Sourdough bread: yes. Sourdough waffles: yes, Dry cured bacon: yes. Sauerkraut: yes. Pressure-cooker chana masala: yes. Air fryer chicken wings: yes. Borne out of circumstance, we've baked, cooked, preserved, and experimented in our own kitchen, like so many others have this past year or so. It's not the Depression-era or wartime creative-out-of-necessity cooking, as described by MFK Fisher in her book How To Cook a Wolf. (Although there was that run on flour all over the country: remember that a year ago spring? Friends shared their flour supply with me, and one day my bread-baking neighbor discovered some precious rye and grabbed an extra bag for me.) It's also not the same world as Fisher's: she would be surprised by the grocery online ordering and delivery, the elaborate restaurant take-out, even to-go cocktails. But somehow there is something familiar there in Fisher's account. (She has figured prominently in my observations about food rituals earlier too, see Provence, 2013.)
I don't even think it's about the eating of the meals, although Fisher's wider works certainly celebrate the pleasures of eating. Maybe it's just the idea that meals--the planning of them and making them--in times of scarcity or in times of lockdowns, become especially pronounced in our daily lives and center firmly on where we make our homes. Meal-planning and preparation during the pandemic feel more painstaking, maybe more thoughtful, definitely slower. While my household is not looking into how to cook wolves, we read the At Home section in the NY Times each Sunday, looking for new takes on roasted chicken or one pan-meals, or we watch Samin Nosrat on Netflix or Kenji Lopez-Alt on Youtube, for ideas about how to use ingredients, or try new cooking techniques with basic kitchen tools. We confer during our work 'breaks' at home about the next meal. Even if we opt for takeout, there's a similar quality; we ponder the options and look over the online menus carefully before making our orders. And we consult cookbooks, on our shelves or online. Just last weekend, I was able to visit my in-laws (thank you Pfizer vax #2!), and I gathered and steamed clams from their beach, digging through my mother-in-law's cookbooks for the right recipe. While I'm no Kenji, I recorded the results on my own 'cooking video' last week to show some friends. You can call it my How to Cook Clams contribution to Youtube (below, or here Part 1 and Part 2). This is all to say, meals have become a central focus in many folks' day to day lives during the pandemic. That won't change soon, or ever, but it will shift. To mark the two weeks following our COVID vaccines, my spouse and I enjoyed a celebratory dinner the other night, at a real restaurant, with wine, with appetizers, with dessert, for the first time since 3/11/2020! We sat in the enclosed outdoor dining area at Ethan Stowell's How To Cook a Wolf restaurant in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood, and while I did enjoy my meal, very much, I especially enjoyed eating it in someone else's dining room.