I like to cook, and I’m comforted by quantity. I use three freezers and two pantries. I make seven quarts of granola at a time, three loaves of oat bread, six baguettes, two quiches — why make just one? Why not keep extra in the freezer and be prepared?
So I felt prepared back in mid-March, and, honestly, a little excited.
For my whole life, my scratch-cooking skills and the stockpile they produced were, strictly speaking, unnecessary. Extreme home cooking was just a hobby. My local supermarket always stocked English muffins and salsa. No one ever said, “Thank goodness, Kate’s here, or there would be no mayonnaise.”
Now they might! At least that’s what I thought when we were told to stay home. I thought: I might really need my thrift, my stock of stock, and my ability to make dinner out of half a head of cabbage, some tomato paste and two slices of salami.
At last, I’d emerge like an action hero after a training montage and head to the pantry for my weapons — the cache of rice, beans, and pasta, and the weird stuff, too. Six different bottles of hot sauce; beignet mix from a friend’s 2016 trip to New Orleans; a tiny, time-smudged box of couscous, provenance unknown.
Food, in other words, that has been waiting a very long time to be pressed into service to feed three captive teenagers.
They’re good kids, but they’re not shy about expressing . . . preferences. In my lockdown fantasy, no one would be choosy, because there’d be no choice. Oh, you don’t like five-year-old dilly beans? You prefer not to eat the homemade raspberry jam that has turned the color of liver? You reject the Eggos I bought in honor of your “Stranger Things” obsession?
Sorry, kids: It’s a national emergency. Consuming chili made from freezer-burned ground turkey and a bottle of Yucatan Sunshine sauce is our patriotic duty.
In my fantasy, I brilliantly make do, creating delicious food from limited ingredients.
In my reality, I drive to the grocery and buy essentially whatever I want. I know that’s not true everywhere. But here in Albany, food shortages so far mean that I can’t find the right brand of all-purpose flour. I’d love to bake a war cake, but the truth is I still have butter, eggs and milk.
At the store the other day, masked and sanitized, I stared at the Earl Grey tea. I had run out. But shouldn’t I just work my way through my endless stash of nameless teas? Am I supposed to stock up or make do?
Or am I supposed to splurge?
Not only can I still buy almost all the usual ingredients, but I’m also being told that to keep the economy going and my local restaurants in business, I should order takeout (#takeouttuesday #thegreatamericantakeout). Takeout!
Due to modest disposable income and habitual thrift, takeout is a big treat in our house, requiring the parenting equivalent of two-man control for a missile launch. But just because we can from time to time, does that mean we should?
The kids say, “Yes, please.” But I can’t figure out the ethics of it. Ordering takeout helps restaurants stay in business, but it also puts cars on the road and people into contact with each other. Is it right to keep people employed or wrong to put them in harm’s way?
And I can’t figure out my feelings, either.
It’s a war out there. The casualties are horrific: The death toll in my state has climbed beyond 10,000, and still people are dying. People are struggling to care for their families. People are struggling to breathe. And then there are the soldiers: people risking their lives to save others and people risking their lives to stock grocery shelves for people like me. Shouldn’t I at least have to make dinner?
During World War II, people on the home front survived on rations, for heaven’s sake. The government urged them to scavenge scrap metal and plant victory gardens. For us (unless we can sew), it’s stream Netflix and order victory sushi.
Fine. Let’s do this. Order your roll combos, kids. But don’t throw away the extra wasabi — I think I can make something with that.