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Amuse-bouche: Pushing the panic button

Amuse-bouche: Pushing the panic button

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I woke up the other day with a stiff neck. It was undoubtedly from sleeping crooked or spending too much time bent over my iPad reading the day before. But nevertheless, I did what I’m sure you would do in my place.

I took my temperature to make sure it wasn’t COVID-19.

Then a few hours later, I sneezed seven times in a row. That’s actually very normal for me — once something tickles my nose, I’ll sneeze multiple times, and between dust in my yard and the allergies I pretend I don’t have, something is always tickling my nose.

Nevertheless, I again took my temperature, while also Googling to find out if frequent sneezing was a newly discovered COVID-19 symptom.

It isn’t, but headaches are. And I woke up with a headache the next day. Oh no!

Sure, I’d sipped my way through more than half a bottle of wine the night before while binge-watching into the wee hours, but my first reaction wasn’t lack of sleep or a hangover, it was COVID-19.

My temperature again was reassuringly subnormal, and I was fine after I rehydrated with a pot of tea, so I decided I’d dodged a bullet.

But then later that morning, I got hot and sweaty working out at the “gym” (which is what we are euphemistically calling socially distanced mats and kettlebells on the parking lot outside the actual building).

Of course, the whole point of working out is to get hot and sweaty — there’s a reason the first exercises are called the warm-up. But even so, I panicked. I couldn’t wait to get home and take my temperature, to make sure it wasn’t the onset of a fever.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

In the face of a novel coronavirus that is trying to take over the world, could be lurking anywhere and apparently wants to kill me in particular (if you can believe a government that has the gall to classify me as elderly), I have developed a novel new syndrome: COVID-19-related hypochondria.

It’s pretty virulent and even more contagious than the virus itself. You don’t have to breathe it in — it seems to be able to spread via emails, text messages, phone calls and Zoom meetings. I’m pretty sure I got it from my East Coast friends. A lot of them have it, judging by how many have invested in pulse oximeters (those devices you stick on your finger to determine how much oxygen is in your blood).

I haven’t bought one myself, because I would be monitoring myself so often, I’d cut off circulation to my finger. Plus, it would get in the way of cooking, which is what I do whenever I feel anxious — which is to say, pretty much all the time these days.

I know I shouldn’t be all that worried. I wear a mask, wash my hands, stay home, socialize over Zoom and distance myself even from close friends. I probably haven’t been within 50 yards of a germ of any sort in the past three months. Plus, I eat a healthy diet and have a strong immune system, no underlying conditions and type O blood (which is somehow a good thing, don’t ask me why). Objectively speaking, I’m not a prime candidate to come down with COVD-19 right now, and would likely survive it if I did.

Nevertheless, I dread the thought of getting it.

It’s not the trouble breathing or the blood clots or the many other life-threatening complications that scare me, though. What I fear is one of the “minor” symptoms used to diagnose it. Minor to doctors, maybe, but not to me.

Cooking is my release valve, my therapy and my creative outlet. But above all, I cook because I love to eat.

I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy of waking up one day without a sense of taste or smell.

Linguine with Kale, Mushrooms and Clams

I have been drowning in vegetables this week, thanks to the “small” box of produce I had delivered from Napa Wild, a new start-up CSA. In truth, it was more like a clown car — it seemed bottomless.

A large bunch of kale was taking up more than its share of space in the crisper drawer so I decided to slice it up and add it to a quick linguine and clam sauce. It turned out great — a tasty and painless way to consume kale if, like me, you would only eat it under duress or because it turned up in your farm box and you are constitutionally unable to waste good food.

This is the kind of dish that doesn’t really need a recipe, but I’m giving you one based on what I did. Feel free to play around with it and clean out your own veggie bin.

Serves 2

6-7 ounces linguine

1 bunch of kale, stems removed, leaves finely sliced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 mushrooms, sliced

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried sage

2/3 cup dry white wine

1 can (5 ounces) baby clams in their juice

Grated Parmesan (optional)

Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water. About 5 or 6 minutes in, add the kale to cook with the pasta. It will turn a very pretty bright green.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shallot, garlic and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until everything has softened. Stir in the red pepper, oregano and sage, then add the wine and clam juice.

Cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, then add the clams. Cook for a minute to blend everything, then mix in the cooked pasta and kale, along with a splash or two of the pasta cooking water.

Heat for another minute, then serve. I don’t think Italians eat cheese on this dish, but I won’t tell on you if you want to heap on a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan.

Watch it now: How to start a self-care routine and stick to it

Betty Teller happily reports that her taste buds are still working. Please assure her you are also remaining symptom-free at

Satisfy your cravings

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