My Coronavirus Cooking

Photo credit: Phillipa Stanton
I love to cook.  It will come as no surprise to most readers that my response to the suspension of ordinary life in the face of a public health emergency is to retreat to the kitchen and to experience and process this moment through and with food.  Over the next few weeks (or months,) I will be posting images of what I am cooking along with a short reflection on how the food relates to what is happening in my head and in the world. Am I fiddling while Rome burns?  Yes, of course.  I know this.  It is human, though, to try to retain control in spheres where we can, and to nourish ourselves and our loved ones......

The posts are in chronological order, with the most recent post appearing first.  It got difficult to continue to update this, so it is pretty dated.

 AUGUST 3, 2020
Fresh Fruit Tarts
Three months gone.  Just like that.  For all of that time, my energy around cooking, baking and writing was focused on Historians Cooking the Past, a virtual kitchen where people from all over the world shared recipes, memories and stories about how the coronavirus and the challenges of living with COVID-19 shaped their relationships with time, with loved ones, with cooking.  It was a lot of fun and I am so glad I got to be on the editorial team. It meant that, while I was still busy in my own kitchen,  I was less careful about posting and reflecting.  We're on hiatus with HCP, and so I am back.  I used the Joy of Cooking gallette crust recipe and patisserie cream from this blogger.  The blueberries we picked ourselves and the peaches and raspberries are local.  Not bad for my return! The coronavirus never went away but we've had a quiet couple of months in Massachusetts, with our cases dropping until recently.  They are on the rise again, and having come close to the virus and seen its effects on people I care about, I am more anxious and more cautious.  Also, I am tired.  Really really tired.  Swimming in the Green River and working slowly and steadily are the rhythms that keep me kind of calm and steady.

MAY 6, 2020
Brioche Breadmaking with my Student
 My public history students had the option to contribute to Historians Cooking the Past. Generally, this has been awesome and I am really proud of their work. One student's dad is French, and a professional baker and so they decided to bake brioche from his home region in Alsace. I wanted in on the action, so we Facetimed through a baking adventure.  Humbling and a little stressful but so much fun and even though I shorted the yeast, eventually, three lovely loaves emerged!  I don't feel Pollyanna-ish in general about the pandemic and I would say my anxiety levels have increased rather than decreased over the past 7 weeks.  But some of the teaching has been beautiful, fun and memorable.  A shared catastrople is in some ways an equalizer and there has been something really important about getting away from the dynamics of the classroom.  There are 70,000 cases in Massachusetts now.  The curve is flat, 1800 new cases yesterday.  As the weather improves and people's commitment to social distance falters, the case numbers may go up again.

APRIL 30, 2020
Curried Caulifower Cheesey Phyllo Pie
 It has been a little bit since I made something so yummy that I momentarily forgot everything else.  This was comfort food in the very best sense, especially in these dismal late April rainy days of quarantine.  This one was of those recipes that you see and think, "so weird and at the same time, absolutely perfect.

Six weeks since I started this cooking journal. There have been 60,265 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. 48,000 of those are active.  We are #3 in the nation for testing per capita.  The high numbers of cases upset me less because hospitalizations have flattened. Or maybe I am just numb?

APRIL 28, 2020
"Fuck You, Disaster Capitalism" Pork Chops
I made pork chops for a stranger and wrote about it here:  Who will we be when we emerge from our self-isolation? What will we be? I offer these pork chops to you because they represent my small effort to enact values in which I believe. They are a simple reminder that we have to act not on our fears and nightmares; we have to act on our dreams and values. And by doing that, we will produce something healthier, something richer, something more sustaining and meaningful than the American president or the marketing executives could ever even dream of. So fuck you, disaster capitalism. I made pork chops.

 I don't have it in me to look at the stats.  There are a LOT of cases of COVID-19.  A lot of tests. A lot of hospitalizations.  
APRIL 21, 2020
The Best Smoothie Ever, Seriously

All of us have a few favorite things that we order when we are out and about that are so fabulous, that bring us so much pleasure, that we decide to not know how they are made. We don't guess, we don't speculate.  We enjoy the not knowing.  I once had one of these things, although to be fair, when I ordered the "Lust Alive' from Life Alive, I could read the ingredients, literally, on the wall.  Until we moved away from Salem, however, I never tried to replicate this wondrous smoothie.

