Post 65: #Coronavirus and a global perspective…

on skills we’ve developed or improved.

We’re sharing our experiences, thoughts, and uncensored opinions during lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation. For some of us, it’s DAY 65.


If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success

RafifJ, #Malaga, #Spain

Let me tell you a true story. Once, when I was about 9, I baked a cake on my own and set it on the counter to cool. The family dog, Boots, managed to jump high enough to grab it. That’s it. I mean, literally that’s it – Boots didn’t even eat it. The cake was THAT awful.

While I don’t think that incident scarred me for life, I must say that cooking and baking have never, ever been on my priority list. Throughout the years, I’ve gotten away with ordering takeout or delivery, dining out, or – and this is the best – getting others to cook for me. “Others” have included friends, family members, my ex-husband, and my kids.

[Another true story: I once hosted a dinner party and couldn’t order the food, so I ended up serving my guests Pop Tarts and cereal.]

With the lockdown in Malaga, going out was no longer an option. The number of carryout places was severely limited. Delivery was pretty limited, too, and outrageously expensive.

So I started to make a few simple things. Adam made helpful comments like “too much salt” and “would it be okay if I microwaved this?” But I didn’t give up. Once I mastered basic dinner recipes, I quickly moved on to baking.

My first disaster was when the blueberries in my mutant blueberry muffin/cake exploded in the oven. But I kept trying.

Since my encounter with the blueberries, I have been baking something every day. I’m happy to say I have finally conquered crumpets and vanquished biscuits. Tomorrow I’ll move on to the subjugation of scones. And I’ve spent way more on flour and baking supplies than if I had just ordered the damn delivery. BUT I DID IT.


Practice makes perfect

Tina F., Fairfax, #Virginia

I love seeing how creative people have been during the shutdown period of the #coronavirus.

I have a list of skills and interests that I was hoping to hone in on and improve now that I had all the time in the world. Surely I would find something off this long list, which includes photography, Photoshop, cooking, crafting, speaking fluent Italian, and gardening.

So which skill have I focused on and improved? Well none of the above! And the first was quite by accident.

Writing has played a major part of getting me through each confused and bewildered day during shutdown. Until this blog, I hardly wrote nor voiced my opinion in writing. So after 60-plus days of daily blogging, I hope I have developed a style that I can be proud of and maybe even worthy of a following.

The second skill has emerged because of necessity. I’m a sprouting mixologist!!! Not because I plan on getting a job as a bartender when this is all over, but because “happy hour” cocktails have become a crucial pastime and an event to look forward to during shutdown.

I have become creatively experimenting in fun new drinks, or sometimes just putting a twist on a classic. For example, you take the Moscow Mule, which we all know is vodka, lime, and ginger beer. That can be adapted to an Italian mule by adding limoncello. Or a Bombay mule by infusing the vodka with cardamom and adding real ginger and simple syrup. Viola! I’m a mixologist.

Practice makes perfect, so I keep trying to improve daily. I still believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule, which claims that you need 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.

If I count the 2 hours a day writing and making drinks, then I’m on hour 124 of skill mastery. Only 99,876 hours to go!

Cheers to a better tomorrow!

Discovering the kitchen

RJD, #Beirut, #Lebanon

Back in my 20s (like yesterday, ok?!), I had a flair for cooking and baking. I used to live in an apartment complex where many of my college friends resided, and on Sundays, we all had lunch together over a Lebanese meal from the Mloukhieh (Jew’s Mallow) to the Fatteh (chickpeas, pita bread, yoghurt, garlic, and ghee-fried pine nuts sprinkled with paprika and chopped parsley.) 

I also used to love baking and decorating cakes, and became very good at it. I even considered it as a business at one point.

Fast-forward to living alone in Beirut in my 30s (um, also like yesterday), I survived on takeout and my cooking/baking flair was all but a distant memory.

Fast-forward again to being locked down in the wonderful world of Coronoia (I am still in my 40s, duh…) I needed to remain busy, so one day I asked our housekeeper for permission to use her kitchen, under her supervision. She reluctantly accepted while looking at me with a bewildered look, because since she started living with my husband and me, my trips to the kitchen have entailed making espresso!

And I rediscovered the joys of cooking with passion and love, albeit with a few burnt attempts!!! From making wonderful salad dressings to baking gluten-free cakes and pies (my husband is gluten-intolerant). Oh wow, what an experience it has been. The only gratitude I have for the lockdowns!

I now look forward to being in the kitchen, researching my recipes, and preparing them. But the biggest joy of all is when my husband has a taste, and as I look at him in anticipation, he says “mmmmm, this is good!” Problem is, he always looks so surprised at my newly found talents!

First attempt at pecan pie!

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Post 15: #Coronavirus and a global perspective

Day 15. It’s getting a little tougher to keep it together. The days are dragging on as the death tolls rise all over the world. When will this end?
We’re still chronicling our experiences, though. Join us!

Bon appétit!

Tina F. in Fairfax, Virginia

No matter how bad the isolation gets, no matter how much our tempers flare, my family have been coming together at dinnertime and eating very well with nothing but compliments to the chef. The chef is my son.
The four of us have an almost compulsive relationship with food that goes back several generations.

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

~ Anthony Bourdain

I remember when we were young, my mother was always cooking our Middle Eastern staples and experimenting with Western recipes. She even wrote a cookbook! At 83, she still loves to cook, but mostly she loves for people to eat her food. She taught us kids to cook and we in turn taught our kids.

My son Mazin, the youngest of all the grandkids, caught the cooking bug early, but honestly we all thought that his passion for eating was greater than that for cooking. Until a few years ago when he announced that he was going to culinary school.

