Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #26: September 13, 2020

Hi all,

Friday marked 19 years since the day we all now know as "9/11."  For us New Yorkers, as well as so many others touched by the events of that day, it's still a powerful and haunting memory.  Families of those who died, either that day or in the aftermath, gather to mourn and to remember.  The sky is lit up with twin projections of light that can be seen for 60 miles around, and which light up the sky especially brightly near my home in lower Manhattan.  The skylight of the Oculus (the mall and transportation hub that was built at Ground Zero, in the shape of a dove being released from a child's hand) is opened and is designed to be perfectly aligned with the sun on 9/11, creating a beam of light that travels across the floor.  And many of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news, and mourn our friends and family who are no longer here.

I personally will never forget that moment - I was standing beside a friend in the library of my high school, and we saw the images on the TV screens hung around the room.  He told me, in an eerily calm voice, that his mother worked on the 92nd floor of one of the towers.  Not knowing what to say or do, I left a note in the principal's office in case my parents came looking for me, got in my car, and drove to my congresswoman's office, where I had been an intern for the past two years.  I spent the rest of the day answering the phones and creating two lists of names - one list for those who were missing, reported by their families; the other for those for whom we had definitive news one way or the other from the first responders at Ground Zero.  As it turned out, my friend's mom had forgotten her wallet at Starbucks on the ground floor and happened to be downstairs retrieving it when the planes hit, and, unable to get through to her family on the jammed phone lines, she bought a pair of sneakers at a nearby store and walked home, all the way to Westchester, where she walked into her house around dinnertime to find her family grieving for her.  Hers was one of the few stories from that day that had a happy ending.

Especially in today's world, it's hard to stomach how little has changed - how hatred is still so prominent and unchecked, and how much remains the same nearly two decades later.  This year, especially, we're surrounded by awful, depressing headlines and reports of abhorrent behavior by our leaders, fueled by hatred and discrimination.  And yet, there is also beauty in the memorials and the memories.  They remind us not only of the violence that humans are capable of, but also the love and the strength.  The sense of community in and around New York was so instantaneous and so strong.  So many firefighters and other first responders dropped everything to assist with the response and put themselves at risk to help total strangers.  That connection and selflessness has also been on display in recent months, from the brave essential personnel who continued to make the city function for the rest of us who were relying on those systems and services, to the 7pm applause across NYC for first responders and medical professionals, to the outpouring of donations and other support for our community.

The stunning memorials all around Ground Zero also provide a sense of peace amid the hubbub of the city, and although they are symbols of unspeakable tragedy, they have also become gathering-places for so many, tourists and locals alike, who come together, united, to honor the victims of the attacks and to hope for a better future.  That future is - still - up to us to create.  It is up to us to minimize hatred and ensure acceptance and opportunity for all.  As the recent protests and conversations about racial justice make clear, there is still much to do on that front, for so many people here in our country - the focus is a bit different from what it was following 9/11, but the work to be done remains quite similar.  When you look around you, even now, even amidst all the chaos and the devastation of the pandemic and the violence and the politics, remember the vision that we've fought for for hundreds of years, the promise of what this country can be, the pride that we've felt for the limitless opportunities that exist here, and use that hope and motivation to harness your own power in driving that vision forward.

Previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


9/11, remembered
  • This year's 9/11 in photos: See how the U.S. commemorated 9/11 this year, with photos from events across the country
  • The Tribute in Light almost didn't happen this year, due to the pandemic.  Thanks to former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo, the production team received the funds and support they needed to safely keep the tradition going.  Read more about the meaning and production effort behind this tribute here.
  • See a powerful commemorative dance performance that took place at Lincoln Center here (with an explanatory article here).
  • Various celebrities took to social media to share their memories and messages of healing
Best of...face masks
  • Vida: The most comfortable face masks I've found during the quarantine are these Vida cotton masks.  They're cut a bit smaller and fit a bit more snugly, which works well for me.  They have the expected bit of metal for the bridge of your nose, as well as adjustable straps, and I find that my glasses fog a lot less with these masks than with others I've tried, due to the tighter fit.  They also come in a tremendous range of colors and patterns, including dozens of prints created in partnership with various artists.
  • American Exchange: I also really like these masks that I ordered from Macy's - if I'm being honest, I wish they were all covered in dog paw print, but at least one of my masks makes me break into a huge smile when I got to put it on!
  • NFL: It's officially football season, and every NFL team has added face masks to their merch lineup.  I haven't yet received my order to say for sure whether they're comfy, but if there's one thing the NFL gets right every year, it's their merchandise, so I have high hopes.
  • Goodboy: Are you the proud owner of a quarantine puppy?  Well, you and Fido can stay safe in style, thanks to these matching human-mask-and-doggie-bandana sets from Goodboy.
Best of...Recipes (Part I)
  • Challah: Since Rosh Hashanah begins next weekend, I thought it would be helpful to include a recipe for homemade challah.  You can see a tutorial on braiding it into a round loaf for the holidays here.  Recipe makes two loaves, so divide dough in half before braiding.  In a large bowl, dissolve 1.5 packets (1.5 tbsp) active dry yeast and 1 tbsp sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.  Whisk in 1/2 cup vegetable oil, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, along with 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tbsp salt.  Gradually add 8-9 cups flour, until dough holds together.  Then knead on a floured surface until smooth (or use a dough hook in your KitchenAid).  Clean out the bowl and grease it, then return dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.  Punch down the dough, cover, and let rise again for another half hour.  Beat 1 egg in a bowl, then brush it over both loaves.  Let them rise for 1 more hour, then brush loaves with egg wash again.  Optional: Dip your finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto each mound of the dough until fully decorated.  Bake in middle or lower third of the oven at 375 degrees F for 35-40 minutes total, or until beautifully browned.  Check at 20 minutes; if challah is deep golden brown, tent loosely with aluminum foil for remaining bake time.  Once tented, bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until loaf looks and feels set and the interior temperature is at least 190 degrees F.  Cool on rack.  Leftovers can be stored at room temperature for several days if well wrapped in plastic; freeze if keeping for longer than that.  If it goes stale, don't forget that it makes great French toast!
  • Blueberry Crumb Pie: Stir 6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tbsp lemon juice together in a bowl; set aside.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Pour filling into pie crust; dot with 1 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.  Combine 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark both work), 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 cup flour, and 1/3 cup unsalted butter in a bowl, then sprinkle crumble topping over the pie (be generous!).  Bake for 20 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees F, wrap the edges of the pie with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning, and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes (you should be able to see the filling bubbling gently for at least the last 5 minutes).  Allow to cool and thicken for 3 hours at room temperature before serving.
  • Blueberry Scones: Whisk 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt together in a large bowl.  Grate 1/2 cup frozen unsalted butter, add it to the flour mixture, and combine using a pastry cutter or two forks until it comes together in pea-sized crumbs.  Refrigerate or freeze while you work on the wet ingredients.  Whisk 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 large egg, and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla in a small bowl.  Drizzle it over the flour mixture, then add 1 heaping cup of fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, do not thaw).  Mix together until everything appears moistened.  Pour onto the counter and, with floured hands, work dough into a ball - it will be sticky; if needed, add a little more flour (or 1 tbsp heavy cream if too dry).  Press into an 8" disc, then cut into 8 wedges using a sharp knife.  Brush each scone with a little heavy cream and (if you want a little crunch) some coarse sugar.  Place scones on a plate or lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Arrange scones 2-3" apart on a baking sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and lightly browned on top.  Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes, then top with vanilla icing: Whisk 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 2-3 tbsp milk or heavy cream, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  If too thin, add more confectioners' sugar; if too thick, more milk/cream (a tiny bit at a time for each).  If desired, add a pinch of salt.  Leftover scones keep well at room temp for 2 days or refrigerated for 5, although I assure you, you won't have any!

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