Recently, I saw an Instagram meme stating that at the end (end?) of the Pandemic, you emerge as a Monk, Hunk, Chunk, or Drunk. Personas that are based on our Pandemic-based lifestyle.
These personas are not mutually exclusive. In consulting we use the Venn Diagram to improve our understanding of how things are connected. #consultinglife #visualization #pretentiousass
Today? Let’s address the Chunk circle.
You can’t just spend your time drinking your way through the Pandemic. #Drunk
During the Pandemic, many of us faced various forms of lockdowns. We found ourselves having to cook far more often. We tried to take advantage of the ingredients and foodstuffs on hand to avoid grocery shopping.
We did a quick re-learning of the depression era lessons our grandparents and parents lectured us about (blah blah blah, we were poor, blah, blah, blah, etc.).
Our food, and the steps we took to procure and produce it, took on more meaning. Why?
- It wasn’t work.
- It was within our control.
- We rarely had to leave the house.
- Cooking is fun.
- Eating is awesome.
So here are some thoughts on how what I was eating (and how I was making it) kept up my spirits and health during my favorite Pandemic of 2020.
Let me begin with a brag. Not a humble brag, just a flat out, “I’m awesome” kinda brag.
I’m a pretty good cook. Cooking isn’t some weird thing for me. I don’t fear boiling water or struggle to figure out techniques.
My personal best? A multi-course, sit-down dinner, done by myself, for 10 people where I fed my team and attending spouses prior to our corporate retreat a few years ago.
From Italian to Indian and various ethnic and country mashups in between, I’ve found over the years that the creativity and the defined (read delicious) outcomes of cooking both entertain and relax me.
It gets better. My wife Martha is also an awesome cook (and person). She also cooks different things. Together, we eat everything under the sun.
Basically, we’re a model couple that all should emulate.
The biggest barrier to our cooking? Travel.
You see, when you’re gone ½ (or more) of the time, you simply get less opportunities in the kitchen. As a result, my skill set evolved slowly during brief interludes at home. My wife (pre-Pandemic) used to commute to San Antonio for her job. We just weren’t here often enough or long enough to really dig in to cooking.
Luckily, COVID-19 solved this problem for us. Thank YOU, deadly virus.
With so much time at home and so little opportunity to go out, we had the opportunity (were forced to) cook.
I knew I’d made personal progress when, one Saturday morning, I told Martha I was going to have a simple breakfast. Without much thought, or a cookbook I made, oeufs en cocotte using the traditional French technique of the bain-marie.
My wife joked, “A simple breakfast huh?”.
My salt-of-the-earth Iowa upbringing would have called this a poached egg in a saucer. It’s simple, delicious, takes advantage of any leftovers and is cheap. Plus, in French, it sounds fancy. All good things.
This got me thinking about some other things my wife and I have made. Not complicated things. Not “follow the recipe” things but just good food. Here’s a quick list.
- Curries, from green tomato and smoky venison to veggie and coconut shrimp
- Poached eggs in leftover green curry, leftover tomato sauce, various other sauces
- Roast turkey, chicken, beef, venison, and pork and fish
- Venison, beef, and vegetable chili, sometimes with traditional chili spices and other times using curry spices or once with Mexican mole powder from a past trip to CDMX
Also . . . .
- Strawberries, grapes, and currants from our home garden eaten raw and in jam form (mostly jam)
- Quesadillas with roast vegetables, with leftover meat/cheese, with tempeh
- Eggs, fried, broiled, scrambled, and hard-boiled
- Simmered, boiled, or otherwise cooked white beans, kidney beans, black beans and various colors of lentils
- Soups with the aforementioned beans, meats, and poultries.
In addition . . .
- Stocks (vegetable, chicken, turkey, meat) using the left-over bean water as the base for various soups and chilis.
- Biome broth – yep, it’s a thing.
- Sauces, from tomato to romesco
- Hummuses? Hummusi? Different types of hummus (or dips as my Iowa friends would say) from regular to white bean and carrot
- Flatbreads from Persian and Indian to Turkish, etc.
