December 3, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Food to coax back calm

By |2021-04-18T21:00:52+02:00March 24th, 2020|"Suzanne's Taste"|
A not-so-brave new world in France and elsewhere.

ell, here we are in a new world. From my southern French hamlet my heart goes out to Italy, to France, and to all those countries affected by this rogue virus, now a list too long to publish. How long we’ll be in this state is anyone’s guess, since a virus doesn’t play by human rules.

And yes, it’s difficult to keep your head about you and concentrate on the anti-viral facts, which can sound like a defense against some awful spell, as if rude and unwashed alien beings had landed and begun scouting the terrain.

Stay home rings loudest, since it’s been many decades since masses were ordered to do that.

Then there’s washing hands, keeping distance (if and when you can shop) between you and others, avoiding crowds (what crowds?) and travel if at all possible, never sneezing or coughing without protective covering for nose and mouth, plus consulting myriad articles about the actual risks of contagion.

If possible, keep it simple.

Read them, recycle, and then head for the kitchen.

There you will discover a soothing oasis of serenity and sanity. Or at least that’s how it works for me.

I have found myself eyeing my food supplies, not with the intent to hoard or, horror of horrors, begin eating solely out of cans but with an impetus to stock up on the nourishing food we love, which will bring at least a few bright spots into these days of uncertainty.

I loved thinking about stocking my larder for a possible shut-in.

Fun to think about even if, hope of hopes, none of it is ever needed for a home quarantine.

At the top of my list are a few bottles of good olive oil, which I use for practically everything I make, short of chocolate cookies and mango gelato, but hey, you never know when necessity might call for olive oil and mangos. In addition to the lovely oil comes our favorite pastas, Indian and arborio rice, corn meal for polenta or (oh, for catfish!) for a toothy crust for any nice fish filet, flour, salt, pepper, sugar, and marmalade — the usual inhabitants of any pantry.

I examine my food supplies, not with the intent to hoard or eat solely out of cans but hoping to find nourishing food we love, which will bring at least a few bright spots into these days of uncertainty.

With these fundamentals in hand, I branch out into frozen foods. I’m lucky. In our neighborhood is the cook’s best friend, the amazing frozen food shop, Picard.

There I find anything and everything I would need if truly shut in or simply deciding to stay more than “put” to keep healthy. I have a friend, an artist, who shops and cooks like a madwoman from morning to night and then freezes her vast number of treasures for a rainy day or, in her case, a day on which she works long hours on amazing paintings.

Not a bad idea, especially since I would much prefer my own curry or casserole to store-boughten. After all, even mac and cheese, homemade, beats something out of a box or can. A kitchen on whose stove is simmering a fragrant mushroom soup, or chicken curry, or fish stew is a kitchen that will allay anxiety and nurture normalcy.

Yes, the house smells really good.

Let everything you have simmering cool, pop it all in the freezer, then sit down with an Aperol and watch something idiotic instead of news.

Better than Xanax.

We are also fortunate, as are many Europeans in small towns, to have somewhere down the street a fresh fruit and vegetable vendor. There you will certainly find apples and pears, citrus, salad fixings and more to balance the diet and stave off rickets.

My husband and I are still examining how to adjust to enforced close-to-home life, a plan to last us until the world feels a bit safer.

What we know is that having food you relish at hand (or at least some of it) will certainly help us keep a positive attitude toward an unknown future.

But if these daylong cooking preparations sound a bit overwhelming and exhausting, you can always rely on the good old simple (and calming) standbys.

Put peanut butter and grape jelly on that list. Maybe a few cans of tuna.

For us, chocolate and scotch are now at the top.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.