When the Food System Fails — Minneapolis, Minn.
My mother is a stubborn and hard working Lutheran, born and raised in Minnesota. Growing up, her mother, grandmother and aunts would always be making buns, biscuits, cookies, cakes, pies, loaves and hot dishes of all kinds. These were staples, found fresh or frozen at all times, because they make you feel at home. These are foods you make to endure stressful times, and no time in my life has been as tough as right now.
Besides how comforting it is to eat a tater-tot hotdish on a cold spring day, with Grandma Lil’s buns and a Special K bar? These foods can all be made with ingredients that keep forever on the shelf or in the freezer. You can’t ask for more when grocery store shelves are empty and you don’t know when they’re going to be restocked. Every Minnesotan was thinking the same thing when they went shopping before quarantine. I went to six different stores, and all of them had stripped-bare baking sections. It wasn’t until I went to a Cub Foods in a smaller suburb outside of Minneapolis that I found what I was looking for — dry, active yeast. When the food system fails, you need to know how to make things yourself. Baked goods are one of the essentials.
Benjamin Velani is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comfort and Simplicity — San Clemente, Calif.
Even before quarantine, a staple dish at my house has always been my mom’s pasta with bolognese. It’s the one dish I ask my mom to make when I come back from school for winter break, before I leave for school after every winter break and is one of the first and many dishes I learned from my mother, so I could make them for myself in college. It has always been a constant and continues to be during a time like this. You might be thinking, pasta with bolognese is a typical dish. But, it’s a dish that represents home for me. It’s simple and a classic and at times like these, sometimes that’s all that you need.
The dish brings some form of normalcy and comfort to our household. Its ingredients are also for the most part “quarantine-friendly” or shelf-friendly. The tomato sauce is cooked down with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, basil leaves, salt, pepper and of course canned tomatoes. My mom has only been using Cento canned tomatoes. Our family typically uses pork as the protein in the sauce, but in the past I have used garbanzo beans and turkey meat. Cook your choice of protein with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and then set aside. In the same pot cook down onions, celery and carrots. Add back your protein, tomato paste, nutmeg (mom says this is the key ingredient), a splash of milk and your tomato sauce. Simmer all of the ingredients for 30 minutes to meld the flavors together. Then mix or pour on top of your favorite pasta and enjoy.
Meridien Mach is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at email@example.com.
A Taste of Sicily — New York
In my Italian household, our go-to quarantine staple is pasta alla norma. This simple dish only requires a few ingredients and is easy to make. All you need is…
- 1 pound rigatoni (personal preference)
- 2 large, firm eggplants
- 20 oz of heavenly sweet San Marzano tomatoes (don’t forget that as times get tough and the grocery stores start running out of fresh produce, this recipe can be substituted with 2 cans of San Marzano’s 14.5 oz canned pomodoro pleat whole peeled tomatoes to get the same mouthwatering flavor)
- 2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
- 1 cup of fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) (for those of you still in Ithaca, I highly recommend F. Oliver’s Hojiblanca EVOO, which can be found in their store at Ithaca Commons)
Normally, this dish is topped with freshly grated Grana Padano, but in this lactose intolerant family we keep it vegan and skip this step. But, for all of you cheese lovers, feel free to incorporate this ingredient into your own dish!
To begin, cut your first eggplant into thin slices and place on a non-stick pan. Spread the eggplant out in an even layer and drizzle a coat of oil over the top. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and let your eggplant bake until tender and browned for approximately 25 minutes. Turn and stir the eggplant slices once or twice during baking to ensure they cook evenly.
Dice the second eggplant into 1-inch cubes and toss in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Place the eggplant into a pan, while adding in sliced tomatoes and garlic. Shake the pan until the mixture is golden, or for about three minutes. Season lightly with salt, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, crush the tomatoes with a spoon so that they transform into a sizzling sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat for the rigatoni. Stir the rigatoni into the boiling water and stir frequently. After about nine minutes, when the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta and return it to the pot over low heat. Pour in about half of the sauce, and add half of the roasted eggplant and all of the basil, stirring gently into the pasta.
And Wallah! Buon appetito!
I recommend leaving the remaining sauce and roasted eggplant for reserving purposes because trust me one bowl of this delicious dish will simply not be enough. For my family, Italian cooking is the best remedy to the corona blues, and I hope this recipe will boost your moods as well. Stay safe and healthy in these crazy times!
Sofia Siciliani is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lentils, Tofu, and Beans, Oh My! — Long Beach, N.Y.
Whenever there is any sort of tragedy, whether that be Hurricane Sandy, or today’s COVID-19, my mom stocks up on meat and poultry. Meat can be kept frozen for a very long time, and is always a great source of protein that can be added to almost any dish. When I went vegetarian within the first couple of months of college, it placed an added burden on my mom when she went to the grocery store to stock up. In addition to her meat and poultry, she also had to buy a lot of tofu, lentils and chickpeas.
We tried making “mujaddara,” a traditional Middle-Eastern dish made out of lentils, rice and caramelized onions. Growing up, my mom never really cooked from a recipe; she would read a recipe, get an idea and then just wing it. That’s what happened with the mujaddara.
