Thursday, March 12, 2020
Pasta in comforting shapes
History will note that when the Steinberg household finally decided to act decisively to face the growing global coronavirus pandemic, and stood together in their kitchen Tuesday evening, and examined their larder, my wife's first dynamic step in our Total Safety Plan was to command: "Get some Cream of Wheat."
I wrote it down, in pencil on an index card: "Cream of Wheat." Not to put the blame on her. In truth, I too had been thinking of Cream of Wheat lately—we have been out for a while, as I manfully consumed bowl after bowl of the Maypo I badgered Sunset Foods into stocking and now feel personally responsible for consuming. Guilt was one thing, survival another. I heartily agreed. It goes without saying it was the red box, the long cook, two-and-a-half minute variety. When society is tottering on the abyss, it becomes all the more important to maintain standards.
We had just gotten off the phone with our older son, who said that NYU Law would be offering classes remotely for the time being. He could just as easily take them at home, and I urged him to do so, to get out of New York City and back to Chicago before they blow the bridges into Manhattan, like that scene in "I Am Legend."
"Are you making preparations for a quarantine?" he countered.
Good question, lad! Honest answer: no, not in the slightest. I had just turned in a column that treated the whole matter in a somewhat light fashion, certainly not the society shattering disaster that it seemed to lurch toward in the six hours since I had filed.
So I was open to the idea that I had underplayed the situation. Quarantined? Yes, that was happening. If one of us became sick, and we were homebound, with only GrubHub, DoorDash, and 20 or 30 nearby restaurants that deliver, what would we do? How would we survive? We needed to stock up.
"Soup" my wife said, suggesting Campbell's condensed—save space! And Wednesday, my work done, I headed over to Sunset, and did get a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle and a can of Tomato Bisque. Just the thing for riding out martial law. I also went for Progresso Italian Wedding Soup—not condensed, but we'd need something festive in the gloomy days of disease.
Then "pasta." Doesn't go bad, always welcome. Sensing a trap, I had tried to find out what kind of pasta by replying, "Fettuccini okay?" I like fettuccini. It's flat and chewy.
No, fettuccini is not okay, she said. I was to find "pasta in comforting shapes." That's one of the 27 top reasons I love my wife so. You could lock Beatrix Potter, Johnny Gruelle and Mary Engelbreit in a room for a year and force them write down cute concepts, one after the other, and they still would never come up with anything close to "pasta in comforting shapes."
To me, that meant one thing: wheel-shaped pasta. "Choo Choo Wheels" was the brand my mother bought when I was a child. There was a locomotive on the box which, if you cut out the wheels, turned into a toy engine. And while there were indeed wheel-shaped pasta at the Sunset, that seemed a tad desperate, a frantic, crisis-induced regression toward childhood. They had four boxes of Barilla for $5, catering to the world-is-ending market. I went for rotini, rigatoni, medium shells and elbows, for that ultimate comfort food, mac and cheese.
Five pounds of Jasmine Rice, in case society actually does come to a skiddering halt, not that we need it (I told the boy that I had prudently stored up enough excess energy, in the form of body fat, to get by for a few months, maybe two, without any additional nutrition necessary). Napkins and toilet paper—in our defense, we were getting low on both, though TP seems to be the de rigueur panic purchase, for reasons I can't fathom. Isn't societal collapse the very time when you least need toilet paper?
There was one thing that Sunset did not have, or at least I couldn't find. Zippo lighter fluid. I'd been out of fluid for a while—actually lit my last few cigars with a match, talk about tossing civilized standards to the wind—and I stopped by Ace Hardware for a bottle.
Getting home, I filled my brass Zippo and produced flame. Fire good! Now, with that and my Gerber LST knife in my pocket, I was ready to flee from the coronavirus-maddened neighbors storming my house to get at my toilet paper to stem their COVID-19 sniffles. My wife and I could escape to the Somme Woods to begin civilization anew.
Wednesday night President Donald Trump spoke to the nation, cancelling most flights from Europe excluding, inexplicably, Great Britain, no doubt for some jaw-dropping Trump business-related purpose that will come out later. Then the NBA cancelled its season. And Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced they have the coronavirus, which is sorta like Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann getting sick. Suddenly, that long-forgotten, pit-of-the-stomach, post-9/11, nothing-is-funny-anymore tickle of dread began stirring. The Washington Post quoted the projection from a former CDC director estimating that a million Americans could die before this is over. Maybe more. Maybe less. Nobody knows.