on the edge

I was on 5th street between 49th and 48th and I got a message from a friend of mine that someone needed a full time live in cook and did I know anybody. I have never wanted to work as a live in cook. If you live where you work, what is that? To me, it sounded infinite. You don’t stop after dinner.

And I don’t know anybody, so I started to type enough of that to release me. Until I thought, “I suppose I could do it. For a week or two. Until they found someone else.”

I am here now, hours from NYC, looking out across the water from my window, listening to birds, fish. They circle twenty feet above the water, flapping their wings like crazy and take a dive head first at full speed. I have memorized where the farm stand is and the King Cullen. I know where the gas station is. A Russian guy pointed out parking spaces to me on the far side of a small bridge, just before the edge of the ocean. I saw dolphins this morning.

Cooking for someone new is always hard for me. It is going on a blind date. They don’t pick you because they like you. They don’t know you. You just show up. Once you are there is when it starts; it is either going to work or it isn’t. So far, so good. I have made salmon flown in from Alaska, chops, shank, risotto, pasta rolled out with a wine bottle, lobsters, scallops, pies, tarts, cakes, creams, and none of it has taken me down. It was blueberry pancakes yesterday that were a wolf in a rabbit suit. I melted the butter, brought the eggs and the milk to room temperature, whisked them all together, sifted the flour and then sifted it again with a little sugar, salt and baking powder. I heated an iron skillet and waited for the butter to stop sizzling. And nothing. No bubble in the batter. No puff in the pancake. Sometimes people ask me what is the difference between a cook and a chef. I will never be a chef, because I don’t want to be, but the first difference is, you don’t sweat. You keep going. If Act 1 doesn’t work, you start writing Act 2 without anyone knowing you are changing the script. I decided it had to be the baking powder. I checked the bottom of the can and it was out of date by more than a year. I swept Act 1 into the garbage, except the blueberries. I lifted those and rinsed them off. Then I walked past the pool to where I keep my suitcase and unpacked a can of baking powder that I carry with me. I started again. I added a few spoons of sour cream to the milk for flavor and body, with a nudge of baking soda to support the acidity. I erred on a little too much melted butter in the batter, which is never truly a mistake. I served them with more butter and a ceramic pitcher of maple syrup on the tray.

When you look.

When you look at the moon at night, you can’t pretend it is flat.  It is round as fruit and heavy as stone, and you wonder why it hasn’t  fallen from the sky way before you had time to think about it.

There are two

There are two ingredients in the chocolate mousse I make. If you forget one, you could just eat the chocolate on its own. Or beat the cream slightly and sweeten it with a few drops of maple syrup. Or homemade jam. But I don’t make jam, and I am feeling too cheap at the moment to buy maple syrup. The stand in is not in my vocabulary. So I am going to do my best to remember both the cream and the chocolate.

If you are cheap like I am, forget about it for a minute. Long enough to buy good dark chocolate. Belgian or Latin American or African are good bets. 70% cocoa content is ideal. Buy organic cream. Very gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of slowly simmering water. Be sure that the water isn’t touching the bowl. Allow the cream to come to room temperature. Use nearly equal parts cream to chocolate going either way in your favor. Some people like it a bit more chocolaty and some people don’t. You have to figure out what you want.

Be sure to have extra cream to whip for the top. Once the chocolate has nearly melted, remove it from the pan of water and whisk in the last chunk off chocolate off the heat. Whip the cream just until it begins to thicken. Don’t worry; it is enough. Wash your hands and dry them well. Pour the cream onto the chocolate, (reserving a little) and fold it in. The side of your hand should sweep the sides and bottom of the bowl, gently scooping the mixture from the bottom and lifting it to the top, until it is fully incorporated. Spoon the mousse into espresso cups and top with a dollop of cream. If you really want to go crazy, you can start each cup with a large drop of homemade caramel sauce (caramelized sugar, cream, butter, whiskey) before you add the mousse.

