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:

Buy It Once, Buy It For Life

We are thick into birthday season in our family, a time in which summertime Scout will mourn as Pippin and Roo celebrate their Halloweeny birthdays, I fall around Thanksgiving, and J is fêted on Christmas Eve. And it’s got me thinking about buying for life.

It started, I think, with a wool blanket. I read about a mill in Prince Edward Island (where my Anne-girls at?) that makes wool blankets to last a lifetime, and, freezing through New England winters in grad school, I asked for one for my birthday.

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Ethical Groceries Outside the Farmer’s Market


So, everyone knows we should be shopping local. But what about when the farmer’s market is closed, or the grocery budget is tight? Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Closeout grocery stores.

Back in Massachusetts, we had one of these that sold all shelf-stable stuff, mostly organic, often dented or about to expire. It’s where we got almost all of Pippin’s squeezy foods so he could live the infant good life on his parents’ grad school budget. Here in Virginia, there’s a more full-service grocery with lots of baking supplies, an unpredictable stock of fresh and frozen food, and horse-and-buggy parking. To make this kind of shop work best, you really need to either a.) keep completely flexible on your grocery list or b.) shop two stores. I usually opt for the latter.

Another point in favor of closeout grocery stores is that, as with shopping second hand at thrift stores, you’re not directly profiting producer, so (maybe?) you don’t have to worry as much about whether the meat is ethical and the farming sustainable. (Unless you’re really committed to eating organic for health reasons, of course.)

  • Ownership of the grocery store.

Is it locally owned? (Do you care?) Is it Christian? (Do you care?)

  • Employment practices of the grocery store.

Costco is a great place to workWal-Mart, less so. When we lived in Massachusetts, I liked shopping Aldi because the savings were all about shifting the labor to the consumer: you bagged yourself, you rented and returned a cart, etc. It felt better than saddling the employees with the same amount of work for less pay, as some businesses do.

  • Donation practices of the grocery store.

In some places you’ll only have the choice of big box stores and multinational chains, but consider, if you can, whether the grocery store donates its surplus to local food pantries. This may take some digging, but in Massachusetts, where J spent a stint driving the food donation truck, some grocery stores donated and some trashed their surplus. We tried to support places that supported the poor in our community.

What other rules do you apply in grocery shopping?

How to Find Outrageously Narrow Shoes

When I was a kid, I had really, outrageously narrow feet. For years I wore the same Reebok Princess sneakers  in a variety of sizes that my sixty-year-old gym teacher sported. It was the worst. My mom was always sympathetic — we are both 7.5 AAA — but there’s only so much you can do, especially when you have a limited budget for rapidly growing feet.

And then I got pregnant.

And my feet stayed the same. Twice.

Everyone says pregnancy can make your feet bigger, flatter, wider, but not this moi. Apparently, however, judging by what is commonly available in even A-narrow shoes (much less AAA, my size), the only other narrow-footed women are octogenarians.

Still, in the past ten years, I’ve developed some strategies for you rare youthful unicorns with narrow feet:

  1. Adjustable features. Even though I often take a S or AAA in picky shoes like pumps, I can often wear normal sneakers or boots that lace up. Last summer I also found some pretty narrow (A) sandals that worked because their straps are Velcro, so I don’t have to try to punch more holes for buckled shoes.
  2. Use a site that only lets you look at narrow shoes so you aren’t tempted. Online Shoes is a good starting place. I’ll sometimes filter by width and the maximum I’m willing to pay, then browse like a normal human might at the store.
  3. Find a shoe you like on a site that doesn’t sell narrow shoes, then borrow search terms from its description to search a site that lets you filter by width. So you find boots you like on Madewell or wherever, and then search for “chelsea boots” to help sift out all the old lady styles.
  4. If, by the grace of ye heavens, you find inexpensive narrow-fitting normal-person shoes, buy a zillion pairs. This has really only happened for me once, with these Target Toms knockoffs. Since that glorious idle spring day a couple years ago when I happened to try on a pair, I’ve bought like…six pairs. Sometimes I get cocky and try to wait for a sale where they’re $10 instead of $20, but if you’re used to paying $60-100 for a pair of shoes, this is exciting territory.

If you have narrow feet (or quite wide, I suppose), what hacks have you found for tracking down shoes that will fit?