The Covid Diaries – Vol. 7 – Taking Stock

Image(If coronavirus predictions were a stock, you’d sell)

Day 26, Thursday, April 9 – Emotion v. Logic

Most people have succumbed to numbness by now. Which is just the way the government likes it.

The days click by with nothing happening, nowhere to go. We are prisoners in jail cells of our own making.

Don’t expect the birth rates to be up in 9 months. Caged animals don’t have much sex.

The tide is beginning to turn. Slowly, inexorably, the news is focusing more on the economic impact of the shutdown than on the virus itself.

Soon enough, we will hear how much it cost the 99% to save the 1%.

Even now, the trigger words and action verbs  that have been used to describe the coronavirus — “crisis”, “ravaging”, “war”, “devastating”, “battle”, “overwhelming” – are being applied to its aftermath.

Facts and logic are stubborn things. Obdurate and unyielding no matter the torrents of emotion thrown at them.

The facts are, day-by-day, establishing that the threat of the Covid pandemic was blown out of proportion.

Undeniably, though,  extreme, unprecedented harm has been done to the American economy and the lives of the healthy people who make it run.

As Michael Burry puts it so succinctly:

This is a new form of coronavirus that emanated from a country, China, that unfortunately covered it up. That was the original sin. It transmits very easily, and within the first month it was likely all over the world. Very poor testing infrastructure created an information vacuum as cases ramped, ventilator shortages were projected. Politicians panicked and media filled the space with their own ignorance and greed. It was a toxic mix that led to the shutdown of the U.S., and hence much of the world economy.

Politicians weren’t the only ones who panicked. Within about a ten day period last month, the media went from inquisitiveness to healthy skepticism to full bore hysteria. Fanning the flames of fear. Using scoreboards to chart the infection/rate, and basically scaring every American shitless about a virus that was “ravaging” America. (Never forget that the justification for this shutdown claimed 60% of Americans would be infected, and that 3% of those infected would die. Figures that now seem beyond ridiculous.)

Sports coverage and news media share one thing in common: they are all about appealing to emotions. You don’t have to go very far on the internet to see the media doing its greedy, sinister best to keep passions inflamed: “Deaths Soar”, Pandemic Catastrophe”, and “America’s coronacrisis has arrived” headlines are all over the place. Every famous person who dies “from Covid complications” is trumpeted to keep you riveted. No word, ever, of what other medical conditions they were suffering from.

The Atlantic, two weeks ago, predicted:

more than 1 million Americans would succumb to COVID-19 in the next few months. That is about as many people as the country lost in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II—combined.

As of today, the US has 385,449 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection. There have been 12,216 deaths. The prediction (all of which have been wrong so far) is now that approximately 60,000 people will die of this by August. No word from the “experts” about how many of those were already at death’s door.

Making it a contest (a “war” on coronavirus) did the trick. Everyone was either numbed into submission or galvanized into camps — tribalism writ large if you will — with degrees of virulence far outstripping anything the infection could have wrought. On one end you had the hyper-aggressive health Gestapo (liberals, mainly, oh the irony) yelling at people for walking down the street; on the other, there are the homeless, the clueless, and the working poor who didn’t give a shit. (The working poor, BTW, can’t afford to give a shit.)

In between there are the legitimately fearful, the concerned, and the sympathetic. Counterbalancing them are the skeptics and the economists who, when they’re not being shouted down by shutdown defenders, are trying to make sense of  what we’re doing to ourselves.

And then, of course, there are those seeking to make political hay out of this mess, which doesn’t do anyone any good.

A rational, logical argument against the continuation of the shutdown begins with citing facts. Here’s the way the arguments usually go:

When you point out that the confirmed infection rate of 0.12%. Not 12%. 12/100 of 1% — you get told, “it could’ve been far worse.” This is an un-provable assertion. Of course if you lock everyone in a dungeon, lots of bad things won’t happen to them. Only when they’re out of the dungeon can you properly assess the level of danger. In this sense, Sweden is the world’s “control group”, and why it’s treatment model is being looked at so closely.

When you point out a fatality rate of 0.0037%, you are bombarded with, “You need to see the devastation in the hospitals!”. To be clear, that’s 37/10,000 of 1%, of the entire population of America,

And when the worst case figure of 1.7% death rate (of those seriously infected, most of whom were old and sick) is pointed out, you can expect a barrage of, “What if it was your grandpa who was dying?” — always the sucker punch thrown when the reasoning round has been lost.

