COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 64 - Am I Even Hungry?

AnswerI'm trying to ask myself this question more and more. I think I tend to eat for many, many reasons -- sometimes because I am truly hungry, but other times because of one or more of the following: it's "time" to eat, it's comforting, I'm bored, I need a "treat" or a "reward," I'm bummed out, or I really like the taste of something (despite the fact that my body is telling me I am full). Given fewer external distractions, I'm really doing my best to focus on why and how I am eating in any given moment. Yesterday I wasn't really hungry until close to noon. I had an iced coffee, but that satisfied me for a while. At around 12:30 I ate the last of my Junzi food (I'm a huge fan of both Asian and Mexican breakfasts), and then wasn't hungry again until about 6:30. But I wasn't really that hungry -- so I fixed myself a board of cheese, crackers and salami and had some chips and dip, then waited a while instead of diving in and cooking a whole dinner. About an hour and a half later I was still hungry, but once again not hungry enough for a big huge thing, so I had the last slice of pizza in the freezer and a small green salad. 

I'm at the point where my freezer is jammed but I have very little in the way of fresh veggies, and my fruit supply is dwindling. I'm debating between ordering from Fresh Direct or one of the farm services (looking into Farm to People because it is somewhat customizable and will deliver less frequently than weekly) but, as I mentioned yesterday, grocery delivery comes at a premium, and perhaps it's time to head to Trader Joe's and/or the Greenmarket. For the rest of the week, however, I'm playing Iron Chef with what I have available. What will she cook on the first episode? Tune in tomorrow to find out!


COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 62 & 63 - Calm Down and Eat

Those of you who know me (and even those who don't) know that I think about food a lot.  When I go on vacations, I plan where I want to eat in any given destination, engaging in hours of online research. I subscribe to cooking magazines. I have an extensive cookbook collection. For 10 years I had a side hustle of writing about food and cocktails. I have been working from home for at least a few days a week since mid-August 2019, so that isn't particularly novel for me. I cook a good amount generally and have for years, so why does this time feel so different? Why is food such a HUGE, outsized focus? 

Perhaps it's because there's so much less to focus on outside the home. Little to no IRL social or cultural activities, no spin or yoga classes. No vacations to plan or spur of the moment barbecues. No weekends away. I also think there's a component of food and cooking being one thing we actually can plan and control at this time -- so that's what we do. At least where I am, smack dab in NYC, "the hot zone," I have no trouble getting groceries, toilet paper, etc. In fact, given the circumstances, I am rich in options.  As I've readjusted to city life I'm less fearful of venturing out, exploring our new world of to-go cocktails and going to a store or two where I've felt comfortable about their social distance/mask protocols. I haven't yet gone to a grocery store, farmers market, butcher, or the like, but as great as all of the grocery delivery services, farm share box delivery, and restaurant suppliers who are now doing home delivery may be, it's not economically sustainable for me over the long term. That said, I've also been shopping/ordering like a crazy person. At this moment, I could probably survive for a month without grocery shopping. I'd run out of eggs pretty quickly (only 5 in the fridge as of today), but I have canned and frozen produce, meats, my crazy-stocked pantry, some shelf-stable milk, a pile of root veggies and citrus, and a decent amount of coffee. I really have everything I need. 

So my focus right now is to make a mental shift from HOLY SHIT WE HAVE TO LOCK DOWN AND I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO GET ANYTHING to just calm the fuck down and shop/eat like a normal person, like you did in the before times. I am slowly steeling myself to take a trip to my beloved Trader Joe's, or the Union Square Greenmarket, but not until I need a decent amount of groceries. I can survive for a week without eggs -- I have plenty of other breakfast options for now. Takeout is a good option, but no more than once a week, and likely less often would be ideal, for budgetary reasons. I'll just keep managing the fridge/freezer and take some deep breaths. 

20200515_204325Speaking of takeout, I ordered some for Friday night from Junzi Kitchen. They're doing weekly events called Distance Dining that highlight the intersection between Chinese and other cuisines -- Friday's was Vietnamese, and it was a collaboration with the team from Madame Vo. They create a special menu and then do an Instagram Live to tell you more about the dishes and how best to reheat and plate them at home.  I couldn't watch the IG live (I had a conflicting Zoom happy hour), but the food was delicious and gave me Friday and Saturday dinner as well as today's brunch.  The rest of my meals for Friday consisted of yogurt with fruit and honey for breakfast and the very last of the sushi for lunch -- salmon hand rolls. Saturday "brunch" was a slice of pepperoni pizza from Joe's (taken from the freezer).

