The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock)
AntisocialThe society column for people afraid of society, written by The Root's Editor-in-Chief and resident Bipolar Disorder expert/sufferer.

“I’ll do something that makes me happy.”

That’s how I justified that red velvet cake I made that I didn’t even bother to put icing on, as I was so happy to eat it just plain. Greedily, like a little kid. But it was a large

and I had to eventually slice it up and freeze it, cramming the leftover cake into a freezer already crowded with everything from frozen fish to frozen chicken to frozen fruits and veggies.

My fridge these days looks crazy. It’s overly full and no matter how much I cook, it doesn’t seem to be reducing. My counters are teeming with dried goods, box pasta and seasonings. So last week, I started cooking things just to free up space; an initially futile feeling situation that gave away to experimentation, and, finally, “Why not cook/bake/fry this? It’ll be fun!”

So here are the 19 things I’ve cooked since I started isolating in my home due to a global pandemic and what these 19 things say about my mental state at the time I made them.

Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

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Lemon Pepper Baked Chicken, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Seasoned Rice

Lemon Pepper Baked Chicken, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Seasoned Rice

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Lemon Pepper Baked Chicken, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Seasoned Rice

March 19, 2020

Mental State: Denial

This was before the wheels totally fell off the wagon. A beautiful time when I didn’t know what we were all getting ourselves into with this social distancing thing. I was still attempting to eat healthily and prepare delicious, savory meals that were full of veggies and protein. How hopeful I was that this would only be a few weeks or maybe a month. This meal says “gotta keep this figure in check because you’ll be out someday again.”

It didn’t last.

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A Boxed Funfetti Bundt Cake

A Boxed Funfetti Bundt Cake

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

A Boxed Funfetti Bundt Cake

March 22, 2020

Mental State: Worried but still in denial

This says, “I wanted cake, but I’m lazy,” despite the fact that I know how to make a cake from scratch, I didn’t want to do that. “Who has the time?” I thought as I threw together this Pillsbury-made masterpiece of sugary bliss. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet where I realized all I would have was time. I immediately posted this cake to the ‘gram because, why not? What a fun diversion!

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Bucatini Pasta with Fresh Red Sauce and Parmesan

Bucatini Pasta with Fresh Red Sauce and Parmesan

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Bucatini Pasta with Fresh Red Sauce and Parmesan

March 22, 2020

Mental state: Bored, but optimistic

As I’d hadn’t accepted I was going to be “in da house” for weeks on end, I wasn’t very strategic or “fancy” about my meals. I was still looking for shortcuts. I made a fresh tomato sauce (that I ultimately did not like) and put it on my bucatini, a pasta I love. I was “experimenting” but not serious about this meal at all. Much like I was “experimenting” with not going out everywhere. It’s not a pandemic! I swear!

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Beef and Vegetable Stew With Cornbread

Beef and Vegetable Stew With Cornbread

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Beef and Vegetable Stew With Cornbread

March 26, 2020

Mental state: “I should have gone home when I had the chance.”

So by this point, I’m officially homesick, as I am now making food my parents used to make for me. In this case, it is my mother’s stew, which is made with beef that you slow cook over the stove with a tomato base in the soup. Throw in every veggie you can find, bake some homemade cornbread (the non-sweet kind, please!), and be taken away to a simpler time before coronavirus. A time when Mommy was in the kitchen and you came home from a long day at school in the wintertime to be warmed up by this hearty stew. (Side note: My grandfather hated this stew. He felt that all soup was “for sick people.”)

