When confined to barracks, you can find joy in cooking, says our columnist. See his tips for making the most out of cooking while in lockdown.
Fittingly, I am writing this at the kitchen table – at 7am, to beat the rush. This is Covid-19 Britain: a nation on lockdown in homes where every surface is now a school desk, office, mini-cine, games console and virtual conference room. The kitchen table is hotly contested real estate.
Before coronavirus, I might have glibly described this scenario as hell. Now, as normal life evaporates like alcohol based hand-sanitiser – and in other homes, people are grieving for their loved ones and facing financial ruin – I am trying to remain grateful for what I have: a family, four walls, food and cooking facilities.
For food lovers, the kitchen remains a place of ultimate safety. Once the home-workers and students vacate, it is somewhere you can absorb yourself in cooking in a way that feels essential right now. As a northerner, I remain sceptical about the whole concept of mindfulness. But irrefutably, there is something about the methodical, repetitive business of chopping, mincing, whisking and stirring that, in a Zen way, frees your mind and, to use that painfully Californian phrase, makes you present in the moment.
At its best, a kitchen is a sensual cocoon. One where anxiety melts away in the audible pops of a gently simmering pan; the muffled whir of a hand-blender immersed in thick soup (fact: nothing bad can happen when making soup); the smell of sizzling bacon, garlic or onions. Feeding others is a generous act but, at times of stress, cooking is also a personal sedative. In such reflective moments, memories flood in.
The kitchen is a place of endless triggers: heirlooms and hand-me-downs lurking in drawers (a cutlery set, a chipped pie funnel); stained cookbooks bookmarked with your mum’s yellowing magazine cuttings; that hideous, holiday souvenir salad bowl that has become a running family in-joke; a scratched measuring jug or worn wooden spoon that cost pence decades ago, but which you treasure; daft mugs and mismatched plates that have survived multiple house moves.
All these conjure memories of currently distant family, friends and shared meals around that kitchen table. Times when, perhaps you can’t remember what you ate (the disasters linger; that dropped trifle, a cremated rib of beef that resulted in an emergency takeaway), but you can still remember the laughter bouncing off the walls. If you find yourself shedding a tear at the hob, there is no shame in that. This is tough. But the kitchen can be an enormous morale-booster, too.
Try to use this downtime productively, cooking meals for vulnerable neighbours or mastering skills you don’t normally have time for (pasta, lacto-fermentation, sourdough). A number of businesses, such as Italian restaurant Officina 00 and London bakery school Bread Ahead, have launched free Insta cookery classes. Likewise, on our social channels, @bbcgoodfood is offering go-to guidance on corona-related cooking dilemmas, #askbbcgoodfood.
This is technology’s time to shine. Self-isolation is far less isolating if you’re on Skype laughing with relatives who suddenly need your béchamel tips; meeting mates for remote drinks on the Houseparty app; or sharing ideas on Whatsapp about how to use weird old bottles of booze in “quarantini” cocktails.
Make time to eat with your partner, too. If that develops into an impromptu party, all the better. The ‘kitchen disco’ – basically, a two-player game of musical tennis on YouTube and Spotify – is an institution at Naylor Towers. It used to be a way to let off steam on Friday night. Now it is a way of thinking beyond coronavirus.
For this will pass. The kitchen, however, will always remain our favourite room in the house.
Read more articles by Tony Naylor
What have you been cooking in lockdown? Leave a comment below...
Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.