The Long Pandemic Teatime of the Soul

I drink a lot of tea in the winter time. I do not like my tea very strong, and after I drink the first cup until it has cooled down – I do like it very hot – I often top it with water and reheat, sometimes over and over again. An old friend once referred to it as me liking ‘scent of tea’ and she definitely nailed it. I’ve never reverted to drinking hot water with lemon slices, but that probably would be fine with me too. It’s warmth from the inside, which is helpful because our house isn’t well insulated, and cranking up the heat isn’t a constant option.

Last week, after watching and reading about how new strains of Covid-19 are spreading and far more infectious, we decided to accelerate our big grocery stock up and so on Friday and Saturday, shopped like food and household goods were going out of style. We have some bulk items coming from Azure Standard – a test run of their co-op – in early February, and will continue our Misfits Market and Walden local meat deliveries, but the intention here is to have enough of our core needs to last about 60 days. Things like bulk pasta, dried beans and flour will last much longer.

And now that we have the storage space, it’s feasible to buy 5 lbs of Parmesan cheese at a time and freeze it in bags until we need it. And yes, we use it.

Associated, as it is intended to be, with desperately needed pantry and freezer inventory and organization, it offers us a chance to mostly take ourselves out of circulation other than school for the kids and occasional runs for fruit and milk.

On March 8th, we will have been in our new normal for a year. While Covid-19 just passed it’s 1-year anniversary as a human disease, it took a little longer for us. As I look back, in mid-February I started stocking up. At first, I, and others thought I was a little nuts. On the evening of March 8th I flew home from my last work trip, unmasked as we all were, as I chatted with a fellow passenger. No one was talking about aerosol transmission then. He shared his Lysol wipes with me, something that was already in short supply. I had a reservation to return to my office in Michigan in 2 weeks, but I was pretty sure by that time I wouldn’t be going.

By the end of the following week we were all in lock down. The schools closed for ‘deep cleaning’ never to reopen, at least for the rest of the school year. Stores were running out of absolutely everything, and toilet paper was the new hot commodity.

A year and more than 400,o00 deaths later, we are preparing for a potential lock down and shortages again. While I think that things will begin to turn a corner in the spring, we are mindful that it is going to get worse before it gets better. Whether we will see similar food supply shortages as we did in the spring is unclear, but we know that the pandemic is running unchecked globally except in a few select places, so I have to assume this will be an ongoing issue. While everywhere there seems to be the idea that we will be back to normal by summer, I hope so while planning for another year of plague.

So how to get through that if it comes, and what to do to keep you and us safe and sound and well is on my mind. We are taking a very conservative approach to exposure, and I don’t intend to change that. So here are the things we are doing to get through this endless dusk, when the lights are dimmer and the weather is colder and our days are filled with our missed connections.

  1. Routine is your friend. If you know what to expect of each day it’s much easier. If every Saturday morning it’s bacon and pancakes for breakfast, hold that line and make sure there is bacon and all the things. Routine brings relief and clear expectations. And that translates to activities – my son has an Outschool Roblox class on Thursdays while my daughter has a horseback riding lesson (well ventilated – actually freezing cold – barn, good social distancing), and knowing that Thursdays host ‘their’ activities helps.
  2. Nourish your body. Cook good, healthy food as much as possible. Generate excitement and ask for participation in food preparation with your household. As you have time and money, now is a time to experiment with new foods and to refine others.
  3. Get outside. As cold as it is here in the north, I still make a point to walk and run as frequently as I can. My son practices his bike riding skills. My daughter hangs with her chickens, Eli plays fetch with Teddy the Doggleby and he and I try to walk together whenever we can get out for an hour.
  4. Create some holidays. We celebrate Surprise Day here once a year – a day off for everyone where we go do fun things, and pre-Covid, we would celebrate Mama Pajama Day, a day where everyone stays in pajamas all day and we eat ice cream sundaes for lunch. During Covid, there has been a lot more pajama-filled days, but now that the kids are back in school we plan to spin it up again. And it’s probably about time to bring back France Day, created in response to our cancelled trip to Paris last April, in which we eat french food and do activities related to France. Last year it was a 3D Eiffel Tower puzzle, croissants and a french chicken dish. In the end it doesn’t really matter what you do (give your dog a birthday party? Celebrate the color blue?), just do a something.
  5. Make the everyday fun. For nights the kids are with their Dad, Eli and I often make a nice dinner, light a fire in the wood stove, and snuggle up for a movie. We don’t really care what movie, but having a thing that we look forward to makes it fun, and while we always miss the kids, we look forward to time together. If you live alone, maybe pick a night where you do something indulgent, like a glass of wine while in the bathtub.
  6. Give yourself a break. We are human beings, not human doings. If it all gets to be too much, it’s okay to shut down for a while.
Homemade Chicken Massaman Curry

How are you getting through?

