Les restes. Doesn’t that sound yummy? It evokes meals on white plates enjoyed at tables draped in checkered cloths while Edith Piaf plays in the background. What kind of obscure French delicacy is that? Which wine would the sommelier choose for you?
You likely have the ingredients for it in the fridge. Les restes is the charming name given to the food that didn’t get eaten at one meal and now provides the raw material for another.
As in leftovers. The humble leftovers from last night’s dinner await transformation into today’s lunch or dinner. How?
If you have a relative who lived through the Great Depression, ask them how they or whomever was the cook in their house used up leftovers for inspiration. If you don’t, check YouTube for interviews with survivors.
Soup. You don’t need no stinkin’ recipe for a good pot of soup. Just aromatics (onion, celery, carrot), broth (in a carton is fine, if you can make your own from veg scraps and bones, the better), and then add whatever is lurking in the fridge.
Casseroles. Noodles, pasta, rice. Bits of this and that. Bind it all together with béchamel sauce (1 T. flour, 1T. butter–melt, sprinkle in flour, cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of the raw taste, then gradually add 1C. milk as you keep stirring. Add salt and pepper. You may also add nutmeg and/or the cheese of your choice). If you just can’t, canned cream of______ soup will bind it as well. And I won’t judge you.
You can make salads. Either cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a tossed salad or you can cut them a little finer, mix with mayo, mustard, some herbs, celery and maybe some onion, and create sandwiches or enjoy on crackers. Or eat off the spoon. Again, no judgement.
Oh, and another note about béchamel: if you feel like fussing with making crepes (there are about a million recipes for them out there) use some to bind leftover chicken or seafood, wrap it in a crepe, pour the rest of the sauce over the top, and bake for 20 minutes or so to be sure it’s all warmed up.
Just because consumer have to exercise more care than ever with groceries due to COVID-19 complications (interruptions in the food supply chain; prices going up something like 20%) it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun while we adapt to current reality.
And if you can create something original out of your restes, so much the better.
My hair, overdue for a cut at the start of stay-at-home orders in late March, is at the annoying point of growing out where it’s long enough to fall into my eyes at will, but too short to pull back or put up in a clip. I negotiated Oakley’s time without daycare courtesy of extra walks and many games of “find it.” A lack of yoga classes has worked its way into my soul and festered some days. And this year, the big one for both of us: Ren Faire.
In the grand scheme of things, in light of what others endure on a daily basis, my complaints are quite petty. Inhale, exhale with a sigh, release. But wait, there’s more:
The absolutely most challenging thing: not shopping for groceries in person, even locally. I shop for food (and books) with the giddy abandon with which some people shop for clothes. The places where I love shopping are all near the yoga studio, but since they closed the physical doors in March, grocery runs there are a no-go since I have no other reason to run into town.* We’ve been ordering curbside from (aak) Wal-Mart or produce from the mom-and-pop place en route to Oakley’s day care.
In these times and by ordering curbside, a customer must relinquish control to an extent. I hate that. I want the sensory experience of shopping, the visuals of the fruit and veggies, the way the fruit or tomatoes feel in my hands as I slide them into the bag. And I want to know that it’s the best that I can get.
I’ve had better than expected luck with (aak) Wal-Mart. I hated setting up yet another account. I’m not a huge fan of their corporate policies, but they are one of the bigger employers in the area, and actually make positive contributions to the community such as health fairs and hiring differently abled people.
Sometimes you just have to suck it up and surrender to the facts and the situation: no vaccine yet, too many shoppers ignoring social distancing and mask wearing, and that Hubby was squeamish about me going into stores with anything less than a hazmat suit, 95N mask, and face shield. So I did. And was pleasantly surprised by their selection of organic products at decent prices, and the house brand chocolate.
For the most part, I’ve had good luck. I’ve only had two problems, one with oranges that had gone bad from the middle of the bag, and one from the mom and pop store with a tray of tomatoes that had turned sour and watery (my only bitch about their produce is that they prepackage everything and it’s hard to tell if something is going to go bad or not just by looking).
Whether I’m clicking and pointing, or able to shop in person, I always ask the Mystery to bless all those who brought it my way, everyone from the associate who arranged the displays or pulled what I needed for me to the trucker who brought it to the store to the farmer and workers who grew it. Since I am not adept enough with gardening to be self sufficient in the food department, I am deeply grateful to all involved, both for getting it on my table and for pulling it on my behalf in these times.