Also, what you never hear from the public heath pundits is that they have yet to find a cure for the common cold. Good luck finding a vaccine.

Some more simple statistics:

As of today, Sweden has 7,857 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection. There have been 687 deaths.

The population of Sweden is 10,230,000.

That’s a confirmed infection rate of 0.08%, or 8/100 of 1%.

That’s a fatality rate of 0.01%, or 1/100 of 1%.

Much lower infection rate, higher fatality rate.

Aside from banning meetings of more than 50 people, and the usual hand-washing and cleanliness guidelines/suggestions, Sweden appears to have left their economy untouched. Bars and restaurants continue to operate, as do most businesses.

It all really comes down to a simple debate: Is the cure worse than the disease? And like all good argument, both sides are right….or at least have a plausible case to make.

On the one hand you have the sacrificing of the mental, physical, and financial health of an entire country to forestall the spread of a virus that appears very contagious and fatal to old, sick people.

On the other, you have an appeal to emotion and humanity.  As logically fallacious as the resort to emotionalism is, it is understandable. Viral infections are cruel, invisible beasts who work in the stealthiest of ways. These deaths are tragic. The short term strain on health care systems and professionals (in some areas) has been immense. But Covid has a long way to go before it competes with the Bubonic Plague as a contagion.

There is no winning this argument. Some will argue that the “curve flattening” was worth it. And that being human means no means should be spared to save (or prolong) lives.

But in the end, what will it take to justify the destruction of the American economy? Perhaps nothing. What’s done is done.  Appeals to emotion and a string of speculative “what ifs” were all that counted when this car was being driven off a cliff. Now, it’s in free fall. All we’re doing is trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of something we didn’t need to destroy in the first place.

When the recriminations come, they will be ugly but immaterial. No one will admit fault; everyone will circle the rationalization wagons.

Who will be accountable? Does it even matter? Once you’ve shot yourself in the foot, why you pulled the trigger becomes irrelevant. Perhaps you’ll learn not to carry a weapon of fear around any more. Probably not. It’s fear that’s keeping you alive, you think to yourself, even after it’s killed everything around you.

The Covid Diaries – Vol. 6 – Saluting Caesar


Day 21, Saturday, April 4 – Salad Sanity

You’re going to need a Caesar salad sometime during this shutdown, so you might as well learn how to make a proper one.

Like all things simple and exquisite, the difference between passable and preeminent is in the particulars.

This will not be your typical recipe. It will be an essay on salad excellence. Read carefully; go slowly. Forget everything you know or think you know about Caesar salads.

This is the only recipe you need. It hews closely to the original but is not note-for-note. When you’re done you will have a thing of beauty that can honestly said to be a real Caesar salad, not the lame imitations you get in 95% of the restaurants in America.

Step 1: Tear two heads of well-washed and dried Romaine lettuce leaves into a large wooden bowl

Image(It’s the wood that makes it good)

The leaves should be torn into large pieces. Anal retentive cooks remove the greens from the ribs, but the crunch of the ribs is really essential. The original Caesar was probably made from the smaller, firmer ribs in the center of the Romaine head. This is what Julia Child used in her “original” recipe in one of her early cookbooks. More recent video from Caesars Hotel in Tijuana show big-ass long flat leaves being used. (The salad in the video looks horrid, btw. More on this later.)

The problems with long flat leaves are too numerous to count. To begin with, they’re a bitch to eat. You have to cut them; dressing flies everywhere; you need a bib to enjoy yourself. Secondly, they eliminate all visual appeal —  it looks like is someone just threw long-ass lettuce leaves on your plate.

Many claim the original salad was made to be eaten with the fingers, hence the huge flat leaves being served today. This assertion doesn’t pass the smell test…unless you’re a lazy restaurateur trying to justify why you’re not bothering to tear lettuce leaves into edible sizes.

42 years of research have led to two conclusions: the “original” may have used much smaller, inner Romaine ribs, but by the 1950s, Alex Cardini (the inventor who named it after his brother Caesar), was telling people to tear the Romaine into large, bite-size pieces — the better to hold the dressing and thus, the piquancy which made the salad famous. Whatever they’re doing at Caesar’s restaurant looks more like cost-cutting than anything else.

The wooden bowl is essential. Don’t even think of using anything else.

If you don’t have a wooden salad bowl, any large one will do. Better too large than too small.

Step 2: Correct Croutons

Image(What does a great salad rest on? A crouton!)

Good croutons are as essential to a good Caesar as a toga or being knifed to death by sixty of your best friends.

