Pandemic Chronicles #14: I’m learning how to cook

First-ever beef stew with Instant Pot, my most ambitious effort so far.

When I thought about how I might conclude this year’s blog posts with something that encapsulates what the past ten months have been like, I found myself unable to come up with a big idea that could pull together such a momentous time. Professional writers and journalists are certainly making the effort — assessments of this challenging year now abound in the media — but for now I’m unable to do so in one modest posting.

So, instead I’m writing about something that came about unexpectedly: Faced with a lockdown mode of living, and realizing that I cannot survive on pizza and Chinese food delivery for every meal, I started to cook for myself. This is no small development. For decades, most of the pre-pandemic meals I’ve eaten have been prepared by others. For me to actually prepare meals with more than, say, two ingredients has been a rarity.

To my great surprise, I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve prepared! I’ve largely improvised my so-called recipes, with a few assists from Google searches and suggestions & tips from friends. So my year-end post involves sharing some of these meals with you, dear readers.

My most ambitious meal is pictured above — beef stew — made with my new Instant Pot, a holiday gift from my dear friends Denise and Magic (the latter, a cat) in Northern Virginia. It took a bit of tweaking, but I figured out how to use the pressure cooker function without blowing up my condo, and the result was the best meal I’ve ever made on my own. I made it with stew meat, potatoes, baby carrots, onion, celery, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, sea salt, pepper, corn starch, and beef broth. I put it over noodles or rice.

Chicken wings with broccoli and corn, surprisingly tasty.

I discovered that a mix of olive oil, crushed bread crumbs, sea salt, and pepper resulted in fall-off-the-bone, baked chicken wings — done with my toaster oven. I was surprised how much I enjoyed these wings. I need to make these again.

Quickie lunch: Packaged ramen plus an egg and scallions.

I miss going to ramen shops in Boston. This quick version wasn’t a real substitute, but it made for a good fast lunch. I’ll be doing this again sometime soon, as well.

Pretty healthy meal by my standards!

I discovered that a salmon meal is easy and healthy, and it tastes good. I used a skillet for the salmon, microwave for the broccoli, and toaster oven for the spuds.

French toast…yummy treat.

French toast has turned out to be a quick breakfast treat. I mix an egg, some soy or oat milk, and some cinnamon together, soak two pieces of buttered bread in the mixture, and put them on a frying pan with high heat. Add real maple syrup (this is New England, after all) and you’ve got a delicious start to the day.

English breakfast, Boston style, addictive stuff!

If I was to pick my two favorite home-brewed meals, my version of English breakfast would come in second behind the beef stew. I’ve been to England many times and always enjoyed the full English breakfasts served in B&B hotels. So I decided to make a Boston version of those breakfasts. The key non-local food item is British-style bangers (sausage), ordered from RJ Balson and Son. You need that taste authenticity — other types of sausages just don’t work.

Linguini tossed with garlic and olive oil, and some chicken and broccoli for variety.

The linguini dish was another improv. I had some leftover chicken, and I’m always up for pasta. It needs a little more punch to it, but it satisfied my appetite. By the way, I noticed that this is the third photo that includes broccoli. It’s not because I particularly like broccoli. Rather, it’s the easiest frozen vegetable to nuke in the microwave, while feeling somewhat virtuous for eating something healthy. I typically pick out the broccoli first and eat it quickly, so I can then enjoy the rest of the meal.

I made several pumpkin pies — not as good as my mom’s, but pretty good.

My mom made the best pumpkin pies. When I’d visit home for the holidays, pumpkin pie was always part of the food mix. My pandemic efforts at pumpkin pie have not come close, but given that I’ve been basically following the recipe on back of the pumpkin pie mix can, they’ve turned out pretty well.

Atmospheric shot of Martha and Myra’s backyard, site of socially distanced dinners via their grill.

I have been living very carefully during this pandemic. Here in my Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, my socializing has been limited to socially distanced, outdoor cookout dinners with my long-time friends Martha and Myra, who encouraged me to move to this wonderful ‘hood many years ago. I have photos of neither our meals nor our persons, but here’s a stylish shot I took of their backyard fence as dusk settled in.

Part of a food delivery from City Feed & Supply.

Thank goodness for my local City Feed & Supply store, whose dependable deliveries have been a lifeline for me during this time. I haven’t owned a car since 1982, so having several bags of food delivered to my home makes a big difference. City Feed specializes in locally grown and organic foods, so the quality is very high. Just about everything here — except for the sausages — came from that store.

I do look forward to dining out more regularly, but I’m pleased to report that homemade food will likely supplant my penchant for fast food burgers even after it’s safer to eat out again. I’ve enjoyed making these relatively simple meals, and I’ll continue to do so. I see this as one of the personal bright spots of this otherwise difficult year.

As for 2020 as a whole, well, I just hope that it’s followed by a better and healthier year for this world. Best wishes to you for a 2021 worthy of gratitude and even celebration.

8 responses

  1. Baked beans for breakfast – a true Bostonian! Thank you for this generous story about your socially distanced culinary adventures.

    Here in my house, my teenage daughter has decided we should have fancy hot chocolate on a regular basis. This generates many pans involved in heating up milk. I will try to remember that this will be part of our pandemic chronicles and I should thank her for these adventures.

    Best wishes for 2021!

    1. Thanks for commenting! The baked beans are actually part of a traditional English breakfast, so I it wasn’t a stretch to include them in my Boston version. Enjoy your hot chocolate and have a good & safe New Year!

  2. I will look forward to visiting Boston (once this Pandemic is over) and tasting this new found skill of yours! Sounds like you took a page from Julia Child who said You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.” Or, going out for lobster!

    1. Hi Sharon, can’t wait until you folks visit Boston again — though the seafood place will still be much better than my cooking! LOL!

  3. Always impressive, David.

  4. Cousin David! You’ve turned into a food blogger!!!! Sooooo impressed. We will have to start swapping recipes now;)
    Xxoo

    1. Hi Betty, you may forget that I’ve enjoyed your gourmet cooking! I’m still aiming for edible!!! Hahaha!

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