Welcome to The Eye’s quarantine cookbook! In this collection of recipes, memories, and stories, staff members of The Eye have contributed dishes that they have been enjoying during the quarantine. These recipes not only result in tasty meals and treats, but also hold special meaning to each staffer. We hope these recipes below will speak to you and bring you comfort during these uncertain times.
French Press Coffee
I dream of a Le Creuset French press painted in “Marseille”: a dark, marine shade of blue that covers the careful curves of the stoneware appliance and shines in photos. This coffee pot is part of a larger fantasy I’ve woven over the past weeks—I daydream about a cloud of dismay parting to reveal a world that is quieter, calmer, prettier, preferably bucolic, certainly full of warm mugs. When not caught up in that vision, I make coffee in my kitchen. My French press is not nearly as pretty as the Le Creuset model, but it serves its purpose. From boiling water and a few tablespoons of ground coffee comes something rich and dark. The process of completing several small, separate steps—put kettle on hot stove, grind whole beans, combine in press, stir, wait, plunge—makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I am no quarantine baker, nor social distancing chef. My culinary ambitions are small, so I am easily satisfied.
Even as the days blend together, every morning is distinctly marked by an iteration of this ritual. I reach into my home’s cupboards and pour coffee into the familiar mugs that bear the logos of my high school orchestra, local running races, and nearby bookstores. Then I sit down, wrap my hands around a mug, and wait for yet another day to come and go.
Has this ever happened to you? It’s morning—better yet, it’s breakfast time. You’re planning out your meal. You don’t have much to work with. You have an egg. You have bread. But to toast the bread and cook the egg separately and place them on a plate and call it breakfast? Absolutely absurd. Why distinguish egg from bread? Why alienate the egg from the bread? Why can’t the egg and bread be together? Then, you burst into tears thinking about how you are going to impose a tragic rift between egg and bread—the perfect pair. You slam your head on the countertop because you are the dichotomizer, the ill-willed conqueror that gerrymanders artificial lines between egg and bread when the egg and the bread are meant to be together. Well, no longer. This quarantine, I propose that you prepare an Egg-in-a-Bread. Yes, this proposal is a radical blurring of the egg-bread barrier, but you need this now more than ever. Today, we are distanced from one another. Today, we are separated from our friends. Today, we are lonelier than a gregarious snail without a shell. Just like the egg and the bread. Tragically, as a result of social distancing, we cannot be the Egg-in-a-Bread. But a person can dream, can’t they?
Cut a circle out of a slice of bread. Throw that bread in a pan over some butter. Crack your egg into that circle. Flip. (Or don’t, if you’re an ooey-gooey egg kind of person). The result? A unified equilibrium shared between egg and bread—the harmoniously coextensive Egg-in-a-Bread.
I have always thrived on routine. I am happiest when I know what to do at what time and when I have a schedule set in place for my day. This obsession with routine started at a very young age—as a five-year-old, I would write out to-do lists for each of my family members—and it continues to manifest itself in my meal planning.
For each year of high school, I had a specific breakfast that I would have every morning. During my first year, it was fruit (preferably grapefruit); sophomore year, a peanut butter and banana smoothie; junior year, an egg sandwich with vegetarian sausage; and senior year, a bowl of oatmeal with a spoonful of peanut butter and a drizzle of honey. This routine helped me stay on track with my schoolwork and swim team training as well as obtain a sense of independence in an adult-controlled environment.
Now, my daily breakfast has three ingredients: yogurt, granola, and fruit. While on campus, I ate this meal often—the only difference was that I would enjoy it at Ferris Booth Commons rather than my own kitchen. But at home, a yogurt parfait has become my new obsession.
Although I certainly had favorite meals from the Columbia dining halls, my breakfast habits were not as rigid; I found routine in other areas with the help of my Google Calendar. But now, I rely on the consistency of little things, like this breakfast combination, to provide some sort of normalcy amid the timeless vortex that quarantine seems to create. An added bonus is the extra probiotics that make up for the absence of kombucha in my diet, which is no longer easily accessible from Blue Java Café or Morton Williams. Though I sometimes lose track of the hours or days of the week, I can count on the predictability of my yogurt, granola, and fruit each morning to motivate me and get me in the right headspace to tackle the day.
