Mushroom Barley Soup and Gremolata
Well, I don’t know how the hell we got here, but here we are.
In self-isolation, that is. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, of course. But you already know that, I’m sure. I’m finding it hard to come up with one thing in particular to say. Seems like there’s a lot. Like, a lot. To the point where everything seems impossible and nothing makes sense and I wonder softly to myself, “Why even bother?” The existential dread hits different these days, amirite?
Like, who even cares if I make a batch of lemon shortbread and eat it all as I stare off into the nothingness that is months of time just flying right by while wearing a leopard print adult onesie?
I wrote and rewrote this post a bunch of times.
I’ve given up on it. I’ve thought, “Meh, fuck it,” (which I’m finding is a prevalent thought and #mood of mine these days) telling myself “I’ll just do pictures and a recipe this time.” But then I changed my mind and said to myself, “Come on, Katherine, you got this.”
Just kidding, lol, that is definitely not what conversations with myself sound like. Rather, I said, “Come on, Katherine, you can do better than that, ya lazy fuck. You’ve got all the time in the world now, so go on, sit down and write something. And don’t even think about coming out of your room ‘til you’ve posted this damn blog already, fucko.”
I really struggle with interrupting my pervasive negative self-talk. And I'm working on it. But in the moment I often don't even notice I'm doing it. It’s a different kind of self-motivation, but sometimes a little tough love gets back on track. When it's self-flaggellation, I’m actually receptive to it. I blame this heavily on years, and years, and years of Catholic school. What can I say?
So, anyway, now I’m back to trying words, though using them to make sense of things is, and has been, challenging. I’m a ruminator. It takes me a while to process things. I need time to think. I still need more time. But one of the ways I do the kind of thinking I find to be most helpful to myself is, in fact, writing. And cooking. And baking. Duh.
So instead of starting with a thought or idea of where I’d like this post to go, I’m just going to think and type and go with it. As a lifelong overthinker I know this could get dodgy, but meh, fuck it.
I’ve felt a slow, creeping fear since, well, forever, to be honest, but a fear devoted specifically to coronavirus unknowns since February. I wasn’t really talking about it, though, because I try to keep my fears to myself, and my therapist, as much as possible. I have it in my mind that people find hearing about my anxieties either exhausting or silly. At least, that’s the reaction I get from some.
I get that to other people my fears might seem irrational, and I try to joke about them in an attempt to keep things lighthearted. But, to be honest: I don’t think they’re silly. Look, I’ve got an anxiety disorder and an active imagination—there’s always something to be afraid of.
And yet, things in my sector of the universe seemed to keep keeping on, so I did too. Although each time I made a future plan or looked at my calendar to check upcoming appointments I was beginning to wonder if I would actually be keeping them. Each day’s news seemed to hit closer to home here in upstate NY.
Shit seemed to get real though about five weeks ago. Like, zombie apocalypse movie real. Like, too damn real. Like, so real I went to fill my car up with gas in case we needed to make a quick getaway and made sure to buy a pack of smokes to accessorize for the end of the world with. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not smoking them, of course. At least not yet. Those are for the real end. Those are to light up for the final meh, fuck it. I'd hate to be ill-prepared.
I’m kidding, of course. About the world ending, that is. It isn’t actually going to end, I hope. It just feels like it right now, I think.
The world turned into one big, gigantic, looming question mark. International travel was halted. Bans were placed on gatherings of large groups of people and then on small groups of people. More places were either closing or cancelling plans indefinitely each day. Schools. Restaurants. Stores. Concerts. The dentist. The month of March. Now April. There were signs every few miles on the highway that read “Stay Home, Save Lives, #FlattenTheCurve,” or “Stay Home, Stop the Spread.”
Stop the spread.
And as I drove by those signs my mind immediately went to what could have been a scene from The Walking Dead, or The Twilight Zone, or another of the like, that finds a ragtag group of people dejectedly walking along a highway littered with lanes of empty cars going nowhere as they pass signs that still flash “Stay Home, Stop the Spread, Save Lives,” while tumbleweeds blow forlornly by to really drive the point home: You will be sorry if you wait until it’s too late to act. Stop pretending everything's fine.
