Ch-Ch-Ch Changes (in the way we shop)

I recently read an article in the New York Times Food section on the “7 Ways the Virus Changed Shopping” written by Kim Severson. I’ll give you the abbreviated version and my comments.

She notes in her article that people have moved to more complex cooking, a trend that doesn’t seem to be diminishing after the virus (hopefully) leaves our lives. During “normal” times, dinner was sometimes just food to get on the table, but during the Pandemic of 2020, people had more time on their hands, were willing to get creative and try more complicated recipes. Sourdough Bread is an example of that trend (but I give up on you Sourdough!) and also baking, with a 600 percent jump in yeast sales. The Chairman and CEO of Kroger foods, Rodney McMullen, believes the “Covid-driven return to the kitchen could change grocery shopping forever.”

  1. Less trips to the Grocery Store

For some people, they totally avoided the grocery store during the Pandemic. For others (like moi), we made precise lists of what we needed, to avoid unnecessary trips and more exposure to CV. Most people weren’t going to the grocery store on a whim, but “with a purpose.”

2. Online Sale of Groceries

Instacart is obviously the big winner in this scenario, as they more than doubled their work force. I can attest to the newbie Instacart shoppers, with my smushed bread at the bottom of the bag and giant can of black beans (to replace two normal cans) still lurking in my pantry. Curbside pick-up has also increased exponentially.

3. Oranges are Hot

Produce sales are up 11% and orange sales are up 73% from the year before. Obviously, shoppers are taking their health and foods to fight off viruses seriously. See my previous post (Foods to Kung Fu the Virus) for some examples of virus-fighting foods.

4. Stores have Changed The Way They Operate

With wider aisles (I wish they had this at MY Publix), more constant cleaning and less shoppers, some grocery stores have changed how they operate; shoppers want these changes to stay. I note to myself which grocery stores “feel safe” and which do not and have been shopping accordingly. Publix recently took down the directional arrows in aisles in some of their stores (shoppers complained) but Trader Joe’s still has them, is enforcing social distancing and you still can’t bring in your own (germy) bags.

5. Less Choices

Shoppers are being more economical in their choices, with House Brands (once known as generic) getting more attention. Online shopping tends to result in less impulse buys, making the grocery bill lower and dried beans were the “unexpected darling” in the early days of the Pandemic, as these items give you a lot of bang for your buck. I can’t say I ever hopped on that bandwagon, as I love Kirby Black Beans and usually buy my beans in a can.

6. Freezer Foods

Frozen food jumped 94% in March this year from 2019, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. In the beginning, this was a case of filling the freezer, like stocking your pantry. Our family basically cleaned out our freezer in the beginning months of the Pandemic, making meals from there to avoid visits to the grocery store. It’s now totally full again (thanks Trader Joe’s).

7. Local is Better

Local food has become more popular, as shoppers are less inclined to rely on unpredictable supply chain sources and also, want to support their community. According the article “it’s all a part of greater awareness about healthy eating, food waste and climate change.” I have shopped at Bee Heaven, a farm down in the Redlands and want to try the Farmer’s market at Pinecrest Gardens, to support Local businesses. Also, a lot of people have turned to local Mom and Pop bakers (Issa Bagel), dumpling makers (ZitzSum), ethnic food items etc… as a way to support their community.

How has the Pandemic changed your shopping? Let me know at gleeguilford@bellsouth.net. Can we talk?

Up Next: Orange Crush Cocktail Recipe.

Messages from the Dead

Damn you Mercury Retrograde!

Mercury retrograde, when the planet of communication reverses course, can cause disruptions to communications of all kinds. This includes verbal or written communications- e-mail, snail mail, phones, computers, etc… Sometimes it’s effects are minor, other times catostrophic. This one, which officially started October 13th, has been a doozy for me!

We were set to get our boat Friday morning at 11 a.m. Zeke woke up early, more excited than a kid on Christmas morning. In truth, the excitement was mixed with some degree of anxiety. Zeke’s last experience captaining a boat had been in the ’80’s, when the extent of his boating prowess involved taking his Dad’s boat (The Tenacious) to and from Sundays on the Bay. And he always had problems docking.

I grew up in Gables by The Sea, on a canal and my Dad had a boat from the time we moved there in 1967. I never had any interest in driving the boat- was either water skiing behind it or, in the cabin sleeping or reading. I do have fond memories of going to gas up the boat with my Dad at Matheson Hammock and never felt as free as when I was standing on the deck, flying through the water with the wind in my hair. Still, at this point, I wished I ‘d paid more attention to operating the boat, instead of just being a passenger.

As we drove down to the Keys, something happened with my cell phone, where I wasn’t able to send or receive phone calls when out of range of the house. Nevermind, we were getting our boat!

You’re finally living up to your bumper sticker.

I said to Zeke on the ride down.

I’d gotten him a “Salt Life” bumper sticker that he put on his car; the girls had given him s**t about. Now, we were about to fufill our dream of actually becoming Salt Life people and we couldn’t wait!

Around 11, Nick from Unique Marine arrived.

“There’s our boat!” Zeke said, seeing it being pulled in on the trailer to the launching dock, from our unit.

He hurried down to the dock as I scurried to put together a boat bag with sunscreen, a hat, drinks and lip balm. I videoed our boat being splashed for the first time and my childhood friend, Mike Brill, who’d helped us get the boat at Unique Marine, joined us on our maiden voyage.

“Never go faster than you want to hit something,” was Nick’s first piece of advice.

Mike, who used to be an actual ship captain for a cruise line, talked about the pivot point of the boat and how it changes when you reverse the boat. I feverishly made notes in my little notebook as Nick went through all the features of the boat and we practiced anchoring. Zeke was nervous about docking, but when he brought us into the Sanctuary dock, he did just fine. He did have two guys there giving him advice on how to do it- “Use your outside engines.”

We dropped Nick off and went out with Mike to get some more sea time and go to lunch at the O.V. On the way back, Zeke drove and Mike and I talked about my Dad and growing up in Gables by the Sea, where he was our next door neighbor and would just walk in our front door without knocking, like one of us Rice kids. He told me about how my Dad came to visit him when he was captaining a cruise ship in the islands; my Dad Butch and his Dad Larry went on the cruise, with Mike as Captain, for a week. My Dad had just gotten diagnosed with lung cancer and he’d gotten his ear pierced, as a big FU to cancer.

“After all the shit he gave me for getting my ear pierced in High School!” Mike lamented.