One person’s trivet, is another person’s hairpiece

She was on a self inflicted look out for men with toupees since she learned there was such a thing. She stared at men’s heads in the subway and on the 6 o’clock news. She would tell you she was an expert in the way the color and texture changed from the top layers of hair to the hair underneath and in how the hair should fall on the head.

She was also taken with false legs. She studied the gait of particularly middle aged men, passing by on the sidewalk. She checked for a stiffness in their shoes or shins. She would come to a full stop, to focus on how the legs moved from behind.

She was like the nation’s detective of toupees and prosthetics who worked gratis, and always on the clock.

I am not sure why this was; I imagine she had been deceived one too many times. Maybe she did it to keep her sharp, keep her ready for unexpected truth that was hiding under cover and kept there with the slight of hand. Or maybe it was because she was a queen keeper of subcutaneous secrets and was never sure if the change in her own gait was obvious.

The benefit I suppose, was that she never forgot that nothing is only what it seems. What may appear as a potato can become so much more, in the best way.

The trick with gnocchi is, to never assume you know beforehand how much flour the potato will take. You don’t have to use an egg, but without the experience of having made gnocchi a thousand times before this time, it helps. Boil 3 potatoes that have lost some of their viv and vigor. Peel the potatoes, and make sure that the water is salted. Drain well as soon as they are tender, and return them to the pot. Over low heat, dry the potatoes, just until the stick to the pan a bit. Watch them. Don’t leave them. Turn out immediately, onto a flat platter and smash with a fork until smooth. You can also pass them through a ricer. This is the right way to do it, but I don’t have a ricer. The fork is good enough, just be thorough. Allow the potato to cool to room temperature. Crack one egg in the center, and incorporate with your fingers. Sift a pile of all purpose flour, (or 00 if you are in Italy) into a wide bowl. Spoon about half a cup of the sifted flour onto the potatoes, and gently move the flour into the potato mixture. If it feels too sticky to roll, add a bit more. You should use only enough flour to take it the point that it is just possible to roll. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, if you have 5 minutes. Break off pieces the size of an orange and roll under two flat hands that are connected at their lowest knuckle of the index fingers, into a snake. Your hands should move towards you and away from you, at the same time as they move away from each. If the snake of dough becomes too unwieldy, break it in half. Roll each log to a bit thinner than the width of a narrow candle. Cut the gnocchi into bits the size of the top most section of your index finger. Allow them to rest on semolina or just flour. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Drop them in, about 15 at a time, and as soon as they rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon to a towel lined sieve, and then on to a buttered, warm platter.

For the sauce:

Simmer a cup of heavy cream over a low heat with a a few garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme, and a little salt. When the garlic is soft, pour through a sieve, pressing the garlic through. Taste for salt and pepper. Whisk in a serious knob of gorgonzola, to taste. Add the gnocchi and let them simmer in the cream for just a minute. Return everything to the warmed platter and top with grated parmigiana reggiano and slivered ramps or basil.

I served it with a salad of arugula leaves, with a pesto of smashed, raw, pignoli, garlic, salt, and lemon zest tossed through and a little lemon, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

I am tired.

I am tired. I could have told you that when I was at college, reading until it felt my eyes would bleed. At the end of the night, with every book they would let me take, I stood in front of the elevator on the sixth floor of Bobst Library, waiting. The hour before midnight, was a popular hour for the elevator. I am sure they had a fire code in the 80’s. There must have been stairs, but I didn’t know about them. If it took a while, I sat. The floor was carpeted, with a liner underneath. It was the kind you could easily lie down on; the kind that if you were sent to someone’s house to sleep and there weren’t enough beds, you would say to yourself, “these people have great carpet.” And so I would lie down. Security would find me sleeping with my stack of books and my bags and with no luck shouting down to me, shake me gently, saying, “you can’t sleep here. you can’t do that.”

I could have easily told you I was tired when I was pregnant and couldn’t eat. Or pregnant and could eat, with an unborn baby the size of a spaceship eating everything I could get my hands on before I could get to it.

