We’re planners. We look ahead, figure out what needs to get done, make our lists, check off the steps along the way, then double-check even when done to be sure we didn’t leave out anything. However, the pandemic has taught us: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” said Scottish bard and poet Robert Burns.
Now, on top of COVID-19 with cases starting to surge again, winter looms making us aware that we are likely to be indoors most of our time (less so if we live in certain places like California or Florida), more so this year not only because of the weather but another quarantine might be in order. So, we adjust in the way that we always do by creating new lists of what we’ll do to make the coming months more tolerable and joyful.
Susan in Sacramento, CA, says winter is her favorite season. “There is nothing dreary about it - pandemic or not! I wait all year for this season to arrive. I’ve been indoors for most of summer due to immense fires polluting our usually pristine air or hiding from triple-digit heat. This winter I look forward to enjoying brisk walks any time of day, cooking homemade stews which taste better each day, reading (politics, history, design) and simply enjoying the gift of time!”
“Emma” in Brooklyn, NY, also has a positive approach and a plan. “I look forward to winter when I hope to become more adventurous. I plan to don the N95 mask more, not just the flimsy ones that don’t really form a seal. I hope to get up to the Adirondacks for some time. It’ll be cold but beautiful, and it’s cozy staying inside with a fire, stretching out on the couch with a good book and that beautiful view. We have a number of couple’s friends who’ll be there,” she says. She’d also like to get out to some museums. “I haven’t done that yet, but many of them are being careful about scheduled visits and limit the number of people.”
In addition to Susan and “Emma,” here’s what we and a few others are planning. We know we must be on our toes and prepared to pivot fast with a plan B and C ready to pull out of our back pockets.
Stocking up on supplies… again. This is akin to squirrels hoarding acorns as winter approaches and is more important now than ever. There is a huge possibility of not being able to get those coveted paper products as the threat of another virus surge lurks. Who can forget the bare supermarket shelves that marked the early weeks of the virus? Actually, we are likely to be facing another period of shortages of all types of items. Margaret ordered enough toilet paper through Amazon to supply her entire apartment building. She just set up an account with Fresh Direct and picked a time slot, so she’s prepared for the double-whammy of cold icy weather plus the pandemic that will make getting out to the grocery store less likely.
Cooking again. We had become very adept at home on the range. Many of us were up to our elbows in flour and other ingredients daily, trying new recipes, making messes and often messing up a dish or two mastering bagel, sour dough bread, challah making and other foods we had never tried preparing. Then we burned out. After cooking our umpteenth meal, we started to do take out, order in more, assembled simple salads and felt our meals were becoming boring and tasteless.
We went back to the internet to light a new fire under our cooking endeavors and began to peruse food blogs, thumbing through new and old cookbooks, talking to folks who still cook for ideas to perk up our plates and palates.
Here’s what we decided for the cold months ahead. Let’s cook up some hearty soups and one-pot stews then add some pizazz to our routines. Instead of eating at the kitchen counter, let’s set the kitchen or dining room table with real placemats (you can even have a theme), add cloth napkins (paper ones are on the endangered species list) and use some of our good dishes to enjoy meals. You might also dig out the candlesticks and add a glow. And we’re sharing one of our favorite go to recipes at the bottom of this blog to inspire you: our Chicken Francese similar to Piccata* (from the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2018) with several alterations, first perfected by Margaret, then copied by Barbara.
Bookish again. We plan to open our minds and reread some of the classics. Stephanie in Irvine, CA, says she’s going to reread Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence this winter. “I usually read it each summer when sitting in court (she’s an attorney) waiting for opposition and / or co-defendants. With all of our appearances since March being teleconferences due to pandemic, I didn’t read it this summer. Albeit sad, I love Wharton’s attention to smallest of details and her descriptions of old NYC,” she says. Wonder what Wharton would think of NYC now?
So many of us got hooked on so many TV series that we forgot the joy of reading books. But we’re hauling out the stacks we had put away. Barbara plans to read Patty Dann’s new book, The Wright Sister first, which Margaret already read. Margaret is reading The Vanishing Half, In the Shadow of the Valley and has loaded on her iPad Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. We both are thrilled that libraries have reopened. And we’re open to suggestions from you, dear readers.
