Day 128: Nothing.

After work is prime time for parents of little kids. All day, in the back of your mind, you’re piling up to-dos, readings, funny videos, comments you’ll add to threads on your social media. The anticipation grows over the evening routine events…after dinner dishes are cleared from the table, then PJs wrangled on wiggling children, then teeth brushing and stories…Then the moment arrives! Baby and boy are snuggled and snoring, it’s Grown Up Time!

But you see the pile of dishes in the sink…

Ok so you load the dishwasher, but then! Grown Up Ti— wait, the counters and table and high chair tray need wiping.

Ok done! NOW…where’s that book you were reading? Oh, under that pile of random objects you forgot to put away…man, the living room is a pit…better pick up a little in here…

OK! Sit down and read, baby! But first, shouldn’t you write that blog you vowed to keep up every day?

Some version of this repeats itself nightly. But not tonight! Tonight I do Absolutely Nothing. No dishes, no counter wiping, no picking up, no blog. I sit on the couch with a Sleepytime Tea and read a foodie magazine my mom gave me. Ahhhh…

“Sal,” I say, looking up from my magazine.

“Mmmm?”

“I’m sitting here, trying to escape into this recipe magazine, and what is this? An article on climate change. I can’t escape it!”

“Hmmmm.”

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Trying to fix this webpage.”

We suck at relaxing.

What am I grateful for today?

I was secretly pleased to see an article in Bon appetit on climate change. It was by a butcher, writing about her tour of the Impossible Burger headquarters in Oakland.

Day 120 (?): Eggplant.

If it wasn’t for my vegetable box delivery, I’d never be googling “how to cook eggplant,” or “eggplant and zucchini.” But I’m glad eggplant was in our delivery, because I get to try an Instant Pot recipe for ratatouille! Well, quasi-ratatouille, because I don’t have peppers and refuse to buy extra veg unless absolutely necessary.

Eggplant is intimidating because it gets mushy or bitter and you have to do weird things with it to calm it down. It’s like rhubarb – a persnickety veg that insists on special treatment. Come to think of it, the veg box delivery is the only reason I’ve ever tried to cook rhubarb either.

Anyway, I made Instant Pot quasi-ratatouille and chicken tonight, and it was lovely to have a home cooked meal with some class. The preschooler did not prefer the ratatouille (“What is this thing? It’s sour, mom. It makes my mouth go like this…{unpleasant expression}.”). BUT….the baby LOVED IT. You just never know.

I just realized I wrote a whole post about an eggplant. I also realized that maybe we’re no longer in Shelter in Place…Should I stop counting the days now? Is it truly Day 120? And Day 120 of what? I should get clear on that. It’s best to know these things.

What am I grateful for today?

My Instant Pot. It makes cooking feel easier and faster. I don’t really care if it is actually easier and faster. The mirage is enough for me.

Day 47: Play breaks.

Today I decide to wash & process ALL of the vegetables from the abundant CSA delivery on Tuesday. This is an involved procedure:

  1. clear clean dishes from dishwasher,
  2. clear dirty dishes from sink & re-load dishwasher,
  3. (“no! don’t touch the buttons! Sal, can you get the baby?”)
  4. wash out sink,
  5. place strainer and bowl in clean sink,
  6. clear off counter and wipe it down,
  7. (“sorry, honey, mama can’t right now, I’m busy. why don’t you color on the table?”)
  8. grab fistful of dirty veg from bag in fridge,
  9. *forget to snap baby lock on fridge*
  10. (“no, out of the fridge! that’s going to spill! Sal, can you get the baby?”)
  11. put dirty veg in bowl and run water over it,
  12. (“Lord, it’s almost time for lunch…”)
  13. you haven’t even washed a single vegetable.
  14. boil water for tea.

So this takes hours and that’s why I put if off for days and days. I am determined though, no carrot is going to get bendy on me this time!

Today I am alone with the kids, since Sal left to help my mom set up her Chromebook. The baby’s napping. Now is my chance! But there’s the preschooler to consider…I have a brilliant idea.

“Honey, I have to wash all these vegetables. But…why don’t you go upstairs and set up a game, and I’ll come up and take a play break? Then I’ll wash more vegetables, and take another play break.”

“When are you coming up?”

“After I wash four vegetables.”

“Ok!” the preschooler runs upstairs. It’s working!

I start with the root vegetables – carrots and whatever this thing is.

