5cense 19 days of COVID coozine: cooking to combat cabin fever (w/ Ménières to boot)


We haven't addressed our gustatory sense for a while here on 5cense.com so figured we'd do a post on Corona seclusion cuisine + spose we shd write this in proper english since our bedder-½ (+ fellow sound ƒurie) might cross-reference it from her site (The Food Archive) + her readership is educated high-flutin' sighingtists (hola!). She looks at big pitcher stuff—worldly food systems—but we (sorry, us writing in 1st personal plural ain't a habit we can readily break since we've been doing it so long it's ingrained into our "anon I'm us" being) are the 1 that keeps her fed, the "casalingo" as we used to call ourself. Our bedder-½ is writing a book w/ a working title Eating in the Anthropocene, about how to sustain ourselves during times of climate change, what's palatable for the planet... this post is a hands-on version of practicing what she preaches at home, augmented on account of C-19.

Virtual Sourcing

Don't know how y'all get your food, but this is problema #1 these days, 'specially for car-less folks like us that are used to the Italian way of doing things—buying fresh stuff every day for what you're gonna eat that night. By the time we went to the market a few weeks ago, most everything had been hoarded (btw, the TP shortage phenomena has an EZ answer—a Tushy bidet attachment... toilet paper is a filthy habit anyway). We have a Trader Joe's a block away, but seems to be a cesspool for Corona right now (+ no, not the beer). And when u go on Fresh Direct the time slots are always taken... so what u gotta do is wake up (or stay up til) 12:01am when they release time slots for the next day + then be patient thru 15 minutes of tumbling hourglasses or spinning wheels as everyone in the country is also refreshing their browsers over + over like you are. On the 2nd or 3rd night we got lucky + scored a rez for a week later.
     Fresh Direct lets u modify your cart up until the night before your delivery so just put whatever in there to book a slot and then keep adding as u wait a week for your time to come up... of course lately they are out of most everything + even if u do manage to get some stuff in your cart, by the time they deliver ⅓ of your items are missing + the recommended replacements are ridiculous, like in loo of raisins they suggest maraschino cherries, or low-sodium Goya black beans instead of the regular (which we've probably eaten more of then any other food item in el mundo (we brought cases of 'em to Rome, along w/ 5 or so kilos of Maseca))... spose u can just add your own salt + here's a tip: squeeze a lime into the can so u don't waste all them juices + gook stuck to the side of the can. And sure, u can boil your own, but we're lazy + DiY beans give us gas (tho pressure cookers help) + they were out of the dried ones too.
     Whole Foods on the other hand has the opposite approach—u can reserve only 2 days in advance for delivery, but they release slots throughout the day, so if u keep ⌘-R'ing the screen u might score a delivery w/in a few hours. They don't let u update your cart tho + their bait + switch tactics are more extreme... yesterday we went to buy butter, Jasmine rice + paper towels, but ended up w/ a few bottles of cava, organic blueberries + Engine-2 Rip's (only cereal we can find w/o added sugar or oils), but none of what we originally ordered (they don't tell u until after checkout that they are out of these things), tho guess we did score a few bags of Peet's Major Dickason's (no other coffee will do for us).

Daily Bread for a Fortnight

If ever we was gonna write a cookbook, it wouldn't be about singular recipes but the flow from 1 day to the next... about efficiency, variety, conservation of resources, adaptability + yes, 1-pot meals cuz we're fundamentally lazy. Rule #1 would be don't follow recipes. Just get creative w/ what u got, analyze the contents of your fridge in the order of when it will go bad + then figure out what u can concoct so nothing gets wasted... can't remember when the last time something in our fridge went bad. Most every meal ends up being a unique dish, tho there are a few general patterns that repeat. Rarely does a week go by that we don't have tacos, so we start w/ a batch of salsa. Choice of peppers might vary (+ sometimes we opt for green tomatillos) but usually it's habaneros, cilantro, white onion, lime + roasted roma tomatoes (5 makes enough to exactly fill our container)... only problem is that there was no cilantro (a problem we are well used to, living in Italy where they regard cilantro as worse than old man b.o.) so we did the unspeakable + used basil + parsley. When we ordered habaneros from Fresh Direct last week we thought we were getting 6, but ends up we got 6 bags... so really like 40-50 habaneros. No problema, we roasted all of 'em w/ our stovetop roaster (w/ fan on high!) + then added a bit of olive oil + lime (to make it pasty) + put it in the freezer so whenever we need roasted habanero (which is always) we can just nuke it for 10 seconds then take a spoonful. While we were mucking up our food processor (Breville... highly recommended) figured we may as well whip up the jerk + pesto sauces (read on). Ideally this prep day shd coincide w/ the day u get your goods, which this time around conveniently fell on April 1.