TV, of course. Though we’ll be reading more, we’re not completely giving up our favorite shows that have provided so much comfort and entertainment during these stressful times. We watched many we loved: Gilmore Girls (again for Barbara and first time for Margaret), Last Tango in Halifax, The Crown, West Wing (new for Barbara), Enlightened, Delicious and Endeavour. We’ve passed up some violent shows like Ozark or The Americans and are thinking of going back to some we hadn’t finished like Succession and Billions.
Classes to Exercise the Mind and Body. Marilyn in Chicago is looking for more classes to take on the Internet such as joining a discussion group on films or books. “I was in an olive oil tasting group that was fun. Everyone sent for the sample boxes of oil and vinegar, and we had a party out of it. Now they want to do a chocolate tasting ! I also want to learn a new language--Spanish.” Also ticking off her wish list of online classes is Ellen, in White Plains, NY, who says, “Peloton app rides and classes, a series of Zoom groups such as book discussions, other groups of interest and Yoga classes.”
Warm weather clothing. We both love to walk. Barbara tracks her steps on her phone and aims for 6 to 7 miles a day. With the temperatures dipping, she’s bringing out her warmest undergarments—Japanese retailer Uniqlo’s warmest weather Heattech tops, tights and socks. She encouraged Margaret to buy this same long underwear after she moved to NYC and she did. Barbara says they keep her super warm and then she layers on a sweater, pants and a warm down vest or jacket. She’s considering soon adding a hat and gloves for early morning strolls and is also eying a short jacket from a new favorite source, Aether Apparel, which offers several well insulated models
Spa Soothings. We’re not yet going for pedicures, manicures, facials or massages—or anything indoors except our salons to get a cut and color. We are toying with the idea of setting up a spa-style routine at home by getting some great bubble bath for warm soaks, some wonderful smelling gels and soaps for hot showers, new body gels to apply afterward, including one Barbara’s younger daughter introduced her to from Rodan & Fields. And though it seems insane, we’re also buying some new blushes and lipsticks for our Zoom sessions when we can unmask and look a little more glamorous.
Podcasts for our ears. We may not listen regularly to any, but we like the idea when we need some company sitting alone in our homes listening to one or when taking a solitary walk. We like to hear what experts have to say and though we’ve both not become addicted, we’re each considering or listening to a few that have been highly recommended, from the New York Times’ Modern Love and The Daily to Bon Appetit magazine’s Foodcast, financial guru Barry Ritholtz and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s podcasts. Margaret has added two podcasts to her repertoire suggested by her two sons: one is Jazz United: A podcast from WBGO with host and critic Nate Chinen and broadcaster Greg Bryant and Switched on Pop (but includes all genres of music), hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding which recently did a five-part series on breaking down the music and legacy of Beethoven’s most iconic Symphony No. 5.
Hobbies now. Barbara loves to paint and until she goes back to her weekly class, she’s setting aside a bit of time at home to pursue her watercolor and acrylic pastimes. She took one Zoom sketch and travel class with artist Susan Abbott and loved the camaraderie of fellow painters and regular assignments. Beth, New York City, a painting buddy of Barbara’s who took the same sketch and travel class, and has been quarantining in South Carolina, plans to take additional some Zoom art classes as well. Barbara also recently brought forth a third jigsaw puzzle, having done two at the height of the pandemic and having great fun. She puts on the music, sets aside a place on a table to leave all the pieces out and takes her time parceling out when she can focus on it. She doesn’t want to become obsessive about doing it quickly. Margaret, who loves words and has built up the vocabulary list she keeps on her computer, has really gotten into crossword puzzles during the pandemic. Every morning she does the digital mini puzzle in the New York Times and then prints out the big puzzle to work on throughout the day. She will ramp up this new passion when she’s forced to spend more time indoors. Her favorite is the NY Times Sunday puzzle. It’s really challenging and takes her lots of time to finish.
Perfecting an old skill. Jennifer in St. Louis says she’s going to teach herself how to play the piano again. “I took lessons when I was young, but I haven't seriously tried to play in years. I have an old Beatles songbook that I want to start with, and I have already been practicing some chords. My goal is to learn three songs by next Spring.”
