Pandemic Update #2

Well, it is still going on. Here’s how our cooking has changed during the pandemic. I haven’t really felt like blogging about food, instead blogging about woodworking over at my main blog. I apologize if you’ve missed it, but I don’t expect anyone has.

In the beginning of the pandemic, March to early May, we were using cooking as a way to distract ourselves from not being able to go out and do the things we had planned to do. Lots of baking, pasta making, and all-day cooking sessions to make some fun meals and stock our freezer with things like tamales, dumplings, and the like. Also things like buying a 5lb bag of ginger and prepping that for use through the rest of the year. Since Amanda started working from home, she started cooking more of our meals and upping her kitchen game.

Then by May it warmed up and we were able to spend more time outside, so we did more grilling and less baking. Doing things in the yard like building garden beds, planting, mowing, and restaining the deck replaced much of the weekend time that we previously filled with cooking. It stayed this way until Fall. Most of our meals were salads or grilled meat and vegetables, with some occasional grilled pizza when I planned far enough ahead to make the dough. BLTs with garden lettuce and tomatoes were a frequent occurrence. Lots of Zucchini Carpaccio, too.

Eating kale and tomatoes fresh from the garden in our breakfast omelets 2-3x a week was a definite highlight. We’re so glad to have a garden again.

The early fall found us spending a little more time inside as it cooled down, but low enough COVID numbers to go apple picking and hiking with friends. The baking picked back up and I got a cool cast iron waffle maker that has made weekend breakfasts fun. I had hoped to find one at a flea market or estate sale, but the pandemic put the kibosh on that, so I found this one on eBay. We did some more preserving and I got back in the rhythm of making chicken stock again. Soups, curries, and chilis started getting back into the rotation as the daylight dwindled along with the temperature. Sweet potato curry is a new favorite. Whole roasted chicken is a regular occurrence, too. We bought some saffron crocus bulbs and planted those this fall. We got a small saffron harvest out of it! Hoping for a larger one next year. We also dried and saved a lot of our garden herbs.

We were bummed to cancel Thanksgiving with friends, but we decorated and made a scaled-down dinner for ourselves anyway: Half a turkey, sausage sage dressing, Parker House rolls, green bean casserole, roasted butternut squash, and Nantucket cranberry pie. We ate it for the next week. I had a great idea to turn the stuffing into a hash and put a fried egg and hot sauce on it for breakfast. Delicious.

Now that we are back in the coldest part of winter and this pandemic keeps dragging on, we’re using cooking as a welcome distraction again. We are busier now than we were the first time around, so the overall level is definitely less than last year, but still present. That is mostly on weekends. During the week we’re turning more to simple, nutritious meals that we can knock out quickly and have for lunch the next day. Lots of bread baking, too. Mostly sourdough sandwich loaves. We use the Instant Pot a lot, especially for beans.

The main thing food-wise we’re looking forward to is getting our garden going again. Our seed order just came in from Baker Creek and we are counting down the day until we can start some of them. I just drew up plans to build greenhouse-style tops for our garden beds to start things outside a bit earlier. We’re looking forward to the garlic we planted in October to really take off this spring.

I may start writing here again, but I don’t know when. I don’t think anything I’m cooking is that exciting and I don’t like blogging for the sake of blogging. I prefer having something to say, which I don’t right now. Much of what I cook these days is thrown together from what we happen to have on-hand. Cast iron pizza instead of Neapolitan pizza because it is less involved. We aren’t drinking much, so Tipple Tuesday hasn’t been appealing either. If you are looking for awesome home cocktail content, go subscribe to Al Culliton’s Cocktail Club.

Perhaps I’ll reboot the Cooking the Books project that I abandoned?

If there is anything you’d like to read more about, let me know. It might spark my return to blogging here. Until then, follow me over at for woodworking, tech, and book-related content.

What We’ve Been Cooking During the Quarantine

We’re cooking a lot more during the quarantine since we can’t go out, and we’ve been cooking with a limited set of ingredients since popping out to the store for a missing ingredient is not something you want to do. It has made us more creative, and I think some of the list below will makes its way into our regular repertoire once this is all over.

We pretty much never followed any of these linked recipes 100%. I followed the spirit of the recipes, making substitutions where needed.

We also made a lot of these multiple times.

A few general tips:

  1. Sauces are important and make bland things better. I currently have a yogurt sauce, a chipotle sauce, a stir fry sauce, and aioli in the fridge. We pull them out and put them on everything.
  2. Marinades make old meat from the back of the freezer taste better.
  3. Save lots of vegetable and meat scraps and make stock with them for other meals.
  4. Kefir substitutes pretty well for buttermilk in baking recipes.
  5. Juice that is about to expire can be frozen into ice cube trays for use in cooking or blender cocktails later.
  6. Commercial yeast can be kept going just like you do a sourdough. Don’t fret if you are on your last packet!
  7. Check with local food distribution companies, whose main clients (restaurants) aren’t ordering as much. Many in the NY area have started delivering to homes, which is awesome. My parents found one in Ohio that is doing pick ups.
  8. You can regrow scallions in a glass of water.


Baked Goods

A few things that missed the mark

  • Some hand-made pasta that was okay, but we are searching for better recipes.
  • Gnocchi with bacon, broccoli and a quasai cream sauce based on sourcream. Not bad, but wouldn’t make it again
  • My early breads didn’t rise. Turns out I forgot to flatten them down and get the air out before the second rise
  • We tried to use mini cast iron skillets and make individual serve mac and cheese from some boxed stuff we had that we put more cheese and bread crumbs over then baked. Make it special, you know? It was terrible, though. Dry, overcooked, and crunchy. Not having milk didn’t help the situation…


Here is a random mishmash gallery of photos from my photo roll. No real order, and not everything listed above is represented here.

