Cooking during lockdown or how I ended up missing the restaurant
On a Thursday afternoon on March 12, we heard the first rumours about a possible lockdown in Belgium. Our WhatsApp group from work was flooded with pictures and videos of people queuing up in the supermarket and memes about toilet paper and millionaire plumbers. We had no idea what would happen the following day, the following week, the following month. We had no idea that tomorrow would not bring more certainty as the events unfolded, but we would just come to accept our new reality and learn to live in a constant state of uncertainty. But looking back on that day of March 12, there was one message among all those toilet paper memes that I regret wasn’t mine: “I am enjoying a last dinner at the restaurant, before the lockdown”, followed by an emoji with a medical mask. If I could go back to that Thursday, that’s the one thing I would do. Take my family out for a nice dinner. Because what I felt while being stuck at home over the past six weeks, was that no matter how much I love to cook, organize our family meals and experiment in the kitchen, I will eventually get fed up with home cooking when that becomes the norm and when I have to do it. Every time I heard the invariable question “What do we eat tonight?” around the same time of the day, my enthusiasm for checking the fridge and inventing something new for dinner was slowly fading away.
It’s March 22 and we start our Sunday morning as usual, very early. I go downstairs with Sam, he wants to watch a film and I want to drink my coffee in (relative) silence and read the latest news. More people infected, more deaths, more panic. The country is in full lockdown since last Wednesday and I feel strange that on a Sunday, I need to plan our week in a completely different way. Next week will be the first full week spent at home with Sam, me working full time, he playing and hopefully doing some activities for school. David is the only one who has to go to work because he runs a distribution centre. We’ll be OK, I think, at least I don’t need to rush in the morning to get everything done before 8 o’clock. I’ll first make this bread now, it’s a new recipe I try to make in tandem with a friend living in the US. This is one of the best things about cooking and baking, I reassure myself: it brings people together, it gives you a reason to call that friend and share a thought or two. Once I’m done with the bread, I’ll start planning what we need for next week: groceries, meals, work, school activities, and fun experiments. Check some websites for inspiration. Check quickly the 11 o’clock news when the officials give the latest numbers: more people infected, more deaths, panic doesn’t help. I might even start that photography class I always wanted to do. I still need to learn so much about composition and colours and lighting. We’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. We have to stay healthy. Eating healthy and taking care of ourselves is more important than ever. It’s actually not bad that we are at home, working next to our kitchen. We can make a snack or bake something whenever we feel like it.
It’s April 1st and nobody seems to be in the mood for pranks. Things are bad. More people are dying every day. Belgium is one of the most affected countries in Europe. It’s Wednesday and I wake up at 6.30 so I can start working earlier and do a couple of hours of deep work before Sam wakes up. It’s the fourth day in a row that I skip my meditation session. It’s OK, I’ll catch up tomorrow, now I really have to do these few things for work. So far it hasn’t been too bad. It’s not too bad. Days are hectic and it’s difficult to keep your focus and work with a 5 year old next to you but we manage it pretty well so far. Sam did a few things for school, I got my stuff done, we ate well and our week was well planned. I made a few breads. I’m not fully comfortable that Sam is spending so much time on his iPad but these are exceptional times, we should just relax. I scroll down through my Facebook feed and it’s full of articles about how everyone should be less judgemental, kinder and understanding. I’ll make a nice tomato tart for lunch. Tomorrow is my birthday and I saw this beautiful poppy seeds cake that I dream of. I think I have everything I need. It will be amazing.
- The first week of Easter holiday is over and he did not do anything. The whole day on the iPad or my phone. I have no time for activities during the day, I am nonstop in meetings and conference calls. I feel guilty for many reasons, but there’s not much I can do about it. We bought him a trampoline but he only jumps if I jump. And then I have to think about what we eat, what we need, the house looks like a mess, dirty plates and pots piling up on the kitchen counter during the day, I am so fed up.
- And David?
- David has to go to work, and he tries to help as much as he can during weekend. But at 6.30 when he gets home, we have to eat no? So I need to think about that and make something. Last weekend I made a few meals that we can freeze so it’s a bit easier during the week. And we still have stuff from Easter… But I’m just tired. It’s tiredness you know? Juggling everything at once. Multitasking 4.0. Really bad. I hate living in the kitchen. And how are things over there?
(Phone conversation with my mom, April 17.)
It’s the last Sunday of the month. Yesterday, we spent the whole day cleaning the house inside out and all I wanted at the end of the day, was a pizza and a prosecco. Pizza and prosecco, what an exquisite combination. Today we take it easy, we re-charge our batteries for the days to come. Sam will spend again too much time on a screen whenever he’s not busy asking a thousand questions like “are cats afraid of cucumbers?”, “what came first the mother or the baby?”, I will feel as exhausted as last week, we will be happy when it’s finally weekend, and we will make Romanian mici with mustard on May 1st. I will be happy if we can spend more time outside, so I see the kitchen less often.
The lockdown has been tough. From being someone who thinks about take away or going out for dinner as the last option, I became this irascible someone who avoids the sight of the stove, the oven, the sink, or better, the kitchen in its entirety. I realized that I cannot function well when I am constrained to one space and lacking a certain structure where I can nicely organize the boxes of my life. If life was a Rubik’s cube, mine needs to have the instruction manual and solution handy, so I can quickly bring all the sides back to one colour when I need to. Right now, the colours are mingled and I cannot find the stupid manual…
Looking back on the last weeks, I learned that no matter how much you love doing something, you will end up hating it when that’s the only option you have. You will feel trapped. I had moments when I thought “hmm, that’s how those housewives in the 50s must have felt”. A baked potato is not as big as the world, as Betty Friedan would put it. The way our minds are wired makes us look at things around us in relation to others and we need a term of comparison to feel happy with our choices. I need the world, to appreciate the warmth of my home. I need to order lunch from that salad bar, to appreciate more my homemade lunch. I need to eat in a restaurant and see what other cooks are creating in their kitchens, to get inspired and create something in my own. I need to just change the scenery of our dining room and eat with family and friends from time to time.
We sometimes need to step back and look at what we do from the distance, to really see it with clarity. I struggled for control and dreamt of self-improvement, I tried to make boxes for everything and planned our days to the last detail. Too much detail. And when tiredness kicked in, all the little boxes got mixed up and chaos won over my need for structure. Self-control is hard when you are constantly tired.
Remember the joke with the little bunny who comes home from school on Monday and asks his mom what’s for dinner and she answer “carrots”? As this repeats every day, the little bunny goes from bouncing with joy on Monday to getting really really annoyed by Friday. Well, I don’t find that joke funny anymore. Because it’s true. And the mother wants sushi.
Photo credit: teamjimmyjoe.com
Since we are stuck at home, we started to write short notes about things we want to do when the corona is over: we will take a walk to see a wild waterfall; we will go back to Efteling to spend a magical weekend; we will go to the swimming pool; we will go to the fair and play a roll-a-ball horse race together. And we will eat at the restaurant every day, for a full week.