Get our newsletters

Chatterbox: Cooking up comfort


People keep talking about the new normal. My question is, “Was there ever an old normal?”

There’s nothing normal about life anywhere around the world where self-involved business moguls or mad dictators control too much government. If this virus, which we can’t seem to stop talking about or get away from, teaches us anything, it will teach us the imbalance of our past normal and, hopefully, leave us with a better balance for our new normal.

Still, as imperative as it is that all world citizens reclaim control of leadership, we must focus hard, now, to stop the spread of this plague. We have few tools.

Most of us are offering support, in many ways, to those dedicated to others and in the line of fire. If we sew, making sorely needed gowns and masks for our medical and emergency services, is being part of the solution. We can also remain supportive by being part of a donating community. In America, money, food and even time if we can do so safely, are all appreciated.

We do, also, show gratitude by respecting quarantine. To the detriment of many and the rebellion of others, confinement helps immeasurably. It keeps the case numbers low and, for whoever can do it, social media overflows with techniques on staying healthy and connected.

We can also marvel at the human spirit. Whether it’s crowds in London applauding emergency workers, Italians singing “Nessun Dorme” (which, ironically, means “No One Sleeps”) from their balconies in the night, Parisians on apartment balconies doing paintings of apartment balconies, we’re all finding ways to soothe our loved ones and ourselves.

Whatever we choose to do, we’re going back to things that are reliable, things in our control. When people return to old interests, or attempt new ones, we stay with what’s tried and true. Someone is even teaching the rare art of embroidery, online.

More than anything else, though, Americans are soothing ourselves in the kitchen, whether alone or with the kids. Whether great-grandpeople, boomers, GenX, millennials, even kids, more home cooks than ever are tutoring via media, and more single, parents, and kids are on board with cutting boards.

Preparing food and sharing a meal are inherently soothing, which is especially valuable now. Confined in a time of such uncertainty and confusion that it frightens many of us, the preparation of food is not just a distraction or a way to kill time. It’s cathartic, a way to achieve solace, because it’s a controllable, predictable process, with deep traditions that bond us to each other and renew our heritage for us, which we pass on to our kids.

Chattereaders know that aprons are a huge tradition in my kitchen whether we’re baking, cooking, or both. Large crowds or small, the apron is on and, often, so is what I call my babushka. My grandmother never cooked or baked without one; the hair must be covered. At my house, music is also imperative: Christmas for baking (12 months a year) and Italian for cooking. The music makes the food taste better; it’s all about the vibes.

Especially during hardships and, again, we mention the importance of sharing with those in need, food and its preparation provides a sense of normalcy. It’s consistent and reliable and, ergo, stabilizing. If you mix this with that, voila, it’s a meatball, or a chocolate cake.

In these dubious times and in quarantine, food is more than something we must have; it’s something we have a rapport with. Especially now, especially for those experiencing the most hardship, food and the preparation of it, provides inner peace just in its routine, even if it’s only during simmering time. It’s constant; it’s comfort. It’s something we can linger with, are in charge of, a portal back home and, most of all, it’s unaltered by this all-consuming virus.

Around the globe, people are surviving something which, truthfully, may leave the world in a condition we not only have never known before and have no familiarity with, but which will, most likely, affect very permanent change to our life, our world society, and our planet.

In that, right now, whatever we can control, or find time-honored assurance in, is an essential safe harbor in this storm. We don’t know how long social contact will be unsafe. We don’t know how different our world will be when this is over. We’re not in charge of that, but in our kitchen each of us is the master of our fete … yes, fete … I spelled that right.