With the second national lockdown in full swing, students’ anxieties are escalating, with many of us only leaving the house for a food shop. And as exciting as that can be, it’s fair to say being stuck within four walls, your home away from home, lockdown is certainly one of the most stressful, albeit unexpected, parts of student life. Which is why so many of us have planned our days differently this time around, with goals to achieve and hobbies to pursue.
Anticipating that I would be a homebody for most of my third year, I returned to Durham with a suitcase full of cake pans and instant noodles. Despite my newfound love for cooking and baking, I am certainly not immune to culinary ruts — these can be attributed to little else but sheer laziness.
This year, I’ve eaten far too many one-pot meals straight from the rice cooker, and frozen food straight from the oven tray. As someone who doesn’t cook much, and can survive for longer than I should off Tesco’s meal deals and more Lebaneat than anyone should ever admit, lockdown has allowed me ample time to flick through a Gordon Ramsay cookbook, experiment with more than just gnocchi and pesto, and reach into the far depths of my house’s baking cupboard.
In light of the ever-growing queue outside Tesco’s (and all the home delivery slots seem to be full), I’ve been procrastinating on my weekly food shop. As a result, I’ve created some questionable concoctions, none of which I am particularly proud of. The selection includes soy sauce spaghetti (an unsuccessful and overly ambitious fusion), chicken curry with dinosaur nuggets (in place of a katsu fillet), and most recently, pesto toast when I ran out of pasta.
Luckily, lockdown has coaxed me to compensate for my lack of culinary creativity. This term, you’ll find me preparing a constant stream of baked goods: my housemates have certainly reaped the benefits of this. Last year, some of my favourite memories were spent baking at home with my friends. I firmly stand by the opinion that baking is an excellent way to de-stress, especially for a group of voracious eaters who won’t be venturing out of the house anytime soon.
Aside from your own mental health being supported as you delve into yet another cake recipe, cooking and baking within my household has enabled my friends and I to actually spend some time together. Which seems inevitable considering we are, quite literally, stuck in the house, however, sometimes that has reduced to us all isolating within our rooms, more of a coping mechanism than sharing our sorrows. Yet, once the sweet, sweet scent of cinnamon buns comes wafting through the doors, and we all prowl downstairs to find the oven booming with chocolatey gooeyness, there’s nothing more familial and homely.
Due to the pandemic, friends’ birthdays are no longer chaotic and crowded affairs. Instead, small, household-only celebrations call for smaller and more customisable cakes, to be collected at an appropriate social distance. So far, I’ve made carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and tried my hand at Tasty’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake.
Now, late-night snack runs, post night out pizza, and impromptu brunches are a thing of the past. Whether you’re coming together as a house, or spending some time alone, the mostly wholesome (and sometimes messy) joy of cooking might help you unwind after a long day. There’s something very cathartic about chopping vegetables (perhaps not onions, but in my experience mushrooms are very fun to chop) and watching pizza dough rise.
To my housemates, I kindly dedicate four words: come dine with me?
Image: Constance Lam