- Other bread from sourdough to wheat to whatever type of flour we had
- Roasted, broiled or otherwise prepared potatoes, yams, carrots, beans, broccoli, asparagus, eggplant, celery, cauliflower, onions, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, acorn squash, and some weird stuff we got by mistake, etc.
Get the picture?
Every time we cooked something, we got better doing something we enjoyed. Every time we cooked, we ended up with delicious food (and leftovers). Every time we cooked, we took control of our lives and spread our creative spatulas so to speak.
The result? We enjoyed better physical and mental health, all from the Pandemic safety of our own home.
Now several other fun things, make this possible. Essential conditions of success so to speak. Things that got us outside, and made life better.
Many of my friends and colleagues are surprised to learn I hunt. The weekend before Thanksgiving I usually go to my friend Phil’s farm for deer hunting. This year, sadly, it was a solo hunt due to COVID and scheduling issues.
I enjoy the primal feel of participating in nature. The dawn walk down into the woods all geared up is energizing. A day in the forest and fields of SW Wisconsin watching the squirrels and turkeys is totally relaxing.
The benefit of hunting? Sure, it slakes my inhuman bloodlust, but mostly, for the food.
All sorts of food. From leg steaks to ground venison to roasts to maple smoked venison brats to ground venison to heart steaks and liver. The deer I harvest represents a good chunk (HA!) of the meat we eat in my family throughout the year.
Field to fork with nothing and nobody in-between. A full freezer of deliciousness just waiting to be enjoyed.
Hunting not only provides us with food, but teaches us lessons for business.
Harvesting the deer, field dressing and getting it back to the road for transit and processing is incredibly tiring, taxing and satisfying.
My wife and I are members of a community garden (#meisboardmember). Last summer was challenging. The biggest challenge was not the Pandemic. The biggest challenge was the City of Chicago decided shutting off every community garden’s water with a ridiculous regulatory change was a great idea in the midst of a Pandemic (#govtdumbass).
Despite this, we planted our 5 ft. by 20 ft. plot with all sorts of stuff. I spent the summer like some Vietnamese farmer hauling water over on my bike. So, throughout the summer we enjoyed a variety of fresh veggies, greens, and herbs. We supplemented this with even more stuff grown at our home garden (#urbanfarmers).
Not only do we have a plot in the community garden but others around us do as well. Many of these gardeners abandoned their plots as the summer progressed. Gardens are super fun in May when you plant, less so in August when it’s hot and you’d rather drink cocktails on your deck and not haul your own water over to the community garden.
By end of summer there was all sorts of free food in these abandoned plots. Chard, sorrel, parsley, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, etc. All just hanging out waiting for someone to harvest and eat them.
One person’s weed is another person’s bitter salad green. While walking through your neighborhood does it ever enter your mind that you could eat the dandelion greens? Yep, just a quick wash and sauté with a bit of olive oil and garlic and you’ve got some delish greens. Here’s a quick list of what we sampled without even trying hard.
- Dandelion greens from the yard
- Wild strawberries in Jackson Park found during a bike ride
- Chanterelle mushrooms on a hike in Michigan with friends
- Mulberries from trees in our neighborhood
The point? When stuck, I mean safe, at home, you can get bored eating the same things. The Pandemic gave me some motivation and time to try new things.
Another side note. When you take it from the dumpster, you’re “salvaging” it.
Cooking helped me prosper.
James Lane Allen, the American novelist from Kentucky, is credited with stating “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”. Another fun fact, he died from insomnia. Go figure.
The Pandemic has tested us, but not bested us. It revealed that we had much more power to adapt, to be resilient in the face of change and adversity than we thought.
For me, now at home instead of on the road, the Pandemic gave me an opportunity to get better at something I love, enjoy my wife’s efforts and creativity at something she loves and become a happier, healthier, chunk.
Side bar – I’m not really a chunk but a borderline hunk due to the Pandemic inspired #Peloton subscription but that’s a blog for another day. #centuryridetshirt #pr #Ididn’tgetuptogiveup.
Just some thoughts from my seat at the (home) bar.