It has been a long week of self-quarantining and social distancing. I have worked from home for years, and never before realized before how much I enjoy my almost-daily runs to the grocery store. I ask Alexa to turn on the local NPR. I load up a red rubber Kong toy with peanut butter. I grab a handful of re-useable cloth bags from Shenk’s Family Farm, Daunt Books, Vanity Fair and Eataly (being sure to include a wine bag, because who knows when a bargain Chardonnay is going to suddenly materialize). Then I tell Luke the wonder dog that I’ll be back in just a little while. And I am off, and free to meander through the neighborhood grocery store. But this week I have only been out to the store once.
Some days I write an extensive list, and print recipes with all the good intentions that will be paving my way straight to hell. I always leave them on the kitchen counter, next to the weekly calendar that is still opened to last week’s events and deadlines, under the coupon I meant to bring to save $1.50 on Deer Park spring water. If I remember what I have left behind in the kitchen before I climb into the car, I will go back and retrieve my aide-mémoire. Otherwise I go to the store, and just wing it. If I am attempting a tricky-woo recipe from Food52 I can easily find it on my phone, and if it means another week without fancy bottled water, so be it.
In these challenging Coronavirus times I am trying to be mindful, as should we all, she typed preachily, of my place in society. I am staying home. I am not going to infect Kevin Bacon’s mother. So far our town doesn’t have anyone infected with the virus, but there also aren’t a lot of people being tested. And last week I was still getting over a cold brought on by airplane travel, so I was aware that there was a good chance people would think I was Patient 1, spewing deadly germs all over the Chips & Snax aisle, as I coughed furtively into my elbow, and then swabbed myself down with Clorox wipes.
The last time I went to the grocery store was on Tuesday. I saw bare shelves where chicken and beef are normally displayed. (Plenty of meat substitute was still there, though.) There weren’t any Kleenex or paper towels or Clorox wipes. But that was Tuesday. Friday might be a different story. We are pretty much set for groceries for a while. I didn’t stockpile, but I actually came up with a meal plan for the week, something most grown-up food writers manage to do without an international pandemic mandating their behavior.
Our meal plan called for me to do some extra cooking, so instead of the romantic little dinners for two that I normally toss together, I am cooking for imaginary trenchermen. I am making enough to freeze and to share with my neighbors. We have a mix of families on our street. There are parents who work full time with two young children across the street, who are suddenly working from home, and are scrambling to educate, entertain and toil earnestly. I think they might like an aluminum pan of baked ziti, with a side of garlic bread one night, don’t you? And on their left is an ancient fellow, who usually buzzes up the street on his mobility scooter a couple of nights a week for dinner at country club. Maybe he’d like a pan of meatloaf, with some mashed potatoes and a side of chocolate ship cookies. Maybe he’d like a little gossip through the glass storm door, too. I can tell him how deserted the grocery store parking lot is these days. Our immediate neighbors are radical vegans. I’m bringing them a handful of just-picked daffodils and some petunias I started from seed. Let the sharing begin.
We really like this variation on baked ziti from our friends at Food52, although there was a shocking lack of garlic, which is my only criticism. Next time I will add a couple of cloves of the good stuff. If we have a zombie apocalypse next, can the vampires be far off? We must be prepared! https://food52.com/recipes/82374-best-baked-ziti-recipe
Check on your neighbors, rub your dog’s belly, take a walk, be mindful, be nice.
“The more we can be in a relationship with those who might seem strange to us, the more we can feel like we’re neighbors and all members of the human family.”