A methodically planned menu for the week that involved handmade pastas and flatbreads and tortillas was among the first casualties to fall to my return to work. Every meal of every day felt like an event. I wanted three meals a day, but now I’m lucky to eat one good meal. God, do I want to roll out a batch of ricotta gnocchi on a week night sometimes. I wake up ambitious. But I walk up the steps, drop my purse and my lunch box, and stare at my counter in dread after eight hours of being hunched over a computer making my breakfast and lunch out of a bag of pretzel chips and a coffee.
While in the throes of my furlough, I thought all of these things would be permanent members of my cooking routine for years to come. I thought that I could reduce the amount of food waste I produced dramatically even after I got called back to work. I thought that if I just got up early enough on the weekdays, I’d have the energy to do it all. If I kept my workspace in the kitchen clear, I wouldn’t be daunted from the more laborious tasks I had grown to love in every day food prep.
Going back to normal took those things from me. The pandemic lockdown held precious few gifts for most people-- I still haven’t seen a cent of the unemployment I should have been collecting at the time-- but the value of the lessons I learned while cooking made the struggles worth it. Now that I have to report five days a week to my 9 to 5, those gifts are lost in the battle of managing normal life amidst a still roaring pandemic outside.
I regularly try to throw in the towel on weekday dinners, whining to my husband from the second he walks in the door at night that I ‘just can’t do it’. It’s more dinners of dried pasta and a random protein from the freeze, less dinners of delicious, scrutinized work that I’m proud of at the end. So, three months into being back at work, I am left with a question.
Was what I did for the three months of lockdown ‘Normal’, or is this constant battle between my workplace fatigue and a need for sustenance ‘Normal’? I want those careful meal plans to be normal. I want those dinners that I was proud of making every night to be normal. I want my slow morning of coffee and breakfast back, but what’s the cost? How do we balance the experiences we valued during COVID with the new reality of going back to work amidst a pandemic?
I don’t know, but I want to try it with you. What are some of the healthy habits you picked up during the pandemic that you want to reclaim?
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!