During these crazy and stressful times, we plan to focus on providing you with a nice distraction. But this week, in a show recorded in Dan's basement, we're here with commiseration. For that he turns to two old friends...
Marc Maron, comic and host of the podcast WTF, may be an expert on panic. He's spent much of his life expecting the worst, and his new Netflix stand-up special is called End Times Fun. When he and Dan worked together in the early 2000s, they used to talk about "Diminishing Buffet Syndrome" — a satirical condition they both suffer from, which creates an irrational fear that any buffet is about to run out of food or at least diminish in quality. In a time when toilet paper and canned beans seem scarce, the syndrome takes on a whole new meaning.
Then, chef and writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab and The New York Times tells us how his restaurant Wursthall, in San Mateo, CA, is doing, and what the latest research says about how to handle groceries and takeout to minimize exposure to coronavirus. (He's also written an article for Serious Eats on the same subject.)
We hope you're doing okay out there. Here is some info about how COVID-19 spreads, published in JAMA and co-authored by Dr. Payal Patel, the infectious disease physician who called into the show.
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Mellophone" by JT Bates
- "Bourbon Fanfare" by Devon Gray
- "Rogue Apples" by Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Diercks
- "Happy With You" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco
- "Pong" by Ken Brahmstedt
Photos courtesy of Dan Pashman, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and Marc Maron.
Dan Pashman: This episode contains explicit language.
CLIP (ANASTASIA): Hi, this is Anastasia from Walla Walla, Washington. The thing in my doomsday pantry that I was most excited about was our family-sized bag of gummy bears, but I plowed through those by the end of day two. Telecommuter fail.
CLIP (ANEESA): Hi, I'm Anissa and I'm from Los Angeles. I haven't been eating carbs for a while, but I figured the best time to eat them is probably in a doomsday scenario. So the one dish in my pantry that I'm excited to eat is a bowl of dal. I usually take two kinds of lentils and simmer them in a pot full of canned tomato sauce and spices until they're a thick soup. Then, I ladle them over a bed of basmati rice. It tastes like the perfect blend of spice and comfort.
CLIP (DANA): Hi, this is Dana Critz calling from Chicago, where I have been under self isolation or quarantine for the past nine days because I think I may have had coronavirus. I live in a two-bedroom apartment with my husband, Chris, and while we normally share the cooking and meal prepping, I have been isolated all alone in our back bedroom and Chris has been cooking for me. So once all of this craziness is over and I'm allowed to cook again, I would love to make myself a baked potato and a bowl of popcorn and I don't know why.
CLIP (CHRIS): Hey there, this is Chris Critz from Chicago. I am Dana's husband and she can't touch anything. So just making absolutely ridiculous things. Falafels from scratch, pitas from scratch. I'm trying to recreate falafel sandwiches that we had in Paris last year.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. And I am coming to you from my basement, which is actually not as abnormal as you may think. You know, when I'm interviewing someone, usually I'm either in a studio or out in the world. But when I'm talking just directly with you, this is usually where I am, here in my basement.
Dan Pashman: In fact, sometimes I get to be interviewed on fancy radio shows on NPR and if I can't get into the city to be a studio, I learned if I would say to them, "Oh, I can record in my basement.", they say, "That I won't sound good enough for us." Now, I say, "I'll record in my home studio." And they say, "Oh, he has a home studio. Great. Fantastic." Well, I'm now ready to acknowledge that my home studio is just me with a portable recorder in my basement. There's nothing beyond that. I just happened to get a really good sound in my basement. So don't tell NPR, but here we are. Okay, everyone? I mean, I know it's stressful crazy times and I hope that you and your family and your community are doing okay. As I said last week, we're gonna keep doing shows here on The Sporkful. Most weeks, we're not going to really be talking about the news. It's gonna be our goal to provide some small amount of comfort and distraction. But this week we are going to be talking about it. And our goal is going to be to provide some commiseration and also some information. Later in the show, we'll talk with Kenji Lopez Alt, he's a New York Times contributor and author of The Food Lab. I want to hear how his restaurant in California is doing because restaurants, of course, have been hit very hard by what's going on. Also, Kenji has been talking with top scientists about food safety in the time of coronavirus. So when you bring home groceries, when you order takeout, what's the best way to handle that food to be as safe as possible? Kenji will tell us. That's later in the show.
Dan Pashman: But right now, there's an old friend of mine who's been on my mind a lot these last couple weeks because he is prone to panic. He tends to worry there won't be enough food for him. And he's always kind of been preoccupied with the end of the world. So since a lot of us are reaching out to friends and loved ones, I thought I would do the same.
Marc Maron: Hello?
Dan Pashman: Maron?
Marc Maron: Yes.
Dan Pashman: How are you?
Marc Maron: Good buddy, you?
Dan Pashman: Holding it together, so far? So far.
Marc Maron: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Are you recording on your end?
Marc Maron: I will, when you say, "Go."
Dan Pashman: All right, let's go.
Marc Maron: Okay, I'll do it. I'll do it. I'll do it on two machines. Okay, I'm going. I'm good. Are you good?
Dan Pashman: I'm good. I'm very impressed that you're recording yourself and you're in the garage there. You're very tech savvy.