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Turnip maybe?

Scrubbing, chopping, and searching for clues about the mystery bulb takes longer than a preschooler’s patience. He thumps downstairs and pouts at me.

“Mom, were you just tricking me when you said you were coming up to play?”

“No honey, I’m almost ready.” I decide it’s a turnip and chop it into shoesticks quickly.

Upstairs, the kid has set up not one, but a multitude of adventures for us.

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“You can’t believe I’ve been working so hard on all the games I’m going to play with my mom. Dinosaur fights and PJ masks and don’t forget about this plane right here!”

We start with a Dinosaur Battle – I’m the dragons and he’s the dinosaurs this time. After all beasts are exhausted and resting, I go downstairs for another vegetable cleaning round.

Curly kale and chard, then PJ Masks and the bad Wolfie Girl who steals the Owl Glider.

Spinach and (allegedly) curly endive, followed by PJ Masks and the bad Wolfie Girl Part II.

At some point, Sal comes home, and helps with research (“Just Google ‘pale green looks like a turnip.” “Kohlrabi, I think.” “What part do you eat? Just tell me what to cut off.”)

It’s time to start dinner, so I pause and shove the ?turnips into the oven with some leftover pizza and tortilla for an oven baked menagerie. 

“Did you try the turnip fries?” I ask Sal at dinner. “Well, the possibly turnip fries?”

“They’re really good with ketchup.” He says.

The baby disagrees, but the preschooler eats several. Mostly for the ketchup, but whatever.

Later on our evening walk, the kid says, “I’m running super fast because I ate those fries!”

This makes it almost worth it.

What am I grateful for today?

It’s so nice to have washed and chopped vegetables ready in the fridge.

What am I looking forward to after the Quarantine?

After all this bloody cooking, I am going to eat out every freaking day LOL.

 

Day 42: Oatmeal and panko bread crumbs.

Our local grocery store is out of flour – all kinds – and has been for some weeks now. Sal ordered flour on Amazon that will be here “eventually.” In the meantime, I’m getting creative with baking.

Saturday I made flourless pancakes from a recipe from a co-worker – super simple and yummy – just oatmeal, baking powder, an egg, a couple bananas, spinach and water – blended and poured onto the pan. I was low on bananas so added some applesauce. They’ve got a cleaner taste than traditional pancakes but there’s no nicer way to eat spinach!

Today, I took a can of apricots from our Quarantine Cabinet and found a recipe for a crumble with low flour requirements. Scouring our dry goods for a substitute, I found a half-used bag of panko bread crumbs – could this work?

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The dry ingredients rubbed with butter achieved a crumbly texture…So far, so good…

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Not too shabby.

It was ok. A little dry, but with some yogurt or ice cream it could be quite pleasant.

I hear there’s also a garlic shortage now, so I started a bulb of garlic in a jar of water to take root. So we should have like, another bulb of garlic in five months. That’ll be nice.

What am I grateful for today?

For oatmeal – it’s a decent flour substitute.

What am I looking forward to after the Quarantine?

Taking the kids to an IHOP.

Day 33: Then there’s romanesco.

Saturday starts a bit cloudy and we make an unspoken family pact to stay in our pajamas all day. We have a FaceTime meal date with another family on the East Coast (lunch for us, late afternoon snack for them), who also have a PJ Pact. Maybe it’s the overcast sky, dismissing my big ideas of a park outing, or any outing at all. Maybe it’s just a lingering feeling from the days before the Quarantine, when Saturday was unlike other days, and staying in your pajamas was a special treat. Maybe it’s just Day 33 of Shelter in Place and we’re losing a sense of why we get dressed at all.

Mid-afternoon, I rise from the couch with an urge to bake something. I have leftover quinoa and find a promising recipe for quinoa muffins with chocolate chips. They turn out nicely, although the preschooler is suspicious and picks out the chocolate chips and leaves the muffin.

The creative cooking streak continues, unabashed into the evening. I throw turkey burger in my Instant Pot (freaking love my Instant Pot!) and remember something that will make this Saturday extra special…

Romanesco!

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What is romanesco? If broccoli and cauliflower had a love child, it would be romanesco. A ruddy, devil-may-care cruciferous beauty, strange and glorious. I roast it with a hint of paprika and some purple carrots. The dinner is pretty – lots of colors and flavors. Nothing like the beige doldrums we’ve been serving for weeks now.

