Eating my way through the apocalypse

Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich with homemade lemon curd filling was perfect for Easter.

In general I have been eating my way through my stress. Despite being very productive for work and around the house, I have treated the past 73 days like a holiday or snow day that requires treats. Part of this may be fueled by not having regular access to candy and other mass produced items that I would have from time to time during the work day. Still, I have been a little nuts. (Except I put no nuts in any dessert. I like nuts on their own, or in savory items, but I never let them anywhere near my sweet stuff–with one or two recent exceptions.)

I have made about 30 desserts. For two people. In 10 weeks.


Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting (x 2)
Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich w/ Homemade Lemon Curd
Buttermilk Crunch Cake
White Cake with Penuche Frosting
Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake
Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Buttermilk Buttercream
Whoopie Pies

Cakes have been a bit weird for me. The Chocolate Cake recipe I have is a really good one and that cake is super. I also have good luck with Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich despite the fact that the recipe calls for a ridiculously high oven temp which I ignore. And the Whoopie Pies were pretty damn good, particularly the fluff in the middle (if you wonder what a pie is doing in the cake category, get thee to Google). But the rest of the cakes were various shades of dry and disappointing. The common denominator seems to be buttermilk. But that doesn’t really make much sense. Several used cake flour but that also doesn’t make sense. I decided last night that unless I have a trusted recipe, I might keep cake baking to the boxed variety. Those are always moist and fluffy.

Cookies and BArs

Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars (x 4)
Brownies (homemade)
Brownies (Betty Crocker)
Strawberry Shortcake Cookies
Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

You bookish people may not realize that Jenny at Reading Envy also has a baking blog called Jenny Bakes. (I just noted this morning that her baking blog predates her book blog. Go figure.) Anyhoo, she blogging about these Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars that I have made four times since March 13th. If you’ve ever had a chocolate chip cookie bar, or blondie, or chocolate chip cookie, you don’t know what you are missing until you try these. So damn good. Definitely the MVP of sheltering in place.

These might be one of the best things in the world. From What’s Gaby Cooking?
The brilliantly nerdy folks at America’s Test Kitchen decide to come up with a Brownie recipe that mimics the chewy goodness of a boxed mix brownie. Too many brownie recipes are too fudgy, too dense, or the worst sin of all, too cakey. This recipe is brilliant. It really figures out how to make them chewy.
Ice Cream and Pudding

Chocolate Ice Cream (x 2)
Vanilla Ice Cream
Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
Milk Chocolate Pudding (x 2)
Brown Sugar Pudding

That $49 Cuisinart ice cream maker is the real deal. Their recipe for chocolate ice cream is really good. Tastes like the chocolate of childhood. And for you in the UK, these puddings are the cool and creamy kind not the British kind.


Sourdough Sandwich Bread (x 4)
Baked Currant Donuts
Pizza Dough
Sourdough Pizza Crust (x 2)
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Unlike so many other unlucky bakers, I managed to snag a jar of yeast on March 13th before the country went ass over teakettle into baking chaos (and I had a packet or two already at home). Still, I thought it would be great fun to try making a sourdough starter. I won’t bore you with that because those stories are ubiquitous on social media these. I wish I had a picture of my sad looking, but great tasting, Baked Current Donuts. Those were yummy and are going to be making a second appearance in the near future.

Chewy, crusty, sugary, speckled with currents. Mine were a bit flat, but they were damn good. I’ve had this recipe for ages and finally gave it a whirl. Lots of raising time involved so it takes some planning so they are ready when you want them to be.
I didn’t get much of a rise on my sourdough sandwich loaves, but the taste and texture was really fantastic. I think the fact that I only had all-purpose flour might have been part of my problem.
I made sourdough pizza dough a few times with cast off from the starter. It was not bad and it made for perfectly fantastic Friday night pizzas. Later I made a crust with actual yeast and it was definitely more like a real pizza crust.
The last time I saw flour in the grocery store was maybe the third week of March. I had to text a picture to a neighbor to let her know they had just set some out. Since then I have found an online source for flour and have 20 pounds of it. Unfortunately, still no bread flour.
Quick Breads

Banana Bread (x 4)

I’ve got a good recipe that is even better after the finished loaf has been frozen and thawed. Nice moist top and a touch of cinnamon.

