7 Appetizing Ways to Stay Happy

People who work in hospitality usually say they get into restaurants because they love serving people and making them happy. It’s an adrenaline rush, they say. A restaurant is good if it makes tasty food, but great if it transports you someplace far away at the same time.

Our favorite restaurants may be closed, but our own kitchens are not. Most of us are not restaurant chefs, but the simple act of cooking—especially now that we have more time—can still transport you far away from COVID-19 and the current numbers for your home state.

I’ve always treasured cooking, but I value it even more during social distancing. There’s something about the mindlessness and creativity of cooking that works together to distract you from every other worry. All I focus on is the food in front of me and the recipe. How do I get from raw ingredients to finished concept? Nothing else matters. Often, I’ll play music, but occasionally, I’ll cook in silence. I can hear when the mushrooms start to get crispy, or when the potatoes are about to boil over. I smell the chile oil bubbling on the stove, and realize that the broccoli is just starting to burn in the oven. Food is all that is.

Aside from cooking in and of itself, here are seven food things bringing me happiness right now.

The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen at Home Videos

Image from Vulture

When school was back on campus, finding the time to escape to watch a new BA video was a perfect antidote to a long day of classes, a stressful exam, or an overwhelming week of work. Now, the test kitchen is back—at home—with all the usual feels. Nothing makes me feel better than watching the test kitchen editors make jokes, deal with little kids, or, yes, cook, in their own homes. People talk a lot right now about getting in your serotonin. These videos are my virtual feel-good drug. Nothing is more fun than Chris shouting foolishly at his kids about the old TV show Frasier, Brad coaching Sohla into fermenting ginger paste at home, or each chef demonstrating their at-home coffee routine. True BA fans will know, but this channel welcomes you in like a warm bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Virtual Potluckery

Just after spring break, a friend announced a group of us would be having dinner virtually once a week. There were no complaints. Every week, it’s a time to connect, and, importantly, show off our cooking chops and that night’s dinner. I think I won recently with fried pierogies that I made way back in March and stuck in the freezer. The New York Times is also getting in on the virtual potluck. They are organizing #TheBigLasagna, encouraging everyone to bake and eat lasagna this coming Sunday, May 3rd. Why not? They’ll post the recipe and cooking demo to their Instagram story (coached by the bubbling Samin Nosrat). Who couldn’t use a lasagna right now?

Chefs cooking on Instagram

Now that restaurants are all (for the most part) closed, chefs around the country have all this free time that a chef simply never has. Lots are cooking on Instagram Live or IGTV, welcoming us into their homes. I especially look forward to every new video by José Andrés. Several nights a week, he cooks a dish with his three daughters, each day trying to complete the dish in the time it takes to sing karaoke to a popular song. What follows is complete chaos—Andrés, a professional chef, tossing food in the pan and acting cavalier with the seasoning, while his daughters help and try to corral the madness. Cooking an entire dish in under five minutes is no easy task, and watching them try is just too much fun. They have this huge pan, always filled to the brim, and tossed around so flippantly that food generally goes flying everywhere (Andrés claims he is the one who does all the cleaning. His daughters shake their heads behind him). There isn’t any cooking content more wholesome or enjoyable anywhere on the internet.

Digital Cookbooks

A few days ago I saw a post about a new digital cookbook, Serving New York, and I’ve quickly seen it pop up all over since. This is a new cookbook put together with some of the top chefs in NYC, housing a collection of simple, pantry-forward recipes to bring these restaurants home. You can preorder it now—all proceeds from the book will go to ROAR, an organization working to provide cash relief straight to NYC restaurant workers. More cookbooks like this are popping up for other cities, too. United We Cook will feature recipes from 100 chefs nationwide, and proceeds will again go straight into the hands of restaurant industry workers. I can’t wait to support industry workers and eat meals from their kitchens at the same time.

Online Food Delivery

Image from Rancho Gordo

The dried bean craze was so last month… but nonetheless pantry staples continue to be sold out at many stores. Flour for all the new sourdough fanatics, dried beans, the list goes on. I’ve been appreciating all the specialty companies that ship their products nationwide. Renowned bean grower Rancho Gordo is basically sold out, but beans aren’t everything. Anson Mills in South Carolina has specialty rice and corn, and recipes for each of their products. Castle Valley Mill is a Pennsylvania grain mill with more types of flour than anyone could name. Caramelo makes the best flour tortillas money can buy in Kansas. Burlap and Barrel has high-falutin spices if your parent’s spice cabinet hasn’t been changed since they moved in. There’s nothing more exciting than opening up a box of new ingredients to test out, all without a trip to the grocery store. 

Farms Delivering Straight to Home Kitchens

Many farms rely on restaurants to purchase all their produce, but now that restaurants are closed, the home cook has access to these amazing products. If you want to have your hands on the first local asparagus, tart-sweet rhubarb for pies, or the trendiest vegetable of all time, the ramp, these farms are the way to go. In Philly, for example, Green Meadow Farm has a vegetable box and a meat box which you preorder online and pick up at a dropoff site somewhere in Center City. Many of our favorite restaurants rely on these small farms—supporting them will ensure our restaurants still have their producers when they reopen. It sure could become easy ordering local maple syrup and just-foraged wild mushrooms every week.

Rainy Days…

so that I can go biking in peace, social distancing not a problem at all. You have to work off all that food somehow!

Cover Photo Courtesy of Julian Gottfried