Friday, September 4, 2020

It's Official: NOT traveling can make you sick


As I do on most mornings, the moment I wake up, I roll over, pick up my iphone and begin scrolling through emails. This one from Travel + Leisure caught my eye. Here is a new twist on thinking about travel during the pandemic. This is unlike the ton of information shoveled out on how to safely suit up for airplane travel and how to scan hotel rooms for lurking killer virus.

Today we consider how it's bad NOT to travel. American Express reported on a poll it conducted. About half (48%) of those surveyed said that not being able to travel made them feel anxious and stressed. And three quarters (78%) of them said that traveling is one of the top activities they miss right now.

If I were to have answered the survey, I'd definitely say that I miss traveling. But put me down for zero interest in taking a trip just for "fun" while the pandemic is raging around. And as to whether I'm "anxious and stressed" about not being able to travel. No. The reason for any anxiety and stress I might feel is because of the pandemic. Put the blame where it belongs. Coronavirus. COVID-19. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Clipped Wings Kitchen #10: Doing a Diary

I compiled photos of my first 100 days living through this pandemic. I published my photo diary on Shutterfly and I'm ok with sharing it with anyone who wants to slog through it.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Clipped Wings Kitchen #9: Punctuated by a Peony

The pandemic is getting worse according to a front page story in the New York Times. Next to the story about Juneteenth in Tulsa.

I read about it over my breakfast of warm buttery croissant that my husband brought home from a French-people-run bakery called Le Bec Sucre in nearby Middletown, Rhode Island . The name means sweet tooth in French, or literally, sugared beak. Smelling the warm dough and watching the delicate flakes fall onto my plate are enough to recall enjoying a patisserie breakfast in France. It's especially nice to savor after waiting outside in line, wearing masks, six feet apart, only 2 people in the store at a time.

But I digress. We are finishing up the third month of living surrounded by deadly COVID-19, stunning unemployment, and the agonizing unraveling of America.

Surrounded by sorrow and tinges of fear, nevertheless, we still must decide what to put on the table to eat.

My choice is to savor every meal. I figure if I didn't do that, I'd be letting life slip by. I look at every day as a gift. I'm the kind of person who prefers setting the table with platters and serving pieces, not takeout boxes. Even when we buy the food prepared from a restaurant, I like to detour it onto a serving plate, making it look inviting. I frequently think of my mother who used to say, "Why not live beautifully?" Her thickly floral sterling flatware lives in my kitchen drawer and I use it all the time. Why not? What would I be saving it for?

The day that started with flaky croissant decorated with a peony from my garden ended with lobster on the grill. Because why not? We live in the Rhode Island with its well-deserved name, the Ocean State. Lobsters were on sale for $5.99 each, and besides, I wanted to try grilling them instead of the same old, same old way of steaming or boiling them. More on the grill caper later. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Clipped Wings Kitchen #8: Buy One, Get One, Then Too Many Cherry Tomatoes

My attempt at Surprise Tatin from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty Cookbook

I strapped on my face mask, grasped my shopping list and entered the Stop & Shop. My goal was to get out of there as fast as possible. Following the blue masking tape one-way arrow on the floor, I was guided into the produce department. Tomatoes were on my list, but most of them looked pathetic, anemic, inedible. The only ones that suggested any sign of life were the cherry tomatoes. Even though they appeared to be the least worst, they were encased in plastic like candy. Anyway, "Nature Sweet Cherubs" or nothing. So, Nature Sweet Cherubs it was. As I placed a package into my cart, I noticed they were Buy One Get One Free. Sure, why not? 

When I got home, I realized (no surprise) that I now had more cherry tomatoes than the three of us could realistically eat before they spoiled. So I went on a hunt for a decent recipe to get out ahead before they rotted and I had to throw them out.  I found a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, a deliciously creative Israel vegetarian chef.

Besides writing cookbooks, Ottolenghi runs six restaurants in London. This past October, I was in London and made it a point, actually a pilgrimage, to eat in one of his restaurants. Because it was hard to get a reservation, I bypassed the closest ones and instead went 20 minutes out of my way, from Mayfair to Spitalfields, just to get to try his food. It was for an early lunch and we ordered shakshuka, a one-skillet dish commonly eaten in Israel for breakfast. It's made of eggs baked in a tomato sauce spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne. 

Now being COVID-quarantined in my kitchen, trying to figure out what to do with this package of cherry tomatoes that I don't need and didn't buy, I got to transport myself (by memory) back to London, to Ottolenghi's cool restaurant, surrounded by people sharing space, eating and socializing. 

With that happy thought, I paged through Plenty. I had a hunch that Yotam would have a recipe to deal with the "get one" extra pack of cherry tomatoes. He did. It's called Surprise Tatin. You roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven and while they cook, you make a caramel to place in the bottom of a pie dish. I deserve an F for my caramel because it was glumpy and would not spread as it was supposed to. However, it's the first thing into the pan so except for my photo and the fact that I'm writing about it, nobody would know that I got it wrong.

I also had to make a pie crust (not my strong suit, but I followed his directions carefully). The roasted tomatoes go into the pie dish on top of the caramel, then followed by boiled sliced potatoes, sautéed onions and a little fresh oregano. Then, the whole thing gets topped by the crust and baked. 

The final step, which could have been a disaster but wasn't, is to turn the pie pan upside down and serve it so that the crust is on the bottom. It worked. The verdict: The Surprise Tatin was good...but I would have used a little more salt. That's an easy fix. 