Marc Maron: Do you know what I do? I host a podcast. It's called WTF, I do it twice a week out of my garage. I'm sorry, I thought you're familiar. I'm Marc Maron. Who dude? Who do you think you called?
Dan Pashman: Marc Maron is a comic and host of the podcast WTF. He and I met 16 years ago at Air America Radio, that was a progressive talk radio network that has since gone out of business. I was a producer on the morning show that Mark hosted and we stayed friends. I've been on his podcast a couple of times. He's been here on The Sporkful, a couple of times. And as I told him when I recall those days at the radio station, yeah. I'm impressed that he's now running his own recording sessions.
Dan Pashman: I don't know why I have such low expectations for you. It reminds me of the time that we were on the Air America softball team and you showed up to play in a game and I thought, "Oh, this ought to be rich.", but you really held your own.
Marc Maron: Uh-huh. Hey, you know, I mean, what do you think? You're the only athletic Jew in the world? My recollection is, by that point, you had eaten so much every morning because you couldn't schedule properly and you brought your crockpot to the studio. So you're constantly shoveling different types of meat into your face and being all excited about the garbage you cooked that it was amazing that you could make it around the bases. That's my recollection of what happened. Then I do remember I remember that I got an injury pretty early because I didn't stretch properly but that doesn't take away from the fact that I could—I kind of hit the ball. I hit a—I think it was probably maybe a single.
Dan Pashman: You made contact. You ran.
Marc Maron: Yeah. Do you have food related things on your mind? Did you stock up?
Dan Pashman: I stocked up some, yes. Yes, I did. stock up. I tried my best to fight the urge to go crazy.
Marc Maron: Kind of needed to though.
Dan Pashman: I may regret it but so I did stock up. But I think that I did a reasonable level of stocking up, not an insane over the top hoarding job.
Marc Maron: Yeah, I didn't hoard because I got in just under the wire.
Dan Pashman: What were the major things that made a point of getting?
Marc Maron: Well, I pretty much, protein wise, I eat mostly fish. And carbohydrate wise, mostly squash, sweet potatoes and quinoa.
Dan Pashman: Wait, squash is now a carb?
Marc Marcon: Oh, I don't know. Is it not a carb?
Dan Pashman: Isn't it a vegetable?
Marc Maron: I guess. It seems carby to me. I froze a bunch of chicken thighs and a bunch of chicken legs and chicken backs, for stock. Yesterday, we figured out how to freeze green leafy vegetables. That was kind of exciting.
Dan Pashman: Wait, what would you do?
Marc Maron: You blanch them and then you put them in a cold water bath, like an ice water bath, to shock them and stop the cooking. And then you kind of want them up into snowballs. You get as much of the liquid out of them as possible. And then you put those snowballs of greens on a tray and freeze them for a few hours. And then when they're hard, you throw them into a bag. So each ball represents about a little under a bushel, a little bushel of kale.
Dan Pashman: And how strongly have you felt the urge to hoard?
Marc Maron: Well I have a natural condition. I think it was diagnosed as "Diminishing Buffet Syndrome", which is...it's a...
Dan Pashman: This is something—wait. You and I have just been talking to this for years. We both have that.
Marc Maron: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: You think the buffet is about to run out so you take extra.
Marc Maron: Or you get there early, really is what is.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Marc Maron: For me, I kind of want to be the first in line before things get gross at a party or anywhere. I'll keep looking out the side of my face to see if they're putting out the food and I'll scramble over there. You know? Because it's always going to be better. I don't care what anyone says. I don't know why there isn't just complete chaos at every buffet.
Dan Pashman: I'm now thinking about the time we worked at Air America together. It was towards the end. We knew the place was going out of business. I thought I would try to suck up to the boss to hold onto my job for another month or two.
Marc Maron: Right.
Dan Pashman: By throwing a St. Patrick's Day party, that would be great for morale. And so my big thing was, I was going to cook a whole corned beef in a crock pot in the office kitchen for the whole day. I brought my crock pot and a cutting board and a knife into the office, and the raw corned beef, cooked it all day.
Marc Maron: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Made a big to do of it in the office. Everyone was assembled in the conference room with Guinness and streamers and party hats and everything. And I pulled the corned beef out of the crock pot and was slicing it up on my cutting board in the kitchen, preparing to bring it now into the conference room to present it to the entire staff. And who were waiting anxiously to see and eat my corned beef? And who was there in the kitchen? It was you.
Marc Maron: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: The second I started slicing slices and I'm walking, you're there with me. I was walking to the conference room and you're jogging alongside me, grabbing handfuls of corned beef, shoving them into your face as fast as possible to try to get as much corned beef as you could get before we got to the conference room.
Marc Maron: Yeah. Is this a good story or bad story? Is it?
Dan Pashman: It's one of my favorite recollections about working with you because I just feel—I was annoyed because I had worked hard on the corned beef and wanted to share with people but also I think I saw some of myself in you.
Marc Maron: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And I kind of respected your moxie.
Marc Maron: Well, let's just wait.
Dan Pashman: I always loved that moment.
