A Covid-19 Coffee Date (All About Food) - Skillful Cook
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A Covid-19 Coffee Date (All About Food)

A man and his daughter watching tv in a living room, surrounded by two dogs.

Life feels a little wobbly right now, doesn't it? Holy smokes.

The news is changing every day with updates on the novel coronavirus, and now that it's reached us here in the United States, and here in Minnesota, everything that used to be far away now feels a whole lot more real and uncertain.

School closures, job losses, and economic instability are all a lot to handle on top of the main event of a very real public health crisis.

One thing that remains predictable in all of this?

You need to eat. ♡

Your kids need to eat. My dog needs to eat. We all need to eat.

People need food, for their physical bodies, and I think also for nourishing their souls. And in a time when so much feels like it's just hanging on by a thread, making and eating food can be centering. A small way to focus, provide, create joy.

It puts our feet back on the ground. It takes us out of the hypotheticals and brings us back to caring for ourselves and others in real-time. It is not rooted in the future but in the now. It is very present and fully human.

As is obvious, I'm not a doctor or an expert, so anything I say - it's just me, okay? Just Regular Person Me, sharing my ideas and experiences. Read, absorb, and let me know what is working for you in the comments. I am writing this post in hopes that it gives us a place to talk and connect and be there for each other.

Our Approach, Generally Speaking

We are not in full blown quarantine mode exactly, but I would say Bjork and I have been in pretty serious social distancing mode by choice since last Thursday, March 12th.

We have been, well, just staying home. Not eating out, not going to events, not hanging out with groups of people. Is that completely necessary right now? Maybe not. Does it feel a little weird? Yes, especially as a lot of other people go on with normal life as planned. But will it make an impact for us and others? Oh man, we sure hope so.

Instead of our normal out-and-abouts, we've been going for walks, baking, reading, watching TV, and playing with Solvi. And for the foreseeable future, this is our plan.

This is in an effort to do the MOST GOOD for our family, for our healthcare workers, and for those most vulnerable in our community.

Bjork and I have been labeling normal life activities as green, yellow, or red in terms of what we're comfortable with and what we're not. Travel is red, for example. Going to crowded places is red. Having our full team in the office is red. We normally do a weekly date night, but that is now in the yellow category as we try to avoid restaurants. Quick grocery store runs are still green, but to be honest, all of this changes almost daily depending on what the CDC and the state of Minnesota is recommending.

Here is a detailed look at what's happening in our kitchen as it relates to COVID-19 and food for the near future.

What's In Our Fridge

A fridge full of groceries.

This more or less looks how my fridge always looks, but the noteworthy things that I wanted to make sure I had extra to last us at least a few weeks are:

  • Milk (not pictured, it's in the door)
  • Orange juice (also not pictured, also in the door)
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

There's also some sturdy produce I bought that I knew would last well:

A variety of fruits and vegetables on a table.
  • Kale
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Pineapple
  • Onions and garlic

What's In Our Freezer

Bags of foods on a white table.

(It's impossible to see in the freezer itself so I pulled a few sample items out. Also, I keep a little chalkboard inventory of what's in our freezer so I don't forget.)

These are the essentials that do really well in the freezer that will help me build some meals.

  • Mango
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Chicken
  • Bread
  • Tortillas

But also, with not eating out as much, I wanted to have some fun, different, pre-made things to try that could FEEL like an eating-out adventure without actually going out to a restaurant. For example:

  • Orange chicken
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Pizza
  • Potstickers
  • Pretzels
  • Gnocchi

I've been so grateful to have a few random, wouldn't-usually-buy, fun things to munch on when we're not going out during the weekend. It makes weekend eating feel a little more exciting than... like, lentils.

What's In Our Pantry

Grocery items arranged in the cupboard.

My pantry is just a cabinet in my laundry room, so really, it's not a pantry and it makes for a bad picture. But here's what we've got (mostly overflow from the normal Costco trips we've done over the last few months).

  • Peanut butter
  • Flour
  • Nut milk
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Pasta
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Canned or jarred “flavor extras” - roasted red peppers, chipotles, capers, curry paste, etc.
  • Rice / quinoa / oats / other grains
  • Mac and cheese “for Solvi”

I also have some baskets with random grains and beans - mostly half-opened bags that are probably a little too old, but it's what we've got.

A tub full of packets of corn, lentils, peas and other food items.

What We're Going To Cook with All This

It's time to get really creative and flexible with recipes.

I'm viewing this season of cooking as heavy on the reverse recipe building, where rather than starting with the actual recipe, I'll start with the ingredient I have to work with. Example: we have sweet potatoes and cashews. I'll roast them and put them in tacos, with a cashew queso sauce.

