COVID…With a Chance of Meatballs

Last February, my pantry was pristine and my near empty fridge looked like the “after” on Netflix’s The Home Edit. Pellegrino bottles were perfectly aligned with labels facing forwards, a few coconut yogurts sat in a row next to a carton of eggs, the crisper drawer held lemons and limes for my cocktails, and the door was stuffed with assorted condiments.

I had enjoyed the culinary arts since my days as a single gal in NYC, but after 20 years of rotating the same 10 dishes for dinner for my growing boys, (reserving a plate for my husband to microwave after his commute) cooking became more of a chore than a passion. Our neighborhood gourmet club had fizzled out due to lack of interest. I quit my job as head chef when we downsized to an apartment in NYC. It was time to let someone else do the cooking. Our empty nest was clean and sleek, devoid of children and ingredients. Most nights, we ordered in or went out.

All that changed in March when rumors of the pandemic began to spread and supermarket shelves emptied like they were filming this fall’s reboot of Supermarket Sweep. I unashamedly hauled my granny cart to Whole Foods to grab what was left — a 5-pound bag of rice, jars of generic sauce and some ground turkey. There wasn’t a frozen vegetable to be found, and I wondered aloud to the masked shopper next to me, “ Why are boxes of lasagna sheets the only pasta left on the shelves?” I wasn’t too worried — I thought the panic and stockpiling would be short-lived. I went home and made a pot of turkey meatballs for dinner and froze the leftovers just to be safe.

A few days later, my husband was feeling fatiqued. I hoped it was a winter cold. I washed my hands, tied a bandana around my face and went to gather more basics. I scored some jarred Italian tuna, a box of gluten-free pasta, bags of frozen ravioli and eggs. Then I hit the farmers market for winter vegetables, and turned them into a hearty soup for my husband and dropped off a container for our neighbor Nick, a single dad who was also feeling ill.

A visit to Urgent Care the next day had no definitive answers, as testing was scarce, but he was told to assume he had Covid-19. We began our quarantine, cancelling a trip to Florida for my Dad’s 95th birthday. Days later, I felt achy and started coughing. When I lost my sense of smell and my taste it was obvious we had Coronavirus. At least I felt secure that I had some food prepared, even though I was afraid to dig into my stock. Instacart had no timeslots. Neither of us could go out. Most restaurants were closed for delivery. I didn’t want my sons anywhere near us. I was anxious. But we needed nourishment so I defrosted the precious supplies and hungrily ate the meatballs.

My friend Nancy went to a local butcher shop and ordered me a package of ground turkey and some sliced chicken breasts that was sent up alone in the elevator. I threw on a mask to run down the hall to retrieve my treasure. I felt like I’d picked the winning door on Let’s Make a Deal when the elevator opened with my brown-paper wrapped bundle on the floor. It was my only connection with the outside world. Feeling better mentally and physically, I made another batch of meatballs, with the bonus of leftovers to stuff into the small freezer drawer.

Watching the frightening news of the spread of the virus, and being isolated from friends and family had me craving comfort food – something about eating a humble meal of meatballs drowning in tangy sauce and topped with parmesan cheese, reminded me of childhood, family and home. It evoked memories of my grandmother, Alice, in her cramped Queens kitchen, mixing and chopping meat without a measuring cup or YouTube. I could picture her chipped pots and could practically smell her onions browning, even though I actually smelled nothing due to the Anosmia from Covid. And just like my granny, making meatballs for me was stress-less. I didn’t need to make a long list of ingredients, follow a recipe or measure anything.

As I recovered, I rejoiced when a food delivery time slot opened. I ordered enough groceries to last a couple of weeks while we continued to quarantine, and without the ability to shop daily nothing was tossed. I always teased my mother about the tiny mystery packages of leftovers in her Florida freezer. Now, it was a personal contest to see what I could reuse and reconfigure into another meal so I wouldn’t have to venture outside. I made soups and salads with leftover vegetables and chicken parts and the surplus from Chinese take-out was saved to make fried rice. Stuck at home, I starting watching cooking and baking shows and searched the Internet for new recipes. I pulled out the old scrapbooks where I’d kept my favorite recipes with their pages smudged with drops of oil. Looking at my handwritten recipes for family favorites made me realize I missed the ritual and creative outlet I got from cooking. Prepping and cooking in my kitchen made the apartment finally feel like a home during the months of isolation.