Marc Maron: I think that was—it's always been a thing with you and I, is that I think we do see each other in the other and it's annoying. But I'm sure that what you're saying happened but I feel like you may be embellishing, a little bit. You're making it sound like that I was taking handfuls of corned beef, literally to the point where I was denying other people corned beef. I think I probably took a bit of corned beef because I wanted to make sure I had an experience of the corned beef, fresh cut, and before anyone else did just in case it ran out. I think we have to go back to the "Diminishing Buffet Syndrome". But I'm happy that you're able to admit that you're like, "Oh, see? He's like part of my ID. That if I could not care as much as Marc does, I would be more like him."
Dan Pashman: So you hear how Marc typically handles buffets, large platters of corned beef or pretty much any situation where there's food and a lot of people who want it. Like I said, he's prone to panic and anxiety. And those same traits are a big part of his standup. He spent two years working on the material for his new special End Times Fun. It's a perfect combination for a guy, who spent a lot of his life feeling like the world's about to end. And as I said to Marc, "Man, it sure came out at the right time."
Marc Maron: Yeah. Every once in a while, you have a sort of good cosmic timing. This was not great for most people, but for me? As a planet, the cosmic timing is not great right now. But for my special, it turns out to be excellent to release a special called End Times Fun, during the actual end times. Why wouldn't people watch it?
CLIP (MARC MARON): I don't know what's happening people. I don't know, but it's pretty clear the world is ending. I don't want to shock anybody. Seems to be happening though. I thought we'd get out. I thought we'd make it under the wire. I thought I would. I'm fifty-six but I don't know. I think we might see it. I think we might see it. Certainly, it's been ending environmentally for a long time. And we've all kind of known it. We knew it. But I think on a deeper level, the reason we're not more upset about the world ending environmentally is I think all of us, in our hearts, really know that we did everything we could. You know? We really...right? I mean, we really did. I mean, think about it. We brought our own bags to the supermarket. Yeah, that's about it. We brought the bags right when they told us. We brought them. Then it just wasn't enough it turns out, just not enough.
CLIP (MARC MARON): But I don't know, maybe the straw thing? The no straw thing, maybe that'll do it. Our state is on fire, right now. It's on fire all the time. Every year, California is on fire to the point where it's just the way it is. Two weeks ago, my friend Lynn said, "Aren't the fires a little late this year?" How is that something you say like it's a season? Isn't there something that could bring everyone together and just realize, "We've got to put a stop to almost everything." Right? Oh, my God. What would it take? Something terrible. That's what brings people together. Nothing good. Occasionally a concert outdoors, but that never really goes anywhere.
Dan Pashman: So...
Marc Maron: Yeah?
Dan Pashman: Marc?
Marc Maron: Yeah?
Dan Pashman: You know where this is going.
Marc Maron: This is it.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. Is this it? Is this the bad thing that's gonna bring us together?
Marc Maron: I hope so. I mean, I hope that this is enough. But yeah, that joke...I think that for our generation, certainly you or I, that the wisdom of that joke comes from those days after 9/11, that week after 9/11. Which sort of didn't hold, really. But there was a moment in the face of tragedy and horror where you really felt everyone was sort of on the same page and their heart was in the right place.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think a crisis can bring out the best and worst in people.
Marc Maron: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: It does kind of trigger an instinct for self-preservation and it's very human. It's very human when you're afraid for your basic safety to stock up. We all have "Diminishing Buffet Syndrome", to some degree. And we also all have natural impulses towards generosity and selflessness and helping others.
Marc Maron: Right!
Dan Pashman: And I am optimistic that that's the instinct we'll see more of.
Dan Pashman: As rough as this is and as rough as it's likely to get, I am optimistic about how people will respond. I mean, with the big thing we're all doing right now, isolating ourselves. Sure, part of that is self-preservation. But a big part is also trying to protect others. There is something selfless about it. You see these doctors and nurses on social media saying, "I came to work for you. You stay home for us." It is different from 9/11 in a lot of ways, but it does feel like we're all working together. For Marc, like I said, I was worried about him because he tends to expect the worst. And we started seeing all these empty supermarket shelves. I figured that would have him totally freaking out. But he told me, for him right now, it's actually the opposite.
Marc Maron: Literally, when everyone else starts to freak out, that's what I'm like, "See? See how it feels?" And I relax. My neural pathways were carved out at the tip of the spear of anxiety my whole life. Those are well-trodden pathways. And a lot of them I've gotten through and over, but they're sort of there and I'm sort of comfortable with them. So in terms of dread and panic and anxiety, I live with a certain degree of it. Not as bad as it used to but when this happens, it's sort of weird how I am kind of feel relaxed, even.
Dan Pashman: It's almost like the rest of the world is panicking for you,
Marc Maron: Right. I'm like, "OK. So everybody understands now. Great. I'm good."
Dan Pashman: Well, it reminds me of one of my all time favorite bits of yours is the., "Maybe being depressed is the appropriate reaction to reality."
Marc Maron: Yeah. Right. Yeah, yeah. Maybe depression is the reasonable human response to the shit we're going through as a culture—meant to prove kind of move us into the next evolutionary step. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Marc Maron: That was a good bit. Yeah. I think I think a lot of my bits are sort of self-talk through panic and anxiety and dread.
