Even though I live in the biggest city in the U.S., 2020 has made me channel my inner Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. From mid-March until early June, New York City was in lockdown. Everything that came into my apartment arrived via Amazon, Chewy’s or delivery from our two neighborhood grocery stores and the local wine shop. Take-out from nearby eateries fell by the wayside, not that we were big on that during the “before times.” I couldn’t go to the gym, shop in stores, have my nails done, get my hair cut. Much of life now existed online, including FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings.
On one of those meetings, staring at my dark circles, floppy mop and lack of make-up, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Literally. I ordered the best pair of hair scissors I could find on Amazon, a German stainless steel number promising lifetime ability to snip cleanly. When they arrived about two weeks later (lots of other people had apparently had the same idea, creating a backorder situation) I went to YouTube University to figure out how to use them. Several informative videos later I felt ready.
I hopped in the shower, shampooed and conditioned, dried off and stood in front of the bathroom sink, instrument of makeover in hand. “What could go wrong? Hair grows back,” said my confident better angel in a reassuring voice. “Lots could go wrong, Trish. But who cares, since you have no life anyway and no one will notice,” said her evil twin, perched on my other shoulder.
I fastened my locks in clumps as the video had taught me to do and began to hack away at the split ends and wayward strands. I was reminded of the time sixty years ago when my father tried to level a small dining table whose wobbles had irked him. It ended up as a coffee table. As I wielded the scissors, trying to angle them as I remembered my stylist always did, my hair got shorter and shorter. I guess I am more like my father than I would like to admit. Eventually my husband verified that both sides were even. My chin length do, ready for its blow dry, made me feel lighter, prettier, maybe even a tad younger? That hag of an hour before was no more.
On my next family FaceTime both daughters agreed that my cut made the cut. “Think of all the money you will save, mom! No need to go back to the salon!” said E. “Did you do highlights too?” asked B. “Nope. My hair hasn’t seen a foil or a dye in over two years. Maybe this self-sufficiency kick has indeed made me younger.”
Now that salons are open in the city (but who knows for how long since we are surging again) I still cut my own hair. Why not? I like my hairdo, and I like the money I’m saving, too. More cash for random online shopping impulses, not that I need things, since I am still not really going anywhere but the grocery store.
And what a pleasure that is. I hated having groceries delivered. I don’t menu plan because I like to survey the produce, the fish counter, the cheese bar, and determine which things inspire me, which things are on special, which things look freshest. I am a seasoned cook used to buying ingredients first and thinking about how to prep them second. Those essential workers, bless their hearts, who shopped for me, often didn’t seem to know the difference between an overripe avocado and one that was more akin to a lacrosse ball.
I had time on my hands during lockdown without errands to run, time that I spent working on the research for my book, writing blog posts, and, let’s face it, wasting a lot of time “doomscrolling.” When my girls were growing up I baked bread and cookies and pies (but not cakes) on the regular. But it had been years since I had made bread; the convenience of fresh baguettes and New York bagels and provisioning for two rather than four had made that unnecessary. My Larousse bread book, once a bible, sat forlornly on the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet. But what better way to brighten up imprisonment than pounding dough and filling the apartment with yeasty smells?
I discovered that a whole new way to bake bread called “no knead” had been popularized since my last loaf left the oven. No need to stand at the counter manhandling dough, always unsure about whether the gluten was cooperating due to high humidity, low humidity, whatever on a particular day. No need, indeed! Now one used instant yeast and let the dough rise on its own for 18 to 24 hours before baking it in a pot at high temperature. Easy peasy.
Except, once again, just as with the scissors, everyone else in America seems to have had the same idea. The usual places to buy yeast and flour were sold out. Thus began my deep dive into artisan flour mills in places like Nebraska, normally catering to the local farmers who, unlike us city slickers, never stopped baking their own bread, putting up their own jams, pickles and compotes, stocking their freezers with cuts of meat and pounds of butter. Here I was, out on the prairie, just like Ma Ingalls. I bought yeast, many kinds of specialty organic flour, something called a bread lame (a razor for scoring the top to let the bread rise its highest), a scale, a bench scraper and a ceramic bread pot.
And, just like my barbering success, my bread baking was a hit. Crusty artisan white loaves, oatmeal bread, whole wheat bread, rye bread … you name it, I made it. It was easy, requiring only being home enough to prep the dough and then bake it the next day. It was incredibly satisfying. Now that I can buy bread at the store again I do, but I’m always comparing it unfavorably to my own loaves. This afternoon, since my larder is once again empty, I’m going to make my own bread again. It feels great to be self-sufficient, and anyway, I need to use up the pounds of flour I still have.
Speaking of which, its time to use that special blend semolina I acquired for making pasta. Lockdown was the perfect time to learn how to make fettuccine, ravioli, spaghetti and lasagna noodles with my KitchenAid mixer attachments. Back to YouTube University I went, and discovered the Pasta Grannies, my favorite of whom is Letizia, a 100 year old nonna you can watch here. They even have a cookbook, #1 on Amazon in the pasta/noodles category. I am a nana (a nonna if I lived in Italy) so maybe instead of Ma Ingalls I am channeling my inner Letizia. Which isn’t a bad idea, because at 100, she doesn’t look a day over 80, and at this rate I may be that old when this COVID thing is over.