March Madness! The Coronavirus is Here.

March Madness is here…and I’m not just talking about basketball. I feel like I’m living in the twilight zone. I suppose lots of us do. The TV shows me arenas filled with college basketball fans celebrating their teams ahead of the NCAA tournament. Then it tells me maybe I should practice social distancing to avoid COVID-19. Forget thriving. It’s hard to figure out how to live reasonably at this moment.

Right now, things are normal in my city. I realize that if/when that changes, it could change rapidly. With a medically fragile granddaughter, my family must carefully consider how we will measure the risks of exposure to this new virus.

Within my social circle, there is a self-isolator who returned from Asia a few weeks ago and a current traveler to Florida. One of my sons is flying from LAX to Hawaii next week. And I spend several hours each month in meetings at the local teaching hospital. Does any of this put us at extra risk?

The way things are going, the government may step in to tell us to stay home before we have a chance to decide for ourselves. I have the distinct impression that’s where we’re headed. I think we’re past the point of preventing the spread of coronavirus. The next step in controlling a pandemic is mitigation or nonpharmaceutical interventions to slow the spread. This is important to achieve so that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

Yes, even the US healthcare system has limits. During this time of rapid spread with no treatment available, it’s important to remember that our behavior affects other people. Some personal inconvenience may be necessary to protect our elderly, medically fragile, and other vulnerable populations.

Social distancing is a mitigation measure. Voluntary home isolation is another mitigation measure. Long-standing recommendations from the CDC include the following personal nonpharmaceutical interventions:

NPIs that can be implemented by individual persons include the following personal protective measures for everyday use:

Voluntary home isolation or self-isolation
This means staying home while you’re ill or when you have been exposed. With the familiar flu, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever or signs of a fever (chills, sweating, and feeling warm or flushed) are gone except to obtain medical care. To ensure that the fever is gone, patients’ temperature should be measured in the absence of medication that lowers fever (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen).

With this new virus, self-isolation may mean staying home longer – until all symptoms are gone or for two weeks after suspected exposure.

Respiratory etiquette
Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably with a tissue, and then dispose of tissues and disinfect hands immediately after a cough or sneeze, or (if a tissue is not available) cough or sneeze into a shirt sleeve. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to help slow the spread of germs.

Hand hygiene
Regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol or isopropanol when soap and water are not available).

Hand hygiene is a good practice all of the time, not just during flu season or during an emergent pandemic.

While I haven’t curtailed any of my normal activities, I am carefully considering travel and I’ve added more staples to my pantry. If I’m suddenly faced with the necessity of staying home for a couple of weeks, I want to be able to do so with no last minute scrambling for supplies.

I have an ample supply of my favorite gluten-free baking supplies: sweet white sorghum, tapioca, arrowroot, potato, oat, almond, sweet potato, and brown rice flours; honey and maple syrup; cocoa; butter; eggs; vanilla; baking powder and baking soda; and herbs and spices.

I’ve added extra rice, beans, tuna, gluten-free pasta, Pomi tomatoes, chicken stock, raisins, mandarin oranges, avocado and hummus minis, peanut butter, cereal, crackers, yogurt, frozen vegetables and meat to my regular stock of food. I also purchased some self-safe milk and formula for the grandkids. In addition, I’ve stocked up on toilet paper and laundry sanitizer.

I didn’t go crazy. I don’t have a lot of extra storage. I didn’t spend a fortune, but I also didn’t worry about a larger weekly grocery bill because I’ll use the supplies at some point.

It does feel like March Madness. The next few weeks, perhaps months, will bring a puzzle of decision making. I’ll stay armed with ample supplies and as much solid medical information as I can gather. I’ll look at any personal inconvenience as an opportunity for something different. And eventually I’ll learn to thrive within whatever restrictions may be required.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Spring Cleaning Pantry Challenge

A spring cleaning pantry challenge is a great way to start spring cleaning in the kitchen! I’ll admit it, I’m not really a spring cleaner. That doesn’t mean I don’t do deep cleaning. It just means I tend to do it at the odd times that a spill, utensil search, or crawl under the bed to grab a baby toy lead me into intolerable dust, dirt, or disorganization. Then I stop whatever I had planned and start cleaning. I may not finish moving all the furniture to clean under it right then, but I stick with the project until it is complete.
Whether you’re a sporadic deep cleaner like me or part of the 78% of people who regularly spring clean*, it’s easy to forget about the pantry. With larger tasks like oven cleaning, curtain washing, grout scrubbing, baseboard dusting, and window washing looming, it can be easy to reason that the pantry will take care of itself through regular meal preparation.