Dan Pashman: So much of Marc's stand up over the years has been an attempt to work through his own issues. And he'll be the first to tell you that another one of those issues is that he can sometimes be more focused on himself than others. Especially right now, that's a good thing for all of us to be working on. Me too. I mean, like I said, half the reason I made that corned beef at the radio station all those years ago, is that I wanted to suck up to the boss, make him think I was a morale booster kind of guy, save my job for a few more months. In other words, it was an act of self-preservation and I wanted people to tell me how great my corned beef was. So on the outside, it looked like I was doing something nice for other people, but really it was mostly about me. That's a feeling Mark says he can really relate to.
Marc Maron: When I got sober, years into it, I took a cake commitment at an AA meeting out here, which is every week. Usually what happens is somebody—you just go pick up a cake somewhere, a cheap cake, and so when they do their anniversaries you can stick candles in it and sing the song for people with sober anniversaries. So the woman before me who had the cake commitment was baking cakes because she was a baker. And I thought like, "Well, that's pretty fucking cool and I got nothing to do. I'm a comedian and things are working out, really." So I took to baking the cake. So I would bake a cake every week and bring it to the AA meeting for this. It doesn't require a fancy cake but I was making all these different cakes and I could get—I really just didn't give a shit about anything other than how people felt about the cake. And that's really the opposite message that AA is trying to put forth, that you're trying to move more towards an egoless service sort of mentality but I was sort of like, "How's the cake? Good? How's the cake? Aren't you going to eat some cake?"
Dan Pashman: Did you ever pull the thing where you would insult your own cooking just because on some level you understand that will get people to compliment it more?
Marc Maron: Oh, were you like, "It came out okay."
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah.
Marc Maron: I think...no it's really good. I over cooked it a little. Yeah, I think if I just....You gotta be careful with that. You gotta be careful of that though, because if you if you really sell it, eventually they'll agree with you and then you fuck yourself. When you go, "Nah, it's okay." And they're like, "No, it's great."
Dan Pashman: Right. Right.
Marc Maron: Leave it at that. Don't be like, "But don't you think....", and they're like, "I didn't really think so but it be..." And then you're like, "Maybe you're right." So next time you say, "Oh, so you don't like it." See? You got to be careful. You don't want to go the full loop.
Dan Pashman: Right. Right. Yeah, you can't hit it too hard. Right. Oh, man.
Marc Maron: Self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe me, I know that one. I like you. No, you don't really, though. No, I do. Not really though, if you think about it. Now you're being kind of annoying. Am I, though? Yeah, actually. Okay. See? you don't like me. I guess you're right. Bye. That's most of my relationships. That's the full arc of it. I feel like I've gotten better. I'll tell you, Dan, as you get older—how old are you now?
Dan Pashman: I am—I'm about to turn 43.
Marc Maron: As time goes on, I think you'll notice, as I notice, and as we're talking about this, that all those things that really used to matter, they don't really matter any more. You know? They just don't and it's a good thing. Keeps you focused on the important stuff.
Dan Pashman: I think that's a good note to end on. So Marc Maron, the new special is on Netflix now. It's called, End Times Fun. Thanks a lot, man. Take care.
Marc Maron: All right, buddy. Take it easy.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I talk with chef, restaurant owner and food science guru Kenji Lopez-Alt. We'll see how his restaurant is dealing with this crisis and he'll tell us what the latest research says about how to handle and clean your food during the coronavirus pandemic. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I'm Dan Pashman. Hey, if you're looking for a distraction right now, like maybe something completely different from this episode, I got something for you. There are millions of recipes out there, but most of them aren't very good. Writing recipes to work consistently is a real skill. And in last week's episode, we talk with some real pros about how it's done, including Chandra Ram, a chef and judge for the prestigious IACP Cookbook Awards. She tells us what she looks for when she's judging and what big time TV chef has bad recipes.
CLIP (CHANDRA RAM): I was cooking with her recipes and finding that they didn't work, that there was an ingredient missing. So to everyone who had one of my disastrous meals in the 90s, in the early aughts, I apologize.
Dan Pashman: Who could it be? That's what we in the business call a tease. Plus, did you know the woman who created The Joy of Cooking empire actually found little joy in cooking? We hear her story. That episodes up now wherever you got this one. Check it out. And please make sure you subscribe to our podcast, at Apple podcast or favorite us in Stitcher. You do that right now. Thank you. Now back to the show.
CLIP (ALISON): Hi, this is Alison from Raleigh, North Carolina. The thing I'm most excited to eat, I think, is our potatoes. We don't typically buy potatoes as a family unless it's Thanksgiving or Christmas and so I'm really looking forward to eating some mashed potatoes with tons of butter and heavy cream.
CLIP (BRINLEIGH): Hi, this is Brinleigh from Oakland, California. The food in my quarantine pantry that I'm most excited to eat is canned chili. Growing up in earthquake prone Washington state, I was always excited to buy the food for our emergency kits at school. It consisted of fruit cups, chili, fruit roll ups. Basically, things that we never got to eat at home. I'm planning to heat up our chili and cover it in cheddar cheese and diced onions, which are both relatively stable items that I also bought extra of.
