I am an adequate cook. By saying that I mean that I am able to function in a kitchen with some basic raw materials. I can usually cobble together something reasonably edible. I make no boasts about being particularly talented or experimental in the kitchen. Before lockdown I had a go-to list of about five dishes I could cook from scratch without referencing a recipe book. That always struck me as sufficient to function as an adult in the world – and allowed a moderately varied diet.
As a single person, cooking can be fairly unrewarding – you don’t want to spend too much effort on a meal that you will consume in ten minutes without a solitary compliment from someone else to reward your ego. Cooking for a large number of people has never been a challenge for me – coming from a family of seven children, I have always been proficient at feeding the masses with the ingredients supplied by my parents. To this day, I still single-handedly cook Christmas dinner for the school of Murphies that assembles in Limerick each December.
Lockdown has changed my culinary narrative somewhat. As all restaurants, theatres, pubs and cinemas have been closed for almost a year, there is no longer anywhere to go in the evening. The evenings can be long. I have an objection to using the delivery apps to bring me food, thanks to how dreadfully the delivery guys are treated and paid by Deliveroo and Ubereats and JustEat. These days I cook at home for myself, seven days a week. Five core meals was no longer sufficiently varied. So I started varying it up somewhat.
For your pleasure here is list of dishes that I had never cooked before lockdown. This list does not list basic staples of pre-covid life such as spaghetti bolognaise; carbonara; green chicken curry etc. It is new dishes. Also I have of course eaten all the below dishes – simply never prepared them myself. ,This post is sponsored by the Marks and Spencer yellow sticker scheme – whereby I go to the M&S shop across the road for my house each day at 5pm and purchase ‘reduced to clear’ posh, Protestant food for a fraction of the original cost, and then immediately transfer it to the freezer for thawing and consumption at an unspecified future date.
Sometime on Tuesday night, I woke up coughing. I was not initially worried. Even though it has been three years since I quit smoking, each year since – as the winter draws in – I get a brief case of the remnants of a smoker’s cough. Nothing like the hollow, hacking sound that cough mixture couldn’t reach, back in the smoky days – but a faint, irritating condition nonetheless. When after two hours of coughing it hadn’t ceased, I started to worry.
Dublin has just entered the second week of level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, to tackle the surge in infection rates in the city. Level 3 means a tightening of the restrictions from Level 2 – where the rest of the country (aside from Donegal) now sits. Level 3 means that art galleries and museums are closed; as are theatres. House parties are limited to six people from outside your home – but all have to be from the same household. Bars and restaurants – whether they serve food or not are closed – unless they have an outdoor seating area, in which case they can could cater to a maximum of fifteen people.
‘Well that’s restrictive,’ I thought to myself. On Thursdays I received a message from a friend asking if I’d be willing to take a chance on having a sociable beverage on Saturday evening (along with the compulsory €9 meal – in Ireland bars that serve food were allowed to open, whereas bars that didn’t were not – Covid respects cuisine you see, and it stops moving when a substantial meal is being consumed – or something.)
I agreed. Three weeks under a renewed semi-lockdown as the days get shorter, and a distinct chill arrives in the air sounded unutterably grim. Particularly (as I have repeatedly said) for those of us living alone in an apartment without a garden. ‘We’re all in this together’ rings hollow when the four walls start closing in on you.
With a steely resolve I went online – I wasn’t taking any chances. With such limited opportunity for revelry I decided to make a booking to make sure we got a seat.
My bags are unpacked but I am ready to go. This evening I will be taking a train out of Dublin for the first time since January (apologies to Wicklow but Bray or Greystones while technically outside Dublin seem culturally part of the Pale). I will be going to Limerick for a week long sojourn. I am not taking holidays, my laptop is accompanying me so I can pretend to be high powered and executive all week, while not officially surrendering days of leave.
The six months I have spent in Dublin is the longest protracted period of time I have ever spent in one place without any time away – no cheeky little weekend jaunts to Amsterdam or down home. It’s been relatively painless. I have been fortunate to live in a spacious (for one) city centre apartment. Since day one of the restrictions being imposed, I made the decision that my self-isolation would not mean that I would reject all human contact. Meeting people for socially distant walks was always my modus operandus. I bit my lip when people would place social media posts castigating people for meeting with friends. I don’t engage with emotive no-win social media arguments ever though as life is too short. I didn’t reply. Mentally however I’d notice that those people berating those of us who bent the rules (marginally) tended not to live alone and/or had access to an outdoor garden – a far more spacious and companionable set up than living alone in a fourth floor flat with a balcony the size of a shoebox. I bit my lip and continued to meet my fellow solo travellers for walks while observing all advice on social distancing, hand hygiene etc.