Another round of lessons in gratitude, acceptance, and surrender. These days are just a sliver of forever, and the faint glimmer on the horizon will grow into a sunrise of better days ahead.
Until then, my favorite farmer’s market opens up this weekend. I think a trip there is in order to tide me over in the mean time. With appropriate gear worn, of course.
*I make an effort to piggyback as many errands as I can into trips that way to conserve gas.
There are the springs the park is named after. Even in the most f-all cold weather, they still flow through the green cress lining their banks
And there are the Mother Maples, still standing after ten years of storms, their roots like knobby toes gripping, digging into the forest floor.
Ahead of us is the river, shining silver in the early sunlight. Oakley and I turn west on the trail, following paw prints that faded from the trail over time but never from my heart.
The last time I was on this trail was ten years ago. Solo, around Labor Day. back. I hadn’t been out there since the next to last week in May when Orion had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk there for three months. One of the other dog persons saw me walking alone, guessed what had happened, and threw her arms around me.
I hugged her back. No words were needed.
Before that, before the damned heart condition and the double damned lymphoma took him, Orion’s last hurrah echoed through the park. He caught the scent of a rabbit, the quarry of Brittanys across North America and around the world. With an unexpected burst of energy, he dragged me down the trail, up the hill to the larger lake, around the west end of the lake, up another hill, then turned us east and slowed to a tentative crawl as we went back to the car.
The final decline began the next day. He had problems getting up and walking and just wanted to lie in the grass in the back yard.
And then he didn’t even want to do that. He stayed in his spot by the back door. I stayed next to him, begging any deity who was listening to please intervene, to please guide me. Was it time to call in the vet?
No, he just had a rally and ate a little banana and a bite of turkey. He was acting more engaged and a little cuddly.
Maybe. He’s not in any pain, but I couldn’t get him out in time.
We’ll try sub-q fluids. That’s helping. He perked up.
And then on the last day, a Saturday, Hubby brought home a garden cart, one of the mesh ones, put one of Orion’s beds in the bottom, loaded Orion into it, and took him on a ride around the property lines and up and down our road.
We spoke of taking him for a ride the next day at the park, but then he crashed and burned.
I called the emergency number for our vet clinic. No one was able to come out and help with that final act of kindness. The nearest emergency vet was a half-hour away.
If he starts acting like he’s in pain, if he has respiratory problems…yeah. Otherwise…
We took him to his spot. I stayed with him through the night, candles lighting his way. Whispering that I would miss him, but I understood if he needed to go.
I laid on the floor next to him, watching the stars crossing the night sky through the skylights. The classical station played a lot of Bach for some reason through the wee smalls.
Just before the first cracks of daylight opened, I felt my heart get torn from my chest and had a mental image of Orion giving me a play bow, running around our back two acres, then taking off towards the east. I sat up. Checked the pulse points.
That stage of his journey was done.
Mine was beginning. The journey of fumbling through the darkness, the numbness. Not being able to even drive past the entrances to the park without tears scalding my cheeks.
Eventually, while the gaps and holes remained, they shrank, and the raw edges scabbed over and turned pink with new growth. I could walk at the park again.
And then came Oakley. While Orion had been exposed to the outdoors from nearly birth as part of his hunting dog training, Oakley had spent his first six months in a shelter with little exposure to the world outside the building. Walking him and showing him the world of his big brother was nearly impossible due to the anxiety triggered by the overwhelming scents and sounds.
Even with all the training mitigating his early lack of exposure, I just couldn’t take Oakley back to that park. He learned to love the other parks in our area, but the state park I just couldn’t…
But then came the current plague where social distancing became a must. Hard to do at the forest preserves and their weekend crowds. A couple of weeks ago we took a little drive and checked the parking lot to see if it was at 50% capacity or less per safety recommendations.
Deep breath, bite lip behind my scarf. Get out of car. Yes, I’m OK. Oakley’s OK. New playground gear? Great. That tree is still standing. Those outhouses, the ones where Orion and I took refuge from an out of nowhere electrical storm, finally came down. That final hard wind probably did them in. The flowering trees, the picnic areas hadn’t changed that much. We walked. Oakley sniffed. He may have listened as I pointed out Orion’s favorite places to sit and watch the river go by. But I think he was too busy sniffing to hear me.