There are several ways to make garlic croutons — dip already toasted cubes in garlic oil, fry the bread in garlic oil, or smear the bread with garlic paste, then toast it in the oven — but the horse’s mouth (Alex Cardini) was quoted in a 1976 cookbook (Entertaining With Wine – Ruth Ellen Church), as advocating toasting the large cubes of the bread, then dipping them in garlic oil, then spreading them with either anchovy paste or chopped anchovies. (Note: this is the only time in the “original” Caesar recipe that garlic and anchovies are mentioned.)

This same recipe mentions the croutons should be large, and about 4 per salad serving. It says nothing about just plopping a large slice of French bread on top of awkward-ass lettuce leaves.

To begin: slice some slightly-less-than-fresh French bread. (Good white sandwich bread can also be used.) You want your croutons crispy on the outside, with the barest hint of give and softness within. Hard-as-rock croutons are the sign of an amateur, or worse, store-bought. (Guilty admission: the person typing these words has used store-bought croutons on occasion. For this he is deeply ashamed.)

The croutons should be inch-to-inch-and-a-half rectangles, but don’t despair if they are irregular in shape. The main thing is, they shouldn’t be too small or big thick slices of lame-ass bread thrown on top of the salad.

Finely mince two fat garlic cloves. You do this by first smashing the cloves, then mincing them. Put them in the best, freshest olive oil you can afford (heated on low heat in a pan) for a couple of minutes, but be careful not to let them brown. Here’s where things get tricky. You can now lightly fry the bread in the garlic olive oil over low-moderate heat, but you have to watch it very carefully to make sure the garlic never gets past the barely-brown stage. This takes time and patience. An alternative method is to remove the garlic after it’s done its work perfuming the oil, and then fry the bread over higher heat without fear of burning the garlic. Or you can simply dip your toasted croutons in garlic oil (as noted above) and leave it at that.

Step 3: The Anchovy Question

Alex Cardini said each crouton should be spread with a schmear of anchovy paste. So does his granddaughter. Although she defaults to that big slice nonsense for croutons, and he is quoted as saying they should be smaller cubes or rectangles. However you like your bread-y salad accoutrements, we now agree they should have some anchovy paste on them. Or can we?

John Mariani, in his American Dictionary of Food and Drink says “no anchovies in the original” because Caesar Cardini disliked them (“argued against the inclusion of anchovies”), but that they “evolved” into the salad over time.

James Beard was such an anchovy aficionado he put 24(!) of them chopped into the dressing for a salad for six. Mexican food maven Diana Kennedy interviewed Alex Cardini Sr. (the brother who claimed he invented it) shortly before he died, and adds six of the little suckers to a garlic-anchovy paste to spread on the croutons.

These disputations have all the elements of a long-simmering family feud (akin to who was the Original Famous Ray?) to which you should brook no attempts to sway you to one camp or the other. Anchovies have indeed evolved into the recipe and are part of the salad today, no matter what history seems to argue.

When it comes to your salad, you will want to either do the schmear thing, or mash up a few of them in the bottom of the salad bowl, or do both. Some people like to strew a few on top of the salad. These persons are called enlightened, impeccable epicureans of the highest moral order.


Step #4 – Grate Expectations

Your cheese should be grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — the most expensive you can afford. You should grate it fresh on a box grater, on the smallest setting. (No microplaning! A Microplane cheese grater is great for some purposes — like grating cheese for melting —  but its wispy strands make cheese taste like air, denuding it of all pungency. If you microplane your cheese, you might as well go get a chicken Caesar at Applebee’s. Okay, not really, but there IS a taste difference, so get a good, old-fashioned box grater.)

Image(All dressed up and ready to dance on your tongue)

For variety and a little flair, you can also grate your cheese into shards or shingles to dress the top of the salad…because no one, ever, has complained that there was too much Parmesan cheese in a Caesar salad.

Step 5: Dressing Up


Limes not lemons. But lemons are fine. Great Caesars have pungency and citric bite. Do not skimp on the juice but don’t overdo it. Two juicy fruits should do for a salad for four, but have one in reserve just in case.

Mustard may be used at Caesar’s in Tijuana, but it’s another restaurant shortcut and a no-no . No recipe claiming to be the “original” lists it; it ruins the delicate balance of cheese, oil, acid and pepper, so don’t even think of it. Restaurants use it to ease the emulsion. The same ones who don’t like to tear their lettuce leaves.

Coddle two eggs. Some pugnacious purists claim they should be raw, but any home cook worth their salt knows a short, hot bath makes the yolks stickier, and stickier is what you seek.