Vegan Moong Dal Sheera
Serves about four people
- 1 cup moong dal
- 1/2 cup vegan butter
- 2 cups almond milk
- 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon of nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios)
This recipe was created during quarantine by my 80-year-old grandmother (ba in Gujarati). My ba is staying with my family until the lockdown is over because she cannot stay on her own. Ba has always been passionate about cooking. She is the person who inspires and supports my own passion for vegan cooking and baking. Ever since I decided to give up dairy, she has always tried to veganize my favorite Indian foods. Moong dal sheera is the latest of her creations. It’s a traditional Gujarati dessert served at weddings that is made from split yellow lentils cooked with butter, milk, and sugar. Ba surprised me with it, actually. One morning, she casually asked me where I kept the vegan butter and proceeded to sneak downstairs to concoct this amazing dessert. Afterward, she whispered to me that she had been wanting to try this recipe out for over a year. When I tasted it, I was blown away. The warm, soft lentils intertwined with cardamom gave me flashbacks to the buffet station at every Indian wedding I’d ever been to. But my family and I can agree—this recipe far surpasses any of those memories.
- Roast moong dal over low heat for a few minutes without oil.
- Grind roasted moong dal into coarsely ground pieces.
- Melt vegan butter in a pan and add the moong dal grounds.
- Stir the mixture until it becomes pinkish and you can smell the aroma.
- Add two cups of almond milk and stir.
- When it thickens, add around one half-cup of sugar (or to taste). At this point, it will loosen again.
- Keep stirring it until it gets thick again and add a teaspoon of cardamom, a few saffron strands, and shredded almonds, cashews halves, and/or pistachios.
- Serve warm!
Pecan Caramel Bars
I’ve always loved the combination of pecans and caramel. Well, I have at least for a while. I grew out of my peanut and walnut allergy when I was nine years old—yes, it can happen!—and a whole new world of nuttiness opened up to me. Although I had only been allergic to two varieties of nuts, I had been taught growing up to avoid anything with nuts just to be safe. I can’t remember when I first had the mouthwatering bite of a pecan dessert—probably in the form of a pecan pie, or perhaps in a tart at a bakery in my hometown. I discovered that I loved pecans, especially when paired with caramel. So, unsurprisingly, when I perused the pastry display case at the Blue Java Café in Lerner Hall during my first few days on campus, I knew right away what my order would be—a pecan caramel bar. It was melt-in-my-mouth deliciousness.
The treat quickly became one of my favorite things to eat at Columbia, as it was perfect for an afternoon snack or dessert. Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for burning through dining dollars. Aware of my love for these treats—and its financial consequences—I gave up Blue Java’s pecan caramel bars at the end of February for Lent. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be coming back to campus after spring break, and that my plans for returning would be so uncertain. I miss Columbia a lot—I miss my friends, my classes and professors, my dorm room, my campus, and, of course, my pecan caramel bars.
But while it’s not possible to go back to Morningside Heights or see anyone in person, it is possible to make the food that we miss, if we’re lucky enough to have access to the ingredients. I wanted to remind myself that even when my circumstances are wildly out of my control, there’s always at least one small thing that I fix on my own. So one night, I tried out this recipe for pecan caramel bars, and I got some pretty good results. I didn’t let them cool long enough and lost some points in neatness, but on the upside, warm and gooey caramel pairs perfectly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’m reminded of sitting on a stone bench warmed by the sun between classes, wearing my earbuds and listening to my favorite song. Of course, it’s not the same, but when I close my eyes and take a bite, I can almost believe I’m back at Columbia.
April is a month full of birthdays for my family. My Facebook calendar is cluttered with the little birthday cake emoji next to the names of my aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and grandparents. My little brother kicks off the celebrations on March 31 (yes, it’s not technically in April, but it’s close enough).
We have birthday traditions—like getting together with extended family, going to a restaurant, and dressing up a grocery store sheet cake—but as my brother’s birthday was the first celebrated during the quarantine, we didn’t know where any of our traditions stood without being able to see loved ones or going out to eat. The first step to reimagining tradition: rethinking the birthday cake.
With more than enough time on our hands, we decided to join in on the quarantine baking trend, rather than buy a cake 20 minutes before the celebration (like we normally do). My brother was never a big fan of cake, so I decided on trying this recipe inspired by slutty brownies for the most heart-stoppingly sweet cake-like (but not quite a cake) dessert that I could find. It requires a full box’s worth of brownie batter, a 32-ounce roll of chocolate chip cookies, a full pack of Oreos, frosting made to emulate the vanilla cream filling of an Oreo, and some chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.
Against all odds, it was edible—yes, it was very sweet, but if you isolate each part, edible. Before my brother blew out his candles, much of my extended family joined a Zoom call to sing happy birthday. Between that call; takeout from a local staple; and a strange, but worth it dessert, the whole evening felt like a twist on tradition. As April began and more celebrations came to pass, so did more birthday Zoom calls, additional baking adventures, and a new kind of birthday normalcy. Maybe screaming “Happy birthday!” into a webcam will become a new tradition, at least for now.