And I forgot to mention -- earlier this week I made mason jar ice cream, from the recipe in the New York Times. I modified it with a packet of instant coffee and some chocolate chips. It's a great way to use up extra heavy cream, but the texture is definitely more buttery than normal ice cream. Tasty though!

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 60 & 61 - Race Against The Clock

When you live alone and get a delivery of amazing fresh seafood, you have to eat a lot of seafood. Quickly. For the past two days I've been working through the hamachi and salmon (more sushi! poke - but I forgot the scallions!) but wanted to make sure I didn't let any of the (non-freezable) leftovers of other things go to waste, not to mention keeping on top of fresh produce. Once again, this comes down to fridge/freezer management and regulating my shopping. This wasn't really a problem during the before times -- perhaps the need to stock up is a psychological response to the lockdown situation?

Anyway, in addition to improving my sushi rolling skills a bit, here are the food-related highlights of the last two days. First, I discovered, thanks to my local Nextdoor message board, a guy who was offering to deliver freshly baked organic baguettes to your doorstep. How could I say no? I got in touch and at 8:30 Wednesday morning I had two warm baguettes in my possession. I promptly ate 2/3 of the sea salt, onion & garlic one (more like light everything bagel seasoning). I highly recommend them, although I'm not sure of how far his delivery range is. Go to his Instagram and either DM or text him (the number is in one of the photos). Second, I made one of my favorite restaurant dishes with the mussels I got from Pierless Fish -- the mussels from Pearl Oyster Bar, which are made with a white wine, shallot, mustard, and cream sauce. I thought they were damn good and my friend Anthony, who was the former sous chef there, gave his seal of approval when I texted him a photo. The two were a perfect match -- how else would you sop up the delicious sauce!?

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 59 - Here Fishy, Fishy . . .

In the before times, I didn't cook a ton of fish at home. I often will have frozen shrimp from TJ's in the freezer and will sometimes buy some scallops or a piece of fish, but not particularly often. When I was in CT, we ate a good amount of fish -- maybe 2 or sometimes 3 nights a week. It really is easy to cook -- just drizzle with olive oil and your choice of seasonings and pop in the oven until it reaches an internal temp of 145 degrees. You can get fancy and grill or steam it depending on the fish/cut, but it's really fairly straightforward. During the pandemic, many suppliers that previously only delivered to restaurants expanded their services to include home delivery, so I decided to take advantage of that. Plus, I had to be on trend as reported by the New York Times and eat more seafood.

I had seen some people I follow on social media mention Pierless Fish, and their prices were less expensive than the seafood on Fresh Direct. They do, however, require a $60 minimum with a $10 delivery fee on orders less than $100. Even with that, the prices were the same if not better, so I took the plunge. I was super excited about the idea of making sushi -- I have a bamboo rolling mat and had done it a long time ago -- so when I got the order from Sunrise Mart last week, I included some sushi rice in my order. I also have cucumber, avocado and scallions on hand, ready to go. Instead of ordering their sushi packs, I ordered their poke cut salmon and hamachi, thinking I could do some sushi, some poke, and some ceviche. I also ordered some mussels, a fresh hake fillet, and then several frozen items: shrimp, Arctic char fillets, and salmon/swordfish burgers.  Although the order came on Tuesday rather than Monday as scheduled, everything looked great. I got input on how long the fresh items could last in the fridge and decided that yesterday was sushi day.  Lunch was some leftover frozen pizza, and dinner was DIY sushi, including a salmon avocado inside out roll, a yellowtail (hamachi) scallion roll, and a spicy salmon and cucumber hand roll. 

The extra bonus is that I served it on some of my Grandma Cookie's china that I unearthed from my basement storage unit. There are several plain rectangular plates, but also some gorgeous patterned china with black and gold floral designs. Good for a dinner party. Someday . . .