Since then, we’ve worked the park back into our rotation. Early morning is best for contemplating the abundance of beauty around us in quiet and semi-solitude while we walk, my feet and his paws padding down the mulch covered trail by the river.
Sometimes in the silence occasionally punctuated by a bird’s call or the wind in the leaves, if I listen with my heart, I can hear an unseen set of paws running alongside us.
So how the heck are you, Gentle Readers? We are slightly bonkers here from the monotony of the days in the soybean field, yet we are grateful that we are well off in so many other ways.
We’re making an effort to stick to some kind of schedule. Meals and walks get served up at pretty much the same time daily as they were before the stay at home order went into effect back in March. The two changes: afternoon walks are later to avoid crowds at the parks, and we stop at 2:30 for tea, species-appropriate treats, and to watch the daily briefing from Governor Pritzker, Dr. Ngosi Ezike, the head of the Illinois Public Health Department, and other dignitaries with important information pertaining to this accursed modern-day plague.
Those, too, have patterns and rhythms. If Gov. Pritzker’s opening remarks include acknowledgements of people on the front line in one capacity or another, or introducing additional speakers, the statistics will run low. If he hands it off to Dr. Ezike right after thanking everyone for tuning in, we know the numbers are even less pretty than usual. It’s been interesting to listen to a National Guard commander detail what’s gone into transforming McCormick Place from a convention center into an alternative care facility for COVID-19 patients. I felt uplifted by the motivational speech by a young man who created a NFP to mentor teens in his tough neighborhood reminding them and others to use this time at home to set goals and work out game plans to achieve them. Next come the questions from reporters, and then everyone is thanked and that’s it for the day.
Sometimes we watch “Jeopardy” to cleanse our palates. Sometimes nothing short of time in the woods will shift gears. And sometimes as it’s been too many days this spring, it’s too cold and rainy, so we have another snack.
Luckily, the weather has shifted gears, finally. My plan, subject to change due to factors beyond my control, is to get the garden planted in the next week. One of my local organic farmers is selling plants with curbside delivery. I know that I can trust him to pick good ones for me. Usually, I would buy them form the ag store, but many shoppers there believe that masks and distancing are but suggestions.
The tough parts for me have been keeping Oakley amused (day care starts again next week–it’s located in a county that will start opening nonessential services on Monday) and not being able to shop for food in person. Well, I could. I don’t because as with the ag store, a lot of people in these parts see social distancing and wearing masks as a government plot to strip civil liberties. We’ve been getting curbside from a mom-and-pop near Oakley’s day care and as much as it gags me, Wal-Mart.
Will we have markets this summer? I don’t know. Right now, I would love to have tea or lunch in person with a friend, but because so many are in risk groups, and Hubby is in a risk group because of his age, I can’t and won’t take that chance.
Even back in the days of the Black Plague, people understood that isolation and quarantine was the best way to shut it down. In fact, did you know that “quarantine” is derived from the Italian word for forty? Now you do. And if this was something new, you may go take a nap.
The plague passed. So will this, eventually. Not unlike a kidney stone, but it will.
The yoga studio where I’ve been taking classes tried social distancing through limiting class sizes when this started, but then came the stay at home order. Unfortunately, places of yoga are considered nonessential, even if teachers and students gear up like the yogi/yogini in the above picture. In that light, they switched from physical classes to an online platform that other business avail themselves of for meetings in these days of COVID-19.
Which is nice, but between my techno-squeamishness and that the platform in question has been subjected to hacking and malware attacks, I decided to go on sabbatical.
My pass will be good until sometime in September. I will join them physically then. Until then, I’m continuing my practice solo with online videos or making it up as I go along. If you’re looking to do the same, check out Yoga with Adriene. She does a great job cueing, explaining, and leading you through the journey of your daily practice. Benji the Blue Heeler frequently joins her.
I wanted a little variety this morning, so I tried a vinyasa flow from an instructor I chose at random from a YouTube play list.