Please Do Not Make Your Own Yog(h)(o)urt
Yogurt. Yoghurt. Yogourt. Yoghourt. There are many ways to spell the scrumptious combination of streptococcus, thermophilus, and lactobacillus bulgaricus—but only two ways to ferment it. Here’s how:
The first, certainly the easiest (and most futile), requires milk and yoghourt. Yes, you read that correctly. You need yoghurt to make yogourt.
- Heat up some milk in a saucepan or pot (four to eight cups, and don’t even think about using skim milk, you animal) to just below simmering, when bubbles start to form on the outer rim.
- Take the milk off the stove and cool it just enough so you can put your pinkie finger in it—it should still be warm.
- Set aside one-half to three-quarters of a cup of plain yogourt with live active culture—which you could have just eaten instead of doing this because—believe me—you don’t even get that much yoghourt out of this, especially if Greek is your goal.
- Fill the rest of the cup of yoghurt with about one half-cup of milk and stir until it is homogeneous in texture and color.
- Pour the yoghourt-milk concoction into your initial pot of milk. You can keep it all in the pot that was used to heat the yogurt.
- Cover the pot with a lid and wrap it in a few towels to keep it warm and let sit overnight. I usually wait about 12 hours.
- Put over a colander with a cheesecloth and then let sit in the fridge until it reaches your desired thickness (I usually strain for six hours if I am making Greek yoghurt and for about two for regular yogourt), and then save the whey—the yellow liquid left after straining—for making ricotta or protein-filled smoothies.
Alternatively, if you’re craving yogurt late at night and realize you don’t have any, here’s what you do:
- Buy a bunch of milk.
- Fill literally hundreds of cups with milk (we’re talking, like, hundreds).
- Let ALL of the milk spoil and make sure the cups are warm as the milk spoils—you can cover each cup with a towel if you’d like.
- Taste every single cup of milk after it spoils.
- The cup of milk that doesn’t sicken you/kill you is prime yogurt-making material.
- Once you have found that precious probiotic cup, you can make yogurt in the same way as above, this time from scratch. If you do not find a single cup of milk that does not kill you, repeat this process from step one.
Naturally, this is the best way to make yoghourt. No longer will you feel like you are wasting your time by turning yogourt into yoghurt. You will have also added a bit of a thrill to your otherwise dull, quarantined life, which I believe makes the process of discovering the right bacteria even more delicious.
While both yogurt-making options are viable, I advise you to just buy a couple tubs and eat that instead. Again, in the time it would take you to prepare this yoghurt, you could mow like two lawns for $5 each and buy more yogurt than you will feasibly make with this recipe. Yet I make yoghourt biweekly—I like to be part of the process. I like to see my yogurt mature and grow into the bacteria I’d be proud of eating, and I like holding the yoghourt’s tiny probiotic hand every step of the way. Making food from scratch is frequently a tedious task, but a worthwhile endeavor to pursue.
You’re welcome for this useless recipe, which I am strongly advising you to not attempt because it is an utter waste of time. If you somehow manage to become trapped on a dairy farm and begin to crave yoghurt, at least you shall not be helpless.
Snickerdoodles aren’t even my favorite kind of cookie (I’m a chocolate chip girl, through and through), but they’ve been my go-to dessert to bake during the quarantine. I’m a stress-baker, and snickerdoodles are a favorite among my friends here in Atlanta. Throughout high school, I’d bring baked treats to school, staying up late into the night and whisking all my worries into the batter. Sometimes, baking is my attempt at doing something productive during bouts of procrastination. Other times, it is the reward at the end of a tiresome week filled with readings, exams, and everything in between. Despite the relief that baking brings me in the process, the best part is sharing the finished product with friends. I’d bring a batch into school, and we’d all eat them at lunch, talking about our days and laughing in between bites of cinnamon-sugary bliss. Now, in this time of social distancing, my old friends and I still can’t share snickerdoodles together, despite all of us being back home in the same city.
Nevertheless, it’s still comforting to come back to snickerdoodles and borrow a sense of normalcy from my memories of the recipe. The smell of cinnamon and sugar wafting through the house makes it feel like an October day, right when the leaves are changing from green to yellow-orange and everything sweet has that sugary-spice flavor. There are no worries about an impending pandemic, about life literally being turned upside, about my entire reality changing. I feel like I’m back in high school, totally ignoring my Advanced Placement literature work and instead focusing on perfectly coating the cookies in cinnamon sugar. While I long for my life from before, these snickerdoodles are a source of relief. I hope these cookies can do that for you too—they can make you feel secure and cozy and at home, even if it’s just for one bite. Hopefully, you can share them with the people you care about, just as I plan to do.
Enjoy leafing through our ninth issue!