The Pandemic Kitchen and my Hoarding Hallelujah Moment
This was not a post I had planned to write. I realized recently, after trying to work up the energy to create and test out another recipe, that I have writer's block, or kitchen block, as it were. My kitchen, my crazy pandemic kitchen, is finally coming back center. It had become overflowing without purpose. This is not who I am or was. As I look at my pantry, I see two very different stories being told. One story shows where I was at the beginning of the pandemic: someone full of the fear of never having enough. The second story demonstrates the person that emerged from a bout of hoarding: guilty for having too much and not knowing how to get rid of it all. Not just the products, but the mentality and fear too. I supposed there is also a third story, the one I am writing now as I find my way back to a more manageable relation ship with food and its procurement.
There are quite a few national news headlines that speak to major issues of food insecurity throughout our nation during this pandemic. The disparities existed before COVID 19 but certainly became more pronounced when the virus hit our major cities and began its spread throughout our population. Pre-pandemic, in 2019 I had started my own personal chef business while finishing up my masters degree. At the end of that year, I was looking forward to focusing on growing my business. I was not yet making enough money to sustain my small family but I had deep faith that I could get us there. Then pandemic hit at the start of the new year. I lost my clients (never gaining them back or securing new ones) and I feared I was about to become a mother unable to provide for my child.
UNLEARNING NEVER HAVING ENOUGH
Before starting my business I worked full-time and was in graduate school. My home kitchen habits were incredible. Every time I had a desire to cook something new, I would buy an array of products and spices and they would live endlessly in my refrigerator and my cupboards. Once I moved into being a business owner, cooking regularly for clients, and finishing school I had time to clean house, so to speak. My once cluttered and confusing kitchen, filled with convenience foods and too many spices, had been trimmed back and better organized. I had gotten into the good habit of shopping more frequently, only buying what we needed for a few days so always keep food fresh. When Covid-19 started its race around the country, first hitting hardest our metropolitan cities, my minimalist shopping would work against me.
Do you remember your first time going to the supermarket after shelter in place was in effect? I remember venturing out of the house for the first time in mid-March 2020 to find bare shelves and almost nothing I wanted. Limited produce. Limited meat and poultry. No milk. No paper products. No dish soap. I actually started crying in the middle of the aisle where the peanut butter and loaves of bread are usually side by side. There weren't even any tortillas left. Whatever was left, I bought just to have it. I found myself buying out of fear, as much as I tried not to let the frenzy get to me. Going food shopping then became a form of stress, never knowing if I should buy something just in case I couldn't find it again or save it for the next time. I didn't want buy things I didn't need, yet what if there was nothing else? Why weren't people leaving some things for others? Why were they taking everything? And then I realized it was not just about hoarding but also about our food system and transportation issues and the it became real. Our food system, it is so fragile.
GUILT FOR HAVING TOO MUCH
Because I kept myself on a budget I did sometimes find myself going over-budget because of that fear of "not enough." Once home and unpacking my groceries, I would get so overwhelmed at looking at the products -- my cupboards packed and no more room in my fridge -- that my cooking became less enjoyable and it, too, became a stressful experience. I was also teaching cooking classes from home and then couldn't keep up with the leftovers. I had signed up for another year for a farm share as well. Between my fear-based shopping and the amazing amount of veggies we had coming in once the harvest season started, I had to admit I was in over my head. I had succumbed to hoarding food or overproducing food. When I realized I just couldn't eat it all or cook it all, the guilt took over. I could not say I was food insecure. I had too much. Slowly, I stopped going to the market as often and tried to use up what was in my pandemic, hoarder's delight, kitchen. This was good. It meant that food would be there for the next person headed to the market.
As the pandemic restrictions began to wane, so did my fear and the guilt. Maybe it was the rhythmic motion of doing endless mountains of dishes that allowed me a little time to pause and reflect. I realized I could go back to buying the way I did before. I also found friends and family who could take some of the veggies from my farm share, so none of it would go to waste. I stopped buying out of fear and only bought what we needed. Sometimes we would run out of milk. Sometimes we wouldn't be able to find my daughter's favorite cheese. It was ok. I always had some dried beans, some hidden frozen chicken, some back up frozen veggies , or more fresh veggies to pick up the following week that more than made up for it. I organized my dried goods, my herbs, my seeds. Shopping became less stressful. It started to be enjoyable again. Summer was in full swing. And Kahlo and I were were cooking and baking up a storm.
[ Below you'll see Kahlo making fry bread (after reading the book Fry Bread), our attempt at dandelion shortbread cookies, and making passion fruit ice cream, ]
IN CREATOR'S HANDS
As a self-employed person, who had not yet paid into the program, I didn't qualify for unemployment. Then self-employed people were offered a short reprieve from panic; I was able to collect for 2.5 months. It was a lot of money in a short period of time, so I saved as much as I could and stretched it for almost 4 months. I was paying for my own health insurance and life insurance. Eventually I could no longer afford to pay for health insurance after the unemployment ran out and I didn't qualify for more. I had to apply for state-run health insurance. I prayed a lot during this time.I kept cooking as much as I could for income and for fun. I even found a small part-time job. Being a single mom, it was imperative I stay connected to my daughter and not lose sight of her. I hustled but I also remembered to play, and cook, and bake lots of cookies. Heck, we even made some edible eyeshadow. We also grew some of our own stuff which added to our sense of plenty and enough.
I found my hoarding hallelujah moment one day when I was making some beans and my daughter asked if she could help (below). and it truly sank in that I was/we were not lacking. In fact, we were creating new and positive food memories. It was still possible even in the midst of this pandemic. Yes, it was confusing and frustrating and isolating. Yes, I still did not have a steady source of income. Yes, I needed to ask for help. But we had access to food. We were not food insecure. Our Creator had, and has, our backs, and our shoulders, and our hands, and our hearts. We would be ok. And through it, through the summer and fall, when one job fell through, another rose up. Somehow, we've gotten to the other side of it, mostly.
This has been a trying time for many, many people. I have had my own challenges this last year. While challenging, I have had access to quite a few services and most importantly, food. The memories I've been building with my daughter are just as meaningful, if not more meaningful, than pre-Covid. Somehow, fearing the worst allowed me, and reminded me, of what I do have. Thank Creator for my family, my friends, my daughter, the services we've been able to access, and the time we've had to create new food memories together, despite the odds.
One of the things I bought for my pandemic kitchen was marshmallow Fluff, which I had not purchased in many years. I introduced my daughter to Flutternutter sandwiches, which I grew up eating and I am so grateful we now share a similar childhood memory. So, amig@s, I leave with you with this silly recipe of a Fluffernutter sandwich, because it's one of the best things to come out of this Pandemic Kitchen and my Hoarding Hallelujah Moment. Buen provecho!
Basic Fluffernutter Sandwich - Serves 1
2 slices of our favorite sliced bread
1 1/2 tablespoons Marshmallow Fluff
1 1/2 tablespoons your favorite peanut butter, chunky or smooth (We suggest Teddie's, not shown.).
Place 2 slices of bread in front of you.
One one slice, spread peanut butter.
On the other slice, spread the Fluff.
Take both slices, and stick them together to form a sandwich.
Wahlah! You have a fluffernutter sandwich!
Note: Best eaten with a nice cold glass of milk.