During the COVID-19 pandemic, some are taking extra time to prepare special home-cooked meals. (Stock photo)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some are taking extra time to prepare special home-cooked meals. (Stock photo)

From scratch: Pandemic cooking strengthened bonds when social interactions stalled

‘We can’t physically dine together, but cooking is still bringing us together’

Anna Olson felt a tinge of pride last spring when the demand for flour and yeast became so great that grocery stores couldn’t stock their shelves fast enough.

The professional pastry chef and Food Network Canada star was thrilled to see people turning to baking and cooking in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, sharpening culinary skills they never felt they needed before.

But pandemic cooking, borne out of necessity, comfort or boredom, soon evolved into a means of connecting with others at a time when social interactions were drying up, Olson says.

Whether it was cooking together as a household, dropping off baked goods on neighbours’ porches, calling relatives for recipes from childhoods, or texting photos of kitchen masterpieces — and disasters — to friends, many Canadians have strengthened their connections over the past year through food.

For Olson, it was the regular texts from her stepdaughter, and the “play-by-play” phone calls from her mom describing her latest Instant Pot creations, that helped reinforce bonds between her family.

“We were always into food together, but we’ve got this new relationship, exchanging photos, constant conversation … it’s like: ‘what are you eating? What are you cooking right now?’ Olson said.

“I expect the five o’clock text from (stepdaughter) Mika to come in: ‘OK, I just bought this cut of meat. How do I cook it?’ And we walk through it together.”

Olson, a recipe developer who’s also a judge on Food Network Canada’s “Great Chocolate Showdown,” says the early COVID lockdown allowed her to delve deeper into new creations for the first time in years.

She misses the impromptu dinner parties she’d throw at her Niagara, Ont., home after perfecting large quantities of a recipe, but Olson says she adapted by dropping off boxes of her test goodies at neighbours’ doorsteps — and getting to know them better in the process.

“We can’t physically dine together, but cooking is still bringing us together,” Olson said. “That’s very important.”

John Axford, a former Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who lives in Burlington, Ont., says pandemic cooking has allowed him to bond with his sons in the kitchen.

The eight- and nine-year-old boys help their dad prepare meals and desserts when they stay with him — bumbleberry pie is the trio’s specialty — and Axford has been trying to introduce more complex recipes to their palettes.

He doesn’t always throw strikes though.

“Definitely a couple times I was like, ‘wow, I messed this up bad,’” he said with a laugh.“‘Better get some hot dogs going.’”

Axford, who spent 10 years in the major leagues, rarely had to cook for himself over that span as MLB teams employ chefs and nutritionists for players, who typically eat two to three meals a day at the ballpark.

While he misses the ease of walking into the clubhouse and grabbing some grub, Axford says he feels a sense of accomplishment from the skills he’s honed over the last 12 months.

He gets recipe inspiration from memories of dining with teammates on the road — the Old Bay-seasoned crab they’d have in Baltimore, or the catfish and cheesy grits in Houston — but he tweaks them by taking advantage of time-saving tools, including the air fryer.

“Being able to make certain foods quicker, I can save those 30 minutes,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m saving those 30 minutes for right now, but it’s still nice.”

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and COVID expert at the University of Ottawa, says gadgets like the air fryer, bread maker and Instant Pot — which he calls “God’s gift to lazy men” — have transformed complex recipes into easier feats.

Being able to find any recipe on the internet is another bonus, Deonandan says, aiding his constant quest for creating new vegan dishes.

“Ten years ago, this would’ve been impossible for me to do well,” he said, adding that while he always enjoyed cooking, he was never good at it before.

“Now my house smells like a restaurant all the time.”

Deonandan says it makes sense to see people embracing cooking during lockdown.

He says many of us, pre-COVID, were losing the desire or ability to prepare meals for ourselves, either from time constraints or dependence on restaurants.

“But (with the pandemic) we retreated back to our homes,” he said. “The impulse was to become a little more self-sufficient, a little less reliant on things like meeting friends for dinner.”

Deonandan, like Olson and Axford, says he’s nourished relationships with relatives over the pandemic, habitually calling his mother to walk him through traditional Indo-Guyanese recipes of his youth.

While his attempts never come out quite the same, he says the process of cooking those dishes makes him feel closer to his mother, who lives nearly 500 kilometres away in Toronto.

“There’s this feeling of realness that comes from home-cooked food,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

Olson expects people will return to dining out often once the pandemic subsides, but she thinks the last year may have also changed the way many of us view our culinary abilities.

“We’ve set a new standard for the way we cook at home,” she said. “And we appreciate the work that goes into cooking a meal.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

1914
It happened this week in 1914

May 9 - 15: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

The Salmon Arm RCMP seize hundreds of grams of drugs in a raid in Sorrento on March 20, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
RCMP have suspect identified in rash of local thefts

Police have a suspect in a rash of recent thefts from local… Continue reading

Rotary Way is being repaved from 4th Street South to the second bridge, just past St. Mary’s School. (Barry Coulter photo)
Rotary Way being repaved along Joseph Creek

The Rotary Club is having a portion of its namesake trail repaved.… Continue reading

The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana. The dam created the Koocanusa Reservoir, which straddles the B.C./Montana border. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Outflow at Libby Dam to be increased

Volume increase to aid migration and spawning conditions for endangered white sturgeon in the Kootenai River

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read