Stanley Tucci, consummate actor, cook, and writer, published a piece last spring in The Atlantic detailing a chronology of his daily pandemic life. I so enjoyed reading about his family, his cooking, and his daily routines. I could hear his voice in his writing and it was a great break from my occasional pandemic doldrums.Continue reading
Just a few weeks ago, I did crazy things like go to the store and have friends over for dinner. Just like you, I was free. And now I’m not. And neither are you.
We’ve entered this new, unprecedented (is anyone else incredibly tired of this word, or is it just me?) coronavirus purgatory, which has put our lives on hold. I find it telling that the WordPress spellchecker for this blog underlined “coronavirus” for me because it doesn’t know what it is.
Not so long ago, we could be out in the world and do what we wanted, with whomever we wanted, whenever we wanted. I was free to make plans to do crazy things, like travel. To New Orleans, to Sun Valley, to The Middle of Nowhere in Idaho to Fish for Carp, to Napa Valley.
But now, we’re all hunkered down, striving to be safe in this most uncertain time. Those first couple of weeks were pretty darn weird, right? It didn’t take too long to figure out that listening to the news all day and hanging out on Facebook were remarkably bad ideas.
The dogs love it, of course. As some have hypothesized, maybe the dogs are behind all of this, since they now have what all dogs want: Their beloved owners to be home. Cats? Not so much; they’re in Cat Hell.
The first phase for me was Adaptation. Breaking the habits of seeing people, going places, running to the store. Wings clipped. Not being able to give someone a hug. Listening to report after report of businesses being shut down, multitudes of suddenly idle hands, nothing left to do but watch Netflix and worry. Somehow, I managed to escape binge-watching season 3 of Ozark, but only because I was temporarily enamored with Good Girls and Formula 1: Drive to Survive instead.
Even though I’m “retired” these days and not going to work outside of the house, it was still tough. I stumbled around, unsure of how to fill my days. I was reminded of, years ago, when my friend Barb died. I still picked up the phone all the time to call her, for a brief moment forgetting that she wouldn’t be answering. These days, I would start to think about a social plan, or a dinner party, or a travel idea, but then, oops, never mind.
The thing is, there’s just so much fear out there now. And, in case you haven’t noticed yet, when you feel that much fear, real or imagined, it makes it really, really hard to feel grateful.
Our home sits on an acre of ground and I can see for miles in almost any direction. Social distancing is a no-brainer here, as there is quite a distance between houses. Our walk-in pantry includes a second refrigerator, enough ingredients to make almost anything I can imagine, and enough wine, scotch, and other assorted spirits to get us through at least the next year or two.
Our full-sized chest freezer includes a lot of Scott’s Angus beef, a bunch of game birds that Gary “harvested,” some fresh fruit, probably 15 pounds of last year’s fava beans, another five pounds of last year’s beets, and god knows what else. Some fish, some homemade frozen pizzas, a few desserts, and some frozen vegan and non-vegan meals. Anything could be at the bottom of the chest freezer; hell, there could be wedding cake there from 1986, for all I know.
Point is: I’m not running out of anything any time soon. Rest assured, I have NOTHING to complain about. I’m cloistered away in a lovely house with a great view, my first husband, and two dogs. I have firewood in the garage and tomato seedlings growing upstairs. What the hell else do I need? So, yes, I am VERY grateful.
I’ve also learned a few things during my first pandemic. I’ve learned that I can quickly become very conscious of how much toilet paper I use. I’ve learned that I really don’t need to go to Costco anywhere near as often as I thought I did. I’ve learned that I really, really miss seeing my friends, or, at least, knowing that I could if I wanted to. And I miss going to the occasional restaurant with Gary or some friends. It makes me so sad to think of all of those great servers, chefs, and restaurants struggling right now.
I’ve also learned that it really doesn’t take long for my haircut to go to hell; I’m just days away from watching bang-cutting videos on YouTube; nothing good can come from that, right, Janice? And, I learned that real friends hand you a dozen rolls of toilet paper just because they want to, not because we needed them or asked for them. I’ve since passed them on to someone who does.
