Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus

(Linking up with friends over at This Ain’t the Lyceum!)

So many folks are now thinking about meals in a way they never really have before. Maybe you went grocery shopping every evening on the way home from work, or leaned hard on restaurants. Now is a chance to carry out resolutions — whether financial or healthy — that, whatever ends up happening the coming weeks, will put you in a better position when we come out the other side.

1. First, two pieces I really loved from others. Katie at Hearts Content Homestead outlines all kinds of ways to prepare for difficult times through household decisions and skills in How to prepare for hard times. And The Kitchn has been collecting a lot of its content to demonstrate how to cook using pantry staples, most of it linked in this moving letter from the editor about how we can serve our communities and the world through our kitchens.

So, without further ado, here is a brain dump of various thoughts, from me and others, about Food in the Time of Coronavirus.

2. Some categories to consider when you’re shopping:

  • Here is an exhaustive list from the NYTimes (which I’m hoping is not under paywall) to get you thinking about foods to consider.
  • Comforting food — things that might excite the rest of your family if you pull them out on a dull day. For us, that’s things like marshmallows for roasting one evening; a couple secret bags of barbecue chips; some random kimchi mayonnaise I’m betting my husband will love, etc.
  • Nourishing food that will last awhile (ideas: frozen vegetables that can be roasted or hidden in soups; dried or frozen fruit that can go into yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, etc.)
  • Vitamins to try to keep everyone strong and healthy

3. ALSO VITAL: Caffeine in large quantities if you’re addicted — my husband has always supported a local coffee shop and would never normally deign to freeze his beans, but since he’d go through actual withdrawal without coffee, we bought and froze a few bags in advance.

4. How to think about making meals without shopping:

I first learned to cook while we were living for six months in rural Uganda with very few ingredients available. That mindset is a helpful one to try to adopt now, instead of roaming the packed grocery store thinking of all the meals you might want later this week, or month, and trying to remember all the ingredients involved for each.

Learning to cook with intermittent electricity and the world’s slowest internet connection
  • Think about how to string together meals to use up each ingredient.
  • Now is the time to dive deep into something you’ve always wanted to learn how to fix. Choose something you’ve always bought pre-made and attempt it yourself. Learn how to make sourdough (but not from me — I’m little haphazard about the whole enterprise, with mixed results). Bake with your kids.
  • Think in terms of staples: easy things you can stockpile a bit and use as the building blocks for a variety of meals. The structure of constraints will also help you feel less adrift and overwhelmed.

5. Freezing: I’m shooting for a combination of:

  • preassembled meals (especially important if my husband or I get sick and can’t cook, but also to preserve fresh ingredients that won’t keep several weeks in the fridge); and
  • bulk ingredients (butter, frozen berries and vegetables, the meat we have from our beef and pork share, a batch of caramelized onions, ICE CREAM OF COURSE, etc.).
  • Plus: News to me! Note that milk, unshelled eggs, yogurt and shredded cheese can all be frozen but there’ll be a noticeable change in texture — use them only where you can hide them in recipes.

6. This is just anecdotal, but an ER physician friend is recommending that store pickup, if available, is probably safer. We had been leaning towards selecting all our groceries on the shelves ourselves on infrequent trips going forward, but the friend thinks probably grocery workers will be wearing gloves at this point. There’s more advice from Consumer Reports and NPR reports many stores are encouraging online pickup as a way to prevent the spread.

7. Also, pretty much unrelated but worth a shout out if you’ve suddenly got kids unexpectedly at home with you:

Seven Tiny Book Reviews

In writing my year-end writeup of everything I’ve read, I realized there were a few titles I wanted to revisit with you. Have you tried any of them yourself? What did you think?

