A year of dinners stuck at home under quarantine

A bowl of ramen at Ramen Ryoma in the Hillcrest
neighborhood of San Diego. Lauren J. Mapp
A year ago today, I had my last meal out in an actual, sit-down, indoor restaurant. 

I got in a car with my then fiance Peter and future sister-in-law Megan, we drove to a restaurant, sat inside at Ramen Ryoma in Hillcrest, slurped down bowls of noodles and had fun without much worrying involved. It felt like a fairly normal — albeit quiet — Friday night.

Sure, I had started working from home the day prior, but I wasn’t too worried at that moment. I was young and healthy and the novel coronavirus seemed so far away from our booth.

But as we walked through the barren aisles of Whole Foods Market after dinner to pick up some essentials “just in case,” the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic hit me hard. Few groceries could be found on the shelves, and the items that were still available were things like red lentil rotini, which I never would’ve bothered buying before.

We threw what we could in a shopping cart, checked to see if there was any toilet paper — there wasn’t — and headed home. When we hugged Megan goodbye that night, I had no idea a whole year would go by without hugging her, and without knowing when we’ll get to again, even though she lives a few blocks away.

Back home later that night, Peter and I canceled our trip to Los Angeles planned for the next morning. It felt unsafe to go there for a weekend full of snacking when things were changing so rapidly, and the museums were all shuttering their doors.

Six days later, California’s stay-at-home order was enacted and restaurants closed down. 

On so many weekends over the past year, I’ve tried and failed to sit down to write pieces for this blog about the food I’ve cooked in quarantine, the past trips I’m reminiscing over, the future ones I want to take, or what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on my mental and physical health. 

Even when I have ideas of what I want to write about, I either draw a blank or break down in tears. 

Being mostly stuck at home all year has been an emotional journey more treacherous than that of Frodo Baggins’ trip to Mordor, and one that I am not ready to travel on again anytime soon. 

Peter and I after saying "I do" on Sept. 5,
2020. Kristyn Taulane
Before the novel coronavirus changed everything about life as we knew it, I used to eat out all the time. On the busiest of days, when I just didn’t have time to meal prep or cook dinner, I would sometimes eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus coffee breaks in between. 

I kept a list of places to check out, favorite spots we loved returning to and planned every trip abroad around what foods I wanted to try. When I had the time to cook, I made elaborate meals to share with my friends and family.

It’s crazy how many things have changed over the past 365 days.

Many of our favorite restaurants have shut down forever, or I won’t be comfortable visiting them in the future because they remained open when they weren’t supposed to. Our meals out with friends have been replaced with picnics that go late into the cool evenings because we don't want to say goodbye.

Instead of a pizza truck and s’mores buffet being

served to 150 guests at our wedding, we had a small, socially distant picnic elopement with only our immediate families and wedding party. We served pre-packaged meals of chicken and gyro kebabs from Luna Grill, along with individually wrapped cupcakes from Cupcakes Squared. 

Because we’re now cooking most of our meals at home, I lost 30 pounds without even trying — even though some of those meals have been things like homemade pasta, brownies that we ate in one sitting and cheese-filled onion rings.

Restaurants have now been able to serve meals outdoors for almost two months, but here I am spending my Saturday night eating dinner at home with my husband. While I am comfortable picking up food from a restaurant, I won’t be emotionally ready to eat out until I’ve been vaccinated.

I wonder how things might change over the next year, but I am certainly thankful to be happy and healthy at home tonight.

By the way, I bought that box of red lentil rotini last year and it is still tucked away in my cupboard, where it’ll likely remain until a really rainy day, or until I cook it to celebrate the day the stay-at-home order being lifted.

When you're bored and stuck at home, cheese-filled, salt and pepper
chip-crusted onion rings sound like a great idea. Lauren J. Mapp


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