He showed me a photo of my Dad from that trip- he was wearing a t-shirt, knotted in the front, exposing a beer belly, with his ear sporting a gold hoop and a shit-eating grin on his face, looking like some kind of deranged pirate.

The next day, Zeke and I took the boat out ourselves. We drove to his friend Doug’s house, anxious to show off our new baby. Doug, however, was watching “Game Day” on TV, so we made the trip to John and Kelley’s home at Venetian Shores. It’s not that easy finding things from the water, as it is from the land. There are no Mile Markers and everything looks different from that perspective. We did find their house, however, and docked but no one was home. Disappointed that there was no one around to see our new boat, we went to lunch at Bayside Grille, near our condo. I cheered myself up with a “Lime in the Coconut” rum drink and a tuna tower appetizer.

Zeke did a good job docking, this time alone. According to Todd at Unique Marine, the only time you need to look good on a boat is leaving the dock and arriving at the dock. Emma must have heard this bit of info, as she showed up for her boat ride the next day in Leopard Shorts, a fancy black top, a little strappy purse and mirrored Aviator sunglasses. We took her and Gui out on the boat to go get some lunch. While I’d been Zeke’s first mate, keeping an eye on the depth finder the past two days, on this day, I was upfront talking to Emma and Guillermo.

Gui and Emma on our new boat.

We went into a waterway off the intercoastal and some guy in a flats boat gave Zeke a “What in the hell are you doing?” arm gesture. As I looked behind us, we were churning up mud.

“Zeke! We’re in shallow water!”

I said.

He stopped the boat, which immediately caused us to sink further into the mud. When we started up again, there was an awful sound of metal on rock. We finally got out of there, when the Coast Guard, and its orange and white boat appeared, aiming right for us. Did we do irrepairable damage to a protected Coral Reef? Were we in trouble? Were we going to be arrested and thrown into the Coast Guard pokey? I was worried.

“Have you ever been boarded by the Coast Guard?” the young, cute Coast Guard officer asked.

“No, this is a brand new boat,” Zeke said.

“It looks brand new,” one of the six guys on the Coast Guard boat said. None of them had masks on. The guy explained this was a routine stop.

“Before I board, do you have any weapons on board?” the main guy asked.

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” Zeke said.

He asked the question again, with the same response from both of us. I was beginning to wonder what weapons Zeke had that I didn’t know about, but Zeke thought he’d said fenders– the rubber things to buffer the boat.

“No, I don’t have any weapons. Do you think I have a bunch of guns on the boat?” Zeke asked, thinking he was making a joke. Which I’m pretty sure the Coast Guard didn’t find amusing, kind of like saying “bomb” at the airport. But the guy was nice about it and two of them boarded.

We had all our safety equipment, but not our registration, which we’d left with the mound of paperwork in the condo. We got a warning, which the guy said meant nothing, and we’re good for six months.

“Did you notice all those guys were my age?” Emma asked, after they left. “I feel like we just got pulled over by a Fraternity Party.”

Lunch at Lorelei was good, docking a little trickier, as we had to reverse out of the narrow canal. That was Sunday and Emma and Guillermo left for Miami. As we pulled the boat out of the water and onto the trailer, I could see the skeg was pretty chewed up from our encounter with shallow water and the bottom. Luckily, the prop was unharmed. We were both tired, so spent the night in the Keys. I made ravioli with an arugula salad and garlic bread and was asleep by 9:30.

Back at home, our Miami Herald had stopped coming. The subscription had expired, but I still could read the New York Times on my phone, so felt I could at least keep up with current events. Monday morning I was at Pinecrest Gardens, handing out boxes for our Garden Club’s succulent Zoom workshop on Tuesday, which my daughter A.J. conducted. Kelley looked at my phone and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Neither could Emma and they are my technology whizzes, so I figured it must be something really bad.

I finally broke down and took it to AT&T on Thursday, after a fun tennis match. After checking everything out, updating my settings and replacing my Sim card (and two hours later) the affable guy at AT&T told me it still didn’t work. He said it might be that my antenna was broken, since it couldn’t get any signal. I didn’t even know cell phones had an antenna- it must be very small! I imagined this miniature antenna, like the pistol of a tiny flower, slumped over and dead inside my phone, unable to send or receive signals. I called Apple and they set me up with an appointment for Saturday morning.

I decided to spend the night in Miami Friday, since I had the appointment Saturday morning. Zeke went down to the Keys without me. In the meantime, my phone now wasn’t getting any reception- no texts, news or updates- so I felt really incommunicado. Then, just as I was getting ready to make dinner, a violent storm came through our neighborhood, knocking out the power. Before, I’d figured even if I didn’t have my phone or the paper to get the news, I at least had the computer, but now the internet was out as well. No T.V., not even our land line (yes I still have one!) worked, so I couldn’t call Zeke and tell him what happened. Alone and in the dark, I ate my cold spaghetti squash noodles with pork in peanut sauce dinner, by candlelight.

The Apple store in Dadeland opened last Thursday, but there was still a line and Security people directing traffic. When I finally got up to the window (the rest of the store has been blocked off) the woman took my phone, ran tests and declared it D.O.A. Luckily, it was under warranty, so I got a brand new phone.

“What was wrong with it?” I asked.

“We may never know,” the Apple girl answered.

What was my week of being utterly out of touch trying to tell me? Maybe a message from my Dad, whose motto was “Shit Happens”, to get off the phone and onto the boat? A May Day from the Great Beyond to stop Doomscrolling and letting these constant political shenanigans and dire predictions by both sides, drive me crazy? A celestial S.O.S. to stay in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest? I may never know, as well.

Unfortunately, Mercury Retrograde lasts through election season (early voting and vote by mail) and the Presidential Election on November 3rd. This probably means the winner won’t be decided right away (something we kinda already figured). The last time Mercury was retrograde during an election was the Bush-Gore fiasco of 2000. Oy vey!

On Monday, I made a Moroccan Butternut Squash soup with Garbanzo beans, which sounded good but was just ok. Tuesday I made Trader Joe’s Butternut Squash Pasta (I’m on a butternut squash kick) with their Autumnal Harvest Sauce into a Baked Pasta dish with Mozzarella on top. Not really successful, a little dry and not enough flavor. The pumpkin shaped pasta fell apart upon boiling, so they looked like deflated pumpkins, the Harvest Sauce tasted more tomatoey than pumpkiny. Not a repeat.

