Coping with Confinement: My Lockdown Strategies
As of last week, France has gone back into lockdown, which prompted a 454 mile (730km) traffic jam as people tried to get in and out of the city. The lockdown is expected to...

As of last week, France has gone back into lockdown, which prompted a 454 mile (730km) traffic jam as people tried to get in and out of the city. The lockdown is expected to last a month and while it’s not ideal, it’s not nearly as restrictive as the lockdown we had last spring and everything from taking a walk to going to the grocery store was tense and fraught as there was less information as the Covid-19 virus is spread, and masks were in short supply.

On the second day of the current lockdown, I went to get a few groceries and there were people on the streets, people eating food in front of restaurants, people in offices, and even the local vodka shop was open. (Bookstores, however, are closed as they’re not considered essential businesses. Interestingly, large supermarkets can remain open, but aren’t allowed to sell books either.)

The situation is evolving and my hunch is there will be more stringent measures put into place, a feeling shared by everyone I’ve spoken to here. But unlike last spring, I have enough baking chocolate, flour, and sugar, to last for a couple of months. (Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has also agreed that this lockdown is likely to continue through Christmas.) For the record, I’m not a hoarder. Because of what I do, I always have a few month’s worth of baking ingredients on hand because, well…you never know, do you? Last time I was caught without any chocolate, which in my line of work is considered “essential.”

In my November newsletter, I wrote up a few things that helped me get through the last lockdown, which I’m applying to the current one. I’ve been hearing from people around the world how difficult lockdowns have been for them, so I thought I’d share some things that I do, that kept me sane, while I adjust to the new reality – again.

Many people are dealing with “pandemic” fatigue. Wearing a mask, being afraid to touch everyday objects, unable to eat in restaurants or have a drink at a bar, not being able to travel, nor being able to see friends and family, has been taking its toll on everyone. Earlier last week, I fell into a little depression. The everpresent grisaille (gray skies) was hovering over Paris and the city was damp, drizzly, and dreary, and when I went to the market, I missed the brightness of the previous season’s cherries and peaches and came home with squash, apples, and a pineapple. I am fond of squash, apples, and pineapple, but the combo wasn’t enough to rouse me out of my funk.

So I met a friend for lunch and had a “smashburger” at Echo Deli. If you read my book L’Appart, you’ll remember that burgers became my comfort food when the going got tough during those months…which turned into years. (Back then, they were still a novelty. Nowadays, burgers show up on 85% of the restaurant menus in France.) Just spending time with a friend and eating something that made me feel better was the double-header I needed, and I felt a lot better. And while I don’t think the burger had anything to do with it, the sun came out and the walk home was glorious.

Every morning, make a list daily of what you want to accomplish that day.

Make the list large and tape it to the wall so it’ll seem more important. (Which it is.) I started this when I began doing Instagram Live Apéro Hour videos and had to organize my time, as well as my guests, my recipes, and my liquor. As an ex-professional baker, I know the importance of “the list” and how complete it should be. So even something as insignificant as “Take a shower” or “Call my aunt” should go on that list. Crossing things off as you accomplish them will make you feel like you’re moving forward and getting things done, and carrying on with life.

Exercise.

I’m one of those people who can’t exercise unless someone is yelling at me. Ok, that’s not quite true. They don’t need to be yelling, but if someone is not standing over me or if I’m not in a group, I’ll quit after 5 minutes to check my email or rummage through the refrigerator for a snack.

After a knee injury a few years back at “boot camp” I now do Pilates. Fortunately the two studios I go to in Paris have been offering classes on Zoom which keep me connected to my teachers and the other students. At the very start of the previous confinement last spring, I made a commitment to myself that I would exercise every single day, and I had no excuses not to. Except…with classes costing €18 ($21) at one studio I go to (yes, even online), taking classes daily at 18X30 would cost €540/$640 a month, and I’d be heading straight from confinement to the poorhouse…albeit with impressive shoulder muscles.

To soften the financial blow, I found some very good classes on YouTube, particularly those by Katja (who does yoga and Pilates) and Beth, who are both calm and clear instructors. But even if you’re not athletic, it helps to do some stretching and it’s nice to have a guided voice to keep you motivated. A little searching around will help you find the right people to follow that meet your needs if you’re like me and need to be prodded. (Update: Readers in the comments recommended Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and Pilatesology for online Pilates.)

