What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during lockdown? For some people, binge-watching Netflix or speed-running video games is the idea of the perfect COVID-safe activity. That’s great for some, but for others, keeping busy means keeping your hands and mind busy. I am like this, but with one exception—I need to keep my stomach busy, too.
My friends and I are fanatics for food. Going downtown? Food. Hanging out in the living room? Food. Crossing paths at 2 AM? Food. Movie night? Food. Frustrated and need to vent? Food. Gossiping? You get the message. Food is a cultural, familial bond between my loved ones and I, and it’s gotten us through tough times and been there for our greatest memories. When my closest friends (who, to my luck, were also my roommates) and I found out that we were going into the first lockdown in 2020 (in a McDonald’s parking lot, no less) we, in a confused state, brought our food home and prepared to hunker down. Like everyone around us, we began to wonder how we were going to get through it. The one thing that kept us afloat throughout the initial confusion? Food–and the stories that came with every bite.
At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone around me was doing their best to eat as frugally as possible. I mean, for all we knew, we were going into the apocalypse. One roommate had cans upon cans of tomato soup, with a little extra milk added to make it creamy. Another was eating those little microwavable turkey pot pies that cost less than two dollars at the Independent. Me, I was trying my hand at baked beans. I never want to try my hand at baked beans again. These foods weren’t the most elegant, but they were cost-effective, and in my opinion, if there’s more than two steps to making a food edible, it’s a recipe. No Name tomato soup will always remind me of a time when our minds were not yet adjusted to COVID, and, as odd as it may be, I have strange nostalgia every time someone opens a can of No Name baked beans.
See, food has gotten us through the worst times of the pandemic. During the summer of 2020, one of my friends had to isolate, which was a brand new experience for the both of us. What is now normal was scary when we knew so little about COVID. While she was isolating and unable to leave her room, I offered to make her food, and she sent me recipes that I still have memorized to this day. For lunch, through my hands, her mind would toast a croissant, add mashed avocado, melt havarti cheese on the top and add onion powder. For dinner, rice boiled with a chicken bouillon cube, fried honey garlic sausages and sliced avocado on top. Though the circumstances were dire, I’ll never forget the smell (or the taste, as I stole some bites, sorry if you’re reading this) of frying sausages and fresh avocado. It doesn’t remind me of when times were tougher — it reminds me of when I got to see my friend without her mask on for the first time in weeks and the summer sunshine on our faces.
Food got us through the best times of the pandemic, too. When COVID was slowing down and cases were less rampant about a year and a half ago, my friends and I made an impromptu feast, and it is still a meal we rave about to this day. My friend’s signature ceviche started with a white fish that was marinated in lemon juice for 24 hours. Then, she sliced it and mixed it with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and firm avocado. She served it with chips. It was the first time I had ever tried ceviche, and because of that night, it will forever remain one of my favourite foods. I made my signature French onion soup; my secret, that I never share with anyone, is to use garlic butter instead of regular butter and to brown some cheap beef in the butter before caramelising the onions. I topped the soup with old bread and the cheapest havarti I could get my hands on, but still, it was incredibly fancy to us. We finished with a phyllo dough-wrapped brie, served with warm raspberry jam and a baguette. Again, although the circumstances were not the greatest, that still reigns in my mind as one of my favourite memories to date. I can’t take a sip of French onion soup without smiling.
Food is a cultural, familial asset to us. When we finally got to see some of our friends again, we ate plain chips and I sipped on grapefruit radlers. When one of my closest friends got her first professional theatre gig post-graduation, her partner and I decorated a cheap vanilla cake, and we ate it for days. When my friends and I had to abruptly leave our apartment, I made pasta with tons of Italian seasoning and balsamic vinegar to feed my loved ones and get my mind off of the chaos. When I met my wonderful partner, we shared pasta and a burger and tried a deep fried Mars bar together. Taco nights, charcuterie nights, and Tim’s runs were our safe haven, and I remember how we’ve managed to hold it together this long through the bites we’ve taken together.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The meals have not always been prepped, and the plating hasn’t always been pretty, and I’ve had iced coffee for lunch. I’ve been too tired to eat breakfast. I’ve sat on the floor, defeated and exhausted, and eaten salami straight from the bag. However, every bite, whether it was pretty or not, was taken with the people I love. The people who hold me up, and who I hold up in return. The people I have survived the pandemic with. In these times of great fear and confusion, I remember the love I have for these people who I’ve shared meals with, and there’s nobody I’d rather have at my table. I remember the way I felt right at the beginning–scared and confused, but sure that I was loved.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll open up a can of baked beans for old times’ sake.