As grocery stores re-opened I experimented with exotic dishes, adding more seasoning and salt to entice my dulled taste buds. It actually improved my dishes. I enjoyed having some structure in the day, creating meals for my husband and me as we spent so many hours trapped together. And every week, I made another batch of my favorite dinner – meatballs.

Once restaurants reopened over the summer, we ventured to outdoor dining. I wanted to support the local businesses and frankly, I began to tire of the obligation of everyday cooking again. Our freezer became depleted as we used up the frozen dinners and bags of Trader Joe’s shrimp, dumplings and veggies. My food insecurity disappeared too.

But now, almost a year later, it is cold and dreary again in the North East, indoor dining is not an option, and as predicted, cases are still spiking all over the country. People are posting triumphant photos receiving the new vaccines while others are desperate to score an appointment. We are low on the list. One last container of my homemade meatballs remains in the freezer, but I feel superstitious about eating it. Hopefully, we will get to a new normal by the summer. Until then…I’ll be in my kitchen. I predict Covid with a chance of meatballs.

Keeping Covid Fit With My 5-Inch Personal Trainer

When my NYC gym closed in March due to Covid-19 I figured the break was a sign to relax. Heck, my grandmother lived to 98 and she never lifted more than a six-pound brisket. After the WHO rudely placed me in the “Older People” category, (at 61!) I sat on the couch surfing Netflix, stress-eating salted caramels and Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels. For a couple of weeks I binged on My 600-lb Life which should have scared me into starvation mode but weirdly made me want to eat even more. I had to remind myself that we were aiming to Flatten the Curve, not fatten the curves.

Wearing athleisure 24/7 didn’t motivate me even as my iPhone showed my screen time was up 50 percent and I walked 287 steps that day compared to my usual 7400. I hoped all the cleaning and vacuuming I was doing would count for something.
Then I realized I was more than tired. I was exhausted. My lingering scratchy throat escalated along with debilitating headaches, loss of smell and a cough. I had little energy to do anything more than change the channels with the remote. Instead of a virtual workout, I had a virtual visit with my doctor, who diagnosed “the virus”. As friends were posting their neighborhood strolls on Instagram, I just longed to take a walk other than the one from my bed to the couch without getting breathless. The only sweat I produced was from a fever of 102.

After an anxious week, with a 2-hour trip to the ER followed by the purchase of a pulse-oximeter to help differentiate between levels of panic and oxygen, I recovered. I was eager to get healthy and strong and get my pulse racing for the right reasons. I started with some pre-taped classes, but I burned most of my calories jumping up to move my iPad from the floor to the dresser each time the instructor switched to a standing position. I banged my leg on the footboard and spent too much time fixated on a stain on the carpet.

A younger tech-savvy gym buddy did a spreadsheet of live Zoom classes so we could support our favorite instructors and stay connected. I signed in for a Barre class with Kimber (rhymes with limber). Wearing reading glasses while working out was a challenge, but it helped to see the shrunken image of my instructor and get a better peek into everyone’s personal spaces. I waved to the tiny squares with Ali and her baby in NC, Gail in NYC and Alex, back in London with her toddler and puppy. In preparation for a Yoga class with Mike, I even changed out of the Lululemon leggings I’d been wearing for three straight days. I spread out my sky-blue mat, which had been delivered by Amazon and apparently deemed an essential item. I prayed no one would notice the bra I had hastily flung on the floor while changing and hustling to Venmo my on-screen miniature instructor.

Finally I broke down and hopped on the Peloton planted in the middle of our extra bedroom. I admit that I was peeved when my husband bought it last year and intruded on my esthetics. But as I pedaled, an eight-inch, perfect ten instructor with a six-pack and a playlist shouted at me to get in shape. Now it’s the only way to get my heart rate up besides an episode of Homeland.
With some help from my millennial aged son I figured out how to watch classes with an almost life-size person on some SmartTV apps, however I don’t always get sound. And sometimes that person freezes in the middle of downward dog.

