During the COVID-19 pandemic, some are taking extra time to prepare special home-cooked meals. (Stock photo)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some are taking extra time to prepare special home-cooked meals. (Stock photo)

From scratch: Pandemic cooking strengthened bonds when social interactions stalled

‘We can’t physically dine together, but cooking is still bringing us together’

Anna Olson felt a tinge of pride last spring when the demand for flour and yeast became so great that grocery stores couldn’t stock their shelves fast enough.

The professional pastry chef and Food Network Canada star was thrilled to see people turning to baking and cooking in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, sharpening culinary skills they never felt they needed before.

But pandemic cooking, borne out of necessity, comfort or boredom, soon evolved into a means of connecting with others at a time when social interactions were drying up, Olson says.

Whether it was cooking together as a household, dropping off baked goods on neighbours’ porches, calling relatives for recipes from childhoods, or texting photos of kitchen masterpieces — and disasters — to friends, many Canadians have strengthened their connections over the past year through food.

For Olson, it was the regular texts from her stepdaughter, and the “play-by-play” phone calls from her mom describing her latest Instant Pot creations, that helped reinforce bonds between her family.

“We were always into food together, but we’ve got this new relationship, exchanging photos, constant conversation … it’s like: ‘what are you eating? What are you cooking right now?’ Olson said.

“I expect the five o’clock text from (stepdaughter) Mika to come in: ‘OK, I just bought this cut of meat. How do I cook it?’ And we walk through it together.”

Olson, a recipe developer who’s also a judge on Food Network Canada’s “Great Chocolate Showdown,” says the early COVID lockdown allowed her to delve deeper into new creations for the first time in years.

She misses the impromptu dinner parties she’d throw at her Niagara, Ont., home after perfecting large quantities of a recipe, but Olson says she adapted by dropping off boxes of her test goodies at neighbours’ doorsteps — and getting to know them better in the process.

“We can’t physically dine together, but cooking is still bringing us together,” Olson said. “That’s very important.”

John Axford, a former Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher who lives in Burlington, Ont., says pandemic cooking has allowed him to bond with his sons in the kitchen.

The eight- and nine-year-old boys help their dad prepare meals and desserts when they stay with him — bumbleberry pie is the trio’s specialty — and Axford has been trying to introduce more complex recipes to their palettes.

He doesn’t always throw strikes though.

“Definitely a couple times I was like, ‘wow, I messed this up bad,’” he said with a laugh.“‘Better get some hot dogs going.’”

Axford, who spent 10 years in the major leagues, rarely had to cook for himself over that span as MLB teams employ chefs and nutritionists for players, who typically eat two to three meals a day at the ballpark.

While he misses the ease of walking into the clubhouse and grabbing some grub, Axford says he feels a sense of accomplishment from the skills he’s honed over the last 12 months.

He gets recipe inspiration from memories of dining with teammates on the road — the Old Bay-seasoned crab they’d have in Baltimore, or the catfish and cheesy grits in Houston — but he tweaks them by taking advantage of time-saving tools, including the air fryer.

“Being able to make certain foods quicker, I can save those 30 minutes,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m saving those 30 minutes for right now, but it’s still nice.”

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and COVID expert at the University of Ottawa, says gadgets like the air fryer, bread maker and Instant Pot — which he calls “God’s gift to lazy men” — have transformed complex recipes into easier feats.

Being able to find any recipe on the internet is another bonus, Deonandan says, aiding his constant quest for creating new vegan dishes.

“Ten years ago, this would’ve been impossible for me to do well,” he said, adding that while he always enjoyed cooking, he was never good at it before.

“Now my house smells like a restaurant all the time.”

Deonandan says it makes sense to see people embracing cooking during lockdown.

He says many of us, pre-COVID, were losing the desire or ability to prepare meals for ourselves, either from time constraints or dependence on restaurants.

“But (with the pandemic) we retreated back to our homes,” he said. “The impulse was to become a little more self-sufficient, a little less reliant on things like meeting friends for dinner.”

Deonandan, like Olson and Axford, says he’s nourished relationships with relatives over the pandemic, habitually calling his mother to walk him through traditional Indo-Guyanese recipes of his youth.

While his attempts never come out quite the same, he says the process of cooking those dishes makes him feel closer to his mother, who lives nearly 500 kilometres away in Toronto.

“There’s this feeling of realness that comes from home-cooked food,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

Olson expects people will return to dining out often once the pandemic subsides, but she thinks the last year may have also changed the way many of us view our culinary abilities.

“We’ve set a new standard for the way we cook at home,” she said. “And we appreciate the work that goes into cooking a meal.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

School District 83 trustees are leaning towards an option in the school district’s Long Range Facilities Plan that favours making Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus and Jackson campus (pictured) both Grade 9-12 schools. (Google maps image)
Letter: Two high school option for Salmon Arm will create ‘have, have not’ situation

Writer concerned with E5 option, says transparent talk about implications needed

Left, Elena Bruns (2015 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) and Leah Nash (2019 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) in a helicopter on the Eagle Bluff Fire, August 2019. (Kamloops Fire Centre photo)
Salmon Arm students stick with wildfire fighting after junior Rapattack program

Junior Fire Crew program partners with Salmon Arm Secondary, develops students’ love for job

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Penticton Christian School. (Facebook)
COVID-19 exposure at South Okanagan independent school

The exposures are the latest in a quickly growing list in the Interior

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Bart and Tracey Larson enjoying a Begbie Cream Ale. The couple have been together for 40 years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
The art of really good beer: Revelstoke brewery celebrates 25 years

Mt. Begbie Brewery owners Bart and Tracey Larson reflect on their company’s history

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Most Read