Fluffy beignets dusted with powdered sugar, crispy chocolate chip cookies, pasta with a fragrant homemade sauce… for students such as Oyster River senior Kate Domaleski and Phillips Andover junior Sabby Clemmons, quarantine has been a time for churning out recipe after delicious recipe.
For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity to discover new hobbies and rekindle old ones while staying safe at home. One of the most popular pastimes, as demonstrated by the sourdough/banana bread craze on social media, has been cooking. Young people in particular have been using the long weeks of isolation to bake, fry, and even microwave up some delicious meals, whether they’re exploring the culinary arts for the first time or are seasoned experts in the kitchen.
Clemmons is a prime example of a student who has established her love for all things cooking. “When I was in sixth grade I got really interested [in cooking] because of shows like Masterchef and Kids Baking Championship. I actually wanted to compete on one of those shows, so I started practicing a lot,” Clemmons explained. “It’s been a hobby that’s really stuck with me.” To illustrate her love of all things out of the oven, Clemmons runs a baking-themed Instagram page (@whatssabbybaking) where she shares photos of the various goodies she prepares, which have grown in considerable number since the beginning of quarantine in March.
“I go to a boarding school and I can’t bake there because there’s not really an oven for me to use,” Clemmons explained, mentioning she was grateful for the time quarantine has given her to pursue her culinary passions in her own kitchen. However, not every aspect of this situation has been ideal for Clemmons’ cooking interest.
“Because so many more people are taking up this hobby 一 which makes me really happy because I love sharing food with people and learning about different methods for different recipes 一 a lot of things have been missing from the grocery store, like flour and yeast, so it is a little bit more difficult to get some of the essentials,” Clemmons explained. The impact of this shortage can be seen by more than just avid home chefs, however. The signs in grocery stores that instruct shoppers to only buy one of a certain category of item 一 such as sugar or flour 一 are put up for all to see.
Domaleski agreed with Clemmons’ remarks, describing the situation as “almost apocalyptic.”
Despite the difficulty of getting ingredients, Domaleski was able to eventually find what she needed, using the long days at home to try some new recipes, her favorite of which was a fried dough pastry called beignets, inspired by none other than Disney’s Princess and the Frog.
“They didn’t taste as good as I thought,” Domaleski admitted, “but it was fun because I’d never had beignets before and it was exciting because Princess and the Frog is my favorite movie and I was listening to the soundtrack in the kitchen. [The beignets] reminded me of being in Disney, or some place that wasn’t home.” Like Domaleski, cooking can be a way for many students to escape the monotony of life at home and create something new and delicious. The recipe you follow doesn’t have to be as complex as Domaleski’s beignets to be good for your soul, however.
“I think creating things is really good for mental health,” Domaleski said, “because if you create something you love, you feel proud of your work.” In the age of remote learning, when assignments seem to quietly pile up in Schoology, finding moments of calm can be difficult, and whipping up a recipe might just be the best part of your day.
Not only can taking up cooking have delicious results and possibly relieve some stress, it’s a valuable life skill that can improve your overall health. Nick Ricciardi, culinary arts teacher and coach of the track team at Oyster River High School, explained why he believes cooking is a hobby worth trying.
“Knowing how to cook for yourself will allow you to eat healthier and more nutritious meals, and in general understanding what you’re making from scratch will allow you to manage all of your nutrients better,” Ricciardi explained. According to Ricciardi, cooking at home is a great way to avoid added sugars or hidden sodium and fats that are so common in processed foods. “The second you learn how to cook for yourself, you’re also learning how to keep yourself healthy, and I think that’s important.”
Some students, such as ORMS 8th grader Sarah Ellsworth, have transformed this hobby and life skill into a source of income. Ellsworth started a granola business out of her kitchen during quarantine because she was “bored, like all of us,” and decided granola was an easy, healthy, and delicious way to make some cash. Ellsworth strongly recommends her peers try cooking at home, stating that “[Cooking] cures boredom and is a great stress reliever. It’s something that’s really fun and usually it turns out okay, but even if it doesn’t look good, it always tastes good!”
Ricciardi agreed with Domaleski and Ellsworth’s assertions that there are mental health benefits to cooking that can help combat COVID anxieties. “A lot of people like to cook because it keeps your focus on what you’re doing, especially when it’s fast paced. It can be a distraction in a good way to get your mind off of other things.”
And, luckily for busy students, it’s never been easier to start cooking from home. Living in a digital world, there’s a wealth of recipes in the universe for students to try. Whether you prefer old-fashioned cookbooks like Clemmons, take inspiration from movies like Domaleski, or prefer to scroll through TikTok, Instagram, or Pinterest to find the latest food trends, there are thousands of recipes to try. So if you’re up for a challenge or feeling like a minute microwave mug cake is more your speed, there’s something for everyone, no matter what’s in the pantry or how much time you have.
Being stuck at home during this pandemic has opened up a world of opportunity for students to explore new hobbies, and cooking has not only been a popular and proven stress-buster, but an important life skill to develop. You don’t have to be an expert to learn your way around the kitchen, which Clemmons said best: “even if you can only cook eggs right now, why don’t you take those eggs and learn to make a soufflé?”
Photo courtesy of @whatssabbybaking on Instagram
SABBY’S FOOLPROOF CHOCOLATE CAKE
(adapted from spendwithpennies.com)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup Miracle Whip or mayonnaise
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking dish
- Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl
- Pour into prepared baking dish
- Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean
- Allow to cool completely