The meal of the week was definitely Wednesday night’s Pork Tenderloin with Salsa Verde (Food Network Recipe). Pork tenderloin is pork tenderloin, but the sauce took it to a new level and luckily, I had most of the herbs in my garden. I used the leftovers in scrambled eggs and they would also be excellent on roasted chicken or fish. The recipe suggests serving it with crusty bread, but I served it with carrots and an asparagus, mushroom salad with roasted red pepper. Quite delicious!

Here’s the recipe:

Pork Tenderloin with Salsa Verde Food Network Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • One 1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
  • 3 shallots, slices
  • 2 garlic cloves

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the pork generously all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat until very hot and then add the tenderloin. Cook the pork, flipping occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the pork until just cooked through, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 150 degrees, about 15 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes.
  2. While the pork roasts, put the parsley, cilantro, vinegar, chives, tarragon, shallots and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are minced. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 2/3 cup oil with the motor running until you have a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Slice the pork tenderloin and spoon the salsa verde over top. Serve with crusty bread for soaking up all the juices.
Kelley stopped by to drop off a gift and snap this pic of us on our new boat!

Up Next: How Shopping Has Changed in the Pandemic and Orange Crush Cocktail

Banana Pudding Ice Cream

Courtney, my daughter-in-law, is not much of a sweets person, but she did serve her Mom’s banana pudding at her wedding to my son Christopher last November. Because of this, I thought Banana Pudding Ice Cream would be the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate and vanilla cake I served at her baby shower. I couldn’t find a recipe, so I invented my own.

This ice cream is not too sweet, but is creamy, banana-y (is this a word?) and crunchy, from the vanilla wafers. The perfect garnish for this ice cream would be sliced bananas and a vanilla wafer, but I wouldn’t hate it with roasted pecans, hot fudge or caramel sauce either. Courtney really enjoyed this ice cream and I think it was the hit of the shower luncheon. It does require an ice cream maker, which is an investment, but I have used mine a lot and the beauty of it is you can make any ice cream of your heart’s desire.

Banana Pudding Ice Cream

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 prepared small package of vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup vanilla wafers, crushed into chunky crumbs

Working quickly to keep the bananas from darkening, peel and place them in a food processor with the lemon juice. Puree until smooth. You should have about 2 cups of puree. Taste the mixture. If it isn’t sweet enough (it depends on the ripeness of the bananas), add simple syrup to taste. Pour in the cream, vanilla extract and vanilla wafer crumbs.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of the ice cream maker and freeze. Take out of the freezer 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with banana slices and vanilla wafers.

Up Next: How Shopping Has Changed in the Pandemic.

Showered with Love(and Good Food)

I threw a baby shower for my daughter-in-law Courtney last Saturday, for their baby (Liam Jack) who’s due November 23rd. Of course it had to be a small gathering, given the circumstances, but I wanted it to be special and personal to Courtney. Courtney had gotten a framed dinosaur picture for the nursery, so the theme was dinosaurs and pastel colors. Since Courtney is Southern, from a town near Tallahassee named Perry, I wanted to honor her Southern roots and incorporate some of her favorite foods into the party as well.

Baby Mama Courtney.

There were games, of course, but not too many because we mostly wanted to just hang out and enjoy time together. Guess how many almonds in the baby bottle (my mom won) and guess the measurement of Courtney’s belly (Allison won), as well as notecards to write Words of Wisdom to the new parents. My favorite shower station was the “Make a Bib” station in the family room, where everyone got to personalize a bib for little Liam. Allison made a baby turnover chain for him and also a turnover chain bib, which was adorable.

For the menu, I relied on tried and true recipes (mostly), since a small, special party isn’t the time to be experimenting. I had an Iced Tea and Lemonade station, with all the fixin’s so guests could tailor their tea to their liking, or make an Arnold Palmer. I made “Hot and Sassy Pickles” for Courtney, who loves pickles and my Mom brought her very delicious Deviled Eggs.

Courtney LOVES soup, so a made some Carrot and Ginger soup, from a recipe I’ve had for ages. I served the soup in little cups, with a dollop of creme fraiche and some chopped chives from my garden. The main course was Chicken Salad, a green salad, watermelon slices and croissants. The chicken salad was Fanny Farmer, the salad was a Spring Mix with an easy, yummy dressing and the watermelon was from a roadside stand in Melbourne, that was delicious. The croissants I bought frozen at Trader Joe’s and then baked them in the oven, making the house smell heavenly.

After lunch, we sat down in the living room and opened cards and gifts. A lot of the gifts had already been delivered to their home in Tallahassee, but there were some cute little outfits and booties to ooh and aah over. I gave Courtney a bag filled with a couple things from her registry, a little blue and white outfit with bears on it from when Chris was a baby, some of his old books (Peter Rabbit), his first stuffed animal (an elephant) and the sweet blue blanket I brought him home from the hospital in.

The decor was traditional and classic, with a lace tablecloth, blue napkins, baby’s breath and blue and white hydrangeas. I polished my kids old silver baby cups to display and put out framed photos of Christopher and Courtney from when they were toddlers. I’d ordered an adorable blue dinosaur cake from Nellysweetcreations and beautiful pastel dinosaur cookies for dessert, along with a homemade banana pudding ice cream I created especially for Courtney. The cookies also served as shower favors. The dessert table was framed by a beautiful banner saying “Liam Jack” that Kelley cricketed. My daughter A.J. (who’s a party planner) came over early to help decorate and the dessert table turned into a place to take photos.

It really was a sweet and beautiful shower; we all were thankful just to be able to gather together in celebration. We ate at two separate tables and I opened the sliding glass doors to circulate the air. Mother-to-be Courtney glowed and really appreciated all the special touches- we showered her with gifts and love. She came into the Family Room after the shower to check out the bibs and make one herself. Christopher reappeared (he’d cleared out for the shower) and they read the Words of Wisdom written for them.

I love these little people and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.

Charles Dickens
New Parents-to-be Courtney and Christopher Schild.

Here are the recipes:

From the Miami Herald

Note: For the pickles, I would’ve liked them with a little more vinegar, a little less salt, but that’s just me. I got the pickle cucumbers in the produce section of Trader Joes.

Homemade Pickles.

Deviled Eggs Lyla Lee Rice

  • 12 hardboiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup mayo (Hellman’s preferred)
  • 1/4 cup salad dressing (Miracle Whip)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. hot dog mustard
  • 1 tsp grated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish

Peel eggs. Slice eggs in half and remove yolks. Mash and add other ingredients. Use a pastry bag to fill for nicer presentation. Decorate with paprika, parsley or pimento. Makes 24.

My Mom’s famous Deviled Eggs.
Carrot Ginger Soup.

