Hello. It’s been a few months. A lot is… happening! At the time I’m sending this to my editor, I’ve been in my apartment for several weeks straight, leaving once every other day for a solitary walk and essentials, and making the best of what I can find in the very back of the pantry or whatever can be easily obtained from the 24-hour corner store on my block.
I don’t have flour or sugar but I do have Betty Crocker Pizza Dough Mix and Duncan Hines Signature Cake Mix: Banana Supreme.
I like working with what’s available. Cooking and baking become truly creative to me not solely when something is created entirely from scratch or invented anew. I like to make fun of those midcentury cookbooks that are like “put some ham in gelatin and then cover in sour cream and use cornichorns to give it the appearance of eyes”, you know the ones, but I make fun of them lovingly. It is very, very hard to make something both tasty and visually appealing for your family and friends when you don’t have very much to work with (and, implicit in a lot of these old cookbooks, when it’s also pretty much your job/role to surprise and delight domestically no matter the odds).
I made a really spectacular pizza the other night by adding spices to the crust mix and then rolling it out with some fancy olive oil I got for Christmas that had been sitting on top of my fridge largely as decoration. I used it because I couldn’t follow the instruction to roll out the dough with floured hands, having no flour, and figured the oil would at least keep me from sticking to the dough. I have another packet that I might make by adding beer instead of water and I’ll see what happens.
For the cake, I had like half of the very few things one is even supposed to need to complete the batter. I think I put some yogurt in there. I tried adding chocolate chips and they sank while it cooked, forming a dark bottom crust of pure chocolate which, while not what I had in mind, turned out to kind of rule. For frosting, I used up the last of some ancient vanilla protein powder mixed with a tub of plain cream cheese that we weren’t going to use for anything else, anyway, having no bagels. Ultimately, making protein-enhanced, chocolate-encrusted banana cake was the best bullshit I have ever half-assed and it has been breakfast all week.
Please do not worry about me, though. If I really, really wanted, I could probably get myself to a big supermarket and replenish on all sorts of things, but I’m trying to responsibility limit how much I go out—and how far—and I simply don’t have a car, so buying in bulk is impossible. It’s fine! I have lived the majority of my adult life without proximity to a supermarket. There is something almost meditative to me about the puzzle of how much I can work with what I have.
For example, this weekend, I am looking forward to making ice cream from an apocalypse-prepper kit.
I’ve been in possession of the kit for about a year. It was sent to someone I know to lure them into getting into prepping, and I took it off their hands to study and review as a work of science fiction. While it is, literally, a backpack full of things, it also contains plenty to critically unpack as well (ugh sorry, the pun was unavoidable). The booklets within are chock full of implicit and explicit white supremacist, violent libertarian fantasies of White Men protecting their Nuclear Families against Bad Stuff (which I will share and analyze in more detail in a different essay).
The food in this kit is supposed to be enough to survive on for three days. My spouse, who has worked on archaeological digs in the desert and on tall ships at sea, points out that it has no salt tablets or any source of electrolytes, as well as no vitamins, no dry vegetables, no citrus supplements. There really isn’t any protein or fat either, as my own experiences camping and hiking (I am a flannel-wearing New England homosexual through and through) prompted a futile search for some peanut butter or jerky. I would have accepted dried crickets, too; there is no arguing with their ecological and nutritional benefits, and the hot clerk at the Army Navy Surplus Store in my neighborhood tells me that you can get them in a variety of flavors these days, including cool ranch and zesty nacho.
Instead, this kit meant for fleeing to the wilderness in the end times contains a few packets of powdered vanilla and chocolate milkshakes, a bag of sugar cereal, and canned water that looks almost exactly like the canned air from Spaceballs. In a real crisis, it “would be” virtually useless.
My plan is to whip up the milkshakes using kitchen gadgets I absolutely would not have on hand in the off-grid survivalist setting they’re intended for, and yet necessitate to make, and then freeze the milkshakes into an ice-cream-like slush (Julians can have little a ice-cream-like slush, as a treat).
Also, on the topic of poorly considered plans motivated by creepy ideologies, I have been thinking a lot about what to make of grocery store panic buying. As best as I understand, the food supply chain is fine (for now?), but also, panic-buying does not seem to be distributed evenly everywhere. A friend of mine in Philadelphia posted a picture of a well stocked but largely empty Asian market, where he had no problems picking up his regular groceries, but it seemed clear that a lot of people were avoiding the place purely out of, frankly, sinophobia. Not long after, he commented, “extremely hot and thoroughly untested take: the rest of the world didn’t take coronavirus seriously during January, because everyone assumes China is still an underdeveloped backwater (racism) and that the disease would never spread past Asia (also racism)”.
I’m inclined to agree with him, and I didn’t hear a lot of people around me take this situation seriously until the conversation became “Do you see what’s happening in Italy?” And now “holding China accountable” (???) for American public health failures is somehow a real thing that a great many people think is, just like, totally cool and fine as a basis for discussion and policy.
Bigotry does this weird thing where it says that a person is not really a person and should be ignored, until that person cannot any longer be ignored, at which point it lashes out and says “look what you made me do.”
So, this month I guess I just want to implore people: stay home, eat well, and don’t be racist.
That’s it! That’s the “recipe”.
While you’re busy staying home, and only if you are also not being racist, I would love to hear what you’re cooking. Do @ me, and be well.
Cover illustration by Flynn Nicholls.