BEYOND BANANA BREAD
Food writer Tom Ganley on the significance of cooking through lockdown.
It’s Sunday morning. January 2021. It’s been just over ten months since the UK’s first lockdown. I take a moment to count the days. I’m sitting in the same chair, looking out the same window, at the same chimneys, the same sky. I hear the same neighbour lighting up a cigarette out of the same downstairs window and tossing the ends to the same patio below. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Lockdown life has taken its toll on all of us in countless ways. As well as the natural anxiety about COVID-19, the restrictive nature of the times we’re living through mean days, weeks and months blur into a pretty flavourless periodic soup.
In times of uncertainty, we find joy, pleasure and nourishment in all its forms through the simple things. For me, the strongest of these being the most basic, most nurturing necessity of all - food. Whether it’s the first sip of coffee in the morning from a favourite mug, slow Saturday breakfasts, the treat yoself takeaway, it’s food and its transcendent power to comfort and connect that has kept a lot of us going through these trying times.
It’s been an escape. A way to travel without travelling. Perhaps most profoundly, it’s been a way to keep track of time. When every day is Groundhog Day, breakfast, lunch and dinner become the headline acts – something we plan for, something to bring flatmates together, something to help you remember what you did last Tuesday.
Shopping, too, has taken on a greater significance. With food and drink businesses facing an ambiguous future and us all experiencing a more confined, localised zone in which to live our lives, we’ve seen a notable shift towards shopping for ingredients more locally, ethically and seasonally. We’ve become hyper aware of our impact as consumers and how spending at a local café, bakery or food market can make a tangible difference to people’s lives.
And then of course there’s the eating itself. The reason to come together and share. When it comes to mealtime, lockdown has pushed us all to innovate. We’ve had to get creative to break the monotony and feel a connection through making and tasting in our disjointed reality where the eventful falls far and in between.
From virtual cookalongs and wine tastings to themed weekly flat meals (complete with costumes), people have found joy and communion through food as the common social ground we all share. Cooking by its very nature is an intimate way to bond with ourselves and with each other. It’s how we show love. It’s how we nurture. It’s how we care.
In times of uncertainty we distract ourselves with a focus. We latch onto what’s really important. In our house, we’ve passed the time by perfecting dishes we’ve always wanted to master. One of these being Ramen from scratch which, through the fog of furlough, my girlfriend has got down to a tee (see the recipe here).
Ultimately when food means more, as it does right now, our relationship with the entire process is intensified. Naturally we grasp for occasion everywhere we can. We find the light in the darkness.
As American writer Ernestine Ulmer once said:
“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first”