Making It Work

I *think* it's Friday, but the days are blurring together? I'm sending the email anyways.

How are you all holding up?

Because let’s be real. Things are — at best — pretty weird right now. We’re re-ordering our whole lives: finding ways to work from home, scrambling to provide a semblance of structure for suddenly un-schooled children, attempting to rebuild social lives through videoconferencing, avoiding normal grocery runs and just generally thinking long and hard about things we took for granted as recently as a month ago.

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You’re absolutely right, Tim Gunn. We’re going to make it work.

As I’ve been telling my kids, things are going to be a little weird for a while. We’re just going to have to do our best.

If you read this newsletter regularly, you know that food is a big source of both entertainment and creative satisfaction for me. A large part of the reason why these Friday newsletters evolved into the format they have is that I relish the challenge of finding new things to make each week. So, maybe I can’t (or don’t want to) stop at Kroger on my way home from work on Wednesday night — partly because I’m not going in to my office anymore. Maybe I can’t easily procure a specific ingredient, and I have to think about how to work with what I have on hand.

Maybe this is a new challenge.

I spent most of last week eating weird and bad stress meals standing over the sink. We’re gonna do better this week.

7) The Simple Joy of a Kitchen Sink Curry

I’ve had a can of coconut milk sitting in the pantry for over a year now. Someone left it behind in an office pantry, so I took it and then had no idea what to do with it, so there it sat, tucked behind the soup and dried pasta for a long time. Well, I’ve had to make room in the pantry, and I also suddenly have a lot of dried beans. It feels like we’re making a curry this week.

Is it authentic? Hell, I don’t know. Probably not. Was it good? Actually… yes!

Instead of a precise recipe, here’s what I think went into it:

  • 2 T oil

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 T chopped garlic, or some garlic powder, nothing matters

  • 3 T turmeric

  • 1 T garam masala

  • 1 T paprika

  • 1 t cinnamon. Of course he put cinnamon in this, you say.

  • Herbs. You got dried herbs? Throw ‘em in. No one’s looking. Wing it.

  • Salt and pepper to taste, and in honor of my extra gray hair this week

Heat the oil, then toss the spices in it to bloom. Mix in the onion, and saute for a while. Hold on, I gotta put on another episode of Bubble Guppies.

[fifteen minutes and six arguments pass]

I’m back. Oh, great, it didn’t burn. Neat. Alright, next I’m dumping in:

  • that 15-oz can coconut milk, finally, genie, you’re free

  • 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, or not, I like tomatoes

  • 1/2 pound cooked chickpeas

  • Green beans? I dunno. Listen, peas would’ve probably made more sense here, but are you going to the grocery store right now? We had green beans. Throw whatever vegetables you have in here, honestly. It’ll probably work.

Hmmm. This smells good but it could look better.

  • Hey there’s some Greek yogurt left in the fridge

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is how dairy can behave when being added to a hot pot, so I dumped the yogurt in a separate bowl, then mixed in a few spoonfuls of the simmering curry to temper it, before mixing it in. It really smoothed things out.

It’s not exactly photogenic, but it was delicious, and healthier than anything else I’ve eaten the last couple of weeks. Cooking something for real — even if it’s just cobbling together a mess of a dish like this — felt like a stab back towards normalcy, even if that’s still a long way off.

6) Improvisation at the Cocktail Counter

“We had to hit the liquor store to stock up!”, my neighbors laughed, as we had a socially-distanced neighborhood happy hour, standing a safe distance apart in the middle of our street, occasionally stopping to yell DISTANCE at my kids.

No Touching GIF | Gfycat

I do not share their half-joking approach disaster prep, because at any moment I’m sitting on a three-month strategic reserve of brown liquor. What I do often lack, however, is mixers. Short of breaking quarantine for a bottle of soda, I’m going to get creative again, with a bomb-shelter spin on a classic cocktail: The New York Sour.

It’s a simple but elegant spin on the whiskey sour, consisting of:

  • 2 oz rye whiskey or bourbon

  • 1 oz lemon juice

  • 1 oz simple syrup

  • 1 oz red wine

  • 1 egg white

Hey uh Scott I can’t help but notice you didn’t put an egg in the picture, but you did put a bag of dried beans, respectfully, um… what the hell?

