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This year, we were all forced into our kitchens to fend for ourselves. With restaurant closures and restrictions, bans on indoor gatherings putting an end to meals at other people’s homes and reduced commuting, those of us not working double time on the front lines have been cooking a lot more than we likely ever have before, whether we enjoy it or not.
Drastic adjustments in the way we live, work and shop have also affected how we cook. Those new to the domestic flexibility of a home office have been sliding long-simmering stews and braises into the oven after lunch in the middle of the work week, no longer scrambling for quick meal solutions during that panicked sliver of time between school, work, extracurricular activities and dinner. Many have embraced the opportunity to up their culinary game by taking on sourdough and other gastronomic projects that require extra attention, such as nurturing ferments and monitoring rising doughs.
We’ve been baking like crazy, not only in an attempt to comfort ourselves and each other, but to save money, become more self-sufficient, and occupy kids with an off-screen activity that has a tangible educational value and a palatable end result. But the shift from creative outlet to daily obligation has also eroded the enthusiasm of many previously ambitious cooks who, pre-pandemic, had the luxury of taking pleasure in cooking as a restorative end-of-day or weekend project.
Managing economic uncertainty with social distancing restrictions has been a crash course in domestic food waste. We’re starting to think twice about tossing that tub of yogurt just because the best before date on the container is close to the date on the calendar. (What is time anymore, anyway?) More often, we’re approaching meals from the strategic standpoint of what we have and what can be done with it, rather than venture to the grocery store and risk long lineups for an ingredient we’re simply in the mood for. Over the summer months, we grew edible gardens, embracing each tiny step toward self-sustainability. We put up so many preserves that Mason jars became a new form of currency.
The restaurant industry, which employs 7 per cent of our workforce (not counting the businesses that support them), has shifted gears to support this eating-in lifestyle, with local haunts and now-idle catering kitchens offering meal kits and to-go dishes we can reheat at home. If their typical elaborately-plated dishes don’t make sense packed into a takeaway box, many are coming up with new menus including the kinds of fresh and frozen stews, curries and pies we may have previously purchased from a gourmet prepared foods shop.
Whether we’re starting from scratch, opening a package or texting in an order, this is the way we’ll be dining for a while, hopefully getting better at making the most of making it ourselves.