Category Archives: meal prep during covid19

Our Easter During A Shelter-In-Place COVID-19 Pandemic.

I have celebrated Easter Sunday in the same way for decades. The morning starts with a candy hunt by the kids, followed by a light brunch. We then attend a late morning church service. I rush home from church to make my “signature” cheesy chivy potatoes, which is my contribution to our family’s Easter party. We then pile into our car and drive off to my sister’s house in a nearby suburb. Along the way, I pick up flowers for my two godchildren.

For Easter, my sister and brother-in-law supply their house and a lot of the food. However, most of us are assigned a dish-to-pass. We typically are given the same dish to make year after year, which is how cheesy chivy potatoes became my signature dish. You may think that the recipe sounds disgusting, but many family members have told me that they look forward to it every Easter. Chessy Chivy Potatoes are not haute cuisine. 


Mike’s Recipe for Cheesy Chivy Potatoes

  1. Make a whole bunch of mashed potatoes.
  2. Stir in a lot of cheese. This can be any combination of meltable cheeses. Over the years, I have used sharp cheddar, American slices, and even Velveta. 
  3. Add chives to taste. I’ll sometimes saute fresh chives, but I have also used the dried bottled stuff. They both taste the same.

I bring a large pan of the potatoes, and I’ll often leave the party with an empty scrapped casserole dish. Our Easter meal is Midwestern… ham, potatoes, jello molds, rolls/butter, sweet potatoes, Easter lamb pound cake… you get the picture. We do have a few vegetarians in our group, so there are also some vegetarian-friendly foods added to the menu.

My sister’s Easter party is always a highlight for me. Everyone is eager to mingle and chat, the weather is typically beautiful enough for a walk, and the food is comforting. By 8 PM, I’m ready to head home. Easter Sunday concludes quietly, often by watching one of those classic Easter movies. However, all that changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, as many weeks ago, my sister canceled the event due to the virus.

As a family, we decided to do something for Easter, but we weren’t sure what that “something” would be. Our plans slowly formed as the day approached.

Julie made a brunch style egg dish, the kind where you mix bread, eggs, ham, and cheese and let the combination sit overnight in the fridge. It puffs up into a delicious souffle style casserole when you bake it the next day. Also, she proved some Rhodes cinnamon rolls. These start as frozen pucks that you place in a 9 x 13 pan overnight. By morning they are doubled in size and ready for the oven. There is nothing like the smell of baking cinnamony bread to wake you up in the morning. Add some strong hot coffee for a perfect start to the holiday.

Hot Cinnamon Rolls and Overnight Egg Dish

We didn’t buy any Easter candy; I didn’t think that this was a big deal as our kids are adults. I was wrong. This was rectified by Grace and Kathryn, who took a quick trip to Walgreen’s candy aisle the day before.  

Enough Easter candy to make anyone sick.

Later Sunday morning, we went to church…online. Our church had started a streaming ministry to lock-ins, and so they were ready to broadcast when Illinois’ shelter-in-place order came through. I cued up the stream on a Macbook and “Cast” it to our family room TV. The overall production quality was excellent, and they wove in video clips and remote music into the sermon. At communion time, we ate Ritz crackers and had a small sip of box wine. Watching church on a TV is not as engaging as participating in person, but the overall impact made it a worthwhile experience.

An online sermon cast to our family room TV.
Multiple musical collaborators turned our family room into a church concert.

Our early afternoon was carved out for connecting with others. At 2 PM, we all huddled around a computer and logged into a Zoom call to Julie’s family. The group represented members from 4 states and one foreign country. Her family follows rules well; everyone waited to talk, and the conversation rolled along smoothly.  

Huddling around a computer on a Zoom call to the Nelsons.

At 3 PM, I connected to my side’s Zoom call. Kunas are very exuberant, and most have little experience with conference calls. The resulting connection consisted of conversational chaos. It was fantastic to see everyone, but after about 10 minutes I decided that it was time to leave the meeting. Lastly, I was able to connect with my oldest daughter, Anne, via FaceTime. By 4 PM, I had touched base with more people then I would have if I had followed my usual Easter routine. This surprised me.

Reaching out with Zoom to the Kuna side of the family.
A good ol’ FaceTime call to daughter, Anne.

For dinner, Julie made some chicken legs that I bought during a pandemic grocery trip along with some stuffed shells and fresh asparagus. This was not our traditional Easter dinner, but delicious and celebratory none-the-less.

A non-traditional but delicious dinner.

After dinner, I discover new neighborhoods on a walk with my daughter Grace. Our evening ended with a family viewing of episode 8 of “The Tiger King.” We, too, have succumbed to this national phenomenon. I have to say that episode 8 seemed more like click-bait than a real episode, but it still managed to occupy 60 minutes of our evening.

I discovered this cool mid-century home when we decided to go in a different direction on a walk.

There you have it, our Easter during the pandemic. We didn’t go to church or have traditional Easter baskets. I didn’t make cheesy chivy potatoes or go to my sister’s house for a party. However, we managed to incorporate all of the essential elements of our typical Easter into last Sunday. We ate special food, and the kids had their fill of hollow chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs. We attentively attended an online church service. We caught up with loved ones, and we did family-centered activities. We didn’t give up Easter; we just modified it. It was a good day.

We may need to change other behaviors during (and after) this crisis time, but that doesn’t mean that we need to give up on life or traditions.  

I’m sure that there are activities or connections that you are missing since you have had to socially isolate. I would ask you to distill the essence of what you are losing into its characteristic elements. Be creative and see how you can reproduce those elements differently so you can transform your situation from one of loss to one of discovery.

