Part 3 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

It’s a Sunday. I’m feeling blah, glum. Worried … irrationally? … that some random people, not neighbors, I passed on our gravel road a couple days before might have contaminated the air as I walked by. On TV, the Chino HS choir, remotely from their homes, sang “Over the Rainbow” … and I cried. The reaction surprised me, but knew it was cathartic and long overdue. I decided to bake. I use fruit that was a day past its prime and eggs close to “expiration.” Banana bread with chocolate chips … cantucci with lemon peel and white chocolate … apple cake with walnuts, raisins, cinnamon.

My salvation, my sanity.

A WhatsApp message from David was waiting for me when I woke up. He had gotten through to Lufthansa … and was able to re-book his ticket for April 20. The first date available, he says. Subject to change, the airline says. A cause for cautious optimism.

Facebook and American news are filled with photos of folks on hiking trails and sandy beaches. I shake my head. Those things were prohibited in Italy, and Spain is even using drones to control citizens … I predict these activities will end soon. Los Angeles has long known social distancing … we call it commuting to work. The next day, California locks all the parking lots at beaches and parks, big and small.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta says the daily number is a snapshot from 2 weeks ago. Like the light from a distant star, it tells us what WAS … in Italy, we are a few weeks ahead in understanding this.

I tell my American friends that their quarantine will be extended. Two weeks sounds doable, but it’s just the start … Italy started restrictions before Carnevale in February in the hardest hit areas. Lent. Six weeks. In Wuhan, it’s been longer and much stricter.

As the USA discussed bailouts, I thought about my friends here with small businesses, wondering if and how the Italian government would help them. The seamstress could still sew … the hairdresser would have clients anxiously waiting … the trattoria owner who served locals and tourists would have a measured return … but the B&B owner is losing her season.

PPE … Personal Medical Equipment.

At the same time, someone in America is yammering about re-opening by Easter … forcing scientists and medical professionals, governors and politicians to assure a scared public that their individual and collective health was the most important thing and the lockdown must continue until fewer people are sick.

Our gravel road is lined with trees … ideal for a walk … and there are no houses between us and the Torrenti compound that overlooks the street to the east. Even better, I have furry companions. Bailame joins me every day, with most of the others joining us. If someone is missing, we call them … and by “we” I mean I. We are alert for rustling among the leaves and movement in the branches … Hayden loved to run back and forth across the road, while Annie prefers to lag behind then race to catch up with us. Once we heard meowing in the distance … and it was Aurora coming to tag along. We’d walk “until we heard the dogs” … though sometimes I’d continue a little farther to see the white butterflies flitting among the small purple flowers. They’d wait patiently. Often there was a sniff or smell or distraction more interesting than the walk, but Bailame always walked the walk.

Wednesday is Q-Day 15. There had been a hint of snow the night before, but none of it stuck. In the morning, however, I awoke to a winter wonderland. Large, wet flakes fell for most of the morning … and intrigued kitties ventured out. Shaking their paws, they returned inside one by one. It was not the day to go grocery shopping.

Thursday I decided to shop … knowing how busy the Coop is on an ordinary Friday.

I sent a message to Daniela asking whether I could use the form she gave me last week. There’s a new form, she said. My comment of “your tax dollars at work” fell flat. I thought Italy should focus on PPEs. The Italian government is nothing if not consistent … excessively bureaucratic. Burocrazia (5 syllables) … red tape (2). Bring the form, only fill it out if you need it.

I took out a small handbag that could be easily cleaned. Kleenex, Purell, keys, wipes. Turtleneck sweater (pulled up over my mouth), coat, knit hat, scarf. And off I drove. Nervously.

The line was into the back parking lot. 99% of the people were 2 meters … about 6 feet … apart, but an errant old man or an annoying nonna thought they could ignore the rules. I smiled at people, as I always do, and those without masks smiled back. I didn’t see anyone I knew or even recognized. 45 minutes later, the security guard let me into the store. The shelves were full … even Columbine, the dove-shaped sweet treat (an inept imitation of Christmas panettone) eaten for Easter … and I could buy whatever I wanted. I had been concerned that they might limit me to 1 liter of milk, 1 head of lettuce. I even got extra milk to put in the freezer. Buona giornata, I said as I left.

A couple of times, as my glasses fogged up, I had touched my scarf. I’m nervous.

I cleaned my gloves and the car immediately, including the remote that opens our gate. I put the neoprene shopping bag on our tile floor. My coat, scarf, and hat will hang on the coat tree for a few days to air out. I cleaned my keys. I cleaned my credit card and wallet and handbag. They will sit on the credenza until I need them. I took the groceries out, one by one, cleaning every container with wipes. The vegetables were transferred from their container into a paper bag. Any outer wrapper, container, package … a bag of lemons or multi-packs of soap … was discarded in the appropriate recycling bin outside. Once an item was wiped, it was “sequestered” in its designated area … metal and plastic for 7 days … bottles, 5 days … mail and Amazon boxes, just 1. The neoprene bag was returned to the car. When refrigerator items were put away, I cleaned the counter again with soap and water, then bleach spray. And I spray bleach on the sponge.

I was anxious every step of the way, washing my hands often.

I was So. Relieved. to be home.

Country by country, the rest of Europe is following Italy … people must stay home, shops have to close. France calls its lockdown à l’italienne.

… and so it goes …

WHITE CHOCOLATE-HAZELNUT SCONES

3 cups flour
1 Tbl. baking powder
⅓ cup sugar
¾ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup white chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1–⅓ to 1–½ cup heavy cream … plus some for brushing
12 whole hazelnuts

- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190° C). Line a baking sheet with a silpat.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Stir in chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
- Add vanilla, then pour in the cream. Stir until just moistened, adding more cream if the dough is too dry.
- Turn out onto lightly floured board. Press/flatten until the dough is about 1 inch high.
- Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out scones. Gently re-shape remaining dough, then cut out scones until all of the dough is used.
- Brush tops of the scones with cream, then place/press 1 hazelnut on each.
- Bake for 20–25 minutes until lightly browned, top and bottom.
- Serve warm.
Makes 12 scones.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.