I’ve also learned that, yes, the rest of life still goes on. Erin is still pregnant and hopefully will have an uneventful birth in early May. Marilyn still has cancer, which makes me so very sad. My young border collie, Shea, still wants me to throw the frisbee for her at least a half-dozen times a day and is still afraid of floor heating vents. Her older buddy, Claire, is still afraid of the laundry basket. And Gary still hasn’t cleaned the garage. 🙂
And, as usual, I can invent a multitude of new rationalizations for eating and drinking the wrong things; I mean, those brownies in the freezer aren’t going to eat themselves, are they?
Sadly, I can still create a multitude of excuses not to work out. They say you can become addicted to it, but I find I can quit anytime. Not being able to run at the moment isn’t really helping, when walking on the treadmill or outside in nasty weather are my best alternatives. When did I become so wimpy and lazy? Why am I not taking advantage of this situation more?
Now, in this second phase of 30-day self-isolation, I’m trying to take a different approach. I’ve refined my Monday morning, caffeine-induced list-making to categorize my random list into things to do that are fun, boring (aka necessary and repetitive), creative, educational, outside, and absolutely necessary. As my state of mind floats through each day, I might always have something to do that will fill my time and minimize my Netflix tendencies. In theory, anyway.
It’ll be a cold day in hell, however, when I’m bored enough to clean and put touch-up paint on all of the baseboards. Just sayin’. (OK, I’ll consider it, when Gary cleans the garage.)
I’m trying to see this time period not as a sentence to be endured but as an opportunity to look at everything differently. We’ve been shoved back down to the lowest three levels of Maslow’s infamous hierarchy, where physiological, safety, and love/belonging needs are desperate to be met, in that order. Good heavens, we’re afraid of air now.
Maybe we don’t have to get sucked into this collective fear consciousness; we have options. Maybe we can make different and sometimes even better choices for ourselves and come out of this remarkably unique time all the better for it. Not the same, but better. Or at least different.
We all may hate change, yet we all have a remarkable ability to adapt to it. But on the days when I can’t be productive or learn something, when I don’t care, when I feel like a hamster in a wheel, there’s always homemade pizza, at least on Friday nights.
And then, last night, as if we weren’t having enough fun already, we had our first big earthquake in decades, that rocked and rolled us from Idaho up to the Canadian border. Did I hear the telltale roar? No, because I had the stupid radio on, listening to the news for the first time yesterday. A picture jumped off the ledge, crashed to the floor, and the whole wall full of windows was wiggling. Now that got my attention; walls shouldn’t do that.
Can we add “shelter that doesn’t move” to Maslow’s first level? I think it’s important to be precise here.
Shea was shaking for hours afterward; Claire was less affected. I checked in with some friends to make sure they were still in one piece and opened a bottle of wine for dinner.
Life goes on, doesn’t it? Yes, if we’re lucky.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.
It has been a most unusual Easter. Most Easters, we spend at Jim and Jacque’s fantastically-decorated condo, enjoying their superb ham and desserts, while indulging in every other form of taste treat that a bunch of aging foodies can conjure up on a Sunday morning. There usually are Bellinis, quiches, asparagus, incredibly edible gluten-free desserts, and crostini. And then there is a delightful group of the retired and the not-quite retired; people we’ve enjoyed Easter with for many of the last 25 years.
But this year, J and J were called away for a family emergency. Gary took off to the northern part of the state to hunt turkeys and drink “brown water” with friends, so I was left to my own devices. A dangerous thing, as you’ll soon realize.
After staying up too late last night, watching Doctor Zhivago for the first time, and giving our oldest dog his first breakfast at 4:15 am, I was still surprised when I awoke to my cell phone dinging at 6:44 am.
