I wish I could tell you that everything is going to be great or even a teeny bit better. But I’m not an expert at the CDC, let alone a medical worker. What I can tell you is that no matter where we are, what we’re doing, we have to eat.
Food has the power to heal and support. It is also shared with friends and family during celebrations. We prepare food to rejoice a successful harvest. We eat and provide food during times of loss.
So it is no wonder that my initial reaction to our changing lives was to walk into the grocery store without a shopping list and wander the aisles trying to find meal inspiration among the empty shelves.
But here is a bit of a silver lining. Since that initial day of stocking up, I’ve noticed that groceries stores, while still barren of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, are refilling with meat orders and other necessities. In the meantime, my house is stocked up with treats for the kids to help their days of homeschooling and social distancing seem more tolerable because, let’s face it, pretzels dipped in Nutella heals all wounds. I’m also stocked with some basic shelf staples to keep me from having to make repeat trips to the grocery store.
As a self-proclaimed introvert, I’ve pretty much trained my whole life for this. So long days being able to read, relax, hang out with my family, watch endless movies while cooking and eating food all day long is a dream.
While this situation is far from good, it is worth noting that we can either sit and be sad and forlorn, or we can still control our environment. Because you can still go out and purchase groceries, try cooking something you’ve never tried before – quarantine cuisine.
Quarantine cuisine can be a positive thing. Have a highly intricate, multi-step, multi-ingredient monster of a recipe you’ve been wanting to try? There is no better time than now.
While you’re riding the make-the-best-of-a-bad-situation train, perhaps take the opportunity to show that sad college-bound high school senior how to cook some food other than ramen. Show them all the amazing meals they can make with just a toaster oven or microwave.
While you’re stirring that pot of “something,” you can FaceTime with elderly folks in your family and let them know how much you miss them. I’m sure your mom will appreciate the call while you’re making her traditional pasta sauce or a vat of your childhood chili.
Maybe you freaked out a bit and overdid it at the grocery store and your pantry looks like it can withstand a nuclear winter. Make a double-batch of soup or bolognese sauce, freeze some for later and box up the rest and deliver it to someone in your neighborhood who is homebound. Just make sure they know you are coming, ring the doorbell and then leave it on the porch.
Food has a magical quality that can connect all of us. I find myself posting photos of my meals on social media every night and if it is a particularly good recipe, I share it.
So back to the day that I went shopping when the shelves were pretty much bare. There was nary a roll of toilet paper let alone a boneless chicken thigh. I managed to find a lot of junk food but then figured, well, rice and beans, perhaps those are still available. And thankfully they weren’t too picked over. So I picked dried navy beans because one of my favorite food writers, Faith Durand, editor of The Kitchn, posted a recipe in December that I’ve been hoarding for the perfect time. Now is as good as ever. I don’t have everything to make this soup, but that is what makes soup so great, it is forgiving. It can also be made in a crockpot so that my house can smell delicious and comforting while I help homeschool and play games with my kids.
I haven’t tried it yet, but give it a go and let me know how it comes out.
White bean and maple bacon soup (serves 8)
1 pound dried white beans
1 ham hock
8 cups chicken broth
7 oz thick-cut maple bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 oz ham, diced
4 stems thyme
Soak beans overnight, then drain. In the pot add ham hock and chicken broth and bring to boil. Lower to simmer, partially cover and cook 1-2 hours until beans are tender. Remove ham hock. While beans are cooking, cook bacon in a Dutch oven 7-10 minutes until fat renders and bacon is crispy. Add the onion, red pepper, carrots, celery and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and saute 10 minutes until soft. Add ham and thyme. When beans are soft, mash or puree 2 cups of beans and add to the pot with bacon mixture. Pour rest of broth and beans in and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or longer. At the end, add lemon zest, juice and parsley. It improves overnight and lasts five days in the fridge and freezes well.
Lisa Sweet writes about food for the Leavenworth Times.