The non-panicky guide to cooking your way through quarantine

Throw together a quick curried rice with frozen peas and pantry spices.
Throw together a quick curried rice with frozen peas and pantry spices. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Let's not panic, folks. Let's not fight each other over toilet rolls and hand sanitisers. Let's just wash our hands a lot, be nice to each other and try to reduce, rather than increase, the odds of catching Coronavirus.

Most reasonable health officials and commentators seem to be saying that yes, many people will develop flu-like symptoms; yes, many people may have to self-quarantine; and, unless they are particularly vulnerable, yes, many people will get over it.

Keep calm and can on.
Keep calm and can on. Photo: iStock

So if we have to self-quarantine, let's eat well. Yesterday I went straight to the kitchen to see if I have what it takes to last for two weeks with some modicum of comfort. Yikes. Will I run out of Scandinavian crispbreads or sambal oelek? How much Vegemite is left in the jar and how much chicken stock is in the freezer? I then moved swiftly to the wine rack and booze cupboard to make sure appropriate comfort levels could be maintained. I live in fear of the panic-buying and subsequent shortage of pinot noir.

The last thing we should do is to give up and live on home-delivered pizza for 14 consecutive nights. My non-panicky suggestions start with doing some sensible stocking-up (for two weeks, not two years). Check your supplies of foundation foods such as flour, sugar, rice, oats, pasta and eggs. Canned tomatoes, olive oil, canned tuna, honey, soy sauce, miso paste.

Don't ignore delicious things that work as flavour-bombs for other foods, such as pickles, chilli sauces, capers and anchovies. Fresh herbs may not last for weeks, but pots of rosemary, thyme and sage will. Root vegetables have good staying power. Ditto, frozen vegetables (Must. Have. Peas.). Lemons are also essential.

Add miso to your carbonara pasta for a simple flavour boost, straight from the pantry.
Add miso to your carbonara pasta for a simple flavour boost, straight from the pantry. Photo: William Meppem

The key to thriving and not just surviving self-quarantine will be the ability to stay interested and engaged, and not get depressed or fearful. My answer? Eating. Cook food you get excited about.

Let's face it, you will have more time, so put it to good use; knuckle down and do something extraordinary. Bake your own bread, cook your first chocolate souffle, try flavour combinations you have never even dreamed of before. Make it a mission to use anything that's been sitting ignored in the cupboard for more than five years (hello, canned figs). Some of the greatest recipes in the world were created by someone stuck at home making do with what they had to hand.

It's a good opportunity to take things back a step, to how they used to be made. Instead of buying canned lentils and chickpeas, buy them dried. You'll have time to soak them overnight, and cook them slowly, and they'll be better for you.

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Dig out those appliances that have worked their way down the ladder of relevance to be stored in the cupboard under the stairs or in the garage, and put them to work. The ice-cream machine, the yoghurt maker, the soda machine. Oh my god, coffee! There's going to be a run on home espresso machines.

The best way to stay active and stop feeling sorry for yourself is to find a purpose, and do something for others. If it does happen to me, I'll probably set myself up on social media with a public recipe service: tell me what you have left in the pantry, and I'll tell you how to cook it. A can of beans and a few sausages? I'll send you my cassoulet recipe from the south of France. The scraggy ends of four different cheeses and half a pack of pasta? Four-cheese macaroni. Stale bread and an egg? French toast. In my case, to serve with canned figs. Grab yourself a hashtag, a support group and a new set of online buddies, and suddenly you're having a good time.

In reality, the allotted time will probably play out like your typical new year resolutions. The first few days will be spent cooking, cleaning, doing chores and keeping fit. After that, it's back to mindless snacking, drinking too much and sleeping late, until it's time to go back to work.

Top your bunker French toast with any jam, marmalade or canned fruit in the cupboard.
Top your bunker French toast with any jam, marmalade or canned fruit in the cupboard. Photo: William Meppem

Also, no whinging. Bear in mind that it's not wartime, and you are not camping out underground without power, running water or communication. You are in your own home (hopefully). So set the table for dinner every night, light candles, listen to music, use the good wine glasses. Civilisation must be maintained.