4: Lost in the Fog

The Day My Brain Quit

I know that I am certainly not alone in having become mildly addle-minded since the pandemic began. In the kitchen, it mostly has been small things like leaving cupboard or opening the wrong drawer when reaching for a spatula or spoon. A couple of times I have completely forgotten to season a dish.

Earlier this week, as I was getting dinner together, I realized something was very off. The salt I was adding (I remembered this time!) felt different. The salt we always have on hand, Diamond Crystal, is coarse, but the salt I was adding was much finer. I half-remembered something about people being upset with Diamond Crystal. (It turns out it was an unfounded rumour that it was being discontinued.) So I went online to see if it had changed and I was just finding out now. Nothing other than a single tweet from 2015.

I grabbed the Diamond Crystal box from the pantry. It was coarse.

I checked the container of salt I keep by the stove. It was coarse.

I checked the container of fine sea salt I had just bought. It was unopened.

So I tasted the mystery salt. It was sugar.

The day before I had blended a spice mix for Mile End’s quick pickled cucumbers that called for both salt and sugar. When the salt in the container we keep by the cutting board ran out, I must have unthinkingly replaced it with sugar.

(For further proof that it was not a good day for my mind, I picked up Beth from work and on the way home, the rear wheels suddenly started making very strange noises. Checking them in the driveway, the lug nuts were burning hot. I called Edmar, my new favourite mechanic, and made plans to take it in the next morning. It stayed there for several days until he identified the likeliest source of the problem—I had been driving with the parking brake on.)

Sugar-for-salt would have been nothing more than a funny mess-up if that morning I hadn’t used that container to season the chicken I was planning on roasting for dinner. When seasoning a chicken in advance (which you should always do, even up to several days in advance) I am generous with the salt. Because sugar is hydrophilic like salt, it had spent about eight hours drawing water out of the chicken, dissolving, and then being reabsorbed into the bird. This was going to be interesting.

I like to roast chicken in a hot oven, usually 425 or even 450. In that heat, the sugar on the skin of the bird started burning long before the thickest part of the meat was anywhere near cooked. I bumped the temperature down to 375 and covered the darkest parts of the skin with little bits of tinfoil to prevent burning. Eventually it was cooked throughout. (I made extra-sure of this since the last time I roasted a chicken, in July, I likely gave myself salmonella poisoning.)

Had I accidentally stumbled upon an all-new way to roast a chicken that was going to make me a viral sensation? No. I had a decent roast chicken that at times was oddly sweet. And I had something to write about, which I had been drawing a blank on for a while, hence the interval between Plate Cleaners. I’ve definitely been more on the ball since then, but as I have no doubt you know as well, it can be a struggle.

What I’m Consuming…

  • Jen Agg’s moving piece in the Globe and Mail about the state of the restaurant industry.

  • Helen Rosner’s The Joylessness of Cooking about hers and many other’s “crisis of culinary anhedonia” from cooking so much since the pandemic began. I haven’t felt this much myself, for which I count myself lucky. I’m not sure why that is. Possibly because the current rhythm of my life now is not so much different from being a freelancer between gigs, except that I can’t wander around HomeSense looking for deeply discounted fermentation crocks.

  • And to prove there is more to my media diet than Jen and Helen, the How a Recipe Can Be a Protest episode of Soleil Ho and Justin Phillips’s Extra Spicy podcast, an interview with Clarence Kwan about Chinese Protest Recipes, his amazing zine in support of Black Lives Matter

  • A tuna salad sandwich made with Russian dressing instead of mayo. We had Russian dressing left over from our Binging with Babish-inspired Liz Lemon sandwiches. I highly recommend both.

What’s on the Menu…

  • Soup Swap! I’ve just finished making a huge pot of Scotch Broth for the swap tomorrow. Taking it out to the porch to cool, I thought of Kevin’s Famous Chili. Happy to report I did not reenact it, although I still have to bring it back inside.

    Last week’s swap was great: a version of upma from Laura, Christie’s Thai carrot soup, and chili by Hilary and Denis. I brought a very dark chicken noodle made with a double chicken stock.

  • I’m making pizza in the oven on my baking steel for the first time. If I can remember to make the dough. And scrub the rust off my steel.

  • Very excited to take a stab at fermenting some yuzukosho, a mix of yuzu zest and serrano chiles. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

  • Beth and my mother both reminded me that our term “Plate Cleaner” was inspired by my grandmother, who loved bread and would always use the pretense of cleaning extra butter off her plate to have another piece.

  • My sister is the person who told me to throw the whole sprig of thyme into dishes instead of picking the leaves.