How to Survive a Pandemic (featuring Fennel-rubbed Spareribs)
*Sip your morning cup of coffee or tea slowly and with gratitude.
*While taking your dog for her morning walk stand in the middle of the street and take pictures of the abandoned thoroughfare. Find an old metal newspaper box stuffed with a local paper declaring, “Life During Quarantine” with photos of empty freeways. Think about how it looks like a cheap set from a terrible ‘end of the world’ movie.
*Cut your own bangs.
*Look at your email and turn on the news.
*Write on a Post-it note, “don’t look at the news again” and stick it to your laptop.
*Move the Post-It to the corner of the screen and download a make your own face mask pattern. Forget that project as soon as the download is complete.
*Realize that putting on actual pants makes you feel more optimistic about everything… except your waistline.
*Defrost the rack of ribs you’d frozen before the quarantine.
*Be impressed with yourself that you can finally spell quarantine even though you still occasionally write quarentine.
*Order green hair dye online because you figure you’ve got nothing to lose and it’s been years since you’ve had green hair.
*Suddenly remember that your husband woke up screaming at the top of his lungs last night. Don’t be angry when he can’t recall details of the nightmare. Cancel the hair dye order. Your husband doesn’t need the shock of waking up to a green-haired stranger.
*Thank your husband for being supportive during this daylight nightmare.
*Take your dog for a long walk in your neighborhood. Smile charmingly when the stranger walking toward you crosses the street to give you clearance. Be the one who crosses for the next stranger.
*Write your staff to tell them that, no matter what happens, your catering/ private chef company, A Wonderland of Food, will NOT go out of business. The safety of clients and staff is the most important thing right now. Be grateful that your kitchen is an hourly rental and not a monthly one.
*Feel nauseous and hot. Lie down for a while, certain the virus has arrived. Take your temperature (97.3) but feel terrible for another 45 minutes.
*Become bored with manifesting symptoms and do 30 sit-ups.
*Dry-brine your defrosted rack of ribs with ample salt and pepper.
*Sit on the couch with your recently plugged-in laptop and read a book that you’ve borrowed from the online library. Become distracted and play a round of Angry Birds on your phone. Lean over to grab your cold coffee and watch as your laptop falls to the floor and lands on the plug which bends in the machine and becomes unusable. Know that you don’t have a replacement plug. Feel the floor fall away when you realize that everything you’ve written in the past few weeks is on this computer. Look at your phone and see you’ve lost the round of Angry Birds.
*Quickly order a new plug for your laptop before it loses juice. Note that it will arrive in 3-5 days but never tells you when those days begin. Manage to email two writing pieces to yourself before the computer loses power completely.
*Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
*Snip a few stalks of rosemary from the bush outside your house and appreciate its restorative bouquet.
*Pull some weeds from your planter box and discover that you’ve accidentally grown two sizable radishes. Feel proud.
*Take the jar of fennel seed from your spice cabinet and smash one tablespoon of the seeds in a mortar with a pestle. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt), 1 teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1 heaping tablespoon of gently chopped fresh rosemary. Smash smash smash.
*Become furious when you are reminded of clients saying they don’t like fennel because it “tastes like black licorice.” Note to yourself that, while fennel might have been the inspiration for the inventors of black licorice, they accidentally mixed in a heaping tablespoon of coal tar and a half cup of pure evil. Black licorice wishes it tasted like fennel. Fennel is my savior. Your savior, I mean.
*Pour the contents of the mortar into a bowl and mix with 4 teaspoons of brown sugar.
*Lean on the counter, suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of your family or friends dying alone on a gurney in an overcrowded hospital hall. Wish that you could talk to them about this fear face to face.
*Hug your dog until she squirms.
*Rub both sides of the ribs with the spice blend. Place on a wire rack on top of a roasting pan filled with water, tent with foil, and bake low-and-slow for 3 hours.
*Panic in silence. Hear it, maybe for the first time ever, and do a long, slow breaststroke through the silence, only coming up for air once or twice. Feel your fear and your anger rise, but know that they will not kill you.
*Deeply inhale the aroma of fennel and rosemary mixing with the salty fat of the pork ribs.
*Forgive yourself for everything you’re not accomplishing. There is no road map for this experience. We are in uncharted territory and you’re doing the best you can.
*Eat ribs with broccolini and sweet potato fries. Breathe in and exhale as you feel almost normal for a second.
*Stay safe, be kind, go slow, tell your friends and family you love them.
Happy Passover and Easter from me to you.
adapted from a recipe in Milk Street
- 1 3-pound rack of pork spareribs
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (plus another teaspoon for dry brine)
- 1 teaspoon of pepper (plus another 1/2 teaspoon for dry brine)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Rub rack of ribs with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Wrap loosely in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.
- Take out of the fridge and bring to room temperature 45 minutes before cooking.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Using a mortar and pestle, bash the salt, pepper, fennel, red pepper flakes, granulated garlic, and rosemary until the fennel seeds have broken and the ingredients are well smashed together. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can chop them with a knife or use a spice grinder.
- Mix the brown sugar into the mix thoroughly.
- There’s no need to clean the dry brine off the ribs. Rub the ribs top and bottom with seasoning blend and place on top of a rack set into a roasting pan or baking sheet.
- Pour 3 cups of water into the baking sheet and loosely tent with foil. You are trying to steam the ribs while slowly roasting them, so you don’t want the rack to be wet, just balanced over the water.
- Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 3 hours.
- For extra crispy ribs, you can turn the broiler on at the end and broil the ribs for 3-5 minutes.
- Let rest for 20 minutes and then cut into single ribs.