It’s after midnight on a Thursday when I push the button on my Amazon Fresh delivery order — only my second ever. By 6:30 p.m., fresh lemons, avocados, bananas, cucumbers, garlic, cheese, olive oil, canned tuna and salmon have arrived at my doorstep.
In the interim, I’ve had time to pick up a CSA share outside 8Arm restaurant on Ponce de Leon Avenue. It’s a beautiful, Instagram-ready haul of strawberries, blue-oyster mushrooms, radishes, carrots, salad mix, kale, collards, chard, alliums, a half-dozen farm eggs, goat cheese, more mushrooms and a package of duck tamales crafted by 8Arm chef Maricela Vega, who has teamed up with her network of local farmers to offer the share at the restaurant-turned-market.
Meanwhile, a friend who’s been leaving offerings of food on my front porch has dropped off a bunch of beets, a bag of dried chickpeas and a potent Manhattan cocktail from a nearby restaurant.
I sip the cocktail and ponder what to cook.
Welcome to my quarantine kitchen. I haven’t been to a grocery store since March 29. Except for twice-a-day dog walks and twice-a-week takeout runs, which I write about in the AJC’s Atlanta Orders In column, I rarely leave home. But when I do take pre-dinner strolls around my neighborhood, my nose quickens.
All over Grant Park, all over America, all over the world, I’d venture, kitchen windows are open, pasta is boiling, garlic is sauteing in olive oil. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, people are cooking at home out of necessity, and discovering the joy and satisfaction it brings. We may cringe at the thought of supermarket shopping, yet we are inspired to get back to basics and make do with pantry staples and minimal contact.
As it turns out, cooking at home is an opportunity to make better, wiser, healthier choices.
While I was still shopping at grocery stores, I noticed the run on beef, pork and chicken, those rows and rows of empty cases, so I decided to do without. Sure, there’s ground turkey in my freezer and a note on my refrigerator to use it in meatballs, with a sauce I’ll stew from canned tomatoes. I’m saving that can of salmon for the inevitable day I’ll fry up some croquettes and put on a pot of grits. And as long as I can find bacon, I’ll keep it on hand for seasoning greens and beans, for breakfast, for BLTs.
But for the most part, my plague-prompted cooking, if you can even call it cooking, has pivoted to meatless, one-pot suppers of potatoes, asparagus and jammy eggs. Or ribbony noodles moistened with a so-called pistou I fashion from the abundance of cilantro and parsley in my garden. Or clean-out-the-fridge salads drizzled with Green Goddess dressing (another great use of herbs) and bowls of creamy grits paired with sauteed mushrooms and toasted sourdough.
On the sweet side, from ingredients I mostly had on hand, I’ve baked cream-cheese pound cake (and topped it with strawberries and whipped cream), chocolate-chip cookies, and pretty pink strawberry cupcakes that smell like the essence of spring.
For my next project, I’m going to fetch my CSA share straight from the farm (fewer hands). And I’ve just discovered a neighborhood wine and spirits shop with online ordering and touch-free pickup.
You know, maybe this coronavirus cooking ain’t so bad after all. For many of us, it’s opened a path to self-nurturing and greater mindfulness about how we cook and eat. When things get back to normal, supposing they ever do, we may just decide we like this new way better.
From cold soup to pasta and cupcakes, here are some ideas for quarantine cooking.
Gazpacho From a Can of Tomatoes
You don’t need to be in the middle of a global pandemic to justify using canned tomatoes to make gazpacho. The Spanish have done so for eons. The trick is good olive oil, splashed liberally, and a variety of condiments and toppings, simple or fancy.
A One-Pot Supper of Asparagus, Potatoes and Jammy Six-Minute Eggs
This is as easy as it gets, and you may easily double or triple the recipe if you are feeding more than two. You could substitute the six-minute eggs with hard-boiled, poached or fried eggs, or with a simple omelet, perhaps with mushrooms and cheese. Poached salmon, chicken or shrimp would be a lovely addition to the platter, too. Serve with crusty bread and very cold white wine, if you can scrounge up such luxuries.
Fettuccine With Pistou of Fresh Herbs
My definition of pistou — the Provencal sauce of pounded basil, garlic and olive oil that’s traditionally a condiment for white bean soup — is fast and loose. It started last spring when I roasted a bunch of beets and had a bouquet of beautiful, unblemished tops left over. While you can saute beet greens, I’m generally not that crazy about the flavor, so I pulsed them in the food processor, seasoning with lemon, olive oil, garlic, salt. Thus was born my so-called pistou, a gorgeous green sauce that can be used as a dip, salad dressing or stand-in for pesto. When eating with pasta, I usually add Parmesan cheese. Any leftover cooked veggies (onions, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, etc.) can be tossed with noodles, too.
Martha Foose’s Strawberry Cupcakes
Almond extract imparts a lovely perfume to these pretty pink cupcakes, but if you don’t have any, just leave it out.
— Adapted from “Screen Doors and Sweet Tea” by Martha Hall Foose (Clarkson Potter, $35).
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