Pots and Pandemics


‘Cooking for the Apocalypse’

Okay. How many of you out there know what “pork shoulder calas” is? Hint: it’s not pork butt.

Pork shoulder calas is what I scored from the almost-empty meat case the other day when I made my once-weekly foray, gloved and bandanna’d, into the local IGA. I go at around 8:30 because, even though it’s “seniors only” from 9:00 to 10:00, they only let in 30 shoppers at a time. (I found out the hard way that getting there at 9:00 means standing — er, shivering — in a socially-distanced line, waiting until one of the lucky First Thirty exits the store.)

A fully-laden shopping cart in Happier Days. When it was filled with what I wanted rather than what I could get. I would kill for those paper towels

While I’m waiting, either in the car (when I’m early) or on the line (when I’m not), I go over my shopping list.

Then, when I get inside, I realize my list isn’t worth the scrap paper it’s scribbled on because, basically, nothing on there is in there.

Empty bread aisle, also from happier days. Then it was 4th of July hoarding, which was at least temporary

As a senior who’s earned her early-groceries stripes, I didn’t think much could surprise me anymore. But every week when I go IGAing, I’m stunned at the total absence of once-familiar items. There are whole sections of the store that are empty. The usual suspects — peanut butter, oatmeal, eggs, canned tuna — have been missing for weeks, not to mention toilet paper. Which is such a classic Corona MIA that my Beloved Only Younger Sister joined in the TP fun. Yup. Her post went, ahem, viral.

And yeah, I get it. Everybody’s cooking at home so soup stocks and dried beans and flour are gone. And then they’re doing the dishes, so the sponges and dishwasher pellets are gone. After that, they’re storing the leftovers, so ziploc bags and plastic wrap are gone.

Even The Child is buying flour. She’s made this NY Times bread, like, eight times. In one week

But who’s taking the frozen lima beans? And what gives with no seltzer? I can’t even find the Polident thingies I use to clean what I call my “biter” and my dentist insists on calling my “nightguard.”

I can’t resist a shot of The Child doing another cooking-related activity

So, with whole categories of formerly-stocked stuff virtually gone, I’ve had to get whatever I can get and make do the best I can.

I buy a bunch of parsley and use it in everything from soup to salad. No frozen spinach? Frozen kale was (sort of) fine. Oh, you’d be amazed how many recipes there are for chicken thighs. Like, a zillion. And who knew squash was so versatile? You can turn it into soup, you can roast it, you can even slice it and cook it with — you guessed it — chicken thighs.

I’ve made that recipe for chicken thighs and squash twice. And yes, that red wine is for cooking. It just doesn’t go in the recipe

Which brings me to the pork shoulder calas. I was craving a bit of a break from chicken thighs, and there was this big ole Pork Object. It wasn’t pricey, so in the cart it went. Well, when I got home and after oh-so-carefully doing the Unpacking and Sanitizing Thing, I googled it. Turns out it isn’t what I thought it was — a cut of shoulder called “pork butt.” Which is awfully confusing since I wouldn’t have guessed a “butt” is on the “shoulder.” The “butt” is what you use to make pulled pork. Which I must admit I was kinda hungry for.

Something else I get hungry for: Magic Meat. The recipe is right here

But — and I use that word intentionally — this was no butt. I googled some more and found that the “calas” is lower down on the shoulder, more towards the leg, and is used to make a classic Puerto Rican dish called “pernil.” 

This “pernil” isn’t something we Swedish Americans from Southern Illinois had every week. But it’s in the oven even as we speak. And smells pretty darned delicious. I’ll let you know next week how it turned out. And whether I’ve got to return to an all-chicken-thigh-all-the-time menu.

In the meantime, here’s another photo of Kitchens from Non-Distancing Times. Enjoy. And if you get a sec (hah), try any of these NY Times chicken-thigh recipes. Trust me; you’ll be able to find winter squash just fine.

Best thing to have in your kitchen: a sister

Amagansett, New York. April 2020

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15 thoughts on “Pots and Pandemics

  1. I miss my sister in my kitchen, and my dad–and everybody. However, I did have a kitchen win last night. My elder twin decided to make dinner–nothing super special, just steak, bean, and rice burritos, but it was nice to have company in the kitchen. (I cook, husband cleans.) And the boy was really proud of himself–we all were. Turns out, if I were home-schooling (which I wouldn’t unless, ya know, pandemic times) I would be an un-schooler, which means they learn by doing stuff around the house, yard, travel, etc. Fun to have a sous chef! Let us know how the pernil turned out. Sounds wonderful!

  2. Ooooh, you fancy! Pork calas. Apparently, New Jersey butchers do not share their calas with mere elderly shoppers. I do love me some chicken thighs, however! I was craving some yesterday, but all my freezer has is breasts & tenders. Sigh. First-world Covid problems.

    • Hah! Don’t be jealous. That Pork Puppy was in a slooow oven for six hours and STILL wasn’t “fork tender” as promised. I’m thinking my calas was as elderly as me (!) Back to (sigh) thighs

  3. Nancy Vines

    Thanks!!! Now all I can think about is how much I’d love pulled pork. I would kill for some. LOL. Stay well, you guys (and child). xoxo

  4. Ilene

    Enjoyed your post. I did a big shop today at Gristedes on Third and 78th. It was very well stocked including toilet paper, not brands you ever heard of, but I bought a 6-pack of Panda. With such a cute name I
    feel it has to be OK.

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