Party of 4, maybe 6 (featuring Farro with Roasted Root Vegetables and Pomegranate Molasses)
“I’m so sorry, Alison, but we’re going to have to cancel our party plans.”
“Hello Chef, after careful consideration, we’ve decided that your services are no longer needed.”
“Thank you so much for the time you’ve spent preparing this delivery menu, but there’s not going to be a party this year after all.”
I’ve grown soft. In the 8 months since the pandemic struck, I’ve moved through stages of terror, action, and acceptance. I feel like my denial came at month 7.5 when, even though I knew an upswing in Covid cases would hit, I became suddenly angry, shocked, and depressed.
While I’m not surprised that holiday parties are canceling, it’s so hard to stay strong. I couldn’t be more grateful for the few clients that haven’t dropped me, though they can still challenge me at times.
“Just a friendly reminder that I’d love your menu choices by Monday morning if you’d like me to deliver food on Tuesday. Thanks so much! Alison.”
Some private-chef clients are great about sending me the list of what they’d like me to cook every week and some clients drag their feet until the very last minute. For the past 9 months, there’s a family that I’ve delivered meals to; sometimes every week, sometimes once a month, sometimes not for months, and the mother almost always waits until the very last minute to send me their order. While I might prefer a more consistent and reliable clientele, I’ll take what I can get these days. It’s more famine than feast for the foodservice industry in 2020.
The week’s menu was sent late Monday night and opened early Tuesday when I woke up: chorizo empanadas, spaghetti with homemade fennel sausage cacio e pepe, pounded pork tenderloin with calvados and apples, miso-marinated salmon with aji verde, beef and broccoli potstickers with garlic dip, spicy stir-fried asparagus, chef salad, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. 7:30 am found me gulping coffee while frantically scribbling my shopping list and struggling to get my sneakers on. Hit the ground running and stay running until the last dish is packed, labeled, and delivered is my motto. It’s a bit wordy, I know.
By 4:00 the white cardboard food-safe boxes were stacked neatly in the brown paper delivery bags. I stood outside my client’s home, set the bags down, scratched my nose over my mask, and rang the bell. The husband opened the door with a big smile.
I brought the bags into the kitchen as I always do and found the wife on the couch wrapped in a blanket. She had taken a spill and hurt her ankle a few weeks before, but I thought she would have healed from that by now. She seemed off. Granted, I don’t know them at all. Other than the minutes I stand talking to them as they write the check to pay me, I don’t ever spend time with them. But I know she’s a woman with a business. I know she’s an active mother. I think her normal demeanor is sprightly and positive– that’s the vibe I got from her when I started cooking for them in February. Her wide smile reminds me of my cousin Lauren, who is one of my favorite people on the planet.
“How are you doing today?” I asked with concern.
“Not great,” she replied wistfully. “This has been one hell of a year.”
I laughed a little too loud, trying to momentarily repackage 2020 as a comedy instead of the dumpster fire it truly is. Other than my husband and supermarket checkout-ers, I haven’t interacted with another fleshy human in almost a month and I’ve forgotten how.
“I got sick in January,” she continued to my surprise. Her husband had reappeared, checkbook in hand, and was nodding vigorously next to her. “We had been away and we were at PDX (Portland Airport) and later that night I got so tired. I decided I needed to stay home that night.”
Again, I don’t know them at all so I have zero context to fill in the bits of the story she wasn’t saying, but I could see this was something she really wanted to tell me.
“It was the very beginning of January and we didn’t know about Coronavirus then, and I got so tired and a little sick but not that sick. The boys seemed like they had colds a week later but then they got better. He didn’t get sick at all,” a little grin appeared and she pointed to her husband who charmingly shrugged twice like, I’m the worst. It was clear he would trade places with her in a second for what she’s been through.
I knew she had been a little off (she’s the one who forgets to send me the menu until it’s almost too late), but I had no idea it was Coronavirus, which she contracted 11 months ago.
“They call her a long-hauler,” the husband chimed in.
“I am in a fog, I can’t remember what day it is, I can’t get anything done. I’ve never felt like this before.”
She’s had a few more serious medical conditions as well, though they didn’t expand on that too much.
I can see she’s in there somewhere, but Coronavirus works as a paralyzing blanket, dulling every charismatic quality she has into submission.
Covid is real. I’ve seen its impact first hand and it’s terrifying.
I’m sharing with you a Thanksgiving recipe for 4 people. 4 people, maybe 6. Not 10. Not 15. This recipe simply can’t be doubled until they’ve got a working vaccine. Let’s make it a small celebration this year.
Stay safe, take care of each other from a distance so that when we’re able to take care of each other close up, everyone’s still with us.
Happy Thanksgiving! And happy birthday, Mom!!!
About this recipe: Farro is an ancient grain that’s toothsome and full of nutrients. I make it at least once a week. If it’s not your bag, feel free to substitute orzo, barley, quinoa, bulger, or wild rice.
I think pomegranate molasses is probably the most interesting ingredient in this recipe. It’s different than you expect in that it’s not terribly sweet. It’s tangy and crisp with a gentle, not overbearing sweetness. Once you’ve got a bottle, you’ll want to put it on a lot of stuff.
This recipe was developed by me for a vegan client but would play happily with goat cheese or feta if you’ve got no vegan restrictions.
Farro with Roasted Root Vegetables and Pomegranate Molasses
- 2 beets (maybe one red, one golden)
- ½ sweet potato
- 3 inches of butternut squash
- 3 inches of celery root
- 1 large carrot
- ½ cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Za’atar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 cup pearled farro
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- A handful of fresh mint and/or parsley and/ or sage, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Wash the beets and then poke them randomly a few times with the tines of a fork or a knife. Wrap them in foil and put them in the oven for 40 minutes.
- Peel and cut the sweet potato, butternut squash, celery root, and carrot into 1/4 inch cubes. You should have approximately 2 cups of root vegetables (not including the beets which you’ll cut after they’re cooked). Mix the cubed sweet potato, squash, celery root, and carrot in a bowl with olive oil, za’atar, salt, and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Place in oven with beets and cook for 20 minutes.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the farro according to the directions. I use a pearled farro from Trader Joe’s that only takes 10 minutes, but I know unpearled farro can take up to 40 minutes to become soft and yummy.
- Skin and chop the beets into ¼ inch cubes.
- Drain the farro into a bowl, add the beets, roasted root veggies, pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and fresh herbs. Add more salt and pepper to taste.