Homebound: In Isolation, I'm Plagued by Fear—but Not Loneliness

Seattle–based food writer, Aran Goyoaga, turns to her kitchen to reclaim home as a place of connectedness, comfort, and nourishment.

March 20, 2020
Photo by Meredith Jensen

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.

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.

How has your sense of home changed in the face of this global crisis? Share with us in the comments below.
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    Jackie De Sordi
3-time James Beard finalist cookbook author, food stylist and photographer. Author of Cannelle et Vanille named best of by NY Times, Food 52, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and more.


Maggie H. March 22, 2020
Thank you for your inspired thoughts Aran. I am on Vancouver Island where changing our pattern may have been a little slow (we naively think we are isolated here. HA) but seem to have reluctantly embraced our self isolation and are now coming to grips with how to live this way. Fortunately like you I have my sourdough to feed and tend, since my children are grown and gone; one in Seattle as it happens, where she and her partner are now both out of work. She recently picked up starter from a friend and is learning the art. The other daughter is also experimenting with SD; even making chipatis the other night! So between my daughters and my ever greedy and needy garden it's been warming to be able to help and hopefully make a difference in these strange days.
Jackie D. March 22, 2020
Hi. Just want to let you know I hear you loud and clear. I live in Northern Italy in the Veneto Region, one the most hardly hit areas from the virus. Our family has been slowly confined to home, first from school now from work as of tomorrow. Not seeeing any of our family members and just hoping and praying that all my loved ones stay healthy and that this nightmare ends as soon as possible. Cooking and baking, although I've always done it happily and enjoyably all my life, has now really become my anxiety rescue. And Food52 is MY BLOG, my recipe encyclopedia, my daily consolar. Thanks.