“What’s that?” the preschooler glares at Romanesco.

“It looks like a dragon’s skin, doesn’t it?” Sal examines a floret in his fork.

This piques the kid’s interest and he gives a very tiny nibble. “I don’t like it.”

More for me, kid.

What am I grateful for today?

That the kid ate purple carrots, after I convinced him they would make him run faster.

What am I looking forward to after the Quarantine?

Taking the kid to a movie theatre.

Day 29: Vegetable delivery.

“Don’t forget the vegetable box is coming sometime today,” I tell Sal as I pop downstairs to warm up my coffee.

“The what?”

“I signed us up for those vegetable and fruit boxes, remember? They’re coming every other week now. I also ordered eggs, so let me know when it gets here so we can get them inside.”

I did it! I got on a CSA list! They were really backed up, but with patient, persistent emails, anything is possible. What is a CSA, you ask? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a subscription service to a farm or collection of farms for local, fresh produce.

I’m convinced CSAs are the ultimate Quarantine hack. Here’s why:

  1. Fresh fruits and veg delivered to your door on a predictable schedule. No competing with the masses for delivery with the big grocery stores and inevitable delays.
  2. Local means no shelf life – vitamins & minerals don’t disappear while the food is shipped, stocked, distributed, etc. More immune-system bang for your buck!
  3. Short supply chain (farm -> customer instead of farm -> processing plant -> distribution center -> truck -> store) means fewer hands have touched your food.
  4. Less packaging means less surface area to clean, and we can skip the Holding Cell.

The anticipation of getting the veg and fruit is real! I signed up for one where you don’t know what you’re getting – just a jumble of whatever is in season. So when you open up that bag, you could get those familiar, safe carrots…or whatever this is.

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Soft and fuzzy!

A reason to look forward to Tuesday.

What am I grateful for today?

The fruit bag had the most beautiful strawberries! Heavenly.

What am I looking forward to after Quarantine?

Some sweet day, I would like to sit in a coffee shop and read a book.

Day 26: Grocery shopping.

There’s a trickle of milk swashing on the bottom of the milk carton in a sad sort of way. The greens are wilted and dwindling. Goldfish crackers are rattling like loose teeth in the box. But you know what did it for me? I’m out of Lay’s potato chips.

Can’t put it off any longer. It’s grocery shopping time.

Step 1: Prepare the Food Matrix.

The Food Matrix is a complete meal planning system for the frugal Quarantined family. First, you list all the food in your cabinets, freezer, and fridge. I group it by veg & fruit, proteins, grains & pasta, and prepared food. Second, highlight foods that need to get eaten first. Third, break out your cookbooks or Google keyword search the ingredients for recipes that utilize items you already have. Fourth, work the recipes into meals for the week – fit the near expiring foods into the start of the week. Jot down extra items you’ll need to finish off the meals on a shopping list.

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The Food Matrix. Graph paper makes it a Matrix, everyone knows this.

Step 2: Prepare the Quarantine purse.

My Quarantine shopping purse is a machine washable cloth bag. We keep masks & a disposable glove box by the door so we remember them. Check: mini bottle hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, face mask, money, keys, phone, grocery list. Ready!

Step 3: Arrive at store and apply PPE.

PPE, as you likely know, is Personal Protection Equipment.

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Sal bought these zany masks for wildfire smoke events. 

Step 3: Wait in Social Distance line for 20 mins.

Step 4: Shop for Essential Supplies, observing safe Social Distance in all aisles.

Step 5: Load car, remove and dispose of gloves, drop mask in Quarantine purse, drive home.

Step 6: Sanitize critical purchases.

We sanitize this way: line up perishables on the balcony table. Spray with Lysol and wait the three minutes or so. Sal comes out and takes those away, then I spray down the next batch of items.

Step 7: Place other items in Holding Cell.

Lysol has become precious, so we’re not using it on everything. For items we don’t need right away, we place in paper bags and keep them outside. Cardboard / paper coated items: 24 hours in the Holding Cell. Hard surface / plastic items: 3 days. I write the release date on the bags:

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Step 8: Change & wash.

All exterior clothes, cloth shopping bag, cloth face mask go in the hamper. Wash hands for 20 seconds.

Step 9: Have a cup of tea. You freaking earned it.

What am I thankful for today?

For a beautiful, sunshiney, breezy spring day.