Note: If you do free online video classes, you’ll notice there are ads before the workouts. That’s how the instructors make a living, especially now that many gyms and fitness facilities are closed and some are doing online classes. So let an ad or two run before you workout so they make some money for their work. The cost to you? Zéro. Zip. Nada. I click on the video, then get changed and unroll my mat while the ads run 🙂

I tried Glo and used their two-week trial for free fitness classes which are quite good. It goes to $18/month after the trial period. And kudos to them for having teachers with different body types than the usual ones you see in exercise programs. Another platform, Patreon, has become popular for content creators and has a fitness section, although I haven’t tried any of them. Another option is Apple Fitness+ (if you have one of their watches, which I don’t.) In terms of mental fitness, if you need to calm your mind and help you sleep, I’ve been using the Calm app for a couple of years and I like many of the options and programs it features for relaxing and sleeping. Headspace is another good app for that, and Insight Timer is another (which I don’t use) but is free and has live yoga classes.

[UPDATE: I should mention I use a daylight therapy lamp, mine is made by Beurer, which I don’t have concrete proof that it works against Seasonal Affective Disorder, but they are recommended and I do seem to feel better for using it. Also many in France take Vitamin D supplements which are said to help.)

Eat well.

That’s admittedly hard to do if you can’t easily shop for ingredients, and I know it’s easy to eat frozen pizzas, chocolate, ice cream, peanut M&M’s, and leftover Halloween candy corn, which I enjoy in moderation. But I do make it a point to include lots of vegetables and salads in my diet and recommend the same. It makes me feel good to eat well.

Many communities have CSA boxes which are a fun way to add variety to your life, and diet. Here’s a directory of them in the U.S. I tried a few in Paris but wasn’t entirely pleased with the offerings, one of which Romain described as la misère when it arrived, so I stick with getting my produce at shops like Biocoop, Terroirs d’Avenir, and Au Bout du Champ, which feature produce from small growers. Eating well is one of the best and easiest ways to stay healthy and eating local, if you can, helps others in your community.

And while you may not be able to travel, if you want to do some French cooking, La Cuisine in Paris including Live Cuisine Camp classes, Kate Hill in the Southwest of France, and Les Petits Farcis in Nice, are offering online cooking classes, as are my friends Susana Trilling at Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Judy Witts in Tuscany. As for me, I’ll be doing a French Apéritif Class for Context Travel on November 15th if you’re feeling thirsty for France.

Organize something…and use everything.

I never was able to wrap my head around a total Kondo-style purge, which has you go through everything in your home at the same time, rather than room-by-room or closet-by-closet, as most of us normally do. But I did organize my liquor shelf, which boasts 150 bottles that were in complete disarray during the last lockdown. Not sure if that would please Ms. Kondo, but at least I can find my ginger eau-de-vie and curaçao.

While remaining mindful of keeping a reasonable supply of food on hand, when it became clear that there wouldn’t be any major food shortages here last spring, I went through my refrigerator and freezer, and scoured through my kitchen drawers and cabinets, to gather and use all those bits and pieces and cans and boxes and bottles of everything that’s been sitting around, waiting for the right time to use them. I dawned on me, “Now’s the time!”

I melted the 5 packets of flavored butters I found crammed in various spots in my freezer to make cornbread, which turned out to be the best cornbread I ever made in my life. Kitchen Sink chocolate chip cookies which used a little bit of this, and some of that, to become a lockdown staple around here. And not a single radish leaf went to waste as I made a nourishing (and thrifty) Radish Leaf Soup, and Radish Leaf Pesto.

So in the name of anti-gaspillage (being against food waste) and fun, dig through your cabinets and refrigerator and see what you can come up with to use all those odds and ends.

Do good online.

A lot of people aren’t feeling or doing so great right now, especially small businesses that have taken a profound hit by having to close their doors. France has offered financial assistance to businesses that have had to close and to pay employees up to 84% of their salaries, but they are still struggling, as are people elsewhere.