Have a bottle of good old Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce at hand. A good healthy tablespoon-full adds immensely to the umami.

Be ready to grind on a butt-load of black pepper. And a few sprinkles of salt.

Step 6: Getting Your Salad Tossed

Image(Old Parm is the best Parm, but precious)

Now the fun starts. It’s easier than you think, but attention must be paid.

None of that bottom-of-the-bowl mixing shit here. What you seek is a layering of oil, eggs, juice, cheese and Worcestershire into an ethereal emulsion on the leaves themselves.

Making a big show of creating the dressing in the bottom of the bowl misses the whole point. Only through careful tossing of first the olive oil (to coat the leaves), then the egg (which thickens on the leaves with the oil), followed by the tang of citrus mixing with both of them, the Worcestershire adding a lagniappe of sweet-sour, topped off with top-shelf cheese and pepper sticking to the whole shebang.

It all comes together as you toss each individual ingredient upon the other. And toss you will for a full 30 seconds or so after each addition. The croutons can be thrown in before, during or after all the mixing starts, according to taste. When the cheese hits the thickly coated leaves, something magical takes place….and you can take a bow.

Once these techniques are mastered, never again will you be satisfied with a sub-par Caesar. For all but your salad, you will come to bury not to praise them. For, bear with me, this is an honorable Caesar; you all did love it once, not without cause, and my heart is in the coffin there with what restaurants have done to poor Caesar, and I must make my own till they come back to me.

Here is the recipe that started our Caesar salad quest 43 years ago. It’s a bit heavy on the garlic and the eggs (4 eggs for two heads of Romaine is absurd), and a bit light on the croutons, but the bones of a great one are in there:



The Covid Diaries – Vol. 4 – Eating Out While Rome Burns

Image(The Curbside Curmudgeon is not amused)

The week just past was a slog and a blur at the same time. It started (on Sunday) with abject despair. And ended with a glimmer of hope.

Day 10, Monday, March 23, Settling In:

He went to work today. He’s gone to work every day. Even with the generous leave being offered by the City (his employer) he’s going to go to work.

Work gives him something to do. It breaks the monotony of the day. Even if he does little but catch up on e-mails, it is time well spent. In the past seven work days his phone has rung exactly twice. Court appearances are now being done telephonically. Depositions are all being cancelled or pushed way back; deadlines are being extended left and right. Business has ground to a halt.

This will have far-reaching effects on the body politic, he thinks, and the fools have no idea what they’re doing to themselves.

He interacts with people at work the way he always has. They all think the shutdown is horseshit too, but no one can say it out-loud for fear of being shouted down by the (now galvanized) health mob.

He finds himself calling it the “lamestream media” as the torrent of overblown cases and melodramatic reporting washes over him every morning.

Sensible voices have been drowned out.

Sanity is always quieter than panic.

His neighbor offers some Spanish Iberico ham as a salve for boredom. He delivers it by coming in through the front door and running away after he drops it on the counter.

“C’mon in and have a drink!” (They are twenty feet away at the dining room table.)

“No way, distancing,” he calls out over his shoulder as he exits at a pace slightly slower than being chased by someone with a knife.

This is a young, smart guy who’s now acting like a fool. Such is what a herd mentality does to people.

The Food Gal® helps make some incendiary salsa. They eat it with chips and slivers of nutty, intense, mahogany-colored ham. This is their dinner. Neither of them has much of an appetite.

Day 11, Tuesday March 24, The Curbside Curmudgeon:

Image(The new awkwardness)

They want the fear to be immediate, even when everything about it seems so remote. There is so much discordant information. Just this morning a doctor tells everyone soothingly that “80% of people will recover with only mild symptoms.” Five minutes later there’s another talking head stating the virus has “overwhelmed” America. At this point it isn’t clear whether guy #2 is talking about actual infection, or the (self-imposed) destruction of the American economy.

If you watch the day-by-day national news, all they do is run a scoreboard of who has the virus and how many have died. Into this limited mix they toss in commentators talking about how the illness will soon be “sweeping the nation” — conveniently ignoring that 99.9% of Americans have been untouched by it. (The math is as follows: 133,000 cases divided by 330,000,000 million Americans equals  .04% of the American population – the number of folks documented as having had the illness. For you math retards, that’s 4 one-hundredths of 1%.)