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 57 & 58 - Managing the Freezer/Fridge

As I've mentioned, I'm really trying to take stock of what I have and what's missing before I go ahead any get any more food. Each day, I do a scan of what needs to be frozen/thawed/moved around/eaten quickly/consolidated, etc.  One thing I've been having some challenges with is milk. I put milk in my coffee but don't really use it for anything else. In the before times, I would buy a quart of organic milk and sometimes have to throw some of it out because I couldn't get through it before it went bad. When I ordered from Fresh Direct, I could only get half gallons, so I froze most of it in smaller containers so that I could take out pints when I needed them. I may just switch back to half and half because it doesn't go bad as quickly (calories be damned). Scanning the fridge, I made a scrambled egg and a hash made of  the last of the sweet potato fries cut up, onion, mushroom and scallions (scallions go on everything now, so I can keep up with them), and thew them in a tortilla with refried beans, cheese and salsa. For dinner I had chana masala and brown basmati rice leftovers

Sunday night I also took out some ground turkey with the intention of eating it on Monday, but then an hour later remembered I had a delivery from Pierless Fish (normally a restaurant supplier but now offering home delivery) so put it back in the freezer. I've been pretty excited to order from them -- their prices are great and based on their instagram, their fish looks fantastic. Alas, my delivery slated for Monday never arrived, so I had to find something different for dinner (supposedly my order will arrive Tuesday). Monday's breakfast was a slice of sourdough toast, lunch was leftover chicken shawarma with cucumber, tomato, and feta salad, and dinner was tonkotsu ramen (from the freezer) topped with a 7-minute egg, scallions, and furikake.

Back to the milk. I froze a pint of milk and used about a half gallon (from my newly delivered milk and the last of the milk from the past order) to make yogurt in my instant pot. It's really easy to do, I had just stupidly forgotten that it needs to incubate for 8 hours before going in the fridge to chill, so I had to set an alarm for 2 am in order to put it in the fridge. Sigh.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 56 - Old Favorites

20200510_125116I'm trying to get into the mindset that food is readily available and that I don't need to shop differently than I normally do. At least not yet. I've been working from home since mid-December, and although I usually have social plans that involve food and drink at bars and restaurants periodically, I've been watching my spending. What that means that even in the before times, I was doing a lot of cooking at home. Not quite this much, mind you, but a lot more than I did when I was going to an office every day. Even when I switched jobs years ago, I got into the habits of making coffee and bringing breakfast and/or lunch into the office.  That all is to say that I generally shop for a good amount of cooking. Before the pandemic I often said that I could be trapped in my apartment for at least a month and be just fine, food-wise. At some point I'd be eating nothing but grains and rice, but still, I wouldn't starve.

There are certain things I buy quite frequently, regardless of meal planning: chicken thighs, tortillas, ground beef, frozen dumplings, eggs, milk, bread or english muffins, onions and garlic, cheddar or swiss cheeses (not fancy cheese, which I tend to overeat), scallions (which I and everyone else will apparently never buy again -- see picture), tuna, canned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, lettuce or spinach, black beans, bacon and probably a few more things I'm not remembering. If I don't have those things in my fridge/freezer, I generally will get them on my next scheduled grocery visit. Note: I don't have all of these things right now -- I'm lacking dumplings and ground beef, but I'll get them at some point, freezer space permitting. There are also things I cook fairly regularly, one of which is this NY Times recipe for chicken shawarma. It's simple, delicious, and I always like having the leftovers. I often serve it in a tortilla, or over rice, with a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and feta. That's exactly what I did last night, but I skipped the tortilla/rice and just ate it right off the plate. My only issue was that I had brought some of my favorite spices up to CT -- cumin, smoked paprika, curry powder, and garam masala, and I mistakenly left them there. That said, I did have cumin seeds on hand in NYC, so I toasted them and ground them -- now I have ground cumin! The rest I have ordered from Penzey's, which I highly recommend (and R&N will drop mine off the next time they return to the city).

Also, when I cook, I make things in batches and often freeze portions for later so I don't have to eat it all week. For example, I still have a quart and half of adult spaghetti-os that I can revisit at some point.  Before the pandemic I made a batch of waffles with Trader Joe's protein pancake and waffle mix and froze a few of them. For brunch yesterday, I ate the last of those waffles with strawberries and a side of bacon. Many thanks to past me for making them. 