I can't resist saying that it's no surprise Ottolenghi's Surprise Tatin is a winner.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Clipped Wings Kitchen #7: Go Middle Eastern with Za'atar and Harissa

I certainly can't travel anywhere when there's a stay-at-home order. But I can think about it, can't I? A quick zippy trip to the Middle East would spice up the monotonous quarantine existence.

The Boston Globe's May 27, 2020 issue caught my eye with the exotic-sounding word "Za'atar." Fun to say out loud. "Zah" - pause - "ah-tar," with the last part rhyming with guitar. Its author, Christopher Kimball called it an "easy" recipe for a light Middle Eastern mid-week meal.

Za'atar is a mix of spices that includes seeds from coriander, cumin and sesame, as well as dried oregano, sumac and kosher salt. I amazed myself that I had all the items. (Thank my sister-in-law for leaving sumac behind last time she visited).  I could have easily bought a jar of za'atar in the spice aisle of my neighborhood Stop and Shop. But I made my own instead.

For the Za'atar Chicken Cutlets and Lemon-Parsley Salad, most of the ingredients are pretty basic and I had them anyway: chicken, flour, walnuts, kosher salt, parsley and lemon. It called for two other ingredients not typical basics in anyone's pantry. One is Aleppo pepper, but I learned from the internet (thank you google) to substitute a combo of paprika and cayenne. The other item that I didn't have was pomegranate molasses. It's a sweetener used in middle eastern dishes; sort of like cranberry juice concentrate. Fortunately, our organic market carried pomegranate molasses so I didn't have to figure out a substitution project.

The side vegetable had another fun-to-say name: "Harissa". Kind of like Melissa, except it's a red pepper paste from North Africa---specifically Tunisia. (Brief digression: I've been to Tunisia but didn't know about harissa. Bummer. I'll have to go back). The Boston Globe's menu called for Spicy Egyptian Eggplant roasted and tossed in harissa, with fresh mint and dill.

The dinner came out as promised. Easy. Delicious. Tune into YouTube Bellydance Channel Radio and crank up the shaabi music. Almost as good as traveling.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Clipped Wings Kitchen #6: Killin' It with Cherry Galette

When I was surfing for a dessert recipe, I stumbled on galette. I decided to make a cherry galette. I wasn't entirely sure what galette is and I never baked anything with fresh cherries. But the more I read, the more excited I got.

It could: (a) taste good, (b) prettify my red metal plate from Ocean State Job Lot and (c) be easy enough that even I, not great at pastry, could make it.

Galette is free form.
As in you don't have to fit the dough into a pie pan.
As in, so what if the sides are uneven?
As in, it's kind of like toddler art --- everything is fabulous no matter what it looks like.

Next was the cherry challenge. I had to remove the pit from every single cherry. There were a lot of them and cherries don't surrender their pits easily. If there was such a thing as a pit remover, I didn't have one. I started by cutting a knife halfway through a cherry. Then, I held its slimy body with my left hand while trying to grasp the pit with my right thumb and forefinger. I got a few pits out that way. But just as many cherries slipped out of my fingers and into the sink.

Back to research on the internet. I found "How to pit cherries if you don't have a cherry pitter." It was right above "Are cherries fattening?" I didn't read about the calories because I was already committed. (But I went back later to learn the excellent news that one cup, or 21 cherries contain less than 100 calories).

Using the chopstick, I still had to hold the slippery cherry in my left hand while I rammed the stick through the center with my right. Anyway, it was better than the knife technique.

With each stab of the chopstick, a few drops of cherry juice flew out. Across the counter. Some on the stool. Some on the floor. By the time I finished impaling all those cherries, my kitchen looked like a crime scene.

With the dirty work done, I turned to the fun. I mixed the cherries with sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract, lime zest, lime juice and ginger. I poured the mixture into the free form galette crust and baked it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. 

It was bloody yummy.

Clipped Wings Kitchen #5: Cinderblock (instead of a brick) Chicken

Juicy chicken roasted, flattened under a brick over an open fire. Pollo al Mattone. That's one of my favorite traveling food memories. About a dozen years ago, my family had stopped for lunch in a little garden trattoria off the Appian Way in Rome. We sat at a picnic table in the shade and waited while the chef prepared lunch. It was a luscious chicken, splayed out over the grill and crushed under the weight of a large brick.  The bird looked like the unsuspecting pedestrian in a Loony Toon cartoon, after the safe fell out of an upper story window and squashed him on the sidewalk below. Except for the unfortunate visual, everything else about that Chicken Under a Brick was perfection. It was unbelievably juicy. The flavors were intensely herbal and salty. The aroma, the wine that washed it down, the friendly hosts...everything about that lunch has been tucked away as a most favorite travel thought.

While quarantining, hoping that COVID-19 will kill itself and go away, we figured we would attempt chicken under a brick. Maybe it would trigger wonderfully happy thoughts. At the very least, it would make for a tasty Keep-COVID-Away dinner. We had raw chicken in the fridge. We had time on our hands. We just didn't have a big brick. After scrounging around in the basement, we found a small fragment of a pathetic broken brick. And a cinderblock. Nothing that a layer of aluminum foil between the cinderblock and the chicken couldn't fix. So, we pressed the weights into service and roasted the chicken in the oven.

The verdict: not nearly as good as a trip to Rome, but definitely worth staying home for.