Silver Linings in the Time of Coronavirus

Apparently, the coronavirus has caused a spike in junk food consumption. And here I am, running in the opposite direction! Logically (magically?) thinking that by bolstering my immune system with centuries-old proven ingredients (like turmeric, ginger, cayenne, greens, beans, and rice), I might stand a fighting chance against Covid-19. I’m not going to just kick back with a Spam-and-mayo-on-Wonderbread (with a side of Cheetos), binge-watching TV until “this too shall pass.” Last time I did that I was ten years old consuming Saturday morning cartoons while covered with measles.

Nor am I enticed to accept the (one-is-too-many) recipe chain letter invitations that started coming my way. Roping together twenty participants who might fall under “foodie” profiling is a dangerous and possibly alienating endeavor, and I really need my friends now. Besides, I certainly am not going to abandon my comfortable “shelter-in-place” cubby to navigate grocery store aisles in search of new ingredients (on top of out-of-stock staples) to add to my pandemic pantry.

My approach is more along the lines of “what do I have already have and what can I whip up with it?” I have jars of mystery grains and beans tucked way in the back of my cabinet. (Shelf-life? Who cares, when we don’t even know what day it is?) Besides, I’ve finally got my eating down to an art and a science after a lifetime of wandering. I began with Velveeta and ended up vegan. Or nearly.

Veganism makes my food choices easy. No meat processing plants or factory farming for me, for many reasons. In the meantime, I’ve embraced baking. Not sourdough bread (that pandemic pastime craze can skip right by me), but tea breads, muffins, and cakes — with flax eggs, and chia seeds and apple cider vinegar. I even make my own oat milk with a blender and nut bag. I don’t miss cheese since I’ve learned to make a spread with soaked raw cashews, and nutritional yeast adds a nutty zing that pushes Parmesan aside. And I now actually prefer soy milk to dairy in my coffee.

What trips me up is the occasional authentic bodily craving for scrambled eggs. With Heinz ketchup. It’s a comfort food from my childhood — and, well, I just can’t quit you. (But only if you’re free-range.)

I have a tiny yard with a couple of raised beds for growing vegetables. By that, I mean maybe I will have sprouted some seeds indoors and transferred them successfully — or more likely I buy young plants. Nothing sun-loving is in the ground because it’s been too cold and I am still afraid to go shopping. The seeds I am trying to sprout are from packets dated 2015. I found them in my garage, and decided that it was time to purchase less and experiment more. The kale is so far hale, but the pickling cukes are kaput.

Meanwhile, weeds! The yearly invasive species are trooping into my yard. I gingerly climb up the steep slope where they taunt and wave at me — especially the garlic mustard, tiering up from flat slightly scalloped leaves into tiny white flowers. Easy to yank, I start tossing them into a pile, then stop to sniff a leaf. Garlic? Mustard? Two of my favorite essential ingredients! I scramble down the hill to Google it, and find out this is a tasty and nutritious plant. And perfect for pesto!

Piled before me is a mountain of stripped garlic mustard leaves ready for the Cuisinart (a wedding gift relic from 1977). As long as I have olive oil and garlic bulbs, I am a rich woman. Add a few roasted red peppers (no muss, I just always happen to have a jar), a splash of balsamic vinegar, a twist of fresh ground pepper, paprika, and some toasted, shopped nuts — Voila! Romesco-Pesto — quarantine cuisine at its finest, in this house. Serve over pasta or any of the mystery grains and beans on the shelf, or dip in (unbelievably easy) homemade naan.

So, I don’t think I’ll ever be jumping into the junk food craze. Nor will I succumb to eating boxed cereal for dinner. That just would make me too nostalgic for Seinfeld. My comfort in this deeply challenging time comes from finding what I need right in my own back yard. Just like Dorothy. I’m also ready for the Good Witch from the North to proclaim that we can come out, come out, wherever we are.

(mask made by my incredible childhood friend Bev!)

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