We started by adding one cup of red lentils to a pot with five cups of water, a good amount of ground black pepper, cumin and salt. We let that simmer for twenty minutes before adding in a cup of white rice and again allowing it to simmer for twenty minutes. When it was done, we added in the caramelized onions that we prepared ahead of time, as well as some more salt and pepper.
While it tasted really good, it didn’t really resemble the traditional dish. It was a little spicy, and really filling, but was very, very mushy. I didn’t realize that there are different types of lentils for different purposes, and I shouldn’t have used red, but rather green ones. A silver lining to this quarantine time is now I have a lot of time to figure out how to cook vegetarian.
Sarah Austin is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Thriving in Chaos — Chevy Chase, Md.
Growing up Jewish, imagining what you would do in Anne Frank’s situation is a rite of passage. My friends and I used to talk about how we would pass the time if we were all trapped in an attic or basement together for months on end. For my family, there has always been an underlying feeling of impending doom, as though any semblance of security could be ripped away from us at any moment. My father never liked spending money, no matter how much of it he had, our pantry is always full and we never threw away leftovers until they grew mold. It doesn’t look at all like how I pictured it, but COVID-19 is the catastrophe I’ve been preparing for my entire life.
We haven’t felt any real need to panic yet, maybe because we’ve been doing the panicking in the background our entire lives. Instead, I make soup because good soup takes time. Time that I now have. As in any proper Jewish household, matzo ball soup is the cure for any and all problems, including the prospect of a Skype seder. In the eight days since returning home, I’ve also made ramen, pho and curry, trying to make up for the sudden lack of excitement in our lives with exciting flavors.
Quarantine is also reinforcing what my family’s sometimes unnecessarily frugal existence has already taught me — use what’s in the fridge. We made spaghetti alla marinara one night, and the next night, running low on supplies, threw the leftovers on a pizza dough for spaghetti pizza (we first saw it on Anthony Bourdain, and it’s not bad). Leftover stir fry, with a little broth, becomes noodle soup. Save everything, because if it’s in the fridge someone will probably eat it. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to get creative.
Brook Jaffe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loafing Around During Quarantine — NEW YORK
My coping mechanism for any sort of situation has always been baking. Although I’ve since evolved from dumping Betty Crocker brownie batter into a pan, I still stick to simple, comforting foods whenever I feel the need. An international crisis is by no means an exception. My mom, who has endured all sorts of crises during her medical school training in India, still associates her own mom’s cooking with safety and comfort. So, I wanted to bring back memories of my mom’s Sunday-morning challah bread french toast by making my own challah. I’ve also been trying to bake as much as possible from Mark Bittman’s encyclopedia How to Bake Everything.
As far as bread goes — and from my own training from Bread Club at Cornell — the process is relatively simple. All it takes to yield a sweet loaf is bread flour, yeast, eggs, milk, sugar and salt. After forming the dough, I proved it, divided it into three logs and braided them together to form a beautiful pattern, and let the to-be bread prove once more before brushing with egg wash and sliding it into the oven. After a little less than an hour, out came a marvelously golden-brown braid. I tapped the bottom to make sure it sounded hollow, which indicates that the bread is fully baked (thanks, The Great British Baking Show).
When the last third of the loaf became stale, it struck me to convert the dry remains into bread pudding. I was surprised at how similar the ingredients were to those of french toast: Simply add milk, butter, sugar, eggs and some spices. I added orange zest for a slight kick. The results were equally as delicious and very reminiscent of my mom’s french toast. My family may not have been bready for the COVID-19 crisis but a little challah goes a long way in comforting us.
Sanjana Kaicker is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Simple Pleasures: Pasta Salad — Herndon, Va.
There is something to be said about eating comfort foods during times of crisis. Having a warm bowl of my mom’s lotus root soup or glutinous rice flour dessert while in quarantine, after a surreal couple weeks of picking my life and moving back home, indefinitely warms a small part of my soul. More recently, I’ve come to associate pasta salad as a comfort food as well — not specifically because it reminds me of home here, but because it reminds me of Cornell. I frequented Bethe’s Jansen’s Dining Room because of its flexible hours — I could always find something to eat there at any time of day. They often had a large batch of pasta salad set up in the corner where cold foods were served, and I knew whenever I saw it that it would be a good addition to my meal, regardless of whatever else they had that day. It was a simple dish, but it never failed to be tasty, filling and satisfying.