Phone calls. There’s nothing like the real human voice rather than a bot at the other end of the line, especially someone you haven’t chatted with recently. Barbara checks in weekly with a few close friends in different cities and finds it comforting to hear how everyone and their families is faring. Margaret doesn’t love talking on the phone but tries to call friends in St. Louis whom she misses or those who don’t text or email. Yes, there are folks who don’t do, either—they are old school. And that’s fine. Beth in South Carolina says, “I think that finding ways to combat loneliness will be my focus on getting through the winter. I have started having real phone conversations instead of only texting.”
Homework for the home. Making even one simple change in your home can lift your spirits and change your surroundings to perk them up. Many of us are getting tired of our same old, same old four walls. Maybe, you reorganize your closets and call in a specialist to help. Maybe, you add two new end dining room chairs as Barbara is doing to give that room a cosmetic lift as she eats almost all her meals at home. Maybe, you finally set up a real home office, even in a landing, hallway or closet as Barbara’s younger daughter did for her older son who needed a separate virtual learning spot.
Travel beyond our doors. Most of us aren’t really traveling yet. However, some of us have ventured out on long car trips or even hopped on a plane and taken extraordinary measures to be safe. But all of us can plan and dream about where we want to go when the pandemic passes, and a vaccine is available. Margaret took a 1½ hour car trip with her sister and brother-in-law to their country home in upstate New York where she felt like she was in summer camp but staying in a very fancy cabin. It was the great escape which helped Margaret reboot her mood. She hopes to return in the winter, bundle up and hike through snowy-filled woods. At some point, Margaret would like to visit her younger son in Montreal and has always wanted to see Vancouver and environs. Barbara has three destinations on her top 10 list: to Newfoundland where Anne with an E, the latest movie version, and the book, Anne of Green Gables, took place; to Sweden where she has three generations of family that her three generations want to spend time with, and back to Hawaii to revisit some favorite sights, from Pearl Harbor, one favorite hotel where she already knows she’ll order its delicious macadamia nut pancakes and ice cream, Honolulu’s Chinatown, its modern art museums and more.
What’s your tack to make winter more palatable and pleasant? Feel free to share.
Time: 35 Minutes
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons whole milk or half n’ half
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of flour (optional) to thicken the sauce
3 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 lemon thinly sliced; seeds removed
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup brined capers, rinsed
½ cup mushrooms
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly minced parsley
4 to 6 large boneless, skinless chicken cutlets (buy the cutlets thinly sliced, or buy regular boneless breasts and slice them in half horizontally to make think pieces)
In wide, shallow bowl, whisk eggs, milk or half n ’half, salt and pepper until blended. Place the flour in a separate bowl. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
In a wide skillet, heat olive and vegetable oils over medium heat until simmering
Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, lightly dredge the chicken in flour and shave off excess. Dip into egg batter, let excess batter drip back into the bowl and place in the skillet. Fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Adjust the heat as the cutlets cook so they brown slowly and evenly, with a steady bubbling. Transfer to the paper-towel-lined pan and repeat with remaining cutlets.
When all cutlets are browned, remove from the heat and pour off the oil. Wipe out the pan with paper towels. Return the pan to low heat.
If making the lemon slices, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and then scatter the lemon slices over the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring gently occasionally, until the lemon slices are golden and browning around the edges, about 3 minutes. Scoop out the lemon slices and set them aside.
Add 3 tablespoons of butter, the wine, lemon juice, capers, and mushrooms, and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid is syrupy 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, and cook until thickened into a sauce, about 5 minutes. It will thicken more when you add the cutlets. (If you like the sauce thicker, you might throw in a pinch or up to a teaspoon of flour, but that’s optional.)
Taste and adjust the seasons with lemon, salt and pepper; it should be quite lemony and not too salty.
Reduce the heat, tuck the cutlets into the pan and simmer very gently until the sauce is velvety and the chicken pieces are heated through; about 4 minutes. Turn the cutlets over occasionally in the sauce. Place the browned lemon slices on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve spooning some of the sauce over each serving.
Serve with angel hair pasta and a dry white wine such as a Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (Margaret’s daughter Remy works for the winery).