There are plenty of challenges. But I’m making it work. I woke with twinges in my thighs and muscle cramps in my butt yesterday. But this time I wasn’t concerned – I had earned them.

QUARANTINED AT “GOOGLE HOME”

I wrote this conversation with my Google Home last week when we both still had a sense of humor. Wish I hadn’t smashed it with a hammer – didn’t know I’d be in desperate need of conversation!

Hey Google: What is the weather today? The weather is cloudy with a high chance of virus.

Well, I have to brave the food stores in search of garlic and toilet paper, so I guess I’ll substitute a mask for an umbrella.

Hey Google: What kind of mask will protect me from contracting the Coronavirus? A face mask will not protect you from the virus. And good luck finding one – they are very trendy and all sold out due to hoarding. Even for health care providers. Perhaps I can suggest an anti-stress facial mask from Sephora, but you’ll have to order it online, they are closed.

Hey Google: I’ve been to every CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens in a 10-block radius for a precious bottle of hand sanitizer. Will alcohol work just as well? Yes, you can substitute rubbing alcohol mixed with aloe vera gel, but drinking a shot of Tito’s might be way more beneficial at this point.

Hey Google: I had to cancel a trip to Florida for my father’s 95th birthday last week? Was that the right choice? Yes. It would be a danger for him and besides, the only thing worse than contracting the virus would be a 14-day quarantine in your parents’ Independent Living facility.

Hey Google: I’m worried about them… how do I check in and teach them to do a Zoom party? The only worse thing than the virus and getting stuck in Florida would be teaching your technologically disabled parents to learn Zoom.

Hey Google: Well now I’m worried about my sons too. Does quarantine at home mean they can’t come for dinner? Sorry, I don’t know what you mean. You want to cook and clean for two more people? If you are asking is it okay to social distance your children, don’t feel guilty, they have done it to you since they left for college.

Hey Google: Well, since we are home, my husband wants to watch March Madness. When is that? Every day this March Is Madness.

Hey Google: I meant when is the NCAA March Madness?Where have you been? NCAA March Madness has been cancelled. NBA games have been cancelled.MLB is ceasing play. NHL games have been suspended. Olympics have been postponed. Life as we know it has been cancelled, postponed, disappeared…

Hey Google: What the heck?! I’M GOING TO DISNEYWORLD! DisneyWorld is closed. I know. I was kidding. It was a sports reference. Now I don’t feel great and I’m actually getting worried.

Hey Google: What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?….NO RESPONSE

Hey Google: What are the symptoms of Covid-19?……. NO RESPONSE

Hey Google: Why aren’t you responding? Sorry, I don’t want to get a computer virus so I’m practicing social distancing. But the symptoms are a sore throat, fever, cough and chills.

Hey Google: What if I just have a mild fever and no cough? You may have the Corona-Lite virus.

Hey Google: Don’t be funny – this is serious. People are losing their jobs, their savings, their security and health. These are scary times. Do you think laughter is truly the best medicine? On the website Psychiatrictimes.com they say in the 1300s a professor of surgery propagated post-operative therapy with humor. Ok I’ll try that…

Hey Google: What are the funniest shows on Netflix? One website lists The Good Place, VEEP, and Atlanta as the three funniest shows on TV, but you might prefer the films Contagion, Pandemic, Outbreak or World War Z.

You’re stressing me out. And I’m so bored I already redid my closet and organized the food in my pantry. Hey Google: How many Weight Watcher points are in a bag of Trader Joe peanut butter pretzels and a sleeve of Thin Mints? Aren’t you depressed enough? They said “flatten the curve” not “fatten”.

Hey Google: Seriously, I’m 61, how worried should I be about my risks of Coronavirus? The outbreak poses health risks for everyone, but the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

Hey Google: At what age is a person considered elderly? Continue reading

I had ambivalent feelings about an impending empty nest — here’s my essay about it on a great site – The Woolfer.

UNHINGED

“You’re losing it,” my friend Lori said. “I think you need help.”

She was right. I was driving friends and family crazy with my obsessive behavior when they staged this mini-intervention four years ago. It wasn’t a dangerous situation.  I wasn’t drinking too much or using prescription painkillers.  What caused them to question my mental state was an inability to make up my mind on a simple decision. 