My dear friend, Cindy, texted to tell me that a wonderful restaurant in her little town in northern Arizona (that I had just enjoyed a Grey Goose martini at just two weeks ago), had burned to the ground overnight. While my heart had gone out all week to those mourning the Notre Dame fire, I felt even worse for the remarkable woman, AnnaMarie, whose brainchild was The Crow’s Nest. She had created such a lovely oasis in Meadview and now it was gone. Cindy sent me a photo of the charred exterior. My heart hurt again, more deeply this time, for everyone there.
I had no plans for the day, other than a run at some point. Part of me wanted to be productive and come up with a new morning routine, but the rest of me wanted brunch. But, alas, I was brunchless. I walked into my pantry to find the last box of Nespresso pods to make my morning cappuccino and found, much to my horror, NONE. How could I not have realized that they were all gone? Now relegated to the Keurig which doesn’t quite do it for me, I stood in the pantry and looked around, in complete dismay.
Dammit. The mediocre coffee kicked in and I felt a mission coming on:
Reorganize the pantry.
Now, to explain why this is a BIG deal, you need to understand that we have a very BIG pantry. My first apartment was probably smaller. Friends say they are coming here if The Sh*t Hits The Fan because they know we have more food and wine in our house than anyone else they know.
This level of Abundance is, on one hand, remarkable and comforting and, on the other hand, somewhat embarrassing. Like “I don’t know where to put that fourteenth case of wine” embarrassing. And I’m not kidding; I never kid about wine. (Gary’s passion for cheap-wine-buying has gone on for several years now and each sale, he buys more. See this earlier post from four years ago for proof http:// https://projectshowup.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/short-showers-and-cheap-wine/ )
So, when I say I am going to reorganize the pantry, it is just about as intimidating as someone deciding to clean the garage or, perhaps, land the first astronauts on Mars. This is not a small thing. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the clutter and mayhem that I was facing:
Being a born prioritizer, I started with the liquor section first. This didn’t take long, but the glassware was all over the place, and I got rid of a few bottles that had a tablespoon of something in them. Buoyed by this early success, below, I soldiered on…
The entire back wall of the pantry is a maze of foodstuffs, multiple generations of storage containers, dehydrated wild mushrooms, and an almost endless number of kitchen appliances.
Did I ask myself: Do these bring me joy? Nope.
Instead, I perused expiration dates and just went for it. And, while yes, this is MY stuff, I was still amazed at what I found. Here are just a few examples:
- A used yogurt container containing:
- Four, count ’em, FOUR coffee makers
- Three crockpots and two mini-crockpots for simmering dips
- 19 kinds of specialty salts (NOT including the 5-pound container of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt from, where else?, Costco)
- A jar of caviar (who knew?)
- Two, one small/one huge, Instant Pots
- A 3-pound bag of wild rice – SCORE!
While tempted to reduce the number of coffee makers by half, I couldn’t do it. Someday, someone is going to open a coffee device museum, and I will be ready to provide them with a veritable treasure trove of historical caffeinating devices. So, instead, I aligned them differently to make more room. It could happen: I could need four coffee makers for a big event.
I took one crockpot and stowed it on the very top shelf; the one from circa 1983. I remember once when I needed all three, so I couldn’t part with it either. Joyless, it’s missing a knob, but I’m not ready to banish it from the house.
The other side of the pantry contains excess wraps, bags, and Gary’s baking paraphernalia, mostly. This is a scary place. He has many food-grade containers, containing a wild variety of baking products.
As I looked at the contents of most of them, I could tell that we were very busy shopping on October 4, 2010, because this is when all of these contents were purchased: Xanthan gum, brown rice flour, oat flour, coconut flour, you name it.
Apparently, I had gotten on some diet kick involving GF baking and Gary took it on with gusto. But today, years later, their contents were unceremoniously tossed into the trash, and their containers were washed, making a huge amount of room, at last.
The saddest moment was the tossing of the unopened Costco-sized 2-pack of Nutella that expired two years ago. Some old jars of pickled somethingorother also didn’t make it. I even found a small box of cocktail napkins left over from his first marriage, as well as ours.
And then there were a few new, unopened items, such as:
- The new hand mixer purchased three years ago because it was on sale, as yet unused.
