After 48 hours of nitpicking, biting remarks, and spontaneous crying, I can easily say that social isolation is getting the best of me. I’ve been graceless. Impatient. And above all else—sad. As we approach week 7 of shelter-in-place due to COVID-19, my partner, Alan, suggested that we could use some alone time.
But I don’t want more alone time. I want my family.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, I am clinging to nostalgia. A prayerful heart oriented towards what I know the world could be, starting in my own kitchen.
Cooking makes a house feel like my mom’s home; the sounds and aromas delight the senses, spurring old memories and creating new ones. For many folks, cooking is a creative outlet and cathartic release—even more so during a global pandemic. Cooking makes us nostalgic for the world that was and what we hope it will be.
A quick google search for “cooking during COVID” will send you to several articles about Alison Roman, a listicle describing what you should do with the items in your pantry, and an interview with Sam Sifton, but for me, cooking during COVID has been a functional, utilitarian experience. I skip breakfast. Lunch is usually an egg, a fast salad, or a bowl of beans. A few weeks into the lockdown, I signed up for a meal delivery service, a commitment that further automated my eating habits and confirmed the hunch of so many investors causing meal delivery stocks to rise.
My utilitarian lunches provide mindless certainty in a moment when every other plan is uncertain. Which is why I could tell things were going awry at the beginning of the week when I asked Alan if we could prepare a slow-cooked meal on Saturday; tamales, maybe. I thought of last Thanksgiving when my mom taught my Alan how to prepare masa, spread it over husks, and properly fold them so the filling would not spill.
Later I remembered all the reasons we couldn’t make them: no masa, no manteca, no vaporera. Tamales during a lockdown were a no go, but I still yearned for a meal to feel like home.
At my most anxious, I’m a contrarian. Nothing is right, there is not enough, it will not work. Under normal circumstances, I am being shortsighted and ornery. In the midst of a global pandemic, I am being honest.
On the phone that week, my little brother described the flautas my mom prepared for dinner. Lightbulb—I’ll make flautas! If I do what she does, it’s like she’s with me. I remembered rolling dozens of those crispy tacos when I was younger, her guiding me along the way. I could do that!
And then I remembered why I couldn’t: no tortillas.
I have a vivid memory of making tortillas in my abuelita Jovita’s house. I can still see how impressed she is by my attention to detail and the speed in which I prepare a stack of tortillas. Her delight may be of my own making, but it’s my memory so I’ll keep it.
I could make my own tortillas.
On Saturday night, after those particularly difficult 48 hours, I pulled together flour, salt, oil, and water so hot I remembered I was human. I mixed and kneaded, a smile spreading over my face as I realized what was happening. I was making tortillas, just like my mom and mi abuelita Jovita. Two mommas who turned houses into homes.
These magical women had a way of making something out of nothing. As my mom says, “En nuestra casa, siempre hay comida.” There’s always food, because you can always make it.
As I rolled balls of dough into flat, transparent discs, I remembered that I come from resilient people. As the tortillas warmed over a skillet, bubbling and coming to life, I knew that even in the face of a global pandemic, I have what I need.
And if I ever believe I don’t—I can make it.
Alan and I had a fabulous taco feast on Saturday night. He prepared the filling—salsa chicken—and it paired beautifully with my stack of tortillas. Even without my mom’s physical presence, those tortillas brought home to me.