Cooking in the time of Covid-194 min read . Updated: 27 Mar 2020, 01:59 PM IST
We consume more food than in normal times because, as the debilitating grip of the virus grows stronger, there is no more ordering out or eating out
As I write this, I can hear only two sounds—the soft whirring of the fan and birdsong, which is normally drowned out by traffic, relentless even on a Sunday. I don’t know how to feel. The quietude and the birdsong are welcome but the silence is ominous—end-of-days ominous.
I know that the silence will be one of the longest India has ever endured. It will devastate the economy and sunder millions of lives. These are the cruel dilemmas of life in the times of the coronavirus.
I am privileged because my dilemmas are non-existent. I do not have to clamber aboard a packed train and head for a family in a distant village, wondering if I am better off in a city or with them. I do not have to wonder what happens to my daily earnings if I stay home because I have savings, a steady income of sorts, and I have worked from home for a decade. I do not have to make serious life changes to practise social distancing because I have been socially distanced for a while.
There have been only two major changes to my life: One, with school prematurely shut and summer travel out of the question, my child is home all the time, challenging herself and her parents in the fine art of spending time. Two, my kitchen is now truly my own. We had a part-timer but she has gone to assist my 80-something parents, who have given leave with full pay to their staff.
With warnings that things are going to worsen, it’s hard to figure out how many supplies one needs in these uncertain times. Over the last week, I made three stocking-up trips, but they were inadequate. Within a couple of days, something was always short: tomatoes, eggs, spinach, pasta, fruits, cucumbers and I cannot remember what else.
I realize we consume more food than in normal times because, as the debilitating grip of the virus grows stronger, there is no more ordering out or eating out. While life in general is unsettling, I cannot complain. I remember afresh why I cook, for the satisfaction, joy and togetherness.
I have never been much of a planner in the kitchen, and that is well and good because I can keep the family in a state of constant surprise, although sometimes they may tire of the lack of predictability. I do take general requests and tailor breakfast or dinner accordingly. Lunch, thus far, is at my parents’ home. They are a 3-minute walk away.
Some days I walk straight to my fridge, randomly pull out ingredients and then decide what to do. If there is an ingredient missing, I resist the temptation to jump on my bike and get it. Some days, I consult my stash of cookbooks, get inspired and then do my own thing.
The result is, often, a bit of a mishmash, as you can see from the photograph alongside, but I do not hear anyone complaining.
Our dining table is no longer used, except to work on. We eat in the kitchen every day, cook and serve, as it were. We have more time for each other than we ever did, and we are learning to slow down our lives. The nine-year-old, after an edgy first week, appears to have adapted to the long coronavirus days.
She has learnt to sleep until 7.30am instead of jumping out of bed by 5.45, so that’s quite something. She stays over at her grandparents’ two nights a week, and her grandmother reports she is calmer than ever. The best part of this time has been watching her make her peace with boredom.
The number of what-shall-I-do-now questions has reduced, and if she finds both parents working and no entertainment in sight, she makes her own. We are both busy this morning: She has practised her piano, had a bath, painted, read and made herself a ham sandwich. When she took a break from amusing herself, we all had a Sunday-morning tickling session. Tonight, after I make dinner, she will clean the dishes.
We do not know when the pandemic will abate. In India, it has, the scientists tell us, barely started. We hope to stay healthy but you never can tell. We can never truly prepare for the worst but we do hope for the best. Meanwhile, we treasure the extra time we have for each other. We joke, we fight, we play, we read—and we wait for a conclusion. We may have a very long wait, so we might as well make the best of it.
DALIA WITH POMEGRANATE AND CHICKPEAS
1 mug dalia (cracked wheat)
1 mug water
1 mug cooked chickpeas
5 tbsp pomegranate seeds
4 tbsp mint leaves
Half-cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Cook the dalia as per instructions or as you normally would. I cook it on an open stove on medium heat in water until almost done, then drain the water and fluff it up after letting it cool. The grains must separate. Add the olive oil and sea salt and keep fluffing, so it stays separate. Add the lime juice, chopped parsley, mint, pomegranate and chickpeas. Grind fresh pepper and serve warm.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.