Which is exactly how I like to cook and I'm excited to be stretched to get really resourceful with our food.

Here's my game plan - it is LOOSE and that is the whole point.

  • Tacos: most everything can be rolled into a tortilla and made into a taco. For this I am grateful. Examples: buffalo chicken tacos, or brussels sprouts tacos.
  • Curries: We are well-stocked on curry paste and coconut milk. Again, most anything you can find in a freezer or pantry can somehow get converted into a curry. We also have A LOT OF RICE. Bless it. Examples: sweet potato curry, or red curry lentils.
  • Soup and Stew: Onions, garlic, vegetables, and go. Add some grains, add some beans, and voila. Examples: detox lentil soup, or golden soup, or wild rice soup.
  • Pasta: We have a Costco-sized package of spaghetti, so bring it on. While I have several jars of spaghetti sauce, I also plan to make spaghetti that is... not regular spaghetti. Examples: Garlic herb spaghetti, or pumpkin spaghetti.
  • Baking: Bread, yes, but also muffins, cookies, and other things that just help to lighten the mood a bit. Examples: no knead bread, or 5-ingredient banana muffins, or the best of all time chocolate chip cookies (also, 2-person deep dish cookie bowls! which will be posted very soon).

Flexibility is key. The whole point here is making do with what we have so as to avoid unnecessary trips out. And the only way that works is by being a little bold and a little scrappy with some of the ingredients we have. Luckily, scrappy is my middle name. Let's do this.

A staircase with various grocery items.

As we think about our own Covid-19 situation and food, my encouragement to all of us food lovers (including myself) is also think about our friends and neighbors who might need a little extra support to keep themselves and their kids well-fed, either due to health or financial stresses. This is a really good time to be watching out for others - those more vulnerable to the virus, those who work in healthcare, those who run small businesses.

Idea list, and things I've been working on myself:

  • Contacting teachers to see what food needs their students might have during remote learning, as many of them rely on school lunches
  • Buying gift cards to your favorite local restaurants or small businesses as you're staying home more often
  • Taking five minutes to leave a review for your favorite restaurant or small business on Google or Yelp
  • Checking in with your neighbors who are elderly or have compromised immune systems to see if they need help getting groceries
  • Making a donation to your local food shelf

Alright. How we doing, team?

What is happening in your life as it relates to Covid-19?

What changes are you making, whether by choice or not?

What does your pantry look like, and of course, what are you eating?

Take care out there! ♡ Things might be up and down and different day to day, but we're here, we're in this with you, we're not going anywhere, and I look forward to seeing you around here whether that's in good times or weird times. And right now it's weird times. Time to be our best selves.

We can do this. xo

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m not doing well. My body is stuck in fight or flight mode and I’m required to go to work and probably taking up the slack (seeing more clients) to make up for people out with their kids who are out of school. I made lasagna that’ll last us a couple of days. Ultimate comfort food.

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Thank you so much for this beautiful post. We have many similar items in our pantry and fridge! I saw your pics, and thought, I didn’t think of that! Ha-ha. I’ve been following your site for quite awhile now and love your recipes. We eat mostly vegan, but do add fish and seafood sometimes. Today we made an amazing smelling stew with Lebanese spices, onion, plenty of garlic, zucchini, potatoes, canned tomatoes, and garbanzos. Can’t wait for dinner. Be well!!

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for your post, been very nervous and needed a 5 minute break. I live in Switzerland, we’re not in lockdown yet, but I suspect it will happen soon. Grocery stores are crazy. I’m at work today but will only be coming in once a week until lockdown forbids it. Just feeling nervous even though everything is still ok, we have food, we’ll manage, but it’s the idea of having to stay home for a long while that is frightening. My work colleagues and I agreed to have a “digital” coffee date every day at 10: Everyone dials in on skype and has a coffee or tea and we can chat for 10-15 minutes as if we were together. Hope you all stay safe and healthy.

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for this post – I know this already as your job is also my job, but its good to see so much really good, practical and most importantly positive advice all in one place. If there is ever a silver lining to all of this I hope it will teach people to be kinder to others, to be resourceful and to waste less food!

    I’m lucky that I’m staying with my family right now (planned trip) rather than in the city – somewhere isolated in the country where we can practice social distancing if we wish, and where I can keep on working because there is still food on the shelves unlike in London. Just taking each day at a time.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    My husband and I don’t enjoy crowds in the first place – so it hasn’t affected a lot of plans – we’ve been walking outside on trails, making necessary trips to the store when needed, working out at home (plus our gym just closed! thankful we have a treadmill and few weights). Neither of our works are shut down – so we must still continue on with our normal work routine (I work in the legal field). I also want to give a shoutout not only to healthcare workers, but to those who work at grocery stores or retail stores (Walmart/Target, etc.) who are working to diligently keep things stocked and come in contact with many people. My dad is one of those people and it seems that people are underappreciating them!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I really appreciate your comment – very important to recognize the sacrifices being made by people working in retail or grocery. Thank you, Simone’s dad!!

