What a difference a week makes.

Last week at this time, I was focused on planning my topics for upcoming spring features, with the coronavirus pandemic on my mind but not at its forefront. In the seven days since, we have watched the battle against this virus unfold in ways unimaginable just weeks ago, first with the entire country of Italy going into lockdown mode, and now in our own communities with the suspension of schools and activities across the United States.

Just a week ago, I was startled to see videos surfacing on social media sites, posted by people in other, faraway places like Australia, of adults physically fighting one another for a package of toilet paper. It seemed absurd at the time, and I chalked it up to some strange obsession Australians must have with bathroom tissue.

As recently as last Thursday, there was still plenty of toilet paper on the shelves of the two grocery stores I frequent the most, so I put it out of my mind. Then on Friday, my mother-in-law called from Toronto and described how she went to three different stores looking for toilet paper, not to hoard, but because her supply at home was running low. As in so many places now, all three stores were completely sold out.

A local Hornbacher's store, 4101 13th Ave. S., Fargo, was bereft of toilet paper March 12. Forum file photo
A local Hornbacher's store, 4101 13th Ave. S., Fargo, was bereft of toilet paper March 12. Forum file photo

Although in good health, my mother-in-law is in her late 70s and relies upon public transportation to get around. She lives in an urban neighborhood with excellent bus, train and subway service, and doesn’t want to rely upon her children in the suburbs for her needs. She, like all of us, is having to alter her routines, change her habits and adapt to the new reality of letting others help her through this crisis.

We’re learning the importance of social distancing and limiting our public excursions to just essential errands. Our local stores have now placed purchase limits on high-demand items, including toilet paper, so that people like my mother-in-law can buy what they need.

With such restrictions to our everyday way of life, it may seem like there is very little you can do to help the community at large during this time. And that’s where food comes in.

With many of us homebound and doing our part to help flatten the curve, the simple act of cooking can help in ways I’d never previously considered. Aside from the fact that cooking is a great way to fill time, many items we are accustomed to buying in a prepared state can easily be made from scratch so that you won’t need to over-purchase or visit the store as often.

Instead of stocking up on bread, bake your own and fill your freezer. The same goes for items like meatloaf, hamburgers, casseroles, soup and baked goods.

Try a new recipe, or just bake and cook up some favorites, like this Baked Ziti Casserole. Forum file photo
Try a new recipe, or just bake and cook up some favorites, like this Baked Ziti Casserole. Forum file photo

Our new circumstances present an excellent opportunity to invite your kids, parents and grandparents into your kitchen to experiment together with new recipes and embrace the simple joy of making your own food.

There is a lot of time that can be filled in the kitchen, and not just with cooking. Introduce your kids to your kitchen inventory. Teach them the difference between a frying pan, saucepan and stock pot, and tell them how they’re used. Go through your spice drawer and have them smell each one, then talk about how you use them in different dishes.

If you have young children at home, I have an excellent recipe for homemade Play-Doh that you can make together and then use to keep your kiddos occupied while you enjoy a sanity break.

For middle and high school aged kids, treats like homemade marshmallows or cinnamon rolls will help to fill their time and everyone’s tummies.

So, please – start cooking, stay home and stay healthy. We will get through this together, even when we’re socially distant.

If you have questions about food and cooking, or are looking for a specific recipe, I have plenty of time and would love to hear from you. Please send your questions to sarahnasello@gmail.com and be sure to include your first and last name, as well as your city and state. I will reply to each email and may also share your question in upcoming features. Thank you!

Instead of stocking up on bread, bake your own. Pexels / Special to The Forum
Instead of stocking up on bread, bake your own. Pexels / Special to The Forum

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.