in the pandemic kitchen

Many people are discovering cooking and baking from scratch during these past weeks of sheltering at home and less frequent trips to the store. The demand for basic ingredients has been so high that is still difficult to reliably find flour, yeast, sugar, milk, and eggs. There are lots of stories of people learning to make sourdough bread and to concoct meals with what they have on hand. Some people, who had always bought already-prepared meals or restaurant food, are finding out that they enjoy making their own dishes and baked goods and even find it relaxing.

At our house, we were accustomed to doing our own cooking and baking, although some things have changed. I’m definitely being more intentional with meal planning, both to make sure I have the ingredients on hand and to accommodate everyone’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before B began working at home, he often ate lunch with friends; now, I try to have leftovers or some other options available for him.

Another thing that is different is that B is doing more cooking and baking. He actually enjoys kitchen work more than I do and finds it fun to make recipes that are more involved. I make bread in the bread machine; he recently made an apricot-raisin bread that took three days to make. He tends to wake up early and frequently makes breakfast treats – muffins, scones, even Chelsea buns. He does all the family grilling and has several special dishes that he prepares, including chicken marsala and Nana’s lasagna. I tend to make more old-style recipes, like meatloaf, pot roast, and soups.

Some people are also discovering things like pickling and making stock, things that I learned from my mom when I was growing up in rural New England. Of course, if you had a turkey, you would make stock from the carcass. Back then, it was considered frugal; now, it’s about better utilization of resources. I will admit, though, that now I will make a small batch of refrigerator bread-and-better pickles, rather than the dozens of jars we used to make and process in Ball jars and hot-water bath when cucumbers were in season. The pickles are still very tasty!

In some ways, my freezer and pantry resemble the ones from my childhood much more now than they used to. Because our house growing up was twenty miles from the nearest grocery store and there was a big chunk of the year when you had to worry about snow and ice on the road, we always had a stock of shelf-stable and frozen foods on hand. Now, in case we need to quarantine, I have followed the recommendation to have at least two weeks of food on hand, plus what we need to eat for at least a week or more so that grocery shopping would only happen every one to two weeks. Fortunately, I did this before the panic buying set in. A hundred days into the pandemic restrictions here in our part of upstate New York, our food distribution system has still not stabilized. Supply of some staples is spotty and a few things have been impossible to find for weeks. For example, I finally had to order a pound of yeast online in April; two months later, I still have not seen any in stores. My latest shopping triumph was finding quick-cooking tapioca, important this time of year for thickening strawberry-rhubarb and peach pies.

I’m not sure how long our current pattern of cooking, baking, and eating will persist. We have been ordering carryout from some of our favorite local restaurants, hoping to keep them going. Now that our area is in stage two of re-opening, outdoor dining is allowed, but not many restaurants here are set up for that. In a later phase, restaurants will be allowed to re-open indoor space, but probably only at 25-50% capacity. I’m guessing that we may still order carry-out rather than trying to dine-in.

The other wild card in all this is not knowing how long B will be working from home. If/when he needs to go back to the office, his return home in the evening will be too unpredictable for him to make weeknight dinners, so I will be back to more solo cooking. I had done that for years, so, of course, I can do it again, but I’ll miss having B here. Maybe it is a preview of his eventual retirement…

pandemic shopping

During our stay-at-home order period, shopping for food and other necessities has been one of the few opportunities to be away from the house, unless one is an essential worker. Most households have one designated shopper and it is suggested that shopping occur only once every 1-2 weeks.

At our house, I am the designated shopper. I also shop for my dad, who lives in a nearby senior community. He gets some meals through their dining service, but prepares breakfast and most lunches on his own.

Ideally, I would do one, very large shopping trip every two weeks, but this has proved impossible. Our area still has supply problems that cause stores to be out of stock of certain items, for example, flour, yeast, peanut butter, meat, toilet paper, canned beans, rice, frozen vegetables. It’s not that you can’t find your favorite brand. It’s that these products can be totally missing. There are also often limits to the number of containers you can buy of a product, as well. Staples like bread, milk, pasta, and canned beans are most likely to have that kind of restriction.

Because of this, I usually shop weekly, but need to go to two or three stores to find what we need. I am also making sure to keep a two-week supply of food on hand in case we need to quarantine, so I need to have food for immediate consumption and to keep the pantry stocked without compromising our emergency provisions.