The problem with that approach is that few of us have pantry space that’s designed one item deep and one item high in a manner that everything is visible at once. And if you can’t see it, you’re bound to forget about it. Who hasn’t bought some ingredient for a recipe, used part of it and put the rest in the back of the cabinet to be forgotten? I have bottles of fish oil, rice wine vinegar, and real maple syrup sitting in my pantry. I don’t use them often and I can’t tell you how long they’ve been there. It’s definitely time for a pantry challenge at my house.

What’s a pantry challenge?

A pantry challenge is a period of time dedicated to using everything in the pantry before purchasing more groceries. In other words, you’re challenging yourself to plan meals using what you have on hand. Now, obviously you may need to buy milk, eggs, fresh produce, or meat to go with your pantry items, but the goal is to use what’s available in your pantry as quickly as possible.

Before starting the challenge, discard any outdated items. Once those are discarded, create some menu items that include the remaining pantry contents beginning with anything that’s open, partially used, or about to expire. It’s always fun to see what new combinations come to mind when you have limited ingredient choices.
During my pantry challenge, I’ll be enjoying red lentil soup, homemade yogurt, gluten-free pasta with red sauce, molasses cookies, roasted red pepper cornbread, applesauce muffins, and tuna croquettes. That won’t completely deplete the pantry offerings, but it will pare down some of the older items. Before I restock, I’ll clean all of the shelves and drawers and organize whatever remains.

I’ll also take a minute to review my organizational system. There may be some tweaks that will make every day cooking easier. If so, I can implement those changes now and easily incorporate upcoming purchases into the revised system.

As I’ve pared down my furniture, knick-knacks, clothes, shoes, and jewelry over the past couple of years, the over abundance in my pantry feels more noticeable. Because my job includes creating recipes, I can swiftly end up with clutter-creating remnants. I don’t want to wastefully discard them, but I am aware that I need to develop a system for making sure they’re used in a timely manner. My pantry challenge will be a great opportunity to think through this process.

Spring cleaning may not be fun, but a clean, tidy environment can make fun times more joyful. I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m elbow deep into cleaning out the pantry!


5 Easy Ways to Stretch The Menu When You’re Snowed In

Over the past week or so, I’ve had a chance to use these 5 Easy Ways to Stretch the Menu when you’re snowed in. We’ve been hit with three successive waves of ice and snow. Since I’m still hobbling on an injured knee, I haven’t been willing to brave even slightly slick stairs. This has kept me at home on the few days that I otherwise might have ventured out to the grocery store.
snow porch

In order to have satisfying meals, I’ve had to dig deep into the pantry. Some of you can probably pop open the freezer and have lots of choices. I, unfortunately, am not a good freezer of meat, soups, or casseroles. I know that if I freeze them, I’ll never get around to thawing them out and they’ll just end up being thrown away. Because of this, I use my freezer to store specialty flours, raw almonds, emergency coffee, an occasional batch of biscuits, and a couple of bags of frozen vegetables.

If you’re like me, you can use these simple ideas to stretch the menu when you can’t leave home:

1. Be inventive with seasoning.
If you run out of onion, use shallots and garlic, or take a look on the back porch. The rosemary may still be peaking out of the snow.
If you have dried beans handy, but no meat or chicken stock around to add flavor, use water, salt, pepper, a couple of tablespoons of butter, peeled onion or shallots, a couple of cloves of peeled garlic, and a potato or sweet potato cleaned but with the skin still on. This is a great use of a sweet potato that’s been around a little too long. If the ends have dried up, just cut them off and use the center. It will flavor the broth even more, the skin will keep it intact, and you can eat the sweet potato separately when you serve your meal.