CLIP (MICHELLE): Hi, this is Michelle Nidam, coming to you from the Bronx, New York, in quarantine. The one thing in my doomsday pantry that I'm most excited about eating is onions. My husband and I have been making a lot of onions. We've been roasting them and pickling them all different ways. And one thing that I'm not excited about, eating dried beans. I've literally no idea how to make them. So I think I have to Google that.
Dan Pashman: Well, Michelle in the Bronx, I think a lot of people are with you. They're not knowing how to cook dry beans. But luckily, joining me now is a longtime friend of the show. He has ridden shotgun here with me many times. He is the James Beard Award-winning author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. I've said that so many times now to introduce you, Kenji, I don't even need to write a script.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: That was very good.
Dan Pashman: Thank you. Yes. And he is also the chef owner of Wursthall in San Mateo, California. He's a contributor, Serious Eats, and a great guy I always talk to. And he joins me now from his home in California. Kenji Lopez-Alt, how are you?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: I'm doing all right, given the circumstances. Best I can be.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: I think like most of us.
Dan Pashman: And I do want to get into some of the little sort of more serious ramifications of this. Especially for you and your restaurant and for people who are handling food. But first, I do want to know, what were the things you stocked up on when you knew this was coming?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Honestly, I used it as an excuse to stock up on all the kind of crappy canned stuff that I loved when I was a kid. So like, canned Chef Boyardee ravioli.
Dan Pashman: So good.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: SpaghettiOs with and without meatballs. Chicken and star soup. Quite a few dried goods. We have a supply of fever-reducing cold medicine, both for kids and for us, just in case. We have a normal amount of toilet paper like not seven years worth.
Dan Pashman: What is your go-to stress eating food?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Pizza.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Pizza's my go-to for any kind of eating threat. Pizza is the one thing that I could literally eat for every meal, every day and not get sick of. Even crappy pizza.
Dan Pashman: Right. Well, this is a major theory of yours, that even crappy pizza is good.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah. Well, that's a well-known theory. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: My go-tos for stress are either some kind of bread and cheese: pizza, or bread and cheese in any form.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Right.
Dan Pashman: Or ice cream.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: When I was growing up, we used to eat cheese toast, which is a slice of American cheese on top of a piece of bread stuck into the toaster oven. And I was thinking the other day, like, eating cheese toast for breakfast is not weird. Eating buttered toast with cheese is not weird. But eating a grilled cheese for breakfast is weird. But if you then put an egg in that grilled cheese, it becomes an egg sandwich with cheese and it's not weird again.
Dan Pashman: I think that a lot of our rules about what is breakfast food and what is lunch or dinner food, when you really examine them, are so ridiculously arbitrary.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: It kind of makes you realize once you start going down the rabbit hole of why is this food a breakfast food and that food isn't a breakfast food...
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Right.
Dan Pashman: You will quickly end up at, there is no God. Everything will unravel for you.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: We had grilled cheese for breakfast last week.
Dan Pashman: But I do want to ask for your advice, because now I'm on several days of working from home, and stress eating. So I was like, I've got to figure out a way to stress eat something a little healthier.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: And there's this random head of cabbage sitting in my fridge that I got actually like as a prop for a photo shoot that I was doing.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Okay.
Dan Pashman: So I just started pulling whole leaves of cabbage off the head of cabbage and shoving them into my mouth and crunching down on them. That's not bad as a stress eating food. It ain't ice cream but at least it's healthy and it's got some crunch to it. But is there something very simple that I could do to my sad, pathetic head of raw cabbage stress eating habit that could make it a little bit better?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah, having cabbage with a dip is very common. Like a Thai snack, right? So if you make some kind of spicy chili dip or even salsa, I bet that would be good. Raw cabbage and salsa?
Dan Pashman: Mmm, yes. That does sound really good. Before we open the phone lines to callers, who are going to call in asking for tips, I do want to talk to you, Kenji, about your restaurant and restaurants in general, which I know have been very hard hit by what's going on in the country.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Well, just tell me. What's the state of things at your restaurant right now?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: We've basically been trying to figure out how we're going to A) safely serve the community the best we can and also B) to really make sure that our staff and our employees are taken care of. So what we're doing is we're transitioning to an all take-out style of service.
Dan Pashman: Kenji says customers can order from Wursthall and pay ahead of time. Then come pick up their food without any direct contact with staff. You just come in and grab it. Kenji is also prepping meal kits, something that requires customers to do a little cooking at home. You order online and he'll deliver it to your doorstep, himself. Kenji says Wursthall has had to reduce its staff. First to limit the amount of contact among people in the kitchen, kind of people on top of each other? But also they don't have as much business coming in and they can't afford to pay everyone. Still, they're trying to support their workers as best they can. They're giving extra meal kits to staff members and the net profits on the meal kits will be given to the workers and to people in the community. Kenji and Wursthall are making these efforts even as they themselves are facing a lot of uncertainty.
Dan Pashman: How worried are you that your restaurant might not make it?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: That's a good question. I'm a little worried, you know? As long as we're able to open again in the future, we're very confident that we're going to be able to hire back all of our employees and that they're all looking forward to coming back to work. The thing that really eats me the most and worries me the most, is how our employees are going to do when we're forced to close. It's like during this period—and when we don't know how long— we don't know if it's three weeks. We don't know if it's three months and that's a long time to go on unemployment, especially when the schools are closed and people are potentially getting sick and having to be hospitalized. Yeah, it's a lot. It's a tough time and it's a lot of unknowns.