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Bacon Fried Rice With Chicken and Vegetables

Bacon Fried Rice With Chicken and Vegetables

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Bacon Fried Rice With Chicken and Vegetables

March 28, 2020

Mental State: Fractures showing, growing awareness that I’m going to be alone for a minute

I’m from St. Louis, where we get pretty insane about our Chinese food (and have a bunch of un-PC names for the places where we get it). People from my hometown claim that the takeout joints in the STL surpass all others. I actually don’t agree, but that might have more to do with the fact that I was raised on pork fried rice, thanks to my mom who loved…um…pork fried rice and never bothered to try ANY OTHER KIND of Americanized Chinese food. I truly thought all Chinese takeout joints only sold fried rice until a guy I was dating in college started taking me to the Chinese buffet. (Hoo-boy, buffets are going to be dead after coronavirus, right? All of us just eating out of the same Szechuan-style tofu bin? Not safe.) Anyway, I made this bacon fried rice because I missed home and I miss my mother, who died in December 2018 from dementia.

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Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Blueberry Muffins

March 31, 2020

Mental State: “Looking up flights to St. Louis”

OMG, can you tell how homesick I am? The blueberriest of muffins jumped out as I was feeling nostalgic for muffins from my halcyon days as a goofy kid. I put together this first batch based on the Jordan Marsh recipe posted in the New York Times. They came out far superior to the first time I ever made blueberry muffins from scratch two years ago, but they were still not quite where I wanted them to be. Regardless, I ate six muffins over four days and froze the rest, back when there was still room in my freezer for fun things like leftover blueberry muffins. I grew up loving blueberry muffins as a kid when my mom would whip up the box mix version of this. It was one of the first things I ever learned how to bake and could easily make on my own as a teen. It’s a comfort food and I needed comforting by March 31 as I fully gave over to the dark side and started eating carbs every day without shame.

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Pan-Seared Scallops and Penne Pasta With Vodka Sauce

Pan-Seared Scallops and Penne Pasta With Vodka Sauce

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Pan-Seared Scallops and Penne Pasta With Vodka Sauce

April 1, 2020

Mental State: Noah Cyrus

With the wheels now completely off in terms of my diet and sanity, I’m in full comfort food all the time mode. I go back to my old friend box pasta and have her meet up with my new friend—juicy, buttery scallops. These scallops were, hands down, the best scallops I ever cooked and this was the moment where I started to crack a little, as I love to cook for an audience. I pose the question: If you fry up the perfect scallop and no one else but you is there to eat it, did you really do it? Did you?

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Garlic Lemon Pepper Shrimp, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Sourdough Bread

Garlic Lemon Pepper Shrimp, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Sourdough Bread

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Garlic Lemon Pepper Shrimp, Charred Brussels Sprouts and Sourdough Bread

April 2, 2020

Mental State: Bargaining

Realizing I’ve gone too far carb-loading, I try to bring it back with shrimp and Brussels sprouts—yet, SOMEHOW THIS SOURDOUGH BREAD GOT IN THERE. Hmmm. How? It’s almost as if for every protein forward, I take two carbs back.

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Cheddar Omelet With Salsa, Avocado and Bacon

Cheddar Omelet With Salsa, Avocado and Bacon

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Cheddar Omelet With Salsa, Avocado and Bacon

April 6, 2020

Mental State: “Fuck My Health, I’m eating the whole ass egg!”

After eating granola, blueberries and Greek yogurt for breakfast almost every morning I finally go “fuck it” and crack open some eggs. And not just one or two eggs, but a three-egg omelet with melted mild cheddar inside and topped with salsa and chili lime hot sauce. For fun, I throw in some pepper bacon, sour cream and avocado. This meal is so delicious, I proceed to have it for breakfast almost every morning, sometimes adding jalapenos or frying up some hashbrowns on the side. Meaning, I’m just screaming “I want high cholesterol” with these very whole yolk n’ all omelets. But hey, I tell myself, at least it’s not a funfetti cake! (Lies! This is probably worse, as I only ate some of that cake and I ate this for breakfast for almost a week.)

