the quarantine diet

Ruth Reichl Quarantines With Parmesan Stock and Mapo Tofu

“I think we’re all much more conscious of the fact that our supplies are scarce.”

Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold. Photos: Getty Images
Photo-Illustration: Megan Paetzhold. Photos: Getty Images

Last week, New York and Grub Street asked some of our favorite past Grub Street Diet subjects to keep one-day diaries of what they eat while self-quarantining, which we’ll be running over the next few days. Here, author and food-world luminary Ruth Reichl writes about how she spent her Monday, March 23.

My husband and I flew back from L.A. There was nothing in the house, except what was in my freezer and my pantry, so I went out and did a big shopping trip, and I haven’t left since.

We live up in the country, so I went to Price Chopper. I went to Hawthorne Valley Farm. I went to the Chatham Co-op. I went to the berry farm. And I went to a couple of farm stores, Kinderhook Farm and North Plain Farm. I also went to the cheese store in town, and I got a big piece of Parmesan, which is essential. I got a dozen lemons because I can’t live without lemons. I got a lot of butter. I got milk. I get cream. I bought tofu. I bought ground pork and a few different kinds of beef. And I bought three dozen eggs.

I tried to find flour, but there wasn’t any, and I hadn’t looked to see if there was any flour left in my pantry, which you know, was like, “Oh my God, I hope …”

I still had lots of olive oils and vinegars, and I had flour and sugar and a lot of things that were frozen: sour cherries and blueberries and corn and spinach. And then, going through the freezer, I found all these Parmesan rinds. I’ve been throwing them in there for years. I made a huge thing of Parmesan stock.

For breakfast, I had coffee, a baguette from the freezer, and orange marmalade that somebody gave to me last summer. My husband had coffee and fresh orange juice that used up the last of our oranges plus Nicky’s vanilla cake that I’d baked. That’s probably the last cake I’ll bake because I’m saving the flour I have to bake bread. As long as I have bread, I am a happy person.

When it came to lunch, I had made mapo tofu for dinner the night before. I have to say my Szechuan peppercorns were fading a little, but I also have Szechuan peppercorn oil, so that really worked.

I also made myself a liverwurst-and-onion sandwich with mustard. North Plain Farm, which is a local farm, makes this great liverwurst from its happy, happy pigs raised in the countryside. Liverwurst is a flavor that most Americans have forgotten, but my father was German, so we always had liverwurst when I was a kid.

Between lunch and dinner, I had some ginger-lemon tea and an oatmeal cookie from a Dorie Greenspan recipe. I like them better than chocolate-chip cookies. I love oatmeal cookies. And I happened to have a bunch of oatmeal in my pantry. For the tea, I basically just grate ginger and pour hot water over it and then I strain it and then put lemon in and then a little bit of sugar.

Lemon peel is good in almost everything. Like when I made this Parmesan stock, I threw in from lemon peel. Vegetables, a little bit of lemon. I mean, I have a very acid palate. At Gourmet, I was always saying to the cooks, “This could use a little vinegar or a little lemon.” I mean, there’s almost nothing I don’t put lemon into. My mother said when I was a baby, they would find me in my crib sucking on lemons.

For dinner, I had this nice beef and broccoli, one of the vegetables that you can find pretty easily. I got a recipe when I was in China. You add a little oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and Shaoxing wine, which is another pantry item that I almost always have. When I’m in the city, I go to Chinatown to buy it. I usually have a good bottle and a cheap bottle, but God knows when I’ll get to the city again, if ever. Then, because there was no basmati left, and there was no jasmine left, I bought a huge bag of Uncle Ben’s rice. Rice is one of those things you pretty much have to have.

With dinner, I had rosé. I always have wine with dinner and have pretty much have done that since I was 20. I was in Berkeley, in a commune, and we always had wine with dinner. I mean, it was cheap wine, but I’m still pretty much drinking cheap wine. When I start cooking dinner, I pour myself a glass of wine while I’m cooking.

Right before bed, I had dried apricots and pistachios for a midnight snack. I love dried apricots. I have them in my car. I have them out in my workspace, in my desk. They’re my go-to snack. But only the kind from California. I think the Turkish apricots are awful. They’re insipid. I mean, what’s great about apricots is that they have a tartness that balances the sweet and Turkish apricots don’t. The texture’s different, and they’re pretty much all you can buy in the supermarkets these days. In New York, you can get really good apricots at Zabar’s and at Russ & Daughters.

Overall, the way I’m eating has changed. For one thing, we’re not wasting anything. I’m using everything. I think we’re all much more conscious of the fact that our supplies are scarce. I’m really trying to think about the fact that we really have to think about our farmers, who have been supplying restaurants and now we have to support them. And I’m really trying to think about all the companies that have relied on the restaurant trade for a long time and how we support them. So I’m doing a lot of mail ordering, too.

*A version of this article appears in the March 30, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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