April 1: Vongole—this is another dish in high rotation, if not weekly then every fortnight, being that clams are our bedder-½'s favorite food (she's got a tattoo as proof) + low on the food chain, low carbon footprint (unless u get them from New Zealand... which we must admit, them cockles are tasty). Our custom is to make this for whenever she comes back from a trip, which used to be often, but seeing as no one is travelling these days we make 'em just because. Ain't much to do w/ vongole (or linguine 'Congolese' as our iPhone calls it)... soak the clams 1st thing in cold salted water (our seafood monger in Rome used to tell us how much salt per liter but we forget) in the sink + apologize to them 1 x 1 for the trauma they endured being scooped from the sand + shipped thru whatever supply chain to your home (hopefully your seafood monger knows better not to seal the bag so they can breathe). Rub each 1 down + if they are slightly ajar they shd clench close when u massage them otherwise they ain't no good. If u squeeze 'em a bit u can sorta tell.
     If we had a baguette we would of made garlic bread to "fare la scarpetta con le vongole" (mop up the clam juices w/ the bottom of your shoe) but apparently everyone's hoarding baguettes (which at least makes more sense then guns + TP) so instead we just took regular sliced (whole grain sourdough) bread + smeared crushed garlic + olive oil (butter is also out of stock, so we're rationing the little that we have) + put it in the oven. Then put the water on to boil.
     In another pot (a janky non-teflon 1 cuz it might get scratched up by the clams) put some chopped garlic, olive oil + white wine... we like to put sum sorta cherry tomatoes (ideally those nippled piennoli from the slopes of Mt Vesuvius) but alas, out of stock, so instead we chopped up some red peppers (sweet minis). At the same time u put the pasta in (linguini or spaghetti for vongole... nothing else will do) put the poor little clams in the pot w/ the lid on. Make sure to under-cook pasta, we just drain against the side of the sink to not have to wash a strainer then add lots of fresh chopped parsley, red pepper flakes, ground pepper, salt + a squeeze of lemon, then dump the clams (cook long enough for them to all open) + juices on top + hold onto the pot u used to steam the clams cuz u can use that for the discarded shells. We didn't take a photo of the vongole cuz we didn't know then we'd write this post + we're more into eating our food then taking pictures of it. We also had a salad (use them greens while their fresh) w/ avocado + red onion. We've been trying not to drink during the week, but hard to have vongole senza vino bianco.

April 2: Gnocchi Pesto—fresh basil shd also be made into pesto as soon as possible... it doesn't mean u have to eat it that day, but at least make it. As we mentioned, we also made the salsa + jerk sauce at the same time to save on cleaning. Often humus gets worked into this routine, but not this time. Pesto is e-z p-z.. throw basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil + pecorino romano in the food processor + voilà. Most recipes probly call for parmigiano but our time in Rome has biased our buds. Sometimes we squeeze a squirt of lemon into the mix. ½ of the pesto we'll put in a jar (top off w/ a layer of olive oil so it stays green + unoxidized).
     We chose gnocchi cuz we had pasta the night before + also cuz the last time we went to Trader Giotto's they were out of all the pastas except gnocchi. While the gnocchi were boiling (if u have gnocchi w/ tomato sauce u can cook them right in the sauce + save a pot) we sautéed a bit of shrimp + mustard greens (often we'll throw chick peas in for protein, but the shrimp suffice this time) then add the gnocchi + mix in the pesto last, after the heat is off. Again, w/ a salad + unfortunately sliced bread instead of a baguette to mop up the oily remnants. Pesto is hard to eat w/o vino rosso, but we can't drink red wine this time of year w/ our allergies + we ain't sposed to be drinking anyway during the week. We usually also have sparkling water but SodaStream is taking forever refilling our cannisters... so it's tap water straight up, w/ a squeeze of lemon (April is the month they chlorinate the water in DC (gotta keep them pipes clean living in the swamp) which smells gross but u can't really taste it). Again, we didn't take photos of the final product, tho here's the pesto sauce we haven't used yet, along w/ the salsa we haven't tapped into either.