- The new kitchen scale which had not been opened, probably because of the infernal packaging. It took me ten minutes with a utility knife (had to change the blade) and scissors to extricate it, not unlike the “jaws of life” used to extricate trapped inhabitants from car crashes
- Three boxes of food-handling gloves (in addition to the two open ones)
And on the bottom shelf, tucked behind the shoe box full of cocktail napkins, were these four gallon ziplock bags:
And I’m sure there were many more bags of corks at some time, but they have been put to other uses or tossed away. You probably are right in wondering if we have a wine problem.
Let’s test out that theory. Since Gary recently went to the semi-annual Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, we are pretty stocked up; it was a long and dark winter. So let’s see…how many bottles of wine do YOU think are on the floor of the pantry, lining three out of the four walls? I frankly don’t know. I’ll get right back to you. (And this does not count what is in three other wine racks outside of the pantry.)
I had to get the calculator out.
Are you sitting down? Even I was stunned: 287 bottles of wine.
But back to the rest of the panty. I am done, but since it’s only noon, I haven’t opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. (Although it occurred to me, admittedly, ever so briefly, I was feeling so proud of myself.)
Now I have to lug everything out to the trash. I’m not at all sure that I can wheel the thing down the steep driveway to the road next week. And then I washed all of the now-empty containers and stood back to survey my progress.
I really should do this more often, I thought to myself. My border collie pup, Shea, thought that was a lousy idea; a far better idea would be to take her out to play frisbee again, even in the 33 mph winds we’ve had all day.
This isn’t the Easter I had planned or would have chosen, in most cases. But I guess it honored the coming of Spring, and death and rebirth, in some weird way. And it’s made room for more wine, or something. But no more food-handling gloves or corks, OK?
Why I have so much abundance when The Crow’s Nest has none now, I don’t know. Why I decided to reorganize my pantry instead of going for a run in gale-force winds, I don’t know. Apparently, I don’t know much, other than I am a most fortunate person with a tidy pantry. I guess it’s a good start.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.
I have to start out by admitting that I am not a Christmas Person. But it’s not my fault. My father’s mother, the only person he truly looked up to in this world, died of a heart attack on Christmas Day in 1965. He cried and then flew our family of three from Phoenix to Philadelphia for the funeral.
Grammy wrote a letter to me on the day I was born that I still have; it’s very dear. She always sent me $10 on my birthday, which was pretty
cool. And I wound up with her two fur coats which are stunning, but I’m
afraid to wear them in public. I remember not caring about her jewelry when it was offered to me, which is an opinion I regret to this day. I was only nine.
My memories of my grandmother are few: She raised chinchillas in her big house where I slid down the banister before retiring to an apartment without a bannister, where she cooked great Thanksgiving meals. Oddly, she was into astrology and psychic stuff, a tough redhead who had lost and found her life many times. I have no memory of her voice or her laugh.
After my Grammy passed away, Christmas became a rather somber event. The 5-foot aluminum tree came and went within a week, a token present or two appeared below it, and the only joy in the Blessed Day was the annual consumption of roast beef, yorkshire pudding, limp green beans with bacon, and French Silk Pie. There was very little conversation and the entire meal was over in half an hour.
Then a great quietness settled over the homestead while my father brooded, sighed, and pined for his dear, departed mother. He did a lot of brooding, sighing, and pining in general; I guess I’ve just have lost patience with it.
So, maybe like you, I did not experience a Norman Rockwell Christmas, ever. Money was tight, Christmas in Phoenix has never been white, and the only bright spot in the holiday season was the proliferation of my mother’s Christmas cookies.
These days, I pretty much keep away from the whole holiday thing. But I still feel the urge to cook an interesting meal at Christmas, so it’s always fun to figure out what to serve and negotiate with Gary about how much we are going to overfeed our guests. The only part I dread is the inevitable, hellish trip to the grocery store. I take great pains to organize my list by sections at the store, so that all fresh produce is in one section, as are dairy and canned goods. I have this delusion that this will help the trip to the store be less miserable, like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Hey, don’t knock my delusion and I won’t knock yours.
