My “new normal” was supposed to be a new stable job that I loved, an apartment all to myself, and the rest of my life and career ahead of me. And it still is – I was able to keep both of those things, and I count myself very lucky that I haven’t become one of the millions of Americans who are still facing unemployment. It has officially been four months since we started sheltering in place, and we’re about to watch summer unfold from the isolation of our homes, away from the people we love. I, in particular, am a special case. I moved here to Seattle from the island of Guam roughly six years ago for school, and I’m separated from my family by one Pacific Ocean and sixteen time zones. But since the pandemic started my family has been checking up on me more, and we’ve been closer than ever since I moved. I’ve been quarantining by myself these last months, but thanks to modern technology I’m not completely alone. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.
Another aspect of our new normal is cooking at home. As COVID cases rise, Americans are still hesitant to eat out and many restaurants remain closed. So, it looks like we will all be cooking for a while longer. A recent survey published in Food Navigator found that 54% of Americans say they’re cooking more now than before COVID. 51% say they will continue to cook more at home after the coronavirus ends. Why? Americans said that cooking at home saves money (58%), it encourages healthy eating (52%), it’s fun trying new recipes (50%) and cooking is relaxing (50%). All four of those apply to me. And you know what else? I’m bored! I’m alive, healthy, housed, employed, thankful, but bored. Cooking has become my new source of variety and adventure. It’s the cure to all that ails me right now: hunger, boredom, and monotony.
Think about your life pre-pandemic. Maybe you used to cook up some chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner every night and called it good. Nothing wrong with that, until you’re stuck doing the same thing, in the same small apartment, seeing the same people (in my case, no one) and the cabin fever might be driving you slightly insane. This is your chance to sharpen up those culinary skills, widen your pallet (especially given the meat shortage), and learn new tricks. I save veggie scraps and bones in the freezer to make stock. I save parmesan rinds to add to my sauces. I save up bacon fat so I don’t have to use my precious butter. These small kitchen innovations make me feel clever and capable, and then I can eat it (and save money too).
This pandemic is changing the relationships we have with everything – work, family, housing, social time, and also food. And Americans are adapting as we speak. A story in the New York Times reported that Americans are eating seafood more than ever, just in time for salmon season. This isn’t just good for us, it’s good for the earth, too. Beef production is a huge contributor to climate change, being a global industry with many moving parts that inflict damage on our shared home. Think about it – people around the world stopped driving cars and operating factories for a month, and suddenly cities experienced the cleanest air they’ve had in a century. I’d like to think that after this period in time has passed, we can all collectively say, “I can live without eating meat every day” because we’ve tried different options that we’ve really liked, and our world will be that much cleaner and healthier for it. Plus, we have lots of tasty options that aren’t meat – crispy tofu smothered in peanut sauce, teriyaki salmon, shrimp satay, calamari, colorful veggies…just talking about it makes me hungry.
It’s important to remember that with each new end brings a new beginning. The world will keep turning, and just because one thing has gone away doesn’t mean it will be gone forever. It will change. It will adapt. It will survive.
We’re living in times of transition and transformation. It’s the beginning of trying new things, and diversify our diets. It’s the beginning of being more mindful about what we consume, and how we live our daily lives. COVID has been a wakeup call for us in many different ways. And what we’re living through right now might be the start of a cleaner, healthier world.
So, in the spirit of optimistic homesickness, I’m sharing this recipe with you from the island I call home. It’s called kelaguen, it’s similar to a ceviche, and it’s perfect for summer. I hope you enjoy it.