Since coming home, I’ve tried to have my own pasta salad on stock in the refrigerator at all times — an easy pick-me-up dish whenever I crave West Campus food (don’t get me wrong, I love eating my mom’s home cooked meals now that I’m back, but my tastes buds still long for a veggie burger or some make-your-own tacos that I can’t get here). The upside about pasta salad is that you can really make it from anything you have in your fridge. As long as you’ve got pasta (which is a staple of self-isolation living anyway), Italian dressing and any kind of veggie, you’ll be good to go. Here is a no-frills ingredients list that I’ve been using for my own batches:
- Rotini pasta
- Italian dressing
- Grape tomatoes
- Red onions
- Parmesan cheese
- Italian seasoning
The flexibility with ingredients and the amounts of each you can put in your own salad makes it direction-free, and easy to be successful in making your own. While I wait for the water for my pasta to boil, I chop and dice the rest of the ingredients into bite size pieces and transfer them all into a large bowl. Once the pasta has been cooked and drained according to package instructions, I mix everything together with a generous amount of dressing and Parmesan cheese. I taste as I go, adding more dressing or more cheese as needed. And that’s it! It tastes better chilled, so I pop it into the fridge and take it out whenever the craving for some good ol’ pasta hits. Making it in large batches ensures that you’ll have enough to last a good three or four days (or less, given that with the unsettlingly large amounts of free time I have, eating at home is an activity to pass time now too). Plus, the fact that I get nostalgic for the days of eating in Bethe’s sun-soaked dining room is just another reason for me to dig in.
Katie Zhang is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Just Want to Eat in the Dining Hall — Bellport Villag, N.Y.
The first thing I do when I walk through my front door at the start of a break or at the end of a long semester, is plan my first meal. I make scrupulous mental lists of the foods I have been craving but couldn’t access on campus, and head out to Trader Joe’s with my mom. I stand wide-eyed in the aisles like a kid in Willy Wonka’s factory, overcome by the sheer volume and variety of food on the shelves; things I never knew I wanted, but suddenly needed.
Coming home this time though, was different. After trudging up to my room to dump my stuff, haphazardly packed into garbage bags and cardboard boxes, I slumped down at the kitchen counter. I didn’t care to start my Trader Joe’s list or fantasize about a good, home cooked meal. I had already seen the photos of skeleton grocery shelves and lines of people down the block before I left Ithaca, and passed closed down shops on my drive home. The thought of food shopping with my mom, once so exciting, now felt like a chore. Would there be anything left to buy anyway? Is it even safe to go to the store? For the first time, all I wanted to do was to eat in a dining hall. I craved Rose House’s Saturday night shawarma, Risley’s green curry stir-fry and Keeton’s pizza.
These last few days I’ve found myself cooking food that reminds me of school, the exact opposite of what I usually do. After multiple tries, I have come pretty close to replicating Risley’s chia pudding — the texture is still a little off, but I think I’ve finally struck the right balance of flavors. It’s been my go to breakfast (and dessert and snack) for the last week. I also bought Kashi Crunch, the mediocre granola in those big plastic vats in all of the dining halls, which I didn’t even realize I liked until I couldn’t have it.
Before learning that my BRBs would roll over to next semester, I went on a spending spree at Jansen’s to stock up on Cornell Honey Roasted Peanut Butter the night before I left campus. I could only buy three containers — it seems that other students had the same idea, to stock up for the apocalypse. I have been using it sparingly on my toast so as not to waste a drop.
Each day, the magnitude of this pandemic becomes more severe and the future feels more uncertain. I don’t know when campus will reopen. I don’t know the next time I’ll eat in the dining hall with my friends. I don’t know the next time I’ll walk into Okenshields and wonder “why do I keep coming to Okenshields?” I want to stay positive and assume we will all be back together in the fall, frequenting the Dairy Bar, jumping in gorges, lounging on the slope, but I don’t know if that’s the case. It’s difficult to imagine what “the end” of this virus will look like and when that will be. I wonder how it will affect the way we live together, learn together, eat together. Until then, I’ll keep working on perfecting the chia pudding, and I’ll treat myself to a spoonful of peanut butter.
Rae Specht is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
My Favorite Kale Caesar — New York
Inspired by a dish at Candle Café (one of my favorite restaurants from my neighborhood in New York City), this lunch has been in my personal rotation for weeks now. I’ve chosen to self-isolate up here in Ithaca, but I’m always reminded of dinners out with my family whenever eating this salad while binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine in my Collegetown apartment. Which culinary experience do I prefer? No comment. (Love you mom!) Here’s how I make it:
Vegan Kale Caesar Salad with Baked Garlic Polenta Croutons
- 2 cups of baby kale
- 1 tbsp capers
- 2 tsp pine nuts
- Red chili flakes (optional)
- ⅛ cup water
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp white miso paste
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp coconut sugar
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 oz pre-cooked polenta (⅓ of this tube)
- ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Leaving the wrapper on, cut 6 oz of the polenta tube, then remove wrapper from the desired 6 oz section.
- Dice polenta into bite-sized pieces.
- Toss diced polenta in a bowl with olive oil, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Coat evenly.
- Place diced polenta onto the baking sheet and into your oven for 18-20 minutes.
- While polenta is cooking, mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl.
- Toss kale in dressing along with pine nuts and capers.
- Flip polenta and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes, or until the croutons are golden brown on the outside but still soft and tender on the inside.
- Plate salad with croutons. Top with more pine nuts, capers and red chili flakes!
Makes 1 salad
Nicole Rovine is a senior in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.