Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: A Memorable, Miserable Year

In my kitchen this year I've been aware of many consequences of the terrible global coronavirus epidemic, some with direct and some indirect impact on my personal life. On the whole, I'm among the luckiest of people so far. I wouldn't even characterize 2020 as my year of Zoom, Doom, and Gloom, because I didn't do very many electronic meetings (only with family, often very small), because I was able to go with Len for walks and drives in the countryside outside my home, and because we tried to keep an upbeat attitude, fostered by lots of cooking and baking, throughout it all. Here is a summary of what's happened in my kitchen during this year of extremes.

Food Politics in Mind

My most pressing thought for the end of the year in my kitchen is not about myself but about 50 million Americans -- including 17 million children -- who are facing hunger due to the economic conditions in our country. The new wave of poverty caused by the pandemic created a horrendous increase in hunger and want that will persist even after the vaccine allows many workers to return to work. Recovery from months of unemployment could leave many people still struggling, even when their jobs return.

Symbolically, these people are with me in my kitchen where Len and I are alone. It has become my habit to donate to organizations that help those in need. I've especially donated money to the local food bank, Food Gatherers, whose delivery van is pictured (from their newsletter). Food Gatherers is able to buy food efficiently from the nationwide organization Feeding America and other sources, and distributes food through several food pantries that directly serve the local community.

Political misdeeds are ongoing in Washington, preventing the deployment of adequate help for the most vulnerable members of our society from the Federal government. The calloused postponement of signing the relief bill was the last of many insults and injuries. Cruel delay in funding for those in need -- as well as many other events -- made me angry and sad, but I'm not going to discuss the matter further. I have high hopes that the situation will improve with the new and more humanitarian administration.

Food Politics in My Kitchen

Masked meat packers on the processing line.  (source)

Vegan curry with cauliflower, bell pepper, tomatoes,
potatoes, red lentils. This is becoming one of my go-to recipes.

Food politics also have had a direct impact on my kitchen decisions. I've worked around the shortages and challenges of shopping without entering the stores. But most pressing: I've worried about disruptions and objectionable practices in the food supply, including the terrible treatment of food workers, the problems for farmers, and the shortages of packaging materials, especially for flour. 

In response to the cruel behavior of meat packing plant owners, who caused large numbers of workers to become infected (and many to die), we reduced meat consumption and avoided all meat from American industrial packing plants. Some sources say that these essential workers will be prioritized for the vaccine: I hope so!

I've done many experiments in vegetarian cooking during the year -- just one is in the picture. Red lentils were completely new to me! For a while, besides actual vegetables, we also experimented with various fake meat options, like Beyond Burgers. Eventually, I decided that I really didn't find them that appealing. I'm not sure they are better for the environment, for food workers, or for one's health than actual meat -- and they aren't cheap! On the whole, I prefer small-scale farmed local meat. It's been a few months since we had fake meat, and I don't think I will use it in the future.  

My Pantry During the Pandemic

My pantry with a new shelf for the many canisters of flour and
 jars of spice that we need for all the baking and cooking
we have been doing during lockdown.
Treading a fine line between becoming a hoarder and being prudent with available shopping options has been challenging. I've learned to deal with remote ordering of food and kitchen tools. No shopping! No personal selection of produce! (With a few exceptions during the summer when there were outdoor markets).

Grocery stores, having experienced many supply chain problems, aren't offering as wide a variety of products as before. They are making fewer innovations, which also affects what's new or different in all of our pantries. "Stocking shelves with innovative new products is less of a priority than stocking shelves, period." (source)

My spice shelf in December.

I bought the orange-lidded jar of Hawaij spice blend -- labeled only in Hebrew --  in Israel a few years ago. It's really good: I used it up. I was unable to find a replacement for a while, but now has a selection of the spices from the same Israeli company, so I have the new, purple-lidded replacement.

No More Coke: That Is, Diet Coke

July, 2020: one of my last Diet Cokes.
One item no longer appears in our kitchen thanks to the vast changes in our lives. It's insignificant but I'm just going to mention it. As it became so difficult to shop in March, we felt it was too much trouble to ask people to bring us our usual quantities of soft drinks. We switched to water (filtered, from our refrigerator).

We sparingly drank our remaining cans of Diet Coke throughout the summer, and by the time we could more easily have ordered more through the improved grocery delivery systems that had emerged, we had lost our taste for it.  Thinking of this is a reminder of the complete breakdown of grocery shopping we experienced in the first weeks of lockdown, and how so many businesses have adapted to new conditions!


New vegetarian recipes in Ottolenghi's
latest book have been an ongoing experiment
in my kitchen for the last several weeks.

We constantly make new kinds of pancakes from sourdough discard.
Here: pancakes with raisins and dried apricots with a side of fried apple slices.

Finding new ways to enjoy kitchen activities has been one of my important ways of handling a safe and isolated life as required during the pandemic. My experiments with spice and vegetarian meals have been a response to the meat supply problem described above. Another way to deal with it: buying gadgets. 