Having worked in a number of restaurants, I know that very, very, very few people go into the work and say, “I’m going to use this opportunity to do a bad job today.” I like to think that people are doing their best in whatever endeavor they’ve chosen to pursue, so let’s support people in the food, beverage, and hospitality business as best we can. So before leaving a negative review of a restaurant and other establishment online, if something is really off or you’ve had a negative experience, rather than post about it, send a message to the management to see if it can be resolved.

Even if you haven’t had a bad experience, small businesses could use your help so take some of that free time you’ve got on your hands to write positive things about your favorite restaurants, bakeries, cafés, and bars on social media and websites. (As well as your favorite books on websites that allow reviews, which really help authors.) Tip well if you can and be patient with the staff.

In other places online, such as on social media, before you hit the “Send” button, think about what you are posting or how you are responding to a comment. Are you adding something positive to the conversation? Or just being a pill because you don’t agree with someone who prefers creamy peanut butter to chunky, or they didn’t have spaghetti so used rigatoni in their pasta Puttanesca. Stop, take a breath, and turn that attitude around.

And if you want to start a quarrel because someone posted a picture of a pair of chopsticks next to a bowl of Bibimbap, which I naively did (for the record, I usually use a spoon, and chopsticks for the bigger pieces), use that energy to volunteer at your local hospital or community center, where you’ll see there are bigger problems.

Give yourself a break.

Whew! This one is so hard to do. We are told to “be strong,” which is indeed a worthy goal. But it’s hard when there’s a global pandemic, global leaders are saying n’importe quoi and blurring the lines between truth and reality, and neighborhoods and businesses are in upheaval, are adding to global feelings of frustration while the virus has turned our lives upside down.

We’re dealing with a wheelhouse of emotions we’re not used to confronting, during this unprecedented time, most notably loneliness, depression, hostility, futility, and helplessness. Stay mindful of the news and be vigilant. If you live in the U.S. or are American, be sure to vote. That’s one thing we still have control over and hasn’t been taken away from us. But feel free to take a moment away from social media and television and engage with people in positive conversations. Or go for a walk to experience nature and see the good things around us. I’m about to do that right now. But in case that doesn’t work, that restaurant is still offering smashburgers (à emporter/to go), in case I need another one in the next few weeks, or longer…

 


If you’re a regular cook, you’ll know the “eureka” feeling when you discover a way to cut an everyday kitchen task in half. As our cookery team has spent so many hours writing and triple-testing recipes, they’ve picked up a fair few tricks and tips along the way, so we asked them to impart their wisdom…

You probably already know that adding a dash of vinegar to egg poaching water helps coagulate the white. But did you know that adding a dash of vinegar to the water when boiling eggs helps the shell peel off more easily ? Say goodbye to piles of tiny egg shell shards. Test this tip out with one of our egg recipes.

A pizza blade can be wheeled through a sheet of pastry or bread dough with ease, saving you the expense of buying shaped cutters, or having to fiddle around, twizzling the point of a knife into strange angles.

‘Hard’ herbs like rosemary and thyme can be frozen whole. When you come to use them, they’ll naturally crumble into pieces, bypassing the mezzaluna completely. Try this recipe for lemon, pancetta

If your brown sugar has clumped into pieces, place a piece of soft white bread in the packet and the sugar will break back down into sandy granules in a few hours. tera stop it happening again, make sure the storage space is nice and dry.

Save yourself the disappointment of an un-squeezy lemon by microwaving it whole for around 20-30 seconds on high. It’s just enough time to release the juices, but be careful not to go overboard and dry the flesh out. Try one of our zesty lemon recipes.

If you have plain flour in the cupboard, you always have bread on hand. Just take one mug of plain flour combined with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil per person, then slowly add cold water until it’s a soft, smooth dough which leaves the bowl clean. Divide the dough into balls, roll out to a 2mm thickness then dry fry in a non-stick pan. They’ll only take a few moments and are ready when both sides have golden brown patches all over.

While the rind of cheese such parmesan, pecorino and Grana Padano is difficult to grate, it’s a shame to waste such an expensive byproduct. But there’s no need to. Add the rind whole when you’re sweating onions in the first stage of making a risotto or sauce. It will impart lots of its flavour but save you taking to it with a chainsaw. Don’t forget to remove it before serving though…Try using cheese rind in a risotto recipe.

