Cooking in a Time of Coronavirus

It does seem that our world has taken an unprecedented turn over the last few weeks. Who could have imagined a few months ago that we would be spending these weeks of February and March obsessing over stocks of toilet paper, facing massive job uncertainty and worrying about the lives and the health of those who are dear to us? For the first time in my life supermarkets have introduced rationing: rice, pasta, flour, hand sanitiser, tissues, and of course, toilet paper sales are being limited to one or two items per customer. I think this is an excellent measure, as we don't want all the available food stocks in the country to go only to those who are able to afford to stock up on a year's worth of pasta at once. Still, I can understand the impulse on the part of those stocking up. Families want to protect their own, and in an environment where a mysterious, untreatable virus lurks waiting to pounce on the vulnerable, one of the only ways to wrest back a measure of control is to stock up and retreat from the world. Still, resisting that impulse and remembering that we are part of a wider community will lever us up over concern for self and give us back a measure of compassion and kindness instead, which is an excellent antidote to fear. Now, for instance, would be a very good time to check in with the vulnerable to see if they need errands doing, and it is very much time to donate to the local food bank, as times will get tougher over the next few months. Another community-building project when shopping is to go to the smaller shops - the bakers, butchers, greengrocers and whole food shops. I can foresee a time very soon when most people will be ordering their groceries on-line from the big supermarkets and the little fellas are going to get hammered.
As for me - well, I am a squirrel, and always have been. I always have a sack of flour, rice, lentils and chickpeas in the pantry or stashed under the bed. I shop at the flour mill, the Indian grocer, the bulk food supermarket, the bulk bins at the wholefood shop. When you make your own jam, passata, chutney and salsa, you always have half a year's worth of condiments hanging around. Right now I am preserving the bounty of autumn - picking and freezing blackberries, and drying a dehydrator's worth of apple chips every day. And it did occur to me recently, that it is one thing to have a pantry full of rice and beans, and quite another to know what to do with them when you have them. So I have made a little menu of dishes that can be made up from only pantry items.

Vegetarian Chili - rice, beans, canned tomatoes, spices, onions and whatever vegies you have to hand. Sour cream is optional - I eat this topped with salsa.

Mujadara - rice, lentils, onions, spices - again, topping with yoghurt is optional. I like a green salsa with this one.

Hummus - chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice (bottled is fine), spices. I double the amount of chickpeas in this recipe because I prefer a thicker, drier hummus. I use this a a butter substitute for anything savoury. Tahini makes a good butter substitute under jam and it is shelf stable so can be stashed in the cupboard until opened.

Chocolate Cake - flour, cocoa, oil (I often use sunflower oil for this), sugar, vinegar. This is a vegan cake, and very yummy. For baking with pantry items only I suggest looking up vegan recipes - from chickpea brownies to applesauce cakes, there are endless possibilities. And if we are home for an extended period, there are worse things than experimenting with baking new kinds of cakes..

And remember that the best bread has just four ingredients - flour, salt, yeast, water. Three ingredients if you make sourdough:)

What dishes do you make that use only store cupboard ingredients?
Stay well, and look after each other xx


Mary said…
Jo- All these recipes sound yummy. And I'd just like to add that peanut butter also makes a good sub for butter under jam. Or instead of butter and jam:) I could almost live on peanut butter toast and tea. Also I think you are lucky to have those apples - I'm somewhat envious. I just planted two apples trees last month (it's early spring here in the southeast US), and I check them every day to make sure no critters have harmed them.
Jo said…
Mary, ooh, yes, peanut butter! It makes so many things better! What I have been doing recently is mixing a spoonful of peanut butter and a teaspoon of cocoa powder into my porridge (oatmeal to you) while I am cooking it. So yum! Then topping it with blackberries because it is blackberry season:)
Congratulations on becoming an apple tree mama! May they flourish in your garden:)
Beznarf27 said…
Hi Jo, Crazy times indeed! I have started seeing people wearing masks out in the street. The mass media frenzy feeding this craziness is not going to go away (not while their advertising sponsors are making a killing out of the fear fuelled panic buying frenzy) and its spreading from those who would immediately jump off a cliff if their trending neighbours were doing the same to the everyday person. I found myself casually dropping in to the supermarket on Saturday morning early after work. I deposited a few extras in my shopping trolley. I went back on Sunday after work and threw a few cans of chickpeas and other beans and tomatoes into my trolley after reading that supermarket stocks of basic tinned goods are starting to run out in Melbourne of all places. I will be visiting the local Asian shops that have been very hard hit by this virus scare as people are associating "Chinese" with "Virus" and will be shopping the peripheral small shops like I normally do. One good thing about living in Tassie is that we are a serious food bowl down here. We grow a lot of potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, the basic flavour starters for most recipes so we have an abundance to see us through. I am off to the flour mill to get a big sack of flour and some of their excellent yeast this weekend because as you so rightfully point out, bread need not be more than a few base ingredients and when times get tough, its amazing how few ingredients you really need to live. So far I am able to get most of what I usually buy with no problems at all however we are getting to the pointy end of the toilet paper equation and I am going to have to find a source "somewhere" soon. This craziness is only going to get worse and the problem is that because everyone is panic buying, its is actually causing the problem that the "stocking up" mentality is based on.