Yes, well, about that. The egg white gives the drink a silky frothiness, but what if you don’t have eggs right now? What if you have beans? What if you just cooked beans for a recipe to kick off your occasionally-about-food newsletter? Don’t throw out that cooking liquid just yet! Chickpea cooking liquid, or aquafaba, is a solid substitute for egg whites in both baking and cocktails. It’s a vegan thing, if that’s your bag, but it’s also a “let’s be more economical because we don’t know what the hell is going on right now” thing! 1 oz of the reserved cooking liquid from chickpeas can sub in for one egg white.

So, shake together everything but the wine and strain into a rocks glass. Pour the wine over the back of a spoon onto the top of the drink.

The wine will stay near the top, cutting the bite of the whiskey and lemon juice. It’s simple, but it comes together great. Stunt on your neighbors from the end of your driveway.

Intermission. Here’s a button. Tell a friend?

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5) A band whose music and name both suit this moment

We’ve been luckier than most, living out in the suburbs as we do, to have enough space to accommodate two hastily-set-up home offices in our dining room and living room. It’s not ideal, but it could be a lot worse. There’s just the question of noise — my wife’s work is heavily dependent on long meetings (now conference calls), while mine requires periods of quiet focus and concentration — and we’re both dealing with the background soundtrack of children (and children’s programming.)

For me, the best thing for focusing,when I can is instrumental music, but not something boring that’s going to lull me to sleep, and not something so quiet it’ll fail to drown out “Into The Unknown” blaring from the other room.

Here’s what I’ve been blasting through my headphones this week.

“Hey Scott, in two words, tell me what band you’re listening to and also your mood the last three weeks.”

4) don’t recommend a post-apocalyptic book don’t recommend a post-apocalyptic book don’t recommend a post-apocalyptic book don’t recommend a po—

okay so this book is set in a post-apocalyptic future, and—

[booing, rotten produce thrown at me]

right right I know but listen hear me out: this book is really good, and it’s set well after a completely unspecified apocalypse. It’s quiet, lyrical, almost mystical.

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Andrew Krivak’s new book The Bear is set in a world where only two humans remain — a father and his young daughter, living some number of generations after the apparent downfall of humanity. They live a simple life in the shadow of a mountain, with only hints of the world that preceded them — a small window in their cabin was a gift passed down from ancestors, as the knowledge and skill of glass-making has been lost to history. As the young girl grows, she’ll have to eventually learn to cope without her father. I will tell you this: I read this after everything started going wrong, and it did not stress me out. This isn’t The Road or Contagion — it’s a book all its own, a pleasant meditation on a world without us.

3) Just give me something fun, you jerk

You got it. How about a hilarious, sharp-witted show that you can binge in roughly the length of a movie?

You should check out Netflix’s It’s Bruno.

Rapper Solvan Naim created the show and stars in it along with his real-life dog Bruno. It’s a farcical version of their daily lives in not-yet-gentrified Brooklyn, clashing with supermarket managers, would-be dog thieves, and sneering dog-walkers. A very handsome and intelligent writer described it for Decider as “Curb Your Enthusiasm for dog owners”.

There’s eight episodes, all around 15 minutes, so you can take it in small bites or knock it all out in an evening.

2) Here’s a nice poem that’s timely.

“Pandemic”, by Lynn Ungar

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.

(Click through for the whole thing. It’s good.)

1) You know what you can still do most places? You can take the dog for a walk.

Let’s meet a few.

First, Aly S. writes in (in response to the Leap Day email, which was the last normal one for a while):

This issue really resonated with me, we are so so so over winter here in Montana. Will definitely try that cocktail (love mezcal!) this weekend. Her are my good pups Pete and Charlie waiting for spring! 

GOOD DOGS (and good scenery, god Montana is beautiful)

Next up, @TheDadRock1 shares:

For The Dogs of Actioncookbook: Sadie's favorite spot is any blanket anywhere. Seen here with her human puppy's other puppy, Mr. Puppy.

GOOD DOG, and also I’m glad that your kid is apparently as literal at naming stuffed animals as mine.

Finally this week, @RevDJEsq shares:

Holy shit do I have a great one for you. This is Boo. She's 10, a pit/boxer mix, and she just had a (benign) growth removed from her face, and thus needed to cone to stop from scratching stitches. My 2 boys decided to play vet with a stuffed puppy in honor of Boo:

Boo, you are all of us right now, just waiting for this cone to come off.

Thanks again to everyone for submitting, and to all of you for reading! I hope the weekend offers some relief, and I hope you’re all staying safe and staying sane. Whatever you’re doing right now, you’re doing your best. We’ll get through this.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)