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  • Renee Kashuba

What are we doing????

Cases are skyrocketing, and the world is alarmed. Several states are now increasing lockdowns, several weeks or months late, much like New York State was delayed in its initial response. But those states should be benefiting from hind site, not repeating our first mistakes. Florida new cases have increased 5-fold in the last 2 weeks, suggesting they are well on their way to a crisis. Even in New York, some areas are seeing cases rising, although more slowly.

In our own area, locals attending the Chappaqua drive-through graduation as well as a field night involving several schools may not have followed guidelines set out by the state, and 5 have tested positive so far. At the Sleepy Hollow graduation, I can attest that very few followed guidelines, with most people gathering in groups, hugging, taking photos arm in arm, and very few masks worn -- even fewer worn correctly. At a local celebration, masks were ironically worn well by the grads and younger kids, but not by the parents. We've decided to collectively forget the danger, conveniently overlook the risks. That leaves a heavy burden on those who want to take personal responsibility seriously (we either have to give in or isolate to avoid exposure), and an even heavier burden on folks who cannot exercise that extra caution: workers who must interact with the public. It's the latest privilege that those who do not work in the service industry can exercise.

By contrast, China has locked down 400,000 people in response to just 18 new cases. And their lockdowns are no joke: villages, communities, and buildings closed; only one person per household permitted outside to purchase supplies once daily; and all outside vehicles banned. This is a far cry from our "lockdowns," which were never more than mere suggestions anyway. There was no consequence for violating guidelines, not even any reinforcement of those guidelines. How would Americans react if we had to comply with such restrictions, after only 18 confirmed cases? Do we simply prefer the risk, even if that risk is extreme for whole segments of our society? I'm beginning to think of America's defining characteristic as group sacrifice for individual benefit, rather than individual freedom.

Maybe it's time for a little reframing. I'm trying to move this newsletter from an ongoing rant at the pandemic and institutional evils to something more on-brand. I'm a Chef, and my business is catering to clients to make beautiful and delicious events. A screed at our country's response to the pandemic seems off-topic at the least. When I was sharing tips on how to cook at home, that was fine. But now I've veered into the weeds of personal responsibility! So, let me know consider a bit of hope: what elements of life in the pandemic do I wish to keep, and what have I learned as a Chef?

My family is actually pretty happy together

I've actually enjoyed spending time with my family, and my husband and I have discovered that we can't wait to retire together. If we didn't have to worry about earning a living in this mess, we'd be perfectly content with the extra time and attention. So, that's an easy keep (at least on the surface). All we have to do is keeping making extra time to be together. Let's see how we do with that once we all get super busy again.

I can cook something from anything

I already felt pretty resourceful, but now I feel really confident in making delicious, client-ready food out of anything that's available. I've been serving as a private chef for the entire lockdown, purchasing only every other week at the beginning (and planning menus from ingredients that could last 8 days from one weekly session to the next), scrounging during shortages, and making do around client allergies and special diets. And the clients have been thrilled. Not even, "well, we'll make do because it's a pandemic" satisfied, but really thrilled with the food they've enjoyed. So, that's nice to know. I think I'll take that confidence along with me.

I don't need as much as I thought I did

I don't need as time, money, food, resources, support, clients, income, or anything as I thought I did. It's amazing how you learn to make do when you just don't have as much as you'd like. Check. Keeping that one, too.

Our food system is a disaster

Food shortages were nearly immediate, and in some cases extreme. And many were due to how we source food. Reliance on factory farming and food processing leaves us vulnerable to pandemics, political unrest at home and abroad, climate change, transportation and shipping interruptions, and probably a host of problems we haven't even considered. So, this is my next focus: what are we going to do about food (and water) insecurity, locally, globally, and personally?

Finally, this week's recipe

As you know, I've been making soup and bread for the Dobbs Ferry Pantry for the last several weeks. I'm going to continue through July, as local families cope with the loss of food provided by the schools. I wanted to commemorate that, and let folks in on some of the soups I've been making.

Southwestern Chicken & Vegetable Soup

Whole chicken

1 1/2 c black beans, prepared (or 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)

2-4 carrots, diced

2-4 stalks celery, diced

1 medium onion, sliced in semi-circles

1 red pepper, diced

1 c frozen corn (or 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)

1 c frozen peas

15 oz can diced tomatoes

Dash each cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander

1/4 tsp paprika

Salt & pepper to taste

Boil chicken until completely cooked and falling off the bone. Retain broth, and pull out chicken. Add beans, vegetables, and seasonings to broth, and simmer until softened but al dente (about 1/2 hour). Remove all meat on chicken, and cut up or shred larger pieces. Return chicken to soup and reboil. Serve alone or with shredded cheese. Vegan alternative: substitute zucchini and/or yellow squash for chicken, and add some vegetable Better Than Bouillon to water. Boil all veggies and seasonings together.

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