Cooking through crisis

Be honest: do you wake up every morning thinking about dinner? I do. Admittedly, I did this long before the pandemic, too, but the intensity of my anticipation has heightened with every passing day of physical distancing, and I know I am not the only one whose interest in food has increased, perhaps even to the point of obsession.

Food, after all, is comforting and, right now, many of us are feeling a certain lack of comfort. We may be anxious about our own health or that of family members or friends; apprehensive about what lies ahead; uncertain about how long we will be living as we are now or just sick and tired of being at home all the time.

And then — ahhh — we think about dinner, and it seems possible to crawl out of bed and get on with the day, at least one more time.

Preparing food and sharing it with a crowd — big or small — around the dining room table has always been important to me. Before the pandemic, we would generally have people over for dinner a couple of times a week; more if I was not on the road with work.

Downsizing to two

Stuck at home as I have been over the past weeks has brought both opportunities and challenges in the cooking department. I have not been at home for this many days (well, weeks) in a row for many years, so I am really enjoying the chance to cook every day. It is the perfect antidote to the emotional stress that my work can cause, so it is how I decompress at the end of the day.

It’s not just the cooking; it’s the planning and the grocery shopping, too. What is a mundane task in normal times has taken on new significance these days. For many of us, it has become our only chance to interact in person with anyone other than our housemate(s).

But, cooking only for two is a struggle for a social cook like me. I keep cooking as though people are about to appear looking for a meal and, as a result, our freezer is bursting at the seams with leftover soups, stews, casseroles and the delicious blue cheese mac and cheese my partner made last week.

A different approach

I am not the only one spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about, preparing and then eating food. A colleague told me recently that she has cooked more meals in the past five weeks than in her entire life. Several friends are making bread for the first time. My grandson, who loves to cook, made his first beef jerky a couple of weeks ago. And everyone I know talks about food a lot right now.

Professional cooks and chefs, without restaurants to cook in, are getting creative, too. Jamie Oliver, long a food activist, has put together a new show called Keep Cooking and Carry On, to encourage people to cook with what they already have on their shelves and in their refrigerators. Oliver’s skill has always been demystifying and normalizing cooking and, in the one episode I watched, that seems to be his theme once again. His kids and partner wandered through the kitchen as he talked and cooked, adding comments and helping with the meal preparation, making everything he was preparing seem easy to achieve even for someone with limited skills and equipment.

Toronto chef Devan Rajkumar has a keen following on Instagram for his quarantine cooking, which focuses on creating tasty meals out of ingredients people already have in their kitchens:

“I want to inspire people to expand their skills while they’re at home right now and dig a little bit deeper if cooking has intimidated them in the past.”

And then there is the end of day cocktail

I am not usually a daily imbiber of alcohol. In fact, I have, twice in my life, gone for many years without drinking any alcohol at all. I now enjoy a cocktail – usually a very dry martini; occasionally a couple of shots of tequila with a bit of freshly squeezed lime juice, so I can pretend I am still in San Miguel – at the end of every day.

We have begun to venture into fancier drinks, too. Ina Garten’s cosmopolitan recipe looked appealing, so we made a batch one day. As she says:

“I like to make a lot of cosmos. You never know who’s going to stop by. Wait a minute, nobody is stopping by . . . During a crisis, cocktail hour can be almost any hour.”

A friend recently sent a recipe for whiskey sour that replaced the simple syrup with limoncello. We had a bottle that had been kicking around in the liquor cabinet for more than a few years as well as a bottle of craft bourbon that had never been opened – voila! A very tasty cocktail, indeed.

When the only person you have to talk to over cocktails, however interesting they are and however much you like them, is the person you have been with all day long, for weeks on end, a cocktail or two certainly helps conversations that can otherwise run a bit thin. Feel free to send along recipes for your favourite COVID-19 cocktail; preferably before the end of the day.

It’s Friday, after all.

One thought on “Cooking through crisis

  1. Here are some cocktail suggestions from readers who sent them to me directly:

    Margaritas: equal parts tequila, triple sec and freshly squeezed lime juice with simple syrup to taste

    Pandemic special: Lillet, gin, freshly squeezed lime juice (lots) and a bit of soda water (no proportions provided)

    Bohemian Rhapsody: absinthe, coconut milk, fresh orange juice and pistachios

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