Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Notes from a Small House: Pandemic 2020 and Vegetarian Korma

When I broke my foot nearly four weeks ago walking down the stairs, minding my own business, feeling perfectly able-bodied, I could not have known that walking would be my only escape from my house for the next four weeks, and, if we're to believe the models, even longer.

Now I am benched during a pandemic, a kind of ironic twist of fate that is requiring double patience. I have slept and worked and eaten and read on this small corner of the couch, which is sinking from my constant presence, contorting my back into postures that would make the ergonomics people at work quiver. I have just recently graduated to walking with one crutch, and I am finally managing to take some kind of a half-shower every day, which goes a long way towards making me feel like a human being.

We'd never heard the phrases "social distancing" or "flattening the curve" before just a few weeks ago, but now I've not seen other people in 3D -- besides the folks at the doctor's office -- in weeks. When Steve goes to the grocery store at the crack of dawn with a mask on, he comes home, and we wipe down everything with sanitizing wipes. At the beginning, after surgery, I was running a low grade fever, and I took my temperature constantly, sure that I'd contracted COVID-19 and would have to go to the hospital alone with a broken foot and pneumonia. Now, nearly four weeks after the surgery, I'm no longer running a fever, but every once in a while a warmth creeps over me, and my chest tightens, and I clear my throat, and feel dread.

So many people have died. There are refrigerator trucks parked outside of hospitals, makeshift morgues because there is no longer room for the bodies elsewhere.

My students are grieving a loss they can't describe, fearful and anxious for the future. They ask if we will be open in the fall, whether things will be back to normal. I can't tell them, and I tell them that I can't tell them, but that I hope so. They deserve my honesty. Advising conversations often feel a little bit like the advising conversations I had after 9/11, when everyone was raw and vulnerable and hungering for connection but unsure of what fresh hell the next day would bring.

I scroll endlessly through Facebook, trying to stop myself but unable to do so, drawn in both by the bountiful supply of information about COVID-19 and trying not to judge the memes about hunkering down with kids, or oblivious-sounding posts about rainbow painting and baking, and photographic evidence of continued lack of attention to social distancing requirements. What new hobbies are you cultivating, they ask? Old hobbies, I answer, under my breath. Anxiety. Long work days. Ignoring my kids. I feel unreasonably angry at people who are quilting and bread baking and learning to play the ukelele, at the same time as I feel deeply grateful for a job that lets me work remotely, and a job that is unlikely to lay me off any time soon. We are the fortunate ones, and I am fully aware of my privilege.

My kids are on spring break this week, after two weeks of online school, where my son sits in the office and my daughter in the playroom, earbuds in and headphones on, respectively. We are lucky that they're good students, that they're old enough to be mostly self-sufficient, and that this transition has not been as bumpy as it could have been. Still, N's favorite time of the day is her virtual meeting with her class over zoom. I's favorite time of day is when it's all over and he can go read his book on his phone; he prefers to turn off the webcam and his microphone when class is in session, in true introvert fashion. N needs physical contact; she comes over and hugs me randomly throughout the day, and I hug her back. She says this is the worst time of her life. But she doesn't cry. Neither does my son. They are, on the whole, handling this really, really well.

I did, though, this weekend, finally lost my shit, tired of being cooped up, tired of feeling like sickness is just there hovering at the doorstep, tired of convalescing and working in this small space. I had just found out my undergraduate thesis adviser had lost her life. Ironically, my bracelet from the Shiva Lingam Puja in India, over a year ago, had finally just fallen off my wrist. Shiva is known as the destroyer of evil, the light of consciousness, and the bracelet is a symbol, among other things, of protection. I wonder what evil is being destroyed, and whether this destruction we're witnessing now is the beginning of rebirth or the end of something else, whether this is a reminder to look inward. I know that there is less pollution, that the earth is changing, like when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and the course of the rivers changed.  Still, I feel like I've been caught a little unprepared.

Steve has been cooking, just as he's been doing the shopping. Mostly I am putting together menus and a grocery list, a sort of amalgam of comfort food and convenience since neither one of us have time to cook during the day despite the fact that we're all here within 20 feet of the kitchen.

It's been a while since I've shared a recipe, or anything for that matter, and this one can't quite be made from just the items in your pantry because it requires fresh vegetables, but cauliflower doesn't seem to be flying off the shelves like toilet paper and beans are. And somehow there are chickpeas there when there aren't other kinds of beans. It's the first meal I made in a long time, because I managed to stand, one-crutched, in the kitchen for a whole half an hour. It was a small triumph, and it made me think of you.

Here's hoping the quarantine finds you as well as you can be, and knowing that we're all just doing the best we can.

Chickpea and Cauliflower Korma

2 T coconut oil or olive oil or unsalted butter
1 T mild curry powder
2 t garam masala
1 1/2 t salt
1 c roughly chopped carrots
1 onion, peeled and roughly cut
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 (28 oz) can whole plum tomatoes  (or 2 15 oz cans fire roasted diced)
1/2 c canned coconut milk (or more if you like)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 T lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh mint or cilantro, to serve (optional)
slivered almonds, toasted, to serve (optional)

In a large pot, heat oil or butter over medium heat; add spices, salt, carrots, onion, and garlic. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.

Add tomatoes and coconut milk, bring to a boil, reduce to medium, cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender. Transfer to a blender or food processor or use an immersion/stick blender directly in the pot, and puree until smooth. Add back to pot if necessary along with chickpeas, cauliflower, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium, cover, and cook until cauliflower is extremely tender, about 15 minutes.

Serve hot with brown rice, basmati rice, or quinoa, and a scattering of mint or cilantro and toasted almonds.

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  1. Wow. It’s been a long time. So nice to hear you voice. Sorry to hear you broke your foot right before the shit hit the fan. That added layer of frustration would probably break me.

    I hope you keep writing. I’ve missed you. ;)

    1. It's so good to hear your voice, too! I have been thinking a lot about the blogging community these past weeks, feeling like if there's one thing I could be doing, it's writing. I've missed you all. I hope you're doing OK ... sending love over in that direction. <3

  2. Well hello there! So good to read your words. I cannot fathom a worse time to have a broken foot. I hope you are healing well, physically at least.

    1. :) It is good to be seen in this space ... thanks for saying hello. Honestly, I've been thinking about you all for a while, wondering if there is still a forest ... and indeed, there is. <3

  3. How excited am I to see a new post from you in my reader? SUPER!

    But guess what. I've been visiting your blog a lot during this quarantine. I've been revisiting and making some of your recipes (pumpkin soup, for example).

    Weird times.

    Bummer about your foot, about the bracelet (such timing), and especially the loss of your thesis advisor.

    Thank you for nurturing us as you nurture your students and your family. Wishing you and others wellness and wholeness.

    1. I'm so grateful to you for stopping by ... it has been a long time. But it makes me happy to think about you cooking from here in quarantine. Strange, sad, scary times, but more than ever it's clear how much we need each other. Wishing you well, too, my friend, in all ways. <3

  4. Glad to see you back (and excited to try that recipe! Yum)

    1. <3 thank you, Ana! So good to see you, too ...

  5. So nice to see a new post from you in my reader, Justine! Welcome back! And I sure hope your foot heals soon... that kind of additional stress you just don't need right now...!

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