  1. A Quiet Life in the Country: Lady Hardcastle and her lady’s maid Flo have retired to the countryside after a life of high adventure at the turn of the century, but things in their new hamlet are not as quiet as they seem. This cozy mystery has deeply delightful banter but I just didn’t care about the mechanics of the storyline, and the only characters with any depth were the two main characters. I almost liked them enough to try another in the series, but I doubt I’ll bother — at least as an audiobook, where it’s particularly difficult to focus on plot details.
  2. Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope: I’ve never read anything else by her, because her name seems ridiculous and her covers are always kind of frivolous and embarrassing. BUT ARE THEY ALL THIS GOOD? For more of my thoughts, check out my year-end reading post.
  3. A Confederacy of Dunces: Ok, so I’m glad to read this one — a bad Catholic book club pick if ever there were one — but I definitely wouldn’t have made it through if the group weren’t led by a medievalist who loved it and whose taste I trust. I just hate the earthiness of medieval stuff, which I think is one of the reasons I struggle with Dante. I know I’m supposed to laugh but I’m grossed out and that makes me feel like a prude which makes me mad. So: knowing that John Kennedy Toole loved Flannery O’Connor helped me through the book, and it ending with some hope and mercy helped a bit, but I’m not sure I’d be able to recommend the book, overall.
  4. The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s: When I was in high school, I believed I was laidback (!!). Later, my boyfriend pointed out that I’m only competitive in arenas where I think I can win, and now I look back and see the marks of perfectionism all over my childhood. I still struggle today, and I often refer back to a favorite line from Anne Lamott: “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.” Colleen Carroll Campbell urges us in this book to be gentle with ourselves, to accept God’s love, to trust, to deliberately and diligently root out all the places in our lives where we grasp for control and grow harsh in our striving. A must-read for any ambitious Ravenclaw Catholic.
  5. Underground Airlines: I loved Ben Winter’s Last Policeman series and was fascinated by the premise of this book. This is an America where the Civil War was settled differently, and slavery maintained in certain Deep South states, and here, Victor, an escaped slave, has made a deal with the devil to catch escaping slaves on behalf of the US government. I thought the plot grew convoluted, though, and I thought the optimism of the end and setup for a sequel were both a bit clunky. I don’t think I’ll read any subsequent books in the series.
  6. Waiting for Tom Hanks: Another kind of embarrassing one that I ended up enjoying. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the cringiness of romantic tension, and the self-aware references to favorite films like You’ve Got Mail certainly helped. The plot itself was fairly improbable (as per the genre) and a bit given to wish fulfillment and neat endings, but the characters were relatable and I really loved how — as in movies like the aforementioned YGM and Notting Hill — the community surrounding the protagonists had warmth and color.
  7. Marilla of Green Gables: I didn’t love this one. I felt like the author was imposing too much on the character, refusing to accept her for the rigid but warm person she is in the canon and instead inserting a lot of anachronistic social justice stuff like so many period dramas, which rush to make every character espouse the most progressive views, regardless of their social context.

7 Quick Takes: 7 Weeks Into Police Preschool

I’m linking up again with This Ain’t the Lyceum for a 7 Quick Takes to celebrate having finished seven weeks of Police Preschool.

  1. Pleasingly Flopped Field Trips
  • Bees: Pippin mostly just played with our friends’ Duplos and gobbled up their cherry tomatoes. Still a fun evening!
  • Ducks & Doughnuts: It poured rain, but everyone got a doughnut and Scout chased ducks to her heart’s content, so I’m counting this a win.

    • Eggs: Pippin was afraid of the chickens, but Scout loved collecting an egg and was rapturous about eating it next morning.

    • Frogs & Fish: See below.
    • Goats: Unbelievably hot, but both kids relaxed into it a little more. It may have been the influence of the goat owner and her kids, folks I know from the homeschool co-op.

2. Saint Stories. I have a friend with an amazing stash, and she’s been way more helpful than the library, frankly. Every week I add more books to my “Homeschooling Maybes” Amazon list, but because of her, I haven’t had to spend a fortune on supplementary readings — does anyone know a good site for child-accessible stories on the saints, when I can’t find a picture book version?

3. Outside Everyday. I kind of hate this right now, and the kids did at first, too, but are now gaining steam. If we have a playdate for the day, I count that as the outside time, as long as they’re out a bit; if we don’t have a playdate, we just head down to our neighborhood park, and there are usually kids there to recruit onto the police squad. I am not a great all-weather person and the kids definitely resist on rainy days, but especially when they’re really playing happily and I can just sit and watch and maybe read a bit, I know it’s the right thing to do. On the days we miss, I definitely notice it in their behavior.

4. Poetry. Our current favorite is The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury edited by Jack Prelutsky. Pip particularly likes funny ones and riddles, but is occasionally fascinated by more…poetic…poetry, like the selections this collection has on bats. Any recommendations for us?

5. Letters. I have Pippin write a letter to a friend whose name starts with the letter of the week each week, and I love it, and mostly he does, too. “Write” is pretty loose here; he usually signs his name and scrawls the recipient’s. Sometimes he decorates with stickers, usually with police cars. Sometimes the recipient writes back.

6. Rosary Updates. So, he’s kind of hooked at looking at art associated with the day’s mystery on my phone, and it’s kind of disruptive, though it does lead to good conversations about how religious art works, why there are varieties, what medium the artist used, etc. My tentative solution is to cut him off when he turns five next week, and we can just look at the art in a book we have of rosary art, or he can color.

7. Doubling the Fun. So, I know I’ve got it easy right now. Homeschooling baby steps: no newborn (coming soon!), only one child in school, the child only in preschool. I took a friend’s school for Police Preschool recently because Pippin begged me, and it was fun, but utter chaos. Two kids, two months apart, and their skills and interests are so different — Other Kid isn’t writing yet, but pays way more attention during the Rosary and is much more agile on the playground. And everyone had fun on the playground, and going on a walk to look for frogs and fish, but then I lost my keys, and they got to solve a Real Detective Mystery and help me find them as I waddled grumpily along. (#thirdtrimesterhomeschool)

Happy Michaelmas, y’all!