Dan Pashman: Yeah and look. I'm pulling for you, Kenji. And I'm also pulling for you—this is a completely selfish note, I haven't gotten to go to Wursthall yet.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Oh!
Dan Pashman: And you keep sharing all these photos on Instagram of this Korean style hot chicken sandwich.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Right, right.
Dan Pashman: And I need to eat that.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Well, we hope to be able to serve it to you. Yeah. I mean, the team kills it every day. Hopefully we'll be back to killing it.
Dan Pashman: Kenji, ready to take some calls, help some folks around the country who don't know what to do with the food in their pantries?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Sure, I'll do my best.
Dan Pashman: All right. All right, Kenji, let's go to the phones. We have Julia in San Mateo, California. One of your neighbors. Hey, Julia.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Neighbor, hey.
Julia: Hey. How's it going?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: It's going okay.
Dan Pashman: Julia, have you been to Wursthall?
Julia: I have. Yeah. My husband and I get a babysitter every Thursday night, and that is on our regular rotation.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Oh, cool. Wow.
Dan Pashman: You'll have to switch to the takeout operation or you can even just have Kenji deliver your meals for you. Then you don't need to do anything. It's going to be great.
Julia: I mean, it kind of sounds like an added bonus.
Dan Pashman: All right, Julia, what can we do for you?
Julia: Well, I waited just a couple days too long to do my stock up. They were out of all the canned beans. And so I bought a bag of dried beans, which is fine, except my husband and my kids—my kids are two and four—do not like the texture of dried beans. They like the texture of canned beans. They like that mushy falling apart texture.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Okay.
Julia: So I have tried soaking it and boiling it for hours and hours and hours and I just cannot get my beans soft enough. And my whole house smells like beans.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: So there's a couple of factors with dried beans. One is the age of the beans. The older the beans are, the more likely they are to be kind of hard and not soften properly. The other major factor is when boiling beans are acidity, PH levels. So if you boil beans in water that's acidic, if you add any ingredient that has any kind of acidity like tomatoes or molasses, if you're making baked beans for instance, that'll make them take way, way longer to soften. And if it's acidic enough, they won't soften at all. And then salt content can also affect how they soften. So there's an old myth that if you salt your beans too early, they won't properly soften. This is actually not true at all. And it's in fact the opposite, is the case. If you soak them in salted water, they actually softened significantly more than if you soak them in plain water.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: And it's because while the magnesium and calcium in the skin gets replaced by sodium ions, that then makes it so that the skin softens faster. So if you salt the water that your beans soak in overnight, that'll get them to soften up better the next day. If you really want to get them nice and mushy, adding baking soda to the water and cooking them in a pressure cooker. Those are two things that will really help them get mushier. On Serious Eats there's a recipe for hummus. And in that recipe, I use both a pressure cooker and baking soda. Off the top of my head, I can't remember what the ratio of baking soda you want is. But if you look up that recipe, it'll have a ratio that should work for most types of beans.
Dan Pashman: Okay, I just looked up the recipe and it looks like the ratio is half a pound of chickpeas, or whatever beans you're cooking, soaked overnight in six cups of water with one teaspoon of baking soda. Then you drain that liquid and cook it in another six cups of water and add another teaspoon of baking soda. And all of this is making me very glad I've never bothered to cook beans from scratch because this sounds interminable. You know how many cans of beans I could have just opened in the amount of time that took? Man.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Julia, do you have a pressure cooker?
Julia: I do, yeah. I have an instant pot.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: You do. Okay, good good.
Dan Pashman: All right, you're good.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Because I was gonna say, you're local. I would lend you mine if you didn't have one.
Julia: You could bring it over with that with that meal kit.
Dan Pashman: All right, Julia. Thank you so much for your call. Be well and take care.
Julia: Thank you, buh-bye.
Dan Pashman: All right, we now have Adam in New York City on the line. Hey, Adam.
Adam: Hey, guys.
Dan Pashman: Adam, what can we do for you?
Adam: Yeah, so I think something that's maybe on a lot of people's minds is, with the coronavirus going around, I was curious what that means for food safety. What do I buy at the grocery store? How do I handle it? How do I prepare it? How do I store it?
Dan Pashman: And also, if you're going to get takeout from a restaurant, I would think. Because everyone is saying you can't go into the restaurant to eat, but you can support restaurants by ordering takeout. So what do you do when you order the take out? Yeah. This is something we've been thinking about at my house too. Adam, I know that Kenji has looked into this a lot. Let me let you go, because it probably has a long answer but it's a great question. And thank you for asking it. So, Kenji, I know that you did an article about this on Serious Eats, this week. You talked to a bunch of experts and you are a food science person. I know you're not an epidemiologist or a pathologist.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Right.
