When I think about writing about cooking in the age of COVID-19, I realized this could go in many directions. For example, I could write about the challenges of grocery shopping, a subject that could be the basis for several blogs and/or commentaries (essential workers and suppliers that have kept groceries available and stores open, grocery shopping etiquette, curbside vs. going in person vs. delivery, rows of empty shelves versus items in ample supply, how to shop when we are eating every meal at home, how not to panic and over shop (i.e., hoard), and readjusting the food budget, just to name a few). I could write about meal planning and recipe ideas when one is cooking every meal at home, or the balance of working from home and being the main meal provider in the family. Or I could write about what I’ve learned about cooking in the age of COVID-19. I decided to go with that one.
Lesson #1: Cook, shop or provide food for others. If you are lucky enough to do this, you already know how meaningful it is and that we must keep doing it. There are endless ways to give and share with others, whether picking up something from the grocery store for a family member or neighbor, delivering a homemade dinner or dessert to a friend who lives alone, bringing canned goods or household items to a family or co-worker who is struggling, sharing our extras with others, donating to food banks the extra money normally spent on gas are just a few. Food is essential to the body and soul.
Lesson #2: Make core items that will get you and your family through the week. The Miller household is eating A LOT of leftovers. At the start of each week and with the intention of lasting the entire week, I make beans (the type varies each week), brown rice, pickled vegetable (depending on what is in-season and available at the farmers market), hard-boiled eggs, broth (from cooking beans), hummus or similar dip, homemade bread, oat milk or almond milk, fruit dessert (usually a crumble), salad mix (washed and diced raw veggies), salad dressing, coffee and sparkling water. Early days of COVID-19, when I first started working from home, I realized the value of having these specific core items for a quick lunch, snack and for meal times. For each household, their “core items” will be different. For the Miller household the above list was a process of seeing which ones were still in jars at the end of the week!
Lesson #3: #LEFTOVERS. As mentioned above, team #Miller is team #leftovers. Working long days (and seemingly working longer than before even without the driving commute time to the office), I am making meals that we like and will be ok eating for at least two meals, hopefully three, and four would be better yet! I am repurposing as much as possible because the item might not be easily replaceable. So, I toss the leftover celery leaves into the bean broth, make croutons or bread crumbs from the last piece of bread, and put the few remaining beans into the blender with a fruit smoothie. Some leftovers actually improve in the refrigerator overnight, such as lasagna, chili, soups, tuna cakes, and homemade farmers cheese.
Lesson #4: Have something special at each meal. With leftovers as our mainstay, I make sure there is something special or extra at every meal. This can be a dollop of imported yoghurt or Greek olives, a salad I made with organic microgreens purchased from one of our favorite farmers at the farmers market. Or some potato chips or pretzels with homemade salsa. A slice of toasted pumpernickel bread made by a local bakery that is selling curbside, or falafel made by a local restaurant doing an online market, or a glass of sangria from a local Basque-style restaurant that sells cocktails to-go and wines from their wine cellar. Herbs or early vegetable arrivals from our garden or a beer from a local brewery. Something to remind us that each day and each meal is unique, special and not to be taken for granted. One might even say a luxury.
Lesson #5: Plan several days out. Cooking for a family is like a dance. It takes all of one’s creative muscles. One must be agile and on one’s toes, thinking of next steps, and not just for the next dance but several dances ahead. Juggling the needs of others one will cook for, and making sure the overall health of the dancers is maintained to the highest level. One must be both the dancer and choreographer and be in-step with other dancers and the audience too. This dance means requires making dozens of decisions, including what do we have that will work and for what meals or snacks throughout the day, how do we not repeat what we have had recently, how do we keep it healthy and balance limited refrigerator and pantry space like a professional, does this recipe require a trip to grocery store, if yes, can we use a substitute, how will it look on the plate, will it be pleasing and comforting food that the whole household will want to eat, will there be enough for seconds, and if not, what is our Plan B, and will it take the last of precious resources that we might not be able to easily replace?
Lesson #6: Shop with intention: Where possible, buy local, support local communities, farmers, growers, food producers and food artisans. Support restaurants that have switched to online markets, and buy carryout from treasured restaurants, even if just one meal a week. Restrictions determined by local governments will vary but within those boundaries, we can do this even in the age of COVID-19.
These are the lessons I have learned so far. What lessons have you learned about cooking in the age of COVID-19? I wonder what I will have learned when age of COVID-19 is behind us. I cannot even imagine.
Pixie Miller, May 2020