How My Kitchen Saved Me in Quarantine

I was looking for a new job. I was thinking of going back to my old one. I was thinking of doing many things. Then, the lockdown happened.

A life I had planned or thought about came crashing down around me like a house of cards, and like all of us, I was quarantined in my house. I found myself in the same room, on the same bed, I was last year and the year before, staring at the ceiling.

Life stopped, as it did for most of us. I scrolled through Instagram, I binged all the latest seasons on Netflix, I cleaned my bookshelf and started reading Rushdie again – perhaps to get what it is.

Nothing worked. I found myself staring at the ceiling again.

My mother, tired, asked me to prepare dinner. She had spent the afternoon cleaning our house, which was so used to be cleaned by our domestic help that cobwebs would barely begin to form. Everyone would do their part then – a cup of coffee used to appear in the study. The flour used to get kneaded for the evening. The floor was never dirty.

During the lockdown, however, magical occurrences like these turned into household chores. Chores led to arguments with no real cause or consequence.

With no zeal, I prepared pasta. My father was pleased to not eat dal yet again and my mother was glad to find her kitchen clean.

The next day started the same – it seemed to blend into days and nights and weeks. The clock and the watch were hardly paid any attention.

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As I spotted a packet of ramen noodles, I offered to make dinner. A perennial favourite, and a much needed alternate to a gourd sabzi. There was no miso or soy and there was resistance to go buy anything. There was ginger and there was garlic. An Indian kadhai lent a mighty bonus in creating something resembling ramen. A boiled egg was a welcome addition.

A more time consuming dish, but it was rewarding, and reactions from an Instagram story poured in.

The day that followed had me feeling lethargic for no real reason. No online workouts. No real work from home. Nothing at all, except the monotony. I spent the entire time there was daylight on Instagram reacting and posting pictures of friends as part of a chain of communication.

Perhaps the relatively good air quality or my instinct to accompany my father to shop for groceries led me to buy some things. Things to eat. Things to cook. Things, not food. Under my things, my father snuck in a few pieces of mutton chops. Many moons ago, when I was half my father’s height, he used to take me to Nirula’s for that mutton chop, which sadly can no longer be found. Nostalgia coaxed me into preparing dinner in a real way. A real way is when I get to chop, marinade or actually put effort into cooking.

I did it. Picture-perfect mutton chops.

The next day, I remember sleeping and had a proper morning. A breakfast. Too many eggs – a Spanish omelette, which isn’t too difficult if you know how to flip it.

Instagram reactions and emoticons led to me asking my friends – who any way spend entire days on the phone – homemade pizza or homemade pasta?

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Homemade pizza won by a landslide. Pizza dough was one of my all-time goals, having failed at it many, many times. An afternoon of recipe research and aesthetic admiration had me follow Claire Saffitz’s every step to achieve a pizza at home. A day later, something resembling a pizza came out of a very hot oven. As round as roti, as bubbly as naan.

Tip: A pizza leads to good sleep, especially if you try kneading the dough.

The recipe research had me eye trends of homemade artisan bread and of dalgona coffee. The latter seemed like a lost cousin of something my mother has been making for over 50 years with a fancy Korean name. The former, on the other hand, had me intrigued enough to attempt what would become three days of slapping a wet mass, patiently waiting with sticky hands and a lot of floured surfaces. Many such days have followed.

I have been cooking for a while now. Not everyone can find a kitchen comforting, but the result brings all kinds of comfort to us all – and not just food. My parents and I now eat together, every day.

My father, who can’t light a stove to boil water, gives cooking advice like a Masterchef judge. My mother asks me for recipes. Food has brought us together in a time when we are dealing with crippling anxiety and fear.

I no longer find myself staring at the ceiling. Instead, I like to wake up and step into the kitchen. The kitchen has saved me in the quarantine.

Ekam Singh Sahni is a recent graduate in architecture with a passion for writing, reading and now cooking.

Featured image credit: Pixzolo Photography/Unsplash