Everybody loved this soup by Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate fame. The recipe came from Parade magazine years ago. I gave a big container for Courtney to take back to Tallahassee and Emma took some to eat for lunch at work. The orange juice and zest give it a refreshing citrus taste. I used fresh ginger, as well as powdered, for an extra kick.

Sweet and Savory Salad Dressing

  • 1 Shallot, minced
  • 1 TBL Dijon
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 TBL lemon juice
  • 1 – 2 TBL maple syrup
  • 1/3 extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake. Will keep a week in the fridge.

I spied this recipe on a green post-it among my recipes. It sounded good and I had all the ingredients, so made it. I served it over a spring mix; it was delicious and there was enough leftover for future salads. If you don’t have shallots, use green onions (white part) or sweet onions instead.

I asked my sister Kelley, who is a Chicken Salad fanatic, what recipe she recommended and she said Fannie Farmer’s. It was very good, although I would chop the chicken into smaller chunks next time. I added tarragon, since I had an abundance in my garden, chopped apple and toasted almonds to this, as well. I poached the chicken breast and made a broth, that I used in the Carrot Ginger Soup.

Chicken Salad is the Ultimate Chick Food!

I’m not going to put the recipe for the Banana Pudding Ice Cream here now, as it was a little complicated and not everyone has an Ice Cream maker. I may list it in a future post.

In the meantime, stay healthy and hopeful and keep on cooking!

Up Next: Our boat arrives!

Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!

“Just go ahead and go.”

I love this line from Jerry Mcguire, that Dorothy’s young son says as they’re dropping Jerry off at the airport. “Just go ahead and go.” His Dad died, he’s dealt with abandonment, his Mom’s getting involved with Jerry, he’s getting attached to this new guy and he uses this phrase to protect his young and tender heart. It’s “I’ll hurt you before you can hurt me.” Adults do this too, when they are moving on, detaching from a person or place; they typically pick fights to make a breakup easier.

I think we all would like to say: Just go ahead and go to 2020. What started off looking like a typical year, turned out to be the weirdest one ever. The word that keeps getting repeated to describe 2020 is unprecendented and it is certainly that. But I’ve been thinking of another word, as one thing after another just keeps coming in the Fall of this year and that word is amazing. Amazing is an excellent word, because something can be amazingly good or amazingly bad, so it’s a word that does double duty.

So before we give 2020 the big kiss-off, let us pause and reflect on what an absolutely amazing year this has been.

I, for one, am grateful for…

  • My garden and yard never looked so good.
  • I now really appreciate things I once took for granted- meals out at a restaurant, getting a mani-pedi, getting my hair cut, hugging and kissing people, shaking hands, playing tennis, doing yoga in a room filled with fellow yogis, going to the movies at a theatre, having and attending parties and traveling wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
  • My house- drawers, closets and rooms- got organized. (the garage never did, however)
  • Our family spent a lot of quality time together.
  • We tried take-out from restaurants we wouldn’t have normally tried.
  • I successfully made homemade pizza dough, foccacia, yeast rolls and Sour Dough bread.
  • I learned the recipes for Disney World’s Pineapple Whip and McDonald’s Egg Mcmuffin.
  • I read some good books, watched some captivating Netflix shows and discovered new podcasts to listen to. (MFM, Desert Island Discs)
  • I had Zoom Happy Hours with friends and Zoom everything else. Zoom, while not the same as meeting in-person, is definitely more convenient. And you can wear your pajama bottoms.
  • We bought a boat!
  • I had Socially Distanced Dinners, Parties and Book Club Meetings.
  • I saw a lot of great sunsets down in the Keys during my month of quarantine.
  • Zeke and I took a lot of walks together, something we’ve continued doing.
  • I found myself reaching out to friends more and trying to connect in different ways; it forced me to be creative and think outside the box.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with Zeke and the girls. When, again in the history of our lives, are we going to be forced to spend quality time with each other? Puzzles, homemade meals, Tiger King, it’s all a distant memory, now that we’re all in separate places and I will treasure those months together.

Stayin’ Alive, staying’ alive!

As I was on the tennis court playing in my first USTA match of the new season (and we won!), I was just so happy to be there, in the sun and on the clay at Deering Bay. I saw a lady I hadn’t seen in ages and asked how she was.

“I’m fine,” she said,” How are you?”

“I’m alive,” I said.

Yes my belly’s bigger, I’ve drank more than I can recall, but I’m alive and that, in and of itself, is something to celebrate this year.

Tennis was different than pre-pandemic, with hand wipes, Clorox and hand sanitizer sharing spots with our tennis bags and balls. We were told to put our bags apart from each other (6 feet) and only one person in the match is allowed to change the score. A lady on a nearby court asked for her ball that landed in our court and when I went to grab it, she told me to just kick it back to her. No touchy-touch! I was not that paranoid- I feel fuzzy tennis balls aren’t the easiest surface to transfer germs on. And, besides that, Coronavirus isn’t typically transferred by surfaces, but by droplets in the air from talking, singing, breathing, sneezing, coughing etc… not by a fomite. Fomite- for some reason I love that word! Another positive from the Pandemic- my vocabulary has improved.

We haven’t been watching much on TV other than the usual suspects (Chopped, DDD), as our Amazon and Netflix has been acting up in the Family room. I’ve heard Love Fraud and Fargo (with Chris Rock!) being recommended, so I’d like to check them out. And obviously, Schitt’s Creek swept the Emmy’s, so we’ve been watching that.

We’ve been on a bit of Hanger Steak kick, as it’s a delicious and reliable meat that we usually get at Wild Fork. I’m very pleased with the quality of the meat at Wild Fork and they have a wide variety of items to choose from that you don’t normally find at your local Publix. I decided to try the pre-marinated Hanger Steak at Trader Joe’s, but unlike most of the products at Trader Joe’s, I didn’t love it. The marinade made the meat mushy and the flavoring made the steak taste like baloney, so no muy bueno.

The not so psychic Trader Joe’s cashier.

There was no line at Trader Joe’s, for the first time since the Pandemic, another cause for celebration. Some people in La La Land are still not cognizant of the directional arrows on the floor, but at least everyone had their masks on. I had to do some shopping for the baby shower I threw for Courtney, and as I checked out, I asked my cashier, a tall blonde guy, when they were going to let us start bringing our own reusable bags again.

“I hope they never do,” he said. “The bags people bring in are nasty, disgusting, with food hanging off them. Just gross. The only people who take good care of their bags are Europeans- like Germans or Swiss- because they’re used to it in their culture.”

