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Seasons by the Sea: Hunkering Down

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:43
Laura Donnelly

From the time I write these words to the time you read them, many things will have changed again. It is certainly not my place to give advice of any kind regarding health and safety, but if you are interested in learning some good habits from a lifelong introvert clean freak, I’m your gal!

From March 2 to March 9 I was traveling and it seemed that beyond a few people in airports and airplanes wiping down surfaces and wearing face masks, not much had changed. The cattle-car boarding system of Southwest Airlines “Group C 1 through 30 can now line up in Row A, Group C 31 through 60 line up in Row B” was definitely not an example of “social distancing,” a phrase that had barely been coined by then.

Upon my return, I started to visit numerous shops in East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Bridgehampton on a daily basis, to check on supplies, ask vendors what people were asking for most, and what had they run out of. By Friday, every single place had been wiped out of all the things we shouldn’t be hoarding.

Between March 9 and Sunday, here are some of my observations of local reactions: Early in the week, friends were meeting and greeting in the streets of Sag Harbor, and other than the hand sanitizer shortage the stores were pretty well stocked. I was interested in (from a certified Suffolk County Health Department food manager/chef perspective) making some homemade sanitizer. F.Y.I., if any of you want to know how to keep things clean, talk to any local chef because the Suffolk County Health Department has some of the strictest standards in the country.

I would also like to suggest, here and now, to my seemingly intelligent Facebook friends, especially those in the media, do not repost all of the hooey and nonsense that someone else forwarded to you from their “aunt” who is a “nurse” at Stanford. Holding your breath for 10 seconds is not a reliable coronavirus test. Check your sources, please!

The recipe for hand sanitizer that seems the most reputable is from the World Health Organization. It calls for alcohol 60 percent or higher. This means that vodka will not work, but Everclear or Devil’s Springs (151 proof, 75.5 percent alcohol) will. I didn’t bother with the addition of aloe vera because this only acts as a hand softener, hence making the whole procedure tacky, sticky, yuck. To the alcohol you can add a few drops of essential oil. I used hinoki cypress oil because it has a pleasant cedar-like scent that dissipates quickly. Maybe keep your hand sanitizer in your car, your purse and pockets, but remember that washing hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds is the preferred method.

On a visit to Kmart midweek, I noted that the container of sanitizing wipes for customers at the entrance to the store was empty. I informed the manager, who expressed deep absence of interest. The checkout registers had randomly scattered squirt bottles of Purell for employees to use . . . or not, in most cases. The store was sold out of Scott toilet paper, the responsible choice for East Enders who care about their septic systems. I guiltily bought a small package of Cottonelle, hoping I never have to use it.

King Kullen was better equipped on that particular day and I ran into Ashley Falkowski of Open Minded Organics Farm. She was shopping wisely, stocking up on bulk rice and beans. She and her husband, Dave, already have a freezer full of meat and other necessities. When and if the schools were to close, she said, her daughter, Annabelle, would have to be in the greenhouse with her as they geared up for the season.

I stopped by a health food store where an employee suggested using bug repellent as a sanitizer “because they have the same ingredients and they both kill bugs.” Good lord! Not true.

On Friday, I stopped into Schiavoni’s Market in Sag Harbor to buy a bunch of scallions. Epic error, the city people had arrived and were stocking up on paper towels and chicken Cordon Bleu. A checkout employee said to me, “Thank you for not hoarding,” which made me feel like a hero and an idiot at the same time.

I am in the category (over 65) of those in danger of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing serious illness. I live alone and work alone. I exercise regularly in the fresh air and cook healthful food every day. I am a neat freak and have always constantly washed my hands, partly because of the way I was raised, partly because I worked as a pastry chef for many years. I think I am relatively healthy and as an introvert I barely feel a change in my routine or lifestyle. The only changes I have implemented are even more hand washing, even more outdoor exercise, and trying to remember to take my daily vitamins. Nothing extreme, too many vitamins just make expensive pee-pee. One weird activity I have adopted is putting on some face powder and rouge before I go out, so, you know, I look super healthy to the other social-distancing people marauding our stores. Just the right amount of rouge equals healthy. Too much equals crazy lady with a fever! It’s a tricky balance that takes a great deal of thought and preparation. Thank goodness, I’ve got all the time in the world.

