Diary of My Coronavirus Cruise

I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee on the morning of March 5, 2020 when the cruise ship The Grand Princess came across the screen.  Somehow, I knew that was the ship my friends, Judy Vidack and Theresa Hopkins, were aboard.  The report said a passenger on the ship on a cruise to Mexico prior to their Hawaii cruise had tested positive for Coronavirus, so they were going to do testing on the ship.  By noon that day, the passengers were sequestered in their rooms and a Coast Guard helicopter was delivering testing supplies.  By the following day, they knew that 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for the virus.

The following diary was written by Judy when she gratefully returned home.

Diary of My Coronavirus Cruise

by Judy Vidack

February 21, 2020:  We boarded the ship about 3:00 p.m. at port in San Francisco.  We had left the Gallatin Field that morning in snowy 10-degree weather.  We soaked up the California sunshine and enjoyed the blooming trees and promise of spring as we shoved off on our fifteen-day cruise of four Hawaiian Islands.


February 22 – 26:  We are at sea and have met two charming ladies from the lake country of England who are delightful shipmates.  On our days at sea, we played trivia at a lounge and enjoyed other ship activities and entertainment.  Our dinner companions were mostly former educators with whom we had a lot in common.  We had the late seating which grew later each evening as we bonded with each other.


February 26 – 29:  We are cruising the islands.  We take shore excursions during the day and cruise at night.  The highlight of our shore excursions was touring the S.S. Arizona in Honolulu.  We are having a marvelous time.


March 4:  We have heard from the news on television in our rooms that the ship may have been exposed to the Coronavirus.  We noticed at lunch that there was nothing on the tables.  If you wanted salt, they would sprinkle salt out of a cup on your food, so I quit using salt which is something doctors have been trying to get me to do for years.


March 5:  After lunch, they announced that we are to be confined in our rooms.  We stayed in our small inside cabin for the next week.  Obviously, the ship was built before social distancing became the new normal.  I felt like I was trapped in a bad sci-fi movie.  The loudspeaker barked minimal information occasionally and there was no way to ask questions or respond.  The crew delivered our meals, but they could not cross the threshold of the rooms, and they knew nothing more than we did.

The food started out being as amazing as usual.  A standard breakfast included pancakes, bacon, eggs, potatoes, cereal, milk, a fruit plate, yogurt, a sweet roll, and three dinner rolls with butter and jam.  Unfortunately, with each meal, the quality and quantity declined.  We had enough food to eat, but it was not standard cruise cuisine, and I really missed the ice sculptures.


March 9:  We finally docked in Oakland.  We have been asked to pack all our luggage except one small travel bag, and that is the last I have seen of my luggage even yet.  Our bag with one change of clothes was insufficient for the next three days.  Looking back now, it was good practice for my next 14 days of self-quarantining.

We are starting to get very anxious and depressed.  Finally, after seven days in our shoe box sized room, I contacted Governor Bullock’s and Senator Testor’s offices.  Simultaneously, my cousin Bobbi Menge called the cruise line and said, “I am tired of this.  These women are 72 years old and they are trapped in your ship.  You get them off of there.”  Coincidence or not, we were disembarking within an hour.


March 12:  We flew all night and arrived at Dobbins Air Base in Marietta, Georgia on Friday the 13th.  Our two-bedroom suite looked like heaven with windows and limited freedom to go out into the courtyard.  We were quarantined there for the weekend.  We received a phone call from the Governor’s office telling us to be ready to fly home on Sunday morning.  We boarded a chartered plane with 28 passengers from Montana and Utah.  We flew into Helena where we were finally tested upon arrival.  Two members of the Montana National Guard drove me to my door where I have stayed quarantined until I will be released on March 29.


March 17:  I had a great Saint Patrick’s Day because I will always remember it was the day I found I had tested negative for the Coronavirus.  I am grateful that I live in Montana where our government officials care about us as individuals and respond to our needs.  I had talked to passengers from other states who had no luck contacting their government officials.

The military personnel in Georgia and Montana treated us remarkably well.  The people of Big Timber have been wonderful supporting me in my quarantine and welcoming me back.  I have received messages from students I have not seen since they were in my fourth-grade classroom.

