This is the new normal for a lot of people, especially in our generation. I’m not breaking any new ground by being a newly single woman at 30 after 6 years of marriage and 10 years of cooking to suit someone else’s food preferences. Eating Normal is now about eating and cooking for me, less about cooking for others.
Supporting local farmers remains important to me, but on a budget, the grocery store remains the easiest way to pinch pennies. Smart shopping methods that save me money will be shared to save you money. Pantry recipes will be as important as our market recipes.
My life has changed in the blink of an eye. One of the first things to change was the way I eat, and it’s time to adjust to a new normal. I intend to document that adjustment as closely as I can. Fortunately, I will have more time to devote to content creation here and on my social media platforms.
I appreciate your support through this dry spell of posting, and I hope that the new direction I am taking in my creative work with food will be enjoyable for you as readers and cooks. As you know, I never ask for you to take a look at my support page on the website to sign up for patreon or donate through kofi. If you decide to do that from this point forward, know that that money will go toward supplies for recipe development that only come from our local farmers. I will be revamping our patreon rewards to provide you with additional content if you choose to support.
This is the first Thanksgiving in two years that my husband and I have been able to return to one of our favorite cities in the world, Cleveland, Ohio, and share Thanksgiving weekend with my in-laws. The tradition was stopped first by our move to Green Bay and then by the pandemic, but we did not allow that to change our minds this year. We missed the city and the people. We needed to go home.
Let me start by saying that I have never been a frequent flyer. I’ve been on less flights in my time, and many of those were as much as three years behind me when I prepared to fly to Cleveland on Thanksgiving day with my husband. My bags were heavy on my weak shoulders. I was anxious and excited. The drive down to O’Hare airport in Chicago from Green Bay was an easy one. The worst was yet to come.
About a month and a half into my furlough after COVID-19 sent us all into our homes, I started a garden on my porch. For the first time ever, I wanted to grow food. The easiest thing I could think of on my little wooden second story porch was a pepper plant, so during my trip to start my second annual herb pot, I bought a sweet pepper plant and a pot with no holes in the bottom to give it a go. Little did I know that this was a trend starting all across not just the city of Green Bay, but the whole country.
Every day I drive to work now, I drive past homes where I saw exactly zero evidence of any kind of garden in the previous growing season now full of plants. Front yards, once a barren wasteland of suburban grass, have been turned into growing patches for peppers and tomatoes and onions. I look out my window and see every other porch has become home to a similar menagerie of little potted plants, giving it their all in the summer sun to grow food for an insecure and afraid people.
We’ve all had a lot of time to get to know ourselves a little better since March of this year. I’ve been alone more than I’ve been with anybody since I was sent to work from home and then later furloughed. My husband still has to go to his office to work (he is a radio news reporter), and so it’s just me, my cat, and my kitchen during the day. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to cook, and to write. It’s taken me almost three months, but I can safely say that during that time, I’ve come to know who I am a little better.
At first, it was just a matter of surviving. The world felt so dark and so terrible that bettering myself in any way, shape, or form felt like a lost cause. I wanted to drink a little more than I should, lazy around a little more than I should, and hope that the storm passed in the meantime. It obviously did not do that. Wisconsin is reopening, sure, but the disease is still a problem out there. Now, we’re not just at war with a disease. There is a war going on for the soul of our country.
The one thing I had to fall back on to give myself joy and comfort was food. Baking, cooking, fermenting. It didn’t matter what I was doing. If I could create anything that would give myself and my husband (and occasionally, his coworkers) a little bit of joy, then I was doing something important. It was all I could do when I felt powerless against the goings on in the world outside. The journey that I found myself on with sourdough and fermentation showed me something important.
This right here is what I was meant to do. I love food. I love writing about food. I love cooking and sharing what I’ve done with the people that I care about. I stumbled into a profession after college that sits me in a chair for eight hours a day and pays the bills, but it doesn’t give me any sense of accomplishment. It never has, and it probably never will. This right here, though. This does it.
My heart soars when an article does even remotely well. Every kind comment makes me smile. When my husband eats five sourdough english muffins in a day because they’re just so damn good, I know that I’m doing something right. This is what I should have been doing all along, and only this moment of quarantine has taught me to embrace it. It may never give me enough to quit a day job, but this moment in time showed me that cooking and writing about food is what I should have been doing with more frequency all along.
I’ve also discovered that I’m lactose intolerant, which brings a lot of things about my health in the last few years into question. I’ve suffered from IBS and acid reflux for almost four years now, and most of the time earned a shrug from my doctors. I’ve had so much time in quarantine to sit with my symptoms and begin editing out food that I’ve found milk products are causing me more distress when I include them in my diet. How long has this been a problem? Who knows, but I found it. I wouldn’t be shocked if I was lactose intolerant the whole time, but with the pace of my life outside of quarantine, I wasn’t able to pin it down.
I’ve started physical therapy with an actually competent therapist for pain that I've had for years. I feel heard where my therapist in Delaware just put me through the motions. We do something different to address my pain every day. I’ve felt better in the last three weeks than I did the entire time I lived on the East Coast. The Midwest is where I belong, and the people here are taking care of me where I need it. My doctors and bosses hear me.
The writer of this blog was always this person. A lactose intolerant, painful mess of a person that liked to cook more than anything else. That person was just buried under the world we all lived in before now. She had to have a real job, making real money, and her time had to go elsewhere. Not anymore. It won’t last forever.
But, god…. I’m so thankful for it.
This experience has been a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant for all of us that have had to endure it, regardless of our circumstances. I am blessed with a partner that’s working, who hasn’t asked me to put myself on the line to continue bringing money in until my real job calls me back. We don’t all have that luxury, but I’ve been able to use mine to get to know myself better. I’ve found the things that make me happy. While the financial situation isn’t the greatest, I’ve lived through much worse.
Some people have been able to go back to work, but many of us are still in limbo, waiting. I am hopeful that I will be able to return to work soon. If the worst comes to pass and I am laid off rather than furloughed, so be it. It might not actually be the worst thing in the world to start fresh again in this city that I’ve grown to love. I will survive. I always have.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!