We are also trying to give business to our local restaurants that are open for curbside pick-up. We are afraid that some of the local businesses that closed may never re-open, although we were happy that our favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant, though closed for a few weeks, has now re-opened for carryout.

We have also been enjoying trips to our favorite ice cream stand, Sugar Lips, which makes their own hard ice cream and usually about ten vegan flavors. This is a special place for the lactose-intolerant people in my family. Sugar Lips usually attracts a lot of customers from the university, so we are hoping that the local folks can give them enough business to stay open until the students are able to return to campus.

Today, thanks to our region meeting the criteria for phase one re-opening, I was able to support one of my favorite shops in a nearby town to our west. They specialize in locally made products. I usually buy handmade soaps from them and I’m pleased that I was able to put in an order online. Bonus: they had some multipurpose headband/face masks for sale. Pickup from the store is by appointment. Maybe the next time, they will be able to be open for in-person browsing. I think that might be phase four, with facemasks and social distancing, of course.

Are you having shopping adventures in your area? Please share in the comments.

a package!

Like many other places during this pandemic, our stores have been out of yeast for weeks.

I usually keep a jar of bread machine yeast in the refrigerator. Besides using it in the machine, B sometimes uses it to make treats like Chelsea buns. As my jar was running low, every time I went to a store, I would check to see if I happened to catch a new shipment coming in, but either my timing was never right or there wasn’t any in the warehouses to send to the stores.

I decided to look online. I couldn’t find any jars or packets, but finally found a one-pound bag of Fleischmann’s instant yeast. I wasn’t used to the term “instant yeast” but apparently it is the same as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast. The yeast is sourced from Canada, so perhaps instant yeast is the term most often used there.

It took over a week to arrive, but now we should be supplied for a long time, given that this bag is equivalent to four of the jars I usually buy.

The pandemic has changed my perspective of time so much. I admit to thinking maybe this yeast will last until we have a vaccine available to the public so that the pandemic will be well and truly over.

Of course, this won’t be a miracle like the story of Elijah and the widow in 1Kings 17, where the flour and oil did not run out until the drought was over, but it does symbolize to me that same sense of perseverance, that call to not be afraid while we wait, watch, and work for better times.

sheltering in place

Like most of the people in the United States and those in many other countries, my spouse B, adult daughter T, and I are sheltering in place. This is not a great hardship for us. We are among the most fortunate of families. B can work from home indefinitely if necessary. With so much of the economy shut down, T will need to delay applying for  jobs, but she is safe and content here with us. Some of my poetry activities have moved to Zoom, so I still get to workshop poems. I’ve been able to participate in more social justice and environmental webinars because I am nearly always at home.

The biggest sacrifice for me is that I can no longer visit my father, who is 95 and living in a senior community. I’ve tried to set everything up so I can help out by phone only, but it is certainly not as effective as being there every day. My sisters and I call him every day at various times. I always call in the morning to check in and help him decide on his dinner order. Because they have had to close the common rooms, including dining, meals are being delivered and orders need to be in by 11 AM. It is stressful not to be able to visit, but I admit that is less stressful than worrying that I might inadvertently infect my dad and a building-full of vulnerable seniors with COVID-19 because I was pre- or asymptomatic.

I have had to change some of my shopping and meal habits. I was used to going to the grocery store several times a week and planning dinner a day or two at a time. Now that shopping is supposed to be just once a week (or two weeks), I’m being much more diligent about planning meals and having ingredients on hand. This is still complicated by supply problems. While I would love to go to one store and get everything on my list, there are still times when shelves are empty for a whole category of items. We are also now wearing cloth masks in public places, so my next shopping trip will be accomplished with a stylish cloth napkin and hair tie number made using this video. We don’t have to wear masks when we go out for walks in the neighborhood, though. There are not many people out at any particular juncture, so it is easy to stay more than six feet apart.

It’s been interesting to me to hear and read how others are dealing with staying inside with their families. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the stress of being with their children 24/7. Because it was my privilege to be the full-time-at-home parent with our daughters, I was used to that lifestyle. Parents who aren’t used to full-time family togetherness because even days off were usually filled with out-of-home activities are discussing the revelation, sometimes accompanied by nervous laughter.

