Welcome to A Newsletter #31, the number of days in most months, unless it’s a pandemic year, in which case, double it. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
I’m sure that it’s meant to bring joy, but the “ON THIS DAY” feature on iPhones has absolutely GOT to go. Sure, it can be cute to remember that time we did karaoke at Upstairs Bar till 3:30 am (we laughed and laughed, BOY, did we laugh!), but more often than not it seems it’s showing me photos from a trip I took with an ex-lover I’d rather never think about, selfies with a friend I had a brutal falling out with, or tender images of family members who are no longer with us. How does Apple know our deepest pains and why are they trying to keep us from forgetting? Maybe I should get an Android.
It’s now the second week of March 2021, which is also, coincidentally, the one-year anniversary of the first month of the first year of our first pandemic. I would have remembered even if Apple hadn’t foisted a dumb slideshow upon me, but they did. And guess what? I loved it.
Somewhere around mid-March, 2020 I was scheduled to leave on a three-week trip to Australia for a book tour. I had preemptively given up my apartment to friends of a friend who were in need of transitional housing, which also benefitted me since they could keep both my cat and plants alive. Two days before Tom Hanks got Covid in Australia, the trip was officially (obviously?) canceled. Not wanting to disrupt my housesitters plans, I moved in with my two friends in their guest room in Hudson “for a few weeks,” because if I was going to be alone, I’d rather be alone together.
At first, it felt like a fun sleepover with a lot of bleach. We didn’t see anyone but each other, one married couple plus me, a bonafide throuple, a true modern family. We watched the entirety of Tiger King, several movies that all accidentally featured Gwyneth Paltrow or Matt Damon (sometimes in the same movie?), and many episodes of The X-Files. We spent hours sanitizing our groceries and every package that came through the door, making too many pots of coffee just to give our days structure and purpose. There was only one emotional meltdown (mine) and we discovered the bliss that is Baby Foot. We drank cases of wine and almost as many martinis and took hikes in 30-degree weather just to feel something. We even took up group fitness via Zoom. We were healthy and employed and so were our families. We were grateful and we were bored.
Being “professionals” in the “food space”, food had always played an above-average role in our lives, but during this time it was essentially our fourth roommate. We cooked for and with each other every day, all night, more often than not with some sort of elaborate theme to keep us excited and entertained. While I’ve never lived in a commune, the way we were living was an excellent argument for being in one.
Lauren would wake up earlier than the rest of us to make coffee, sometimes leaving a cup by my bedroom door, which still makes me cry to think about because it’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me. She’d put on a small pot of rice for breakfast and keep it warm, setting out a spriggy salad with some flaky salt, maybe an open tin of fish, and a few halved almost-jammy eggs. On special occasions, she’d scramble the eggs and crisp up the rice.
Perhaps in the biggest difference between us as cooks and a testament to his patience as a human, Amiel loved his larger, more long-game projects. Things he’d start today that we’d reap the benefits from hours, days or months later: Chili Colorado, radish kimchi, bolognese, fermented ramps, pizza dough.
He was also the master of ceremonies for our bi-weekly Smashburger night, something I always claimed to not love until I had his.
My greatest and most annoying contribution to The Pod was being the person to ask WSWMD (what should we make for dinner?) first thing in the morning. As if I could not get one thing done, take one single zoom call, write one small paragraph if there wasn’t some sort of PLAN FOR DINNER. What can I say, I love structure, I love themes, I LOVE A PLAN. Oh, and beans. I also contributed pots of beans.
In spite of my horrible memory, I remember this month of my life better than the years before and after. Maybe thanks to all the photos I took? Wait, is this an Apple ad? Anyway, it was perfect, really. I even remember saying at the time, “I think we will miss this part, so let’s try and remember it, okay?” So here I am, remembering. May these greatest hits serve as inspiration as we enter what will hopefully be the home stretch of….*gestures wildly* this.
Rick Martinez’s Chili Colorado
The earliest I ever saw Amiel wake up was the day he decided to make Rick Martinez’s Chili Colorado. He spent all day lovingly tending to his pot, browning meat, toasting chiles, blending spices, reducing beer, etc. To turn things into an even more involved affair, he took one of my pots of brothy beans and turned them into the refried variety, which took even more attention and care. At long last, he served the chili and the refried beans in one beautiful bowl with crumbled up tortilla chips, pickled red onions, and lots of cilantro. There were also limes for squeezing over. The nice thing about making this is that it truly takes all-day, which means you’re smelling Chili Colorado all day, which means by the time you sit down to a bowl, it quickly becomes the best thing you’ve ever eaten. And honestly, it was!