Or when he was 18 months, in black and white houndstooth shorts and a white onesie, and found the word, “no” and stuck to it with the same magnetic force that keeps the earth swinging around the sun. Or when he was 2 and started walking, and we had moved down into the village of Mercatale, where all doors open onto a main road.

Or when he was 3 and discovered he could climb heights not meant for men, at the speed of the supernatural. If your child is fast, you have to be faster.

If your child is clever, you better be more than one chapter ahead, because a child will finish that book in the night, without ever laying an eye on pages.

I was sure I would be less tired when he got older.

I waited.

Sleep isn’t something I expect or try to achieve anymore. My mother’s words float and settle into my mind in the tiny hours of the the night, when it is as still as the world permits. “Don’t worry about sleep. Think about breathing instead. What a luxury,” she would say, “to lie in the bed, without having to do anything at all but breathe.”

If your greens start to fade before you have decided what to do with them, make them into soup. A soup can take more greens than you would ever believe possible. And think how good that is going to make you feel. Clean two or three leeks by shaving off the dark green ends as if you were carving a twig for a marshmallow stick. Cut them right down the middle from top to bottom, and then into three inch pieces. Leave them to soak in a bowl of cold water until they have released their sand. Lift them from the water with your hands, and set them onto an absorbent tea towel. Get a good sized saute pan going over medium heat with a few tablespoons of butter and a spill of olive oil. Drop the leeks in. Season them with salt and just a little freshly ground pepper. Add a few stalks of the tired celery, finely chopped. (If it is finely chopped, it won’t get stuck in your immersion blender, later). Add two whole cloves of smashed garlic, that you smash to release their skins, a few sprigs of parsley, a sprig of thyme, and a bay leaf. Let that go for about 5 minutes. Peel one potato and chop into small pieces. Add that, with a little more salt. Wait for the potato to grab the pan, and then pour in water, just to cover the potato. Simmer, with the lid ajar, until the potatoes are tender. Taste for salt. Add all the greens you want, at least 12 ounces, and up to a pound. Simmer for another five minutes. Puree with your immersion blender until smooth. Add a tablespoon of butter, or a pour of best olive oil and taste again for salt and pepper. This is good with or without shards of Roman or Umbrian pecorino, or an earthy chèvre from the Loire.

Get it right

I carry lumps of nutmeg in my change purse. I stand motionless in front of croissants, studying the paper layers and reading the smell of butter. I ask too much of the butcher. But at the moment, no kitchen belongs to me. I have a hot plate next to a tiny sink over a fridge behind a cabinet door. I have a box of chocolates in a drawer that opens almost all the way, along with a serving spoon and scotch tape. I have travel containers of baking powder, cornstarch, salt and saffron, under my books, next to plates.

There are kitchens near by that I slip into like those girls who buy a pair of pants to wear and return when the party is over, hoping that everything happens but not too much so that anybody would notice when they bring the pants back.

There is a mushroom soup that is not at all complicated but takes a full stove of burners. Canned stock is not an option. Chicken bones, celery, onion, leek, just enough carrot, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and a garlic clove with a spill of olive oil and a measured amount of sea salt are at the back. Some of the mushrooms are steeped from dried in a bowl of hot, but not quite boiling water that becomes a finishing tisane. Their fresh cousins are seared and sautéed, not too quickly, with a tiny dice of shallot and sprigs of thyme. To take it over the top, the cream simmers on its own with a clove of garlic that gets pushed through a sieve at the end. The steam from each pot rises with the pot next to it, like voices around the table. There is no party if people aren’t talking in and around and on top of each other. Do what you have to do.

