Perhaps no daily routine has been so photogenically disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic as has the routine of eating. Little Rock’s Instagram accounts are teeming with gurgling sourdough starters and family-size Star of India spreads. Curbside grocery pickup is a full-on meme-generating phenomenon. People everywhere are asking themselves, “Where has cheesecloth been all my life?” The Arkansas Times persuaded a few home cooks to tell us about their favorite meals during the extended stay at home, and about the ways in which their relationship to food has changed during the pandemic. 

Dan dan mian (Szechuan pork noodles) with sourdough noodles, Wye Mountain shiitake and greens from Centennial Garden at Arkansas Children’s Hospital

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MORGAN LEYENBERGER, LITTLE ROCK
Dan dan mian

“Since I’ve been working from home, I’ve been able to slow down my cooking. Slow food, like fermented noodles and bone broth, are comforting and richly flavorful. It’s made from scrappy ingredients that I would normally toss (chicken bones; sourdough dump) but as I spend more time cooking to nourish my family during this intensely scary time, I’ve fallen in love with simple ingredients transformed by time to be more healthful. We’re super lucky to have found high-quality local ingredients like these Wye Mountain mushrooms and gifted greens from our community garden to pack more flavor and texture in this dish.”

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Lamb shanks with chimichurri, mashed potatoes, carrots and sourdough focaccia

JOEL DIPIPPA, LITTLE ROCK
Lamb shanks with chimichurri

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“The social distancing and restaurant closures made a big impact on what and how we eat. While we have a meat share through JV Farms, I also tried to buy food through restaurants that could act as grocers. It helped our kitchen stay stocked but also helped the restaurants that weren’t planning to see the decline. Easter is a time for family. Lamb is traditional on the DiPippa table, but we couldn’t gather together like normal. Instead, I got lamb shanks from Graffiti’s to make something that still met the family traditions. A mint-heavy chimichurri, mint-tinged mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and sourdough focaccia rounded out the Easter plate. It provides a sense of closeness to my family and also a closeness to the restaurant community here. Food binds us together and the difficulty in gathering the last few months has reinforced just how important it is to gather around a table both in homes and our favorite restaurants.”

LaSheena Gordon, Mexican pizza with cornmeal crust, salsa, plant-based protein crumble, black beans, whole kernel corn, green and black olives and vegan cheese

LASHEENA GORDON, LITTLE ROCK
Mexican pizza

“My relationship with food/cooking has changed. Cooking now feels like love. When I cook a plant-based meal, I’m not using a recipe. I listen to my body. I give myself time. That’s the first gift to myself, time. Then I add the veggies, seasonings, color combination and palate combination that my body wants. If it’s green olives and strawberries on the side of a Southwestern pizza, it’s what I have! As I prepare it, it feels like I’ve loved on myself. Once my food is done and the flavors have come together in my mouth, they taste like love.”

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Tofu karaage with steamed rice and green onions

AMY FALLS, BENTONVILLE
Tofu karaage  

“My personal relationship with food during the pandemic has shifted somewhat over time. In the beginning, I was scared and depressed, and that led to a lot of comfort food binging. I ate a lot of sweets and chips mostly. I gained weight and then got a lot of anxiety over that, which led to me obsessing over food more. After a while, I adjusted more to my new routine and got over the anxiety that food was going to be taken away (due to shortages or restriction) and my eating balanced out. I’m getting even more into body positivity and intuitive eating now. I’ve been making a lot of nourishing comfort foods for dinner. My favorite is tofu karaage [marinated and fried tofu], which we eat with steamed rice, vegetables and homemade sauerkraut. We also make a dessert every day, usually brownies because it’s what we want. It’s so important for us to appreciate our bodies and be grateful for the food we have to nourish it. And gaining weight is OK. I think you have to let your body do its thing and have a brownie.”

Cod en papillote with capers and fennel

SUSANA O’DANIEL, LITTLE ROCK
Cod en papillote

“A friend and her father taught me how to cook fish in parchment paper years ago, but I had never tried to make it on my own. This was my first attempt. I really like this dish because it is easily adaptable to a variety of ingredients, healthy, easy and accessible. Cooking during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a creative outlet for me. I’ve spent many evenings assessing what I have left in my pantry and reading recipes online that I can make the next day using what I have. One thing I am struck by is that the community that we have built around food has not gone away, it has just shifted. For example, while restaurants have been closed for dining in, several have made the locally sourced farm-fresh produce available for pick-up for home cooks to use. In addition, friends who have chickens delivered farm-fresh eggs to my porch along with sourdough starters and other delights. So, we are still building community around food, we just aren’t necessarily coming together around a table.