I visited an old friend over the weekend — my first visit to anyone in over a year — in this new, we-are-vaccinated phase of the pandemic. I was down in the big city to visit my firstborn, who I hadn’t laid eyes on since July, and went a day early to stay with my old friend.
That friend has been mostly alone for 14 months, ever since his wife got stranded visiting her home country of Croatia when the pandemic began. We had a lot to catch up on, and when I arrived we talked so long we forgot about dinner. I suddenly realized I was about to drop, and my friend grabbed some cheese and bread to sustain me while he ran out of the apartment to wash the sheets for the pullout couch, which had been in the laundry basket since his daughter was home for Thanksgiving.
He started cooking at around 9:30 at night, and it was 11 before we finished dinner.
My friend loves to cook, makes amazing meals and it’s not actually unusual for him to be serving dinner that late. While he started boiling potatoes to serve with chard and garlic, he regaled me with the story of a friend who had the nerve to bring him a package of biscuit mix despite knowing full well that my friend only makes biscuits from scratch. “I make biscuit the way you told me — flour, butter, it’s not complicated,” he said, grabbing the box and showing me the long list of unnecessary ingredients.
I enjoy my friend’s outrage, and also his cooking. We had swordfish and a salad with roasted beets, oranges, bleu cheese and toasted pine nuts. He shops farmers’ markets for fresh, natural ingredients, and was happy with the stash I brought down for him: eggs from our chickens and ducks, fresh chèvre and an aged cheese from our goats.
The next morning we walked down to the Union Square farmers’ market, which always makes me smile because I see many of our local farmers represented there, as well as those from the Hudson Valley where my sisters live. It amazes me that they travel so far to make sure my friend has his “local” farm-fresh vegetables, handmade cheeses and breads, and plenty of fresh flowers.
I left him to wander and took off to see my kid. We spent the day admiring the flowering trees and birds during a long walk through Green-Wood Cemetery, and in the evening headed back to my friend’s for another dinner. We brought tulips and beer; he was cooking pasta and mushrooms.
My friend doesn’t generally drink, but he gamely took a few ounces of beer in a little juice glass. The next morning, I found it sitting on the kitchen counter. “You know, you can use that when you’re making soup,” I said, and we started talking about all the prime ingredients people throw away that can be made into other things.
We both save bones in the freezer to make into stock. I also freeze vegetable scraps — celery and carrot ends, lemon peels, stems from broccoli, chard and herbs. We both save fat from cooking meat and use it for cooking for frying. Pickle juice can be used in marinades or vinaigrettes; bread ends toasted for croutons or bread crumbs.
Unfinished glasses of wine or beer have myriad uses beyond being added to soups, stocks and sauces. Beer can be used in breads and pancakes, or in place of some of the water when cooking rice or beans. Extra beer or wine can be splashed over a roasting chicken or used to steam shellfish. We had so many ideas for wasted beer I think my friend might start pouring himself a glass every now and then, just to not drink it.
My friend has lived in the big city for more than 40 years, and while he can’t grow his own food he manages to find ingredients that mimic our own rural lifestyle. And after comparing cooking ideas and food waste reduction tips, he showed me his favorite Christmas present: a kitchen compost bin his daughter gave him.
He’s happy that we are far enough past the height of the pandemic that the city composting centers are open again.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on May 23. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.