It’s Sunday night, and I am drinking a Bronx cocktail. Gotta support the outer boroughs, even if my support takes the form of getting slightly drunk. Really, what else is there to do?
I took a month off from writing. A big gig ended and a little one paused, so it was time to stop doing what I’d been doing for some 35 years. I kept thinking of stuff I wanted to write, but never did anything about it, and I left a couple of more political drafts for the blog incomplete. I have to say, it felt great not to have any work deadlines, and not to either edit someone else or deal with an editor’s comments.
So, it’s been more than a month since the last post. What’s happened? The curve in New York flattened, and this week in Italy, some of the restraints on gathering and movement begin to be phased out. It’s a gradual thing. You can visit relatives, but not friends. You have to wear a mask. Stores open in a couple of weeks, restaurants and bars in June. Maybe. Speriamo (let’s hope). And perhaps we’ll get to Italy eventually.
Meanwhile, here at HQ, we try to keep to some kind of semblance of normalcy. We can’t go lap swimming or acquasizing, so we bought a cheap exercise bike. We take walks, mostly early in the day so that we don’t run into too many people. Otherwise, we don’t go out. I draw—I treated myself to an Apple Pencil that works with my iPad. And now I know how rusty my guitar playing has gotten. I have to get those calluses back, pronto.
Like some of you, we’ve been cooking. The Spartan Woman and I have our own zones of expertise. She bakes, I don’t. She produces bread, this addictive muffin-y thing made from beans and oatmeal, and brownies. I am the risotto king of Staten Island, and besides my own repertoire, I’m really impressionable and cop ideas from others. For our Sunday afternoon dinner today, for example, I copied Lidia Bastianich after seeing her PBS show and put together a risotto of pears, Grana Padano (it’s like Parmigiano-Reggiano, but a little milder and from north of the Po River), and leeks. What do you think?
I’m too tired to write out a recipe, but do this. Peel, halve and grate the pear. Clean and chop the leeks. Proceed as normal with the risotto—I used vegetable stock and didn’t add saffron, because I thought that the pears and leeks would get lost. I added the pears halfway into the cooking, which takes about 25 minutes of stirring and adding hot stock. At the end, some butter and Grana Padano, and a swirl of balsamic glaze. If you don’t have that last ingredient, either skip it, or put some balsamic vinegar in a pan and reduce by half. But do it before you start on the risotto; risotto does not like to wait around. The leftovers, by the way, became terrific arancini, or rice balls, the next day.
We went to Sardegna (or Sardinia, if you insist) last night. Not physically, but with food and wine. Our neighbors in Umbria came from that island a few decades ago, so we figured if we can’t be around them, we can channel some Sardinian food. I made a seafood dish, fregola with clams. Fregola are toasted beads of pasta that look like pearl couscous, or acini di pepe pasta. But toasted. I made a loose tomato and herb clam stew, and cooked the fregola right in the clam broth. Some of The Spartan Woman’s homemade sourdough, a chilled bottle of Vermentino from Sardinia, and we had Saturday night dinner. To mix Italian regions, we watched some of the series Gomorrah on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list. It’s good; it’s a gritty drama about the Neapolitan Camorra crime cartel. The series is based on a book by the same name by the great and courageous writer Roberto Saviano. He’s under police guard as a reward for his efforts to uncover corruption in Italy.
Speaking of wine, where would we be without Honor Wines? I’m really trying to minimize in-person shopping, like everyone else. I could get online to one of the bigger liquor services, but Staten Island’s North Shore has become a sort of laid-back hipster heaven lately and I like to use local merchants. We have cool restaurants, brew pubs, breweries, and wine boutiques. Honor isn’t far from my neighborhood, and a friend of mine has been praising them for a few years. So I gave them a call, and it’s like calling on an understanding therapist. The first time was a little formal, with me asking “do you have…” and “how about something with more body?” This month I let Lorie pick for me, besides the wines I liked from the last batch. Here’s the result; I’ll report back soon, but she sent whites from Catalunya, the Languedoc and the Italian province of Friuli, which borders Slovenia. The Vermentino is the bomb, gotta say. It’s unusual. A touch salty, with some body, and it feels like a wine whose grapes hung out in the hot sun. Sorry–I reviewed restaurants for a decade and never mastered the wine writers’ vocabulary.
Otherwise, we’ve been doing what y’all are doing. I bother people with FaceTime sessions because I get tired of texting. We watch Andrew Cuomo every day—his updates have become our version of FDR’s fireside chats. My former ferry crew got together for a FaceTime cocktail hour, and The Spartan Woman’s side of the family got together for a virtual reunion.
For now, I’ll spare you my thoughts on The Thing, and how the U.S. has dealt with it.