in the pandemic kitchen

Many people are discovering cooking and baking from scratch during these past weeks of sheltering at home and less frequent trips to the store. The demand for basic ingredients has been so high that is still difficult to reliably find flour, yeast, sugar, milk, and eggs. There are lots of stories of people learning to make sourdough bread and to concoct meals with what they have on hand. Some people, who had always bought already-prepared meals or restaurant food, are finding out that they enjoy making their own dishes and baked goods and even find it relaxing.

At our house, we were accustomed to doing our own cooking and baking, although some things have changed. I’m definitely being more intentional with meal planning, both to make sure I have the ingredients on hand and to accommodate everyone’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before B began working at home, he often ate lunch with friends; now, I try to have leftovers or some other options available for him.

Another thing that is different is that B is doing more cooking and baking. He actually enjoys kitchen work more than I do and finds it fun to make recipes that are more involved. I make bread in the bread machine; he recently made an apricot-raisin bread that took three days to make. He tends to wake up early and frequently makes breakfast treats – muffins, scones, even Chelsea buns. He does all the family grilling and has several special dishes that he prepares, including chicken marsala and Nana’s lasagna. I tend to make more old-style recipes, like meatloaf, pot roast, and soups.

Some people are also discovering things like pickling and making stock, things that I learned from my mom when I was growing up in rural New England. Of course, if you had a turkey, you would make stock from the carcass. Back then, it was considered frugal; now, it’s about better utilization of resources. I will admit, though, that now I will make a small batch of refrigerator bread-and-better pickles, rather than the dozens of jars we used to make and process in Ball jars and hot-water bath when cucumbers were in season. The pickles are still very tasty!

In some ways, my freezer and pantry resemble the ones from my childhood much more now than they used to. Because our house growing up was twenty miles from the nearest grocery store and there was a big chunk of the year when you had to worry about snow and ice on the road, we always had a stock of shelf-stable and frozen foods on hand. Now, in case we need to quarantine, I have followed the recommendation to have at least two weeks of food on hand, plus what we need to eat for at least a week or more so that grocery shopping would only happen every one to two weeks. Fortunately, I did this before the panic buying set in. A hundred days into the pandemic restrictions here in our part of upstate New York, our food distribution system has still not stabilized. Supply of some staples is spotty and a few things have been impossible to find for weeks. For example, I finally had to order a pound of yeast online in April; two months later, I still have not seen any in stores. My latest shopping triumph was finding quick-cooking tapioca, important this time of year for thickening strawberry-rhubarb and peach pies.

I’m not sure how long our current pattern of cooking, baking, and eating will persist. We have been ordering carryout from some of our favorite local restaurants, hoping to keep them going. Now that our area is in stage two of re-opening, outdoor dining is allowed, but not many restaurants here are set up for that. In a later phase, restaurants will be allowed to re-open indoor space, but probably only at 25-50% capacity. I’m guessing that we may still order carry-out rather than trying to dine-in.

The other wild card in all this is not knowing how long B will be working from home. If/when he needs to go back to the office, his return home in the evening will be too unpredictable for him to make weeknight dinners, so I will be back to more solo cooking. I had done that for years, so, of course, I can do it again, but I’ll miss having B here. Maybe it is a preview of his eventual retirement…

Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

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