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  • Renee Kashuba

We're free! Kind of ...

Mid-Hudson Valley is entering Phase 3, which allows indoor dining, some sports, and ...


That feels like a huge party these days. That's more people than I've seen in months, all in one place -- preferably an outdoor space, of course. Now the challenge is to remain committed to cautious behavior -- most notably wearing masks and maintaining social distance -- even as we embrace our new freedoms. New York's gradual release from lockdown has relied heavily on personal responsibility, and now we need that more than ever.

More importantly, this could mean more work! As a small business owner, I've had to walk the careful line of trying to scare up any kind of business I can find, while refraining from encouraging unsafe behavior. I've actually had requests for parties that clearly violate restrictions that dissolve into thin air when I state that I'll be following state guidelines. I've watched silently as social media posts of violations abound. Will my commitment to following the guidelines pay off with reservations for safe parties? Or will I simply miss the onramp to the road to recovery? Maybe I'll even save myself and my family in the process, because all of these safety measures protect the client, not the worker. I still expose myself every time I deliver something "contactless" but instead face an unmasked individual answering the door unexpectedly to take a handoff in a closed vestibule, rather than letting me leave it hanging on their door as planned. The more troubling trend, of course, is that the well-to-do have cut their spending, and catering relies heavily on these folks. There is some concern about the ability to reverse the shutdown, and some sectors will certainly be more affected than others. The onramp to that road to recovery may be closed to me, regardless of what I do. The great news is that so far, safety measures overall seem to be working: cases in New York continue to drop, and fatalities are way down (10 on Sunday -- still tragic). And widespread testing continues, with a very low positive rate (less than 1% for the state overall and slightly higher in our region). Now, the concern is rising cases in other states, with half reporting surges and some increasing restrictions on activity (paywall). But full return to business as usual in general brings increased cases, and experts warn of that risk in New York and New Jersey, as well. For the early phases of reopening in New York, that hasn't happened. Will decreased vigilance, possibly with travel from other areas, ruin that happy early trend? So, now we're left in a the bizarre limbo, of "Yay, let's party ... but this is no time to relax!"

I've been out and about pretty often these days, shopping for ingredients, delivering to the Dobbs Ferry Pantry, delivering meals, and most recently selling baked goods. And I'm seeing some disturbing trends. The streets are busy, which is nice to see, but no one's staying distant. Even folks who are attempting social distancing are actually about 3 or 4 feet apart -- like we've collectively adjusted our standards downward. Fewer and fewer people are wearing masks, still fewer wearing them correctly. Now, it's quite common to see people out without even carrying a mask "just in case." We just don't want to think about the risk anymore. Our tolerance for this particular stress has maxed out, and we've reverted to a mindset in which masks are just not needed. Recent research has shown that men are more resistant to wearing masks (a trend I've seen first hand). The reduced cases we've been enjoying so much, and our very opportunity for freedom, though, relies on each person's commitment to safety measures. The only way we can avoid the daily stress of the risk of this disease is to engage in the daily reminder of wearing a mask.

Maybe we can make this a habit, one that we no longer associate with negative thoughts of the virus. For me, this is already happening. I wear a mask the whole time I'm cooking, packing, and delivering. On days that I cook for the pantry, that means I'm masked almost the whole time I'm awake. I spend more time masked than unmasked these days. It's uncomfortable, yes -- very uncomfortable in a hot kitchen! But the stress of what it means fades into the background, and the awkwardness of how silly I may look has disappeared entirely. I'm in it for the long haul.

This week's recipe

Early summer means shortcake. Many strawberry shortcakes are made with spongecake instead, a sweet and fluffy concoction that does not go well with sweet berries and sweet cream, in my opinion (although I like sponge cake for other things quite fine!). This is a more traditional shortcake, with very low sugar. It works well with strawberries, but I like to use a mix of berries: strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry or raspberry. Fresh cream, of course. Cut the shortcakes into flower-shapped individual biscuits, and then cut each of those in half and fill with berries and cream for a very classy plate.


2 ¼ c flour

½ c sugar

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

6 Tb butter

1 c homemade buttermilk (scant c milk or cream or combination, plus 1 Tb cider vinegar, let stand to sour)

1 egg yolk

½ tsp vanilla

Sliced almonds

Dusting of sugar

Mix homemade buttermilk, and let stand to sour. Mix dry ingredients. Rub in butter until combined. Add egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk. Mix until combined into loose dough. Fill buttered and lined pans (about 1/2 inch deep). Or turn out dough on floured surface, and fold once or twice to combine with a little extra flour into a biscuit dough. Do not knead or overwork! Pat flat to about 1 inch thick. Cut out flower shapes and place on lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash, cover with sliced almonds and dust with sugar. Bake 425 until beginning to brown (about 10 min for flowers, about 20 min for cakes). Cool fully before filling. Use within 1 day (they get stale fast!).

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