Use what you have, don't worry if it's not perfect, and try to find some joy where you can.

By Margaret Eby
April 03, 2020
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The news is very bad. You don’t need me to tell you that.

The world—yes, the whole word—is in crisis. Coronavirus is spreading, unemployment is spiking, and a layer of anxiety and stress has settled over New York City, where I live, like an impermeable fog. On my screen, I watch the numbers of infected people tick up and the number of available ventilators tick down. I worry about my dad, who works in a hospital in Mississippi and bakes pies for the nurses, and my sister-in-law, a pediatrician working in an Atlanta ICU. I worry about my neighbors, who are home health aids, nannies, and MTA employees, going to work so that the city is still baseline functional even now. I worry about networks of people who ripple out from them. I worry about my friends who have been laid off, the restaurant workers struggling to stay afloat, all the people who make living in New York City worth it. I feel helpless, useless, frustrated, and scared.

But I know that I am also hugely lucky. Not only do I have a job that allows working from home, a roof over my head, and, for the time being, my health, I also have an outlet for my stress that’s available about ten feet away from the couch where I’m writing this: my kitchen.

Sometime in my late 20s, cooking transitioned, for me, from chore to respite. It demands attention and creativity in a way I find soothing. Even though my kitchen is absurdly tiny, and nothing much to look at, it’s a place I can walk into and feel a bit calmer. It’s where I’ve made huge elaborate meals, eaten cold pizza while browsing through the fridge, and fed spoonfuls of mashed potatoes to friends. I miss cooking for other people, but I still find great solace in the act of cooking. When I bring out my cutting board and start chopping onions, my shoulders relax, and a part of my brain switches to the kinetic memory of how to slice, mince, peel. I keep a pot of beans simmering or a loaf of bread rising just to check on it, to remind myself of nourishment.

Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Not everyone feels this way about cooking, understandably. It can be itself a source of stress, rather than a reliever of it. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can all feel too much to me, too. The constant washing of dishes and restocking of ingredients, the making of food, meal after meal. It never ends. It takes courage to keep up the motions of everyday life, in the face of such crushing uncertainty and dire predictions about the future. We don't know when it will end, and so we must keep going. It is too much to ask, but it’s also all we can do. 

I keep coming back to something Nigella Lawson tweeted the other day: “I think cooking is a form of optimism.” I believe that, too. I know that I find joy there, and whatever joy I can scrape up is badly needed these days. I know making enough food for tomorrow is a way of saying to myself, tomorrow will arrive, and will, at least, not be today. A lot of folks are also relying on home cooking, some in orders of magnitude more than they have before. I hope you too can find some joy there, or at least some satisfaction in the simple, vital act of nourishment, feeding yourself and your family.

Here is what we’ve published about how to cook at home in this time of crisis.

Shop for Food Safely

In normal times, going to the grocery is one of my favorite things to do. These days, it’s a lot more stressful. Here’s what to know about shopping for food safely in a pandemic.

Stock Your Pantry Well

If you need ideas about what to look for, here are tips on how to stock your pantry during coronavirus. Pick up some spices, too, to make sure you have flavor no matter what. If you find organizing to be a relief, here’s a great guide to putting your pantry in order. If you need ways to maximize the space you have, here are some good storage solutions.

Store Things So They Last

Once you’ve done your grocery run, you’ll want to make it last as long as you can. Learn how to properly store any vegetable. Freeze dairy products you won’t use by their expiration (yes, even milk). Store herbs for the long haul.

Credit: Antonis Achilleos

Keep Dinner Ideas Low-Lift

Even though I’m not leaving home much, it’s hard to concentrate on a big, complicated cooking project. I’ve had many nights when I need something simple and immediate. Here are recipes made mostly (or entirely) from pantry staples. If you want to cut down on dishes, try these easy sheet pan dinners or these meals you can make in one pan. Need something sweet? Here are some simple desserts to try, too.

Simmer Something All Day Long

If you, like me, enjoy having a cooking project going in the background of your day, here are our best slow cooker recipes, easily adaptable to a stovetop or Instant pot, too. I love dried beans for this purpose, so here’s a guide on how to cook dried beans, and how to make them delicious, as well as edible, and a round-up of bean recipes of all descriptions. Another good option is a braise of a big hunk of meat, like these recipes.

Make Bread

There is something magical about making bread. It's so simple—water, flour, salt, yeast—and yet it provides so much sustenance. Here’s a beginner’s guide to sourdough baking. Try your hand at flatbreads or baguettes with these bread recipes. Make a sourdough-free crusty bakery-style loaf of bread. Add a little wine to the dough, why not. Just starting to bake? Here are some beginner projects to master.

Use Everything You Can

Save your onion skins. Hang on to scraps to make flavorful stock. Regrow vegetables from scraps. Keep your Parmesan rinds and add them to soups and broths.

Credit: Victor Protasio

Stock Your Freezer

It’s useful, emotionally and practically, to harness a wave of motivation and energy to do things that you won’t have that energy for later. Here are some recipes that freeze really well, like tomato sauce, soups, and chili, so that future you can just thaw a portion of it. Need big-batch recipes that you can portion out over the next week? Here are 53 of them.

Whatever you’re cooking, remember that we’re all trying to do our best out there. Things don’t have to be perfect to be good or sustaining. Use what you have, feed yourself and your loved ones, and find joy where you can.