Discover more from Aleka Gürel
Self-care for social distancing
Hi friends, and welcome to the first official installment of this newsletter. I’d tossed around the idea of doing this for a long time but never pulled the trigger - it felt self-indulgent, a little narcissistic. Do people really want more of me in their inbox?
Well, a week ago I pulled together a guide to home cooking in the time of coronavirus, and a lot of people on social media seemed to like it. And then it and I got a mention in a USA Today piece about dining in or out under our new normal, and even more people seemed to like it.
And then you all started texting and DM’ing me about recipes from it that you’ve made and loved (the chickpea hash is especially popular, for good reason, it’s bomb.) So I figure this will at worst be a good distraction from the 24/7 rage cycle that is Twitter and the news media, and at best, a good way to build community and connect with folks while we’re all stuck at home for the foreseeable future.
What should you expect from this newsletter? Recipes and cooking logs, obviously. Book and article recommendations. General thoughts about how I’m approaching this self-isolation business. And probably the occasional thought about health & health policy, because hey, that’s my day job, and I’m nothing if not a nerd.
With that caveat, let’s dive in.
It’s been about a week since we started self-isolating. My partner, Sam, started working from home last Friday, and I joined him on Tuesday. We did a bunch of shopping that weekend because usually I’m the one who is cooking and eating at home, whereas he gets home later than I do and often eats dinner at work.
Despite talking a big game about all the home cooking I’m going to do, we actually got takeout twice this week: once from Mission Chinese (which is temporarily closing as of Monday ☹️) and once from Pizza Hacker. (Yes, it’s apparently safe to get takeout, given you follow certain precautions - and make sure to tip extra well!)
Indulging in our favorite take-out foods felt not only like a good way to support restaurants we love which are going through a tough time right now, but also a way to care for ourselves - navigating the news cycle while trying to adjust to working remotely and keeping tabs on my family (who’ve been in frequent transit this past week and not all of whom are yet home) was a uniquely stressful experience.
I did end up meal prepping some favorites off my list, including the chickpea and sausage hash and the mujaddara (an incredibly cheap, healthy, and delicious Middle Eastern onion-lentil-rice situation.) Both served with crispy fried eggs, naturally.
If you have any cabbage around, might I recommend Smitten Kitchen’s roasted cabbage with a lemon-walnut dressing? Before trying this, I was strictly a nuts-as-snacks, not a nuts-in-food kinda gal. Now I’m eating pecans on my Texas Sheet Cake and making nut crusts for tarts and putting nuts on my pasta salads.
I also had an enormous quantity of broccolini from the last time I hit up the Alemany Farmer’s Market, and some Aidell’s chorizo-flavored chicken sausage, so did a riff on Alison Roman’s big pot of pasta with chorizo breadcrumbs and broccoli rabe, using some leftover ‘nduja and red pepper flakes to spice it up. I added the ‘nduja with the tomato paste, and sliced up and boiled the broccolini for a few minutes before adding as you would the greens.
For weekday lunches, we ate the mujaddara and also this very easy salad inspired by Tartine founder Liz Prueitt’s instagram: mustard viniagrette (1 part vinegar + 3 parts olive oil + a generous tsp whole grain mustard + salt + pepper) plus a can of salmon, plus about an ounce of crumbled feta, plus quick-pickled shallots (slice them thin and douse with vinegar for 15 minutes) plus a crispy fried egg on top. Easy, healthy, delicious.
And last thing from the cooking log: huevos rotos, or “broken eggs,” a Spanish recipe of fried potatoes and onions with eggs nestled in, the yolks broken to sauce up the carbs. It’s really easy and delicious, and you could totally add some strongly flavored meat like chorizo. If you haven’t gotten on the smoked paprika train yet, why not? It’s especially good if you’re vegetarian and trying to get smoky, meaty, savory flavors into your bean and vegetable dishes.