 I recalled this predicament as I recently binge-watched the charming Israeli show Shtisel, on Netflix, about a Haredi family in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. I was struck by how the characters kissed the mezuzah each time they entered or exited a room.  As a Jewish mother, I hung mezuzas on our doorposts but I wasn’t attentive to their symbolism as I passed through during my crisis.  I had a less divine focus.  I was fixated on the door knobs.  
I was unraveled in a spiral of indecisiveness.  It began when I decided to fix-up our aging house. My husband and I had been in the house for over 20 years – moving there from NYC when our sons were toddlers. Now they were grown and the youngest was graduating college. My boys were only two years older than the house, but while they’d grown more independent, the house acted like it was still in the terrible twos — demanding time, money and lots of care and attention. I had grown up too. My knees creaked about as much as the floorboards did, and I didn’t want to take care of kids OR the house anymore. I could barely keep up with my own maintenance. If we were going to spend money on a facelift, it was going to be on my 56-year-old face, and not a center hall colonial. 
The entry hall had cracks in the ceiling, wood rot ate at the doorframes, the kitchen needed some new curtains and every room needed a coat of paint. If we ever wanted to sell it we’d have to maintain it. When a friend and real estate broker mentioned that new door handles were an easy upgrade I thought it would be a quick fix. Shiny new knobs had been known to freshen up old gals before so off I went to the hardware store. 
Easy fix? It was not quite as simple as I hoped. Who knew there were so many choices? There were handles, levers, round knobs, egg knobs and so many finishes. There were hinges that needed to be matched. For a perfectionist like me who perseverated over details this was overwhelming. A salesman at Gracious Home helped me pick a classic style and went to get the order form but he would have needed a degree in abnormal psychology to get me to make the deposit. I went back to the store until I saw him run and hide the fourth time I showed up. When I thought he might call the Bellevue psych ward I went to other stores where I could start fresh. I stared at doors everywhere I went. I asked friends to take pictures of their door handles. I nearly fell off the Pilates reformer as I took a class and stared at the handles of the classroom door instead of my feet. My husband thought I was insane asking him his opinion on something he cared little about. I literally began dreaming of knobs. I couldn’t sleep. I was stuck. I was becoming unhinged. 
 I knew I should have been able to get a grip on this handle problem.  Fortuitously I had an appointment with my internist for a routine physical. She asked how I was. I mentioned my eldest son was working in New York City and the other had graduated and would be moving to Chicago. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears. That’s when it hit me. 
All this obsessing about handles and hinges — it was never about that. I was deeply emotional about the doors that were closing on a parenting chapter, as my youngest son was about to embark on his own life. I was sad about the once locked doors to their now abandoned bedrooms — where mezuzahs bought on a family trip to Israel were hung with pride. Now they were museums of their childhood, filled with stuffed bears, class trip souvenirs and ephemera. This condition was about the entry to the basement where they played with toy cars and Legos before graduating to video games and contraband beer bottles during high school. 
I had dreamed of the time when the house would be quiet and clean and I would have freedom and time,yet when it was close I was surprised by my ambivalence about it. I missed the energy and noise that made the house alive. I missed the fridge door opening to shelves full of food and snacks, instead of only water bottles and condiments. When the boys came home they were only visiting. I felt like the proprietor of an empty inn
Once I got a grip and knew I wasn’t going crazy I felt unburdened. I listened to my youngest jam on his guitar in his room and I enjoyed the soundtrack as I reflected on their childhood. A few weeks later he packed up his Fender and took it on the plane to the Windy City.  Those empty rooms were a testament to a job well done. Whether we were in the same house or across the country, we would always be a family. 
It was time for me to start a new phase too.  I changed the curtains. I had the walls painted. I traveled to the places on my bucket list – Africa, Cuba, Italy.  I volunteered at a hospital.  I started writing again. 
Now I drive past the bus stop and don’t recognize the younger families who recently moved to the neighborhood to raise their kids. People ask if we will to stay or move to the city.  I’m leaving the doors open on that. The ones with the shiny new polished nickel handles that I finally picked out.   

 

https://thewoolfer.com/2019/03/20/empty-nest/