While living in Monteagle, Tennessee, I started to experiment with my own version and after a lot of tries, I came up with a non-vegan, but lower fat and lower sugar version of the smoothie.  It has milkshake qualities from high quality cocoa and creamy banana, but the strawberries add a very bright note and the warming spices of cinammon and crystallized ginger give it both heft and zing.  I rarely make it, but today was one of those days.  I wouldn't be lying if I called it the highlight of my day.

We are up to 41,199 cases of COVID-19 in Massachuetts, 1556 cases more than yesterday. 1,961people have died.  Every day, we collectively fight a little harder for breath.

APRIL 19, 2020
Banana Cardamon  Bread

Another week has meandered by.  I think I've become accustomed to this but I've been thinking a lot about what happens after the pandemic. Since it is impossible to think about the world, the nation, the Commonwealth, without panicking, I find myself stuck between wanting to change and wanting to be gentle with myself.  I think it is really dangerous and sort of unkind to ourselves to think about all the things that are wrong with how we were living before the virus.  It is easy to do, though.  I know I am always torn between wanting a bigger life and getting overwhelmed by life when it gets bigger.  There is a lot of time to wonder what we're doing, how we are treading on this earth, how we are shaping it for good or will.  I have many thoughts about purpose.  In the meantime, I bake.  This week's best outcome of my existential crisis baking habit was banana cardamon bread.  Made with browned butter and whole wheat pastry flour, I soaked caradmon seeds in the butter and the strained them out.   It was really amazing and neither of us could walk through the kitchen without slicing off a little piece.

 Massachusetts has 38,000 cases of COVID-19 as of today.  1,706 people have died in the Commonwealth due to complications.  20,000 cases in 10 days.  We are in the surge.

APRIL 13, 2020
"Marry Me" Cookies Because Why Not?
I was disgusted/amused by the fact of these "marry me" trope in recipes on the internet, but I couldn't look away, and so I made these.  I am just going to have to assume these "marry me" recipes are not heternormative and weirdly sexist regressions. These cookies are actually ridiculously good.  I think the browned butter and the significant chill-time made their texture really robust but tender.  I also added toasted almonds and dried cherries to some of them.   Really good.

Baking has been a pleasure over the past month.  I imagine it will continue to be as those of us with the privelige and resources  grow accustomed to avoiding people and places where people tend to gather.   Today, I am angry about how unprepared the US was for this pandemic.  I am devestated at the news of dead teachers and dead children and the many, many dead who lived in nursing care facilities and trusted those who ran them to care for human wellbeing over the bottom line.  I watch with alarm as Massachusetts rises to #3 in the nation with 26, 867 cases of COVID-19.  Today the number of new cases dropped as did the number of deaths, but I don't think this signifies a new trend. Boston's cases doubled over the weekend. More attention to mutual aid, to donating money, to thinking how to move forward together alone.

APRIL 10, 2020
"Marry Me" Chicken
April is usually the month we stop cooking.  The semester gets wild with events and projects and grading.  We tend to eat out, order in, or make do with simple staples like grilled cheese and canned soups.   This April is different. Lots of cooking.  And yet, as Massachusetts prepares for a surge in COVID-19 cases, neither of us really wants to venture to the store.  Making other people risk their health to deliver us food feels wrong.  (Matthew went and picked up a pizza for us this week, though.) So, "marry me" chicken was a total treat, made with frozen chicken, basil from a tube, pantry stable chicken stock and sundried tomatoes.....we did have fresh cream, though, and I added a 
tablespoon of white wine. 

There are currently 18, 941 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. 504 people have died so far.  I find that for me, the mental and emotional toll is going deeper, become systemic and pervasive and thus much harder to trace.  At the same time, I see how compartmentalization and seeking out small joys and pleasures every day is the key to dealing with, as Frankl named it it, "a provisional existence of unknown duration."