Penne alla Vodka and Gin and Tonic Lunch
Amiel made this for lunch on our fourth day of quarantine and since we were very much in the honeymoon phase, decided we should also drink gin and tonics. I don’t think there was any vodka in the sauce because maybe we decided that was a dumb ingredient to include, so it was more of just a spicy, creamy tomato sauce. Penne alla Vodka with no vodka? In this economy? Funny how quickly “nothing matters! who cares!” becomes the refrain.
Fried Chicken and Tater Tot Night
I soaked a cut-up chicken (bone-in, skin-on) in a mixture of buttermilk, kosher salt, hot sauce, and kimchi liquid (for saltiness, spiciness, and lactic acid) and let it sit there all day. For dinner, I tossed it into a mixture of flour, cornstarch, kosher salt, garlic powder (!!), smoked paprika, and lots of black pepper. I dipped the brined chicken into the flour mixture and pressed it on before shaking it off and dropping it into a pot of hot, neutral oil (no thermometer, but guessing it was around 375°). A good mantra when going through the trouble of frying something is “what else can we fry?” and our answer was: This bag of frozen tater tots. We ate our fried things with a very vinegary cabbage salad.
Ever go to Saltie in Williamsburg and order a Captain’s Daughter and eat it in the window and then order another one just to eat at home so you never have to not be eating that sandwich? Yeah, I did that a lot circa 2013. We were, as a household, collectively missing New York, but more specifically Saltie and more specifically, The Captain’s Daughter. It’s a sandwich made from sardines, pickled onions, sliced radishes, a delicately set egg, a pile of seasoned parsley, and a smear of aioli (I think).
I had made a pan of focaccia (recipe in Nothing Fancy) and it was determined that there was not a more fitting fate for a perfectly oily, crunchy pan of focaccia than The Captain’s Daughter.
Hard Shell Taco Night
Hard Shell Taco Night is a specific type of taco night, wherein the defining trait is the tortilla, which, I’m sure you’ve guessed: is a hard shell. My dad fried his own growing up, which was always appreciated, but sometimes you need that neon yellow store-bought Ortega shell. You wouldn’t believe how many grocery stores we had to go to find these shells. Three, at least, but truthfully would have gone to five. That’s how badly we wanted — needed— Hard Shell Taco Night.
Cook ground beef in a skillet and cook until starting to brown, 5 to 8 minutes or so. Add a finely chopped onion and a few cloves of sliced garlic and season aggressively with salt, pepper, dried chili powder, or whatever you want, really (I don’t make the rules). As the meat browns, the onions and garlic will start to sweat and the spices will toast in the rendered fat. Once everything starts to look a little dry, add a splash or two of water to keep things saucy in that skillet. Taste, adjust for spices/spiciness/salt.
Now the key here is to TOAST the store-bought shells. Toast them in an oven or toaster or over a single candle flame, whatever. Do NOT skip this step.
Serve the meat in a bowl with the shells on a plate next to things that include but are not limited to: shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped raw onion, shredded cheddar cheese and hot sauce. Eat too many tacos and wake up feeling puffy from all the salt.
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Anchovy Taste Tests
This isn’t a recipe, but it is a thing we did on several occasions, mostly when we were pretty drunk. A lot of people ask me what the best anchovies are and I decided to find out, conclusively. FOR COOKING: honestly, I think most brands are fine if you’re going to cook with them. I test with Roland, Cento, Ortiz, Bellino, etc., and approve of them all. FOR EATING: Ortiz for grocery, any sort of Cantabrian anchovy for something fancier. More elaborate anchovy taste test forthcoming with part two of kitchen essentials (that is an inside joke to paid subscribers!).
Baked Potato Night
This is a sensitive subject because it was the night we discovered Amiel ate his baked potato by splaying the whole thing open and unrolling it like a carpet and then topping it with his toppings. What can I say, to discover this, at a time when we were already feeling unsafe and unsure of the world, well. It was a lot.
Rub russet potatoes with vegetable oil and prick them all over with a fork or knife (safely, please). Place them directly on the rack of a 500° oven until super crispy on the outside and very fluffy on the inside, about an hour. Split them open the regular way (lengthwise) and eat them with all your toppings, which include but are not limited to: salmon or trout roe (caviar if you can), sour cream, sliced chives or scallion, salted butter, more salt (flaky), cracked black pepper, chopped dill or parsley (both) and a pile of sauerkraut.