Home Food

It was raining yesterday morning, so the sun didn’t rise for the last day of 2020. It went from black to grey and unsettled in the early hours, which seems fitting for this year. When the sun set, we were feasting on our tradition of homemade Chinese food, all from scratch, with a movie to accompany. It was simple, but it was home, and traditions are comfort. For all that we love to travel, home is the nicest word, and everyone deserves that feeling.

A lot of people don’t have it, and may never. When someone tells me that they aren’t political, I become puzzled. 40 million people sit on the brink of eviction due to job losses and economic instability from the pandemic, through no fault of their own. The only thing that is saving them, that can, is policy. We will in 2021 potentially be 8 billion meals short of feeding all our citizens without direct intervention.

Feeding and housing people shouldn’t be something of politics, but it is policy, and it is the basics. Think of the things that make you feel safe when life is uncertain. Food. This is why breadbaking became a thing this year. Bread is literally the staff -and the stuff – of life. That feeling of warmth, safety, and being fed and nourished. Family. ‘I just want to hug my people’ is something I heard over and over. And home. If we could all come together and agree on one thing, I would hope it is that everyone deserves a safe place to sleep and food.

Maybe someday we will get there.

2020 saw so many things, but what was interesting to me in these unstable times is how very much things like stocked pantries, vegetable gardens, and food security became important. The mass exodus from cities to find a home somewhere. I suspect one of the lasting effects of the pandemic is that people will be more rooted. Multi-generational households will be more common.

That sense of place, a touchstone in the madness is important. It’s why when I arrived here 4 years and 10 days ago, there was a clear decision involved – for me, and then Eli and I, Sithean is forever. We plan to be able to pass it to our children, whether they want it or not is their decision. We will leave the land better than we found it, with the soil enriched, fruit trees producing, a place for our beloved chickens intact. What happens after we leave this earth, hopefully a long time from now, isn’t up to us. But what we do with our time is.

Our focus for our property is a combination of making it more beautiful and doing critical infrastructure work. And continuing traditions as well as making new ones, so that the other humans in our little tribe, our pod, our family, associate it with the things that make home.

Last night that was homemade Chinese and Thai food. Some people grow up going out for brunch on Sundays, but not us. My father would take us for Dim Sum in Boston’s Chinatown. We would hold a handwritten number, with a chop on one side and number on the other, and they would call diners, seemingly at random but really based on table availability. If you were a small group, you would be seated with others at a large round table, and then the carts would start coming by. Bao, deep fried crab claws, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, Ha Gow, and my favorites, chive dumplings and turnip cakes. Of course, every kind of dumpling available. We would eat and eat and eat until we could fit no more.

And still to this day, these foods are comfort foods to me. With no Asian family history to speak of, I’m as comfortable with how to use Wonton wrappers as I am with making Sunday bacon. My kids don’t have the same childhood of enforced wandering around Boston’s historic sites every weekend, but the food is one I am determined they will grow up with. Which is why yesterday afternoon you might have found Eli and my daughter cheerfully making scallion pancakes from start to finish. Usually Connor is my dumpling maker, but yesterday he punted, so it was just me.

Early phases of pad thai

The thing about this food is that once you get the right ingredients, it’s not hard. Stunningly easy, actually. My dumpling recipe comes from a really excellent cookbook called Dim Sum by Ellen Leong Blonder, and between the detailed illustrations and the simplicity, it’s one of my favorites.

You will need:
1 package wonton wrappers (I use the round ones, but square is fine)
8 oz ground pork
8 oz finely shredded napa cabbage
2 tablespoons crushed ginger
1 (or 2 small) scallions, finely chopped
Salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons rice wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Add the chopped napa cabbage (it has to be napa, regular cabbage is a little too thick) to a bowl with about a tablespoon of salt and let sit for an hour. After the hour is up the cabbage will be heavily wilted. Rinse it in a colander and squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands.

Meanwhile, make the dumpling mixture. Take all the other ingredients other than the wontons and mix well in a bowl. Mix in the drained cabbage. Lay out the wonton wrappers on a cookie sheet 5-6 at a time, and wet the edges with water (it helps to keep a small bowl of warm water for this purpose at hand). place a scant teaspoon of the mixture at the center of each wrapper and fold in half. Create 3 folds, or pleats in the top if you like.

Once you are finished with putting all of the dumplings together, you can start to cook in batches, or you can freeze them in baggies, being careful to keep each dumpling separated or they will thaw together in a giant lump – I tell you this from experience, not the cookbook.

To cook, coat a nonstick pan or wok in oil, and fry on medium heat for 2 minutes per side, then add 1/2 cup of water and let it cook off. Once the water is cooked off, let the dumplings sear for about 45 seconds on each side and then remove. Cook in batches of about 10 per batch. Serve immediately.

Dumplings Cooking in the pan

The warmth you feel in your stomach will spread quickly through your soul.
Happy New Year to you and yours.