Saturday, April 25, 2020

Food in the Time of Lockdown- 38 days and counting

It has been about six weeks since our family has been sheltering in place at home, like most of the rest of humanity. As non-essential workers, our only mandate at the minute is to stay home and be out of the way. There is much to be grateful for- we have food and a comfortable home, a yard where we can enjoy nice Spring weather, and a neighborhood that is safe and very quiet, where we can go for walks and jogs while social distancing.

My husband and I are working from home, caring from our kids and sharing housework- all of this keeps us on our toes and the days go flying by. Our daughter is busy with schoolwork, much of it online. The rest of the time she enjoys reading for fun, writing poems and letters, doing crafts and playing some video games. The biggest challenge is to keep the toddler boy engaged- he is too young to do much on his own, and while he's happy most of the time and plays with his sister a lot, we have noticed an uptick in temper tantrums out of sheer frustration at missing school, outings and friends. His sleep patterns have gotten worse so V and I are in the baffling situation of being home 24 a day and still not getting enough sleep. On the whole the kids definitely have a lot more screen time than they ever did before, and we have made our peace with it at this unusual time in our lives.

The kitchen is busy in a cycle of cooking and cleaning as I churn out three meals a day, plus some snacks for the kids. My style of cooking lends itself very well to what's being called "quarantine cooking"- simple fuss-free meals, made with fairly basic mostly whole foods, with ingredients being swapped out easily based on what's on hand, and with the very minimum of waste.

For breakfast, I tend to eat steel cut oats with nut butter and fruit- generally frozen blueberries and sometimes apples. On occasion, I'll eat avocado toast with a fried egg. V eats homemade granola with non-dairy milk every single morning. The kids choose from what we're eating, or cereal or toast, and pancakes on the weekends.

Lunch and dinner are simple meals- dal, khichdi, idli and dosas, tacos, soups and tofu stir fries are always on the rotation. I start with whatever vegetables I have on hand, and then craft a meal around that, adding beans or tofu or eggs, and some grains.

Here's a sampling of recent meals that I thought to take pictures of, with shorthand recipes.

Impromptu Misal: Start with sprouted moong beans. Make a Maharashtrian usal-like curry. I did this in the instant pot by tempering with mustard seeds and turmeric, sauteeing onion, a bit of tomato and goda masala, adding salt and water, and then cooking at high pressure for 4 minutes. We topped this stew with shredded carrots, cilantro and onion, a swirl of yogurt and crunchy roasted peanuts. 
Edamame bowl with Thai flavors: A sheet pan of mixed roasted vegetable is the starting point for many, many of our meals. This time I had some cabbage and broccoli, red pepper and a bag of shelled frozen edamame- all roasted together at the convection setting at 400F for 12 minutes. In the fridge, I had half of a can of yellow Thai curry paste, and a third of a can of coconut milk. I simply mixed these together and warmed the mixture in a saucepan to make a sauce. We drizzled the sauce on a base of some rice and a big helping of the roasted veg-edamame mix. 

Congee: This recipe was adapted from the book The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook for your Instant Pot by Kathy Hester. My daughter loves the mushroom bok choy soup from a local Chinese restaurant. This brown rice congee had the same flavors in a heartier version. In an instant pot, add together half cup brown rice, 4 cups water, baby bok choy chopped, baby Bella and shiitake mushrooms sliced (used two small boxes total). Season with better than bouillon (or other stock concentrate) and some ginger-garlic. Cook on high pressure 40 minutes, natural pressure release. Taste and add some soy sauce and vegan chicken seasoning (new spice blend from Trader Joe’s that I am liking very much). I served this with oven baked marinated tofu slices and a dollop of my favorite condiment- spicy chilly crisp. 

Sheet pan sausages: On a sheet pan, toss together potato cubes, sliced cabbage, and other veggies (broccoli, peppers, carrot) with some salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 400F on convection setting. Add sliced veggie "sausages" in the last few minutes of roasting. I served this with a fried egg. 

Chili and cornbread: This was a bid to finish up the last cup of cornmeal that had been lingering in the pantry. I tried a recipe for cheddar kale cornbread and served it on a black bean and sweet potato chili.

Tortellini stew: This was an easy Instant Pot stew of canned crushed tomatoes, a pack of refrigerated tortellini, a few meatless meatballs, a minced carrot and about 3 cups stock, all cooked under high pressure for a minute, then natural release after 4 minutes. I stirred in a can of white beans at the end.

Lasagna: My kids love lasagna and now I have standardized a version that is heavy on vegetables and relatively light on cheese. This time I only had one box of frozen spinach so I used some frozen green beans in addition and the combination worked well. A large tray of lasagna lasts us for meals over 3-4 days. 

* * *
In little bits of stolen time- an hour here and there- I decluttered and organized our spare room which doubles as our storage room and my sewing space. It was a rewarding activity, and mentally therapeutic. I folded all my fabric neatly into bins, keeping only what I like and can reasonably use. The rest got bagged up and donated to a local group that is making face masks. I found a few half-done projects, dusted off my long-neglected sewing machine and finished them. Now when I look around the tidy space, I feel inspired again.

My favorite fabric collection- block printed
cottons from India

I made a bunch of face masks, mostly to
share with neighbors and friends

A half-finished project that finally got done.
Darling little hanging baskets- free pattern from
Jennifer Jangles.

Hats for my dear friend's twin boys. I can't imagine
being socially isolated with twin newborns in the
middle of a pandemic!

* * *
Only 6 months after our sweet dog Duncan had major knee surgery on his left leg, he had to have the same procedure on his right knee. He had been recovering really well from his first surgery, but then last month we started to notice that he was limping again. The vet surgeon had warned us that most dogs who have the procedure on one leg eventually need it on the other leg, and that the time between when the two surgeries are needed  is unpredictable- it can range from weeks to years.

Ten days ago, things got really bad all of a sudden and to make a long story short, we had a miserable night of him not being able to get up off the ground, followed immediately by two nights in the hospital and TTA surgery on his right knee. We are thankful that vets are operating at this time- the whole thing was done with strict social distancing. You drop off your pet in the vet's parking lot and they take him in and do the exam and call you to talk about the findings and next steps.

The good news is that he's doing really well post-surgery. We are home to watch over him and give him company 24/7. It has been a rough year for this sweet dog. The hope is that with two brand new knee implants, our bionic pup will have many more healthy years ahead.

Duncan enjoys spring sunshine in the yard.
You can see the bandaged right hind leg.
Duncan's plight last week prompted
our daughter to write this poem.

Tell me how you're doing and what the COVID-19 situation is looking like in your part of the world. Best wishes to all!