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 55 - Making Room

Yesterday was one of those days where I did a bit of taking stock -- does anything need to be eaten soon? How much room is in the freezer? What did I order already?  Let's start with the last question first. I have two food orders coming my way. First, a relatively small Fresh Direct order, with some dairy (milk, half & half, yogurt, feta), a bit of produce (tomatoes, mangoes, avocados, lettuce, shallots), some random pantry items (rice for risotto, cannellini beans, flour, crackers), and a box of rose (cheap and cheerful!).  Second, I placed an order from Pierless Fish, which ordinarily is a wholesaler for restaurants but is doing home delivery with a minimum order of $60. Their seafood prices are much better than Fresh Direct, and even with the $10 delivery fee on orders under $100, I think I made out pretty well. That's coming on Monday and includes a bunch of frozen items, a pound of mussels, and some sushi-grade fish. I have been craving sushi but haven't yet ordered it -- I somehow got the idea in my head that I was going to make it. I have had a rolling mat and rice paddle for years, but haven't made sushi in ages (I also have to find them). I placed another order that arrived yesterday from Sunrise Mart through Mercato and got my favorite fresh ramen -- the Tan Tan Spicy Ramen from Sun Noodle (my other major craving that I haven't yet satisfied), some sushi rice, mirin, and nori, so now I'm ready to rock when my fish arrives.

Knowing I have a bunch of things coming, I decided to make some room in the fridge and freezer. First, I took some chicken thighs out of the freezer to thaw for Saturday night, then for breakfast, I had a quesadilla with homemade refried beans (from Tuesday's nachos) and cheese topped with salsa. For lunch, I took the last of the lettuce and made a "kitchen sink salad," by taking a bit of this and that from what was lingering in the fridge: a slice of pepper jack, some pepperoni, chopped up sweet potato fries, some chickpeas, shaved carrot, fried shallots (I have a jar of these in the cabinet) and some pepitas.  For dinner I continued my quest to empty the freezer: I ate half of a Trader Joe's frozen chana masala with brown basmati rice, and a Trader Joe's malabari paratha. In the before times, I often kept a frozen TJ's Indian meal of some sort lying around. I'm a big fan of the lamb vindaloo with a handful of spinach. They're great for times when you have zero interest in cooking, although I like the garlic naan better than the paratha, if anyone's keeping score.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 53 & 54 - Impulse Control or Lack Thereof

20200506_201045So I was plugging along on Tuesday with a fridge (and freezer and pantry) full of food. For lunch I had leftover Dinnerly kung pao chicken with jasmine rice with some mediocre but easy scallion pancakes I made last weekend, and I was all set to make this Smitten Kitchen sheet pan meatballs with crispy turmeric chickpeas, but as dinnertime approaches, all I wanted was Thai food. So I caved and ordered from Uncle Boon's -- khao soi and fried chicken laab. I'm so glad I did -- I missed Thai food so much. Yes, I had some of the very tasty Watcharee sauces, which are good, but khao soi is my ultimate favorite, and Uncle Boon's version is so good. Being back in the city, there is much more temptation to order in/take out -- there are so many options. I'm going to try to limit myself to once per week, max.

20200507_200313Yesterday I had leftover Thai for lunch (just as delicious the next day!) and then went back to the ground turkey that was scheduled for Tuesday's dinner. Before ordering Thai, I had double-checked the expiration date on the turkey (all good until the 9th) -- this is crucial for meat and I always err on the size of freezing something if I don't think I'll use it quickly enough. I also revisited that sheet pan meatball recipe and realized that I was not at all in the mood for that, so instead I made a Skinnytaste inside-out turkey cheeseburger with pepperjack and air-fryer sweet potato fries with Everything but the Elote seasoning from Trader Joe's (it's also amazing on popcorn, FYI). I used 1/4 lb of turkey for the burger, wrapped another 1/4 lb as a burger patty and put it in the freezer, and froze the remaining 1/2 pound for those meatballs or in lieu of the ground pork in this recipe I've been eyeing for spicy-sweet sambal pork noodles.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 52 - Trying to Tone it Down

20200505_203329As I mentioned yesterday, I ordered a LOT of food from Fresh Direct, including things I don't usually buy or keep in the house -- some healthier than others. For example, I don't ordinarily go through a lot of fruit, so when I shopped in the before times, I'd get some cut pineapple, maybe two bananas or two apples, a grapefruit, and potentially some clementines. This would last me for about two weeks. In my pandemic FD orders, I got a bag of clementines, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, and apples, and I have to say, I've been eating a log more fruit. There is nothing as tasty as a perfectly ripe mango. I'll be getting those again for sure. I've also been getting things I don't normally keep in the house because I love them and will eat more than I should, namely chips (in this case Cheetos, tortilla chips "for Cinco de Mayo," and potato chips), and cheese. I also got some candy (Reese's peanut butter cups), which is something I just don't usually have on hand. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but one a day hits the spot. After this round, no more chips and candy. The cheese hasn't been a problem -- I'm eating normal portions of it, so that's good. 