You can also use leftover pot likker (either the official version from collard greens and fatback, or a more generic version of vegetable broth from boiling green beans or carrots or potatoes) to flavor beans or rice. Pot likker is also a great soup base.
chard stems
Since fresh vegetables and herbs will be the first thing to disappear from your pantry, use them thoroughly. Instead of discarding the ends of greens of celery, stems of chard, stems of rosemary or cilantro or sage, greens from beets, stems of mushrooms, or even peels from potatoes, throw them in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use them to infuse flavor into soups, vegetables, pasta, or sauces. Remove the actual stems and peels from the broth before using it in your dish.

2. Stretch fresh or preserved protein by using vegetables, grains, starches, and pasta.
Rather than waiting until you’ve run out of chicken, make it last longer by adding rice. There’s no need to stop there, you can make it go even further by cooking some small white beans along with the rice. Adding the beans not only increases the number of portions, it also increases the protein in the dish.
rice with beans
Sauté onion, cubed chayote squash, cubed potato, and shredded Granny Smith apple in a cast iron skillet until the vegetables and fruit are soft. Season with salt, pepper, and Vietnamese cinnamon. Add left-over rotisserie chicken and continue to cook until chicken is hot. It’s not a particularly attractive dish, but it tastes great and is very filling.

Turn a can of tuna into a meal for 4 by creating a simple sauce made of butter, milk, garlic, and a blend of cheeses, add some frozen green peas and cooked pasta, then top with cheese and bake.
Don’t forget to have fun with this ’cause snow days should be fun! Serve fried chicken tenders with almond flour pancakes and real maple syrup or go the whole way and break out the waffle maker for a more traditional version of chicken and waffles. Pull open a can of sardines and eat them along with some saltine crackers as though you’re on vacation at your cabin in the mountains.

3. Focus on proteins other than meat.
When you’re eating every meal at home it doesn’t take long for all the steak, pork chops, roast beef, tilapia, salmon, or chicken breasts to disappear. Once they’re gone, other protein options have to take precedence.

Eggs, peanut butter, almond butter, other nuts and seeds including mixed nuts, milk, soy milk, yogurt (especially Greek style), cottage cheese, Mozzarella cheese, Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, paneer, tofu, lentils, edamame, green peas, quinoa, and a combination of beans and rice are all substantial sources of protein.

Baked goods can also provide protein. For instance, muffins made with almond, cashew, or hazelnut flour are high in protein as are cookies made with peanut flour or brownies made with black bean flour.

4. Keep an open mind about condiments and snacks.
It’s one of Murphy’s laws that you’ll only discover your mayo is outdated when there are 10 inches of snow outside. Don’t fret too much. Hummus can be used as a spread to add exotic flavor to your sandwich, or skip the spread altogether and use a few slices of avocado or leftover guacamole for that little extra somethin somethin.

Don’t let a lack of mayo trip you up when making tuna salad. You can always use plain yogurt and lemon juice instead or sour cream and sweet pickle juice if you prefer.

Create a delicious marinade for steak using nothing but a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.

Make balsamic vinaigrette with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, water, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a peeled clove of garlic. Instead of using equal parts vinegar, water and oil, I cut the oil in half for fewer calories. It’s just as delicious once you shake it all up in a jar.

Curb your salty snack craving with dill pickles or a handful of olives.

Need something sweet, crunchy and really easy? Make two minute trail mix using raw almonds, golden raisins, and semi-sweet chocolate chips then follow the trail right back to your recliner. You’ll probably have a minute left over.
5. Substitute quick breads, tortillas, or cheese for breads and crackers.
It is the rare household that doesn’t have corn meal on hand, so cornbread is a universally good choice to fill the gap when a before-the-snow rush leaves the store shelves bare of bread. If you don’t keep shortening on hand, fry some bacon and use the renderings instead. You can also use butter or olive oil. If your recipe calls for buttermilk, just splash a little vinegar in regular milk and voila, you’re good to go.

Muffins, biscuits, or pancakes can take the place of toast for breakfast or a roll with dinner. A corn tortilla will hold a breakfast taco better than just about anything.

Small piles of shredded Parmesan cheese turn into crunchy cheese crackers when baked for 6 minutes at 350º.

Sometimes I enjoy the disruption of weather or an injury (not the pain) because it reminds me that I can think about things differently and solve problems in fun ways. There’s a special feeling that comes with that. It’s better than the feeling of regular accomplishment.
I hope you find these tips helpful. With all the snow that’s falling this year, you may have even better tips than these. If so, we’d love to hear them!