So, a few days before Christmas, after running errands, I started my long drive across town to brave the grocery store. As luck would have it, while tuned to NPR as usual, they are playing an abbreviated version of David Sedaris‘ SantaLand Diaries, which I have not read or heard in several years.
I had forgotten it almost entirely. His witty, poignant, and sad style came through the radio, keeping me company on the long drive, filling my imagination with images of elves, Santas, and families far removed from the Rockwellian Christmas Standard of Perfection, Excellence, and neatly-wrapped gifts.
How could I forget lines like this?
“I am a 33-year-old man applying for a job as an elf. I often see people in the streets dressed as objects and handing out leaflets. I usually avoid leaflets, but it breaks my heart to see a grown man dressed as a taco. So if there’s a costume involved, I tend to not only accept the leaflet, but to accept it graciously, saying thank you so much, and thinking, you poor son of a bitch.”
“I had two people say that to me today. ‘I’m going to have you fired.’ Go ahead, be my guest. I’m wearing a green velvet costume; it doesn’t get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are? ‘I’m going to have you fired!’ I wanted to lean over and say, ‘I’m going to have you killed.”
“Standing in a two-hour line makes people worry that they’re not living in a democratic nation. People stand in line for two hours and they go over the edge.”
David was still telling me his woes as Crumpet the Elf when I pulled into the parking lot. It’s hard not to have a parking lot moment, but I turned the car off anyway. I’m a creature of habit and like to park in the same general place in case I suddenly develop dementia after grocery shopping, which has never happened as far as I know, but it could.
Every spot was taken. I drove in wide circles, eventually winding up barely within sight of my favorite row, down by the noisy car wash that makes my Subaru feel dirty, neglected, and ashamed. I cracked the window down for my border collie, Claire, and headed in, list in hand. I told her I’d be back, if I could remember where my car was.
The Salvation Army bell ringer looks rung out and desperately bored. I pretend to be lost in my remarkably well-organized shopping list and refuse to make eye contact.
I knew I’d need espresso to get through this. There was a long line in the store’s Starbucks, so I had time on my hands. I can’t believe they no longer have a posted menu with actual coffee drinks on it, like cappuccinos, lattes, or macchiatos. Everything on the new menu is laced with sugar, caramel, mint, or nitro, which makes me think of nitroglycerin, not coffee. Plus, I don’t really know what it is, which made me feel old and out of it.
I felt out of it again as I paid for my coffee with actual cash, which you may remember having at some point in your life, instead of using my Starbucks app, which I don’t have and don’t want. I think I’d rather have a wine app, if it’s all the same to you.
I eventually got my short, double-shot cappuccino (wet), which was not on the posted menu, grabbed my cart from the few remaining, and took a long, hot, desperate sip before heading into the fresh food section.
No more stalling.
As I started to navigate my way through the store, David Sedaris and Crumpet were with me, in elven spirit. I looked closely at everyone in my path, in their own pre-Christmas madness—their own cocoons of disorganization and chaos. What would Crumpet say about them?
The dementia that could keep me from ever finding my car seems, however, to have already affected everyone else in the store. The most striking sight was an older Asian woman of unknown vintage. Her long, artificially black hair was teased into some kind of a muskrat’s nest and straggled over the back of her magenta coat.
Her fake eyelashes were desperately huge and coal black, at least 1/2′ long; the poorly-applied glue was covered with a thick ribbon of long black eyeliner that extended well beyond her own eyes.
She was dazzlingly archaic and obscene at all once, even though she was fully clothed. She took tiny steps in her 4-inch-heeled boots, as if her feet were bound. She stared at the zucchini as if she had never seen them before. The urge to get a subversive photo of her almost overtook me.
