Amanda & Merrill

Life in Quarantine for a ‘Professional Homebody’

Our co-founder, Amanda Hesser, shares on her time at home during COVID-19.

April 14, 2020

I was made for quarantine life. I get to work at home. In my sweatpants. I get to cook more! I get to be around my kids and husband all day. And I don’t have to talk much—a welcome break for my often “on” but actually introverted self. At the end of each day, we go outside to exercise in the park (masks on, staying at least 6 feet from everyone else), then shower, eat a good dinner, and putter around until bed. What’s not to like?

Lots of things, of course. I’m clearly trying to find a silver lining in an incredibly dark stormcloud. But I do love all of these activities and have often joked that I’m a professional homebody.

The past few weeks have made me think in a fresh way about my career and what I spend my time doing. Till now, much of what I’ve done—cooking, writing, editing, running a business about kitchen and home—has felt like a personal passion I’ve been lucky to make into a fun job. It’s given me social cachet, too. At parties, when someone can choose between striking up a conversation with a venture capitalist or with a food writer, they almost always choose the food person. Everyone has a lively opinion about their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, where to eat in New Orleans, or the best chef’s knife.

Yet, when I worked at The New York Times, the food section (along with the style, fashion, and home sections) was institutionally considered the “soft news.” Food wasn’t serious. And home was the arena of people with enough disposable income for renovations. We were frivolous, light, infotainment.

This bothered me, because I didn’t see it that way at all. Home is where our deepest beliefs are distilled into our way of living. Home is where we spend our money, express our values, reveal our interest in design and comfort, demonstrate how we want to feed and take care of our families. Yet it’s all so immediate and vital that its gravity can be overlooked—it’s not new, and therefore can feel like it’s not news.

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Top Comment:
“Stories I oversaw as an editor--which, by the way, topped the charts in newsstand sales (those were the days) -- about food, psychology, family, education, law, books and art--all of those were considered soft and light--women's pages. Indeed, at the time, the Washington bureau chief asked why I wasn't wearing a garden hat when I arrived to meet the reporters there. I thought times had changed. But if other people's attitudes don't change, ours can. I love Food52. It has given me comfort, instruction, joy and direction during these rough times. I'm a Professional Homebody Activist these days--organizing mothers across the country to fight for clean air and climate safety--and honestly, I still see the same attitudes when we meet some of our legislators. There, there, little ladies. Ahem. But--we prove how important are our opinions and demands every time we're on the Hill. So glad you have found new heart and strength. Right on, as we used to say! ”
— Dominique
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Since COVID-19 forced us inside, you can feel this sentiment changing. Sales at Home Depot and Target have surged. With all restaurants ordered closed in New York and people needing to cook at home, Fresh Direct, one of the pioneers in grocery delivery, has struggled to provide enough delivery slots for customers. Electronics companies, like Best Buy, have seen a spike in demand for refrigerators and freezers. At Food52, our site traffic is up 53%.

Out of necessity, we’ve had to confront the reality that our home is a place of shelter. We’ve seen that knowing how to cook—and being able to make the most use of what we have on hand—is crucial to feeding ourselves. For many of us, home is where we can protect ourselves from whatever is happening in the larger world. Home is the one place we have some control over.

That occasional pang I once had that what I do isn’t perceived as serious is gone. Now I feel that my profession is not only serious but more important than ever. Our company’s mission to help people eat thoughtfully and live joyfully has been given renewed purpose. As we’re all now realizing, home is everything.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

106 Comments

Erika H. May 21, 2020
As someone who is a self-employed introvert, it's been interesting to see how much of the past few months sheltering in place hasn't felt that much different from our usual routine. The one big exception has been that I had to rethink all of the ways I shopped for my gluten-free food (I have a wheat allergy) and staples like meat. But once I figured that out, even though I still have pangs of longing for going to acupuncture or getting a massage, or visiting our favorite restaurants, I am mostly really grateful. Happy to have my health, that our friends and family have stayed safe, and that we made the move from our tiny San Francisco apartment to our homey midcentury house in Sacramento.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 22, 2020
Hear! Hear! Really appreciate your comment, and feel similarly, increasingly grateful for what I have.
 
cheryl F. May 18, 2020
i feel the same way about staying home...except i don't love to cook...in fact i'm getting a bit stressed about all the cooking, but, i have learned that if i make a weekly dinner plan i do better...lunch and breakfast can take care of themselves. love watching you on instagram. love food52 for great recipes.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 18, 2020
I hear you -- I love cooking but don't want to cook every day, either. I tend to make a weekly plan that involves bigger batches of components that I can then mix and match. Thanks so much for your note.
 
Tabledeckers May 4, 2020
Well said Amanda! I feel the same way about my home, family and cooking. I love Food52!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Glad you do, too. Thanks!
 
Monique May 4, 2020
Amanda, so well said! Thank you for sharing. Food52 is an awesome resource.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks, Monique -- we appreciate you spending time here.
 
Linda C. May 3, 2020
Amanda - of all your credits, my fav is The Cook & The Gardener. Being a gardener myself, I have read this book at least 15 times and savored every word like it was a rich dessert. Thank you, thank you.
 
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Amanda H. May 3, 2020
Thanks so much, Linda -- it's really nice to hear this and so happy to know that book lives on. I remember that I got my first email account when I was writing that book, long ago in France.
 