What do I wish I had done before the Quarantine?

Invested in Lysol and Clorox stocks.

So I’m cooking cacti now

This cactus leaf turned up in my vegetable bag. I cut off the prickles and fried it up. Tossed it with some salsa. I call it Totally Desert Salsa.

Yippee ki yay!

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Budget Vegetarian

Since moving back to America, I’ve started a new life as a Budget Vegetarian. Don’t worry, my dear readers. I’m not going to get all preachy on you. You know that’s not how I roll. I just want to share my dietary experiment with you. I know! Let’s do this Q & A style. Won’t that be fun?

What is a Budget Vegetarian?

Definition:

A dietary plan that limits meat consumption for the purposes of lowering personal expenses. Budget vegetarians do not purchase meat, but won’t refuse it if offered for free. For example, if your friend cooks you dinner with meat in it, you can eat it and that’s totally cool.

I googled this and it doesn’t pop up in the first search screen, so I’m going to declare it a new fad.

Why become a Budget Vegetarian?

It’s a lifestyle choice that you might consider after, say, researching the price of rental housing in Silicon Valley and then looking at your paycheck.

What famous people are doing this?

Me and my brother, who coined the term.  In this blog I am publicly inviting all of my Hollywood friends to also become Budget Vegetarians. Watch this space!

How much money will I save? How healthy will I get?

I cut my food budget by about 30%. I feel pretty healthy, I guess. You should ask your doctor about that stuff. That’s a sort of vague question anyway. Next time maybe think about refining it a little.

Will I lose 53 pounds? 

Dude, look. This is just a blog about my life. How can I tell how much, if any, weight you will lose? I don’t even know you. For all I know, you’re 54 pounds and losing all that weight would kill you! You should talk to like, a dietitian or something.

Will I be cool if I become a Budget Vegetarian?

No. But you may save some money and eat more vegetables.

I’m sold. How do I start? 

I signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme. I love CSAs. I’m lazy and I don’t like shopping, and these lovely people pick all the vegetables and fruit and deliver it in a bag for me. Because they do all that work, I feel guilty for not eating the vegetables, so guilt is an added incentive.

Alternatively, you can just buy a bag of potatoes and a can of beans at the store and you’re good to go.

 

Are you considering the upward trending lifestyle that is Budget Vegetarianism? Welcome. You’re part of a growing fad that has already nominally changed the lives  of at least 2 people. 

Budget Vegetarians Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Inconvenient Citrus

I signed up for a weekly veg and fruit box from this local CSA called Freshness Farms.  Let me be clear, the produce is beautiful and delicious – I have no complaints.

Isn't it lovely?
Isn’t it lovely?

The thing is, well…I’m overwhelmed by the citrus.  Where I grew up on the east coast in the mountains, I could only dream of so much citrus.  In California, I can go to the back yard and pick a lemon off a tree – any time I want, any day of the year.  This blows my mind.

The fruit box comes heaving with citrus fruit – bags and bags!  Not just safe fruit, like oranges, but tiny things I had to Google – kumquats.  You eat them whole, apparently.  The peel and everything!

Citrus is taking over the fridge.  I can’t eat it fast enough.

“Look,” I tell my family, “I’m instituting a Citrus Quota.  Two pieces, everyone, every day.”

I expand my culinary horizons, throwing citrus into every meal – orange salad, a lemon in every cuppa tea, blood orange sangria, kumquats in stir fry.  Sal whips up a dish with black rice and candied orange peels.  We’re trying.

Blood orange sangria
Blood orange sangria

At last count we have:

– 4 oranges

– 20 mini oranges (maybe clementines?)

– 2 grapefruits

– 57 kumquats

– 2 lemons

– 1 mystery Monster Citrus

The citrus is winning!

I pull the Monster Citrus out of the bag.  Sal says it’s a lemon.  I scoff – no lemon could aspire to be so large!  I declare it a grapefruit, and tackle it for breakfast one morning.

I cut the thing open and take a bite.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Sal calls from the dining room.

“It’s a lemon!”

“Do I get any ‘I’m right’ points for that?”

It takes a gallon sized plastic bag to store it.  I stand a moment at the fridge, staring at it with awe mingled with trepidation.

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife
Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Dear Lord, California.  What citrus mysteries to behold!

Monster Lemon showed some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.
Monster Lemon exhibited some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.