Katie in the kitchen

This past year has been an exercise in finding ways to express love.

How do you do that when physical touch, or presence, aren’t allowed, when a mask blocks your smile?

One way is showing affection with edibles. Years ago, during an interview about what to do with zucchini, the sorcerer’s apprentice of vegetables, my chef-friend Connie told me, “Food is love,” referring to the act of cooking and serving tasty goodness. Baking and cooking, I discovered, offered therapy for me, the cook, as well.

My online book-and-friendship group has been a comfort on hard days with dark news. For much of last year we retreated to Deep Valley, Minnesota in the early 20th century via Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books, reading and discussing each of the books in the series. In September, we also held a Muffin-Off (muffins are important in the books), to see whose muffin was “the best,” recognizing that “best” is always relative. I’m proud to announce my original apple-ginger muffin missed first place by only a few votes (email me if you want to bake some).

Muffins, breads and cookies are delivered regularly to friends, children and grandsons. In return, my oldest son and his wife send videos of small boys eagerly enjoying “Mingy-pan.” (I’m Mingy and pan is bread in Spanish—they’re bilingual).

I shop not only for my household, but for a friend when I hit up the Tuesday farmers market. In return, she and I devised what we call “Safe Tea”—socially distanced tea in her back yard when the weather cooperates. We can see each other at least, and talk about ships and sails and sealing wax, to borrow from “Alice in Wonderland.”

Twice a week I read to a friend. If the weather is uncooperative, we can do it via phone, but it’s more pleasant on her deck, laughing (and sometimes crying) our way through such gems as Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” and the Betsy-Tacy books. Currently, we’re reading Ruth Reichl’s trilogy about how food and cooking gave her a career—as food writer, restaurant reviewer and editor of Gourmet magazine. We sigh over recipes for French raspberry tart and Swiss pumpkin as Reichl recalls the earliest days of California cuisine: locally sourced slow food, what we take for granted today.

Last night, as the rain bucketed down, my three roommates got home from long, trying days to roast chicken, oven browned potatoes and a zucchini-pepper stir fry. After dinner, as they cleaned up the kitchen, I began making chicken stock from the carcass of the bird, which will be transformed into Szechwan Carrot Soup. As soon as I finish typing this, tired bananas and fresh blueberries are calling: banana bread and blueberry muffins. Perhaps cookies as well, to thank my mechanic and her gang, my vet and his folks and hard-working folks like postal clerks, grocery cashiers and friends who need a hug—disguised as tasty goodness.

Because, as Connie said, “Food is love.”

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