Make your own dried breadcrumbs by grating stale bread on the coarse side of a grater, then spread the crumbs in a thin layer over a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 140C, giving them a good shake halfway through. The golden, crispy crumbs will last in a sealed container for up to two weeks. Try our wild garlic chicken Kiev recipe made with panko breadcrumbs.

If you need your meat injected with a short, sharp burst of flavour, choose marinade ingredients wisely. Red wine quickly penetrates meat, giving it a deep colour, while citrus zest and juice tenderises it rapidly.

Not enough space for your party loot ? Save space for food by putting drinks into big tubs, buckets and bowls filled with salted ice water – the salt will cause the temperature to drop, giving you icy cold drinks in seconds. Browse our petit cocktail recipes for drinks inspiration.

Spruce up a shop-bought block of shortcrust by popping it into a food processor with a flavouring like herbs, vanilla, cheese, cocoa powder, honey or spice. All great additons to give your pastry an edge.

Bypass pencil outlines and fiddly scissors when lining a springform cake tin ( that’s one with a clippable ring and removeable base ). Lay the parchment onto the flat base of the tin, then press down and clamp the ring into place on top of it, leaving the edges around the outside to easily tear off. Try the clamping technique with this showstopping courgette, lemon

We love a stripy rainbow cake, but it’s perhaps one for an experienced baker to take on. If you want your sponge to sing with Technicolor joy but need an easier route to success, pick up a tub of multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. Mix some through your sponge batter ( not too many ) and when you cut a slice of your finished cake, you’ll have beautiful polka dots.

to peel a kiwi, just chop off the top and bottom, then push a dessertspoon in between the fruit and the skin. Turn the kiwi until all the skin falls off the back of the spoon.

When you cut the avocado in half, twist into two pieces, then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the side without the stone for immediate use. Return the empty skin to the other half, which still contains the stone, using the skin to cover it over. Keeping the stone in and covering with the skin helps retain colour and freshness until the following day.

Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg. ' /> Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg. ' /> Achieve the perfect set white and runny yolk with a few splashes of water. Fry the eggs in a non-stick pan and when the whites are almost cooked, put a few drops of water into the pan, quickly cover it with a lid and turn the heat down low, or off completely, and leave for a minute or two to finish cooking. The effect will be a perfect semi-poach. >Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg.

As soon as you buy herb plants from the supermarket or greengrocer, remove the plastic wrapping and trim the top leaves quickly to use in your cooking. By trimming off the top leaves first you’ll help the plant shoot out from lower down the stem making it stronger. Water every other day or according to the directives on the pack.

Nutty brown rice can take a long time to cook until tender, so speed up the process by soaking it in water overnight, as you would pulses like lentils. It’ll cook far quicker as a result. Try a recipe with brown rice.

Making a roux from flour and butter isn’t too difficult a process, but if time is of the essence, it might be easier to reach into the fridge. A tub of cream cheese watered down until the same consistency as béchamel makes a super simple option. If you want to boost the flavour, add a grating of nutmeg. Alternatively, use crème fraîche and grated cheese.

Garlic cloves are one of the trickiest items to prepare, and if you find it frustrating, invest in a sturdy garlic press, and voilà – the whole clove can be passed through it with the skin intact. It may take a bit of pushing, but once through, the flesh is passed through the holes while the skin is left in the press to be easily removed. Watch this film for tips on how to crush garlic.

Don’t just stick with salt and pepper, experiment with other storecupboard seasonings. Try sprinkling a crushed chicken stock cube over a whole chicken before roasting, or add a splash of soy sauce or wine to boost the flavour of your gravy.

Plastic bags of washed and ready-to-eat salad leaves are really convenient but don’t seem to last very long at all, even in the fridge. If you find yourself with leftover leaves, that are starting to lose their crispness, ensure they don’t go to waste. Instead, pop them in a pan with a little olive oil or butter, garlic and seasoning and wilt down as you would for spinach. This works particularly well with leaves like watercress and rocket. Learn how to build the perfect salad with our handy infographic.

Stir a few extra ingredients through your favourite shop-bought hummus and everyone will think you’ve made it yourself. Add a dash of lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander, some ground cumin, smoked paprika or a smidge of harissa paste to give it a kick. Alternatively add a few whole chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil to make it look homemade.

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