Last night was my fiftieth dinner in Dallas—a record I hope I never break. After seven long weeks in almost complete isolation, I am ready to get home. I have cleaned out the refrigerator and organized my papers, including a fat file full of new recipes and menus. What have I accomplished? What have I learned?
I said at the beginning that we each need to be sure we include a moment of joy each day and we each need to develop a new skill or hobby, reach a goal, complete a project—something that will give us a sense of accomplishment when we look back on this period in the months and years to come. I have done that. I have learned to Zoom—I can even host a meeting—and I have gained skill in sheet-pan cooking.
Cooking filled my days, occupied my mind and helped me keep my sanity. It was a welcome, creative diversion from the mundane tasks of cleaning and washing, but it wasn’t enough to supply the joy I needed to keep me going. That came from the phone calls, FaceTime and Zoom time with family and friends; and I tried to include at least one personal contact every day. I even made a dent in the piles of papers, though long overdue thank-you notes are still unwritten.
It took me weeks to acquire focus and settle into a routine. Making Sunday special with virtual worship, a special meal and a more leisurely day gave me an order and structure to my weeks, and it made me more productive on the other six days.
I learned that cooking in quarantine conditions is not anything like normal conditions. Breakfast was the only thing that didn’t change. I still cooked an egg and incorporated a breakfast meat and vegetables or beans in some way every day, but what I discovered I couldn’t do was cook three healthy, balanced meals a day. That first week I cooked constantly, and I accumulated both leftovers and resources for future meals, like crumbled hamburger and sausage meat.
At home, multi-grain bread is usually the only carb in the kitchen and a loaf lasts two weeks. I almost never cook potatoes, and the only snack I allow myself is nuts. That changed. I bought deli ham and pimiento cheese for sandwiches. Soon I added crackers and peanut butter and Cracker Barrel cheese. My grandson brought me a container of chocolate-covered caramel balls, and I found myself reaching for them every day. I drank more coffee and filled my nightly glass of wine fuller.
Some of the quantities I consumed amaze me: a tall bottle of olive oil, a jar and a half of country mustard, four bags of cabbage (which I had never in my life cooked before), three bags of fingerling potatoes, six boxes of spinach and cherry tomatoes and five cartons of baby bella mushrooms. Three packages of Italian sausage, two pounds of bacon, five dozen eggs, a pound of butter, three sacks of Trader Joe’s frozen sweet potato fries and three jars of Pace’s picante sauce. I rarely roast meat for one at home, but I roasted brisket, pork loan, beef tender, ham and at least a dozen chicken thighs.
Now I’m heading home, where I am eager to see friends and family again in carefully controlled circumstances. Chapter 2 of my coronavirus cookbook will be appetizers to serve without touching. Help me think of all the small bites I can bake on a cookie sheet. I might even serve directly from the cookie sheets—stuffed mushrooms, flautas and empanadas, miniature quiches. What else?
And Chapter 3 will be post-coronavirus dieting.
May 7, 2020
Just curious: How has your cooking changed?
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About the author:
Ella Wall Prichard blogs and posts on social media about her travel, food, cooking, gardening and life in general as a single. She is author of Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, published in 2018 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, and co-editor of the top-selling Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas, first published in 1973 by the Junior League of Corpus Christi.