Cook53 May 3, 2020
Amanda, I am so glad you wrote this article. "Soft news" my ass. Food has always been an important section--whether it be in life (where I guess it would be an important "part" or in the workplace (all of us know how much time we've spent discussing where to go/what to order for lunch. Now people, who maybe, unlike me, grew up in a home where dinner was the time to come together, discuss, and eat, are realizing the importance not just of the togetherness, but of the cooking. It is a basic need: to cook, to eat, to share, whether the sharing is in-person, or photos on FB/Instagram. Let's hope one of the benefits coming out of this current pandemic is the recognition that cooking, and those who do it and write about it, so deserve. P.S.--I love the duck recipe in "Cooking for Mr. Latte."
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks for your thoughts and support -- and so glad the duck recipe lives on!
 
Sherri S. May 3, 2020
Dear Amanda, I have been a Food 52 follower for 7 years. It has been a great community source for recipes and ideas and have watch the store on-line grow as well. It was nice to read your personal note; I have been in your 50%+ more traffic as I am using some of this extra time to try some new recipes. Food is comfort and brings people together. I hope those suffering through loss and fear can find comfort in the Food 52 Community.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks, Sherri -- and hope your new recipe experiments are going well.
 
wardspark May 2, 2020
Amanda:
When you were at the NYT you had large shoes to fill. Craig Claiborne et al. and you did it quite well. When you announced that you were leaving and starting "Food 52" I was concerned but it has turned out better than I expected.
Food 52 is a great website. Keep it up! The cooking videos are spot on and you have done well expanding beyond recipes. Keep up the great work.
Barry
 
Penny F. May 2, 2020
Amanda,
I have followed you from your earliest days when your articles “Cooking for Mr. Latte” were in the Sunday magazine section of the NYT! I loved them! Am I showing my serious age here!
The book That followed is one of my favorites and I have given it to many friends! Today, I am making your peach tart again, but with pears I have on hand for a one day late birthday cake! I know it will be delicious!
I, too, am a homebody when I can be so feel fortunate in many ways for this time.
Best wishes to you! I will keep following!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
So great to learn all of this -- thanks for your support and readership over the years! Thanks, Penny.
 
Transcendancing May 2, 2020
Loved this article, it resonated for me in the way where I feel like all my best talents are those that go unnoticed or underrated under the guise of 'women are better at x'. I'm a healthworker - a midwife and life is stressful atm, I'm not able to stay at home but home is so important, and all of those 'softer' skills are so critical - we can see now how they make the world go around. Without those to provide, to nurture, to care, to build, to share, to teach, to clean and distribute.... we're left with a mess. And it is clearer than ever that it is not the top 100 (or whatever they're called) driving 'the economy', it's the rest of us, and that shows too now. I'm so grateful for this site and what you do - even from Australia where it's seasonally out of sync :)
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks so much for your note -- and for doing what you do. Hope all is going ok for you.
 
Rena S. May 2, 2020
I grew up in California one of 7 children. My mom was an amazing cook and family dinner every night was mandatory for all. She made it look easy. I love to cook for family and friends..what says love better than a home cooked meal for those you love or even just like!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Couldn't agree more.
 
jane May 2, 2020
I loved your article. As a family and consumer science teacher (old home ec ) we are always struggling to make what we teach relevant and necessary. Now our curriculum is very much needed. Thank you for bringing that to light. On a side note. I have used many recipes from your site in the classroom and they are always delicious.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Jane, keep up your great and important work!
 
TCHudson May 1, 2020
Amanda, We adopted my son from eastern Europe when he was 4. He had been in an orphanage most of his life. I remember the moment when he was around 9 years old and walked into the kitchen on a cold winter morning. I am an avid cook and believe as you do that the kitchen is such a big part of creating a home life. He looked up at me and said "Mom I love the sound and smell of bacon cooking. It makes me feel safe." Enough said.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Wow -- how lovely.
 
Treebird May 1, 2020
I totally agree. It was nice to read your writing again. I miss it.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks, Treebird.
 
egarvin May 1, 2020
What a beautifully written article! I have been a big Amanda Hesser fan since “Cooking for Mr Latte”. There is nothing frivolous about nurturing our bodies and our loved ones in the sanctuary of our homes. Now is the time for the wisdom of the personal- home, nourishment, genuine connection- to influence our public lives as well.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Hear! Hear!
 
orit R. May 1, 2020
I want your kitchen!!! Are you selling?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Haha -- thanks! We're staying.
 
Maureen May 1, 2020
<3

 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
TY
 
Mb14 May 1, 2020
I just loved reading your article. My husband and I chose to work from home over 25 years ago and it was the best decision we ever made. I love my home environment, my children love to come home to homemade meals and deserts and I love to prepare them. To me, working from home has been a blessing that I thoroughly appreciate.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Great to hear this -- and it sounds like many people are asking themselves whether or not they really need to go back to an office. You were ahead of your time, it seems!
 
Melinda D. May 1, 2020
I just love this.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks, Melinda.
 
coffeefoodwrite May 1, 2020
Amanda, such a. wonderful essay! Especially liked the part about the company's mission being to help people eat thoughtfully & live joyfully. As always an inspiration & Food52 a safe haven in the midst of it all....
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. May 17, 2020
Thanks so much!