By the time you read this, local restaurants will have been shut down except for takeout and delivery. Before that, Fresno in East Hampton had cut down on the number of tables in the dining room so guests could be a safe distance apart and opened up their garden patio with heaters for those intrepid diners who wished to be outside. Sadly, an extended period of no business will undoubtedly end up destroying many establishments in our seasonal resort area.

For the past week I have felt a little bit like the mayor of Amity in “Jaws,” exhorting everyone to “get in the water, there’s no shark, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open!” I so want every hospitality business out here to survive and thrive. I may have just had one of the last margaritas at K Pasa for a while.

As I said, it’s certainly not my place to give advice on safety and health. Please check the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control websites and your favorite TV channel for that information. I will say this is a good time to really take up cooking, start reading that book, exercise outside, consider a hobby, dig out the board games, mend and iron every clothing item you have been avoiding dealing with, and most important, keep an eye out for your elderly neighbors who are housebound. Share those supplies you hoarded! Consider growing a garden if you can. The extra homegrown food will come in handy no matter what. Here are some recipes to keep you busy and healthy.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This recipe is easy, light, and inexpensive. Last time I looked there were still pre-cooked supermarket chickens and Napa cabbage.

Serves six.


1 supermarket lemon pepper or plain roast chicken

3 Tbsp. lime juice

3 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

2-3 serrano chile peppers, finely chopped, or jalapenos, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup bean sprouts (optional)

2 cups shredded Napa cabbage (I sometimes substitute a bag of

pre-shredded slaw mix)

2/3 cup chopped cilantro, basil, or mint plus extra leaves for garnish

Lettuce leaves

Freshly ground black pepper


Remove meat from supermarket chicken and shred.

In small nonaluminum bowl stir together lime juice, fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, chile peppers, and garlic. Stir in onion and set aside for 30 minutes.

Blanch bean sprouts for one minute. Drain, and refresh with cold water.

In a large bowl combine chicken, bean sprouts, cabbage, and cilantro, mint, or basil. Add sauce and toss to mix well. Line a serving platter with lettuce leaves and spoon chicken mixture over lettuce. Grind pepper over all and garnish with leaves of cilantro or mint or basil.


Thibadeaux’s Creole Jambalaya

This recipe is adapted from an ancient New York Times column. You can play around with the recipe, maybe do what I do, cut down on the pork products, and bump up the vegetable measurements. Serve this with a big salad and some hot sauce on the side.

Serves eight.


4 Tbsp. butter (or oil)

1 lb. lean pork, cut into 1-inch cubes

8 cups chopped onion

1 1/2 cups chopped red or green pepper

2/3 cup chopped shallots

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1/4 cup minced parsley

1 cup finely chopped ham

12 smoked sausages (mixture of Creole, Polish, French garlic,

whatever combination you can get), cut into 1/2-inch slices

Salt to taste

1 Tbsp. hot chile powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne

4 whole bay leaves

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. dried thyme

3 cups converted long grain rice

6 cups rich beef stock


In heavy seven-to-eight-quart kettle or pot melt butter over low heat. Set aside.

In separate skillet cook pork in its own fat until lightly browned. Add onions, pepper, shallots, garlic, parsley, ham, and pork to melted butter and cook over low heat, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until meat and vegetables are browned.

Add sausage, salt, chile powder, cayenne, and cloves. Rub bay leaves and thyme in palms before adding to kettle. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring for about five minutes longer.

Add rice and beef stock and mix well. Raise heat to high and bring to boil. Turn heat to low, stir, and cook about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking. For last 30 minutes, cover and cook over very low heat. Stir frequently. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.


Butternut Squash Soup With Lime and Ginger

Be a hero and make this healthy soup! The stores are running out of bacon, not butternut squash! Serve this with little toasts with melted cheese.


1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger root

3 Tbsp. butter or oil

4 cups peeled, seeded and thinly sliced butternut squash, about 1 1/2 lbs.

2 cups chicken broth

3 garlic cloves

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, or to taste


In large saucepan, cook the onion and ginger root in butter or oil over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened. Add butternut squash and broth, two cups water, and garlic. Bring to boil and then simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, until squash is tender. Puree in batches, then add lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

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