Cooking Our Way Through Quarantine
(by Mary Kate Magee)
On Career Day in second grade, we were asked to pick our dream job and role model. I wanted to be a movie star, and my role model was the most glamorous woman I knew: my mom.
She is nothing short of fabulous. When my two sisters and I were growing up, we often played dress-up with her old prom gowns and bridesmaid dresses, with costume jewelry and the whole bit. I loved flipping through her magazines that arrived in the mail, looking at the beautiful fashion photos. Mom taught us that she was a goddess and we were her goddesses in training—strong women worthy of love and respect. She was a big proponent of Girls Nights, when she would put our hair in curlers, paint our nails, and apply face masks. Pampering was very important because it makes you feel good from the inside out, and she always says you are only as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside. She also believes that being a child at heart keeps you young and happy, and that cleaning day on Monday can be turned into a fun dance party as much as Friday night. By inspiring me to use my imagination, my mom fostered my love of acting, painting, drawing, and photography.
It’s also thanks to her that I fell in love with cooking great food. For every problem, my mom has a recipe with the solution hidden inside. Her chocolate chip cookies were perfect for making friends on the first day of college, and she joked that her pappardelle ragu would make a man fall in love with me—but only if he did the dishes.
I’m a year out of college now, building a career in New York City, living with my older sister, but unable to relax and recharge by visiting our parents in suburban Philadelphia. We’re on lockdown. We’re happy to help flatten the curve by staying inside, but some days are harder than others. My mom now plans virtual Friday night dance parties and post-grocery shopping phone calls (she wants to make we're getting enough protein and vegetables, not eating cereal for every meal). She tells me what she’s cooking. Yesterday she made banana bread, coffee cake, Caesar salad, and deviled eggs. I am terribly jealous.
She reads up on the state of the pandemic in New York City and talks a lot about wanting to come get us. But she understands our need to figure out some things for ourselves. In light of that, she sends us lots of tips for how to shop as safely as possible, like bringing our own bags to the store and only touching food with a heavy-duty glove. (She sent us rubber gloves specifically for that purpose.) This week she also mailed us face masks. We haven’t received them yet, but I know hers is covered in pink flamingos—one of her favorite things—and I’m sure ours are decked out in anything from kiss prints to baby chicks. She sends us things like pretzels, Nutella, playing cards, and Jenga, to make sure we have snacks and entertainment. I feel rather spoiled about it and am very grateful. If she cannot keep us safe at home with her, she is determined to take care of us as best she can through text advice, phone calls, and Target shipments.
My mom was right: There is a dish that solves every problem. When I get a little homesick, I turn to her recipes so I can cook up a taste of home in my kitchen. Lately, her pasta primavera has been the perfect dish, reminding me that it is still spring out there in our oddly quiet city. I send my mom photos whenever I make one of her dishes, and can’t wait for her to visit me in New York City so I can cook for her. The goddess deserves some pampering.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 1b. cavatappi
2 small - medium mozzarella balls, cubed
2 pts. Campari tomatoes, halved
2 avocados, diced
6 oz. can medium pitted black olives
12 oz. jar quartered and marinated artichoke hearts, chopped fine
2 - 3 jars (8 oz. each) basil pesto
Rub chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
In a large pan over medium heat, sauté chicken for 15 minutes on each side.
(Alternately, preheat oven to 375 F. and roast chicken for 30 minutes.)
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat, and cook pasta al dente, 11 - 12 minutes.
Drain pasta, and add mozzarella, chicken, tomatoes, avocado, olives, artichokes, and pesto, mixing well.
Serve hot with freshly ground pepper.
(A smaller amount, perhaps 1/2 c., of sun-dried tomatoes can be substituted for the fresh.)