It all happened so suddenly and instantly. We were in the midst of planning to reduce the food offerings at our cafes when the directive came to completely close the cafes. It seemed like only minutes, even though it took us a few days to properly close and speak to everyone on the team. There were many questions I could not answer and there were answers that did not matter.
Life came to a halt for many of us, and for the first time in a very long time, I was scared of things I could not see, and problems I could not articulate. I was worried.
All of a sudden, I had too much time in my hands. Like many people I know, I imagined many positive things I could do during the quarantine to keep busy. Learn Spanish, organize my office, finally start the scrapbook for my son I had planned to do when he was four…he is ten years old now. Purge my closet. Lose the 20 lbs. I have been trying to get off the last 15 years. Write. Read. And read some more. Somehow, the motivation took time to rev up my spirits. I slumped on the couch for the first couple of weeks until I started hating myself for not doing anything. Then I got on my feet and started to tackle what was in front of me.
- I organized my home office. (I have not started the scrapbook though.)
- I purged my closet and my son’s room. The result was three trash bags of junk and two trash bags of clothes and toys to be donated.
- I organized my kitchen pantry. Opening the cabinets and seeing everything in its place makes me smile. It is a small dose of happiness during this time and it is a chef thing.
- I read and read and read some more. During the quarantine, I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and I just started The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. All great reads and moving in so many ways. My mind and soul were being fed, finally.
- Speaking of being fed, I also cooked. Almost every night I cooked our family dinner. We dedicated Friday nights as our “take-out night,” to support the local restaurants in our neighborhood, but there were nights when I strayed from my usual recipes. Chicken enchiladas, stuffed shells, lobster risotto, cacio e pepe, shrimp tacos, stuffed eggplant, and other dishes have now been added to our family favorites.
- I also baked. Baking is not my strongest suit. In my time as a professional chef, I have always been fortunate to work with talented pastry chefs and team who can execute my vision. I never had the need to enter baking territory at work. Nevertheless, the desire to bake is there…deep down, way down. With all this free time, my son and I were inspired to do some baking at home. We have mastered a couple of cookie and brownie recipes. One of my colleagues was kind enough to share her sourdough starter with me, so I hesitantly baked my first focaccia. My first try was not bad, but the third one was good enough that I shared it with some co-workers. The weekly feeding of the starter excites me. I only hope that my interest in keeping it alive does not fade anytime soon.
- I have not lost the 20 lbs. but I meet my goal of 10,000 steps daily, most days. The new love for baking does not help with the weight loss. Someone has to eat the baked goods!
- I reconnected with people. I checked in on people from my past and present to ask if they were all healthy and safe from the virus. I even checked in on the ones who probably did not want to hear from me, and the ones with relationships I should have mended long ago.
- Family is essential. I drove 660 miles to see my mom and sisters for a couple of hours. It was worth it. We could not give each other hugs but seeing them in person at a 6 foot distance was what I needed at that time.
- We celebrated my husband’s 50th birthday with friends through social media. The long-planned celebration was supposed to happen at a club in Hollywood that would have involved musician friends playing on stage with my husband, tributes and roasts, cake for everyone, and food trucks. Instead, FB became our stage. Friends posted live songs, tributes, and PG-rated roasts. He also did a virtual live show of his own. The virtual show was bustling and had 1.9k views. It was terrific and, in the end, just perfect. The lesson? Be creative and pivot when needed.
This global pandemic reaffirmed several things for me and kept my feet grounded. I am not an exception. I could lose the life that I have in a second. I am not special. I could lose a loved one in an instant and my heart will be forever shattered. I am not immune. I could die suddenly and not have the opportunity to witness my son grow up into a man. I am powerless. Unexpected fears rose from many facets of my being. I felt non-essential.
For many of us, it took a global pandemic to realize that our lives are precious and that being here on this planet is a privilege. I have taken it for granted many times. I have complained about trivial and ordinary stuff. I dragged my feet to get things done. I wasted my time. I ignored opportunities to be my best self. I missed chances to lend a hand. I failed to look up and look around. I did not smile enough. I was not kind enough. I was not generous enough. I was not grateful enough. I miss the mundane. I miss being outside without a mask. I miss eating out. I miss going to the movies. I miss the noise. I miss the people…all of them. I miss the human interaction. I miss the hugs, the handshakes, the high-fives, and even the fist bumps. I miss the gatherings. I miss it all.
Someday we will get back some of our old routines and normalcy will be in place whatever that might be. I hope that with it comes back some of the things that make us a community. I hope that we can share our lives with others without being apart. I hope we can break bread again as a group. I hope life in isolation will be a distant memory. I hope, I hope.
I am thankful, and I recognize the privilege of still being here with you with all my heart. While we cannot dine together, perhaps we can cook together in spirit. I have a few recipes of my quarantine eats that I would like to share. They are quite simple and delicious. I hope you will be inspired to cook these, and remember that, at least for now, we are together, alone.
Click HERE for the recipes.