The first time I went shopping at the grocery store during Corona V, I felt like I was on Guy’s Grocery Games, rushing in, headed down the aisles and grabbing stuff off the shelf, zipping to the check out line and getting the heck out of the potential Petri dish and virus filled air. The next time I went, I made a list of foods that will last a while, making visits to the grocery store less frequent. I’m not talking peanut butter (my friend’s friend’s husband bought 24 jars!), canned soup or pasta or rice. I’m talking fresh food, that we crave, that we need, that will last more than a week.
This stuff, and I mean the regular cabbage that was abundant for Saint Patrick’s Day, lasts a LONG time and it’s so versatile. Besides the obvious choice of sautéing it with oil, butter or bacon fat, cabbage can be sliced and used in salads, soups, on tacos or in sandwiches. Coleslaw is another way to use it and if you pickle it, it lasts even longer. Then, of course, there’s also stuffed cabbage, redolent of ground beef and rice, a satisfying and homey dish. Cabbage is low in calories, high in fiber and has the same nutritional benefits as her trendy sister Kale.
#2 Citrus Fruit
Sailors would take citrus fruit on their voyages to avoid scurvy. While we don’t have to worry about that, citrus fruits do last a long time. Pick ones that are heavy (test them if you are wearing gloves, otherwise just grab one) and fragrant. Wash in soapy water when you get home and store, uncovered, in the fridge. Nothing is more refreshing to me than a half a Ruby Red grapefruit to go with my breakfast. We constantly have lemons at my house to go in Iced Tea, but they are also good in water, squirted on seafood or vegetables. Limes go well with Asian food, in salsa, on fruit salad and in guacamole. The rind of citrus packs a lot of flavor and of course, citrus is full of Vitamin C, something we’re all trying to get more of these days.
I almost always have apples on hand, since they are my favorite fruit to snack on. My favorite is HoneyCrisp, but I also like Gala, Fuji and Envy. My friend makes sure to get a variety since she eats several a day. Make sure you wash them and then store uncovered in the fridge, where they will stay good for 4 to 6 weeks, the same timeline we are currently on board for staying at home. Apples past their prime and be sliced and used as a side dish with pork, or turned into a baked apple dessert. Apples are high in Vitamin C (14%), polyphenols and fiber.
When I made my second trip to the grocery store, I grabbed a bag of potatoes as well. Yukon Gold is my personal favorite, but plain old Idahos last a long time as well. Stored in a dark spot, potatoes can last up to 6 months! I just learned a trick to keep the eyes from sprouting. Put an apple (see above) in with your potatoes. Potatoes can be baked, roasted, mashed, fried; they can be cut into cubes, wedges, chips, grated or sliced. They also can be used in soups and stews and are a natural thickener. A baked potato can be topped with items (cheese, broccoli or BBQ chicken) to make a complete meal. I sometimes boil tiny red potatoes and eat them cold with salt and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, as a snack.
#5 Root Vegetables- Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips, Yams, Beets
Any root vegetable tends to last a long time. In the old days, they had a root cellar specifically used for storing these hardy, nutrient-dense vegetables that grow in the dirt. When choosing, pick ones that are hard and free of gashes. For carrots, I like the colorful varieties. Don’t buy the “baby” carrots, as they are very perishable. I’ve been having fun experimenting with carrot recipes lately. Whoopee! I made some roasted carrots, with a tahini dressing and pomegranate seeds a couple weeks ago and made some the other night (NYTimes Food recipe) that were boiled, grilled and topped with tarragon oil and sprinkled with dukah. Dukah is an Egyptian condiment which is a mixture of toasted nuts (hazelnuts), seeds, spices and herbs. It added a beautiful crunch and flavor to the carrots.
#6 Iceberg Lettuce
It may not be as nutrious as Romaine, but it definitely lasts longer and who can beat the crunch and refreshing juiciness of Iceberg? I remember hearing author and actress Madhur Jaffrey talking about the first time she tasted iceberg on a cruise and what a revelation it was to her. “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever eaten,” she said of her salad on the Queen Mary. It’s so refreshing because it’s 96% water and as we know, it’s important to stay hydrated these days. My preferred way to eat it is the classic wedge, with blue cheese and bacon bits.
#7 Prociutto or Salami
I remember hearing Giada de Laurentis talk about how her Italian family always had prosciutto in the refrigerator because it lasted a long time. My mother always had sliced Genoa salami on hand as well, (from Publix) so we could make salami sandwiches. Since both are cured meats, they last longer than most lunch meats. In order to have it last as long as possible, you’re better off buying salami whole, instead of sliced. Prosciutto has many uses beyond the obvious sandwich-making capability. It can be put in pasta, eggs, or on a flatbread; wrapped around melon or scallops or fried and sprinkled on salad. My favorite sandwich at Cafe Pastis has prosciutto with pesto and brie on a French baguette.
