I have never, to put it mildly, been one to cook. A New Yorker in the Carrie Bradshaw “My oven? You mean where I store my shoes?” vein, I cannot remember the last time I made something more complicated than a mixed drink in my kitchen. Once, seven or eight years ago, my friend David came over to try and teach me how to make a “simple” dish: a chicken-based stew. While we prepped, the oddly intricate salt-and-pepper shaker fell apart into the pot. We thought we had removed all the components, but when I was ladling the leftovers into a Tupperware after we finished eating, I found a … triple-A battery in the remains. As I tried to process the fact that we had just ingested a battery-flavored stew, the battery itself seemed to taunt me: You are not meant for this.
Now, during this quarantine period, I am taunted by banana bread. Each Instagram Story of a well-lit sourdough loaf or glistening roast chicken or complex soup presents a new spiral of envy and shame. They have been impossible to avoid this past month, this deeply strange stretch of time where each day seems to last a year, no matter how late you sleep in.
Wherever I scroll, close friends, acquaintances I haven’t seen in 11 years (but still monitor assiduously on social media), celebrities—they’re all sharing their culinary outputs. One college classmate has posted a new homemade dessert every night: “Whipped these up!” he’ll write, as if he reached into his pocket and emerged with this set of 12 elegantly shaped almond macaroons. I watch influencers and reality-show contestants present braided artisanal breads (“made from scratch!!”) instead of their usual sponsored teeth-whitening and gym equipment posts. Kylie Jenner recently shared her banana pancake process on Instagram, step by step, and—even in that case—it looked to me like an impossible feat, as if I were witnessing an Olympian complete a high jump.
For years, people have been suggesting I might want to try learning at least a few recipes. (See also: people I barely know offering, “I feel like yoga would be really good for you!”) And there is a part of me that has watched all of this cooking content with a pang of regret: Maybe I wouldn’t be panic-Googling symptoms or texting people I probably shouldn’t be if I were instead spending hours whipping up a falafel feast or crème brûlée in my kitchen (in this fantasy, I’m also wearing something other than the same two pairs of flannel pants I’ve been alternating between). But right now, I barely have the psychological fortitude to write a coherent email; acquiring a new skill set does not feel within reach.
My “quarantine food diary” probably does not look very dissimilar from that of a typical eight-year-old during non-quarantine times. I have reverted to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches … uh, hummus sandwiches. The extent of my “inventive-ness” came a few afternoons ago when I realized we were out of bread, so I fashioned a sandwich out of tuna salad and two slices of turkey. (Take that, everyone showing off their elaborate broths on Instagram Live!). There have been pastas and canned soups and Clif bars and scoops of raisins—and a particularly low point when I peeled a banana with a fork and knife because I still don’t really understand what we should and shouldn’t be touching with our hands. I bought a few bags of the Stacy’s cinnamon sugar chips I used to subsist on as a teenager. Frozen meals reheated. Crackers found in a tin of unknown provenance. I fear I am just days away from wandering around my kitchen in a blanket, pouring cereal into my mouth directly from the box, mixing a bunch of sauces with Sour Patch Kids in a bowl and finding out how it all tastes together.
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