He is attending Anthony Bourdaine’s alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. He is in his first year at the CIA and has developed some amazing skills and so much confidence.

Last night, he made us poached salmon with beurre blanc on a bed of julienned zucchini and tourne potatoes. It was exquisite. My title was “Sous Chef.” I agreed to help him poach the salmon, thinking I was going to drop those suckers into boiling water and be done.

Well, the instructions were so detailed I had to take notes. The temperature of the stock had to be perfect so the salmon cooks evenly, etc. After all these years of thinking I was a good cook,  I learned so much in one hour of helping him.

I came away from this experience with four thoughts:

  1. I now have a real appreciation for the time and hard work that goes into the meals we all devour in a matter of minutes.
  2. The amount of butter that goes into French food is criminal.
  3. Thank goodness my husband is the designated dishwasher because these chefs use so many bowls and pans. And…
  4. We are so blessed!!

I Actually Like Celery

Samia Madwar, #Toronto, Canada

It’s a disconcertingly familiar scenario: I watch the news unfold. The death tolls rise, and I realize that society’s most vulnerable are almost always the hardest hit in any crisis. My own comforts are a rare privilege, and I feel helpless and guilty.

If, like me, you grew up in Syria in the ‘90s, you likely felt that way whenever bombs fell elsewhere, often in neighbouring countries, wishing you could do something to save lives. Or if you lived half a world away as you watched your home country descend into an ongoing war, you likely wished (and still do) that you had the power to end it all in an instant.

Or if you’re worried about climate change, you might compost eggshells and brandish your reusable water bottle while watching wildfires burn and floods swell in the hope that your meager efforts will make the tiniest difference, knowing full well we’d all have to do a lot more to reduce our carbon footprints. Or a lot less.

Which brings me to the pea-sized bit of comfort I’ve found as I feel all the same feelings in the midst of this latest global crisis.

This time, I’ve got a very clear directive for how I can help. We all know it: Stay the &#%! Home.

It’ll be two weeks this Tuesday since I began self-isolating (my partner is a pilot; whatever he brings home, I share, whether it’s a cold or Toblerone).

During this time, I’ve learned to live with what I have rather than constantly seeking fulfillment in new things. Before self-isolation, I would come across an Instagram post about vegan celery and cilantro burger patties. The post would promise that these items are must-haves; better than the real thing! I would feel compelled to try the recipe, since normally all I would need to do is cross the street to pick up the ingredients. Zero thought for how the produce got here or whether celery is even in season. Or I’d notice a stranger’s outfit and think purchasing that exact same jacket would make my wardrobe—and my happiness—complete. I would schedule back-to-back plans on weekends, rarely stopping to consider that I might be overtaxing myself.

Samia loves limes, too, and here’s her lime tree. Samia, I love the socks!

In being forced to hit pause on so much of what once filled may days, I’ve learned there’s plenty of joy and fulfillment in what I already have. I don’t need to make healthy low-sugar gluten-free organic lemon poppyseed cake just because some Instagrammer suggested it. (I can, however bake a loaf of the simple sandwich bread I love using pantry staples.)

I used to complain I never had time to read, but now that I’m not packing my days with activities, I finally do. I’m especially relishing reading print, since so much of my daily news consumption is online. And with so few distractions, my pilot partner -who shares everything, remember? – and I are spending more quiet time together. We’re taking daily walks, sweating through online fitness classes, discussing our plans for the victory garden we’ll plant on the balcony in the coming weeks.

I’ve been told for many years that people of my generation act entitled, that we’ve never known deprivation (except maybe of steady employment and pensions and affordable housing, but let’s not go there now). I don’t mean to downplay or make light of the current situation. I’m just realizing, in this break from my usual daily existence, that there’s a valuable lesson to be learned: most of the luxuries and conveniences I take for granted really aren’t necessary, nor are they fulfilling. And I hope I continue to live a richer, less consumerist life, even after this pandemic recedes. It would probably be better for everyone—perhaps especially myself.


A Tale of Two Sisters

Joint post by Rafah M. in Montreal, Canada, and RafifJ in Malaga, Spain

We’re beginning to get antsy with this whole lockdown thing, despite the 5 or 6 daily Skype calls. (Incidentally, we wrote this post while on Skype). Rafah is getting fidgety because she recently returned from Spain and had to self-quarantine for 2 weeks. Rafif is getting impatient because she’s been on lockdown for 2 weeks and will continue to be for at least another 2.

Despite the frustration, the sisters remain positive and take this as an opportunity to discover a brand new realm of existence. We’re catching up on our beauty sleep, for example. We’re also reveling in our natural appearance. Rafah continues to get dressed up; Rafif has, thus far, abandoned all pretense of caring about her personal appearance. Side note: She likes the relaxed rules of remote work and says she’ll put on a decent jacket for the camera, but not much else.

It’s refreshing to go back to basics. We have both missed a couple of salon appointments and can now examine ourselves without the hype of colored hair and neat manicures. Are we different people? Yes, we are. We recognize that those little salon treatments are no more than casual luxuries. And we can do without them.

Last month in Marbella, Spain

In looking at our natural selves, we also take time to do some introspecting. Rafah realizes that what she needs most is not the consumer products or the luxuries, but a hug from her granddaughter. That sensory contact, with that most lovable of humans, is what she misses most.

Rafif is still figuring things out, but top of mind is Ramsey, her 16-year-old son, who remains in Virginia with his dad.

Through Skype and the gods that govern #coronavirus, we’ll get through this together.


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