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Spicy Baked Chicken, Leftover Charred Brussels Sprouts and Mac n’ Cheese

Spicy Baked Chicken, Leftover Charred Brussels Sprouts and Mac n’ Cheese

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Spicy Baked Chicken, Leftover Charred Brussels Sprouts and Mac n’ Cheese

April 6, 2020

Mental State: Giving lip service to my cholesterol while crying into mac n’ cheese

Here we go. Notice the very small portion of sprouts compared to the river of mac n’ cheese. Oh, mac n’ cheese! So easy to screw up, but since I don’t care about carbs anymore at this point, I’m eating for pure pleasure and have all the time in the world to devote to this batch of macaroni made with a variety of cheeses over a stovetop. I’m also, by this point, starting to realize I am deeply depressed and I’m trying to fill up the people-sized hole in my life with cheese. But knowing this doesn’t stop me from eating all the mac n’ cheese.

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The Cheeseburger

The Cheeseburger

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

The Cheeseburger

April 8, 2020

Mental State: Dining in Decadence and Denial

At this point, it’s two days before my beloved mother’s birthday and I’m a mess. I spend the mornings crying and the afternoons working. My only respite? This delicious cheeseburger topped with sweet bread and butter pickles. So good I ate two burgers that day...for about three days in a row.

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Beef Chili

Beef Chili

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Beef Chili

April 10, 2020

Mental State: Demi Lovato

Anyone? Anyone out there?

I was alone and it was my mom’s birthday. So I decided to make my dad’s beef chili, eat a bowl of it, forget about the rest, curl up into a ball and cry.

Oh, the chili turned out decent, but not as flavorful as I would have liked, thanks to me, on this rare occasion, not using enough seasoning on something. Blame it on the loneliness.

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Baked Mostaccioli in Homemade Red Sauce

Baked Mostaccioli in Homemade Red Sauce

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Baked Mostaccioli in Homemade Red Sauce

April 15, 2020

Mental State: It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

All the news is sad. Black people are disproportionately suffering physically, mentally and financially in this crisis where many of the deaths are of people who look like me. I realize I need to pull myself together and get back to some positivity so I can be a better citizen and editor.

As if on cue (thanks to going back on my antidepressants), I emerged from my funk ready to cook again! Will it be healthy? God, no. I just got over being depressed. I’m supposed to make myself more depressed with broccoli or something? Instead, I made this amazing mostaccioli (which also reminds me of St. Louis as for the longest time I had no clue what “penne” pasta was, but ate this noodle that’s basically a long penne all the time growing up). I baked it with a homemade beef ragu in red sauce and it was perfect.

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Meatloaf With Mac n’ Cheese and Charred Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes

Meatloaf With Mac n’ Cheese and Charred Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Meatloaf With Mac n’ Cheese and Charred Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes

April 16, 2020

Mental State: Overcompensating

The day I made this meal I was on the phone with my friend, longtime journalist Amy Alexander. I told Amy I couldn’t seem to stop making elaborate meals that take hours to prepare. Did I really need meatloaf with three sides? But the Veruca Salt in me wants it all, so I cook it all. The meatloaf was amazing and I went on eating it over the next few days. The mashed potatoes, less so. They got pitched into the garbage shortly after I ate everything else that’s not mashed potatoes.

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Pork Chop Pho

Pork Chop Pho

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Pork Chop Pho

May 1, 2020

Mental State: Stunting in Acceptance

At this point, I’m entering my creative phase where I’ve moved “beyond” comfort and now want to explore, pushing myself to my culinary limits. This mirrors my mood, which has finally made it to the “acceptance” phase of my quarantine. I thought I’d be intimidated by Vietnamese pho, but thanks to a delivery service selling frozen beef bone broth AND delicious frozen ramen, half my job was already done.

The end result was, by far, the best soup I’ve ever had that didn’t come from a restaurant. It was so good, I made it twice in one week—this photo is from the second batch.

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Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State

Quiche Lorraine

May 2, 2020

Mental State: No cap (am I…am I using that right?), but maybe I should start a separate food Insta?

