A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 217


Friday, June 11

I’m thinking about just how the pandemic and lockdown changed our cooking and eating habits. And since this blog is meant to be a personal record of this strange time, I’m recording my thoughts here.

In daily life as we used to know it, we regularly adopted various new foods and recipes. First, we’d try that tuna and cannellini bean salad to see if we liked it—and before long, we might find that it had become a dinnertime staple. Recipe sources would keep referring to something not in the pantry—so you’d go get some gochujang or miso and, since the stuff was suddenly there, you’d keep making a dish that used it whether you totally loved the ingredient or not.

Moreover, in the ordinary course of life, I have made certain dishes over and over. I’d repeat a dish every couple of weeks, or have it in my head as a fall-back recipe for quick and unplanned weeknight fare. 

And of course, we’d occasionally eat out at a restaurant.

The lockdown and difficulty of getting foodstuffs altered this way of living. Suddenly, no matter what the online or TV chefs recommended, it was scarcity that began defining choices. You couldn’t just run out to H Mart or another Asian store to pick up an otherwise exotic ingredient. Jicama? Lemongrass? Nope.

The supermarket Stop and Shop, from which we began getting deliveries in March of 2020, was full of surprises. One week, a completely ordinary comestible like raisins or Gala apples would be out-of-stock, but they would have Kikkoman soy sauce, sugar snap peas, Crosse & Blackwell capers, and Uruguayan organic honey. 

Certain of my onetime go-to dishes are now mostly forgotten: cold sesame noodles; Szechwan eggplant with ground pork; Ma Po tofu; pasta bolognese; and prepared items from Trader Joe’s including chicken pot pies and frozen ravioli.

We have no wok here on Long Island and no easy access to such things as Szechwan hot bean paste. Those changes account for much of a decline in my Asian cooking. Also, of course, there’s no Trader Joe’s store.

Two other factors have figured in our dietary changes: the fact that Emily is now the executive chef in charge of food-ordering; and the shift away from spontaneity to weekly planning of menus.

Old reliable dishes that I still make after decades include lentil soup, chicken paprikash, turkey chili and turkey picadillo, avgolemono soup, beef stew, omelettes and frittatas, and turkey meatloaf.

New dishes that now appear with some regularity: the Latin beef dish ropa vieja; black beans and rice; cornbread tamale pie; penne with asparagus pesto; pasta with roasted red peppers and goat cheese; grilled pork chops and hamburgers; baked chicken breasts with artichokes; spaghetti with drop meatballs; American picnic potato salad; the spicy egg dish shakshuka; and (after a couple of failed attempts to make my own pizza from scratch) Amy’s frozen pizza.

So summing up, it seems there has been a decline in Asian food-making and a surge in Latin and All-American eats. I also think we are consuming less meat and more largely vegetable entrees. 

Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Dinner: spaghetti with meatballs and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Life on Mars, season two.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 52

Cilantro or parsley? you decide…

Wednesday, April 29

We received two Fed Ex shipments today: a drug prescription that Emily ordered and a little lap desk to support my laptop when I’m sitting in a cushy armchair. Some masks that she ordered have not arrived—even though Etsy sent a message saying that they had been delivered. Not good, there. Were they delivered somewhere else? Are they just lost? Who knows, but our hopes are not high.

More Americans have died during this three-month-plus pandemic than died in twenty-plus years of the Vietnam War. That boggles everybody’s mind. No Kennedy, no LBJ, no Nixon–just the Donald. How will the damage to the economy and to our political system stack up?

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg and Mother Jones have reported, the Trump administration will shortly invoke the Defense Production Act to make meatpacking companies stay open, even as some state governments are requesting that these pandemic hotspots close. (Big Macs all around!)  Some 5,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19 and 20 have died, the United Food & Commercial Workers told Mother Jones. So the meat companies are worried that they could be sued by workers’ families over a failure to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The federal order would provide the companies with some legal cover against such lawsuits. 

I’m off to the grocery to get a half-dozen needed things, including walnuts, eggs, canned tomatoes, and chicken stock. We need parsley for tonight’s dinner—but, of course, the bin labeled Italian parsley turns out to contain cilantro. Often you can only tell the difference by tasting, and of course I was wearing my “disposable medical mask,” which prevented me from putting anything in my mouth. Hmmm, how would meatballs taste with cilantro instead of parsley? Maybe not so good….

In mid-afternoon, the store wasn’t crowded. There were maybe four other shoppers, a couple of counter workers, and one check-out person. Few of the goods have any prices attached, but I have learned just to pay up and not worry about it. $44.06 for ten items? Here’s the credit card.

Dinner: Marc Bittman’s spaghetti and drop meatballs with tomato sauce and a green salad.

Entertainment: Two more episodes of Occupied.