Now is the time to echo stoicism to the MAX. Looking out for the elderly and those who need extra care, making sure to share what we have, educating people who want to learn how to do more with less and generally doing our best to spread light, rather than darkness as there is more than enough darkness to go round and fear mongering appears to be very profitable these days so I see it as my duty to be proactive and to use social media to share ALL of the good stuff, the light stuff, the things that make people stop and think or at least have a laugh.

Thank you for this post Jo. I have seen a lot of posts lately feeding the panic frenzy but again, your posts somehow leave the reader more empowered than when they arrived at your blogging doorstep. Thank you :)
Meg said…
I too am envious of those apples, Jo. I'd love a few trees in the vicinity to forage from but alas, they don't grow here like they do in Tassie. I did receive a huge bag of homegrown lemons from a friend recently and their juice, along with the local honey in my pantry, should soothe wintery sore throats. Cake would certainly make being home for a few weeks or more a rather delicious prospect ... the ingredients for cakes, along with a few extra bars of chocolate, are in our pantry for such eventualities:) Perhaps, a doubling of the recipe? An extra cake to leave with a little note and, if one grows them, an edible flower? Something that says, "Enjoy! Hope you are doing well..."

Jo said…
Fran, thank you! And let me tell you that your comments always zing with positive energy and I am sure that you brighten up many a day of those around you.
I think that here in Australia and other wealthy countries we mostly live in a cosy bubble of well-being and suddenly the winds of fate are blowing, and bam... we realise that we are merely human and subject to the laws of nature like viruses, and science can't fix it.. yet.. and and that is a chilling place to find oneself. Stoicism indeed.

Meg, I might have apples, but you have lots of tropical delights that I can only dream of. We all have our own specialties de jardin:) I love your idea of dropping off a cake to someone who might need a little extra love and encouragement. It is that kind of response in a fearful situation that makes all the difference. Thank you xx
Kathy said…
It's a moving target really as it's being updated on a day to day basis. It's certainly a very serious world wide event that we have never experienced. Staying safe and doing the best you can in these uncertain times. Have a good week.
Treaders said…
I pick up something for the food bank every time I shop and take it down there when I have a crate full. Trouble is now I'm stuck at home (we're in lockdown in France) and the food bank I believe is closed. I guess it will keep until I can get there though. I must admit I grew up with a little of my parents' "rationing" mentality as although it was over in the UK when I was born it was not by long and my parents always bought "a couple extra" when they could. I have always done that and am grateful now of course. And I agree with checking out the small shops - as soon as I can get out I'll be off to the Asian store. What a situation though eh! But as someone said "our parents were sent off to war. We're just being sent off to the living room sofa for the next 2 weeks". Put's it in perspective doesn't it!
GretchenJoanna said…
I have been thinking the same thing about cakes! And cookies... I have hundreds of recipes, truly, for vegan baked goods, but I rarely get around to baking. (Well, except for the sesame flax crackers I posted that I am in the habit of baking now and am addicted to!) I also have lots of kinds of flour, dried fruit, spices, etc etc. Now that it's not so easy to pick up some bananas etc at the store, I am going to use some of my extra time to BAKE. Thanks for the affirmation ;-)
Jo said…
Anna, hope you are going ok in 'lockdown'? What does that mean for you in France? Yes, I finally feel justified in my squirrel instinct for always keeping the pantry well-stocked - when I say that, I don't mean full of anything that anyone actually wants to eat on a daily basis, or it would all be eaten up by now. Dried beans though, no teenager or their mother wants to snack on them, so they are safe for the apocalypse:)

Gretchen Joanna, did buy a 1kg bag of choc chips last week - that was my panic buying:) so there will be choc chip cookies in my afternoon. Happy baking:)
Judy said…
Hi Jo,

Today I found out that I will be furloughed from work on Wednesday. I know there is a lot of uncertainty but I am so grateful to have even a little time off. The first thing I have done is to return to your blog after a very long time away. It feels like coming back to an old friend. I will definitely try making Mujadara this week.

Best wishes to you and all your followers around the world

Judy x
Jo said…
Judy, I hope you get some good home time now. I suspect a lot of people around the world right now, despite deploring the necessity for it, are actually finally catching up on sleep and family time. I hope that is a bright upside to what is very much a dark downside for so many.

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