I started listening to people, for once. The store was so packed, I almost had to, although I normally would have stayed focused and tuned them all out. A half-dozen of us stood with our carts in front of the dairy case. One older couple got in a kerfuffle about whether to buy 1% or 2% milk, pointing accusingly at both as if they were in a lineup. The mother, saddled with twin boys in her overflowing cart blocked the way to the chocolate milk, clearly overwhelmed with the number of chocolate-laced choices and trying to ignore the twin’s opinions which were, alas, not made using their inside voices.
I could wait no longer. I ditched my cart and bullied my way into the heavy whipping cream section, blocking the way for my dairy-challenged colleagues. I had to move on.
People are stumbling around as if they have never been in a grocery store before. Every item that goes into their carts is a decision that is difficult to make, like Sophie’s Choice.
Maybe I was no different. I looked at ten packages of baby spinach before finding the one with the latest expiration date. I grabbed the last three decent packages of basil, feeling guilty that someone else might need one. It’s a dog-eat-dog world now. It’s all about MY Italian Christmas meal now. The hell with you.
The woman in front of me in the checkout line slowly and carefully examined each item before placing it on the conveyor belt. I wonder if she is going to place her items down alphabetically and also if the nail clippers next to the Altoids can somehow be used as a weapon.
Because her kids can’t decide between Juicy Fruit and Orchard Peach Trident gums, in the spirit of holiday generosity, mom places both packages of gum, again, carefully on the belt, just in front of the ham. Makes me wonder.
Angela, my checkout lady, was equally meticulous and may also have memory problems, as she had not memorized any of the produce codes. So, she took an item out of each plastic bag to find the code, and then put the item back in to weigh or count it. I’m stuck; half of my groceries were now on the conveyor belt. I am in checkout line 13 which turns out to not be so lucky after all. Checkout line 12 was moving with lightning speed. The creature with the eyelashes and zucchini has come and gone.
I felt a surge of caffeine in my system when the woman in front of me takes out her checkbook. I shifted my eye-rolling to the magazine covers about the 79 legends we lost this year, the many photos of George H. W. Bush, and J Lo telling me that I can have it all. Of course I can.
I have my basil, so there’s that.
I look at the cart behind me, piled high with Coke and canned icing (or is it frosting?). Bakery department Christmas cookies and Hungry Man frozen meals complete the sugary ensemble. Out of curiosity, I looked at the pusher of the cart, who is a tiny, middle-aged woman with a giant green elf on the front of her terrifyingly ugly Christmas sweater. David Sedaris would be so proud. Honest to god, she looked like an elf, head to toe.
On the way home, suddenly inspired, I stopped at the liquor store to buy the ingredients for the “Happy Elf” cocktail we’ve been serving for the last few years at Christmas. If David Sedaris stops by, I’ll have to make one for him. In case you’re curious, here’s the recipe:
The Happy Elf Recipe (except I substitute white grape juice for white cranberry juice)
I didn’t have to work at Santa’s workshop, go to the mall, or endure WalMart this holiday season. It’s going to be a very nice Christmas, after all. I get to cook for us and a wonderful other couple and their dog. We’ll have four adults and four dogs for Christmas dinner, which seems just about right.
I have no ugly Christmas sweater, but I’ll dust off my Christmas tree earrings and pin for the evening. There will be a magnificent fire in the fireplace and way too much food. I will get to taste someone else’s Christmas dessert tradition for once, and that’s a wonderful gift. Gary will make my mom’s French Silk Pie and I’ll smile as I eat it, thinking of how my mom would have like these people, these dogs, and this dinner.
These many years later, Christmas isn’t about sadness and brooding. There is no aluminum Christmas tree nor obligatory prime rib dinner. And for all those harried souls in the grocery store, hoping to make everyone happy on Christmas, I hope they succeed. I wonder what the old broad with the eyelashes is serving other than zucchini.
I have no Christmas expectations except to make it my own. I have no Christmas tradition to pass on to my stepchildren other than that. So, I think from here-on out, I will listen to the SantaLand Diaries before going grocery shopping. It helped.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (you pick)!
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.
I spent my formative years in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the land where people put on sweaters when it hits 80 degrees and snow is something that comes in cones with sugary syrup on it in the summer. Continue reading