I get it: Baking bread the old-fashioned way offers you a sense of accomplishment, even a mastery over nature – a welcome counterpoint to the feeling of helplessness during this global pandemic. It’s the ultimate analog activity when you spend the rest of your day glued to Zoom calls and scrolling your phone. That FOMO you used to have when friends posted pics of their travels or concerts? It’s not gone; it’s now focused on the endless stream of artisanal bread shots landing in your feed.
I love that people are trying something new, but the time and investment needed for sourdough is, quite frankly, insane. Days to make the starter, tons of flour, special equipment, like a kitchen scale and heavy Dutch oven cookware, not to mention all of those inevitable failed sourdough starters, makes baking almost as stressful as, well, a global pandemic. What’s more, everyone’s sudden return to an Edwardian Farm lifestyle has led to many grocery store shelves resembling those of Mother Russia circa 1960. A spokesperson for King Arthur flour was quoted by Bon Appetit as saying the company sent out a million bags of flour to retail stores in the United States last month – two weeks in March outpacing the entire competitive holiday baking season.
Instead of mirroring Insta-popular recipes such as dalgona coffee, the secret Hilton Doubleday cookie recipe, focaccia or whatever happens to be popular next week, why not create? What I’m talking about is using your creativity.
Creativity is a gift that should be nurtured rather than stunted by cake fails, especially right now. Think about a moment you discovered something new and enjoyable (side note: this actually could be sourdough). Didn’t the time just fall away? It could be reading, doodling, finding new ways to fit chocolate into your diet, or karaoke. I promise, cooking can make you feel just like you do when you’re belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart with your friends in a darkened karaoke room.
Creativity comes from the brain and travels into the heart. Chances are you’ve recently picked up a long-neglected instrument or a bottle of nail polish. You’ve taken a Masterclass in the art of negotiation, or tuned in to a virtual dance party. Your brain is telling you something: “Now is the time.” And because you can’t dine out like you used to, it’s also the perfect time to take a look at what’s in your fridge and cupboards, and get creative with what you find. Think of it as Chopped: COVID-19 edition. An idea will blossom and soon enough, dinner will take shape.
I don’t want to hear that you don’t know how to cook. Just like the life skills of shoelace tying, riding a bike and swimming, cooking is one of the basics that you need in order to be in the game. You don’t have to be good at it, but you do have to try.
So, here’s my advice. Start simple. Make toast, spread it with peanut butter … then add some swirls of honey and sea salt. OMG, move over avocado toast! You’ve just made peanut-butter toast a thing. Or slice some bananas and top them with yogourt, granola and honey. See? The day has only just begun and you’re already creating art.
Next, let’s think about what we want from the supermarket and envision where everything is so that we’re in and out of there quickly. Fruit and vegetables on one wall, dairy on another and meat on a third. See what looks good to you and go for it. Throw some cheese in the basket as well. (Cheese is always delicious.) Get some cupboard staples while you’re there, ingredients that will make it easier to toss together creative meals and treats. Think spices, olive oil and vinegars. Rice, lentils, pasta. Flour, sugar, chocolate chips. Chicken stock, canned tomatoes, and breadcrumbs. And don’t forget the Dijon.
Once home, think about some of your favourite humble dishes: Split pea soup? Pasta puttanesca? A frittata? All were invented by resourceful home cooks who were making do with what they had on hand, and figuring it out on the fly.
Finally, take a second to look down at those shoelaces: You once learned how to do that. And now you can do this.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.