The pancakes are in an image from the November, 2020 In My Kitchen post.


Throughout the year, Len's baking has progressed and become an increasingly important part of our lives. He's tried many sourdough recipes, breads from a variety of ethnic cuisines, and more. Some of the bread books have been on our shelves for years, but many of them  are new, especially The Rye Baker.

Sharing the loaves of bread with friends -- which can be accomplished with a safe level of contact outdoors -- has also become an important result of Len's baking. We have several friends who have become "testers" of his experiments -- they are very enthusiastic! He's also shared his sourdough starter with a few people, and another generation of the starter (shared onward by his recipients) has even happened in a couple of cases.

Shared Cooking

We miss events like this dinner in the backyard with family in August, 2019, and many dinners around our dining room table. Cooking for a crowd while sharing the kitchen with friends and relatives is one of the forbidden activities we miss the most, along with travel and actually seeing others!

My kitchen contains numerous unused items that I hope I'll be able to bring back by sometime in 2021. Covered cake plates and hot-dish carriers for potlucks, large serving bowls and platters for dinner parties, and similar equipment has stayed on the shelf. No doubt this is true for everyone, and we all hope to cook for a larger crowd some time soon.

Hunger Stalks the Globe

To end where  I began: my most pressing concern is for the many people in our country and throughout the world who have been impoverished by the economic effects of the pandemic. In my kitchen is thus heightened awareness of hunger that stalks our country and the globe. 

We hope that the vaccine will soon be distributed. We hope that our own situation and that of many others will improve. However, we have enormous concern for those who remain vulnerable due to poverty and poor health. Our concern for our society is enormous. Our kitchen is only one small place in a huge world, and difficult times make us all the more aware of this.

For all my fellow bloggers and other readers: I hope your New Year, 2021, is much better than 2020. Above all, I wish you good health. And I thank you for offering descriptions of your kitchens and your lives throughout the year.

Blog post © 2020 mae sander.
Shared with Sherry's In My Kitchen blog event.


Angie's Recipes said...

2020 has been a very challenging year for many and I am so thankful that I still have fresh quality food on my table. Wish you and yours a happy 2021, Mae!

Anne in the kitchen said...

It has been a difficult yea, no doubt. I have enjoyed reading your blog and "hearing" your thoughts. Wishing you and the world a better New Year!

My name is Erika. said...

I was particulary interested in Len's sourdough books. Like your family, I have been trying to expand the food menu and move out with more sourdough recipes. I have the rye baker and haven't tried it. A good one for 2021 for me. Have a fabulous and happy new year Mae. Hugs-Erika

Debra Eliotseats said...

True, it has been mostly a miserable year but there have been some good to come out of it like your new eating (and non-diet Coke drinking). For me, it's been a greater appreciation and awareness of the natural world outside our back doors and learning to cherish things more. I do hope we're not putting ALL our hopes and dreams on 2021 b/c it will probably be 2022 before things are mostly normal again. Be safe and well!

Nil @ The Little House by the Lake said...

Happy New Year to you and yours, Mae!

Let's hope 2021 is a calmer and happier year for all of us!

DVArtist said...

I can't even sum up 2020 and really don't want to. I want to look forward and hope in some small ways it is better. It will not change over night but looking for those bright spots. I wish you the very best for 2021. Health, love, and lots of laughter. Happy New Year.

francesca said...

Happy new year Mae and than you for this thoughtful post. Francesca,

francesca said...

Happy new year Mae and than you for this thoughtful post. Francesca,

francesca said...

Happy new year Mae and than you for this thoughtful post. Francesca,

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

Thank you for sharing your insights into how last year affected your kitchen. I agree totally that not signing the relief bill was an act of cruelty. May 2021 be kind to you!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

It's been a very challenging year, indeed. My friend Scott shops at Aldi for me, so I am lucky. I could never afford to order food. I do agree that many in this country go hungry. I will never be able to say that, because I have enough food to last, even if it isn't the best food like you are accustomed to.

Since I have been a vegetarian for several years now, I have no need to buy meat and agree that the meat packers have been hard hit. I noticed Moscow Mitch wanted to include a clause that owners couldn't be sued by their employees if they were put in harms way of the virus. To me, that was cruelty. BTW, I tried the fake burger once and once was enough. I would rather have a tofu burger.

Thanks for sharing your pantry and your overabundance of food and baking. Here's to a safe, healthy, joyous new year, dear Mae.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I forgot to mention, one thing I cannot live without is my coffee. I drink it 24/7, so I would suffer severe headaches without it. I tried stopping for one day and nearly died. I can't live without caffeine, my drug of choice.

Iris Flavia said...

I am glad in Germany we have organizations that try (and manage?) to take care of hunger. RE-Food and many more.
Our meat industry suffered, too - because they hire people who speak no German and hence do not understand the rules. Well, they were cheap workers, but in the aftermath they had to close down, not that cheap then!
I am lucky I can still go shopping. (Food!). And water we can get from the tap - healthy one, even!

But. I think it all has a good side. We bake (my first real bread!), we cook, that´s good!
And yes, we miss.

