So what have I been doing while sheltering in place for the last eleven months? Like a lot of people, I’ve been cooking more. I don’t want to overstate my efforts. I did not undertake any ambitious projects. I did not, could not, would absolutely never commit to cooking a certain number of meals per week. I did not, could not, will absolutely never try a new diet or meal plan. I did not resolve to save money. I did not decide to work my way through a cookbook of note. I have no interest in being a more helpful partner, a more nurturing mom, more well-rounded person, or a healthier eater. I just had a little more time and energy after work and decided to spend some of more of it in the company of one of my favorite things: food.
I don’t have much to show in the way of results. At best, I have become a slightly less mediocre cook. Truly, the list of things I have not accomplished in the kitchen in the last year is neverending, but here is an abbreviated to give you the flavor:
- I do not have a camera roll of well-lit and eye-catching dishes;
- I did not make the perfect sourdough loaf;
- I did not refine my knife skills to the point that they no longer make my family extremely nervous;
- I did not successfully bake chocolate chip cookies under the broiler when our oven went out for three weeks;
- I did not cook a single meal without a consulting the recipe many times and my more culinarily inclined spouse at least once;
- I did not cook a single meal within the time allotted in the recipe; and
- I did not find a single food blog or recipe site that did not make me want to pull my hair out or die from scrolling.
Lack of photographic evidence notwithstanding, I have amassed a small stockpile of wins:
- I can respond to question, “Do you want to cook dinner tonight?” without having a panic attack or becoming irate;
- I can poke through the fridge and track down a recipe that works with my skill set and the ingredients and time we have on hand;
- I can roast any vegetable on a sheet pan;
- I can braid and bake a gorgeous golden challah;
- I can deviate from the recipe when it makes sense;
- I can anticipate what flavors will go well together;
- I can properly season meat;
- I can make a meal that my seven-year-old likes;
- I can make a meal that I like.
That last one is the reason I keep going back to my cookbooks and to the kitchen. In the early days of the pandemic, the frivolous thing I missed the most was going out for breakfast. Now I hardly think about it. If there’s one thing I have in common with my own mom, it’s that my family doesn’t appreciate my cooking. Most Saturdays my daughter asks for whatever sugar cereal is in the cabinet and my husband eats whatever it is that he eats and I take 30+ minutes to cook myself the perfect eggs over easy and the perfect bacon and perfect pan-fried hash browns and sit down to breakfast mid-morning with a huge mug of black coffee and, for the next twenty minutes, my life is exactly the way I want it to be.
Now that I can cook, though, I find myself missing things I never cared about before. The other day, my husband pointed out that we can’t just run out to the store for a fresh baguette. He used to ask me to do that occasionally, and I would complain about the extra errand. Now, I can’t get the idea out of my mind. Can you even imagine the luxury of making a trip to a public place for a single ingredient? Of perusing the aisles? Of picking up a loaf of bread and squeezing it and putting it back down? I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Of course, the real reason I can cook for fun and pleasure is because I don’t have to. I will make breakfast tomorrow morning, yes, but tomorrow night we will get takeout. When Sunday rolls around, I’ll pass the ball back to my husband to figure out breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and when the pandemic rolls around and I’m back in the office, I’ll pass all the balls back to him to figure out weeknight eats. I doubt I’ll give up cooking entirely, though. My breakfasts are really getting pretty good.