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      I too have been thinking about those people, as well as delivery and warehouse workers! Our modern conveniences (that are now important for social distancing) of curbside pick up and Amazon shipping are only possible because of all those workers!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Yes!! I’m hoping that amidst all of this we become people/communities who become more grateful for all we have, appreciative of other people and let’s be honest, that more people realize the importance of washing their hands!!!

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    Yes, this virus has scared a lot of us and changed a lot. We should do all we can to protect us and our families from it, so it is necessary to take measures. My college is also closed for a time and we have distance learning. We have the assignment to write an essay about civil rights, I think to write it in today`s context (I mean how countries will implement a state of emergency and its consequences on civil). I found great site https://studydriver.com/civil-rights/ for students, which push me to this idea. I think it is a good idea because it is a very common situation when people face a violation of their rights during crisis situations.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    I was happy to see a post from Skillful Cook as I’ve been thinking about taking this time to utilize what’s in my pantry as well and I love, love, LOVE your recipes and look forward to creating some delicious stuff as I haven’t been in my kitchen to cook in forever with work and LIFE…stay safe and healthy and I hope at some point photography classes come back again and I can finally make one 😀

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for a voice of calm reason needed at a time like this. Panic is never productive, but thoughtful planning is. Also, thanks for reminding us how to reach out to others, even while we socially isolate.

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    Loved this post. Just so real and thoughtful. Thank you!
    I am not creative in the kitchen but I am taking this time to really think about how to improve my meal planning skills. Praying we can all find peace even in the chaos!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    First off, thank you for taking the time to post and check in with us all. It helps this to feel a little more normal. My husband is in dental school and they started spring break a week early and will be moving to all online after the two week break. As a chemist I can’t work from home but my employer is making everyone be thermometer tested and use hand sanitizer before coming in to the building (if you have a fever you will be sent home). So far my state doesn’t have very many cases but it seems like that could change overnight and everyone here is really stocking up in an effort to practice a little more social distancing. My husband went to the grocery store today at 5am to get toilet paper and groceries for the next few weeks. Luckily he was able to get some of what we needed so we should be fine to stay put for a bit. We actually already had plans to make a few of your freezer meals (chicken meatballs, sweet potato peanut stew, Korean beef) so that’s what we’ll be eating for the next few weeks. I feel really lucky that we had been up to date on keeping our pantry stocked so we have everything to make miracle no-knead bread, cookies and pasta for weeks. Our sweet elderly neighbors kids have asked them to stay at home and not have visitors but we’ve talked on the phone a few times already and she is such a ray of sunshine, so positive about everything and grateful for what she has. Such a good example of hope amidst this trying time. This definitely isn’t what I expected for 2020 but together we can make it through and be better for it. Praying that everyone effected is able to find peace and have their basic needs met.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for this! On Thursday I made your Turkey Burrito recipe and am so happy I have 15 frozen burritos already in our freezer! I’m in MA and our town started cancelling school last Wednesday 3/11 and will be closed until at least 4/7. I need all the ideas I can get to try to put meals together with what I have!

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    Our frig., freezer, and pantry look pretty much the same except that our pantry is huge – I call it my grocery store. We’re very lucky to have the space. Was at the store this morning and people were filling their carts to overflowing with TP and ramen noodles. Who does that! Take care and stay safe and well.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    It’s tough.. I live just outside Manhattan (and work in the city) and have been wfh since last Tues. My town has basically completely shut down (restaurants/bars/schools/parks/public centers closed) and the stores are insane. Luckily, I always have a pretty stocked fridge/pantry but without great access to fresh meat and produce, I’ve had to get creative. Here’s what we’ve enjoyed so far!
    – chicken noodle soup with homemade stock and homemade black pepper egg noodles (who knew how easy they were to make!)
    – black bean tacos with rice and guac
    – burgers (from the freezer) with sauteed mushrooms
    – quesadillas
    – kale salads (there is not a run on kale! people don’t like chopping it I guess?)
    – rice bowls with whatever’s in the fridge and a fried egg
    – so. many. baked goods.

