There are certain kitchen rhythms that I will always associate with these past months of the pandemic. Pot after pot of what we consider “comfort food”: millet soup with red lentils and sweet vegetables is now a classic staple. Nothing new, I cooked hundreds, maybe thousands of satisfying and nourishing dishes, but I cooked with a new attention to immunity. I cooked each dish with love and gratitude for our many blessings during a time when so many had (and continue to have) so little.
And I baked. My vanity project, my little online bakery became a real part of our business, shipping hundreds of dozens of cookies all over the country throughout the year. I felt absolutely…sustained by the fact that I was sending cookies to people when comfort was hard to come by. And to know I was doing it with no compromise to their wellness made my heart full. It also kept me occupied. It kept me creatively fulfilled and kept me from some dark emotional places, so I thank each person who ordered and each cookie I baked (yep, I’m grateful to the cookies).
I drank a lot of espresso, using the excuse that it helped me to not miss being in Italy so much (it didn’t; with each cup I missed being in Italy more). Espresso became my comfort and my indulgence. Each beautiful cup I own has a story and I would dream of the places and people I love so much with each sip.
I cooked soups and made sandwiches. From miso soup to pureed squash soup; baked tofu or roasted vegetable panini and made hummus by the bucket; jars of applesauce and berry preserves; sourdough bread and pizza; cooking became even more of a lifeline for me than it ever was. And cooking was literally a lifeline for me back when I recovered my health and onward through the years.
The idea of cooking as life became as real as the nose on my face.
We have a choice here. The pandemic may be the darkest period of our collective lifetimes. But we can also look on it as the time that took us back into our homes and our kitchens in unprecedented ways. We looked at and appreciated our health differently. We took very little for granted.
I like to think about how creative I got when shopping for food was not as frequent as I would have liked. I think of flavors like lemons and capers, olive and mushrooms, nuts and cinnamon and how I used flavors and cooking styles to create wellness and comfort when we needed it most.
As we begin to see the light at the end of this very dark, very long tunnel, I continue to cook and I hope you will too. As time has passed, I hope we see that the pandemic has changed how we eat, what we eat and how we think about food.
These dark times shimmer with a certain grace and goodness from our kitchens. If you think about the food you have cooked and continue to cook under all kinds of stress, no matter the source; physical exhaustion, financial worries and family concerns, you’ll remember just how good and satisfying those dishes were. The pleasures those meals brought you are real.
So cook. Find new recipes. It’s a rare joy these days, so revel in it. Thrill at the idea of new flavors and textures on your table. I have discovered so many ways to use plant-based proteins like seitan piccata, tempeh stroganoff, noodles with tofu as the sauce and lentils with a creamy mustard sauce. Playing with flavors will help you to add interest to the humblest of ingredients.
Enjoy a few treats, even with the holiday season behind us. Now we look to things like cleanses and de-toxing but in truth, if we have eaten well most of the time, a small, tasty, healthy treat keeps us feeling happy and relaxed as the cold, grey days of winter close in around us. One of the reasons I am so obsessed with cookies is that they are small, gorgeous and homey. They look special even though we know how easy they are to make. They are artistic and they help us leave the business of the day behind as we measure and mix, shape and drop batter onto baking sheets. Just a short time in the oven and we have cookies!
Cook, my loves. It’s the best way to ensure your body is metabolically fit to fight infection. It keeps your loved ones and you, happy and satisfied. It’s comforting and empowering. It’s nourishing.