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.

14 comments:

  1. Our cabinets are usually overstocked with soups and other canned goods, oatmeal, and other staples. And we have an extra freezer in the garage, full to capacity. So that’s a small comfort.
    I like bow-tie shaped pasta (and the wheels too).

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    1. I was about to put in a plug for farfalle, too!

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  2. Smoking those vile cigars will kill you before the virus does!

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  3. "Two of the European countries exempt from the travel ban have Trump properties - two golf courses in Scotland, which is part of the UK, and one in Ireland."

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    1. Trump manages to do the wrong thing even when he's doing the right thing.

      john

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  4. Prediction of a million possible dead Americans reminds me of a joke. What do you call ten thousand dead lawyers at the bottom of a lake? A good start! Unfortunately culling a mere million will not change the country one bit. How many deaths would it take to inspire an insightful examination our fragile hold to life on this planet?

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  5. Some other expert predicted that half of America's population of 330 million will get sick, and that 3.4% of them will die. Do the math. That works out to just over 5.6 million dead. Shit's getting real.

    Decades ago, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, my late mother-in-law exclaimed: "We've got plenty of potatoes and plenty of whiskey. We're prepared!" So I've added those items to my disaster prep list, along with meds, TP, cat food, kitty litter, Spam, Coca-Cola, and weed.

    But if the odds are one in two, why bother prepping at all? My grandmother survived the 1918 flu pandemic, not long before my late mother was born. Maybe that's why she often issued dire forecasts of a bad end for me. "If you don't shape up, you'll probably die under a bridge!" she would moan. I remarried and cleaned up my act. Perhaps Mum was right after all.

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  6. I liked Maypo but don't see it in stores any more and so depend on the maple flavored oatmeal that comes 10 packets to a box. We just bought one of those jumbo size packages of toilet paper from Sam's Club and so should be able to ride out (no pun intended) the storm. I side with you against she who must be obeyed in preferring fettuccini and other long form pastas to ones in comforting shapes. An exception -- not in shape but in name -- is Strozzopreti, which I have been unable to find in this country but was usually on the menu at Da Mario's in Buonconvento.

    Tom

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    1. Tom,
      You can buy Strozzapreti pasta through Amazon.

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    2. I bought some strozzopreti last week at Aldi of all places. It's a great shape, but my favorite pasta is radiatori, reminds me of little brains.

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  7. I will be making a run to Assi on Milwaukee and Dempster to stock up on brown rice and kimchee. I doubt that very many others will be competing with me for these staples.

    john

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  8. Interestingly, Hubby was picking up our usual biweekly grocery list from Aldis. In the paper goods aisle, where the toilet paper is, there was one, count them,one(1), pack of TP availabe. A nine-pack of what he calls "Prison Toilet Paper". A see through, single ply paper, barely worthy of being called toilet paper.
    Sigh. So. Now we must search out, then horde, any TP we find. Just like a weird game of dominoes .

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  9. I must raise one objection to Neil's arrangement of deckchairs on his personal Titanic, and that is lighting his cigars with lighter fluid. My grandfather was a lifelong pipe smoker, but what I remember was not so much his preferred method of smoking as his preferred method of lighting: a stout Swan wooden match. He was never without a supply of Swan Vestas, one box in a pocket of each tweed jacket.

    He would strike the match in a long r-a-a-a-sp down the sandpaper side of the box, apply it to the tobacco, and commence puffing into a major firestorm that would leave the match completely incinerated down to his fingertips. I sometimes wondered whether he enjoyed the pipe in general as much as he enjoyed lighting it, because three minutes later, his pipe would have gone out, and the whole process would start all over again.

    Grandpa would no more consider using a lighter and fluid than my father would choose to use lighter fluid on a Weber grill. There's nothing appealing about a chemical smell, especially when one can light the charcoal in a much more aromatic manner with seven carefully balled-up broadsheet pages of the Wall Street Journal. It fills the neighborhood with a wondrous conservative wood-smoke smell, something that we here in the distant suburbs are normally treated to only when someone is burning brush or their barn is on fire.

    I'm sure that lighters and lighter fluid have their place, but we should save them for later, when we need to light the flaming torches prior to panicking and looting.

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  10. Despite the current crisis, we are blessed in our access to soft, absorbent toilet paper. I gained an insight into what life must have been like in earlier times when my Navy service took me to a London still suffering from WW2 deprivation. I worked in government owned building and all the johns were furnished with government issued slick, non-absorbent rolls. Could be quite painful. That each individual piece bore the imprint "Property of HMG" provided no relief.

    Tom

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