To keep the math going, the number of dead from the virus as of this writing numbers approximately 2,400 people. Dividing that number by the total population gives you a death % of .0007% of Americans have died from the infection. (That is 7 ten-thousandth of 1% for you numbers-challenged folks.) For the last time: These are a far cry from the numbers used to start this slow-rolling horror show.

Remember 60% infected/3% dead? Conveniently for the gloom-and-doomers, no one else does either. They just want to keep the scoreboard going… as the press would rather stoke the flames than keep anything in perspective.

The whole thing reminds one of weather panic — the constant drumbeat of impending doom pounded day and night to keep you tuned in. The only difference is: when the hurricane or snow doesn’t show (or isn’t cataclysmic), everyone shrugs and moves on. The shrugging and the moving on won’t be so easy this time. As long as New York City remains our media capital, there will be no “fair and balanced” reporting of this disaster. He knows he’s beating this to death, but so is the media, so his critics can go fuck themselves.

The weather is cold and windy. Undeterred, they set out to Trés Cazuelas to show support for Angelo Reyes and his crew as they fight to stay alive.

He has a new moniker: Curbside Curmudgeon. It fits his mood. The cold breeze fights their dining al fresco scenario, but they persevere.

Reyes’ stews and salsas are next-level, and go great in small, fresh tortillas, even cold ones. Eating them outside is a race against the wind, but the chilly weather keeps the wine at the right temp, so there’s a silver lining in everything. This is also the best guacamole in Las Vegas, so the comfort food makes up for the cold:



Day 12, Wednesday March 25, Anne Frank Would Understand:

His oldest sister posts this meme that’s going around:,h_939,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg?fbclid=IwAR2ON0oE1WW0Kvu4IVW2ttDyhlTYbAy2lp5fdnG5wc8mgxMliRuvbcMdlHs

How true, but being stir-crazy isn’t the worst of this. The truly insidious thing is how any fear — stoked into a panic by government and media–  can empower people to police each other. “Police each other” meaning, in this context,  turning into the lowest, sniveling, holier-than-thou asshole — the type who gets great joy in telling the teacher on fellow students, turning someone into the HOA, or betraying a Jewish family to the Nazis.

Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Tell humans they have a right to tell others how to behave and a small-but-significant portion of them will take it upon themselves to act as judge, jury, and executioner to anyone they disagree with.

Marché Bacchus — which, you may recall, was the site of some wine buying last week — gets narc’d on by some do-gooder. “People were inside Marche Bacchus buying wine and sitting down!” she screamed to business licensing officials.  “Something must be done!”

Dutifully, the government officials appear to investigate; feathers are ruffled, but assurances given and the whole thing passes. Meanwhile, people are packing into Walmart, Costco, drug stores and supermarkets and no one says a thing. Government policy in action.

Later in the day, the City of Las Vegas, in a show of sanity,  announces liquor and wine stores can continue to sell their wares curbside.

The Gubenator’s office remains silent — apparently content with the thousands of strangers milling about supermarkets all over town.

Image(Coming up – one lonely cappuccino)

The day starts with a lonely cappuccino at PublicUs – sold at a take-out booth inside the front door. A young bloke takes your money turns around and makes the coffee. It is a splendid cappuccino, perhaps the best in town. There are two tiny tables left out front where it can be sipped and contemplated. These would no doubt greatly offend the Covid Gestapo.

The coffee costs, $4; he gives the kid a double sawbuck and tells him to keep it.


On the way back from coffee, he bumps into chef Donald Lemperle at VegeNation. Like many small operators, ⁦@VegeNation is keeping its doors open by having a single chef do all the work. Vegans are a loyal bunch,”  Lemperle tells him, “and they’re keeping me busy.” This brings a smile to both their faces.

The Food Gal® picks him up and they head to the far confines of Eastern Boulevard in Henderson for lunch. There is only one restaurant (indeed only one thing) that can get him to this whole, godforsaken area of the world: Saga Pastry + Sandwich. Of course we bring our own table and chairs (see pic at top of page)….and then we chow down on superb, sweet Arctic shrimp (tasting like a combination of crab and lobster) and a smorgasbord sando to beat the band.


They even squeeze in a little chat time with chef/owner Gert Kvalsund. This improves everyone’s mood, as does another cup of joe from Bad Owl in the same shopping center. When this is all over, he hopes people will more readily appreciate how much good sandwiches and cups of coffee can do to improve your mood.

But his biggest fear is just the opposite: that the only survivors of this self-inflicted apocalypse will be standardized food and corporate restaurants.

David Chang agrees with this dire prediction. Strange bedfellows indeed.