An ode to the unhinged quarantine meals that got us through the pandemic
The thick sauce of boredom and dread I’ve been marinating in throughout the pandemic has manifested itself in some … interesting ways. Random crying spells. Nightmares. Ridiculously long hikes. A few weeks ago, I decided to channel it into something creative.
I attempted Korean street toast — essentially, a cabbage omelet with ham and cheese, pressed between two slices of plain white bread — after watching YouTube videos on how to make it. Alas, I lacked several of the ingredients and had only red cabbage, not the green savoy cabbage shown in the videos. This is supposed to fun, creative! I reassured myself. I can improvise!
My Julia Child-esque joie de vivre did not last long. I noticed the pigment in the cabbage bleeding into the egg mixture. I shrugged it off, until I found myself staring at a bluish-green omelet in my skillet — a greasy, bruised-looking omelet. I served it in a sandwich to my partner, who very kindly insisted it tasted “great,” despite its appearance. Since I gave him the last two slices of bread, I half-heartedly ate my omelet out of a bowl, trying not to let the color weird me out too much.
To infuse some lolz into this heavy time, I asked other people to share stories of their unhinged quarantine meals, too. Luckily for them, their pandemic brain fog yielded better results than mine did. Not unlike the cream cheese and hot Cheeto sandwich you whip up in a stoned daze, they might've seemed hilariously sad or somewhat questionable at first glance — but in they end, they turned out to be *chef’s kiss* pure genius.
Flour tortilla with hummus and potato chips (pictured), and furikake quesadilla
Alex Washburn, Chattanooga, Tennessee
My husband and I started to social distance pretty hardcore last March. We were only going to the store once every two weeks when I made my tortilla creations. They were definitely inspired by a combination of not having fresh groceries, boredom (I lost my job working at a travel company in May), and other people’s pandemic meals. The Facebook group I belong to, where people share their pandemic meals, turns the bizarreness of pandemic foods into a fun, shared experience, something people haven’t had much of in the past year.
The tortilla with hummus and potato chips tasted really good, kind of like hummus and pita chips. The flavor profile of the furikake quesadilla reminded me of anchovy pizza, which I like. A friend in Japan sent me the furikake because I live in Tennessee and couldn’t find it anywhere here. He thought it would cheer me up, and it did!
Victor Xie, Castro Valley, California
I was craving some onigiri, or rice balls, but thought making only rice and furikake rice balls would be too boring. I've visited Japan a few times and bought rice balls from the convenience stores there every day. Some of my favorites had beef or some type of fish in them.
I looked in the fridge and saw that I had leftover chorizo and eggs from breakfast the day before. I'm a huge advocate of experimenting with different types of cuisines, and thought this would be a good pairing. But also, it was the only cooked meat I already had in the fridge, and I was lazy and didn't want to cook anything else, so why not?
I’d been stuck at home for four months already. I was definitely starting to get a little restless, and being home alone for most of the day didn't help, so I was just cooking the most random things as an outlet. I even made chicken nuggets completely from scratch, which TBH, was not worth the time and effort, but was delicious.
These chorizo onigiris were really good, too. My fiancée is Filipina, so we do have breakfast silogs (egg and garlic fried rice dishes) pretty often. The chorizo onigiris were essentially like silogs in a ball, but with some Japanese and Mexican influences.
Gluten-free waffle sandwich
T Duncan, New Orleans, Louisiana
It may not sound like much, but it fills that comfort food craving in the best way possible. First I fry up some eggs until they're crispy on the edges and runny in the yolk. Then I smash them between two gluten-free waffles. The yolk runs into the ridges of the waffles and makes a goopy mess that you get to sop up as you're eating it. I top it all off with Cajun seasoning, so it's savory, sweet, and a bit spicy.
I have to admit that the invention of my waffle sandwich (patent pending) came out of necessity rather than creativity. At the beginning of the pandemic, I could not find bread to make my favorite classic eggs and toast brekkie, so on a whim, I invented the waffle sandwich. I am never going back to plain old toast, and I don't think anyone else should live another day without trying this method. The fact that it's filling, and requires only two ingredients and five minutes to make has saved me during the pandemic when I was starving and under very tight deadlines as a journalist. It tastes like the best greasy spoon breakfast you ever had, and eating it feels sweet and a little mischievous, like you're getting away with eating kid food.
Orecchiette with honey mustard and Alfredo sauce, topped with prosciutto
Joseph Lamour, Washington, D.C.
I’m a big fan of sauce. Therefore, anything that counts as a sauce, whether it be honey mustard and Alfredo sauce, like in this particular dish, or caramelized onions and even homemade pickled red onions (juices included) is added to every dish, save for cereal. But eggs? Yes. Pasta? Of course. Ice cream? Not yet, but watch this space. Out of the jar sometimes? Yes’m. Once, I mixed onions with Alfredo, and added the concoction to sardine pasta, dressed with a honey mustard drizzle. Yes, it was delicious, but horrifying to look at.
All pandemic long, my sauces have been stocked and on rotation. Since I’m a 7 out of 10 in terms of anxiety on a normal day, I need my creature comforts. The panny upped my orders for sure! This dish was delicious, as are all my dishes. Even when they’re hideous.
Pizza of the gods
Ian Ellis, Orange, California
This dish is what I now like to call “pizza of the gods:” a single tortilla, some Mexican cheese blend, three pieces of salami, and a drizzle of Tapatío, thrown in the microwave for one minute. My wife and I try to limit our trips to the grocery store, so I suggested to her that we always stock up on ingredients for my favorite pandemic staples, including quesadillas, which explains the tortilla and cheese. Tapatío is always on deck in this household, and we just so happened to have some salami left over from a charcuterie board we enjoyed on a backyard date night.
I made this a couple of weeks ago while my wife was upstairs getting a makeup trial done for our wedding, which we had to postpone a year because of the pandemic. Who knew it could take hours to get your makeup done? Well I didn’t, and I was hungry. Admittedly, I’m a terrible cook who relies on my wife. She makes these loaded cheese quesadillas for me. I took it upon myself to put a spin on her version — a lazy spin, I guess. It was obviously delicious.