URBAN FORAGER

No-Knead Ciabatta, A regular on my home baking roster.

Understandably, as we stay home, cooking and eating has become an overwhelming focus. Besides using up leftovers from the freezer, comforting foods have become key.

Roast chicken once a week, stock making and soups and stews, batches large enough to make more freezable meals, and lots of fresh vegetables to amp up the healthy quotient - this is my world.

Social media is abundant with chefs doing cooking demos and home cooks sharing their recipes and it’s a reassuring community resource that I’ve been digging deep into.

I’ve also dusted off some long forgotten cookbooks for inspiration, and brought my pasta maker and sausage stuffer back into circulation. Judging from the grocery shelves, flour, sugar and yeast are in short supply and

I’m buoyed by the notion that just like that, everyone has turned to baking – some for the first time. Friends' posts – locally and from Toronto to France – have proven that the long-fermented, no-knead bread recipes are the most popular.

A no-knead ciabatta is one of my favourites of late and I’ve been making it twice a week. Not only is it satisfyingly easy to make, filling the house with wonderful aromas, it uses only one-quarter teaspoon yeast, making your supplies last longer.

As another way of connecting while self-isolating, I’ve reached out to people in our community to see what they’re cooking and baking — and how they’re staying connected — in these unprecedented times.

It’s back to basics for Penelope Roche of Roche Wines, who acknowledges that it’s a tough time for all of us. While trying to stay inspired and feeding her family of five she bakes — sourdough every three days — and in general to help occupy her three small children.

Coming from France, she’s used to using a pressure cooker, so has started to use the Instant Pot a lot. Large batches of stews and soups to last over a few days are a way to think practically and to save time. A recent project of making chicken stock produced a wonderful batch of French onion soup, a comforting repast, paired with her and husband Dylan's Roche Chardonnay 2017.

“I tend to find some peace in it,” says Penelope about the process of cooking.

Working from home, Kim Lawton, marketing director for Cannery Brewing, along with her journalist husband John Arendt see self-isolating as a chance to experiment with their Instant Pot while using up items from their freezer and pantry. Grandma’s china, once slated only for special occasions, is being used for everyday dining now, accompanied by wines from the cellar poured into Riedel wine glasses.

Socializing with friends over appetizers and craft beers is now done via Skype. “This pandemic has created lot of stress and fear,” admits Lawton, “yet I feel it’s also bringing us together in new and special ways. When I do get stressed or worried — Cadbury Mini Eggs are for that!”

Comfort foods are key for Eric Hanston, executive producer of Many Hats Theatre. Hearty split pea soups, chicken stew — that he can add dumplings to — and chiles all made via the slow cooker work for batch cooking, allowing Hanston to freeze meal portions for later. And baking cookies, which he used to do for his children’s lunches, is a process he is enjoying again with delicious end results.

“Cooking, and food in general, have always been a priority in our household,” says Shana Miller of Upper Bench Winery and Creamery. Shana and winemaker husband Gavin Miller, along with their two adult daughters are challenging themselves at mealtime, each taking turns cooking while addressing dietary concerns which include low-carb, veganism and type 1 diabetes.

Meals can go from pasta carbonara or drunken chicken with garlic and brandy, to the vegan faves of avocado and kimchi tacos on freshly pressed corn tortillas, and sesame hot zucchini noodles. One meal all four agree on is the Sunday roast dinner. “It may sound like a nightmare, trying to satisfy all the restrictions and choices,” explains Shana.

“But when you love and enjoy good food, we find it worth the effort.” When not cooking, the family reaches out to their favourite eateries for home delivery.

“Definitely upping the comfort component,” says Kate Twa, of Tempest Theatre. Along with her husband and theatre co-founder Ronan Reinart, the two are taking delicious housebound respite while digging in to dishes such as cottage pie and skillet herb rolls.

Reinart acts as chef and the week’s menu runs the gamut from freshly-made pasta, tomatillo chile, and Bengali chicken to shredded beef soft-shell tacos with a chile-lime slaw.

The stage is set at their Naramata cottage confines with a nice fire, candlelight and wine, and performances by their two kittens, Spaghetti and Machete.

Much of the work for Jennifer and Nicholas Vincent of Cowork Penticton revolves around bringing people together. During this self-isolation, creative solutions to keep people connected have been top of mind.

Their weekly feature of beer-o-clock at Cowork has moved to a virtual format where recently they hooked up with like-minded individuals from across B.C., quaffing brewskis and chatting. A Netflix watch party is planned for the near future where their group will tune in to the same movie over popcorn.

And a virtual weekly dinner club starts with everyone logging on at 5:30 for the cocktail hour, and then serving themselves dinner at 6 p.m.. The group all eat at the same time, talk about their meals, their day, fears and hopes.

“Food is a great connector,” says Jennifer, “so this is an apt blending of themes.”

At home, the Vincents are working their way through a freezer full of fruit and have a supply of delicious local beef and lamb – incorporating Thai curry pastes and Indian spice packages to make their meals extra savoury.

While working from home, they’re also making larger batches of food to shorten prep time, and have started to ration treats to teach themselves and their five-year-old daughter that you can’t just eat all the fun stuff first.

With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, a Penticton writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable. This exclusive column runs twice monthly on Tuesdays.