Kitchen Confidential: How Cooking is Helping Me Stay Connected During the Pandemic

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With the pandemic keeping her from her usual social events, Zoomer Radio's Libby Znaimer says cooking at home is helping her stay connected. Photo: patrickheagney/GettyImages

“It appears that you and Doug are certainly eating well! Most impressive.”

That’s the message my friend Sandy sent in response to one of my Instagram posts — I’m not sure if it was monkfish Provençal, matzo ball soup or mac and cheese that made her get in touch. But increasingly, those food pictures are a main point of contact with my friends.

I used to use social media to showcase the people I met, the issues we explored and the events we attended. With all of that gone during lockdown, I turned to posting the food I cook most every night. I was an enthusiastic home cook in “the before time.” The pandemic has intensified my passion for it, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just the virtual equivalent of binge eating to fill a void.

There isn’t much else to do — outside of work, for which I’m grateful. I played tennis outdoors through the summer and a bit of the indoor season. But the lockdown put a stop to that, and I’m surprised at how much I miss the social aspect as well as the game. Generally, we’d all scurry off right afterwards — our conversation usually being casual so I didn’t expect it would become so important.

I take Zoom calls with friends and family but frankly find them a chore. Ditto for live-streamed events. Maybe it’s because I associate video with work, when I have to be well-dressed, made up, focused — which I am happy to be when I go out. Or at least, I used to be. Lately, I have started feeling relieved about not having to go to all that trouble. I used to relish rushing home to change into something fancy on the way to something special. Now that I am home every night, the idea of wearing anything but pyjamas after 7 p.m. seems harsh. I had to give myself a pep talk before donning a dress, hose and heels for a TV taping. It was not uncomfortable — but with a bank of computer screens instead of a live audience and guests, I may as well have been wearing sweatpants. And apparently they will still be de rigueur post-pandemic.

“Consumers can take comfort in knowing that those cashmere joggers they hurriedly purchased in March (2020) aren’t becoming obsolete anytime soon,” writes Maureen Brannigan on the blog Fashionista. She says the shift to what the industry calls “loungewear” started before COVID-19 and will endure long after. Is that because we are likely to retreat further into our own virtual worlds from inside our homes?

Which brings me back to the kitchen. It’s hard to get me out of there even for the best of reasons. I have refused special occasion takeout because I know I’ll be bored if I don’t cook when I am off work. The likes and nice comments may be a poor substitute for having friends at our table, but they are better than losing touch. And it’s opening some new opportunities. One of my editors suggested I do a cookbook — and I am rethinking my firm no. My account has also fooled the relevant algorithm into believing I am a pro and sending me hilariously inappropriate job postings. As I was writing this, under the headline “Top job picks for you,” I got word that Little Caesar’s Pizza was looking for a managing director. It was a step up from another offer — to apply for the night shift manager job at a different chain.

The restaurant business is among the hardest hit, and even the most successful have had to pivot. They’ve had to figure out how to put the experiences — including decor, presentation and the luxury of being served – into a box. We’re embracing takeout as a show of support and also for a welcome break from our kitchens. But home cooking has been the story of the pandemic. In December 2020, the annual glossy book listing Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants released its yearly Cooking Issue. It’s usually launched with a glitzy party full of fun people and delicious tasting stations — an event I look forward to! It’s another thing we missed out on this year, and the pleasant memory reassured me that someday, after all, I will again be willing to get out of my jammies and leave the house. In the meantime, I’ll make do with getting together over pictures.

“Miss our weekend lunches,” Sandy wrote me. That’s the way it is. So do I.

A version of this article appeared in the Feb/March 2021 issue of Zoomer with the headline “Kitchen Confidential,” p. 26. 

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