Make a chicken stock. Season only to help you taste it–not enough salt to take it to the end. Steep dried porcini or shiitake in scalded water that just covers them. Lift them out after 5 minutes and drain on a tea towel. Reserve the liquid. Remember to pour carefully when you need it so that you leave the sediment behind. Finely chop 2 medium size shallots and saute in butter with a drop of olive oil until completely tender. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Cut nearly a pound of fresh, fat, wild mushrooms into chunks. You should be able to get a few at a time on a soup spoon. You never want to make anyone feel embarrassed when they eat, by giving them pieces to deal with that are unwieldy. Add to the shallot and saute over medium heat with a smashed garlic clove, a parsley sprig and a few sprigs of thyme, until cooked through. Chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add them to the pan. Give them another minute. Reduce a few tablespoons of dry white wine into the mushrooms. Don’t allow the pan to become dry. Remove the garlic and herb. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer 1/2 cup of heavy cream with a bay leaf and a clove of garlic until slightly reduced, and the clove of garlic is soft. Push the garlic through a sieve and whisk into the cream. Remove the bay leaf.

Add 4 cups of your stock to the mushroom mixture. Reduce until it tastes right. It should taste full, but not heavy. Whisk in enough of the mushroom liquid, which might be all of it so that you get the hint of it. Same with the cream. It is not a cream soup, it just wants cream to bind the flavor of the mushroom to the liquid. Taste the whole thing for salt and pepper. It is critical to get it right. Grate whatever hard cheese you truly love, to dust the bottom of each bowl. Toast a wildly thin piece of baguette and spread with butter to place on top of the cheese. Poach the yolk of a quail until just beginning to create a skin, and set one on each of the croutons. Set the croutons in the bowls, on top of the cheese. Gently pour the hot soup right around the crouton, covering it. Be sure each bowl has plenty of mushrooms. This is adapted from Jose Andres, whom I carry with me always and everywhere. He adapted it from the renowned, Lluis Cruanyes of El Dorado Petit.

Al buio

My bathroom is not big enough for a sink. It is the exact size of a phone booth. It is not that no one can hear me if I make a phone call from the bathroom, but if I whisper and speak in Italian, chances are they will be bored.

When I woke up yesterday it wasn’t yet five, so I waited. If you don’t have to go to work, getting up before 5 feels illegal. I listened to Italian radio. They are wide awake in Italy at that hour. For them, it is almost lunch. They talked about Bruce Springsteen getting pulled over by the police for drinking 2 tequilas in the space of twenty minutes, and then saddling up his motorcycle. Everybody had an opinion. They called in to talk about it. The dj’s played a song not quite to the end. Then they asked listeners to call in again and in 30 seconds or less, let the rest of us know what irritated them. “What irritates you?”, they said, “thirty seconds or less.” In America, you would probably be thinking, “Jesus, can I do it? Can I do it in 30 seconds?” Because they would be serious. You could be weeping, and at the 29 mark they would be like “Faye calling from her toilet; bad day at the office. Not gonna be a bad day for the rest of us though! 400 dollars down and no interest for 6 months in Newark! Who doesn’t need a new car? Jim! How is it in Newark?” Cut to Jim. And Jim has to talk fast.

In Italy, 30 seconds to talk about being irritated is:

someone you haven’t seen for 30 years, and is the mother of your best friend from the 8th grade, who was Bruce Springsteen, just invited you to have a quick cup of coffee.

That is not going to be quick. Nobody wants that to be quick. You want to make a movie about it. You want to break out the table cloth and start rolling the pasta. It is understood.

Everybody called and everybody was listened to for as long as they had something to say. Most of it had to do with traffic.

When the clock hit five, I put my clothes and mask on in the dark and walked to the cafe. I ran the water through the machine a few times and and ground the coffee. I take more than what comes out automatically for a single shot, so I tapped it two more times. I pulled the coffee and steamed milk. I packed a croissant into a paper bag, locked the door behind me, and walked back home.

Then I called Italy and cried.

It will be all right. I will get back there. One day, I will be listening to Italian radio in my car before the sun comes up Italian time, on my way to the bar before work to drink coffee with the farmers who are on their second cup.