Dan Pashman: But you are so well-versed enough in the sciences to be able to talk to scientists and read scientific papers and reports and know what the hell they're saying.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah, I try to stay up to date. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: First off, let's start with the supermarket. If someone goes to the supermarket and they buy food, how should they handle it differently from normal in the current situation?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: So the first important thing to know is that this is a novel virus. And though it's similar to some other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, it is novel. So with a lot of this advice, it's sort of erring on the side of safety. As far as being at the supermarket, the good news is that the virus has shown no real signs of being transmissible through foods. So both the World Health Organization, the CDC, the USDA, all of them say that there's no indication that is transmissible via food, which means that most likely you're not going to get it by eating food. Even a salad that someone has sneezed on. If all you're doing is taking that salad with a fork and putting it into your mouth and swallowing it, you're unlikely to get it that way.
Dan Pashman: I know this sounds counterintuitive. You put a contaminated piece of food in your mouth and swallow it, wouldn't that make you sick? Well, the current scientific thinking is that it's okay if coronavirus gets into your stomach, your digestive system will likely kill it. But if you breathe it in and it gets into your lungs, or if it gets in your hands and you touch your eyes, that's when you could have a problem. Now, you might think if you're chewing food with coronavirus on it, wouldn't some virus go into your airway instead of into your stomach? Well, Kenji says that's not typically how viruses travel, even though you might be breathing in aromas from that food. That's why it seems face to face contact is more dangerous than eating a lettuce leaf with the virus on it. As best as we know right now, there have been no cases of coronavirus linked to eating. So what does that mean for grocery shopping?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: As far as contact goes, the danger is mostly in sort of what virus particles landing on something that maybe someone's stocking the shelf. They're putting that bag of rice up there and they sniffle on it or they sneeze on it and then you pick it up and now it's on your hand and then you go and touch your face.
Dan Pashman: And in terms of buying fresh produce. Typically, I'm not the most hardcore person about washing fruits and vegetables.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Right.
Dan Pashman: But lately, I have been more so. So if I get an apple at the supermarket, I wasn't just rinsing it in the faucet. I was actually washing it with soap.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah. No, if you want to be super safe, you can. You can wash with soap and rinse it off. You can even do that to your greens. I guess they do make food-safe soaps and vegetable soaps. The spread of pathogens that are food-borne are generally pretty well understood. And so far this coronavirus doesn't really show signs that it's food-borne. And people eat multiple times every day. So the thinking is that if food were a vector for transmission, we would have seen it by now and we simply haven't. So the likelihood is that you're not going to get it from eating things. So even even buying fresh produce, even getting a salad. You're likely safe.
Dan Pashman: So, Kenji, if you do get takeout and you bring it home, what should you do with it?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Don't eat straight out of the takeout containers. You should swap it into containers that you know are clean. And then after swapping it and discarding all the takeout containers, wash your hands well before eating and before touching your face.
Dan Pashman: And is it really safe to get takeout that someone else is cooking for you in a restaurant?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: As far as the safety of getting food from restaurants, a lot of people think, "Oh, well, it's much safer for me to just cook at home to buy ingredients in supermarkets. Just cook at home." That's sort of arguable because the good news is that restaurants, especially ones that have good health records and safety records, their staff are already trained very well on sanitation procedures. They know not to touch their face. They know that if they're sick, they shouldn't be working. And they know how to sanitize surfaces and keep food clean. Anytime you're touching, whether it's your mail, whether it's food from a supermarket shelf, or whether it's the take out containers at a restaurant, you should really be thinking about it the same way. Anytime you come in contact with something that someone has previously come in contact with, before you touch yourself on the face, wash your hands well. And as much as you can try and isolate those things, swap out containers, et cetera.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: I, personally, would recommend that you do continue to support your local businesses as much as you can. As long as you're making sure that it's coming from a restaurant that you trust that has a good safety record. And as long as you're taking the proper precautions yourself at home.
Dan Pashman: So final question on this topic, because it does not look like you can get this coronavirus from ingesting it, does that mean that the amount of time you cook your food doesn't matter. Is there at any point in cooking things extra long so that before you eat them to increase the chance that you kill off the virus?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: If you want to be very safe, heat things fully. Like soups, bring them to a boil. Once they come to a boil, they should be fine. Fully reheat meat. If you have breads and stuff like that, toast it before you eat it, make sure the outside is at least sterilized. The risk is very minimal if you're following all those steps.
Dan Pashman: Alright Kenji, that was an excellent answer. I'm glad we have you here. Let's go right back to the phones now. Hi, who's this?
Payal: Hey this is Payal. I'm calling from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Payal, what can we do for you?
Payal: Well, I'm an infectious disease physician. And I also do research on how to prevent infections from spreading in hospitals.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God. Why did I just waste on that time listening to Kenji just now? Kenji, you're fired. It's now the Dan and Payal show. Alright Payal, what's your question for Kenji?