There is a lot of stress about not knowing how long shelter at home policies will be in place. People are suffering from lack of their usual routines and comings and goings and want to know when things will be “back to normal.” In reflecting on this, I realized that I’ve spent so many years dealing with uncertainty – multi-generational caregiving does not lend itself to predictability – that I am not upset by not knowing what will come next and when. I’m not cavalier about it; I do follow the news, perhaps more than I should, and try to prepare myself for a range of possibilities, but I’m not assuming things will return to the way they were soon or ever.  I’m trying to advocate for positive social change, the pendulum swinging back to a more community approach than a hyper-individualistic one. I think the pandemic has made many people acutely aware of our interdependence and the vast numbers of people in the United States that live economically precarious lives. It has shown us how vulnerable we all are from a medical standpoint, especially those who have underlying illnesses, many of whom are not being treated adequately due to cost barriers. Cities around the world are noticing what it is like to have cleaner air. Perhaps this period of disruption and radical change to our way of life will demonstrate that the changes needed to address the climate crisis are possible and engender the political will to put it in place.

Well, that paragraph certainly covered a lot of ground, but that is the way JC’s mind tends to work…

That does, though, bring me to the last point I want to address.

Many people have talked about feeling scattered in these times. They are finding it hard to concentrate, to finish tasks, or even start them. I admit that this is disconcerting. It is also the way I have felt for years. People who know me personally or who have been reading TJCM for years know that I have been in the midst of dealing with the death of my mother-in-law, the final illness and death of my mother, and the permanent re-location of my daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after having them live with us for over two years. It’s a lot of grief and loss. I often tell people that I feel like I have holes in my brain. The pandemic and the political situation in the United States added to the mix of personal issues make it more difficult.

If you are not used to this feeling of being scattered, it may help you to think about our present situation in the context of grief  or loss. Talking about it can help. Writing can, too, if that feels better or safer for you.

Even acknowledging it to yourself can be helpful.

And knowing you are not alone.

in the current tangle

I’ve been meaning to post an update on our situation here for several days, but my brain keeps jumping from task to task, not a very effective way to get anything done, but I’ll try to focus for a bit here and get this post done.

Here in Broome County in upstate NY, we went, over the span of a few days, from no confirmed COVID-19 cases to our first recorded death, although the test came back positive only after the gentleman had passed away, to several other known cases, which means that there is community spread occurring.

Meanwhile, as you may know, New York State has become the epicenter of the pandemic in US. Most of the known cases are in the New York City+suburbs/Long Island area, but the whole state is at risk. Governor Cuomo has implemented more stringent shelter in place policies. All non-essential businesses are closed. To protect the elders and other vulnerable populations, Gov. Cuomo has implemented Matilda’s Law, named after his won 90-some-year-old mother. The whole program is called PAUSE. Gov. Cuomo has been giving press briefings most days. I try to watch them as often as I’m able. He is straight-forward, factual, informed by experts in science, public health, and medicine, and compassionate, all while accepting responsibility for his decisions – everything that one expects from a civic leader. Here in New York, we are being much better served by our state government than by the federal government, whose response is still haphazard.

Because of the increased level of alert, I am no longer going to visit Paco in person. The risk of unwittingly bringing the infection to him or someone else in his senior community is too great. Over these last weeks, I have been setting things up to function without my physical presence. We’ll see now how well I did with that task. Fortunately, the staff of independent living is also stepping up their level of service, so I know there will be help available to him if he needs it. For example, because the dining room had to close for safety reasons, dinner orders are now called in with delivery brought to residents’ doors. Paco is happy to have food arrive at the appointed time without having to sit at the table and wait.

My sisters are also sheltering in place and can’t travel, so they have been sending Paco care packages. Over the last week, jigsaw puzzles, brownies, breakfast breads, and homemade apricot bars and Blarney cake have arrived. Paco will turn 95 later this week and is enjoying all these gifts! We are hoping to bring him carryout from his favorite local Italian restaurant on the big day, providing they remain open. All restaurants are open only for takeout or delivery; some have had to close under these conditions, while others are continuing to keep their business going as best they can.

B is working from home for the foreseeable future. We have set up a home office in a currently unoccupied bedroom. He is among the fortunate employees with a job that can be done totally online, so we don’t have to worry about him being laid off, which is a huge blessing and one that we do not take for granted.