Make pasta tonight. You need a pile of sifted flour on a big wooden board with a well in the middle. Pour in some room temperature water. Slowly push the flour into the water, and make a dough. Knead it for a few minutes, until it is smooth. Let it rest under a clean towel. Ten to fifteen minutes is plenty. Roll it out with a wine bottle, from the center to the outer edges until it is a thin as a tortilla (or piadina.). Cut it into 1/2 inch strips. Lift a strip, twist the top, and pinch it off, about two inches in. Repeat until all the pasta is shaped. Boil in salted water and serve with a parmesan/pecorino/butter sauce or ragu. Drink it with a rough red wine in a short glass.

rich man, poor man, baker, thief

My mother played scrabble with my grandmother everyday at noon, and made her pour her own cup of coffee and push her own toast down in the toaster. There was a painted cardboard calendar on the wall next to the breakfast table, and every morning my grandmother was meant to turn its cardboard wheels that adjusted the date. Everyday, when she turned it, she would say, “Is that what day it is. How about that.” I think she lost very little of her mind, to tell you the truth. It would just occasionally get murky, like someone had stirred up the bottom of the lake. Sometimes she would say, “where am I going? I have no idea. Nobody tells me.”

She was a snappy dresser, and before she moved in with my mother, my cousin had gifted her a few button down velour jackets with matching slacks. One was a deep, deep purple and the other was aqua marine blue. She had on the purple set. “These feel like pajamas,” she said. She let it go for a few minutes and then said, “If they send me home from church, it is not my fault. That is on you.”

She took a sip of her coffee and looked down at the buttons as if someone had just stolen them and sewn them on to her jacket for safe keeping. She moved her fingers along the buttons and said, “rich man, poor man, baker, thief.” Another sip of coffee. Then back to the buttons, and one by one, “rich man, poor man, baker, thief.” Except there were five buttons, so she went back to the beginning and ended with “RICH MAN. That is who I am going to marry. A rich man.” And I asked her, “Are you sure, Gram?”

“Of course, I am sure.”

“Do you want to get married, Gram?”

“Heck, no.”

Yesterday, I made Bkeila. My grandmother would have loved the name, but vegetables weren’t her thing. She went for a little sliced, raw tomato with plenty of salt. Or, string beans, cooked past holding their shape. I find that in this pandemic, vegetables are keeping me from losing a little bit of my mind. They feel alive when I buy them. Their color and shape and vibrancy, pulse. Vegetable dishes I am not quite familiar with rewrite my script, repaper my walls, and change the language.

I found Bkeila in Ottolenghi’s new book, Flavor. The recipe comes from Tunisian Jews. Tunisia is in North Africa and sits next to Algeria, just south across the water below Italy, and not far from Spain. I read the recipe for a few days. I thought about how warm it was there. I wondered what kind of bread is popular in Tunisia (a lovely flat, folded, rectangular, rougag for one.) I thought about the idea of spinach and cilantro as a feature. I read about cilantro. Cilantro (what we call the leaves of the coriander plant) is related to carrots, celery, and parsnip. It can help reduce blood sugar, lower inflammation, boost brain health, fight infections, and improve digestion. Spinach is high in Vitamin K, C, folic acid, and iron, so if you can get enough of each in the same dish, it is a medicine cabinet. Bkeila.

I sauted a medium size onion with 3 cloves of whole garlic in a olive oil and butter. I let it go for a while. I gave it a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. More was called for, but I had never used cinnamon with spinach. Nutmeg isn’t far off, and it is common with spinach in Italy and France, but cinnamon isn’t nutmeg.

