Sunday, April 12 2020

chicken stock, car trouble, and next year's resolution

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! Happy Easter Sunday. While hunkered down for the coronavirus pandemic, it's easy to forget about Holidays. And thinking about what I was doing this time last year makes me feel sad. I was probably taking Rodney to the grocery store in our church clothes. We lived in a care-free world of high-fives with strangers, going places together as a family, movies, friends, and eating outdoors. It's easy to forget about the lockdown on regular days, but on Holidays when you feel like you should be doing something more festive than grocery shopping alone with a mask and gloves, it sucks.

/Sip/. But I hope you're having a good Easter Sunday anyway. It could certainly be worse. We still have our families, church on YouTube, and we might even still have some of last year's plastic Easter eggs rolling around in the basement.

I had a great day yesterday. In the morning I hung out with Rodney, tidying up the kitchen while he watched X-Men cartoons. My only job was to keep him out of his room so Marissa would have time to paint his new construction-themed mural, but I also decided to tackle making homemade stock out of the chicken bones sitting in our fridge.

I filled my stainless steel stock pot with water and threw in the chicken bones, along with a generous handful of chopped carrots, celery, and a bay leaf. The mixture simmered, then rolled into a gentle boil, as I attentively skimmed scum off the top with a ladle into the nearby garbage can.

I was prepared for the critical skimming stage of stock preparation. I had learned from various YouTube videos that if you don't skim off the scum from a chicken stock, it will break down and be re incorporated into the mixture as it simmers, making the end product cloudy and... well... scummy. After about ten minutes of vigilant skimming, the foam subsided, and I was left with a broth so clear that I could see my face reflected in the bottom of the pan. I think Stephan of the French Cooking Academy would be proud.

Did you know that chicken stock tastes kind of weird on its own? You're not supposed to season it, so without salt and pepper it still tastes pretty far off from chicken soup. It's more of a chicken tea.

After a few hours on the stove, I strained out the solids and moved the stock into a smaller pan, letting it roll to a boil so it could reduce. Marissa took a shift watching Rodney so I could run to Walgreen's for her. I grabbed my keys, slipped on my ratty flip flops, and jumped in the car. I turned the key, but nothing happened.

Crap. The battery was dead. I turned the key again, only to hear the same lifeless, hollow click. I sat in the driver's seat for a moment, suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of getting our car fixed during a lockdown. Are places even still open? Would I have to start taking the bus to get groceries? What if Marissa goes into labor?

"What's wrong?" asked Marissa. She was seated at the dining room table.

"Our car battery is dead - it won't start," I said, scratching my head, standing at the kitchen doorway.

"Ah shoot. OK, I'll text Alyssa, maybe Trent can fix it," she said pulling out her phone.

"I'll just walk to Walgreen's in the meantime," I said, grabbing my mask off the table.

Some time later, I returned from Walgreen's with Marissa's prescription. "Trent is on his way over," said Marissa. "He said they weirdly don't have jumper cables, but he has a charger and he can hook it up to our car."

"Oh thank God," I sighed. "And that is weird. I mean we don't have jumper cables either, but he's like a car guy."

I wandered outside into our driveway. Trent was already jogging down the porch steps, battery charger in hand.

"Thanks so much for doing this, dude," I said. He smiled, slipping his way between our house and the car to plug in the device. I took a few steps backwards. "I feel like such a dick trying to keep six feet away from you while you're helping me," I said.

Trent laughed. "No we get it, we're doing the same." His girlfriend Alyssa joined us in the driveway, holding their dog, Grasshopper. And even though they view was obscured by our backyard fence, Ziggy and Grasshopper sensed each other's presence, bristling their neck fur and exchanging menacing, bellowing growls.

Trent hooked up the battery charger and stood back to let it charge. "So Trent," asked Marissa from our patio. "How is work treating you during the lockout."

Trent smiled. "It's actually really good. I feel bad, but it's a much better situation for me now," He explained. "All the events at the primate sanctuary are canceled, so all I do is just take care of the monkeys and come right home. They don't even need me for the whole day," he laughed. "Seriously, this is the most fun I've had at work in a long time."

"Well that just figures," I added. "Maybe every job is awesome without people. I'm in kind of the same boat now, I really like remote work. I get way more done."

"And how is school going, Alyssa?" asked Marissa. Alyssa was in her last leg of Veterinary school at University of Wisconsin.

"Not great," she replied. "I'm finding out that I'm not really an online learner. And I was supposed to start my clinic rotations soon, but I think we just have to skip it," she said. "I think I have to take, like, surgery online. And I have no idea how that will even be helpful."

"Aw, that sucks," said Marissa. "I wouldn't want to learn surgery from a video either," she laughed.

Trent nodded to me, and I leaned into the car to turn the key. The engine whirred to life. I gave a triumphant fist pump. "I'd let your car run for like a half hour," instructed Trent.

"Thanks so much, dude," I said. "You guys are a life saver. Let's get a social distancing beer together on the driveway sometime."

"See ya neighbors!" waved Marissa.

Before heading back inside, I climbed into the back seat, reaching for the 'off' button on the trunk light. Rodney must have turned it on while we were waiting out the snow during Thursday's kite flying adventure, and that had drained our battery. Mystery solved.

We shared a frozen pizza for dinner, and after putting Rodney to bed, Marissa and I stood out on the porch underneath the roof, shielding us from the misting rain.

"Do you have anything in your life that you really need to take better care of, but you just haven't, like, gotten around to figuring it out yet?" asked Marissa.

"Oh definitely," I replied. "My white t shirts. They're actually kind of expensive, but at a certain point they turn yellow and get so crummy that I have to throw them out. And I haven't sat down to figure out how to bleach them or whatever. It sounds like a pain in the ass."

Marissa laughed. "For me, it's my brushes. They get really crusty and I have to throw them out. And I feel bad, because you're supposed to be able to wash them, but when I wash them it ruins the bristles. I wish I took care of my brushes the way you take care of the knives."

"Well I'm lucky - knives are a lot easier to take care of. I sharpen them once a month and wash them by hand, and that's all," I replied. "And you're an artist. This is, like, your passion. You probably feel like you should have all these useful life hacks for cleaning brushes by now."

"I'm going to take note of that for next year's new years resolution," said Marissa, staring off into the backyard. I started to chuckle.

"What was that?" I asked.

"Next years resolution. Like, my new years resolution for next year," she replied.

"OK. So you are giving yourself, what, a half year to work up to it?" I started to laugh heartily. "Take note of that for next year's resolution - That's the most Marissa phrase I've ever heard in my life," I laughed. "Maybe I'll join you in that, and 2021 will be the year of clean brushes and white t shirts."

Thanks for stopping by today. Hope you have a wonderful Easter Sunday.