What are your go-tos right now? Any recommendations? Drop them in the comments!

Quarantine Cocktails, Chartreuse Edition

In these times of quarantine, we are passing the time with cocktails, board games, books, and baking. But we don’t want to drink up all of the whiskey right away, so we are turning to less-used bottles and getting creative.

This week? Chartreuse!

Yellow or Green? Whichever you have. Yellow is a little sweeter, lower proof, and less bitter than Green, but both are delicious.

The most well known Chartreuse cocktail is the Last Word. The bad thing is that I don’t have any citrus, and I bet few of you do, either. So I got to work digging through books and asking bartenders I respect on Twitter what their favorite Chartreuse drinks are. Here are three that don’t need citrus, plus notes on variations.


Widow’s Kiss

I know, not a great name for the current time. But that is what it is called.

This is a classic cocktail from the 1895 Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler. It is considered a digestif, so drink it after dinner.


  • No Benedictine? Double the Yellow Chatreuse.
  • No Calvados? Apple Jack will work, too.

Here is one I made last night:





The Bijou is another classic!



Oh My Word


This is essentially a Last Word without lime juice. Introduced to me by Sother Teague.


  • I don’t have lime bitters, so I’m using rhubarb bitters
  • No Amaro Montenegro? Try Amaro Nonino
  • No Old Tom gin? Or any gin will work. (But if you want to make your own Old Tom, add some simple syrup to regular dry gin and age it in a barrel for a week.)



Have a bottle of liquor that you don’t know how to use? Email me at with what you have on-hand and I’ll brainstorm some ideas with you!

Simple breads to make at home

Want to get into bread baking during this quarantine but don’t know where to start? Here are two ideas:

  1. Navajo Flatbread: Simple and fast, minimum ingredients, no yeast needed. Most cultures have something like this. Think naan, pita, frybread, etc. H/t to Ilya Radchenko for sharing this link!
  2. No-knead bread – Simplest regular loaf-style bread I know about. From Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery. Needs yeast and a dutch oven to bake. I use this same recipe but sub in sourdough starter for the yeast and give it a long fermentation in the fridge before baking. H/t to Tyler Machovina for sharing this recipe with me 4 years ago, and for sharing the sourdough starter with me!

Erin Carlson’s Simple Seed Starting Tips for Beginners

My friend Erin Carlson put together a great seed starting guide for beginners. Now is a great time to get your hands dirty and grow some stuff, whether in pots or in a garden!

Erin has been very helpful with advice for getting our garden going at our new house and we’ve shared seeds for the past couple years. And she makes very cool fiber art! If you don’t follow her, you should.

Check out Erin’s guide here in her Instagram stories.

What can I substitute in marinades?

A friend asked me this on Friday:

The marinade I want to make calls for soy sauce, which I’m out of. What can I use instead?

Marinades are essentially mixes of three components:

  1. Acid
  2. Umami/flavoring
  3. Salt

Soy sauce fills both the Umami and Salt components. In its place, you can try:

  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar with a less of the other acid component you are using


Making your own Marinades

Want to experiment with making your own marinades? Try one from each category, then add olive oil and your favorite spices, and give it a shot:


  • Lemon juice
  • Lime juice
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • White vinegar
  • Italian salad dressing


  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Coconut aminos
  • BBQ sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Liquid smoke
  • Balsamic vinegar


  • Well…salt. There are different kinds, so you get the idea. Smoked salt is pretty great!

Note: None of these combinations will taste the same. You’ll like some more than others. Some components are stronger than others. I like to taste each component and be mindful of how the flavors will come out in the finished dish. Keep in mind other ingredients and the cooking method.

How to Flavor Rice

Did you panic buy a bunch of rice and have no idea what to do with it?

My favorite rice condiment

If you happen to have a bunch of fresh ginger and scallions, make Momofuku’s ginger scallion sauce. It is wonderful. A bowl of rice, chicken thighs, and a soft-boiled egg, all slathered in this sauce, is one of my top 5 favorite meals.

Sadly, I don’t have any scallions right now and I’m not particularly keen on going to the grocery store here in NY. Thankfully, I have some items in my pantry to get me through and I want to share them with you, Dear Reader.


Things to order on Amazon while you can still get deliveries


Vermont Curry – This is a Japanese curry that is delicious and versatile. You can use chicken, beef, pork, or tofu for the protein and whatever veggies you have on-hand. Frozen veggies work, too! My favorite is chicken, potatoes, and broccoli.



Green Thai Curry Paste is excellent with whatever random veggies you have on-hand + rice. I prefer it with coconut milk. If you don’t have any, you can get coconut milk powder on Amazon for eazy storage.

Both Green and Red Thai Curry make great soups, too. Here is my favorite quick recipe. Sub in the rice you already have in place of the vermicilli noodles.



Like Spanish-style yellow rice? Saz√≥n con Azafran is what you need to make it. I like to cook mine with chicken stock instead of water, too. Don’t have chicken stock? Boullion cubes will work, too.


Three more tips

  1. Salt your rice before you eat it. It needs salt.
  2. Butter makes most things better, plain rice included.
  3. I’ve been known to eat leftover rice with butter, salt, and Sriracha.



Have any cooking questions you want answered while you are social distancing? Have a bunch of ingredients but don’t know how to cook them? Email me and I’ll do my best to help: