For an islander, social distancing is far easier than socializing, and at my age, it’s preferable. Call it de facto quarantine.
Save one trip to Market Basket, this is my 10th day not setting foot on the mainland, not even setting you-know-what in the driver’s seat of my car.
Tomorrow will be 11, and after one more trip to pick from whatever’s left on those all-too-clean shelves, I could go another 10.
Resolved to take advantage of this by cooking dishes for which I never have time. For my annual two-day holiday — that Irish indulgence followed by my birthday, aka Hangover Day — I wanted to simmer corned beef, cabbage, et al, but briskets were long gone.
Hence, Plan B, my first-ever attempt at paella for a dias de San Patricio fiesta. Sounds far-fetched, but my uncle used to insist that our dark complexion and black hair owed to at least one of many sailors from the doomed Spanish Armada who washed up on Irish shores in 1588.
The lighter hair, fairer skin and freckles of many grade school classmates seemed to bear him out, and he was far too funny to risk disproving after the fact with Ancestry.com.
Unfortunately, in the supermarket I had nothing written down, and I’m too stubbornly neo-Luddite to have a smartphone-to-serve-in-place-of-a-brain to call it up, so I taxed my memory.
Wanted to leave out any seafood and just go with plenty of chicken. I live alone after all, so I must simplify. Incredibly, I forgot chorizo and saffron, probably the two most characteristic ingredients — like pineapple and macadamia nuts in Hawaiian pancakes.
Embarrassing to admit this now, but I actually had a small jar of saffron in my hand only to think that I had some inherited from my mother stashed away these 20 years and to hell with any expiration date. The $13.99 tag may have influenced my delusion.
Did you know that saffron is, per weight, the most expensive natural resource — animal, vegetable or mineral — on the planet? And vanilla is second. Beyond gold, beyond uranium.
But I digest. I did remember sweet corn, a can because all frozen veggies were sold out, only to forget to add it when home. And this was when I was still just 68, mind you.
So I improvised, thinking that more paprika might offset the lack of saffron, only to realize that I had confused the amount with that of crushed red pepper, and, anyway, I was already on my third can of Greenhead IPA by the time I poured in the last generous dose of chicken broth, lowered the heat, covered, and waited until a scent of tinged brown rice reached my nostrils.
Delicious! As savory as Grog burritos, Park Lunch’s fried clams, Brown’s chowder, Lexie’s “Blue Angel,” Flatbread’s “Punctuated Equilibrium.”
But a five-alarm fire that demanded the rest of the six-pack to enjoy. Went to bed as tipsy as I was satisfied, remembering that I already had something to take the edge off the leftovers: A can of corn.
Next day, I added it to my pseudo-paella with some lemon juice I had also overlooked, then a half cup of broth to cover and simmer.
No one will ever mistake me for whoever is behind the swinging doors at Angie’s or Port Tavern, but that second round was downright mouth-watering, and barely a two-alarm fire that allowed me to enjoy more ale as dessert. My birthday, after all!
So, yes, to those who sent birthday wishes, I’m holding up well, lucky that the weather tolerates long walks into the Plum Island Reserve to flatten the curve caused by this anomalous paella and anagrammatic pale ale.
And allows me to sit comfortably on those benches near Parking Lot 3, looking at the mainland all the time, grateful for not needing to go there for the time being, content to put time out of mind.
Keeping busy? No writer is ever at a loss for things to do, just time to do them. As Melville exclaimed, “Oh, Time, Cash, Strength, and Patience!”
Notice which of those items comes first.