I don’t fancy myself much of a cook. More like a utilitarian mealtime facilitator. I can throw together enough calories to satisfy my crew, but it often subsists of frozen ravioli or dehydrated mashed potatoes. Cereal. String cheese. PB&J.
My standard grocery list is packed with ready-made crutches to keep our bellies quiet. Or at least it used to be. Strangely, this week I found myself piecing together cheese-and-onion pasties from scratch for a weekday lunch (blame The Great British Baking Show).
I used to be an uninspired cook, that has changed
Another night, I hand-rolled sushi, and not just one but five unique varieties served alongside steamed edamame and crisp, sesame-glazed tofu.
Right now I have chili in the crockpot, as I actively ignore the canned variety of the same exact food, collecting dust in the cupboard. I whipped up waffles topped with strawberries and cream for breakfast today while freezer burn advances on my Eggos.
My goodness, who have I become?
As we’ve endured an entire pandemic year, with schools shut down, remote-work extended indefinitely, spring break canceled for a second time and summer a huge question mark. As we’ve overcome fear and sadness and stress. I’m over here planning out which cake I’m going to bake in celebration of my dog’s birthday.
In this strange year, the kitchen was comforting
But that’s exactly why. In a year marked by weirdness and uncertainty, there’s something comforting about my mother-in-law’s cursive handwriting telling me the sweetened condensed milk for her homemade turtles must be Eagle Brand and Eagle Brand only, with multiple exclamation marks and underlined three times.
There’s something soothing about how Prue always extends a nice word, even if one of her apprentice bakers presents a sponge that’s truly inedible.
There’s something about the gratitude in my husband’s eyes when I fry up potatoes for a toasty lunch on a crisp day, instead of the usual rushed sandwich between meetings. Or when my teen serves himself a thick piece of cheesecake to celebrate the end of another online Spanish quiz after 6 hours in front of his Chromebook. Or my high schooler actually complements the Brussel sprouts (crusted with garlic, drizzled with balsamic-lime dressing) I served with dinner.
I can tell you, I sure never spent two hours making dinner before. Well, before now.
As we emerge from the heartbreak that’s lasted an entire year, well, if a mug of warm cider and an oatmeal-cranberry cookie (with a little ginger, orange zest and a handful of cashews) can give us a sliver of contentment, isn’t it worth it?
There’s so very little that feels within our control. Besides scrubbing our hands with antibacterial soap and wiping down the countertops with Clorox and our phones with alcohol. Besides hunkering in just a little bit longer and reassuring our kids it won’t last forever. That they will, indeed, see their grandparents and cousins again, not to mention their classmates.
I can’t determine when in-personal school will start again. I can’t make the internet run faster or even (despite my best efforts) that math assignment any easier. Some days, it’s hard for me to sleep and even harder to concentrate.
There’s a lot I can’t do, but preparing delicious meals is something I can do
But you know what I can do? Brush up a flour and butter roux, whisking in milk and watching it boil, then dribble in hand-shredded extra-sharp cheddar, and repeat, and repeat, until it creates a delectable sauce for an oven-baked mac-in-cheese topped with panko breadcrumbs that Kraft couldn’t hold a candle to.
So much about this pandemic plain sucks. The uncertainty. The dread. The helplessness. The stress behind closed doors as we will ourselves to put a brave face on for our loved ones.
Maybe it’s my longing for control. Or my need to do something, anything, with my hands. Maybe it’s a hunger for simpler times surrounded by loud, extended family, scrunched around card tables with paper plates and three kinds of pie, nudging each other for elbow room.
To be honest, sometimes I just want to hide under the covers. Or crawl into a hole. But, for the sake of my husband and children, I’m not going to do that. I can’t. So instead, I’ll tuck into this gooey, cheesy casserole. And we’ll have to call it close enough.