I added a few fennel seeds and cumin seeds, crushed with a stone. I added salt. I peeled a potato and cubed it into half inch pieces. A little more salt. I hand chopped about 3/4 pound of spinach and a large bunch of cilantro, and added it to the pan. This would be less than half of what Ottolenghi called for, but I love a different proportion of onion and garlic with long cooked vegetable. I am 57, so what I love has equal battle rights with directions. I moved the greens around until they were completely wilted. I had no beans, but I had frozen some homemade stock with a few random cannellini in it, so I added that. I let the whole thing simmer covered, until it was what I imagined a grandma with borrowed teeth would be happy with. I tasted it. I added the teeniest bit more toasted cumin and gave it another nugget of butter and a squeeze of fresh lime. I let it sit undisturbed for a few hours to grow into itself, and then had it for dinner. So good. I suppose I would be the thief, but who isn’t.

Coq au vin

with all the fixings

It is always a good idea to get somebody ready for your food, with a little food. Thin slices of eggplant, rolled around a soft goat cheese from the Loire, takes someone for a wander through an open market with aubergine (give it to me now, aubergine is much prettier than eggplant) piled high with purple skins so tight, they sparkle. And before that, I might even serve a tender wedge of duck liver mousse with a tear of baguette. You can get the best duck liver mousse, I have ever known, from a little village called Montsoreau on the banks of the Loire. You can’t get there now, but that day will come.

Eggplant rollatini with goat cheese tomato and green olive

Slice very firm eggplants into 1/4 inch slices.  Roast in a single layer on a sheet pan, drizzled pretty darn well with olive oil.  Season with salt.  Cook until

most of the white is gone and they taste good to eat.  Cool.  At the bottom edge, add a bit of goat cheese.  Roll up.  Continue with all the slices.  Halve a head of

garlic and color the cut side a bit in sauce pan with olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme and parsley.  Add just the tomatoes, crushed in your hand from a can of 

whole tomatoes.  (leave the sauce in the can for something else.)  Simmer to heat through for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Add the rolls of eggplant and simmer 

very gently, just to warm through.  Serve on a platter with picholine or nicoise olives and parsley sprigs scattered over. 

And for the main attraction:

Coq au vin

Marinate a whole chicken, cut into parts with 1 chopped onion, 1/2 a carrot, clove of garlic, one stalk chopped celery, some thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs and a few bay leaves and a few peppercorns with half a bottle or more of dry red wine and a little drizzle of olive oil, for at least two hours and up to six.  Strain the marinade.  Saute the vegetables in butter with a spill of olive oil and a sprinkle of flour to coat, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add chopped, smoked lardons (or not) and fry just until cooked through, not fully browned.  Wipe the grease from the pan and remove all the bits from the pan but do not clean the pan.  Season chicken with salt on all sides and brown well.  Give it a grind of pepper.  Remove from the pan.  Wipe the grease from the pan without lifting anything stuck to the pan.  Pour wine from marinade into pan and bring to a simmer.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan, so that all the bits go into the liquid.  Add the chicken, a cup of homemade chicken stock, the vegetables, a half a leek tied with thyme, parsley and the lardon.  Cover with a piece of parchment.  Braise at 350 degrees until the chicken is completely cooked through and easily comes away from the bone. Remove the chicken and all the bits from the pan.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce until saucy looking.  Off the heat, stir in a knob of butter.  Serve with the chicken.  Make buttery little croutons and pearl onions and sautéed mushrooms (all separately) to serve on the side if you really want to knock yourself out.

To make chicken stock:  a pound of raw bones, half a carrot, two stalks of celery, one onion, a leek, three pepper corns, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, half a tomato, parsley sprigs and plenty of water to cover.  Add pinch of salt.  simmer for at least an hour or two.  

Potato Gratin

very thinly slice about 7-8 medium yukon gold potatoes.  Gently simmer them in whole milk with splash of cream, pinch of salt and grind of pepper until nearly tender.

Meanwhile, bring two cups of heavy cream to the simmer with four or five cloves of garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme.  Add a pinch of salt.  When the garlic is soft, strain

the cream, pushing the garlic through the sieve and into the cream. Taste for salt and pepper.  Layer the potatoes, tasting for salt, with the cream into a gratin dish.  Bake,

covered with parchment and then foil with a few holes poked through until potatoes are completely tender.  Remove cover and if you like you can add a little gruyere grated on top.

