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

Just Posted

Recreation therapy staff Karen Baker and Jenessa Dunkle dressed up for the tea on the Titanic, held on the 109th anniversary of the sinking of the vessel.
photo submitted
109 years after the sinking, the Titanic disaster is still remembered in Castor

Residents of Castor’s long term care facility were treated to an immersive celebration of the vessel

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
‘We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man’:Kenney faces internal call to quit

Senior backbench member Todd Loewen, in a letter posted on Facebook, called on Kenney to resign

Alberta continues to wrestle with high COVID-19 case numbers. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer up to 858 active cases of COVID-19

Province reports additional 1,799 cases of the virus

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Online images show RCMP members, vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta justice minister sorry for saying feds, others rooting for COVID disaster

Earlier Tuesday, prior to Madu’s apology, Trudeau rejected the accusations

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT

Most Read