The bright spot in all of this is that our cruise was free, and they have offered us another free cruise.  Perhaps at my age, I will succumb to dementia and take them up on that offer at a much later date?  I do know I will spring for a cabin with a balcony no matter what the upgrade costs.

I think more people are cooking at home now than ever in the last twenty years.  We will all come out of this Coronavirus quarantine as foodies and perhaps a bit chunkier.  My featured cook this week is former Western Ag Reporter editor, Linda Grosskopf, who lives on the family ranch near Huntley, Montana.  Linda notes that this shrimp pasta dish is not made with cream, but it is so good no one will notice.  Thanks, Linda!


Shrimp Pasta

12 oz. linguine pasta (dry weight)
1/2 C. reserved pasta water
2 T. olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 yellow onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced brown mushrooms
1 lb. fresh shrimp without shells, washed and deveined
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
1 t. mild paprika (or smokey)
salt to taste
8 oz. cream cheese (low fat or fat free work fine)
2 C. milk
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 C. light Mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 T. fresh chopped parsley to garnish

Cook pasta according to package instructions in a pot of salted boiling water.  Drain and rinse, reserving 1/2 C. of the pasta water.  Set aside.

While pasta is boiling, heat a large frying pan on medium heat.  Add 1 T. olive oil and fry half the garlic for 30 seconds, add onions and continue sautéing until soft.  Add the mushrooms and fry until browned, stirring occasionally.  Stir 1 to 2 T. water through mushrooms and cook for one minute to create a beautiful brown gravy.  Transfer mushrooms to a plate and set aside.  Keep liquid in the pan.

In the same pan, add remaining oil.  Sauté remaining garlic until fragrant.  Add the shrimp and cook until they just begin to change color.  Add the pepper flakes, paprika, and salt.  Cook while occasionally stirring for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add mushrooms, stirring them through the flavors.  Put mixture on plate.

In the skillet, add the cream cheese and milk.  Bring to a simmer while stirring.  Lumps will turn creamy.  Simmer 5 minutes before adding cheeses.  Once the cheese melted, taste and season as needed.  Add the shrimp/mushroom mix into the sauce and stir for 2 minutes on low heat.  Add reserved pasta water 1/4 cup at a time only if needed to reach the desired sauce consistency.  Serve over linguine and garnish with parsley.

Amish Sweet Bread

2 C. water
2/3 C. sugar
1 ½ T. active dry yeast
1 ½ t. salt
1/4 C. vegetable oil
5 ½ to 6 C. all-purpose flour

Heat 2 cups of water to 110℉.  If you don’t have a thermometer try this tip, it works every time: Heat up 1/2 cup of water in a microwave safe bowl for one minute.  This will boil the water.  Then add tap water from the faucet until you reach 2 cups of water.  

Add the sugar to the water you just heated and stir it.  Mix oil and salt into the yeast liquid.  Slowly add one cup of flour at a time to this yeast mixture.  You might not use all of the flour.  It depends on how wet the dough is towards the end.  You want to get to a good, non-sticky dough consistency and it will form a ball.

Once the dough forms a ball, you will need to knead the dough for about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle the surface with flour before you begin.  When you feel the dough get sticky, sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough as you are kneading it.  When this process is over, you should be able to lift a small piece of the dough without it tearing.

Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking oil and place the dough into the bowl.  Cover this bowl with a damp towel.  Let rise for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.  Punch the middle part of the dough and pull the dough from the sides of the bowl.  Split the dough into two equal parts and place them in a greased loaf pan.  Shape them into the size of your pan.

Let loaves sit uncovered for another 30 minutes to rise again.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Pull-apart Pigs in a Blanket

two 8 oz. tubes refrigerated crescent roll dough
2 T. Dijon mustard
12 oz. pkg. cocktail franks
1 large egg
1 T. water
1 T. caraway seeds, optional

Line baking pan or pizza pan with parchment.  Unroll dough and brush with mustard.  Cut each triangle in half to create two triangles.  Place one frank on wide end of each triangle.  Roll up and place on parchment.

To make a party arrangement, place first two franks at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock.  Repeat with remaining franks, arranging in two concentric circles one inside the other.  Make sure the dough touches on both sides.

Beat egg with 1 T. water and brush over dough.  Sprinkle with caraway seeds if desired.  Bake until golden brown at 375 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes.  Serve with mustard.


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