Bad idea. If done well, vinyasa practices help you push yourself a little bit into doing something you don’t feel comfortable doing. While the bulk of the poses are based on sun salutes and are a bit on the repetitive side, a good teacher will find ways to change up the poses a little to keep the students interested and focused while offering modifications for different experience levels and abilities. If not, it’s just boring and feels like a gym class from hell.
This video was in the latter category. I was at the point of no return when the irritation struck so I didn’t turn off that in favor of another one. And I couldn’t flip her off because several of the poses (downward dog, plank, low lunge) require hands for balance.
I stuck it out.
I did get a few endorphins going. I did feel pleasantly stretched.
For over half my life, my morning routine has included journaling. I note ten things I’m grateful for, such as health, friends, basic needs met, Oakley’s snoring–the stuff of life that makes it good. And then I write about dreams and analyze them. And then I just free write about how the day unfolds.
In addition to fit the puzzle pieces of my life into a coherent whole, I’m also aware that I have a responsibility to my descendants, to anyone who might be interested in the journals of a not-so-young woman living in these times to record events in real time.
Personal journals provide historians with a wealth of knowledge about what really happened, not just what governments and those writing history on their behalf say did. Queen Victoria’s journals gave hints about what being pushed into greatness at a crazy young age was like. Anne Frank’s diary should be mandatory reading in every school to educate further generations about being Jewish life in hiding in 1940’s Amsterdam under Hitler’s regime.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve journaled or not before now. Just get a blank book (Barnes and Nobel, Half Price Books, and any place that sells art supplies on line should have them on line. Please don’t go out unless you absolutely have to do so). Date your entry. And begin writing.
What should you write about?
Where were you when…your state/province/country went on stay at home orders? (Announced March 20, 2020, 3:10 PM. Order effective starting at 5 PM March 21, 2020.)
What were you doing? (Getting ready to get Oakley from day care. Ran to the store to get him some more food. Hubby and I had done a haul recently.)
What have you been feeling? Whatever emotions you’ve had are OK.
How have the stay at home orders impacted your routine? (Biggest thing is dog day care being closed until the order is lifted. Able to get grocery delivery from the mom and pop store near his day care. We’re still able to walk at the forest preserves. The state parks are closed until further notice.)
What have you done to cope? (Finding funny stuff on YouTube, cooking, longer walks with Oakley, making watching the daily briefings a time for ritual tea and treats.)
Moments of despair? (Two. One of the deaths in Illinois early on was a nine-month-old baby. I was just gutted. You could have called me a doe and hung me up by the ankles and finished the job. The other was John Prine’s death. I don’t openly weep for many performers, but he is one of them.)
Moments of hope? (Watching Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the public health department, doing the daily briefing.)
Inspiration? (The ones finding humor in the situation, such as the people on the Bin Isolation Outing page on Facebook. )
Has COVID-19 directly impacted you, your friends, or family? ( Two friends had it before it was a thing. Possibly three. She’s making arrangements to get tested as I type. Please send her good energy, thoughts, vibes, etc. )
What actions have you been taking? Have you donated to food banks, organizations that are helping people in compromised situations? Are you ready to vote in November? Are you contacting your elected representatives about the issues the pandemic has brought to light? (Need you ask?)
Self care? (More yoga, added strength training, trying not to compulsively eat, meditating to guided sessions on Mindful.org.)
What else would you like future generations to know about this time in history?
Every generation has their crises. Hopefully, we can distill our real life experience to guide the future through theirs.
I can tell when Oakley is getting ready to do it. He stares at me to get my attention. Then, while keeping his eyes on me, he unfurls his tongue and leans over towards the coffee table.
“NO!” Part of the fun is watching me react.
He gets in a swipe while I create a diversion with a stuffed Kong or a puzzle. Once diverted, he settles down and attends to freeing the tidbits stashed in the puzzle’s compartments or slurping away at the Kong.
Usually, I sigh both to release my frustration and to express gratitude that he stopped chewing stuff up a long time ago. After all, what’s a couple of harnesses and a few chunks of drywall when he turned out this well?
I can’t say as I blame him. The stay-at-home routine is getting to me, too, but I’m not quite at the point where I wish to put my tongue in contact with the furniture instead of using a dust rag. Especially with the weather as it is this morning. Something like four inches of wet snow fell overnight, then turned to rain and fog. I never thought I’d be salting the steps in mid-April, but there you go.