Trader Joe’s Cashier

He then started talking about different cultures that he’s encountered, Haitians and Jamaicans when he lived in North Miami and how they have a different outlook on life. He asked me if I ever got out of my zip code because “most people from Pinecrest just stay here.” I told him I wasn’t from Pinecrest and that I also had a place in Key Largo.

“Now that’s where we should have a store,” he said. “They have a good vibe there.”

He was big into the vibe of things and I could tell he wasn’t from Miami. When I asked him where he was from, he said: “Some state you don’t know.” I told him I’d seen all 50 states but three, so I may, indeed, have been to his state, which turned out to be South Dakota. I’ve been to South Dakota twice and had actually been to the city he’s from (Rapid City) last summer with my friend Susie. When I relayed this story at the baby shower, we all agreed he seemed like a “very un-Trader Joe’s-type” employee. I usually go in there to get a boost of happiness along with my shopping experience, but not this time. Bad vibes, man.

A Case of Hoarding.

The Baby Shower was a big success- there were just nine of us- (more on it later) but on Sunday, Zeke and I went to my friend Tami’s house to check out her pool as we’re re-doing ours and she and her hubby used to be in the pool business. She sent me a text later, by mistake, about picking up some old clothes. I sent ? and she said she was getting rid of her husband (who’s in North Carolina) Dan’s old clothes. I asked her if this was with his blessing, or was she pulling a Lucy Ricardo? I love Lucy and that episode where she’s trying to get rid of Ricky’s old clothes (including his University of Havana letterman sweater) is hysterical. But Tami said it was with Dan’s blessing, that he’d been saving all his old clothes from 30 and 40 years ago for his son Walker, who’s in his twenties.

“Walker doesn’t want to wear Dan’s old clothes,” Tami said.

“From the 70’s and 80’s,” I noted.

We laughed, then Tami sent me a GIF of John Travolta dancing from Saturday Night Fever, which is how the song “Stayin’ Alive” got stuck in my head. Zeke calls me a Hoarder, which isn’t technically true, but I do get attached to sentimental items, which actually came in handy at the baby shower Saturday. I gave Courtney Christopher’s baby blanket that I wrapped him up in when he came home from the hospital, thirty one years ago. I’ve also been saving empty toilet paper rolls (no sentimental value there), which drives Zeke crazy.

“Get rid of these toilet paper rolls!” he said the other day.

“I’m saving them in case Wyatt has a project,” I replied.

“Wyatt’s never going to have a project with toilet paper rolls!” Zeke said.

We’ll see.

Apparently there’s a thing now called COVID face, brought about by the seven months of eating, drinking, being stressed out and the toll it’s taken on our countenances. Every month during the Pandemic lockdown equals about a normal year, I would guess, so so we’re seven years in. While some people were busy learning a second language, planting a Victory garden or perfecting their sour dough bread during the pandemic, the rest of us were going to pot. Sometimes, when I’m in the car and catch a glimpse of myself with my mask around my neck, it reminds me of The Christmas Story and Ebenzer Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, who had a scarf wrapped around his jaw to keep it from dropping. Now, that’s a COVID face for you!

The other story I’ve been thinking about is Rip Van Winkle and how he fell asleep for 20 years, only to wake up to find the world a completely different place. Imagine falling asleep at the beginning of March 2020 and waking up in September of this year? The world’s in the midst of the Pandemic, rising cases, a raging death toll, crazy climate change and civil unrest? A mere six months later (not twenty) and everything we once knew about life has changed dramatically. We’ve changed dramatically, as the human race as well. Personally, I’d like to just fast forward past November 3rd and the Presidential election, so I don’t have to listen to any more disastrous debates, mudslinging commercials and constantly ringing robocalls. Enough already! Last time, in 2016, we left for Spain the day after the election. Not happening this year. As my friend Martha said:

No one wants us.

Martha
Fa la la la la!

In good news, I got my hair cut and colored for the first time in months, for the baby shower. My hairstylist has a little room off her house where she works, so it’s safe and private. But in really good news, we’re getting our boat delivered Friday to the boatyard at our condo! Yay! Finally. The name will be ‘Bout Time. And it really is!

Keep washing your hands, staying six feet apart and Stayin’ Alive, people.

Up Next: Baby Shower Recipes

On Harmony Road

“Take a right on Compromise Street,” Waze instructed when we arrived in Annapolis, Maryland. For some reason, this cracked me up.

“That’s the story of every marriage,” I said to Zeke, who was driving, as I navigated.

“Maybe if Bill had compromised more, you’d still be married,” he said.

Who knows?

My first marriage wasn’t as much a Democracy as a Dictatorship (and not a benevolent one) with my husband in charge. After 17 long years, I defected. I will be married to Zeke 17 years next year (God willing) and, so far, so good. At 60, I’ve now been married more than half my life.

Compromise and negotiations are essential in every marriage, which can sometimes make it seem more like a business deal than a merging of two hearts, but these are necessary skills for any successful relationship; I would argue that marriage is the most important relationship in life and finding the right partner is essential. You’ve got to find your groove, however, and sometimes, it take time.

Take vacation, for example.

In normal (non-Pandemic) times, I like to wake up around 8, take my time getting up, stretch, drink my coffee in bed and write in my journal. Zeke wakes up earlier (like 6), goes to the gym and works out, comes back and showers. Sometimes he brings me coffee from the lobby or his walk. On this trip, however, most of the hotel gyms were closed and some of the places we stayed at weren’t safe to walk around, so Zeke would wake up early, then pace around our room like a caged tiger on steroids. It was rather stressful to have someone awake, fully dressed and ready to go, as I lay in bed, still in my nightgown and trying to wake up. Plus, I need “alone” time to do my own thing; consequently I hardly got any writing done.

We arrived in Annapolis at lunchtime, after spending a day and night in Baltimore, Maryland. I’d heard Baltimore was a fun city, with a great Foodie scene, lots of history and great architecture. It’s also home to Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner, baseball compound Camden Yards and master of Macabre Edgar Allen Poe’s hometown and final resting place.

We’d stopped first at Faidley’s, world renowned as the place to get the best Crab Cakes in the World. They were awesome, but the neighborhood where Faidley’s was located left something to be desired. I flat-out refused to walk back around the block we’d walked to get there, so we found a back entrance to the parking garage and left. As we were driving to our hotel, we drove through more questionable neighborhoods, which prompted me to ask the Front Desk lady at our pretty B & B, the Carrolton Inn.

“Is this neighborhood safe?”

“When you walk out the front door, just go right,” she answered.

