I stood on my tiptoes, arms stretched high above my head, entire 5-10 frame extended with delicate pasta sheets ribboning my body like a Christmas tree.
“This,” I thought as I physically sweated through making fresh pasta and mentally labored through how I still needed to grind the pesto, fry the zucchini, simmer the marinara, “should qualify as a sport.”
Because truly, the most athletic pursuit I undertook since the start of the coronavirus pandemic was my furlough week home-cooking charity drive (never established a clever name), in which I cooked nine meals through seven days to raise money for local food shelves.
Most people would take an unpaid break from work to relax. Treat themselves. At least buy the perfectly good dried box pasta like a sane person. But not me. I always have to do The Most™.
How I found myself pressing my own corn tortillas, flipping homemade roti, having a minor mental breakdown when I realized I had forgotten to marinate the Mochiko chicken 24 hours in advance was kind of how I do my job as a sports reporter. An idea came to me, I thought “that’s far too unrealistic to make happen,” and then fast-forward to me in the thick of it wondering how I ended up there.
When the Star Tribune first announced furloughs, I was resigned. Having been in the newspaper industry for more than five years at several publications, I’m familiar with the tight margin for success. And, well, no one really stood a chance against a global pandemic.
I went from shaking hands and interviewing Gophers hockey players one day to being holed up in the apartment I share with my sister, her fiancé and their new puppy the next. And I did not handle humanity’s potential collective downfall well. I had the stress acne to prove it.
I was scared. I was anxious. I felt completely untethered.
The only thing that made me feel even slightly normal was cooking. And eating.
I love to cook. (Friends say it borders on pretentious, thanks to the San Marzano Tomato Incident of 2019.) I learned everything from my mother. In the week the NBA shut down, I made one of her Japanese recipes — buta dofu — a childhood staple that made me feel briefly like the world wasn’t completely melting down. My emotional state is mostly better now (my therapist is thankfully back from maternity leave). So when the furloughs happened, I decided not to spiral, and instead turn what could have been another depressing blow in a series of bad feelings into a positive.
I can cook. People need to eat. I’ll make delicious meals that elicit happiness and comfort for others while doing my part to ensure no one goes hungry now or ever.
Thanks to the power of social media (I’m an #influencer now), I filled up my orders in fewer than 24 hours. I menu-planned, grocery shopped, bought takeout containers and insulated delivery bags. And then I just furiously cooked in my parents’ much-more-spacious kitchen for a week, bumbling through Instagramming videos and photos along the way as I masqueraded as a personal chef.
When I first had this wild idea, I really thought it would be a shout into the void. No one would order or donate, maybe my friends would take pity, and I’d make $12.
About 40 donations later, we raised $2,000, split between Second Harvest Heartland and The Sheridan Story.
I won’t preach at you here, since the lesson is pretty clear: When you’re feeling helpless and at sea, reach out and find the good wherever you can.
And also buy the masa and make the tortilla from scratch. You’ve got the time, it’s not that hard, and it really does put store-bought to shame.