APRIL 5, 2020
Dutch Baby

I made this puffed marvel, sometimes referred to as a "dutch baby" pancake for breakfast the other morning.  I told Matthew that while my mom had only ever made it once, it really reminded me of her.  She made it for me and my friend Jeanene the morning after we arrived in Meriden, after having driven across the United States.  Jeanene hailed from Minnesota and Mom thought that she would appreciate something kind of homey and familiar.  I remember feeling like my mom had been holding out on me my whole life.  This thing was delicious!  (I've only ever made it once, though, so I guess I take after her.)  Mom died on April 8, 2018 and this time of year is rough for me.  The coronavirus would be breaking her heart, though, so I am kind of happy she doesn't have to live through this.

There are currently 12, 500 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. 231 people have died so far.  Those numbers are strikingly higher than they were less than a week ago.  Today, however, marks the first day since March 11 that the percent of increased cases is only in the single digits. 

MARCH 30, 2020
Curried Butternut Squash Soup

I have been making this soup for a long time and I don't know where I got the idea.  There has never been a recipe.  I roast a butternut squash, and then add it to a mixture of sauteed onion, chiles and ginger and some vegetable or chicken broth.....after awhile, I blend it with some red curry paste and a little bit of coconut milk, like maybe 1/4 cup for the pot.  It is easy and delicious and mostly good for us.

There are 5,572 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.  Only 100 more cases identified today than yesterday.  Social distancing is working.  However, eight people died in Massachusetts yesterday from complications and the death rate here in the Commonwealth is 56.  Watching the numbers feels stressful and necessary.  


 MARCH 28, 2020
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts
I made a small-sized version of these, pictured here, and more traditional rectangular ones. We were too busy eating those to bother taking pictures.  I used a whole wheat pastry flour mixed with a little all purpose flour.  The filling was a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and butter.  I used two different recipes: this one and this one, combining the elements of each that spoke to me and adding elements as I went along.  I have found this week to be challenging on a lot of levels.  Relationships feel strained.  Work feels ridiculous.  I don't cope well with people's pandemic denial and people don't cope well with my obsessive need to process everything.  I do not feel like I have free time and the only things I am bored of are disaster capitalism and my own anxiety about the pandemic and its outcomes for me, my loved ones, my communities, my students, the nation, the world.  Making pop tarts was about taking something very familiar to me as a person, but utterly foreign to me as a baker, and domesticating them, literally.  And the inverse of that ---- taking the utter foreignness of this moment and wrapping it up in a buttery, warm flaky pastry to comfort and soothe.  Also, as an antidote to the onward march of capitalist logics, it has felt good to make my own versions of corporatized foodstuffs.  (The revolution, brought to you one pop tart at a time.)

MARCH 24, 2020
Back to Work Oatmeal
Oatmeal in the morning is the best.  Heavily doctored oatmeal, that is.  Cherries, almonds, chocolate chips and a dash of Mexican chocolate sugar with cayenne for spice are featured here.  I am back at work with something of a vengeance.  It makes time go much more quickly and helps me (a little) to avoid the news and social media, which are recipes for anxiety, insecurity and hypochondria.  Somehow, work also makes me feel the stress and anxiety of everyone in my professional world more acutely.  The tone-deafness of people acting like the things that mattered two weeks ago matter in the same way depresses me and in general I feel like tasks that always felt mundane seem even more pointless.  I appreciate the hearty, sensible people in my life -- the doers of what needs to be done and those who are not dismissive of this crisis but also seem calm in the face of it.  I appreciate the creative and unexpected jolts from others -- the kid videos, the bit of glorious writing, the self-awareness, those who point out the beauty in our midst, in this moment and say, "Hey: look."  You all are my fancy oatmeal and I love you.

MARCH 21, 2020
Cow Poop Cookies
aka "This Is Not a Vacation" Cookies

The dough always knows.  It's a bit of wise advice from a very wise friend.  The dough knows that I was only half paying attention as I tried to follow Smitten Kitchen Deb Perelman's recipe, originally a Dorie Greenspan one, for World Peace Cookies last night.  If you look at the photos on Smitten's page, they look like perfect round cocoa shortbreads, not cow poop piles like mine.  Do they taste good?  Yes, they do.  Do they taste like they are meant to?  No.

