Quarantine kitchen

How are you doing?

Here is something to see, not experience, right now: intensely touchy human-to-human kindness, brought to you by a creative professional who is so, so, so Californian. I am such a Masshole, and my hair is a travesty, and I love this so much.

I should point out that this hairstylist closed her salon during the pandemic and is just sharing old videos. For the “non-essential” among us, things are not unfolding in a linear fashion. Every day is any day, and exists in a loop with odd exits, like if you tie the cuffs of your flannel pajama pants together. And put your head in the waistband, and then go outside and shout encouragement at your neighbors from 10 feet away.

For the more essential folks, things are linear, or fall somewhere on a curve, or help plot that curve, like the statistics on this teenager’s website: https://ncov2019.live/ It is updated every minute. In January, when I was morbidly consuming the daily death count from China, 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann had already created his web-scraping site that presents a clear picture of the path and effect of the virus.

“’I started working on this project at Christmastime, when there were fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases — all in mainland China,’ said Schiffmann, a high school junior.’ It was hard to get clear, concise, and accurate information on what was going on, and I wanted to do something to fix this.’”

In this time of zoonotic diseases and extreme examples of the harm governing via solipsism does, when many of us are in emotional foxholes, I am so grateful for can-do teenagers. Also can-do Britons, like the 750,000 who volunteered to help the U.K.’s National Health Service respond to the Coronavirus. I am grateful for a huge long list of people, ranging from sanitation workers to stockers and cashiers, supply chain managers, medical personnel, straight-talking local and state leaders, and anyone who risks delivering anything anywhere.

For those of us who are non-essential to the functioning of grocery stores or hospitals, coming to understand or redefine not-doing as important has been… a challenge. The pandemic is a good test of whether Americans are any good at restraint, first, and discipline, second. As a part-time lazy-ass introvert who does not valorize busyness, a part-time craver of big hot sweaty dance parties and hugging, and a full-time reader of all the news I can find, I thought I had this thing in the bag and knew just what to do. But realizing that bringing my 93-year-old neighbor groceries could put her at risk, and finding myself hiding in our attic from my children by week two of school-at-home, and my interest in making unnecessary trips to CVS (why?) has made clear that I am pretty adrift. Also that working full time from my bedroom at a child’s desk Does. Not. Work.

Quarantine is defined as “a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.” I think we have all arrived from elsewhere, the elsewhere comprising the possibility of avoiding one’s home if one’s home is unsafe, the elsewhere of depending on in-person time with teachers or school lunches in the cafeteria to provide for one’s psychological and physical needs, the elsewhere of deriving a sense of accomplishment from “showing up” or productivity, the elsewhere of the notion that the best way to be a good friend or family member is to visit one’s friends and family often. The elsewhere of ignoring, at times, all the hidden human infrastructure that makes our lives possible, and what it costs those people to serve as that infrastructure.

Also, frankly, I never thought I’d be like, “Thank God for all those people posting TikTok videos from their kitchens!” Or that I’d get weepy because of something a dj had done. Usually I only weep if I’ve run away from a dj but then the dj catches up with me.

At home, where I spend all my time, the following things have happened. I called a sewing machine a typewriter, I monitored a Zoom session with 18 six- and seven-year-olds which was all basically just “boop be BOOP boop, whisper whisper, this is my toy, this is my dad, rustle rustle at the mic,” our hamster broke out of her cage-condo by chawing through the wire we used to reinforce the door and was lost for 24 hours, causing everyone to wonder if she’d grow as big as a house cat or perhaps die inside one of the walls, I spent 3 hours running over dead leaves with our electric lawnmower to prep them for the compost, and my children now antagonize each other by saying things like, “I will watch you watch me eat.”

One kid said that to the other after the first kid just insisted on staring at the second kid after I refused to let either of them have access to devices after a whole day of online learning plus FaceTiming friends plus playing games in which one “ancient moose” has 3,000 lives and a wolf runs around in a white party hat.

We didn’t let our kids use technology until remote learning started, and now all I do is patrol the technological border, but very poorly. I didn’t set up any parental controls properly or distinguish well between accounts, so one day I got 724 texts in 25 minutes from three 10-year-old girls. They were all like, “hi.” “Hi!” Gif of a cat in a bag, meme, “whussssss up?” more cats, Harry Potter references, anime characters, 160 pouchines, more cats in bags, etc., for 20 screens.

This is pouchine.

We are trying to get the kids to cook and bake with us so that a) they will touch actual objects and b) learn applied math. To some extent, that has worked, but the whole shelter-in-place thing seems to also circumscribe the couch, where my son posts up while asking me to get him snacks he can easily get himself. And then when I make him get them himself, he cries. And then eats an apple, when we have them, while sitting cross-legged under a blanket.

Beyond apples, this is an incomplete list of the things we have consumed or cooked or baked: a case of wine, blueberry muffins, chocolate cupcakes, doughnuts, peanut butter cookies, bread, bagels, chicken tortilla soup, potato soup, butternut squash soup, quiche, homemade pizza according to the recipe but a failure because the recipe calls for too much ricotta and lemon zest, homemade pizza without the ricotta or lemon zest but still not great because I got distracted while making the dough and forgot one quarter of the flour, so it failed to rise fully and ate more like a pale compressed pie crust, lasagna, various pasta dishes from the region of the damned, Oysters Rockefeller (!), a honey pork thing made in the slow cooker, Gado Gado salad, which I first read about in college in The Moosewood Cookbook but avoided for years because it seemed like cultural appropriation, rice and beans, beans and rice, tortillas. Many grilled sandwiches. Hot dogs without buns, with bun substitutes, or arrayed as if we were going to float them out to sea. “Mac and cheese” from boxes. Macaroni and cheese that is homemade and includes cauliflower. We have managed to eat all leftovers and not waste any food. I have made valiant but unsuccessful attempts to cut a floppy old cucumber in a way that suggests crispness.

We also experienced a soy sauce scarcity that thwarted 9 out of 10 of my ideas one night. The last idea was cereal.

One day, my son just stuck his hand in a jar of Nutella.

Another day, we saw this guy playing his accordion:

Nothing is coming to a close right now, or rather there are closures but no closure now, but to close on a high note… a medium note… an unimportant note? How does anything work or stack up anymore? It’s just a picture of a piece of toast.


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