This Side of the Pond
Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman
April 30, 2020
Despite the best efforts of the toilet paper hoarders, to the best of my knowledge we’ve managed to avoid any real danger of food shortages here in the county. Our supermarkets have done a sterling job keeping the shelves stocked so, even if a few of the available items weren’t quite what I had in mind, there hasn’t been much risk of starvation.
But that doesn’t mean the Pridgeon household has avoided the “lockdown dining” mindset, even if we’ve only been sticking our noses out of the front door once a week to grocery shop like voles who suspect there could be a nearby owl. Our pantry is barely depleted, but we’re cooking as though we need to make every last grain of rice count.
I’m quite enjoying it, to be honest. I think this is an attitude I’d like to take forward with me out of the lockdown.
My freezer has never looked so organized. A few weeks ago, it was a random mishmash of ingredients stored on whichever shelf had space at the time I needed to stuff them in there, including meat I didn’t know I had and loaves of bread I don’t remember buying, hidden under more recently purchased steam-in-the-bag vegetables.
It was nothing short of a disaster in there. I am ashamed to admit that I found three full bags of forgotten chicken breasts at the back of a shelf; I can only assume I kept forgetting I’d put them on the grocery list.
I’ve fixed my error, I’m pleased to say. Today, it has neatly stacked tubs of homemade soups and bags containing portions of crisped bacon strips and slow-cooked forgotten chicken breasts.
Meanwhile, we’ve been making our own sweet treats, including cookies, dipped pretzels and three – three! – versions of rice crispy cakes. I’ve made normal crispy squares, chocolate and a particularly decadent experiment involving a layer of caramel and a topping of dark chocolate ganache. It’s possible we had too much uneaten cereal in the cupboard.
I was chatting with the owner of one of our local eateries recently and she mentioned that a lot of us have forgotten what cooking truly is because there are so many time-saving alternatives available from the store. It’s true – I like to think of myself as a dab hand in the kitchen, but I haven’t made my own pasta sauce in a decade.
When it became clear that this pandemic was going to be an issue even in Wyoming, we decided to purchase some basic items that would see us through in the event we could no longer purchase fresh goods. You know the sort of thing, as I’m sure a lot of people did the same – a large bag of potatoes, a sack of rice, some canned tomatoes, flour and yeast to make bread and so on.
Thankfully, the worst never came to pass, but those ingredients need to be used. The husband bit the bullet and set about learning to make soda bread – and things in this household will never be the same.
It was delicious, as was my discovery that you can cut thin slices into a potato so it looks like the pages of a book and roast it in the oven with butter and olive oil. Load with cheese and sour cream and you have an ideal side dish.
The culmination of our culinary adventures came when I made that batch of potato soup. It was creamy and thick, topped with crispy bacon and with a side of warm, buttered soda bread for dipping.
Between us, we had cooked a rustic meal from absolute scratch and the results were eye-opening. I’m all for throwing a frozen pizza in the oven, but I’m coming to enjoy the home-cooked dinners more.
Since this revelation, we’ve made beef with egg fried rice, vegetable stir fry, fresh biscuits and gravy, pasta with a sauce made from sausage, mushrooms and beef tomatoes and I’m planning a batch of Cornish pasties and a few tubs of spaghetti Bolognese for the freezer.
You might be thinking we have become a little too preoccupied with cooking, and you would be right. Even so, I have no regrets.
I haven’t managed to pick up a new hobby during this lockdown, I haven’t organized anything in my home except those bags of chicken breasts and I haven’t written the first chapter of my Great American Novel. I can’t even blame the fact I’m still working for having managed to summarily ignore all those well-meaning posts encouraging me to make the best use of isolation.
But I am enjoying meal times, and I’ll freely admit that my day is now scheduled around what wonders can be created at lunch and dinner. There’s a lot we can’t control during this strange era, but what I’ve discovered I can do is build up a month’s worth of home-cooked meals to replace the hodge podge that was once in my freezer.
Future Sarah will be most pleased with my efforts, and present Sarah is twiddling her thumbs less than she was. It’s not as impressive as coming up with my million dollar business idea or inventing a world-changing device, but who really cares about all that? The important thing right now is to make it to the other side, and now I’ll be stuffed with essential vitamins once we arrive.