Earlier in the New Year, I was examining the contents of my “witch’s cabinet” (as the friend who gifted me the antique armoire named it), taking note of the herbs that should ideally be used up before spring foraging starts up again.
I pondered starting a micro-dosing program. Not with psychedelics, of course, but I was playing with the concept using herbs, spices and novelty. This seemed a good alternative for those of us who cannot—or don’t want to—ingest consciousness-altering substances, but who still enjoy playing with our lived realities by changing patterns of consumption.
It would also serve my fondness for do-able projects—taking on something subtle, like opening a window to let in fresh air rather than taking down a wall in order to build an addition to the house. Where the idea eventually landed was here: I would make at least one new recipe a week for the year.
Fast forward a few weeks into late February. I returned to Whistler from Japan; COVID-19 was just beginning its global sweep out of China, and Japan was one of the early hard-hit countries. A few days after returning I developed a cough and sore throat, and was suddenly quarantined with the fear that I would be patient-zero in Whistler. After testing negative for the coronoavirus, however, I remained in quarantine with Influenza-A.
Because of the flu, I couldn’t eat, but nevertheless started poking around the kitchen more intently. What exactly did I have in here to support health and immunity? (What did I have, given that the Canadian government was recommending we have two weeks worth of food and limit visits to the grocery store).
Due to a tiny pantry that comes with townhome living, I don’t have stocks of dried legumes and flour (yet!) but there is a substantial stash of otherwise semi-filled jars. There are herbs and spices galore, both from my personal interest in flavours and foraging, and because one of my sisters is a certified herbalist.
In the fridge I found elderberry syrup and a stash of liquorice root and juniper berries (anti-virals). There was a jar of chaga from my parents property in the Cariboo, as well as clover flowers from their yard. My mother dehydrates kale by the wagon-load to crumple into soups, rice, or casseroles, and I found two bags as well as her dried apple-slices. The freezer contains steamed nettle that I’d completely forgotten about and a bag of chopped rhubarb to boot. My mini-stash was actually awash with interesting bits & bobs. Dandelion root, yarrow, calendula… harissa, nasi goreng mix and lemongrass. Local and exotic side by side.
Now, what to do with it all?
These are strange and stressful times. Most days I feel a strong need to create something— anything. And I’ll call it a win for the day even if it’s just making a nice cup of herbal tea or trying out a new soup recipe (**disclaimer, I don’t have young children; a friend with a young one told me her goal for the day was just peeing by herself, so fair enough**).
Making all these concoctions is my way of coping with unprecedented circumstances. I know others are coping and working it out differently. Some need to chill out, eat chips and ice- cream, and soak up the stillness. I do that, too, but it seems that right now, tiny influxes of new flavours are foodie medicine for my beleaguered soul. Sage-and-lemon-balm tea. Cauliflower taco bowls. Lemony lentils. And yes, banana bread.
My most recent experiment—a hibiscus infusion with ginger and citrus—is from a cookbook that I’ve had for years but have never used as much as in the past two weeks: Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. That one book alone has delivered to my plate smashed baby potatoes with garlic & caper sauce, corn-grit blueberry muffins, a coconut curry and turmeric lemonade.
I’ve even taken time to write the author to thank her for her recipes.
What is happening to me? I didn’t even like to cook until I was 30 years old… but it turns out I’m a Taurus through and through. Ruled by the sensual. Now that I’ve got the time to appreciate the gifts of the senses, it’s grounding me. A little less news, a little more time to breathe in the smell of garlic, grind up coriander seed, or drop a bit of cardamom into my morning coffee.
It’s simple, effective and delivers the variety I crave while we’re all house-bound more than normal.
I wish you all well on your own journeys through this… oh, and please send any recommended recipes my way!