A year in, learnings from the pandemic pantry.
Adapted from: all of the cooking borne from austerity.
There’s little to be said about this past year that hasn’t been said already, but nevertheless, I am finding myself thinking about it. What’s been most remarkable, I think, has been the loss of scale. My world is now the square footage of my living quarters, which I sometimes stretch by taking myself for a walk around the block. The space between me and those I love has been reduced to the centimeters separating me from my phone screen. On the streets, we are lonely islands drifting past one another, hoping not to get too close.
Most of the distance traveled and the growth gained has been in my own head, the result of a requisite introspection engendered by everything that the pandemic has called into question. Who am I when I am no longer the sum of my distractions? How am I complicit in my own unhappiness? What new meaning can I extrapolate from these days that fold into one another, their distinctness collapsed into one amorphous shape? In the absence of travel, a desire to explore my own mental landscape has emerged. It has proven itself to be just as edifying.
This reduced scale of living has shaped my relationship to cooking this year, too. It felt like a natural shift, to support the people and businesses operating within the perimeters of my new world: the local meat producer, the corner fruit market, the restaurant down the street. At home and in the kitchen, my wants and ambitions found themselves diminished, too: dinners were informed by what I picked up that week, instead of the other way around; lunches often involved disparate leftovers cobbled together to form a substantial meal.
This may be how you lived all along, but for me, it is all new. I think what I am saying is that it’s been a year of learning to make do. Taking stock of what I have, in all senses of the word. Learning to be content with that.
When it comes to food, at the heart of it is an overwhelming sense of privilege: that optimizing what we have is the least we can do, when so many around us do not have the option. Since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity is on the rise in Canada, but so is food waste. It’s hard reconcile the two. So for this newsletter, I thought I’d compile a list of recipes that have helped me avoid waste over the past year. These dishes are great for using up what’s around the house, and the panic-bought items from last March that are nearing their expiration dates. Have some old lentils? Got a recipe for that. Never ended up making that sourdough? Consider a tea cake, instead. Give yourself the satisfaction of crafting something new out of something old. It’s its own kind of reward.
Recipes from the pandemic pantry
General caveat: for the most part, these recipes were either served up to me or the first result in a Google search. They became part of my repertoire before I’d started thinking critically about context and attribution, before any conscious decision to diversify the sources I cooked from. That said, a lot changes in a year; today, I see the homogeneity of food media reflected in a list like this. Nevertheless, each recipe has its own merit—using up a stray cup of rice here, a wilted bunch of kale there—and together, they’ve gotten me through some dark days.
Golden Fried Rice, Lucas Sin
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, Melissa Clark, NYT Cooking
Dashi Oats with Crunch Veg, Sohla El-Waylly, Bon Appetit
Coconut Rice with Peas, David Tanis for NYT Cooking
Brothy Pasta with Chickpeas, Andy Baraghani and Chris Morocco, Bon Appetit
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Marcella Hazan
Penne with Portobello Mushrooms, Mark Bittman, NYT Cooking
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with Lots of Kale, Carla Lalli Music, Bon Appetit
Lemony Turmeric Tea Cake, Alison Roman, NYT Cooking
What a year it’s been. I hope this newsletter has provided some sense of discovery, or novelty, or comfort. I hope you’re hanging in there, too.
Until next time,