Make sure oven is at about 400 so that the top browns.  

Haricot vert

Braise beans in water with salt and sprig of parsley til tender.  Drain.  Melt butter in the pan with snipped chive.  Toss beans through and add salt and pepper to taste.

And for the finale:

Chocolate souffle

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop 125 grams of your best bittersweet chocolate. You can add a little rum or gran marnier at this point.

Gently heat 1/4 cup cream and stir chocolate in.  If chocolate does not melt completely, microwave for 10 seconds.  Stir again.  

Beat 3 yolks with 1/3 cup sugar minus 2 tablespoons until thick and lemony colored.  Use those 2 tablespoons of sugar to add to the whites, once they have soft peaks.

Beat whites til glossy.  Add a little egg yolk mix and mix together with your hand.  Add the rest in two more parts.  Gently fold in egg whites.  Grease souffle dishes and fill two thirds of the way up.  Set the dish or dishes into a lasagna pan and add hot water to fill by about an inch, surrounding the dishes.  Cook until set across the top, but still wiggly.

And the winner is..

Mr. Berry!!

I love Mr. Berry. And so 10 months into this pandemic, I still go. 10 months after I began my first seven weeks of lockdown when I would venture out with a flannel shoe bag looped over my ears and a swatch of plaid Scottish wool tied around my head before the sun came up or after it had set, while the rest of the world was most likely sleeping. Across the Polaski bridge from Queens to Brooklyn, down the first staircase on the other side of the river, up Box Street and a left on Manhattan, towards the church.

My friend Mary was worried that the virus might have more of a chance at me with such a long walk. It was the beginning of March; I had been exposed, and we weren’t sure yet how the virus worked. Mary thought it was important that I stay in top form, but we did not agree about what that meant. Mary’s mode is to avoid the cold and weather to build yourself up. I am a believer in throwing yourself into it. She would have preferred I shop at E&I on the corner, or forgo shopping all together and get it delivered. I preferred walking in the full on wind until I might have to borrow another pair of legs.

At Mr. Berry you never know what you are going to find. Yesterday, I bought big, fat chestnuts and chubby little persimmons the color of a 1970’s satin pant suit. I got nearly perfect raspberries in the middle of November. I got super seeded gluten free crackers, yogurt from Bulgaria, bananas ready to eat this minute, a tiny champagne mango for 50 cents, a tiny bunch of spinach for 50 cents, a pack of organic hamburger and top shelf coffee. Two blocks away: Peter Pan Donuts. There is no time like pandemic time, for donuts. Across the street: Nassau Meat Market which is the best kielbasa you have ever had in your life, smoked in the back and its cousin, slab bacon.

All of these stores are the size of a master bedroom. Not always possible to keep 6 feet, but everyone wears their mask over nose and mouth, and the in and out is never longer than 15 minutes.

Plus, it is a goal that you have to prepare for. It is a long walk. You have to eat before you go. You have to add a few layers to whatever your loungewear is underneath. You have to think about what you might cook that night since you are shopping. And then there is the walk. There is something about the act of moving forward, even it is just to Brooklyn, that makes you feel like life is not sinking. I choose the stairs involved to get over the Newtown Creek, which encourage deep breathing.

There are people. You might only see eyes, but they are the eyes of the living.

To roast chestnuts: choose chestnuts that are robust and have weight to them. Forget the price tag. Buy less, but buy heavy. With focus, make a slice with a small sharp paring knife across the flat side of each chestnut. Roast on an unprepared sheet pan in a 350 degree oven or in a cast iron frying pan, with a lid. You are looking for the chestnuts to split their skins and for the nutmeat to soften. Eat them as is, as part of a charcuterie or cheese board, or puree into a Monte Bianco. Think about the tiny hilltop of Preggio that typically has a chestnut festival and invites everyone into the cantinas for their own family’s chestnut speciality with a glass of Novello. and break them into a ribollita as a substitute for the bread .