Snakes on a plane.


Apple Gallette

I haven’t done much in the pie category. John’s favorite dessert is my Apple Gallette, but other than that I haven’t done any pies. I have a recipe for Coconut Cream pie made with white beans that I am going to try (but I’m not telling John until after he tries it).

On the Savory Side
I’ve had a recipe for pickled carrots for years and have never tried it. But since I had such a giant bag of carrots I decided to give it a go.
So they were pretty good, and a great way to perk things up when fresh ingredients start to run low.
Roasted bell peppers for a farro salad.
A pan of lasagna so good it almost put me in the hospital.
Not long before the shutdown I went to a book event at Politics and Prose where author Joe Yonan was talking about his new cookbook Cool Beans. One recipe he talked about was for black beans that get pureed with everything including the roots and skins of the onion and garlic as well as the bay leaves. Have you ever ingested bay leaf before. I hadn’t. The resulting beans were ah-mazing.
Happily, these 25 pounds of beans were a Christmas present from John in 2018. I love them, but haven’t used many. And even now, with all the other fresh things I’ve been making, I think I have only used two of these since the shutdown began. Although they are shelf stable, they are better if less than a year old, so I need to get simmering.
A while back someone on Facebook posted one of those short cooking videos of this cheesy spaghetti casserole. When I shared the video, my sister-in-law in Texas said “I make that all the time” and gave me the recipe. Yes that is Velveeta. So good. The store was out of Rotel so I had to use canned chilies instead.
I could have happily eaten it at this stage. Just give me a fork.
Yeah, it was a tasty as it looks.


Braving the Elements

Friday, March 13th, a few days before DC shutdown, I went to Whole Foods at about 11:00 in the morning. Since the city was still open, I thought I would avoid the lunch rush. I was wrong. The shopping itself wasn’t bad, but the check-out lines were crazy.

Since then, I think I have been to the store maybe five more times. I am down to going to the store maybe one every two weeks. The stores are less crowded and with the exception of flour they are pretty well stocked.

March 13th. Before 6 feet. Before masks. Before. This was a 45-minute wait.
As I stood in line I started second guessing everything in my cart. I didn’t put anything back, but I did stack it up much higher.
Was glad to see these go up at Giant and elsewhere. Big thanks to all the grocery works putting their lives on the line to feed their own families.

13 thoughts on “Eating my way through the apocalypse

  1. Barb Otto May 25, 2020 / 10:20 am

    I am truly amazed. When I think about you when you were younger, you were such a picky eater. Now when I read your blog and all of the cooking and baking it’s awesome. That first cake was perfect. Everything looked really good. So happy for the fact you are willing to try anything.
    Have you gained any weight?


  2. Karen K. May 25, 2020 / 12:09 pm

    What an impressive amount of bakes! And your photos are beautiful. I have serious kitchen envy. I’ve taken photos of some of my attempts but nothing comes close to yours.

    Will it count if I’ve thought about baking every day?


  3. Jenny Colvin (@readingenvy) May 25, 2020 / 12:10 pm

    Impressive! And I concur those cookie bars are fantastic. I’ve been trying to bake less since I’m the only person who eats these things in my house but Ducks Newburyport is basically a stream of consciousness about baked goods so seriously what can you do. Buttermilk plus baking soda should lighten a cake but honestly I always find butter cakes too dry and prefer oil texture in the end, especially with chocolate since dairy masks the chocolate. The America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate cakes replaces butter for oil and adds coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor.


  4. Linda May 25, 2020 / 12:36 pm

    I have really held back with baking because I also live in a 2-person household and it’s just not going to go well if I bake as much as I’d like to. I’ve baked bread a couple of times (I had yeast already because I do normally bake bread anyhow) and I’ve made brownies and blondies and one cake. I really want to bake more cakes but then we’ll be eating entire cakes. Next week is my birthday though, so there will be cake.

    I expected I’d do more general cooking – maybe make some things I don’t normally have time for. But since we never know what the grocery store will have, it’s too hard to plan, and we only go once every two weeks. So we’ve gone the opposite direction and signed up for Hello Fresh so basically we get to pick what we want to eat and have all the ingredients shipped to us. It’s made things much less stressful.