And yes. To a HEALTHY ... wonderful, better 2021!

Divers and Sundry said...

I tend to be a homebody, but even I am tiring of all this *sigh*

I agree with you wholeheartedly here: "Political misdeeds are ongoing in Washington, preventing the deployment of adequate help for the most vulnerable members of our society from the Federal government. The calloused postponement of signing the relief bill was the last of many insults and injuries. Cruel delay in funding for those in need..."

As they dither about the $2000 going to people who "don't need it" I'm thinking What?! Where was all this concern about that and the deficit when that bill last year was passed? :( That people are going hungry is a scathing indictment of the Republican Senate. That the richest have seen record improvements in their wealth while the poorest are hungry? Unforgiveable!

I appreciate the information on food politics, as I'm fairly ignorant on that subject. I like veggie dishes and don't tend to notice the absence of meat. The fake meat options aren't attractive to me. I still make a weekly grocery trip. I should bake my own bread more often, but it's fresh fruit and veggies that send me to the grocery store.

I hope the new year is better for all of us, but I fear the politics ain't changin' :( I'm taking my little joys and pleasures where I find them, but I do wish the big picture could see fundamental, systemic change.

But... Happy New Year! and may we find ways to make it a better one for everybody :)

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Well, out with the old and in with the new. Hope it will be a year of health and happiness for all! I would love the recipe for that vegan vegetable curry. Looks and sounds amazing.

Laurie C said...

A thoughtful post that made me want to take stock of what has changed for my husband and me, food-wise, during the pandemic. I wanted to go extreme and not order things to be delivered, limiting us only to my husband's every-other-week supermarket run (alternating with the farmers' market curbside pickup order every other week during the summer). But we did order food, too, from places like Nuts. com, The Spice House, King Arthur Flour, and, of course, Amazon. (Sadly for me because I've been anti-Amazon from the start, but I'm in a mixed marriage when it comes to Amazon!)
I've been trying to focus on limiting food waste (e.g. not letting veggies go bad, finishing leftovers before making something new, etc.) and using up some of what we already have -- put away in the freezer, in the overflow fridge, or down in the basement cabinets -- before we buy more.
Thanks for being such a regular part of Weekend Cooking! I've enjoyed your posts all through 2020 and look forward to more in 2021, when I'm going to try to get back to being a more consistent blogger, myself!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Your post reminded me to go to my cabinets and bring a selection of beans and canned vegetables to the Little-Library-type food pantry at the church next door. We walked past the Episcopal Church one Thursday afternoon and saw lines of cars down both streets. I know that this is a problem in my town, and I thank you for reminding me to to what I can to help.

I am impressed with your effort to cut out meat because of the poor decisions made in the meat-packing industry. We have cut way back on our meat consumption, too.

I love the way you and your husband have been able to stay busy and content during this pandemic with your cooking and baking.

JoAnn said...

Such a thoughtful and interesting post! We have also made some adjustments... primarily involving meal planning. I have become a scrupulous planner and infrequent shopper (7AM every week or two). Look forward to the day when I can again read a recipe, run out for missing ingredients, and cook it immediately.

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

The lack of support for citizens in your country is appalling, and the GOP are wilfully ignoring their responsibility to be ‘for the people’. I have my complaints in regards to our own government but we do at least have a reasonable welfare system that ensures most if not all have received ongoing extra support during the pandemic.
Our dietary habits were only altered for a short while earlier this year when panic buying stripped the shelves of basics such as pasta, mince, sausages, flour, yeast etc. We basically just lived on sandwiches for a couple of weeks because with 6 of us, takeout wasnt an option, but we never had to worry we would go hungry.
Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post, and for the help you are extending to your fellow citizens.

Wishing you a better 2021

Liz said...

Thank you Mae for your post. I am also shocked at the blatant disregard for our citizens by our elected officials. I don't know what has happened to our moral compass.

I feel lucky to live where I can get meat and produce from local farms and farmers. It's one benefit of living in a rural community, lack of internet connectivity is the downside.

My hope is that things will be better in 2021 if we can every get rid of the slime.

Johanna GGG said...

you sound like you have risen to the challenges of the past year - and there have been many! it is interesting to hear how things have changed in your household, especially with your vegetarian experiments - I feel the same as you about fake meat and would much prefer lentils. I feel sad that one of the losses of the year is the social occasions. I too have missed having meals with friends and family - our situation in Melbourne is better so we are starting to do it occasionally but still not back to how we used to be.

Moya-Food and Tools said...

Hi Mae, Happy new year to you and your family. Definitely challenge times and most likely more to come. I too have the new Ottolenghi cookbook, I do love his style of cooking. Moya x

Sherry's Pickings said...

hi Mae
thanks once again for being the stalwart of IMK. yes what a time of it we've all had this past year. I'm hoping that things for you fellas in the U.S. get better once we see the last of Orange Man. We donated to Ozharvest food bank at christmas we always do; it's so sad to think people are without food at such a time. Wishing you the very best for 2021!
sherry xx