Last night was the first time I got genuinely scared about the pandemic and the prospect of society and the world looking really different when this is over.  I started coming to terms with the ways it is already changing everything.  I'd be going to a funeral today, for instance,  but I can't because only 10 people are allowed.  These cookies are here to tell us that things probably aren't going to be the way we expect, or want them to be.  But they can still be really good.  And it doesn't mean we stop trying.  We never stop trying.

MARCH 19, 2020 
Eggplant Stirfry 
Settling into this new normal in some ways, while still alarmed and running on adrenaline and consistently aware of my own privelige and the way it shields me from this very intimate and very public crisis.  

Lots of work to do and a clearer relationship emerging with time.  The beginnings of ideas of how to help and contribute while still allowing for the full-time job and the ways my work will change and evolve and ask more of me once this week's vacation is over.  This eggplant dish was amazing.  I bought ten small eggplants for $1.00 because OF COURSE, and have been working my way through them all week.  Simplicity, richness, a little smoky spice. Make it if you can.

MARCH 17, 2020
Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

Today is St. Patrick’s day.  I began my day with this beautiful message from my friend Siobhan.  ‘If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.’ (Seamus Heaney) 

Happy St Patrick’s Day ☘️☘️

I listened to my mom’s favorite Irish songs (Mcnamara’s Band, If You’re Irish, It’s a Great Day for the Irish, etc.)  The Dropkicks did a livestream show on YouTube that was bizarrely more grounding and comforting than middle-age punk has any right to be.  I made corned beef and cabbage pinwheels and these chocolate stout cupcakes with Bailey’s icing so those of you who were worried about me yesterday know that I am doing ok. ;)

MARCH 16, 2020
Pity Party Popcorn
My personal landscape was something of a dumpster fire and a sense of deep loss punctuated my day. I cried for a good part of the evening.  Family crises, texts from students, the official notification that we are not going back to school this semester and instead will navigate teaching and learning from home -- lots of information coming at me, and none of it comforting. 

Dinner was going to be some kind of loaded baked potato soup, but I just could not pull it together.  So we did our own thing, and my thing was popcorn with some extremely fancy olive oil and a shake or two of crushed red pepper.  So, yuppie popcorn for dinner.  I guess this was the official #shitjustgotreal meal.  Tomorrow will definitely be better -- I hope!

MARCH 15, 2020

Pumpkin Smoothie

The poet John O'Donoghue  reflects, "It's strange to be here.  The mystery never leaves you."  I am spending my Sunday morning listening to a podcast that blends theology and poetry.  An oat milk and pumpkin smoothie is a simple breakfast -- comforting, colorful. It is usually the meal of autumn, but now is the time to do what feels right and healthy.  

O'Donoghue says that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.  "Poetry," he says, "tries to draw alongside the mystery as it is emerging and somehow bring it into presence...."

I suppose this is the moment for being observant, for watching our own reactions, for gentleness with our own and others' responses, for giving language to all that is happening as it is unfolding.  So, yes, this is a poetic moment.

MARCH 14, 2020
When we were kids, my dad would make pepperoni pizza on weekends.  We were, of course, deeply ungrateful for his fresh tomato sauce and buttery crust.  It didn't taste anything like the pizza we were used to. My tastes have changed and Matthew and I have been making homemade pizza on the weekends for over a decade, mostly because it tends to be the best pizza we can get. Tonight, he was writing; I was editing. I was reminded of how solitary we often are. It felt different, perhaps simply because I knew it was different -- cancelled plans, texts back and forth with news updates, half-formed thoughts about implications and uncertainties.  Pizza felt familiar and comforting, a ritual to hold onto.

MARCH 13, 2020

Broth Bowls
I didn't use a recipe because there is no rule book to follow right now. Making it up as we go along seems to be the dominant theme.  Silky broth with lots of garlic, ginger and chiles because these things are known to keep us healthy and I'm not above a little folk-inspired good vibery. Buckwheat soba noodles because this is the time to eat the weird things in the pantry. Stir-fried eggplant and/or chicken for familiarity amidst the unsettledness of our current moment.    Wilted kale, carrots, scallions, jalapenos, bean sprouts and cilantro.  And a generous squirt of lime for zing. We sat at the dining room table for this one. There was music.  The message of this meal: We don't have any answers and life goes resolutely on.  And, we know how to improvise and how to take care of ourselves and each other.