There have been some highlights to the lockdown. Lidl is a supermarket I have gotten to know intimately. If your diet suddenly changes to three home cooked meals every day for months on end, then the absurdly over-priced IFSC shops needed the heave-ho. Instead I embraced the German budget superstore and broadened my cooking repertoire.
I am also now the possessor of a large freezer machine packed with enough food for a month. Heretofore said appliance stood empty in the corner for years on end. Thanks to the pandemic I have discovered than Marks and Spencer’s yellow-sticker deals can all be frozen. As a result I have a menu of posh food at my fingertips . I call it Protestant food- not for sectarian reasons of course, more to do with how British it all seems – scallop bakes, honey glazed salmon, chili flavoured spatchcock chicken, tuna fillets and the like. It’s a far cry from the boiled bacon and cabbage and turnips and boiled spuds on which I was raised.
Working from home surprisingly was a bonus in the context of being busy for forty hours each week. It leant an air of normalcy and continuity to life. The oldies station RTE Gold playing in the background, I sat at my desk looking out at the Luke Kelly statue and carried on my work routine as normally as possible. The calls with colleagues about work issues were often the only human voices I interacted with from Monday to Friday (I’d meet friends at the weekend). Obviously I didn’t let on to them. I wouldn’t be the type to overshare my life with workmates. I’ll never tell them they were my only contact – they’d look at me with pity from their suburban nirvana, and then judge me harshly when they hear that I was meeting friends for walks through out lockdown.
Mentally the lockdown was tolerable. Having lived abroad and alone for many years it wasn’t a novel experience going for extended periods of time without seeing family. The circumstances were unique in this instance of course, but my years in Amsterdam stood me in good stead.
The horror of what was going on in terms of deaths and infections from Covid-19 was something I tried to avoid. I used to watch the 9 o’clock news each night and try to leave it at that.
Occasionally I’d get a case of the panics. What if I catch this? Who will bring me food if I have to self-isolate? What if I die from it alone in my flat and my body is not discovered for months? What if I need to go on a ventilator in hospital? No-one will be able to visit? I’m Type 1 diabetic – that means I’m high risk if I catch this right? I’m going to get this?
The darkest day was the day I saw the Army ship setting up a Covid clinic on the river Liffey near my house in the early days of the lockdown. It felt apocalyptic and terrifying – the Army busy while the normally busy street was devoid of all other traffic. Seeing Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Light up’ in honour of the frontline workers that same night, chilled me to the bone. We’re all doomed, I thought to myself. This is the end. And then I saw the social media posts shrieking condemnation towards those of us who were still meeting people outside of their own house. If I catch this, then I’ll have no-one to blame but myself?
The next day I got up, told myself to pull myself together and made a fruit smoothie. Then I went for a walk around Dublin – a city I‘d wager that I now know as well as if I’d lived here all my life. My travels around the city were comprehensive, thorough and well researched. While I am not a fan of the Loving’ Dublin website, I can now proudly boast that I have done twenty one out of the twenty three walks that they recommend. Along with some other routes I discovered on my own. The 2 kilometre restriction wasn’t too burdensome when you live in the city centre. So much to discover. When it was extended to 5km it felt like a travel party.
My train for Limerick departs at 17.30 this evening. I initially booked it about two months ago when July 20th was announced as the date that non-essential travel was permitted anywhere in Ireland. Sometime later that date was advanced by three weeks. I kept my original booking. This evening I am getting on a train with my face-mask in place. I am very much looking forward to it. Once I get to Limerick Junction I will be on the home stretch.
As the lockdown continues, I have developed a routine for my weekdays. The fact that I am doing a full week’s work from home necessitates this. I have to be ready, alert and active by 9am each day, and remain focused until 5pm every evening. As I have nothing else to talk about at the moment, it seemed like a good time to record this wash, rinse, repeat cycle, for posterity. Continue reading Day 25 The Coronavirus Diaries – my daily routine→