April 3: Jerk Chicken—we haven't been talking much about what we eat the rest of the day.... if we have leftovers from the night before we skip breakfast + eat those for lunch. Or we eat a late breakfast + skip lunch, or just snack on whatever throughout the day. Lately we've been into smoothies + while we haven't resorted yet to frozen berries, we got some for the day when we can't get 'em fresh.
     'Jerk' is 1 of those vague words that to us means whatever u find laying around, but usually entails roasted habaneros (which we already mentioned we have a frozen stash of) + green onions... those are the only 2 real requirements, + oh, spose allspice is must-have to be jerk. If we have pickles on hand (which we do) we'll pour some of the briney water into the mix, or capers w/ some of the juices they're soaking in,... soy sauce, ponzu, whatever salad dressing u might have, lime, vinegar, salt, pepper, spices, etc. Baste the chicken in this concoction overnight (we did all this the day before). Then all u got to do is fire up the grill + throw 'em on.
     Actually, shuck the corn + put those on 1st cuz they take longer. Then put the meatier breasts + legs before the wings + smaller pieces... tho we couldn't get a whole chicken, all we could get was 2 legs + a package of wings (if we wanted organic, free range). We don't do chicken that often btw, maybe once a month. It's the only animal we eat that doesn't live in the ocean. We justify it cuz it's low on the food chain + comparatively resource-efficient, but fact is it's delicious. Roasted corn doesn't need anything, perhaps just a squeeze of lime. And again, a salad, while the greens last. Washed down w/ Pilsner Urquel. We got tired of waiting for SodaStream so canceled our order + put on a bandanna + braved the hardware store to exchange our cannisters. After dinner mixed sum gin into our limey soda water (it was Friday night after all)... nursing our Japanese gin to stretch it for as long as we can.

April 4: Tacos—we've eaten tacos probly more than any other dish in our lifetime, at least once if not twice a week. We had a bit of leftover chicken so grilled it up w/ sum mushrooms, green onions + a few types of peppers (dare we use the word fajitas?). We actually scored some tortillas (albeit small "street" style ones) otherwise we would of made our own. And whipped up a batch of guacamole... + the salsa, sour cream, jack cheese (sadly they were out jalapeño jack) + a bottle of pilsner.

(+ note the cloth napkins since all paper products in the U.S. are hoarded in the hands of gun freaks)

April 5: Risotto—take the bones you've been collecting from the chicken, along w/ whatever else (we keep a pot in our fridge for scraps), the tips of onions, celery, etc. + add water to boil. The longer they simmer the better. This week we made risotto w/ the broth, but the last time we made vegetable bean soup + the time before that pozole.

While the broth simmers start chopping up stuff for the risotto... this time we put garlic, eggplant, shitake mushrooms, a few frozen shrimps, mustard greens (add last) + green chilies. Fortunately we have 10 kg of frozen roasted Hatch chilies we got last September... we still have about 5 kg left. Roast the garlic + briefly toast the risotto then start adding stuff. We just put the strainer right on top + pour the broth straight in. Set the risotto simmering, stirring often. Once the stuff in the strainer has cooled (spraying a bit of cold water thru helps) we like to get in there + wring all those juices out, squeezing the remnants to a pulp. Broth-making shd correspond w/ the day before garbage day so these remnants don't stink up your kitchen or attract vermin. When it's near to done grate some pecorino in. We served it on a bed of arugula since we had some to use up.

April 6: black bean tostadas/tacos—we had a few leftover broken tortillas that we put in the oven to make tostadas + since we don't have any more tortillas we made our own from Maseca... again, plenty used to doing this since they don't have tortillas in Rome or Nairobi (not corn ones anyway). We still have salsa from a few days ago + grated some cheese + diced up some peppers, green onions, arugula, cilantro, sour cream, etc...

mixing the maseca when u can't buy tortillas


April 7: Penne Pesto w/ shrimp, mushrooms, peppers on a bed of arugula (using rest of pesto sauce made a few days ago).

April 8: Veggie-burgers /w fries + babaga-humus—scraping the bottom of the fridge so dipped into the freezer to dig out some Engine-2 Pinto-Habanero Burgers that we've been meaning to try since we like their cereals so much (all simple plant-based ingredients w/ no added oils or sugars). Grilled up some onions, mushrooms + peppers to put on the patties + also a slice of NY sharp cheddar cheese. Roasted some potatoes in the oven (w/paprika, rosemary, garlic, salt + o'bay). While we had the oven on, roasted an eggplant + mixed it w/ some humus (why not... humus + babaganoush have basically the same ingredients): chick peas, tahini, olive oil, lemon, fresh parsley, habanero paste, sesame seeds + the roasted eggplant). Celery + pickles. Washed down w/ a bottle of Cava since our bedder-½ got promoted to full professor (she was already tenured + endowed, but technically "assistant" prof before) so we were celebrating. The verdict on Engine-2 Pinto-Habanero "burgers"? Consistency was weird, soft + mushy + falling apart, but w/ all the fixings + mayo + mustard it's all tasty.