So I channel my energy into laundry, into routine tidying, and reading. Oakley will do nose work (also known as “find-it,” based on training exercises for contraband sniffing dogs) and get a couple of extra treats for amusement purposes.
And with some luck, no one will lick the coffee table today.
Some rites of passage involve celebration and ceremony to welcome new phases of life, new roles and positions. They are planned, welcomed.
Others happen unbidden and unwanted. Quietly, they slip into a day with no warning to confer a change of status.
My brother called Wednesday morning with the news that the last of our mother’s cousins had passed to the next world. She was 92, and by some act of grace her sons were with her, not an easy thing in these pandemic days. Mom was an only child, and her cousins played the role of aunts and uncles for us.
A sigh. A bit of chocolate. I hadn’t really been in touch with them in ages, so the sense of loss was palpable, but not overwhelming. She had cared for the three of us in the chaotic days after my mother’s unexpected death, drifted off for a while, then returned to support us along the path of grief after our dad’s passage.
Go about the evening and next day when my brother called again. He’d been digging on line for information on family members for his genealogy project. Dad’s last cousin, the one who’d been like an aunt to us (Dad’s younger brother lived in Washington and to the best of our knowledge didn’t have children) had died a few years ago. Somewhere in her late 80s, maybe early 90s.
A chill passed through as a weight came onto my shoulders. A weight as if someone had dropped a cape onto them.
In a heartbeat, the three of us became That Generation. The elders. The matriarchs and the patriarch, keepers of wisdom, storehouses of memories, clan leaders.
And in that same heartbeat came the realization that I will likely be the last one standing of the three of us. My sister is 15 years older than me and my brother 10 years older than me. Both are in pretty good shape, and may they be so for a long time.
Odds remain that I will be the last one who holds memories of my mother seated at the piano playing Debussy; my father cooking dinner; coffee with Grandma at her grey Formica kitchen table; Gram cutting the crust off of toast for fussy eaters. Remembering the creaks, the scents of their houses. Looking out of Gram’s windows to see the velvety green Berkshire mountains seemingly close enough to touch. The traffic on the major street that passed in front of Grandma’s porch.
Oakley went for a long walk around the lot as I processed that. He didn’t want to, but if I have to take on this unexpected role, he had to take me for a walk.
Deep breath, replenish with the green scents of the first grasses and clovers. Now what do I do? The answers shaped themselves into two sets of questions, one for the care of my direct descendents and their future families; the other for the care of the wider world.
The responses to those included keeping myself in optimal health; getting my affairs in order; making sure my journaling includes family and wider world history; and continuing to do what I can from the soybean field to fight against hunger, inequality, and environmental damage.
I felt the invisible mantle shift. Suddenly, it didn’t feel as heavy.
It’s a cold but clear still early morning here in the soybean field. I took Oakley for a quick run around the house just now. A little earlier I did yoga for the morning. I’m on my second cup of tea.
While it might sound pretty normal, it shapes up to be another infamous day in my life’s timeline. In an attempt to stave off the spread of COVID-19, the state of Illinois will be under a mandatory stay at home order (as in shelter in place) at 5 PM tonight. So far five people have died from it. I don’t recall the number of people who have it, but there is one reported case in my county. We’ll still be able to get out for walks as long as we observe social distancing (staying about six feet apart) and to the grocery store and medical appointments, but for the most part we’ll be working and staying home.
The announcement came during noon news yesterday. I watched the briefing later in the afternoon when Governor Pritzker announced his decision to sign the order. He’d consulted with epidemiologists, statisticians, and public health experts. After last weekend’s blatant disregard of the stay at home suggestions, he had to make it official. Not done lightly because he knew jobs were at stake, but because lives were and those are more important.
So came the news. Not with the collective shock of the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.; not with the gasp of Nixon’s resignation; not with the violent chaos of 9/11. It’s much quieter than that, except for the hoards spilling into the street to binge shop, even though we can do that at leisure over the next couple of weeks.
Well, so be it. My first question to myself was what would my grandmothers have done, what did they do in similar circumstances.