I have used his office setup a couple of times for Zoom poetry meetings. Last Saturday, my previously scheduled chapbook manuscript review party was moved online. It was great to see everyone, even though we existed in rectangles on a monitor rather than in the flesh. I received lots of good feedback and have started in on revisions. Last night, we had the first online iteration of the Binghamton Poetry Project. Everyone had been disappointed that our usual in-person sessions had to be cancelled this spring; we are grateful to keep the Project going in a new form. On Wednesday, my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, will convene via Zoom to workshop each other’s poems. We will miss our usual home at the Grapevine Cafe, but hope that we will be back soon.

One of my other activities has been doing the essential shopping for our house and for Paco. It’s been an adventure. Some people are still in a (totally unnecessary) hoarding mindset, which makes it hard to find certain categories of goods. In order to do weekly shopping, it can take three or four trips to different stores. If you are lucky, at least one will have a supply of the hard-to-find categories, such as meats, bread, eggs, frozen vegetables, and milk. It is a major time sink, as well as being an exposure risk, although I try to shop at times when the stores are not crowded to maintain distance from others. For the record, I do have a two-week supply of basic necessities stored away, but the point is to keep that in case we needed to go into total isolation. Dipping into that for our regular needs seems unwise.

I wish I could say that I am settling into a routine, but it is still too new an endeavor. I admit that keeping track of the news and the changes we need to make is taking up quite a lot of mental space. This is increased because I am also watching developments in the UK, with daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter ABC in London. I know that literally millions of other people are finding their minds in a similar whirl. I’ll try to untangle the mess and see if I can create some order, however illusory…

today’s changes

When I wrote about covid-19 over the weekend, I assumed that things would continue to change.

I was correct.

Today, I learned the following:

  1. While visitors are still allowed in Paco’s independent living apartment building, they are no longer allowed in public areas, including the dining room. This means that our usual Sunday morning breakfast together won’t be possible, unless we order ahead and Paco goes to pick it up from the dining room.
  2. My hopes that the panic buying for groceries, medications, and household goods was just for Friday and over the weekend were dashed. It took three stores today to find a short list of items that Paco or my household needed. None of it was hoarding or earth-shatteringly necessary, but it was so strange to still see entire categories of foods unavailable.
  3. Stores are adjusting to the circumstances as best they can. Wegmans, where I usually do most of my shopping, has instituted limits on certain items, hoping to keep staples available for as much of the day as they can. They are usually open 24 hours a day, but are now closing between midnight and 6 AM to allow for more extensive re-stocking. Even with that, there was almost no fresh meat this morning and there were signs up saying they wouldn’t be getting a shipment until tomorrow afternoon.
  4. People must rely a lot on peanut butter, because it is very hard to find.
  5. France is reporting that over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may worsen covid-19 symptoms. They recommend other fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen.
  6. Starting at 8 PM today, all restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will be open only for takeout and delivery. Also, the new definition of allowable gathering size is 50. This will effectively close lots of businesses and organizations.
  7. Many of the closures are scheduled until end of March or mid-April, but many of us assume they will go on longer.
  8. I had thought that the United States national government had the most haphazard response to covid-19, but it appears the United Kingdom is also in the running for this dubious distinction. Because my daughter and her family are in London, we often exchange news. The UK is not even using social distancing as a strategy for the population at large. It’s mind-boggling and scary. [Update:  Right after I published this post, my daughter sent me a link showing that someone finally got through to Boris Johnson that he needs to change his strategy for the UK.]

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

(I will try to make my next post be about something cheerier.)

Our last full day in Slovenia

After collapsing into bed after our bus ride back from our Koper concert, we were gifted with a (mostly) free morning. B and I took the opportunity to finish shopping for gifts and remembrances to bring back. We shopped for honey, as Slovenia is home to a long-standing tradition of bee-keeping. We bought two Christmas ornaments, one of handmade lace and one of wood, both crafts that are important culturally. We bought sea salt from Piran. A cute, artist-designed Ljubljana dress with a dragon on it for ABC. Chocolate because they had interesting flavors, including a lot of white chocolate products, which I appreciated as I need to avoid dark chocolate.

