Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Is it safe?

May 12, 2020.  51 days since we were asked by our Prime Minister to stay home, be safe, do not shake hands, shop alone, exercise only with the person or persons you live with, make sure you keep a 1.5 meter distance from others, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

May 12, 2020.  Day 2 of the relaxed lockdown. 

Here in Holland, the primary schools have opened their doors allowing the children to come back to class.  In small groups, carefully socially distanced from one another and for shorter periods of time. Football fields have been unlocked for practice sessions, but not for competitions.  Hairdressers, along with other grooming salons are back in business. Albeit by appointment only. Goodbye corona hair – on various parts of the body! 

But is it really safe to go out again?  There is a commercial running on television about not only washing our hands, but washing away our fears?  Really?

The Coronavirus aka covid-19 has cordoned us off from one another.  Fear has become the new normal (another corona inspired catch phrase). It has held us hostage in our homes.  With every one and every thing outside suspect.  The invisible enemy attached to the grocery bags and the pizza boxes delivered to our homes or to the breath and sweat of the man jogging or biking pass us as we take our late afternoon walk in the woods.

 We have not had total lockdown in this country.  More of  an intelligent lockdown making us responsible not only for ourselves but for others - the people who risk their lives in the hospitals, in the care homes, in the supermarkets, in the postal, fire, sanitation and engineering services.

And yet, as we try to make the world a safer place, we also begin to isolate our selves.  Turning inwards.  Taking care only of me and mine.  Oh, yes, we think of those every day heroes who risk their lives.  We clap our hands or bang on pots to say thank you.  We paint rainbows and hearts and hang them on our windows. We even transfer a few euros for this cause or that. And it feels good.  We have done our part. Ok, not in philanthropic proportions, but we have contributed in our own way.  We have even found ways to communicate with friends and family near and far via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc.  We have virtual morning coffee or happy hour with wine and cheese.  We write more letters, send more parcels, cards,  flowers.  We even invent parlor games that can be played at the same time from different parts of the globe! It's almost like being there.

And yet,  we are still home. Safe.

What I miss most during this time of quarantine is the physical contact.  Yes! That squeezing, almost suffocating  embrace I give my grandchildren when they come to visit.  The hug I exchange with friends when we meet. The eye contact of face to face conversations.  The traditional Dutch triple airkiss on the cheeks, even the handshake when I meet someone for the first time.

I know, I am one of those touchy-feely types.  But aren’t we all?  We need to love and to hold.  It is not only for wedding ceremonies.  It is for every day.  It is for glorious, happy celebrations.  It is for times of loss and grief.  It is for giving comfort. I still feel badly that I could not wrap my arms around my daughter-in-law when her mother passed away in April.  Both of us afraid of infecting the other with the virus.  Three weeks later, on Mother’s Day, her first without her beloved mother, we hugged.  Reluctantly.  But we did.  And we both felt so much better.  Often, words are simply not enough and a touch can say far more.

The coronavirus has killed our spontaneity.  Like the irresistible urge to hug a bearer of good news or drop by a friend’s house for a cuppa just because you feel like a chat after a tough day at the office or to invite friends over for an instant party just because the sun is shining and you have cold prosecco in the fridge.  The hardest part of this isolation is not being able to be with the ones who live closest to you.  Zoom is good for the friends and family who live across the seas. It is easy to understand the need for digital closeness.  But for those who live down the block or a few minutes ride away, it can be quite frustrating. Depressing.

Every day we are cautioned about too much contact with people, whether they be family, friend or stranger. Have your face mask and plastic gloves at hand at all times. This may be the status quo for quite a long while until a safe and dependable vaccine can be found.  

Until then, we have to tread carefully.  Never quite letting our guard down.  Because you never know when that 120 nanometer virus with its prickly crowns may hit you.

So, is it safe out there?  Who knows?  Honestly, sometimes, you just have to go where your heart leads you.  

Imperfect Empanada

Lockdown makes you do things that you never had time for. Like cleaning cupboards, polishing the floor, reading War and Peace… and for me, getting the courage to make empanada.  I was convinced I could not make good pastry.  But my taste buds hungered for home and those delicately wrapped pastries my mother used to take home after her visits with my grandmother. So, I searched the net and found a step by step guide.  This is the result : My Imperfect Empanadas.  They won’t win any awards in a bake off but if I close my eyes, the pastry is melt-in-the-mouth and the filling taste almost like home.  

The Pastry*
3 cups flour
4 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
6-8 tbsp. cold water 
* good for 24-28 small empanadas (about 3 inches)  

Minced Meat Filling
2 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced 
1 medium-sized potato, diced (or leftover boiled potato)
250 gms. minced meat (pork, pork and beef mix, or chicken)
choose one or more or all of these : ½ cup frozen green peas, ½ cup carrots, diced, ½ raisins, 1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 bouillon cube
¼ cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Eggwash : 1 egg and 1 tbsp. water, beaten together

The Pastry :
·      Put the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a food processor. Mix with a spoon to blend all the dry ingredients.
·      Drop the cubes of butter into the mix.  Turn on the processor and pulse the ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. There may still be bits of butter remaining.
·      Slowly add water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing the mixture until it is no longer crumbly but more like a soft pastry dough. You may not need 10 tbsps. Remove the mass from the processor and gather it to form a ball.  Divide this into 4 parts.
·      Roll out each quarter and flatten to about an inch thick. Cut out circles using a large cookie cutter or the mouth of a whisky or juice glass. This worked for me!
·      Dust each circle with a bit of flour in preparation for the filling.

The Filling :
·      Saute garlic and onions in oil.  Add the minced meat and cook till the meat is brown. 
·      Add the uncooked potatoes and carrots, mix them through the meat.
·      Crumble the bouillon cube into the meat and pour in about ¼ cup of water, stirring well into the mix.
·      Cover with a lid and allow to simmer until the vegetables are tender.
·      The raisins and peas can be added at this point.  Cook for another 5 minutes or until the peas are soft.
·      Turn off the heat, pour the meat mixture on to a colander to let the excess liquid drip out.  Allow to cool.

Preparing the empanadas : The amount of filling that you put in your pastry depends on the size of your empanada. 
·      Roll out the prepared pastry to form an oblong. I found that this way, the filling does not spill out. Place a spoonful (or more) of filling in the center.  
·      Gently fold the top part of the pastry over the filling and press the ends of the pastry together.  It will look like a half moon.  Use your fingers or a fork to crimp the edges.
·      Lay the empanada on a wax paper lined tray. Prick the middle of the pastry with a fork to let out  the steam released while baking.  Brush the top with the prepared egg wash.
·      Bake till golden brown at 200 degrees C for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
The empanadas can be prepared ahead and frozen.  Allow them to stand for about half an hour at room temperature before baking. They cook for nearly the same time – about 20 minutes.

There are so many other recipes for fillings. Choose the combination that you and your family like best