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As a lover of food and cooking, I’ve been interested to see what others are doing in the kitchen to cope with the coronavirus, and especially what people buy when they get a chance to shop… Also what they don’t buy.

This widely circulated photo is amusing. But this is the shelf I most wish I’d visited on my last trip to the grocery store.

If you had asked me before the pandemic what I would panic-buy, I’d probably have said wine, cheese and chocolate. But the reality was different. I bought staples like pasta, oats, and flour, and coconut milk in cans (in case we couldn’t get our usual dairy or oat milk). I bought dry beans, and even dehydrated veggies, just in case fresh veg became unavailable. Now that the panic has worn off (in a relative sense, anyway), I am the slightly befuddled owner of a 5-lb bag of tomato powder and an 8-lb bag of mixed dried peppers, which I’ll have to figure out how to use up.

The single worst panic-purchase I made was a huge canister of that orange cheddar powder they put into mac-and-cheese packets. I was terrified of not having cheese, you see, and… I panicked. Still, I am secretly looking forward to neon-orange mac and cheese like I had as a kid.

The most desirable items for me now are fresh veggies and fruits. I’ve given up grapes in favor of apples, which store longer without spoiling. I only allow myself one grocery trip every two weeks (or if possible, three), during which I buy all the fresh veg I can, then blanch and freeze it.

Processing veggies for the freezer.

It helps to freeze them on sheets first, so they don’t stick together.

So far, my cooking has not deviated drastically from the type of dishes I normally prepare, except that I’m doing a lot more carbs and rationing out the veggies. I used to build all our meals around veggies, and throw in a handful of pasta. Now it’s the reverse. That in turn means smaller portions, or inevitable weight gain.

Rice custard. I haven’t made this in ages, but it’s the perfect comfort food.

I got an Instant Pot last year, and have used it semi-regularly since then. I expect to use it a lot more in the coming months, given all the dried beans I purchased.

Instant pot vegetarian chili with lentils. It’s really good.

The pandemic has been a good opportunity to work through all the odd bottles of wine we have sitting around, and drink them up before they go off completely. 

This 2009 Baco Noir turned out to be a jewel!

And then there’s the baking. An unexpected consequence of the pandemic (in the US anyway) has been the revival of interest in homemade bread. Flour and yeast have been in high demand, and on my last visit to the store, the baking shelves were empty. I have three precious packets of yeast which I am hoarding. In the meantime, like many others, I’ve tried making my own sourdough starter.

I chose Nancy Silverton’s recipe, which involves submerging a cluster of grapes in the flour and water slurry. (I sacrificed the last of my grapes to the cause.) You’re supposed to wait seven days, but I lost my nerve and took the grapes out on day 5.

Sourdough starter on day one: cheesecloth full of smashed grapes, flour and water. Nice and bubbly.

I’m not the only one who had this idea. Here is the top #sourdough post right now:

A sourdough starter is like a Tamagotchi–it forces you to take care of it constantly. I anxiously checked mine every day, and got nervous if it stopped bubbling or separated or smelled stronger than usual. In fact the scent is not unpleasant at all. It’s like sourdough bread, just a lot more so.

I’m using it this evening to try to make pita breads, to serve with yogurt dip, canned hummus and defrosted greens. Wish me luck.