It’s day 969,459,399,218 of lockdown, or a year in to these “unprecedented times” and I’m trying to find the silver lining of 12 months of upended plans, constant worry, and So. Many. Dishes. I came up with my gratitude list and some new recipes that came out of the pandemic.
Absolutely, what I’m most grateful for is that my family has not gotten sick….at all. Like, not even a sniffle between the six of us and my elderly mother! We had a couple of close contact scares, but, thankfully, no one in the house tested positive. My mom has had both doses of the vaccine and we are anxiously awaiting our turns.
While I may lament that the lockdowns took away so many coming of age rituals —21st birthday celebrations, junior and senior proms, homecoming, freshman and sophomore year on campus, senior collegiate field hockey season, and our traditional “big” trip for high school graduation, we did have a once-in-a-lifetime (I hope!) opportunity to reconnect and hang out. My girls, who turned 24, 21, 19, and 17 during 2020, had time to get to “know” each other as adults, and still binge-watch Netflix together and form a very competitive volleyball league of 4.
We supported our favorite restaurants with Friday night take-out, but that left 20 other meals a week to figure out. My cooking evolved from “let’s celebrate every night, for tomorrow we may die” to “oh shit, maybe we’re not going to die and Imma need to fit back in my jeans one day”. As 2021 dawned, I started to focus on whole foods, like using best-quality proteins and vegetables. Oh, and I got inspired by TikTok, too!
My family’s favorite twilight-of-the-pandemic meal is Mediterranean grain bowl. I chop cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and kalamata olives, put out bowls of feta cheese crumbles, hummus, and tzatziki (bought or homemade), and make rice. Sometimes I make grilled chicken breast and other times I make grass-fed ground beef or bison. I skip the rice, but everyone else starts with rice and adds the protein and their favorite toppings. We don’t use salad dressing, but you totally could add your favorite!
After a year of a LOT of chicken, I’ve branched out into ground pork. My favorite way to use it is in a egg roll inspired bowl. I brown the pork, drain any fat, and put aside in a bowl. To the same skillet, I add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil if the skillet is dry and then a bag of coleslaw mix (I can buy it already shredded with no dressing) and a cup or so of shredded carrots. As the veggie mixture begins to soften, I season it with a two tablespoons or so of Tamari (or use soy sauce) and a splash of fish sauce. When the veggies are tender, I add the ground pork back to the skillet and mix to combine. After tasting, I may or may not add a splash more Tamari and some ground pepper or hot chile flakes, depending on my mood. I love to add just a drizzle of sesame oil to my bowl, but my kids and husband do not and they eat theirs over rice.
I also did my homage to the feta cheese block and cherry tomato bake that went viral on TikTok*. I’m eschewing pasta right now (refer to previous mention of maybe someday wearing jeans again) so I serve the mixture over zucchini or summer squash. I also don’t blend the baked cheese and tomatoes because I prefer a more rustic texture. I’m straight up lying. I just don’t want to clean out the blender.
Another TikToker posted a video about substituting Boursin cheese for the Feta with cherry tomatoes—tried that too, (again, I didn’t bother blending it) and it was amazing over sliced chicken breast and zucchini. I had leftover Boursin cheese, so I made a quick sauce by adding a few tablespoons of the Boursin to a skillet on low, and as it melted, I thinned the cheese by adding a couple of splashes of milk and stirred like crazy. I serve the easy-peasy cheese sauce over sautéed chicken and broccoli.
The days are starting to get longer and hope for a return to normalcy is growing, and I can’t wait! I still want to be with my kids and husband, but I really want to be with them SOMEWHERE ELSE! So, here’s to road trips and travel and never forgetting how lucky we are to have almost made it through to the other side.
*My version of TikTok cheese and tomato bake:
- A block of Feta or Boursin (I often use only a third or half in a small casserole dish)
- A handful or two cherry tomatoes (I’ve used campari cut in half, place in dish cut side down)
- A drizzle of olive oil over cheese and tomatoes
- any spices you choose—I usually skip, but I’ve put in a couple of unpeeled cloves of garlic (make sure they are oiled) and then squeezed the soft, roasted garlic over my chicken —Amazing!
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes
- Use as topping for pasta, vegetables, meat