I'm trying to get into the habit of scanning fridge daily and trying to determine what needs to be eaten first, so I can plan around that on Plan to Eat, and what needs to get frozen so it doesn't go bad.  Today I put half of my milk in the freezer because all I use it for is coffee and I can't get through it before it goes bad.  The freezer is your friend, but it's important to keep track of everything in there, lest it turns into a black hole. Gotta eat at least some of it before buying more! I label containers with masking tape/painters tape and a sharpie with the contents and date on each.

Going back to toning it down, there's one thing I'm trying to ramp back up -- my exercise routine. I have been using Aaptiv, an audio workout app that I have been using for quite some time, for most of my workouts, and managed to do ok when I was up in CT. It was waaaay too hilly to run, but I went on decent walks most days, and sometimes did strength training, yoga, or going up and down the stairs from the road to the lake. Since I got back home, I have gone running a few times (with a mask) but allergies are making that challenging right now, so I've primarily been doing bodyweight-only strength training, yoga, pilates, stretching, and meditation, and in the before times, I've done all of that plus spinning and strength training in the gym where I have access to dumbells and kettlebells. Who knows when I might have access to those again. I have also tried a few Zoom workouts, both through ClassPass and with Circuit of Change -- both were great. There are also tons of free workouts on Instagram -- haven't tried those yet. I just ordered some kettlebells because I feel like I need an extra boost -- stay tuned. 

Yesterdays meals (Cinco de Mayo themed): Breakfast taco (egg, hash brown, bacon, pepper jack, salsa, scallion, cilantro) for late breakfast/brunch,  Margaritas and nachos with homemade refried beans and leftover steak (pictured above) for dinner.

COVID-19: A Food Diary Day 51 - Pantry and Planning

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Now those of you who know me know that I like a well-stocked pantry in normal times. I don't feel comfortable without it. I had an amazing pantry at my disposal in CT and frankly, I think I have a pretty incredible pantry in my studio apartment as well, considering I have a fraction of the space. After my week of fried chicken, pizza, spaghetti-o's and Dinnerly box meals (kung pao chicken w/rice, crispy shrimp tacos, and sesame ginger beef with string beans) (there were some salads in there as well, never fear), I continued to utilize my Fresh Direct groceries along with my pantry/freezer stash. One tool that I use (and have used even in the before times) for grocery lists, recipe clipping, and some meal planning (to the extent I do it) is Plan to Eat. It's not free (maybe $20/year?) but it's worth every penny as far as I'm concerned. 

Since late last week, I have been using it to meal plan, partially just to ensure I'm not letting things go bad that need to be cooked and partially so I don't overcook -- I really feel like I went a bit haywire there with the VAT of spaghetti-o's that I had to eat more of than I wanted because I had no room in the freezer for leftovers.  Now that things have calmed down, I think it will be helpful to see when I really need more food, what exactly I need, and how to best incorporate what I have. Another thing to note as I talk about my planning/eating is that my breakfasts are generally minimal -- a slice of toast and some fruit; fruit and yogurt, etc. Sometimes I don't even eat breakfast because by the time I get around to it it's already 11:30 and I might as well wait a tad longer and have lunch instead. On weekends I'll make more of a brunch. At one point prior to the pandemic, however, I had made waffles from the Trader Joe's protein pancake/waffle mix and had frozen a few waffles -- so I had a waffle with strawberries and raspberries (2nd FD order) Saturday morning, and a full on spinach, mushroom and cheese omelette with hash browns (shredded Trader Joe's potatoes from freezer) and bacon on Sunday.

Last Friday night, I used the cod that arrived that morning to make roasted cod with tomato cream sauce (I had gotten grape tomatoes in both my Fresh Direct orders, plus heavy cream from the spaghetti-o's recipe) and served it over sauteed spinach (from first FD order; had also been using it for salads and omelette filling). Weekend dinners were Dinnerly stir-fries. Monday I cooked a Butcher Box NY strip from my freezer (used Plan to Eat to remind myself to thaw it), with creamed spinach (gotta use that cream and spinach up), sauteed mushrooms (from 2nd FD order), and some herbed horseradish butter I had in my freezer. Amazing. Lunch that day was the small bit of leftover cod atop some white rice. The leftover steak will be repurposed as well -- stay tuned!