Payal: Yeah. So my question is, as new parents, we've been trying to cook more at home. We're actively trying to social distance. And we've been trying to clear out our fridge before going into the store. We recently made paj bhaji, which is one of my favorite Indian foods. And while making it, I realized I had an eggplant the size of my head left that didn't fit into our Instant Pot. So every day, I open my fridge and I look at that eggplant and I'm looking for something creative and tasty to do with the eggplant.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: So I often actually get into the same—I'm in that same boat, sometimes. I go to the Japanese market and there's these beautiful looking Japanese eggplants. And I'm like, "Oh, I got to buy some of these.", and then they just end up sitting in my refrigerator for a while because I just don't think about them. I buy them without a plan for them. Ninety percent of the time, what I end up making is baba ganoush because I love it. The technique I use for baba ganoush, I roast the eggplant slowly in the oven and then the real key is to drain it well. So I take out the pulp and then I spin it in a salad spinner. So you get all that liquid out.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: And then with baba ganoush, the way I make it is I put in a bowl with tahini and then I kind of emulsify in olive oil. So I act basically like I'm making a mayonnaise, where I take a fork and I really beat the eggplant while I'm slowly drizzling in olive oil until it's basically holding more olive oil. And you think it could possibly hold and it just comes out like super delicious and rich and smoky and lasts a long time also. That's like my first impulse. Also making a real, not Italian-American style, but a real Italian-style eggplant parmesan.
Dan Pashman: I think those are good answers. Did that help you, Payal?
Payal: Yeah, totally. Kenji, I've watched your videos and then pause them one-second at a time to recreate in my kitchen what you're doing. So this is very, very helpful for me.
Dan Pashman: Alright, that's good. We'll link to both of those at the blog post for this episode too, at sporkful.com, Payal in Ann Arbor, Michigan, thank you for all your work up there is an infectious disease doctor and be safe.
Payal: Thank you, guys. You stay safe too.
Dan Pashman: All right, Kenji, before I let you go, I must subject you to the lightning round.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Okay.
Dan Pashman: We have Sporkful listeners and fans all over the country, who we didn't get them on the phone, but they wrote in with questions. Ready?
Kenji Lopez-Alt: All right. I'm ready.
Dan Pashman: All right. Here we go. Carol in Lakeside, Alabama writes, "Okay, I've got lots of dried beans of all types. What kind of new flavors ideas can I try? We seem to be stuck in the pork flavoring rut."
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Beans and greens is what I really love to do. So any kind of hearty braising green, like kale or collards or spinach. I cook beans in chicken stock around with some herbs. Right at the last minute, throw in some hearty greens and let them kind of wilt down. And I find that to be extraordinarily delicious.
Dan Pashman: That does. And I assume that would add like a little bit of bitterness, which will be a nice change, for Carol from the pork flavor.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yes, it does.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: And I think it's healthy, too.
Dan Pashman: Absolutely. Okay. Next up, we have Corrina in Aberdeen, South Dakota, says, "My friend from Georgia knows I'm an avid home cook." So one Christmas he bestowed upon me some high quality grits and black eyed peas. I know there are a million ways to prepare both of these ingredients, but they've been languishing in my pantry for a couple of years now because I feel so completely uninspired by these somewhat foreign foods. Any fun tips or tricks to get me excited about a bag of cornmeal and a sack of legumes?"
Kenji Lopez-Alt: The best way to get excited about eating grits is to cook them and try them because they're delicious. All I would say is cook in the traditional way. Look at me, look up any number of recipes online, but you basically cook the grits with stock, low and slow. Stir it frequently like you're making polenta. They take a little bit longer than polenta, typically. And then it could be as simple as adding some butter or cheese. Actually, my buddy Daniel Gritzer has a shrimp and grits recipe on Serious Eats, that uses shrimp and bacon and gruyere and mushrooms.
Dan Pashman: Oh that sounds great.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: They're delicious. And for the beans, I mean the same answer as before. Cook them and then add some greens at the end.
Dan Pashman: All right, last question in our lightning round. And big surprise, we get another one about legumes, beans and lentils are seriously stealing the show here. So Jamie in Richmond, Virginia asks, "We happen to have a lot of red and green lentils in our pantry. Any suggestions on dishes that can add them to or how to prepare them as a side?"
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Yeah, my daughter's three-years-old and we just made, last week I made two quarts of lentil soup and she loves it. But lentil soup, you can make it in so many different ways. So my wife is Colombian and in the way they make the lentil soup there is very simply. So basic mirepoix, onions, carrots, celery, sautéed in olive oil. Add your lentils, add some stock, a couple of bay leaves and cook it down so that the lentils are really soft. You can go in another direction and add coconut milk to it or almond milk and season it with some curry spices or turmeric, garam masala, chopped cilantro at the end. And that's delicious. You can take a sort of more like a southwestern style with cumin and chilies. Lentil soups are just like an empty palette for putting other flavors into.
Dan Pashman: All right. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the author of the bestselling award winning cookbook, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. He's now a contributor to The New York Times food section and his restaurant in San Mateo, California is Wursthall. If you are in the San Mateo area, order takeout, get the meal kits, support Kenji and his staff. And if you're not in that area, support other local restaurants, wherever you are, because they really need our help right now.
Dan Pashman: So Kenji, best of luck out there. We hope it all goes as well as possible. We'll be thinking about you and pulling for you and take care.
Kenji Lopez-Alt: Same to you, Dan.
Dan Pashman: In our next episode, it's going to be mostly back to our regularly scheduled programming. A box of Georgia O'Keefe's handwritten recipes goes up for auction and I go to see the recipes to find out what they tell us about one of America's greatest artists that her art doesn't tell us. Since this episode you're listening to now dropped a little early, that won't be out in ten days, back to Monday shows. While you're waiting, check out our deep dive on the art of recipe writing. It's up now. You'll learn a lot and also hear me rant a lot.