#8 Parmesan Cheese
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and other hard cheeses like Pecorina, Romano or (my Aunt Josie’s favorite) Locatelli last a long time in the refrigerator. To store, loosely cover with wax or parchment paper, in your meat and cheese compartment. After a while, even these hard cheeses tend to get too hard, so it’s best to grate or shred the cheese for the longest lasting solution. I keep the rinds and put them in pasta sauce and soups to give them more flavor.
Eggs last up to a couple weeks in the fridge and are one of my favorite protiens. Obviously there are many ways to use them for breakfast and baking, but they are also a nice topper (soft boiled) on pasta and salads, as a natural, yolky dressing. I love a barely cooked egg in an Asian noodle soup as well. If your eggs are not super fresh, these are good to hard boil, as older eggs are easier to peel. They can then be used as a snack (I like to put a slice of hearts of palm in my deviled eggs as a crunchy surprise) or to make egg salad.
#10 Garlic, Onions & Shallots
These members of the allium family are essentials for any cook to have on hand and should be stored in a cool, dark spot. Look for garlic that feels heavy and isn’t shriveled. Lighter heads tend to be dried out. Look for onions and shallots with no soft spots or sprouting. The basic white, yellow and red onions tend to last longer than Vidalia or scallions. I just found a video showing how to store them in pantyhose, to keep them lasting even longer. Shallots, sweeter and subtler in flavor than onions, are good in salad dressings and sauces.
Bonus Round: I almost always have a bell pepper on hand, usually red. I use it fresh in salads, chopped with onions and garlic to put in black beans or roasted in salads or sandwiches. Many times, I use half and the other half languishes and becomes slimy in the vegetable drawer, but I just learned a halk to make them last longer. Cut off the bottom half and leave the top, with stem and seeds intact. This will give you a couple extra days of keeping the pepper fresh. This green pepper came from my garden.
Well I tried Instacart and it was a major fail.
I know it’s safer than shopping, but I didn’t realize it would be so time-consuming, since they list the items in different categories (I did Publix), then you need to pick your brand and say if you will take a substitute. Anyway it’s a process, and then you check out. The good part was, I was able to get toilet paper and paper towels (Publix’s recycled type) but they were out of some items I needed, like Clorox Wipes and alcohol.
It didn’t take too long to arrive, about 2 hours and I was updated on the progress of my shopper and notified when items were out of stock. They didn’t have the Flat Iron Steak or Cauliflower I ordered. Flat Iron Steak is a delicious cut of beef and I like Pureed Cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes. But anyway… I got a text message when my shopper arrived at my house. I’d left instructions to leave the items on the bench by the front door. It was a husband and wife team and they delivered 2 paper bags of groceries- $200 worth, with no meat or seafood. The items were crammed in there tightly.
I brought the bags in, washed my hands and unpacked. All the produce was wrapped in the thin green plastic bags, which was good since it prevents it from touching the cart, but I was dismayed to find the hot dog buns and hamburger buns at the bottom of the bag. They were pretty smushed. Also, a can of lentils I’d ordered was dented and apparently I didn’t pay close enough attention to sizes, because I ended up with a HUGE can of black beans, not the 15 ounce I had meant to get.
So, while it was quick and healthier than shopping myself, it was more complicated than I realized and a disappointing experience. I’m guessing Instacart has had to hire a lot more people lately to deal with the pandemic, and perhaps they aren’t very experienced. Also, I don’t know if they were responsible for putting the buns at the bottom of the bag, or it was the bagger at Publix, but at any rate, it shouldn’t have happened.
Meanwhile, back at our house, we’re almost finished with the 1500 piece puzzle. We finished Tiger King and Screwball and I’ve been watching old VHS tapes my Mom gave me that my Dad shot. While I was on the VHS kick, I decided to dust off an old Jane Fonda step aerobic tape and give it a try, because frankly I’m sick of taking walks and it’s hot out there!
I’ve been learning about Zoom meetings, sheltering in place and Tik Tok. My stress ball has been getting a lot of use and I’ve been using my aromatherapy diffuser on the regular. Lemongrass and Begamot are recommended scents to fight away viruses. I’ve been cooking a lot and just realized now that we’ve been given another month to stay at home that I will need to become my own: dental hygienist, housekeeper, hair stylist, eyebrow dyer, manicurist, personal trainer, masseuse and therapist.
I’d been having my housekeeper come because I figured if I ever needed a clean house, it was now and I felt it was safe since she was only going from her house to mine. But when Trump said: “Stay home, no really stay home,” for another month, she texted me that she thought it best not to come anymore. I was sad, but of course I understand. I’m pretty self-sufficient, so this is all ok.
Zeke and I haven’t killed each other yet, which is good news and life goes on. At a slow pace, but on nonetheless. I wrote my friend Martha a birthday card today and told her maybe this has happened to remind us of the important things in life: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.
Upcoming articles: How to Grocery Shop Safely and Trending in the Pandemic.