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This one came about in a very self-serving way. Over the holiday weekend, I got together with a few friends for a socially distanced bbq/gathering type of thing. It was hot as blazes so we opted to drink vodka lemonades in tall glasses with lots of ice. To make it simple, our host had bought premixed lemonade in jugs and here lies the problem. Premixed lemonade is fine as is but as soon as you add anything too it, the flavor weakens resulting in a vaguely lemon flavored drink. I greatly enjoy a sparkling lemonade cocktail kind of thing and adding vodka and club soda to a premixed lemonade just throws the whole thing off. Much discussion ensued and we came to the conclusion that you’re just better off in that case having a vodka soda with a twist, which is an entirely different thing. These are the trivial matters that consumed our conversation that afternoon. This can be better, we all agreed. I can make this better, we all agreed.

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It’s a strange time. Isolation, fear, uneasiness and anger. We are in the midst of a change, a much-needed change. Oftentimes, I’m not too sure what to do or say, fearful of doing or saying the wrong thing but I am so over that right now. I’m listening. I’m reading, learning as much as I can to better understand my privilege and implicit biases. I’m asking questions. I’m thinking. And I do what I do when I have a lot of thoughts rattling around in my head that need sorting: I’m baking.

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It seems I am incapable of cooking for one person. I try, I do, but this fact has become abundantly clear during this quarantine and I am overrun with leftovers. Browning bananas, pieces of half used vegetables, staling loaves of bread, and plastic deli containers of semi-identifiable ingredients are taking over my kitchen. I don’t like leftovers so I’ve taken on the challenge of turning them into something new. Last night’s pasta, beans and greens became today’s lunchtime soup. Dinner leftovers were chopped up, encased in pie dough and reinvented as lovely turnovers. Last week’s excess cinnamon rolls became the weekend’s bread pudding. It’s been working out pretty well. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. The other day I found a plastic wrapped chunk of cornbread, hidden behind an enormous bowl of oranges. Wonderful. Forgot about that. It was fine, but stale. I thought about making stuffing to go alongside a roast chicken but bread pudding has been on my mind. What if I turned this stale hunk into a strada, a savory pudding with whatever I could wrangle up in the fridge? I could use those little bits of whatnot tucked in plastic wrap and Ziploc baggies and make something delicious. This was how a cornbread pudding was born.

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You saw this one coming, didn’t you? That last cinnamon roll post – for a small batch to minimize extras – took me two attempts to get right so let’s just say I’ve got quite a few cinnamon rolls lying about. I took one for the team, my friends. Oh the irony. I’m not a big fan of leftovers so I’ve been trying to keep on top of things but one of the biggest offenders in my house lately is bread. Like many, I’ve embarked on several bread adventures during this quarantine and there’s one great truth in all this: I can only so much bread. Loaves and bagels and buns, oh my and those cinnamon rolls certainly didn’t help. Now, probably more so than any other time, we’re all acutely aware of what we eat and how much we waste. Due to shortages, we’re careful how much flour or rice or pasta we cook and certainly don’t want to throw anything away if avoidable. We repurpose leftovers into lunchtime salads, little casseroles, stir fries and soups with varying degrees of success. For the first time in many of our lives, we’re aware. And right now, many of us are aware of an excess of bread hanging about, keto diets be damned.

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I am baking like crazy these days, fortunate that I’m well stocked with flour, sugar and yeast. I’ve been filling my days with complicated baking projects, enjoying the feel of a rising dough between my fingers, delighting in a beautiful sourdough loaf as it emerges from the oven, making small persnickety little turnovers and pasta things that take time and concentration. It’s keeping me busy, my mind active, provides a great sense of accomplishment and delivers a steady stream of delicious, comforting things. The only problem is … it’s just so much. I’ve given some away but that gets tricky in these days of social distancing and my freezer is beyond capacity. So I’ve turned to another method – small batch baking.