Peace

Cooking During The Pandemic

I grew up at a time when it was OK for parents to be uninvolved with their kids.  Yes, some dads and moms liked to spend time with their children, but a lack of such interest was not frowned on. If I wanted to spend time with my parents, I had to do this on their terms.  This was nearly impossible with my father but more workable with my mom.

My mother was a brilliant person who spent her adult life as a homemaker. Just about anything that she did, she did well.  One of her jobs was that of the household cook. We had seven people in our family, and we never went to restaurants. The vast majority of the food that we ate was made at home, and my mother made most of it. 

I can recall watching her cook as I ran the logic of her decisions through my mind. She was an effortless cook who knew her craft so well that she rarely had to consult a cookbook or use a measuring spoon. Despite her expertise, my mother loved watching cooking shows, and by far, her favorite one was Julia Child’s “French Chief.”  I would watch the show with her, and this is a fond memory. I loved the precision and focus of Julia Child. She treated cooking as a science, and I liked science.

I believe that all of that cooking exposure left me with kitchen confidence.  Making food was not a mystery to me; it was just a series of logical steps. Once I understood the stages of one process, I could translate that information to another. 

As a single man, I put my cooking knowledge to good use, especially during my residency.  At that point, I was divorced with a child, and I was penniless. I could stretch a can of tuna into two meals or turn two chicken legs into dinner one night and lunch the next day.

I finished my residency and started to make more money as a practicing physician.  My new economic status shifted me from cooking at home to buying food in the hospital cafeteria or (worse yet) buying fast food burgers. Eventually, I remarried, and my wife Julie took over most of the cooking jobs.

I transitioned back to meal prep when Julie returned to the paid workforce, and in that process, I taught my kids how to cook as we planned and made meals together. We would decide what we wanted to eat and go to the store to buy it.  There was never a worry about cost or shortages. 

When my kids went off to college, I traded off cooking meals with Julie, and our overall needs changed.  I could make a pot of soup that would last us four days, or grill a single steak that we would split. I tried to be less wasteful during this time, as I was now retired and ever more aware of both the sin of wastefulness and my fixed retirement income. I had no idea that this frugality would further benefit me during the pandemic of 2020.

We were flying back from New Mexico when I got a text message that my daughter Grace’s college had closed down; then, I found out that my son’s in-person classes were suspended.  A short time later, I discovered that my daughter Kathryn was flying back from her Peace Corps job in Africa. We had just adjusted to being empty nesters, but in short order, our household was going from two to five adults.  As soon as I returned to Naperville, I went to Walmart to buy food and discovered that the shelves were bare. A quiet panic hit me.

Something strange happens when I panic.  I calm on the surface, and I instantly start to plan solutions in my head.  This is not a doctor thing; it is a survival thing that I have done my entire life. I quickly went down each aisle to find those things that I could make meals out of.  I moved my mind from what I wanted to what was available. A can of chicken, two cans of crushed tomatoes, some weirdly shaped pasta that no one else wanted… The purchases went on. Years of watching my mother make meals from what was on hand flashed in my brain.  I recalled my residency years of making a can of tuna fish stretch. I remembered the summers of making simple meals when I camped and hiked. I knew I could make it work, but would my family eat what I made? In the past, we made food that everyone liked, and when someone didn’t like a meal-offering, they would eat something else.  That could no longer happen with food shortages and a limited larder.

I was surprised at how exhausting cooking meals had become for me during the crisis.  I’m sure that managing my stress had zapped most of my psychological energy. I decided to involve my kids; we would cook together.  It is more enjoyable to prepare with them, and I also wanted to teach them this “new” way of cooking. The waste-not-want-not way.

Our current meals go back to my poor roots.  I try to make enough food without excess, and when we do have leftovers, I reuse them or incorporate them into other meals.  I now have a better understanding of my mother’s choices when cooking and the economic benefit of the casserole. 

We have made everything from enchilada soup to a giant frittata baked in our 12” cast-iron skillet. The kids have been happy to help me cook, and they don’t complain about the results. They have been real troopers. 

Before I went to bed last night, I made an enormous pot of rice.  For dinner today, I’ll fry it with some leftover pork, some frozen vegetables, eggs, as well as scallions pinched from my friend Tom’s garden.  Add to this a little garlic and ginger, plus a splash of soy sauce and dinner will be served. Simple and filling.

There isn’t a shortage of food; there is a shortage of some types of food. Perhaps I can’t get a kind of potatoes, but I can likely find a different variety.  The cold cereal may be off the shelves, but I might be able to find some pancake mix. I don’t worry about the type of olive that a dish requires, I wonder if I have a random can of olives in the pantry.  It is about being flexible and creative.

I’m going to try to limit my grocery trips during the next two weeks, which means that we will mostly eat from our in-house supplies.  It may get a bit dicey as our options become more limited. However, we will not starve; life will go on.

As I have said in the past most things in life are neither bad nor good, they just are.  We are the ones who add a positive or negative valence to life events. It is a good thing that our home is returning to a less wasteful cooking style.  It is good that my kids are seeing the benefit of being flexible and adaptive. It is good to be grateful to have food on the table.  

Life is more comfortable when you train yourself to see the positive in things.  Our family will get through this, one economical meal at a time.

Boiling some potatoes that will be shredded and added to a frittata.
Involving the kids in meal prep. (note the spray bottle of homemade surface disinfectant next to William).
Cornbread and enchilada soup (made from leftovers).