Then, we started a string of official Smith College Alumnae Chorus events. We had a meeting to hear from our officers and take care of some organizational tasks. We went to a local restaurant for our farewell luncheon.  We proceeded to St. Jakob Church for our last rehearsal.
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LIke many other churches we visited, it had been renovated and changed styles as the centuries went on. Also, like other churches, some of the renovations had been necessitated by earthquakes.
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We were surprised to see a vehicle from the Slovenian version of public broadcasting. They were setting up to record the concert for broadcast. Our rehearsal in the church was quite short; we couldn’t run long because we needed to clear out for vigil mass. While we rehearsed, B took some more photos.
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For some reason, there was a donkey grazing beside the church…
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Street performers were amusing the children with giant bubbles.
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After rehearsal, B and I grabbed a quick salad from an al fresco restaurant before returning to the church to get ready for the concert. We were honored by a visit from a representative of the US embassy, who wanted to meet us before the concert.

The concert went very well. We again had a full house and the audience was very appreciative.
concert in Ljubljana

We had a reception back at our hotel, a last chance to talk and laugh together – and to compare which sections of the Haydn and Duruflé kept playing over and over in our heads.

And to eat cake, because, I, for one, always have room for a good piece of cake.

 

 

SoCS: a trip to the grocery store

When we bring ABC to Wegman’s (our biggest grocery store), there are two things she wants to see.

One is the cow in the dairy section. It’s not real, of course, but does move. ABC says, “Mooooo. Cow! Mooooo.”

The other is a toy train on an elevated track over the bulk food section. ABC says, “Choo, choo. Train. Choo, choo.” Fortunately, she says this very quietly, not at train volume.

Would it be too silly to say we go to the store to get something to chew?

(There is a third thing at Wegman’s that ABC looks for when we go to the Asian foods section. There is a red and gold paper dragon over the aisle. ABC does not know how to make a dragon sound.)
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “chew/choo.” Join us!  Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/07/05/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-6-19/

December writing

This year, I offloaded a lot of my traditional December duties to concentrate on writing tasks. The first order of business was to finish a chapbook draft for a contest at QuillsEdge Press. I have now submitted it and am pondering submitting it to a second contest, which closes on January 15. I’d just need to write an acknowledgement page to get it ready.

The next task was to send out a Christmas letter on behalf of my parents. For years, my mom faithfully sent out cards to friends and relatives, but this will be the second Christmas that she hasn’t been up to doing it and I wanted to make sure that the people on her list know their situation.  We enclosed a photo of Nana and Paco with granddaughters E and T and six-month-old great-granddaughter ABC.  E helped out by addressing the envelopes.

With all of my parents’ letters safely mailed, I turned to my own card list. I composed an enclosure letter and battled with my printer to get enough copies ready. We decided to put in two photos, the one that we used for my parents’ list and a second favorite photo of ABC taken when she was four months old and visiting her father and family in London. With my stacks of photos, letters, cards, Christmas seals and stamps on hand, I spent hours signing and addressing over the weekend and today and just brought the last batch to the mailbox for 5 PM pickup.

I am happy to have our greetings sent on their way, knowing that we will be connecting with relatives that we aren’t able to see often and friends from various phases of our lives, many with whom we only correspond at the holidays. 2017 has been such a roller coaster that I especially wanted to make sure to share the story.

And now, I am finally writing this blog post! I’m hoping to get a few more in before the end of the year, although the next week will be very busy. Son-in-law L arrives on Wednesday and the tree still isn’t decorated, other than lights and treetop angel. There will be more shopping and baking to do, although the bulk of it may be done by the other adults in the house.

The most important thing this year is spending time with family and friends. The holiday correspondence was part of that effort. The in-person part already began with a lasagna dinner at Nana and Paco’s apartment with my sisters and their families and early-Christmas gift exchange. More to come about ABC’s first Christmas, which she won’t remember but the rest of us will…

good deed of the day

I’m sure most of us try to do good deeds every day, just as a matter of course, but I had an unusual opportunity present itself today.

I was taking my dad to the store and, as we parked in the (slightly sloped) parking lot, a loaded shopping cart was slowly making its way downhill with no person accompanying it.

I quickly pulled into a parking space, hopped out of the car, and grabbed the cart before it made its way to the edge of the lot.

A new mom had transferred her child from the shopping cart to her minvan, and the cart had rolled away without her noticing it. I was glad that I was able to catch it before it hit anything and return her purchases to her unharmed.

This particular good deed may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence! But who knows?
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/13/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-13th17/

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