So we went right, to Little Italy, Fell’s Point and the Inner Harbor. We walked around for a couple hours, had raw oysters and a cold drink at the Thames Oyster Bar, then came home and changed for dinner at Gia’s in Little Italy. We had a lovely breakfast in the courtyard of the Carrollton Inn, our B & B, checked out and drove to Federal Hill to visit the park before we left. It was a perfect spot, high up above on a hill, where we could see all of Downtown Maryland. Our last stop was to Edgar Allen Poe’s Grave at Westminister Presbyterian Church and then we were on our way to Annapolis.

Unfortunately, as was the case in Harper’s Ferry, the Visitor’s Center in Annapolis was closed, which is how we found ourselves Wazing it to The Boatyard, recommended on Yelp as a good place for lunch. On our many Road Trips, Zeke is the driver and I am the navigator. The Boatyard, normally an inside bar/restaurant, got creative and turned their parking lot into a dining area. They laid down a ton of pebbles, put plastic tables and chairs out and decorated it with potted palms, under a big tent, with fans. Instead of “paving Paradise and putting up a parking lot”, they did the opposite.

We had an excellent lunch, with local fresh oysters (our favorites of the trip) and local beer. Zeke LOVED his crab cake sandwich and said the crab cake was comparable to Faidley’s, which is high praise. Since we had time to kill, we checked out St. John’s College, which was of course, closed but we walked around the campus. We then attempted to visit the U.S. Naval Academy, but got stopped at the guard gate by a no-nonsense military man demanding Zeke’s driver’s license and eyeing our rented minivan suspiciously. After he checked out our license plate (with an armed guard watching us), he dismissed us, telling us to come again “when this is all over.”

Our dinner at Preserve on the main street was very good. I got crab cakes served on a bed of sautéed corn, basil, basil oil and cherrby tomatoes, Zeke got a burger and we split a bottle of wine. As we walked across the bridge to check out the boats and marina in Annapolis, we attempted to walk around a swaggering, maskless guy on the street.

“You think I’ve got COVID?” he screamed at us. “Yeah, I’ve got COVID up my ass.”

We kept walking, avoiding a confrontation. I think alcohol may have been a factor in this guy’s extreme reaction. It was interesting to see how the different states handled the COVID situation. Most restaurants and hotels were very good about mask-wearing and social distancing, but out on the streets, it was every man for him/her selves, with about half of the people wearing masks and a lot of them not wearing them correctly. A mask on the hand is not worth two in the bush.

We had a great breakfast at The Iron Rooster in Annapolis and hit the road for St. Micheal’s, a city a friend had told me was a charming little Chesapeake Bay town where her brother had worked at a resort. As we made our way to St. Micheal’s, Waze directed us to: “Make a slight left on Harmony Road.” With my coffee in my drink holder and my notebook paper in my lap to write, it felt like we’d hit our vacation groove and Harmony Road.

“I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul. Where I’ll end up, I think God really knows.”

Cat Stevens

Up Next: Hamburger Pizza

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

One of my favorite appetizers to serve at dinner parties is grilled shrimp, especially if the Main Course is a meat one. This Grilled Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon is a Martha Stewart recipe from her Hors D’ Oeuvres cookbook and what I served at my Surf ‘N Turf Farewell Dinner for Tug and Kate. In this case, I skipped the bacon as I was serving the shrimp with a Flat Iron Steak. If you don’t have time to marinate the shrimp overnight, a couple hours will do and if your bacon is thicker than the lean suggested, you need to cook it a bit before (I do it in the microwave) so it’s done at the same time as the shrimp.

Grilled Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon Makes 13 to 15 Hors D’ Oeurves

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound large shrimps (13 to 15 per pound, peeled and deveined, with tails intact

5 slices very lean bacon, sliced thin

Combine the oil, vinegar, dill and garlic in a bowl. Add the shrimps and marinate overnight.

Cut each slice of bacon into thirds and wrap a piece around each drained shrimp, securing well with a toothpick.

Grill over hot coals until the bacon is crisp and the shrimps cooked through, about 7 to 8 minutes. You can also cook them under a hot broiler, 4 minutes on each side, being careful not to burn the bacon or overcook the shrimp.

I’ve made this recipe for over twenty years and it’s always a big hit. If you don’t do them with the bacon, you can just skewer them as I did. If you want to get fancy, you can serve the grilled shrimp with a Key Lime Mustard, a Dill Sauce. or Mango Barbecue Sauce. Just make sure you pass them out along with plenty of napkins, as they can be a messy appetizer.

Grilled Barbecue Shrimp

Up Next: Maryland Road Trip

Gather Ye Rosebuds…

We walked by a jewelry store in Annapolis, Maryland and there was a sign in the window saying “Life is still happening. People are getting engaged, celebrating anniversaries and graduations.” I’m not sure exactly what the wording was but the point was, that even in the midst of COVID and shut-downs, life goes on and that we shouldn’t stop celebrating or marking joyful occasions because of it (preferably by buying a piece of jewelry from their store).

Rose bushes left at my neighbor Maggie’s house, which is gone now.

It made me think of events that have happened during COVID- happy and sad- and how they’ve changed how we mark these occasions. My neighbor Bernie had a medical emergency on the last day of a family cruise in December 2019. He was medevaced to a hospital, where he lingered for months before finally coming home, and dying at age 90. I felt terrible, of course, but there was no funeral to attend. I read his obituary in the paper and dropped off a card and cookies to his widow Maggie; I couldn’t help but think what an awful time it was to die under these circumstances.

We can’t gather together for comfort, give hugs, or drop off dishes to eat together while sharing stories of loved ones. The coming together to celebrate or mourn, has changed drastically in the time of COVID. It’s not like I enjoy attending funerals (who does?), but I GET them more now. That ritual, that tradition of paying one’s respects to the deceased, seeing them one last time, saying a prayer in front of their casket, causes a finality in our brain that allows us to process the loss as real. Without it, it’s almost like a tree falling in the forest.

By the pool in the Keys yesterday, I was talking to a neighbor about COVID.

“I hate COVID.”

she said.

“Join the club.”

I said.

But we were talking about things we were supposed to do this year that got cancelled- she had her niece’s wedding (postponed, but eventually happened), we had a niece’s wedding in August (postponed till next year). We also had an Alaskan cruise (who knows when that will happen?), two graduations, four birthdays, Zeke’s 40th year class reunion, the list goes on and on.

“Everyone has some story,” said her husband.

