Cooking from the salmon pink kitchen
Illustration by Sarah Willmott, part of crowdfunding Pledge for Every Month
on cooking during quarantine
On Tuesday 17th of March, I filled my bag with my most cherished office possessions. I left my Dolly Parton’s mug behind, did I think I’d pick it up later? I knew cooking was going to become my refuge, more than it ever was. In the first days of lockdown, I inspected the pantry with grand dreams, mostly a way to escape the thought I was wrapping my head around – I wouldn’t cook for other women, I wouldn’t sit at the salmon pink kitchen table, I wouldn’t see my mother at the hob, I wouldn’t have contacts with the female world outside my own.
On March 20th, my boyfriend realized what was happening, it hit him suddenly, as we logged out of our work laptops. I made radicchio and gorgonzola salad for dinner, drizzled with balsamic glaze, and quickly called my mum for a family recipe of pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs. The moment I turned on the hob I regained control, everything felt as simple as heating olive oil, adding garlic and chilli flakes, melting anchovies. If I could feed, I could console, myself, Matt, this home, this whole microcosm.
On March 22nd, the Salmon Pink Bookclub has its first virtual meeting, a big bowl of bulgur aubergines, and chopped tomatoes sat next to me as we discussed Motherhood by Sheila Heti. I started waking up early on weekends with the urge to make – first a quiche then pumpkins gnocchi, then a lasagna. Each time food was served, I would look at Matt, fork in plate, his facer smiling like a child discovering his favourite dish.
On March 27th, I longed to recreate a childhood flavour, the pissaladiere niçoise, eaten on family holidays in Antibes. I had never chopped so many onions in my life, I cried tears of joy as Gilmore Girls played in the background. I was suddenly Julia Child, chopping mountains of onions for her cooking school. The day after, I struggled to open my moka pot in the sink, and I was suddenly knees to the floor, panicking. But there was dough to knead, on video call with my highschool best friends. We virtually kneaded together, inspecting each other’s pixelated parcels. I made my best pizza yet that night. For Easter, we cooked an Indian feast from the Dishoom cookbook. In my diary I wrote: “That first mouthful of curry will be with me forever. Leftovers packed, counter wiped, the washing away of festivities.”
My longest walk in these whole 6 weeks was to collect seafood from the fishmongers on Shepherds Bush Road. I left early to find empty streets, and walked back quickly holding my clams, salmon and seabass. Food dictates my days, it gives me a little control over the uncontrollable, it’s a way to get together with those I miss feeding. And when I plated those fettuccine with fresh clams and smelled the sea, I couldn’t but finally breathe.
Ahead of day one of my self-isolation, the night was sleepless. I researched the Internet, scrolling down, with 32 tabs open, my For you Tuesday Blues playlist for sole company. It was Friday 13th of March 2020 and I was, cursing, looking for a desk, one that would fit both my bedroom and budget. It was a reactive act to safeguard my mental health – giving myself a space to escape, writing and reading, that is not the bed on which I also sleep, and write and read. I was entering, after all, a period of self-isolation. It would be another ten days until the government announced a country-wide lockdown. On day 4 I received my desk. On day 7, we cooked gnocchi together with my flatmates, with Britney Spears’ hits for background. The process of making each gnocco was slow and therapeutic; we warmed our hearts with a blue cheese and toasted walnuts sauce. The table in the salmon pink kitchen wears scars from our knives since we worked that dough. On day 9, I hanged a quote by M.F.K Fisher on the wall before my desk:
I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hunger of the world.
On Tuesday 24th March 2020, I wrote in my diary: “day 11 in self-isolation and we function as a family. Today we burnt some lemons.” That evening I had cooked what is now a salmon pink favourite: turmeric chickpeas, salty broccolini, spinach and garlic yoghurt. On day 13, I baked a strawberry tart for 6 hours after I fell off my bike. Still on day 13, I researched food processors for another 6 hours. I did not order a food processor. My bruises have healed. On day 27, I was surprised with a tool to whisk egg whites from my sister-in-law, delivered from her home in France. I adore îles flottantes. On day 37, I created my first cake recipe from scratch: I named it Johanna’s lemon and rosemary cake. It involved no milk but featured crystallised lemons. I ate half of the cake with my flatmates and dropped the other half outside of my friend’s home by bike. It was her birthday.
Regardless of which day we are now hitting, cooking during quarantine means that I stay alert. As I continue to reset the timer on my oven, I take part in the thread of time. As I feed smiles on loved ones’ faces with delicious cakes and other recipes we share through the streams of the Internet, I feel hunger. Did your grandparents not tell you too that being hungry is a sign of good health?