Mind games

What to cook at home when all you wanna do is get out

As soon as I start to recover from a cold or flu, I inevitably overdo it. The first day that I start to feel like myself again, get an appetite back, a little energy? I go all in. I run the errands, reply to the emails, I might workout, I might even see a friend. And then the following morning I will be down for the count again. I will think to myself, “when, oh when will I learn?” I won’t. I’m resigned to this now. But knowing this about myself means I can see it coming from a mile away when, let’s say, a global pandemic looks as though it’s beginning to ebb rather than flow. The ice is only just starting to thaw and I’ve already got one hand on my swimsuit.



What does one cook when feeling that sort of itchy restlessness? I mean, would you rather feed your sourdough starter in your sweatpants or go out for dinner with the family and friends you’ve only seen from the neck up for a year? While I make my pretend restaurant reservations, I have been finding cooking inspiration in at-home dinners like Spanish tortilla, meatballs with a romesco sauce (I prefer ground chicken), and of course this bright and easy and kid-requested roasted aloo gobhi.

I have focused more on breakfasts these days because if I don’t think ahead, it’ll be toast seven days a week. This creamy fonio porridge is my new favorite thing. Baked oatmeal with fresh or frozen fruit and strawberry jam, too, are constants in my house. I am a sweets-for-breakfast kind of girl and only rarely make eggs. But when I do, I go all in and have found myself craving these spicy mayo breakfast sandwiches.

This weekend, instead of looking at random flights again, I’ll occupy myself by making Bhaji burgers with the works. When you’ve got a burger mix, a dip, veggies, and an optional chutney to prep, your focus is more on getting it all into your belly and less on where in the world you’d rather be. It’s called being present and mindful, or something. I may also have to make this dense, rich, gorgeous chocolate cake.

A miso-glazed eggplant served with garlicky sushi rice and a Vesper to wash it down feels like “ooh yay, I’m staying in” rather than “ugh, we have to keep staying in.” It’s all about that spin. (Add a half pound of quickly cooked, salty ground pork to the mix if you want to make it heartier.) I’d say the same is true of a root vegetable galette, served with a spicy and citrus-y chicken salad and an ice cold Martinez. That’s an evening.

It is still cold (in some places, I’m told), so here’s to a cozy night with winter miso ramen which would be lovely with a bottle of red wine, slippers, an extra blanket, and a screening of Nomadland. Likewise, this everything green soup is incredibly comforting and warming… in spite of how healthy it is. Pair it with a glass of white wine or a hot toddy and a warm bath (with candles, don’t even think about skipping the candles).

I made a mushroom Bolognese at the start of this pandemic a year ago and while I’m not bringing it up in any way to mark the occasion or start some sort of tradition, I do highly recommend cooking it.

There are some things we’ll be glad to keep when the world feels more familiar again. Like banana bread. I don’t see myself quitting that anytime soon.


In this spirit, a relevant round of ASK NICOLE!

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Q: [My husband’s] birthday is next weekend and we’re still being really careful, not eating outdoors yet. But I want to make it special. Can you think of something we could cook or make together that would be different, fun to do, delicious??

A: It’s so hard to make cooking at home special right now, I get it. It’s even harder to surprise someone you’re stuck inside with. If you’re not completely over Zoom omg, book a private virtual wine tasting with Domaine Carneros (bubbles galore) or with our friends at The Wine Party Co. Pair those with something special to eat, like creamy truffle pasta, Roe caviar with chips and creme frâiche, and/or fried chicken. Or make pizzas together, a bottle of bubbly open as you do, and some marinated olives to snack on. Chocolate cake or pistachio cupcakes, with candles of course, for dessert.

Another idea is to surprise him with homemade chocolate truffles. Maybe let him choose the toppings? You could put out little dishes of cocoa powder, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, sprinkles, whatever you think he’d like.

Whatever you do, hit play on our Cooking Music 5 so you can dance around the kitchen together.

I’m READY to go somewhere, anywhere, all the wheres. And we will. We’ve out our appetites back and a little energy, but the smartest thing to do is stay in and hold on. I guess if there was ever a time to learn that lesson… Ugh.