Home is a powerful place for all of us, and its presence feels particularly acute right now. But how do quarantine and isolation affect our perception of the space? Homebound: Dispatches on COVID-19 & How We Live asks this of three writers currently negotiating this reality in different parts of the world—Hong Kong, Seattle, and Florence. We hope their explorations can help us better understand our changing sense of home.
Today is Mar. 16, 2020. I'm writing this from my kitchen, where I work as a cookbook author, food stylist, and photographer. I write recipes to provide readers with practical tools for their cooking, but most importantly, I’m interested in the emotional components of food: cooking as self-expression, therapy, as a way out of isolation—and ultimately, a way to connect with the world around us.
Social distancing, with the looming threat of a near-total lockdown, has completely flipped this idea of connection upside-down.
Seattle, where I live, is the epicenter of the COVID-19 infection in the U.S. For days, I have sat at my computer trying to put my experience into words. But things have changed rapidly from day to day, even hour to hour, and I have felt both disoriented and paralyzed. My children have now been home from school for a week—a situation that could potentially last through the end of the school year. As a freelancer, I’m fortunate to have the flexibility to work from home, but I’m also plagued by the financial uncertainty that so many service and gig workers face. I am terrified for the healthcare workers on the front lines, as well as our financially vulnerable population.
So how will we cope?
I ask myself this question constantly. Our freezer and pantry are fully stocked because of the nature of my work. We live in earthquake territory so our medicine and survival kits are always ready for emergencies. We have enough toilet paper. However, there is no guidebook on how to navigate this kind of uncertainty, both at the human and economic level. As social distancing becomes mandatory, we will have to make our homes our havens.
I am an introvert, a homebody. I have always understood the idea of building a home as a space of comfort and humble beauty. My tendency is naturally towards isolation, so it would make sense that I’d be comfortable in the new reality we are living in. However, our sense of stability and comfort is not just confined to our own little universes. Humans are communal creatures and we must believe our community is safe and comforted for us to feel safe and comforted.
As I always do, I've been cooking and baking nonstop to keep my hands busy. It is my way of navigating my anxiety. If you bake bread, especially sourdough bread, you know that it forces you to maintain a daily routine of feeding, kneading, and baking. Baking boules of sourdough has motivated me to get up at sunrise before anyone else and try to organize my thoughts. I set my intention for the day before opening myself up to news channels and letting fear invade my spirit. It has not been easy but I work at it every morning. I'm happy my family is all together and healthy, but every day I feel like I fail at maintaining a routine.
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I ventured out to the small neighborhood grocery store yesterday to find all yeast and flour gone, even GF flours. That tells me that those of us who are lucky to hunker down at home are baking away. Bread gives us routine and solace. I keep thinking about those who don’t have the luxury to just stay put and have to continue to show up day after day. Our healthcare workers are heroes as well as others who are maintaining our systems from crumbling down. This week I want to hopefully show you my bread baking process. But I have to be honest, I am struggling to keep some serenity and balance. What to prioritize? And posting pretty pictures of food seems banal. Perhaps I’m overthinking this. I know we all benefit from teaching each other little bits of knowledge. Thank you to those who have been sharing recipes from my book. Everyone finally has time for sourdough! Hope you are all keeping well. With love from Seattle.
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It is interesting that at a time of anguish, I have turned to routines of my childhood. As children, my mother brewed us chamomile infusions when we were unwell. I’ve been doing the same. She also made steam baths with eucalyptus leaves to clear our sinuses. So nearly every evening, I find myself standing over a pot of simmering eucalyptus water with my head covered by a bath towel.
In the Basque Country, where my family is from, people also make broth all winter long—it's served in bars and restaurants just as if you would order a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. As I type this, there are chicken bones, all kinds of vegetables, and spices simmering in a large stockpot. I plan to drink this nourishing concoction as a tea as the days go forward, as well as distribute some pints among my neighbors.
Which brings me to probably the most important point: At a time of social distancing, I have never felt closer to the ones I love. I have been checking in regularly with my family in the Basque Country—it is almost unbelievable to think that I don’t know when I will be able to see them again. This is probably true for many of you, too. I have been in constant communication with friends all over the world, trying to comfort each other, and share any news or tips to cope.
I'm finding solace in nature, and as spring arrives, the blooming trees, the long days, and much-needed sunshine are helping. I pruned my rose bushes yesterday. Beauty is all around us and this will be the perfect opportunity to experience it at a slower pace.
Things are changing every minute of the day, and in many ways, there will be no turning back. We will have to hang on and rely on each other even if it’s in virtual ways. My hope is that this pandemic will teach us about our systems, priorities, where funds have been going and especially where they haven’t been going. Probably most importantly, I hope we learn how humans can come together at times of hardship. Let’s make our homes a place of comfort and nourishment so when we can finally open them back to our friends and loved ones, we can welcome them with open arms.
Be patient. Be well. We are all in it together.