cooking in quarantine and beyond

There’s not much I can say about this year that hasn’t already been said. It almost feels like a fever dream, and I’ve avoided writing in this space because it’s impossible to adequately capture. Going on four months of quarantine, each day feels both the same and different, one blending into the next as I attempt to take stock of my mental state that particular morning, afternoon, middle of the night toss-and-turn.

I cannot exaggerate when I say this time has made me question all of my life decisions. A lot of soul confronting conversations with me, myself, and I. But before I get too heavy (too late?), I’ll share one good, soul nourishing habit (they exist, I promise) I’ve adopted and will continue to practice as we claw wade our way out of this. It’s simple really. Home cooking.

Can I confess that we have not ordered take-out the entirety of this quarantine? Since March 9, we have prepared every single meal, snack, dessert, coffee, and cocktail from our humble kitchen. I think we’re the last people on Earth who have yet to throw that five millionth dirty dish in the sink and call it quits (In-N-Out, our last meal, if you’re curious). Did I mention that the only dishwasher we have is our own two hands?

Before, oh before, I had the time to cook. But as with most things, it was too easy to make the excuse, to take the “easy” route of picking up food-to-go, neglecting our fridge and our savings. And as with many things, we often don’t perform unless we are called to do so.

Well, Quarantine, the kitchen was calling.

Sure, some days I can’t lift another spatula or scrub another dried egg yolk, and on those days it’s popping a frozen pizza into the oven or melting cheese on…anything. But most days, since I have nowhere else to be, my time in the kitchen gets to just be. There is no agenda of squeezing in the cooking time and the eating time before the next commitment. There is no rushing home, ravenous, unable to manage the stomach growls a moment longer. We have been given this gift of time to slow (yes, a verb).

I’m intentional about what I prepare, how to best use what we have and how to not lay waste. I’m being introduced to new favorites and new, old favorites and oh – this one little ingredient makes the world of difference! I have 4 hours to let the Bolognese simmer; I’ve never made it before! That lemon poppy seed cake – who know it was so simple, so pretty…I’ve never purchased poppy seeds! I’m practicing gratitude for a full fridge and recognizing how in the before, something as commonplace as quick pops to the market were taken for granted.

Every meal is not a dramatic performance. I’m making many of the same meals, but I now know what goes into them. I can listen to a record and slowly chop with a glass of wine, or I can toss a quick sauté with the best of them.

Need some inspiration, some go-tos that don’t require an expert hand? Simple tweaks and suggestions for leftovers?

  • turkey tacos, why had I abandoned them so long ago? I use this simple seasoning recipe with a can of diced tomatoes, chopped onion, and black beans in warmed corn tortillas. This has been on constant rotation, and one morning I tossed leftovers with beaten eggs and salsa for a breakfast variety that was equally as tasty.
  • the endless possibility of a sandwich, with pesto. That one little ingredient, this is it. My favorite is alongside bacon, tomato, and brie. Or how about turkey, tomato, and muenster? Just don’t forget the pesto (or the toasted bagel, which is preferable). On that note, throw fresh tomato on…anything.
  • speaking of bagels, and sandwiches, the art that is the breakfast sandwich cannot be dismissed. An over-easy egg, guacamole (or avocado spread), shredded cheese.
  • pasta is a staple, but here is the best way to cook it: pour a lot of salt, too much salt really, into the boiling water, save some of the drained pasta water to splash back onto the cooked noodles, and melt a tablespoon of butter atop before mixing in the remaining ingredients. Never cooking pasta any other way again. Try this Bolognese while Vivaldi plays the soundtrack of your evening.
  • I’ve never eaten so many corn tortillas – or been as happy about it. Muenster is the only cheese that should fill your quesadilla – let it burn a bit and caramelize. Quesadillas are wonderful vessels for those leftover veggies, deli meat, bacon, and you guessed it…tomatoes.
  • quiche feels fancy but so easy, really, to enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I follow this veggie recipe sans most of the cheese.
  • this lemon poppy seed cake looks and taste like you picked it up from your local bakery, but so simple, you must bake it yourself.
  • I’m losing count of how many chocolate chip cookies I’ve baked – this is the only recipe you’ll ever need.
  • Aperol Spritz has become my drink of quarantine, 2020, and beyond. 3 oz Aperol, 3 oz prosecco, + a splash of soda water for an apertivo that’s refreshing, not too sweet, and makes me believe there is hope left in this world yet. A board of cheeses, preserves, and salami is a wonderfully indulgent snack in which to pair.

What’s keeping you inspired sane inspired in the kitchen? Seems like we’ll be spending a lot more time in there.

-wonderland sam

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actress/texan kickin' it in los angeles. always searching for my next pizza. cia agent in another life.

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