Oh yah, the cookies in the far right corner... those are the professor's doing. We don't bake... at least not baking that necessitates following a recipe.

Eating + drinking w/ Ménières

Didn't sleep so well + woke up w/ our head pounding/spinning, maybe on account of the cava + cookies. Last year we were diagnosed w/ Ménières disease + our doctor said no salt, alcohol, caffeine + basically every food item listed here that we love. But life's too short! Would rather be dizzy + lose hearing in 1 ear than eat unsalted beans. Especially since there's been no conclusive studies demonstrating that this even helps, it's all just anecdotal speculation. A few months ago we started to keep a food journal to see if we could identify any triggers, but barometric pressure, allergies + lack of sleep seem to have more of an influence than diet... tho salt, sugar + alcohol certainly doesn't help + eating a lot in 1 meal after fasting all day doesn't bode well for us either. In particular we've noticed we don't do so well w/ wine (especially red, but even whites now). We're okay w/ beer (as long as it's low alcohol %... not these crazy high-octane IPAs they make nowadays), in fact we sleep + feel even better if we have 1 or 2 beers. Really it's about moderation in everything, keeping fluid levels at an even keel, don't eat a bunch of salt 1 day + then no salt the next + don't binge on anything all at once, but eat consistently throughout the day. Our Ménières is probly acting up cuz it's allergy season (this time last year we were really hating life). Yesterday we went for a run (only cuz it rained all night) + when we got back our legs felt + looked like we got bit by 100s of mosquitoes all at once, in addition to sneezing attacks + itchy bloodshot eyes. So avoiding the outside world is something we should be doing anyway for the next month, regardless of COVID.

April 9: Shrimp Tacos w/ Guacamole—Re-up day... got our Fresh Direct delivery this morning... this as we learn that the Trader José's near our house closed cuz an employee got COVID, so now we'll be even harder pressed to get food in our hood. We made shrimp tacos cuz 2 of the avocados we're really soft so figured we may as well make guacamole + the shrimp weren't frozen so best to 'em sooner rather than later. Made another batch of fresh salsa for the week.

April 10: Mushroom Gorgonzola Stroganoff—we have no clue how a proper stroganoff is made, this is based more on the Hungarian Mushroom soup recipe we remember from Moosewood (back when we was a hippie child in the '80s we admit to using that cookbook). Sauté some mushrooms (a mix of cremini + the regular ones) + onions + garlic in white wine, olive oil + butter. We couldn't get sour cream so used Greek yogurt. Spice w/ salt + pepper + most importantly paprika + fresh parsley. Oh yah, and this time we sprinkled some crumbled gorgonzola in which gave it a nice zest.

not sure where we got this paprika (we thought it was Hungarian, but seems it's Spanish) but it's the bomb


April 11: Linguini Vongole—1 of the professor's students was going to Whole Foods w/ a car today + asked us if we wanted anything (spose this is the 2020 version of giving the teacher an apple) so we gave her a list of things including vongole, so repeated day 1's clam-fest only this time w/ linguini + we had little kumatos to throw in. Not only was this student kind enough to do our shopping but she souprized us w/ other goodies we didn't ask for such as burrata, so included that in our meal.

We were going to do a whole fortnight of food getting us thru lock-down, but seems the cycle is starting to repeat + we have friends in Naples asking to swap recipes, so we'll go ahead + post now... u get the idea, it's not about knocking your socks off w/ 1 meal, but sustaining yourself thru the week, month + also eating to sustain the planet. W/ the nearby Trader Joe's closed cuz of COVID it's getting harder to shop (supposedly the queue at the nearby Whole Food's is 2 blocks long). We're losing sleep staying or waking up at midnight to get a delivery rez on Fresh Direct only to find out they are all booked in advance + seems all food delivery services are overwhelmed. On the other hand, there is tons of food going to waste cuz the chain is severed from farmers that normally supply restaurants + business besides supermarkets, or the mom + pop specialty farms that supply farm-to-fork restaurants. We signed up for a local CSA (Earth N Eats) so are getting a bunch of fresh stuff on Friday. There's also lots of otherwise thumb-twiddling restaurants getting involved in distributing (uncooked) food (at least in DC). So we're set for at least a few weeks, here's what our fridge looks like at the moment:

Next Week's Menu

As mentioned, we don't follow recipes or plan meals in advance (+ or even grocery lists) but we have a vague notion in the back of our head that gets inspired day off based on the status of food in our fridge in the order it will go bad (not a drop or leaf of any food item above will go to waste). But here's some other e-z to make meals that usually find their way into the mix:

  • Pozole—while the authentic version is complicated (+ involves pig feet) we have our own version that can be made in minutes. Ideally u do this w/ broth u made, but in a pinch u can use 1 of them boxes (+ veggie broth if you don't do chicken). Grill up onions + garlic, add roasted Hatch green chilies (we have them frozen, but u can get them canned, tho they're not nearly as good/spicy), oregano, a can of hominy, black beans + voilà. Mexicans garnish w/ cabbage, onions (white), pork, radish, lime + chili sauce... we modify this sometimes w/ whatever leafy green, green onions, grated cheese + chicken, if we have it.
  • Quiche—quiche is another great way to use things up, just grill up whatever u have on hand, add 4 eggs (2 per pie) + grated cheese... basically an omelet in a pie crust. We only make pie crusts if we have to (like in Italy where u can't buy them frozen) but what a pain in the ass when u can just buy 'em frozen. If u don't have a pie crust, u can always make breakfast for dinner... we often do a Mexican version of this w/ huevos rancheros + black beans + home fries.
  • Pizza—same thing we said about pie crusts applies to pizza dough... much easier to get frozen + thaw + roll it out out day of. U also need to an oven that can crank up to 450° if not 500°+ ... ours never seems to get hot enough to get a crispy crust (+ we never forked over the dough for a proper pizza stone but use a metal 1), but maybe also cuz we load it up w/ veggies (usually lots of mushrooms) + cheese, to try to make a meal of it. We also often pile arugula on to turn it in to a sort of pizza salad. Otherwise, if we want a proper pizza we leave that to the professionals (same could be said about sushi).
  • Cevicherashi—while we don't usually make sushi ourselves, we often do a Mexican/Peruvian hybrid that we already documented here. Or a Polynesian take on this is poisson cru (basically the same thing but w/ coconut milk).
  • TJ's Thai Lime + Chili Amondless Larb—it's easy to fall prey to the Asian stir-fry, face it, we all have + it's never the same as when u go to a good Thai or Chinese restaurant. Maybe 1 reason is that it usually requires liberal doses of fish sauce which stinks your house up to high hell. But the classic stir-fry is always a good way to use up those fresh veggies + Jasmine rice is a nice change from pasta. One secret we have (being that we consume mass quantities of those Trader Joe's Thai + Lime Almonds) is we re-use all those leftover spices (lemongrass, kaffir, etc.) once we've eaten the almonds + yes, u sorta have to plug your nose + use fish sauce, that's the dirty secret to Thai cooking. When we 1st got turned on to Thai food in the '80s in San Jose, we got the cook from our favorite restaurant drunk so she'd reveal her secrets + evidently cooking w/ vodka is also key. If we don't use shrimp, our stir-fry dishes often end up a bit larby, w/ lime, scallions, cilantro + ground chicken or turkey or crumbled tofu, tempeh or we've even tried this w/ beyond burger.
  • Casarecce Carciofi—we got some artichokes coming friday in our CSA so we'll likely make a variation of this, hopefully they'll have the stems on them cuz them's good eating. Basically we follow the recipe for carciofi ala Romana (steam w/ garlic, mint + lemon) + rather than waste those juices the artichokes were simmering in, we take the artichokes out, mash up the stems (hopefully they're soft enough) + garlic + then maybe add mushrooms or whatever else + put the pasta in there + add pecorino Romano to stretch your artichokes into a meal.
  • Anything Goes Mulligatawny—googling now this doesn't resemble the mulligatawny recipes we see on Inurnet, but it's usually what we call our goulashy vegetable soups. The inspiration goes back to 2 decades ago when we used to stand in line at the Soup Nazi in Hell's kitchen (before he sold out + franchised + had to drop the "Nazi") + it was pretty much just like in Seinfeld (except u stood in line outside, rain or shine), u had to know the drill or get scolded. And it was well-worth it. My favorite was his mulligatawny, which seemed more Persian than Indian. And we'll use a dollop of sour cream or yogurt instead of coconut milk (as we think did the Soup Nazi). Regular players in our mulligatawny include: lentils or chick peas and/or whatever beans, celery, carrots, squash or pumpkin, onions, potatoes or faro, etc. but really this all hinges on your broth. We might spice it w/ a bit of curry powder or rosemary + tarragon + usually there's habaneros involved or some other chilies.

Bon appétit! And wash those hands.

730 <(current)> 732> The blasé malaise of Ms. Ann Thrope's year of R + R + U.S. ever being uncool along Vermont Ave.
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