    Mostly, my husband and I are taking this time to slowww down and enjoy eating three square meals together. This is usually a crazy busy time of year for him for work, and while he’s still mostly holed away in our office, getting to have him home is such a bright spot in an otherwise strange and discomforting time <3

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      This was so interesting to me hearing about your food – thank you so much for sharing! Laughed out loud about the kale. 🙂

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    Not doing great. I’m panicking a little bit about the what-ifs and had a full-blown anxiety attack in the grocery store the other day when I saw how low my usual pantry essentials were. Can’t buy rice, pasta, beans, any of that stuff. And most produce was gone, too. It’s pretty terrifying on top of the fear about job security (living is Vegas, so much of our economy relies on tourism).

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    I unexpectedly had to come home from college this weekend. While the uncertainty is unnerving, I’ve been catching up with friends over phone and my sister and I have been baking! So far I’ve been raiding our fridge and working with leftovers to make rice bowls and the spaghetti we ate for dinner last night. I am SO PUMPED for the banana muffins in this post!! I just found bananas that need to be used in baking soon, and the fact that your 5-minute banana muffins are refined sugar free and gluten-free are rocking my day. Thank you for the tips! Peace in every circumstance 🙂

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for posting this, Lindsay. It’s always fun to see what’s in someone else’s pantry and what items they consider staples.

    I’m in Boise, Idaho and am really concerned about small business owners, especially restaurants. I worry for the owners and the employees; I worry (but am grateful) for hospital and clinic workers. I would like to find a way to help elderly people but am not sure how I would go about doing this – who to contact.

    Anyway, reading through the comments, I’m reminded and even a little encouraged that, for once, the entire world is in the same thing together, working together, in one way or another, even if it’s simply staying home and not spreading a virus you may not know you have yet, to fight it.

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    I live in Barcelona, and we are not allowed to be outside (other than to go buy food, go to the Pharmacy, or walk the dog). We also have to work from home (if the job allows it!). It is mentally tough, especially as it’s going to be like this for a while. What helps me is to remind myself that this is needed and that I am actually doing what is best for others. This is not about me! Together we can do it 🙂

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for stating that you are following expert advice (CDC and public health), and for stating that you are looking for updates regularly. Stay safe and healthy!

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    I believe we should take this seriously but don’t panic. Turn off the news and go outside and see for yourself whats happening where you are. Preparation is a good idea anyway. Natural disasters happen. The people at greatest risk are elderly and those with pre existing conditions. Most of everyone else should be fine
    I’m not a health care professional and I’m just stating facts as I’ve heard them. Stay well America!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I’ll include a link here that is helpful for understanding why it’s important to practice social distancing. It’s not about raising panic, but it’s about protecting the people you mentioned: the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and our brave grocery and health care workers. Even if we personally feel we will be fine, we can and should make sacrifices for the benefit of others right now. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    My daughter has a genetic condition that doesn’t effect her immune system, but effects her overall health, and she has a very low life expectancy overall. It’s surreal wondering if she might have an even shorter expectancy due to this. I’m not afraid, but it’s quite surreal. We are having absolutely no visitors and only going out when absolutely necessary. But right now I’m just focusing on all this extra time I can spend with her 🙂

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      just prayed for you hayley. i have a friend in another state whose situation is similar to yours.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this! Reverse recipes are such a challenge for me…but with two growing boys and a husband all stuck home…it’s a challenge which must be conquered!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsey – I want to thank you! I didn’t have time to make my usual meal plan before heading to the store to stock up on essentials for my family on Friday but I did still have my printed copy of the sugar free January starter pack with a month’s worth of healthy and delicious recipes. I used it as my guide to do some meal planning on the fly in a very crowded grocery store. These are challenging times – thanks for your voice of calm and great resources.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      This is amazing. I will pass this on to Jenna who did the bulk of the work to put this together. So glad it’s been helpful.

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for this gentle distraction. I work in a long-term care facility for kiddos with special needs. I am not worried about myself getting sick, as I am young and healthy, but I know the implications of “the virus that shall not be named” for people with weak or compromised immune systems. Today I went to the grocery store, saw the empty shelves (canned food, bread, toilet paper) and had a panic attack, right there in HyVee. Thank you for the good ideas and the calm pep talk- it’s amazing how little of that I’ve actually been hearing.

    You’re right, though. WE CAN DO THIS!
    xo, Erin

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Sending lots of love to you and the kids you are working with Erin. ❤️These are really hard times. This is so uncomfortable. But we can do this.

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love your coffee date posts, keep ’em coming! I made spicy shrimp tacos with garlic cilantro lime slaw tonight and they were exactly what I needed. I go between panic and calm about every 30 minutes. The only thing keeping me from stress eating my entire pantry is the thought that we need to eat out of it for the coming weeks. I feel fortunate that I can work from home and my husband is as well. We’re choosing to keep our 3 year old home with big sis while school is closed so that we can do our part.