Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #47, March 28, 2021

 Hi all,

Tonight is the second night of Passover, and the second seder (the festive meals that begin this Jewish holiday).  The Haggadah - the book that tells the story of Passover, and which we read at the seders - includes a line near the beginning that reads "Let anyone who is hungry, come in and eat..."

In normal times, I would invite many of you to join me and my family for our seders - over the years, many of my friends have joined us, from my closest friends to new acquaintances from my first semesters at Harvard and NYU to colleagues from the whole arc of my career.  My family's seders are something I've always enjoyed, and something I've been proud to share with the people in my life.

I've decided to continue that tradition in these decidedly abnormal times as well - although we can't invite you to come over and join in person (and, indeed, my family is scattered in our various homes again this year), we'd love for you to join our virtual version.  If you've never been to a seder but are curious, or if you have and enjoyed it, or if you don't even know what a seder is, or if your family isn't doing one this year and you miss it, please let me know and I would be more than happy to share the Zoom link with you.  Although I now lead our seders these days, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm no match for my grandfather's confident theatrics and sonorous voice that are so much a part of my childhood memories, I do my best to stay true to our traditions.  We'd be thrilled to welcome anyone who would like to join us this evening.  We'll open the Zoom for hellos at 5:30pm EST, with the seder itself starting around 6pm.

As always, 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.


Entertainment and Education
  • Ok, so we can't really fly to Paris for fun yet, and most of us still aren't up for trips to museums, but the Louvre just released its entire collection online!  Bon voyage!
  • Looking for a more structured guide to famous art?  Check out this online class on the art and history of Florence, courtesy of 92Y.
  • Is MasterClass not quite scratching your itch to learn new skills?  Check out this list of nine free courses being offered online by NYU - most are computer-related, but there's also one on Performance Studies.
  • For the baseball fans out there, 92Y is offering free online streaming of a literary performance of Don DeLillo's classic baseball novella Pafko at the Wall; it was performed in October 2019 by Billy Crudup, Zachary Levi, and Tony Shalhoub, and was followed by a discussion among writers Jennifer Egan and Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Harper's Magazine web editor Violet Lucca.  The video will be available here through Tuesday.
  • NJPAC has brought back the open mic - virtually, of course.  Check out the next performance on April 1.
  • If your kids are fans of How to Catch a Monster, be sure to catch this reading by the author!
  • Looking to inspire your kids with the stories of other amazing kids?  In the 1990s, when the ADA was stalling in Congress, activists organized a demonstration to show lawmakers how difficult it was for people with physical disabilities to move around in public spaces, and demonstrators shed their assistive devices like crutches and wheelchairs to crawl up the front steps of the U.S. Capitol.  This kids' book, All the Way to the Top, tells the true story of Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, the youngest participant at 8 years old.
  • The New York Times Book Review is 125 years old!  Take a virtual tour through the history of the Book Review here.
  • SCOTUS is back!  The full list of cases being argued this week can be found here, but the highlight is probably the NCAA compensation case on Wednesday at 10am EST - you can listen to all the oral arguments on C-SPAN's website here.
  • Are you a coder?  Check out this game inside of a font!
  • Children of the '80s and '90s, rejoice!  Toys 'R' Us will be making a comeback this year, with new stores opening in time for the holiday season.
  • Have a vaccine appointment, but need transportation?  Curb is offering free transportation to vaccine appointments for all New Yorkers, via taxi or ambulette service.  See here for details.  Lyft and Uber are also offering free rides nationwide - see here for details on how to take them up on the offer.
  • I'm a little late on this for this year, but apparently, it's quite easy to create a custom Haggadah for your next seder at, with options to either download it as a PDF or order prints.  I will definitely be looking into this for next year!
Passover Recipes: One of my family's, plus a few from the internet that look delightful.
  • Matzah Brei (aka "fried matzah"): Break 2 sheets of matzah into 9 pieces each.  Place in a bowl, cover with water, and soak for about 20 seconds - you want it to soften a bit, but you don't want it to get waterlogged and start disintegrating!  Drain the water and add 1 egg (if you like it eggier, use 1 egg/sheet), and salt and pepper to taste.  Melt 1 tbsp butter in a saute pan over medium heat, wait until it froths and browns slightly (or not, if you're hungry), then add the matzah and cook, stirring occasionally, until the egg is thoroughly cooked (it will get less shiny as it cooks).  If you want to mix things up a bit and go savory, try adding some chopped rosemary, or some garlic and parmesan cheese.  If you want to go sweet, try some cinnamon sugar (only recommended for those with a serious sweet tooth, or for Day 8 when everything is starting to taste the same).
  • Passover Popovers
  • Martha Stewart's Toffee-Chocolate Matzah
  • Passover Macaroons

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #46, March 21, 2021

 Hi all,

Today was the second day of spring, and Mother Nature was showing off!  It was a beautiful day here in New York, and Luke and I spent it doing a bit of light gardening and gearing up for a number of home-improvement projects over the next few weeks and months.  It seems everyone is working on their homes - everywhere I turn, I see gardeners seeding lawns and people swarming Home Depot, and I hear carpenters hammering on roofs and even woodpeckers building their nests.

It's still Women's History Month, and perhaps the best tribute I can offer is a brief overview of my own women's history.  One of the pieces of art I am most looking forward to hanging on our walls is a piece of family history - my great-grandmother's apron.  Nanny, as she was called, is responsible for passing down nearly all of our family recipes, from our brisket (I think every Jewish family has its own secret recipe!) to our Passover matzah kugel to our Rosh Hashanah kreplach.  Although I never met her, I'm lucky enough to have been given her china (so I will actually be able to serve Nanny's dishes on Nanny's dishes), her rolling pin (clearly well-loved), and her pink skirt-apron.  I actually use the apron often, so my plan is to use a front-open shadowbox to allow me to both display it as art and easily grab it when I start baking.

When I think of my childhood memories of food, I picture my grandmother's French toast, baking cookies with my mom or making matzah brei or pancakes or her famous chicken cutlets, and that same family brisket cooked to perfection by my aunt.  I think of our family gathering around my parents' dining room table for the seder, with my mom magically making dozens of dishes appear, flawlessly, from the kitchen.  But when I think of the women in my family, food isn't the only thing that comes to mind.  I think of strength, and feistiness, and the freedom to speak our minds.  I think of my grandmother telling me I could be anything, do anything, dream of - and achieve - anything.  I think of how much I've always looked up to my cousin, Melissa, and how much my little cousins, Ava and Dylan, inspire me every day.  The women in my family (both those I've mentioned and the others who I'm thinking of) have made me who I am, and I am absolutely proud of that, and of all of them.  On my wedding day, I requested this photo - of me, my mom, and my paternal grandmother - and I think it speaks volumes about who I am and how I got to where I am today.  To the women of my family, thank you.  I love you.  To everyone else, happy Women's History Month!

As always, 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.


The Vaccine
i've been trying to avoid giving advice on how to get the vaccine, since it varies so wildly from state to state, but here's what I know:
  • There is now an unofficial national waitlist called Dr. B that promises to match up people who are interested in getting the vaccine and clinics or distribution sites with leftover doses each day that will go to waste if not used.
  • Remember to check your state's eligibility criteria and guidance for making an appointment.
  • I've also heard of success calling local pharmacies and keeping an eye out for pop-up distribution sites.
  • I've also heard that some states are allowing people to volunteer for a few hours of volunteer work fielding calls and helping eligible people to get appointments (such as the elderly, who have largely struggled with the online appointment systems) in exchange for getting an appointment of their own.
  • Stay calm and patient - the rollout appears to go fairly smoothly in most areas of the country, and the speed is picking up as more and more of those who enthusiastically want the vaccine are getting it.  The numbers of cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and more are also dropping fairly quickly.  That doesn't mean we should let our guard down, but it is a reasonably hopeful sign!  Stay safe, stay cautious, and stay hopeful!
Passover and Easter
  • Passover begins next Saturday evening.  The quarantine is preventing us, for the second time in a row, from gathering together as a family for the seders.  However, that doesn't mean you have to forego the traditional seder feast.  Here are some options for delivery of either Passover meals or the fixings to make them yourself:
    • FreshDirect offers wonderful Passover dishes - they're absolutely delicious, easy to have delivered, easy to make, and even come with a run-of-show to keep you on track and simplify the art of juggling your entrees and sides and get everything on the table on time.
    • Check out this article about where to order delivery meals from for Passover in cities across the country.
    • If you live in London, Deliveroo has you covered!
    • Zabar's will deliver a seder meal for 6 (or 12).
    • Goldbelly has plenty of options for delivery of Passover treats, including this often-recommended option from Philly's Abe Fisher.
    • Days United offers holiday kits complete with crafts and baking projects, games, and holiday paraphernalia.
    • Kosher Box has a whole Passover menu to choose from for delivery.
    • J-Chef, a kosher meal kit company, has kosher-for-Passover selections in next week's boxes for subscribers.
    • Baldor's offers numerous Passover items, including pre-made items from iconic restaurants (even Hill Country is getting in on the action this year), as well as high-quality grocery items, and they'll even deliver full seder plates and entire festive meals.
    • Tune in for a Passover desserts cooking class tomorrow evening (7-8:30pm Mountain Time, $10/household), or a Virtual Women's Seder on Wednesday, both courtesy of the Boulder JCC.
  • For Easter meals, try these options:
    • Baldor's also has plenty of Easter options, including a meal from legendary caterer Abigail Kirsch - scroll down to the bottom half of this page to see the selection.
  • Struggling to envision a virtual seder, or to find the right groceries for your seder plate?  Here is some helpful advice from the Rabbinical Assembly, including items you can substitute for hard-to-find seder plate staples and resources for remote celebrations.   They have also made available a Haggadah supplement for the 2021 seders to commemorate the losses of the past year, and a free download of a Haggadah if you want to ensure that everyone around the Zoom table has the same text in front of them.
  • For Easter celebrations, try these tips for a virtual Easter Egg hunt, or these alternate activity ideas.
Recipes of the Week: In honor of Women's History Month!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #45, March 14, 2021

 Hi all,

Did you see it?  Today, the sunset was one hour and one minute later than it was yesterday!  So much is changing these days, it's almost hard to keep up.  There's also so much to celebrate!  Luke and I got our second dose of the vaccine on Friday, and it feels amazing!  We're not going to change too much about our lifestyle yet, given all the uncertainty around the variants of the virus and the possibility of passing it on even if we're protected ourselves, but the idea of being able to see even a few family members or friends is so unbelievably exciting.

It's also Women's History Month (more to come on this throughout the month!), Pi Day, a few days away from St. Patrick's Day, and Daylight Savings Time, which heralds the coming of spring.  To me, spring is always so full of hope and beauty - I'm grateful for every sunset, every ray of sunshine, every bud on the trees, every bird chirping outside the window.  Green peeps out all over the place, and chores like walking the dog or taking out the trash become an excuse to linger in the yard for a moment.  Boots go in the closet, and sandals come out, and stores carry flowy, floral dresses (actually my favorite garments in my closet, even if I haven't worn them in well over a year).  Even the quality of the light streaming through the windows feels healthier and brighter.

One year ago, we all collectively lost our spring.  Just as we were poised to enter this beautiful time of the year, everything ground to a halt, and for so many of us cooped up in cities, even springtime walks became an impossible memory.  What should have been a time of blossoming, of emerging from cold, dark nights into bright, warm sunshine was instead a season of hunkering down, of wearing sweatpants and sneakers day in and day out, and of avoiding the outdoors as though it were the zombie apocalypse (which, let's face it, it kinda was).  But now, with over 20% of New Yorkers vaccinated (and 10% nationwide), with all the adjustments we've made to transform our home lives, and with another chance at springtime, we're ready for it.  It's about time that we emerge into a bright new world and get ready to be grateful for every moment of it.

As always, 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.


Women's History Month: It doesn't seem possible to fully do justice to this in the Digest.  There's no amount of research that's going to make me feel like I'm giving you a complete view of the resources available to celebrate women.  Here is just a smattering, with more to come each week, but one of the most moving tributes I've seen has been the wave of social media posts from so many people I know celebrating the most important women in their own lives, from LinkedIn posts about mentors and role models to husbands posting about their wives (Jeremy, yours made me smile and cry all at once - I love and admire Erin, too!).  So before you jump into any of these resources, be sure to take a step back and look around you - you might just find your best inspiration standing right next to you.
  • Looking to inspire the little girls in your life?  I love giving books with a message.  Try a personalized book from Put Me in the Story or I See Me! (I've given this one as a baby gift time and time again).  I also love the book Rosie Revere, Engineer (who now has friends like Ada Twist, Scientist and Sofia Valdez, Future Prez!) - it features a girl as a brilliant and creative inventor who understands that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
  • The Constitution Center has an upcoming event called The Agitators and the Women's Fight, a conversation between two authors of books celebrating heroes in the women's rights and abolition movements, and the relationship between them.
  • Any time I get a chance to talk about copyright, I take it.  Check out this post from the Copyright Office about women as creators, and this earlier post discussing the first work ever formally registered by a woman (Olive G. Pettis) in the U.S.
  • Check out these stories from the Metropolitan Museum of Art about 10 women that have shaped their collections.
  • If you haven't already seen it, this powerful performance features Mexican women joining their powerful voices in a song of defiance against femicide in Northern Mexico, "CanciĆ³n Sin Miedo" (Song Without Fear).  (Thank you for sharing this with me, Jeff!)

St. Patrick's Day
  • What better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than by eating Irish food?
    • Sur La Table is offering this festive cooking class, complete with Irish soda bread and chocolate whiskey cake.  (Tangent: I believe that recipe means cake with both chocolate and whiskey in it, but I discovered this chocolate whiskey two years ago and actually, unironically, love it.  Also looks like you can have it shipped these days...)
    • Try these recipes for cooking with kids - if you scroll down past the silly but obligatory green foods, there are some traditional Irish recipes. 
    • Or try these recipes for adults - I've been subscribed to Bon Appetit since I was a teenager and they've never let me down (anyone remember the Sweet 16 cake I baked for myself, or the 4th of July cake made with 3 lbs. of white chocolate?).
    • Baldor's is offering this Irish feast, delivered to your door.
  • Sing your heart out!  Check out these traditional Irish songs to get you in the mood to celebrate.
  • Check out these suggestions for ways to celebrate at home this year, courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens.  Seriously, though, if that didn't make you click, what if I told you that there's such a thing as a leprechaun trap to build with your kids (inner children included)?!
  • Build a leprechaun trap!  Seriously, it's worth repeating, because these are so darn cute.  Also, here's an explanation for why leprechauns are always coming up on St. Patrick's Day.
  • Ever ask why it's called St. Patrick's Day?  Read this article about St. Patrick, and why we have a holiday named for him (spoiler alert: he wasn't Irish, and his name wasn't actually Patrick).
General Entertainment
  • NJPAC has been offering a wide variety of online entertainment throughout the quarantine, and this Wednesday that includes a free West African dance class via Zoom.  According to their newsletter, this virtual class is designed to evoke the joyful experience of an in-person class shared with a vibrant African dance community. All ages and levels of movers welcome.
  • Fully vaccinated?  Read the CDC guidelines for vaccinated people about what that actually means with respect to what it's safe to do.  Remember that you still need to take precautions in most situations, and that you're not protected until a couple weeks after your final dose (it differs by vaccine, so check when you know which variety you're receiving).
  • The NYCB is concluding a look at the Three Sides of Balanchine, including a virtual coaching session and performance stream of Stravinsky Violin Concerto, an Inside NYCB presentation featuring two women who have performed the leading female in that same piece, and a number of articles and podcasts.  All of that content is available to view until Thursday, March 18 at 8 PM, on YouTube and the NYCB website.
  • Of the many oh-my-g-d-it's-been-a-whole-year moments I've seen this week, I really appreciated 92Y's artistic tribute to the quarantine, which they commissioned to create a collaborative performance merging poetry, visual art, and dance.  The piece is a six-minute film, Between Darkness and Light, for which Shantell Martin, a visual artist, and Shamel Pitts, 92Y Harkness Dancer in Residence, created original work in response to a poem by Paul Tran, a winner of 92Y's Discovery poetry prize.
  • Pie for Pi Day!  (If this is not your second day celebrating pie this year so far, you're doing it wrong.)
    • Blueberry Crumb Pie: I made this one last year (Quarantine Baking, anyone?  First pie ever!) and it was ridiculously good.  Stir 6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, ⅔ cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup cornstarch, ¼ 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 ½ cup packed brown sugar (light or dark both work), 1 tsp cinnamon, ¾ cup flour, and ⅓ 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 too much 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.
    • Chocolate Sin Pie is not something I've tried yet, but it's obviously in the baking queue...
    • Or order delivery pie (it's not too late).
  • St. Patrick's Day recipes for kids and for adults (repeat from above, if you already clicked)
  • One week left to sign up for the next round of Christina Tosi's baking class!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #44, March 7, 2021

Hi all,

This week, I've been thinking about work-life balance, and clutching at the strands of memory of what that meant in the "before" years.  For the past year, for many of us, home and life have been entirely blurred, as our kids and dogs appear in our work Zooms, our commute has been reduced to the length of the hallway between the bedroom and the office, and our work patterns have been entirely rewired (either grinding to a halt or sprinting at speeds hitherto unseen).  We work strange hours, and to the extent we are able to "unplug" in the evenings, much of our time is spent doing what feels like more of the same, as many of the activities we indulge in to relax have migrated onto our screens.

And yet, this pandemic has also given us a lot more time to use in our day - with our commute gone, our socializing reduced, and our meals either prepared in or delivered to our own kitchens, we have precious extra minutes (or even hours) more each day at our disposal.  It's strange, then, that we often still don't feel that we have enough time to finish our task list each day.

However, after years of racing full speed ahead through each day and having little or no time in my day that is not claimed by my schoolwork or my job, I've started a new position, and I'm in that delightful phase when you're too new to be very productive, but everyone is excited to have you around nonetheless.  I've been soaking up all I can about the company and its products, but in the evening, there really is a time when I "leave work" and wander off to other areas of my new house to focus on my personal life.  I've been watching TV again as I unpack boxes, cooking meals nearly every day, and playing a video game for what feels like the first time in ages!  I even started reading Tolstoy's War & Peace, one of the longest novels ever written, and it feels like an absolute luxury - the thought that I might be able to commit to having enough time to read an 1,100-page book in a vaguely reasonable amount of time feels like one of the most indulgent things I've done in perhaps a decade.

I find myself desperate to maintain some of this new rhythm once things pick up again, and to preserve this sense of having two lives once more - to recognize each day that there is more to my life than my work and my to-do list, and to dedicate some time to things that bring me and those around me joy.  We do deserve that - all of us do.  Our lives are precious, and there is nothing wrong with having hobbies and having fun.  Even while we're trapped in these strange times, even when we don't have a commute to set a natural boundary on our workday, we must find ways to create those boundaries and take time for ourselves.  So here's a reminder to take a step back and give yourself the gift of carving out a little time to relax!

As always, 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.


Silly Fun
  • Looking to shake things up a bit?  Try Silly Goose Receipts, which will issue a random challenge each day to encourage you to step outside the box every now and then.
  • Remember art exhibits?  This immersive exhibit celebrating Vicent Van Gogh is selling out months in advance - check out this article for details about what it will look like in a city near you, and how to score tickets.
  • Have you heard about the cuttlefish that passed a cognitive test intended for human children?  The timing feels a bit meta, considering that the quarantine has been one long exercise in delayed gratification for all of us.
  • LovePop (my favorite card-maker) has added some seasonal varieties to their line of beautiful paper flower bouquets that I've been recommending throughout the quarantine, including some for Easter and St. Patrick's Day.  They also have a 5-pack of heart-themed cards for which a portion of proceeds will be donated to the American Heart Association.
  • Is music more your thing?  Check out this event from the New York Times - it's a conversation with the creators of Vulture's Switched on Pop podcast.
  • The New York City Center is hosting Matthew Bourne's "New Adventures Festival" over the next several weeks.  This dance-theater company is known for breaking the mold in their productions - the first one up on the schedule is Swan Lake, in which Bourne replaced the traditionally all-female corps de ballet with an all-male ensemble.  (Ironic considering that we just kicked off Women's History Month! More on that next week.)
  • TV has gone to the dogs!  Pooch Perfect, a reality TV show featuring dogs as contestants, airs on ABC on March 30, coinciding with the end of this season of the Bachelor.
Cooking Classes & Recipes
  • 92Y has a new "Cookbook Group" starting - it's a series of four classes and includes copies of all four cookbooks on which the sessions are themed.  It's like book club, only yummier!
  • This article, listing online cooking schools for learning how to cook some quarantine comfort food, was written at the beginning of the quarantine, but many of these classes are still available, and there are a number of options as low as $15 for an hour-long class, and one monthly subscription for $7.98/month.  Bon appetit!
  • Cuiline offers cooking classes by country/region, spanning a wide selection of cultures and cuisines, and the course includes a box of ingredients mailed to your door ahead of time.  They also seem to be making it easy for the non-tech-savvy members of our families to join - there's tech support right before each class to make sure everyone is set up and ready to enjoy once the class starts!
  • Sur La Table has offered excellent cooking classes for a long time, but they now have a much broader selection, and they're online.  They start at $29/household, for as many people as you'd like.
  • Play with your food!  We all need to laugh a little, and why shouldn't food be the source of that laughter?  Try a silly surprise for your family (or even just for yourself - stick some of these in the fridge overnight, and you'll likely have forgotten all about it when you open the door the next morning and start grinning from ear to ear).
    • Monster apple bites (these are billed as a Halloween treat, but they're so darn cute, I'd be thrilled to find these in my kitchen year-round)
    • Here's a delightful "Play with Your Food" Pinterest board - I want to make all of these!
    • Ice cubes: Mix 2 cups of water with two tablespoons of water.  Add a little extra water, one teaspoon at a time, to taste.  Pour into ice cube mold of your choice, freeze overnight.  Ok, ok - this is my own little joke for you.  But if you're reading this, you've also earned a Reader's Reward!  The first 10 people to email me about this will receive some cookies in the mail soon!
    • Remember "Magic Shell" topping?  Make it yourself at home!  Using a double boiler (or a heat-safe bowl set atop a saucepan with a couple inches of simmering water), mix 1/3 cup coconut oil, a pinch of salt, 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, and 1 tsp of cocoa powder, and stir until melted and combined.  Stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and remove from heat.  You can also substitute other extracts to experiment with the flavoring, or add a pinch of espresso powder.  Try other combinations, too, like substituting white chocolate and peppermint extract (and omitting the cocoa powder).  Just don't forget to add your sprinkles on top before it totally sets!
    • Sure, there are tons of mimicry recipes, like cakes shaped like...well, anything!  But you can work wonders with chocolate, too, like these bacon-and-egg imposters.