I almost couldn’t believe it when I drove past a church with a sign out front that read ‘All masses and activities cancelled.’ You know it’s serious when mass gets cancelled. Or at least I do, as someone who dreaded being dragged to church each week and every single holy day of obligation. There was no excuse I could proffer my mother that ever worked to exempt me from mass, goddammit, and I never recall church ever taking a snow day. So for all masses to be cancelled, well, I’ve never seen that happen before. But, there are a lot of things these days that can be filed under the category “Gee, I’ve Never Seen That Happen Before.” Like not being able to find toilet paper anywhere. Because that’s the crux of our great civilization, apparently. It all boils down to toilet paper. It’s good to know, I guess.
And so, I’ve been staying home. At most I leave once a week for groceries. Usually I strive for once every two weeks. Just leaving the house now is becoming strange. And scary. And it makes me think back to January 2014. My little brother had died in December. A heroin overdose. Less then a month later my dog died suddenly as well. I was brought to my knees. Their deaths, and the resulting grief compounded that which I already held, unprocessed, from my dad's death in '06. Unable to function like an adult human anymore, I was, as my therapist puts it now, "basically agoraphobic" for a couple months. I was terrified of leaving the house because more often than not it resulted in a panic attack, and I truly believed I was losing my mind. I’m worried about feeling like that again. I'm worried I can already feel that fear wrapping itself around my ankle.
I’m worried about how long it takes to psych myself up enough for a trip to leave the house.
I’m lucky that my therapist has been able to keep appointments with me thanks to the wonders of technology. She is quick to point out to me all the ways I can remind myself I am not stuck in that bleakness right now, even in these times of self-isolating at home. I’m lucky I have lifelines to sanity besides therapy, too. Like writing. And cooking. And baking. Duh.
Things are a bit different in the kitchen though, there’s no denying that. I’ve gone next-level hyper aware of food waste. And not doing it, that is. Which is interesting, because I also find myself uncharacteristically distracted to the point of burning or nearly burning things. Like the sourdough discard cookies I had been baking for twelve minutes when I snapped “Alexa stop!” as the timer went off. I immediately forgot about it and left the cookies in the oven for another ten, maybe fifteen minutes before going “Oh shit!” and pulling out a pan of hockey pucks. As a soft and chewy cookie person, this moment was especially sad.
The next day I struck again on some slivered almonds I toasted into oblivion. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I don’t absentmindedly burn stuff. I just don’t. Or at least I never used to. I’m not tossing them, though. Turns out gently burnt cookies are great dunked (soaked) in milk. It’s like one big serving of Cookie Crisp cereal. Burnt nuts? I’m still working that one out, but I think they might be okay in salsa macha. I’ll make that later this week. Or next week. Because, like, what even is a week anymore, ya know?
Anyway, I’m scrimping and saving and reusing like never before. And I actually thought I had been doing that before. I'm holding on to carrot peels and celery leaves to add to my stock and remouillage, a cardinal sin in the teaching kitchens at my culinary school, btw, and I look over my shoulder in fear a bit when I toss them in the pot instead of the compost, but I’m now looking at things with a different perspective, where I wonder if once something’s gone, will I be able to get more? I don’t know. I don’t know is the answer to so much right now. And as maddening as that can be, I’m okay with it. I have a hard time committing to the certainty of many things, anyway, and I’d rather continue to look for answers rather than settle on pretending I have them. So I’ll just be over here thinking, and wondering, and not knowing. And writing, and cooking, and baking.
Adapt or customize this soup to your needs or liking. It’s very good with white beans. It’s also good with leftover bits of roasted chicken. I particularly enjoy adding a green item like kale or spinach, if I have some on hand. This soup will get thicc (yep, two c’s) as it sits and the barley absorbs stock. No barley? Use farro, rice, lentils, quinoa, or pasta. Just take into consideration the cooking time for whatever you choose.
Mushroom Barley Soup
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Hello! I'm Kat.
Cooker, baker, amateur pottery maker.
I'm a CIA graduate (culinary arts & applied food studies) who previously studied anthropology.
Food obsessed. Anxiety disorder. Grief bearer.
Here you'll find recipes for what I'm currently feeling and sometimes even why!