times during our 25 years of marriage.  Now, during our COVID-19 home bound days, we eat it all the time.  Sometimes with fruit added, sometimes as a parfait, but never as jello shots!  I prefer to drink my booze.

What’s the best way to get dry jello mix off the kitchen floor—vacuum or Shark steam broom?  Note to self: water in the microwave can become super-heated though it doesn’t appear to be boiling.  When a solid, i.e., jello mix, is added to the water, the mixture erupts vigorously, startling the cook and causing her to throw jello all over the kitchen.  Related question:  what’s the best way to get rid of sugar ants in the kitchen while I’m hunting for all the fine jello dust I threw into the air?

We are definitely eating well, which leads to my next decision.  Where and how shall I exercise since the gyms are closed?  Should I exercise inside using my Walk Inside DVD, given to me by a colleague a year or so ago, or should I ride my exercise bike?  I have outside exercise options, too.  I can walk in my urban neighborhood.  I see much more of what’s going on when I’m on foot, so I can be that “Know-See” neighbor.  Do I want to go with Ricky when he walks Treble?  We look like we are maintaining social distancing from each other because I can't walk as fast as they can.  I bring up the rear, 6-9 feet behind them.  Should I pick up litter on our neighborhood sidewalks as my exercise one day?  It would also be doing something pro-social, but litter patrol now requires gloves, a mask, a grabber, and a trash bag. 

Picking up trash without PPE
Are there friends I should check on? Should I drop someone a note in the mail to let them know I’m thinking of them?  I’m fortunate, because I can interact with my neighbors regularly.  We share food and books, talk at the fence, visit briefly when we see each other on our walks.  Sometimes we sit on our porches, six feet apart, and talk. 

Do my plants need deadheading, fertilizing, or pruning?  Do I dare go to the nursery for more plants?  Do we have a possum, or is it a raccoon, living under the house, and what should we do about it?

Is there anything interesting going on that I can text my sisters, so we can be part of each others’ lives, since I don’t think I’ll be traveling to visit them anytime soon?  What about this week's hailstorm that dropped baseball size hail in the city just across the river from us—hail that went through people’s roofs into their attics, hail accompanied by 70-90 mph wind squalls that broke windows in their houses so hail danced around inside their homes?  This unusual event was part of a strong thunderstorm system that passed through the Ark-La-Tex.  Click here for YouTube video of recent hailstorm in Bossier City captured by Barksdale Airman.

Usually the most agonizing decision I face is what book should I read today?  I could easily read from my personal library for a year and still not read all the books I own. 

My recently repainted library
Some days I’m restless with anxiety contemplating the pandemic and the sadness and hardship it’s causing.  Other days, I’m generally happy during the stay-at-home directive.  I’m not sure what that says about me—am I shallow, easily entertained, or just content within my bubble?