Confident! Happy! Not crying! This quiche is a quiche of success, of me mastering a domestic art and relishing in the glory of it. Also, at this point, I’ve started making IG videos in colorful wigs for funzies.

But this quiche was, by far, the most decadent thing I made. It was beyond impressive to me. Mostly because it was my first quiche and I absolutely killed this shit. Like, it was restaurant quality. Like, I’m never purchasing another quiche ever again if I can make them this good at home. I made the quiche by taking a little bit from these two very different recipes, the NYTimes and AllRecipes. The secret? Cubing the gruyere cheese instead of grating it. You end up with these gooey, delicious pockets of cheesy goodness. It was…a delight, much like my mood so far this May.

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Blueberry Muffins II

Blueberry Muffins II

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Blueberry Muffins II

May 3, 2020

Mental State: Overconfident

Feeling cocky now, I remake the NY Times recipe for blueberry muffins, but the thrill is gone. While these muffins smell good and taste good, my desire to actually eat these things is not. At this point, I know I need to chill with the carbs, so at this exact moment, there are some eight muffins chillin’ in a plastic container waiting to be eaten or frozen. But there’s no room in my freezer. So…um…where do blueberry muffins go to die?

This is also the point where I realize I need to start halving these recipes so I have six muffins instead of a dozen giant ass mutant muffins.

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Tomato & Spinach Quiche With Shallots, Bacon and Gruyere Cheese

Tomato & Spinach Quiche With Shallots, Bacon and Gruyere Cheese

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State
Photo: Danielle Belton

Tomato & Spinach Quiche With Shallots, Bacon and Gruyere Cheese

May 4, 2020

Mental State: “I can literally make anything!”

High off my own supply of making a perfect Quiche Lorraine, I decide to do it again, but with spinach and tomatoes. The result is HIGHLY DELICIOUS and nowhere near as salty. I try to convince myself this is the “healthy” quiche, but someone (me) put half a cup of heavy cream and bacon in this! I also put way too much of EVERYTHING in this quiche and not enough quiche in this quiche, if that makes sense? If I make it again (and the six frozen pie crusts in my freezer say: “All signs point to yes.”) I will probably not include as many elements or as much of them as I did the first go-round.

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Easy Peach Cobbler

Easy Peach Cobbler

Illustration for article titled The 19 Things I Cooked in Self-Isolation and What They Say About My Mental State

Easy Peach Cobbler

May 4, 2020

Mental State: Peachy keen

I call my dad on Friday and tell him to send me the family peach cobbler recipe because I’m going to make one. My father, who is not tech-savvy, says he will instruct one of my sisters to take pictures of the recipe card that my mom and I wrote and she will send it to me. In between the time of my father searching for the recipe card and him finally finding it on Tuesday, I just went and found a recipe online and tweaked it so it would still taste like my mom’s peach cobbler. I used frozen peach slices instead of canned, and I caramelized the peaches with a cup of sugar in a pot over the stove. I used cinnamon, vanilla extract, and brown sugar and lots of butter and it was deliciously decadent.

When it comes to this pandemic, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a great job that I love, a nice apartment in Harlem to live in, and I can afford good, healthy food that I routinely make unhealthy because I’m a literal glutton for (caloric) punishment. I also have the ability to make almost anything if I have a recipe. These are an abundance of riches in a time where people are struggling to pay rent—if they’re paying rent at all. So I am grateful and thank you all for reading this post that was essentially a humblebrag (look at all this awesome shit I cooked, yo!) mixed with a cry for help (veggies? I should…eat them?). My Insta might not be as popping with food pics once I go back to my paleo diet (who wants to look at scrambled egg whites and raw veggies? “Not I,” said the cat.), but I have no choice. The alternative is someone having to take out a door to roll me out of my apartment a year from now. But, for now, let’s savor the moment and eat a carb. Or two.

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Editor-in-Chief of The Root. Nerd. AKA "The Black Snob."

DISCUSSION