First thing would be make sure there was enough food for everyone. We’d done a big haul/stock up the week before, so Hubby and I are set. I picked my way through traffic to the pet store where I get Oakley’s food and grabbed a few more bags in case of interruptions in the supply chain. His food is made by a Milwaukee-based company, so I doubt it, but just for my own peace of mind I went. And found out that pet stores are considered a necessary business and will be open.
Second, touch base with relatives, blood and spirit. We talked to Gram at least once a week (she lived in Massachusetts) and Grandma (across town) daily. Talked to my brother. He and Sister in Law and kids are fine. Will call my sister later today. Texted with one of my friends last night. All good so far.
Third, engage in spiritual practice. Grandma quietly prayed when she woke up, again at bed time, and as needed through the day. Gram would make coffee, then sit with her prayer book and slide the crystal blue rosary beads through her fingers as she laid her petitions at Mother Mary’s feet. I’ve meditated and done yoga. Spiritual practice doesn’t have to involve a deity of any kind; just engage in some activity that helps you feel connected to the whole.
Fourth, find something enjoyable to occupy your mind. Gram read and knitted bandages for the leper colonies that were still in existence in the post-WWII era. Grandma cooked, crocheted, and listened to the radio. I’ll find something to do. We can and will still get out for walks. And I have a stack of books to be read.
Gram and Grandma survived two world wars, the Spanish flu, and the Great Depression. They went through rationing, scrap collection, watching pennies during the Depression, and a myriad of other things with grace and strength.
So we prepare in case we have to duck and cover and quarantine as COVID-19 follows its story arc. We already had enough nonperishables for at least a week on hand. This past Monday I made a post-yoga run to the market where I prefer to buy fresh items like bread, chicken, and fruits and veggies. People were buying a little more than usual, but nothing panicked or rushed.
Next stop was Whole Foods. Again, busier than usual, carts a little fuller than usual, but nothing indicating that the world was at risk for turning on its ear. Not unlike getting ready to hunker down for a storm.
And then Costco for fish, cheese, pasta, and a few other items that make life pleasant. If you can think what would happen if an imminent blizzard and the zombie apocalypse happened the day after Thanksgiving, you get the idea.
I nearly kissed the driveway when I came home.
You know those shoppers who discretely peek into others’ carts and quietly pass judgement on the contents? You caught me. I’m one of them. I try not to. I understand that not everyone has the blessings of socioeconomic circumstances that I have and may not have the same taste that I do, but there are times.
Such as the Costco shopper who navigated a flat cart–one of the ones that’s used to haul plywood or other items that don’t fit into regular carts–full of mostly junk foods.
Such as this past Thursday. After a self care appointment, I made a shopping trip to stock up on nonperishables at Trader Joe’s: chocolate, tomato soup, pizzas, and a few extra cans of beans and tomatoes. Oh, and olive oil and tahini. And try to score that most precious commodity, toilet paper. They were out, but no big deal. I took my place in line, then reflexively glanced at the cart in front of mine.
The guy in front of me had twenty four (24) tubs of tofu, a dozen bags of frozen hash browns, and five bags of rice.
And this is after I had chosen to get the no-sodium tomato soup because there were only two cartons left of the regular. I can add my own salt, and someone might have a picky eater who wouldn’t deal well with the no-sodium soup. Not a big deal.
But what in the name of all that is sacred does one do with that much tofu? Make a vegan brunch for the neighborhood? Make breakfast burritos for the disadvantaged? It stays good for two or three months in the fridge and up to four in the freezer, granted. Paraphrasing Chris Rock, “Good Lord, that’s a lot of tofu!”
I shook my head all the way home.
Time like this are good ones to have a dog. It’s good to come home, have an affectionate greeting, and then sit down for a conversation that makes sense.
Late Friday came the announcement from Governor Pritzker: starting Tuesday, all K-12 schools are closing down for the rest of the month. I ran out before Oakley’s pickup time to see if I could grab a small pack of TP, but no luck. I did get spray cheese (for his pills) and some other items that make life a little nicer so we wouldn’t have to deal with any more trips, hopefully.
Hubby, up in Michigan, made a run to a nearby ethnic market where he found some huge jars of tahini and a bail of TP. He escaped with his life. He’ll be home tomorrow.
So we are ready. We are ready to quarantine if need be, but mostly it’s a relief to be safe and sheltered from the crazies.