Some story of something important that didn’t happen, was cancelled or postponed, due to COVID. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get that back. Sometimes it feels like 2020 is the year that didn’t happen, a mirage we’ve imagined that will sink into the recesses of our unconscious.

It’s not like sitting in a hot, crowded auditorium for hours with a bunch of strangers, waiting for your child’s name to be called and walk across the stage to pick up their diploma, was something I was looking forward to, but it does mark an occasion. It’s a ritual that designates the importance of four years of hard work and study, signified by moving the tassel to the other side of the mortar board. And then, throwing the caps up into the air in celebration. Having a family dinner at home, even while forcing said graduate to dress up in a black graduation cap and gown, is simply NOT the same. I miss the Pomp and Circumstance, I even miss the song. Who knew?

It’s a perfect example of how you never know the things you’ll miss until they’re gone. Now, a lot of things we took for granted are gone. Retail stores we loved, restaurants we ate at, businesses we frequented, even the Saturday edition of the Miami Herald are finis.

When I flew for Air Florida, we’d been living with rumors of Bankruptcy and Going out of Business for a long time, it eventually just became like the white noise that buzzed in the background on my flights. It had gotten so bad, a friend and fellow flight attendant of mine, Lori, had come up with our own new slogan for Air Florida- “Who gives a f**k?” Then in July, I had a flight (can’t remember where), with a classmate from my training class (Cathy something) and, after that flight, I came home as usual. The next day, Air Florida declared bankruptcy and I never flew, as a flight attendant, again. The only thing I do remember about my flight is that I had breakfast at a Bob’s Big Boy. But, the point is, had I known it was going to be my LAST FLIGHT I would’ve savored every moment of it- the demanding passengers, the crying babies, even that smell of the airplane when you walked onto an empty plane. And had I known that the last time I saw my neighbor Bernie in December, was going to be the last time I would see him ever, I would’ve said something better than “Hey” in passing him on the street we shared, as he walked his little dog Lizzie. Regrets, I have a few.

Me (upper left) and Lori (lower left) on an Air Florida flight.

So that’s why, last week I decided to mark some occasions and not let them slip away unnoticed in this incredibly strange year of 2020. Kate and Tug, my niece and her husband, decided to move back to Portland, Oregon after a year in Miami with their adorable baby Lou, and two dogs Kobe and Wagyu. They’d had a hard time adjusting to Miami, with Kate working at a fellowship at Jackson Hospital and Tug, working remotely from home for his employer in Boston. Then, COVID hit. Tug got offered a better job, with more money that will pay for him to go back to school and Kate got offered another Fellowship by her old boss at her old hospital in Portland. They put their house in the Gables on the market. It sold in one day, with five back-up offers and, that was that.

“Will you ask us over for dinner parties?” Kate asked me when they moved to Miami, last summer.

“Of course!” I said.

Kate and Lou last year. What a difference a year makes!

And we did have them over right after they moved. But, since COVID, I haven’t seen Kate, since she was being very cautious and worked at a hospital. I asked them over for a final dinner last Wednesday before they left for Portland. She suggested Surf and Turf- the same thing I’d served the last time- because she likes Turf and Tug likes Surf. Dinner was some Grilled Garlic Shrimp (Martha Stewart) with Grilled Hanger Steak (Zeke Guilford), Ina’s Make Ahead Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Brussel Sprouts (Ina). Appetizers were simple- sliced cucumbers, salami and Cheese Crackers (The Splendid Table) and dessert was homemade ice cream with biscotti (The Last Course). Dinner was precisely from 5 to 7, to fit in Lou’s schedule (who was a perfect baby, but started yawning towards the end) and then, just as suddenly as they came, Tug and Kate were gone.

Thursday marked the return to UM Football and Zeke and I went over to Justin’s Brickell apartment with A.J. and Justin’s family to watch the game and eat tacos. The appetizers were wiped out before I arrived. I brought fresh salsa and black beans (which no one seemed to eat), but the Lobster Tacos were excellent. I also brought my own Margarita, a version of one I’d had at at Agave, a Mexican restaurant in Delaware, which featured Ancho Chile Bitters. I was excited to see Wyatt’s room, where he’s been living the last six months since the Pandemic hit, and it was nice reconnecting with Justin’s family. We left at halftime. U.M. won.

Emma and Wyatt at the UM opening game.

Friday night we celebrated the last hurrah of Summer (Fall starts the 22nd!) by having Emma and her boyfriend Gui over for “Camp” with Wyatt. She misses Wyatt, since he no longer lives here and neither does Emma, who moved to her own apartment earlier this summer. Wyatt swam, we played Water Balloon Toss (which didn’t really work because the balloons seemed unbreakable) and then we ate a Summery Dinner of Grilled Cheeseburger Sliders, Corn off the cob, Baked Beans, Pasta Salad (Ina) and slices of chilled watermelon. Dessert was S’mores, with marshmallows toasted in the fireplace.

We then told Spooky (G-rated-stories) in the living room and played with some light-up rockets Emma had gotten for Wyatt outside, in the front yard. Emma and Guillermo left, exhausted. I’d mentioned to Wyatt that we might sleep in a tent outside for Camp, but luckily he forgot about that (it was SO hot!). I gave him a bath and put him to bed, in the delicious Air Conditioning.

Saturday, we had Martha and Luis over for Duck Breasts she’d ordered for D’ Artagnan. She also brought a bottle of champagne and I served Fresh Figs stuffed with a gorgonzola cheese and topped with crispy prosciutto for hors d’oevres. I served Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus (Joy of Cooking) with the Duck a l’orange (Martha Stewart), which Zeke scored, then seared in the cast iron skillet. I also made a Watercress and Arugula Salad with toasted almonds, dried cranberries and a honey lime vinaigrette, to add a bit of brightness and acidity to the meal. Dessert was homemade ice cream, this one a delicious Sweet Corn Ice Cream, with a Blackberry compote and a crunchy Rose Water Meringue (all The Last Course.)

I’m glad I celebrated all these events last week. It takes effort, but it’s worth it and I want to live with less regrets and more gusto. And the next time I go to a funeral, I will do so with gratitude that I’m able to properly say goodbye to a loved one, the next time I attend a graduation, I will stand up and clap the loudest and longest and, when I attend Lindsay’s wedding next summer in Massachusetts, I will have my dancing shoes on and dance like there’s no tomorrow, because there may not be.

Like Robin Williams (as John Keating) in Dead Poet’s Society said:

“We are food for worms, lads. Carpe Diem! Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

John Keating

In other words, give a f**k. Drag out the good china, polish the silver, clean the crystal, make special meals for people you love, celebrate the big things and the small things. Even in a time of COVID, this is possible.

