…and the serendipity of typos: coping with pandemic lockdown.
I had a great idea a few months ago: I was going to write a social media post about the absurdity of the last 18 months and how I’d cooked my way through it with silly kitchen antics, laughter, friendship and a little on-demand joi de vivre. Simply put, I employed a whole lot of goofy fearlessness to counter the weight of the world around us. I usually don’t shy away from a fight, but this time discretion was, in fact, the better part of valor. As I wrote my post, the word foolish kept coming to mind, but instead I typed foodish so often that autocorrect learned the word. And that was that.
But the genesis of this blog had been churning long before that and had something to do with hitting the mid-century mark, launching my two boys and stepping away from a very structured lifestyle. I had lived my adult life in lock-step with an academic calendar since 1992, and had even managed to build a “career” that fell right in line with that rhythm. Not only was every year pre-ordained, but my daily schedule had become an endless rotation of 50 minute periods.
After Sous Chef flew north in 2019, I had fewer than six months of empty nestitude until the pandemic sent his brother and him right back home to Mom. Just when I thought I was out…
There were many directions our unplanned family reunion could have gone, but my greatest fear was a household of sullen, quarantined bitterness. Specifically, I feared a bitterness punctuated by internet service desperately straining to Zoom online classes from two colleges, piles of other people’s laundry left for me to step over and (not my) dirty dishes stacked to the ceiling.
Instead, we all rallied with gratitude and patience. My little family of four was home safe, healthy, well-supplied and well-fed. And what mother gets to have time with the adult children she thought she’d only get to see on every other major holiday? There was a bonus, too – I got my conscripted audience back, and to my delight they were absolutely appalled by my new-found kitchen exuberance. The high point, and quite possibly Sous Chef’s breaking point, was my making Chicken Piccata whilst dancing to Squeeze Box. He simply said “nope” and walked away; I swear I heard gagging in the distance. Mission accomplished.
If Foodishness, the blog, was born from pandemic circumstance, my isolation-incited foolishness was egged-on by a small squad of dear friends. You will eventually meet all of my Louises, but this time we again turn to Louise of the West (above) who had a birthday while I was visiting. I’m big on birthdays, and while presents are fine and dandy (don’t get me wrong, Husband) the simple but meaningful acknowledgment of somebody’s big day is important to me. Like really important. I think it’s one of social media’s only redeeming qualities. So left alone in the mountains for a few days, I inspected/rooted through Louise’s pantry, and after noting the overstocks and deficits, I commandeered some capers for my old friend, Chicken Piccata, which happens to be one of her favorites.
I feel like I ignored some basic, but critical culinary elements for many years, salt and acid being the two most obvious. But the briny tang of capers paired with a jolt of lemon juice makes Chicken Piccata my favorite variation of the breaded Italian cutlet. It masquerades as a lighter alternative to saucy Parmigiana or rich Alfredo, but don’t be fooled. Butter and lemon can hold their own. At Louise’s suggestion, I added some sliced baby Bella mushrooms for good measure, right before returning the chickens to the pan – a nice touch. She also crafted a swell chopped caprese salad, which really doesn’t require a recipe, but I included one above for the nervous Nellies.
Of course birthdays call for cake. Always. Day 11 of my visit was the big day so I again raided the pantry and found a box of yellow cake mix. It expired January 5th, but I considered that a suggestion, not really a hard and fast rule. You know what is a hard and fast rule though? High altitude directions. So the cake was a thick, sunken, cavernous disaster. Seriously, I actually managed to screw up a boxed cake mix…at 8400 feet above sea level, mind you.
As I flew back to reality the other day I was reminded of my trip to the mountains almost exactly two years ago. On the flight home I remember counting only three passengers wearing masks, but there was a thick curtain of uncertainty, like we were on the last flight out of Denver. People were anxious and tried to lock eyes with strangers, hoping for reassurance; it was non-political and unpolarized then, in a post 9/11 way. By summer there was a meme going around that said:
“Once this is all over with, I’m hugging everyone. Get ready for long, awkward hugs. I’m gonna make it weird.”
Those were the days – we still thought this was temporary. I completely identified with the sentiment and I suppose posting food pics was my way of reaching out from within these four walls.
A few days before this latest trip west, Louise posted an updated version of this idea that belies our collective weariness. The original was sassy and clever, but after two long and contentous years we have all grown tired. We need a bit more than a hug:
“Normalize telling your friends you love them. Tell them a lot. Make it weird.”
There is a fine line between weird and foolish, and I smirk as I dance across it every day. But since March of 2020 there is an even finer line that we choose to ignore – this is not normal, but we pretend we are okay…until we aren’t. That’s when tempers flare, tears flow and emotions become distorted. So give yourself and the people around you some grace; not just your children or your partner, but the a-hole who cut you off in traffic or the surly cable sales rep who is simply “just doing my job, ma’am” or the thoughtless boob with the massive shopping cart who blocks the entry to Target to stop and check her phone. Okay, I might have a list.
But I’m eternally grateful for my toolbox of foolishness, my motley collection of friends and my nutty family. And of course the good fortune and poor typing skills which led me here. I’m so very lucky.
Shopping cart lady? She had it coming.