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In the last two months I have been searching for a good adjective to describe what we have all been facing. Extraordinary? Challenging? Overwhelming? Nothing seems quite right, although "unprecedented" is certainly accurate.
Even so, I've seen so many inspiring stories come out of this worldwide challenge, and I feel one of those trends that might actually persist when all this is over is that people will cook for themselves more. The bread baking phenomenon is a harbinger of that.
Bread is comforting and it makes sense that so many have turned to it during their lockdown. Kneading the dough, waiting for it to proof, shaping, making the cuts, baking - it's all very tactile, and all the while there's the comforting aromatherapy of warm yeast - a smell hardwired to the center of the "squishy-feeling" part of our brains.
Baking bread is an intentional act, and that same planning and effort has been at the core of my mission at DrGourmet.com.
Thinking about what you are going to eat, shopping, prepping and cooking, and then savoring what you have created is also an intentional and nurturing act.
While I am not much of a baker (most of the baked goods at DrGourmet.com are quickbreads and muffins), all of the recipes that are on the website are ones that, like baking your own bread, take some planning and offer the same experience of gathering ingredients; getting your mise en place set up; tactile interaction with the food; roasting, sautéing, or steaming; rich and flavorful aromas.... It all leads to a terrific end product just as with the bread.
Take a recipe like this Lentil Chili (Low Sodium Lentil Chili).
It takes about the same time to prep the garlic and onions as you might mixing the initial dough for bread (probably less). There is so much satisfaction from the aroma of garlic and onions cooking, and then your kitchen fills with the warm and spicy scents of cumin, chipotle, and chili powder.
The chili simmers for about an hour, creating a warm and comforting feel for your home, and when you get done it is equally warming and comforting to eat (especially paired with a slice of freshly baked bread, no?).
The same holds true for this Creamy Vegetable Soup. Or this Brunswick Stew. Or this Shrimp Fra Diavolo. Sensational aromas and comforting food.
I do hope that folks will share their chili or soup or stew or sauce as much as they have been sharing to social media about bread, because after all this is over I want us all to still be in our kitchens.
My wish is that as the emergency wanes and we get back to day-to-day life, people will not stop baking bread and they won't stop making chili (or stews, or soups, or you name it). But I know that because life tends to get in the way, we will likely have less time to bake bread or make chili.
There is, however, a way to both get back to day-to-day life and to still have your chili: batch cooking.
It isn't rocket science: just make a double or triple batch of chili. Or spaghetti sauce. Or soup. Or stew.
Freeze that double batch in containers for later, and you have the best of all worlds: all the comforting pleasure of home cooking and comforting food but straight out of the refrigerator or freezer for convenience. Now that's aromatherapy.
I know that this sounds like simplistic advice, but we have all, by necessity, had to do more cooking for ourselves and it is very likely we are healthier for it. Not just because we're eating at home and avoiding Applebee's or Chili's, but because of the emotional connection that we have to our meals - because we created them ourselves.
As things open back up, I hope you'll keep going to the store. Keep baking bread. Keep making big batches of chilis and soups and stews and sauces.
Keep that connection to your kitchen.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Chili con Carne
Black Bean Chili
Pasta e Fagioli | Low Sodium Version
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Lentil and Sausage Stew
Split Pea Soup
Pork Stew with Green Sauce
Red Beans and Rice
White Bean Soup with Sausage