Up Next: My favorite Grilled Shrimp Recipe.

Fast Food Dining During COVID-19

One of the questions I had when we embarked on our Road Trip to D.C. and beyond, was how would dining at Fast Food restaurants during the COVID-19 Pandemic be? While I don’t normally eat a lot of Fast Food, on the road, sometimes it’s your only choice. The first place we stopped, while still in Florida, was one of our favorite Turnpike restaurants- Cracker Barrel. The parking lot didn’t look very full, so we were hopeful, although there’s often a wait for Cracker Barrel, even in the best of times.

We entered, went to the hostess stand and put our names down. It was a twenty minute wait. That part didn’t bother me, but the Gift Shop was packed with people, like flies swarming around honey over Christian C.D.’s, Garden Gnomes and Old Fashioned candies. After a couple minutes, we decided to bag it and hopped in the car to find another alternative. Being in a crowded restaurant and dining inside didn’t feel safe to us and we wanted to get to our destination ASAP. We decided on Chick-Fil-A, even though there was a long line. Chick-Fil-A was not business as usual. Instead of pulling up to the drive through to order, pay and pick up, there were Chick-Fil-A employees out in the parking lot, with menu signs attached to their bodies, like an old-timey advertising board.

The woman who came to our car, came to the driver’s side. I couldn’t even see the menu from the passenger side, so I just ordered what Lauren did- a Spicy Chicken Sandwich with Chick-Fil-A sauce. There were about three lines of cars waiting to order and the whole process took about 10 minutes, from ordering to getting our food. The next stop (still outside) was paying, which was a little cart set up outside, where we paid with a credit card. The last stop was getting our food, where a table was set up with handled paper bags. These were handed to us in person.

I’m not sure why Chick-Fil-A has modified their drive-through method. I can only guess they don’t want all their employees crowded inside together, because it didn’t seem like a more efficient method. My Chick-Fil-A spicy chicken sandwich was delicious, soft bun, crunchy chicken breast and we all snacked on Zeke’s waffle fries, which were good, although a little cold. They also neglected to put ketchup in the bag.

Chick-Fil-A Takeout Grade: B

The next day, driving from Charleston to D.C. we stopped at Panera for lunch. I love Panera because #1 I love soup and sandwiches and salads for lunch and #2 They list the calorie counts of their menu items, making it easy to make good choices. We ordered our lunch at the Drive-Thru, parked in a designated spot and our food was delivered to our car. The bag our lunch came in was sealed with a label, and Panera also offered the option to order online or in the Panera app. The inside was also open, but we opted to dine in the mini van. I got the You Pick Two with a half a Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken and a half a Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich (soup seemed too risky in the car). I was totally happy with my experience. We threw our garbage away right in the Panera parking lot can and were on the road again. Easy, breezy, satisfying and good.

Panera Takeout Grade: A

The take-out experience that seemed not to have changed at all was McDonalds, where we ate for breakfast twice on the road. Zeke and I both got Egg McMuffins, I got coffee, he got Iced Tea and we were on our way. What I like about McDonalds is that they put your cream right in your coffee, so you don’t have to mess around with it while driving. “Caution: Beverage Inside is Hot.” Our McMuffins were good and, overall, I was satisfied with our McDonald’s experience.

McDonalds Take Out Grade B+

On the way back to D.C., we stopped at a Turnpike Plaza to grab a quick lunch at Wendy’s. The line inside was very long and the place was packed. It gave me the heebee geebees, so we opted to leave after making a quick restroom pit stop. I ate cheese and crackers with an apple, for lunch, in the car. The moral of this story is: do what feels comfortable to you. Waiting in a crowded Cracker Barrel or in an endless line at a Turnpike Plaza, didn’t feel safe to us, so we pivoted to Plan B.

The last Fast Food place we dined at was Steak and Shake, home of the Original Steakburger and a favorite of my brother-in-law John’s. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten there before, but was impressed with how cheap it was! Like a burger and milkshake for $4. I ordered a Steakburger and it was hot, tasty and brimming with the extra pickles I’d requested (most places skimp on the pickles). The Drive-Thru experience was just a normal one- order, pay and pick up your sealed sacks of burgers at the end; I would definitely return to Steak and Shake. They also offer the option of Car Hop Dining, where you can park in a designated spot, open the Steak and Shake app, order and your order is brought to your car. They also list the calorie counts of menu items, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on what you order.

Steak and Shake Take Out Grade: A

Up Next: The Death of Rituals in the Time of Pandemic

Yummy Yeast Rolls

One item that was on many of our menus during our travels to the Mid-Atlantic States of Maryland and Delaware was Yeast Rolls. We ate some in Delaware and they were soft, slightly sweet, airy and delicious. They make the perfect bread for eating, warm and dripping with butter, before dinner. The problem is stopping with one! These would also be good with honey butter, which is how they served them at Krazy Kats in Wilmington, Delaware.

The first time I tried this easy recipe, I messed it up by not mixing in the yeast first to dissolve it in the hot water. Instead of rising, my rolls just flattened out like a big old muffin top. I also decided to brush the tops with butter and sprinkle them with Maldon salt before baking, but this resulted in flattening the already risen dough. By the second batch, I perfected the technique by brushing the golden tops right out of the oven with melted butter and then sprinkling them with the crunchy salt. Heavenly! And best eaten the same day, preferably straight out of the oven.

Quick Yeast Rolls from Allrecipes. Serves 8

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons shortening

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 cup hot water

1 (.25) package active dry yeast

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Directions:

  • In a large bowl, mix the shortening, sugar and hot water. Allow to cool until lukewarm and mix in the yeast until dissolved. Mix in the egg, salt and flour. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size. (I put the dough in a glass container and marked it with painting tape so I could see when it doubled.)
  • Grease 8 muffin cups. Divide the dough into the prepared muffin cups and allow to rise again until doubled in size. (This won’t take as long as the first rise, FYI.)
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.

My last step was to melt butter (about 2 tablespoons) in the microwave and, when the rolls come out of the oven, brush them with the butter and sprinkle with the Maldon salt. That should be the order, brush and sprinkle. Don’t brush them all with butter and then sprinkle the salt, because it won’t stick. Also, over-grease the muffin tins, including where they will flop over the top, as some of my muffins got stuck here.

Happy Baking! Have I told you yeast is SO much easier than Sour Dough? This recipe is proof positive.

Up Next: Fast Food Dining in the Pandemic