We just used two eggs because we’re not feeding four, and they don’t reheat well in my experience. We saved half the potato mixture and will have it for lunch or dinner this week with a crispy fried egg and a green salad.
What else am I prepping today? I’ve got half a pound of beautiful Rancho Gordo vaquero beans I’m going to do in my instant pot with stock and garlic and half an onion and a bay leaf. I bought a giant tub of cherry tomatoes from Costco last week, so I’m going to roast those for a few hours in a low oven with lots of whole cloves of garlic until they’re sticky and concentrated and delicious - and then probably use them for Alison Roman’s roasted tomato and anchovy bucatini from Dining In. (I have a whole other Costco tub’s worth of tomatoes in the freezer ready to be used for this exact purpose, too.)
I also discovered a big bag of long-forgotten bulgur wheat in my pantry, so am probably going to continue on the self-comfort train by trying my hand at some of the Turkish recipes from Ozlem’s Turkish Table, a cookbook my grandparents got me a copy of last year. Probably bulgur pilavi, a tomato-y bulgur pilaf, or kisir, a spicy bulgur salad. Either of those will help me use up the giant, never-withering bunch of parsley that’s hanging out in my crisper.
What are you all cooking and baking this week? Have you tried on the recipes from my list? I’d love to know - drop a comment on this post.
Do you all have books you comfort-read over and over again in stressful times? I do, and my go-tos are basically anything by Tamora Pierce, and Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld Series, which I got on kindle during a beach vacation five years ago and have re-read almost annually since. I’ve been bingeing the latter this week and am already mostly through Dime Store Magic.
If you’re in need of something new to read, I’ve been tracking my favorites in my annual year-in-review posts (2019 | 2018) and also on Goodreads. Recently, I’ve sped through Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, which reads like a thriller and might be slightly less upsetting to read now that we know that Harvey Weinstein got 23 years in prison. If you need something less intense, how about Evvie Drake Starts Over? No matter what you read, consider buying your books from a local independent bookstore, or hitting up your local library (most now have e-books, too.)
I read a wonderfully uplifting interview with Ashley C. Ford earlier this week which inspired me to pick up a copy of Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I’m making myself read a chapter a night before I delve back into the escapist speculative fiction, because I may as well emerge from a month plus of isolation as a better person, right? (If you’ve read it, would love to hear your thoughts.)
In non-book entertainment, Sam and I are making our way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time - it’s on Hulu, and is as entertaining as I was promised. I will never, ever miss an opportunity to plug The Expanse, an amazing sci-fi series now on Amazon Prime that was billed to me as “like Game of Thrones, back when it was good.” It’s a lot less violent and a heck of a lot less sexist than that - in fact, one of my favorite things about it is that the cast is both diverse and chock full of really badass women. The books are great, too!
Beyond keeping ourselves occupied with media, we’ve been using this opportunity to schedule FaceTime dates with friends and family we’d usually text or call, and it’s been really lovely. If you’re a real-life friend and want to chat, hit me up!
One last thing, because I promised you health policy thoughts: now is a really, really good time to #GetCovered and help your uninsured friends and family do the same.
If you’re uninsured and live in Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, or Washington State, you can take advantage of a Special Enrollment Period for coronavirus and get an ACA Marketplace plan. If you’re in California and DC, you can take advantage of Special Enrollment Periods for folks who didn’t know those states had passed their own individual mandates, or in the case of California, that they’ve rolled out more financial assistance this year - so you could qualify for savings even if you didn’t previously. (Updated 3/16 to add - New York has also announced a Special Enrollment Period.)
And in every state, you can enroll if you have a qualifying life event (like having recently lost other coverage, moved, gotten married, etc.) Enrollment in Medicaid is year-round too, so make sure to check if you qualify based on income and / or other factors, like pregnancy or disability.
I’m a licensed health insurance broker so feel free to hit me up with your questions, or give my amazing colleagues at HealthSherpa a shout.
That’s all for now folks - see you next week! (And if you need a smile in the meantime - I’ve been watching this corgi on repeat.)