First, the important news. Almost five weeks into our Spanish lockdown, we’re still alive and mostly healthy. Second, Joy was finally able to buy masks. Now when one of us goes grocery shopping, we look just like everyone else. Much better than wearing a bandana and feeling like you ought to be looking for a train to rob.
I’ve been thinking about my father a lot lately. He spent the last few years of his life in an assisted living facility where his daily routine was so predictable that food became the highlight and lowlight of his day. Based on my observations of FaceBook postings and the non-stop Covid-related articles I’ve been reading, everyone in lockdown or shelter-in-place has reached my dad’s same level of personal hell.
So, I’ve decided to write a follow-up to Joy’s post about cooking while under quarantine.
The Joys of Eating Out/Eating in
Joy and I like to eat out, particularly ethnic cuisines like Turkish, Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and, of course, Mexican. But when we’re not traveling, we try to keep our at-home eating cadence to 2 meals out each week, plus 1-2 visits to a coffee or wine/beer joint for an afternoon treat. Joy is a great cook, and inventive in the kitchen, so eating at home is a delight. That, and we’re often actively avoiding restaurants while we “make up” for our travel eating.
When we’re on one of our extended travel adventures, we often end up eating 85% of our meals in restaurants (think 85% over 2 months, 3 months, 6 months…) There are a lot of good restaurants out there, but eating essentially every meal in a restaurant gets boring. Even if we’re in a different city each day and a new country every few weeks. Also, though we only splurge on a nice restaurant a few times each week, it still adds up. That other 15%? We buy simple things for breakfast (yogurt or fruit). Sometimes, we make ourselves easy-to-eat picnic lunches (e.g., baguettes with cheese and meat). But the rest of the time, it’s restaurants.
We had expected our 2020 European adventure to be a little different, percentage-wise. We knew we’d start off with a 3 week AirBnB stay on the French Riviera and then as we traveled for the rest of the year, periodically rent AirBnBs for a week at a time. We figured during our AirBnB stints we’d be 60% restaurants/40% home-cooking, and that has turned out to be a fairly accurate ratio.
Of course, now with the Covid-19 lockdown in Spain, no restaurants are open, and we’ve not found any available take-out options. For the past 4+ weeks, it’s been 100% home-cooked meals. And we have at least two more weeks of lockdown. Likely more. Sadly, we’ve rarely been able to purchase something ready-made in the grocery store. Our neighborhood market doesn’t offer a lot of those options. Plus, our AirBnB doesn’t have a microwave or a (real) oven so our choices are limited.
Oh, and we both absolutely detest the convection stove. What a temperamental, finicky beast! We’ll never buy one.
As so many people in lockdown are, we’re definitely jonesing for a restaurant meal!
The Italians and Spanish, the Chinese and Vietnamese see food as part of a larger, more essential and pleasurable part of daily life. Not as an experience to be collected or bragged about – or as a ritual like filling up a car – but as something else that gives pleasure, like sex or music, or a good nap in the afternoon.Anthony Bourdain
On the bright side, there are lots of grocery options that we don’t normally see at home. Whole squid? No problem. Want 20 kinds of ham or sausage? They’ve got 21. Olives, olive oils, or anchovies? Whole rows of options. Inexpensive (and mostly unremarkable) Spanish wines? Almost nothing but. What they don’t have? Almost nothing with which to make Mexican food.
We drink most of our coffee “in house.” We often travel with our REI French Press and usually make coffee in our AirBnB/hotel room. We love the espressos you get it Europe, but sometimes, you really want to start the day with a big ol’ cuppa Joe.
In January, the first time we needed to buy more ground coffee, I wasn’t sure how to specify that they should grind the beans for a French press. Being in France, should I just ask for “press”? After all, the French call them “frites”, not “French frites.” As we were stumbling over how to describe the grind we wanted, the young French barista suddenly exclaimed, “Ah, you want it for a French Press!” Ah, yup!
Essential vs Non-Essential Services
- We were running low on Brighton’s heart and arthritis medicines. Fortunately, veterinarians are considered essential services. I called a nearby vet to confirm they had the meds in stock and then drove over. They wouldn’t let me in the office. They’d unlock the glass door, ask me what I wanted, re-lock the door, and go about filling my request. They didn’t ask for a prescription or even bother to see if I own a dog. I assume the free-wheeling medical dispensing is “Covid procedure” rather than standard Spanish veterinary practice. Either way, I was appreciative.
- A week ago a tooth started bothering me. Then it started really bothering me. Enough so that I couldn’t eat. The pain was so bad, it was waking me up at night. I called several dentists, which all seem closed. Even their voice mailboxes are full. Fortunately, the pain has mostly subsided and I’m back to eating. Spain relaxed their definition of essential services just after Easter, but calls to dentists are still going unanswered. I’m still anxious to see a dentist as soon as I can, but at least I’m no longer fantasizing about taking a pair of pliers and yanking the tooth out myself. Good thing because I would have had to wait for hardware stores to be declared essential services before I could get my hands on pliers.