I’m convinced I’m one of a small handful of people in America who haven’t baked sourdough bread during the last seven months of the COVID-19 quarantine. I have, however, tried scads of new recipes during the pandemic, expanding both my culinary repertoire and my waistline.
Although I have long enjoyed crafting meals for family and friends and gathering folks around my dining room table, writing is where I’ve poured out the most artistic energy. As my brain has become fogged from endless lockdown and an interminable election season, coupled with worry over COVID-19, Colorado wildfires and the despair of missing my children, cooking has become an unexpected and most welcome creative outlet.
As winter looms, I think a bit less of barbecue, although my husband will shovel a path to the grill. Instead, I imagine pots of rich soups and savory stews steaming up the kitchen windows and warming us against the snow and wind.
I tear pages from my foodie magazines and occasionally open one of my many cookbooks, especially the one for high altitude baking. I have a three-ring binder stuffed with recipes printed from the web, but my go-to has become the New York Times cooking app on my iPad, where I’ve saved more than 75 recipes of which I’ve, in the age of the novel coronavirus, prepared nearly three dozen.
For fans of “Julie & Julia,” that may not seem like much. Julie Powell tackled 536 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” over the course of one year! In the Nora Ephron film, Powell even emulated Child’s penchant for wearing pearls in the kitchen. Thankfully, she did not cultivate the chef’s peculiar vocal intonations.
Powell pulled off her culinary journey while working a full-time job and blogging about the ups and downs of aspic, Boeuf Bourguignon and Pâté de Canard en Croûte – a serendipitous move which ultimately landed her a book deal. If only I’d kept readers apprised on a daily basis of my French Fish Chowder and Pork Puttanesca Ragù – all the while fangirling over Times Food editor Sam Sifton – well, perhaps I’d have a book deal, too. And a movie. Mary & Sam.
In my story, I would lament the end of tomato season. Raised on homegrown Midwestern tomatoes, my husband devoured my twice-weekly haul from our local farm stand, glorious, vermillion beauties delivered from fields near Grand Junction. More often than not, summer suppers included a caprese salad featuring those rich, ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil, drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The salads accompanied everything from salmon to roasted chicken to the newest member of our grilling rotation, Colorado bison burgers.
The true star of our first full summer living in Evergreen was the Palisade peach, for which I am still in mourning. I’d heard about these legendary stone fruit darlings, and the juicy, rosy-yellow, fuzzy gems did not disappoint. We couldn’t get enough of them. And I mean that, because our farm stand, at one point, limited the take to just six peaches per customer, so there’d be enough to go around.
Peaches make a nice addition to the caprese, by the way, and also are a wonderful addition to homemade salsa, not to mention peach pie, peach crisp and peaches on the grill. A good vanilla ice cream is not optional.
Besides the creative outlet and the pleasure of actually eating, there are a couple of other very gratifying things about COVID cooking. There’s an enormous sense of satisfaction in finishing something that has a beginning, middle and end.
Story drafts and Mary & Sam-type book ideas may languish on my laptop and I may forget to put the wash in the dryer, but once I start preparing dinner, I’m compelled to stay present and see it through. It’s an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to allow my senses to inhale the fragrant chopped garlic and grated ginger, to marvel at the sheer beauty of purple cauliflower alongside brussels sprouts, and to heed to the sizzling hiss of mushrooms in the sauté pan.
Still, some evenings as I wait for the pasta to boil or for the grill to heat up, I pour a glass of wine and dream of restaurants. I miss eating out. I long for the people watching and the shared experience of communal dining in a place abuzz with conversation, clinking glasses and not-too-loud music in the background.
It’s not that I’m tired of cooking every night. It’s just that I really want to be waited on, to have someone else pour my wine and maybe even bring me a nice hunk of sourdough bread.
Evergreen resident Mary Novaria’s essays have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @MaryNovaria