  5. Claire (The Captive Reader) May 25, 2020 / 7:34 pm

    Wow, you’ve been busy! I wish I could get away with that much baking but my family members would probably hide the flour. My baking has been strictly focused to using up extra fruit and veg (Marie-Helene’s apple cake from Dorie Greenspan, a classic French yogurt cake with rhubarb, zucchini loaf, and banana oatmeal muffins) so I can only aspire to what you’ve done!


  6. Pamela Foster May 26, 2020 / 12:00 pm

    This was a very nice article and there were just enough photos.
    I’m wondering if the lasagna that nearly put you in the hospital was related to volume consumed or direct effect of the cheese on your coronaries.
    I’ve been making beans weekly, soaking the beans overnight. I heartily recommend this step since it nearly eliminates all the gas issues (which will be so important to John). Then I put them in the slow cooker, with onions, sausage (andouille or linguisa?), garlic. I serve with steamed rice, dollop of plain yogurt (or sour cream) and hot sauce. Very simple but a great dinner. And a reasonable, not-too-heavy lunch.You’ll get through your bean collection in no time.


  7. A Super Dilettante May 26, 2020 / 2:41 pm


    I hope that you’re in good health and staying well and safe. All your cooking and baking looks absolutely divine. I love your domestic talents. I have been doing some baking too. Alas, I have never managed to bake brownies with a complete success at home although I can do good chocolate éclairs. Cooking or baking, like gardening, it can locate us in a different kind of time which is not a bad thing in the time of pandemic when we are confronted by the harsh reality of the daily news.

    I do not think you will need a recommendation from me about buying a book from an independent bookshop in UK. You probably know more about England than me. But in case you are wondering, I would like to recommend John Sandoe Books in Chelsea (London). They also do subscriptions.

    With warmest wishes to you,


  8. Ti May 26, 2020 / 5:19 pm

    I’ve done a ton of cooking. In the past, I really enjoyed cooking but pandemic cooking has killed that feeling. The pressure to “put something on” and then having my college son return with an appetite much, much bigger than the one he had when he left for school has kept me busy. Trying to come up with meals that use what we have is a real challenge. I hit the market once a week and would like to stretch that to once every two weeks but there is no way I can keep food in the house that long.

    Plus. Wine. Goodness. Never drank so much before. Day drinking is definitely a thing.


  9. Ruthiella May 27, 2020 / 2:37 am

    I’m with you Thomas! I have been baking up a storm (banana bread, zucchini bread, lemon bars, cup cakes…) and sharing with my parents. I think it is giving me a feeling of comfort, even though, like you, I am not at loose ends. I have work and things to do in the house and yard (not to mention reading).

    I’m gonna go check out Jenny’s Chewey Chocolate Chip Bars right now!


  10. Susan June 7, 2020 / 3:33 pm

    All of your food looks fantastic! We’ve been baking up a storm and can often get flour here. Several variations of no-knead bread, white sandwich loaves, crusty whole wheat, Parmesan breadsticks. Buttermilk biscuits, cheese and chive biscuits. Cream scones, mixed berry pie (my daughter makes the best pie I’ve ever had), key lime and butterscotch cream pies. Chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, coconut oil chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, lemon curd cupcakes, fallen chocolate cake, vanilla cake, salted caramel brownies, rice pudding…..oh, the carbs!


  11. amanda2909blog July 15, 2020 / 11:02 am

    Hi Thomas. These days I am missing your book podcast. I miss it because it wasn’t overly produced and scripted. It was just the right balance of casual and loosely structured. Most of all though I loved the unsponsored format of it. These days I follow “What Should I Read Next” (Ann Bogel) but it’s just so “sponsored” and professional that it doesn’t have the vibe that I loved with your podcast. If I can’t talk you into reviving the podcast, please at least let me know if there’s any other podcasts or blogs out there that are more in line with the flavor of a chat with a book lover who is not overly sponsored (not quite sure how better to describe it). Thank you and happy reading.


    • Thomas July 18, 2020 / 7:01 am

      Thanks so much for your nice comment. I’m really pretty out of the loop when it comes to podcasts these days. I know a lot of them have moved onto vlogging on YouTube. I too liked the casual nature of our chit chat on The Readers.


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