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It seems we’re all giving sourdough a whirl during these strange times, myself included. The first thing you have to do is get a starter going. It’s relatively simple, just flour and water, flour and water, flour and water for several days until the wild yeasts take over and really get going. Inevitably you will run into a puzzling situation … what to do with the discard. Once you have a lively starter, you pour off half before you feed it – either to bake with or to do something else. This bit is known as the discard or cast off. If you bake every day it isn’t a really a problem but I suspect the majority of us don’t. Here’s where the challenge comes in as dealing with the discard can be a whole project unto itself.

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Cooking in the time of corona and self-isolation is getting interesting. Hopefully you have what you need or more importantly, need to get by. I hope you’re digging into the depths of your freezers for long forgotten treasures and your pantries, finding those lost bags of beans and jars of things you bought a while back for something. I am unusually well stocked and have been diligently working my way through all my stuff and am doing pretty well. I’m taking on long, involved cooking projects because I have the time – sourdough (who isn’t??), fresh pasta, kimchi, lasagna, bagels. Why not? Perhaps you’re like me and made some curious choices on your last grocery trip. Case in point: I am perplexed as to why there is not one, but two, whole heads of cabbage in my refrigerator right now. One red, one green. Why? That is 50% more cabbage than I purchased in the 2019 calendar year. I suspect my instincts took over while shopping; cabbage is a good keeper and at least one was certainly a St. Patrick’s Day inspired purchase but why two? Regardless, I have a lot of cabbage taking up too much space for one person and it needs to go. Time to get creative.

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There’s no question we are in strange times. Sheltering at home, 6-foot social distancing and working from home are the very least we can do right now to flatten the curve, protect the vulnerable and get through this. As they say, stay the $%*& home people. And for crying out loud, be kind to the working people you encounter. Do you really think they want to be there listening to you bitch about how they don’t have the rigatoni you want? (Something I actually witnessed. Don’t be an asshole.) I’ve been self-isolating for over a week and have been on lockdown orders since Saturday and I’ve been strangely busy. It’s weird. I’ve discovered live dance classes and concerts on social media to keep me moving and entertained. I’m blasting through my various ques – podcasts, Netflix, Hulu, you name it. Some educational, some absolute crap, all very satisfying. I’m working on my mediocre watercolor skills, for better or worse. I’ve rediscovered the joy of finishing a book. I’m immensely enjoying virtual happy hours with my friends and family for much needed social interaction and belly laughs. I nap every day. Not surprisingly, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I’m going to cook, what I’m going to eat. Now that I have the time, I kicked my sourdough starter into gear and I’m taking on other time intensive projects – made ravioli yesterday in fact. But here’s the thing with self-isolating as a single person … it’s a lot of food and I don’t like leftovers. I give away some but that’s harder than usual right now. So, I’m creatively repurposing. Or trying to anyway.

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Not long ago I met a few friends for breakfast to catch up and it turned into an all day affair. We started with pancakes, spent a big part of the day in a coffeeshop and ended with wings and beers. It was a damn delight. At one point somewhere in the middle of it all, I was waning a bit – it happens – and needed a boost. It was fortuitous that I was sitting in a coffeeshop. I’m not generally a coffee drinker so I ordered a chai, made with oat milk because yes, I am on that bandwagon. Throwing caution to the wind I had the barista throw in a shot of espresso to perk me up. Yes, I ordered what is known as an oat milk Dirty Chai. Never before has a more trendy hipster drink been ordered. Never before have I ordered such a trendy hipster drink. But hear me out: it was absolutely delicious. Yeah, I had a few. It was a long day.

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Happy New Year! I’m moving a bit slowly into this one, taking my time, taking a while to get up to 2020 speed. A few weeks ago before my godsons went back to college, we cooked dinner together. Homemade wonton soup and a simple noodle stir fry dish. They’re young and learning how to cook and I coached one through the basics of a stir fry: screaming hot pan, everything cut to the same size, cooking in batches starting with the firmest vegetables. They did a great job and we enjoyed a delicious dinner made almost entire by them and their younger sister. I learned that having 3 young agile hands forming won tons, none of which were mine, is 100% the way to go.

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