Sunday, April 12, 2020

Day 30

This weekend marks completing our fourth week of quarantine. It continues to feel almost normal to me, interspersed with moments that feel very strange or unreal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about meticulous mindfulness, which I wrote about a lot about four years ago. DP and I have both joked that we already knew how to do social isolation, because we were doing it before it was trendy. Like many jokes, this one holds a painful truth. A significant chunk of our time in Australia was marked by experiences of profound isolation for all of us. And well before that was the watershed experience of Miss B’s premature birth and long hospitalization, the crucible in which our family unit was formed. 

In those situations, our only real recourse was to focus on each other, and on the next task at hand. When looking outward or forward brought only pain and anxiety, we found it best to focus inward, on routines and rituals that brought a sense of security and comfort. Friday movie night. Sunday breakfast. Summer vacation at the beach. They’ve adjusted to fit our circumstances as we’ve moved from place to place, but they’ve provided a sense of security and continuity when everything else felt uncertain and unpredictable. These are the essence of what meticulous mindfulness has become for me.

Our established schedules have provided some much-needed structure over the past month, as DP and Miss B have adjusted to home-based life, and I’ve adjusted to having other people here all the time. We’ve made some adjustments to our shared schedules as well: DP and I have started taking a walk together most afternoons. We all forage together in the fridge for lunch, and if there’s time afterwards, we might fit in a game of dominoes. And Miss B is getting more involved in dinner prep and baking. 

Food highlights this week were a combination of new and old. To help keep me from getting stale in the kitchen, I’ve re-introduced Wild Card Wednesdays, where I get free rein to make whatever I want for dinner and my two picky eaters have to at least try it before resorting to cheese and crackers or other backup sustenance. This week I tried my hand at falafel, using a Dinner with Julie recipe involving canned chickpeas and other pantry staples. Served with homemade pita bread and Greek salad, I’m happy to report that they were a hit.

And over the last two days, honoring a family tradition that’s older than all of us put together, Miss B and I made taralli and pizza chiena, in preparation for Easter. We won’t be able to host or join any celebrations this year, so we’re going to play Easter bunny and make some deliveries around our neighborhood and beyond. And I’ll feel grateful for the fact that, even in the current circumstances, I feel fortunate to be where I am, and far less isolated than I have been in other times and places.

I wish you all a peaceful, safe, and healthy weekend, however you’re spending it.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Day 21

Quarantineland is a strange new place - a combination of Groundhog Day and the Upside Down. In many ways, my days are the same as they have been for the last 18 months here in Fairfax, and much longer in other places: I drink my morning coffee at the dining-room table; run teleconferences and send emails from my desk; cook dinner most nights using a meal planning schedule that has been evolving my whole adult life from my mother’s unchanging weekly routine.

Other shifts and routines are emerging that are new and strange in our home ecosystem. Miss B, long self-described as a “slug” who would protest any suggestion of physical exertion, now voluntarily goes out for a walk every morning before sitting down to schoolwork. Sometimes she goes twice a day. DP, who has been up and gone long before sunup most days for the better part of two decades, is regularly “sleeping in” until after 7. And me? I generally revel in being a homebody; now I feel the walls closing in if it’s late afternoon and I haven’t made it out into the fresh air yet. I’m digging into tasks I would normally procrastinate about getting done. And I’m baking even more than I usually do, and wanting to even more than that.

I’ve been working on what I call “carbing with intent” for the last year, and part of that is curbing my desire to eat dessert every single night - I usually try to restrain myself to weekends. That has been harder than usual for the last few weeks, when the call of carbs as comfort food has been almost irresistible, and I’ve hit on popovers as a good compromise. You can make them sweet or savory, and they provide a good carb hit without throwing your whole calorie budget for the day out of whack. I’ve adapted Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio recipe to stretch the most basic ingredient ratio into four good-sized popovers - perfect for an impromptu after-dinner treat. (Miss B will attest that they’re also good toasted and topped with maple syrup for breakfast the next day.)

4oz/120ml milk
1 egg
2oz/60g all-purpose/plain flour
a large pinch of salt
1oz/30g/2 Tbsp butter, melted

Combine the milk and eggs in a jug with a pouring spout and whisk until combined. Add flour and salt, and stir until combined evenly. Ideally, for best results let the batter sit for 15-30 minutes (or longer) after combining.

When ready to cook, place a popover or muffin pan in the oven and heat the oven to 450F/220C. Divide the butter into 4 even pieces; remove the pan from the oven and place one piece into each of 4 of the cups. Pour 1/4 of the batter into each of the 4 cups, then return the pan to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375F/190C and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until puffy and golden.

Serve hot with jam or syrup.
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