By Jordan Schwartzberg
Before COVID-19, the longest Celia Murphy went without seeing her parents was 10 weeks. During fall 2020, she went 15 weeks without going home. Murphy, a 21-year-old exercise science and Spanish major at Towson University, is close to her family. Her brother is 17, and both of her parents are 50. She is from Lawrence, Massachusetts, and flying home during a pandemic had its risks. Murphy had to come up with a way to cope with her homesickness.
For Murphy, home isn’t just the people, it’s the food. Growing up, every Sunday during football season, Jennifer Murphy, Celia’s mother, would cook the family dinner as the rest of the family watched the New England Patriots play. Murphy frequently baked and her mother frequently cooked. The dish she missed most was her mom’s pasta made with a special homemade sauce. Her mom knew this and knew her daughter was struggling with homesickness. So she decided to do something about it.
On a fall weekday, Murphy opened her three-bedroom apartment door, and there it sat on the doormat: a small brown box with penne noodles, marinara sauce and basil leaves inside.
Her mother had shipped this, hoping that the two of them could make the same dinner via Google Duos, a video chatting service. Murphy has an iPhone, and her mom has an Android.
A text popped up on Murphy’s phone around 5 p.m.: “Surprise!” said a notification from mom. She had shipped her daughter several ingredients for her famous pasta recipe, but some perishables were missing. “She texted me to go to the store to grab onions, peppers, minced garlic, crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning,” Murphy said.
After Murphy returned, she propped her phone up on the counter so her mother could see what she was doing. “I had never chopped onions before, so doing that first and getting it out of the way was interesting,” she said. After chopping up the onions at the same time as her mother, Murphy was instructed to pour the marinara sauce into the pot. She had never made this recipe on her own before but knew that even though the sauce came out thick and glistening, her mom wanted to add more. “Now, add the onions, peppers, minced garlic, crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Now, let’s let it sit for 30 minutes. Talk to me about The Middle,” Jennifer Murphy said to her daughter.
The two spent the whole 30 minutes talking about the TV show that they frequently watched together at home. Before they knew it, the sauce was done. Jennifer Murphy instructed her daughter to take the sauce off and to start boiling the water. Another few minutes passed by and this time they started discussing where her younger brother was applying to schools. “University of Southern Maine, Endicott College, Framingham State and Fitchburg State,” her mom said.
As they began talking about food again, Murphy positioned her phone up against the coffee maker so her mother was able to make sure that they stirred the pot at the exact same time. The pasta was finished and Murphy added it to the sauce. She sat down in their dining room, chandelier overhead, and positioned her phone on the mini-fridge so her whole family could see her. Her mother set the table and called for the rest of the family to join.
When it was time to eat, her dad and brother came onto the call. They all started catching up about life and started talking to Murphy about home. To her, it was just like a normal home-cooked meal.
Murphy felt a sense of relief and enjoyment. Being able to do a synchronous activity with her entire family made her feel like she was right back in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
For Murphy, home may have been 413 miles away, but that night, home was right there on Google Duos, with good conversation and a home-cooked meal.
By Peyton Stinnett
This past year made me realize how crucial family is and how much I need to interact with them to get through the pandemic. In the beginning of the year, I had planned to visit my mom, who lives in Arizona, but plans changed when everything shut down and we had to resort to FaceTime calls and daily texts.
My mom thought of the idea to do weekly calls where we cook new recipes we find on Pinterest and sometimes Tasty. My mom has always had a passion for cooking, and she passed that down to me, as well as my sister, Paige. Our plan was to find recipes throughout the week and then agree on one we would make together. My mom kept it strict and only cooked with “us girls,” which was convenient since Paige and I live together. We would then plan a FaceTime call on Sunday nights, since that was the night all of us were free. We cooked together in real time and then tasted it to see if we actually followed the recipe — and whether it was worth making again.
It would start with all of us being in a group chat and sending links to recipes before we could finally settle on one. My mom raised us to not be picky over our food, so we really wanted to try everything. My mom, however, did have a soft spot for making homemade soup, but Paige and I always liked making steak, chicken or pasta. Then we would go to the grocery store at some point in the week, which usually started a fight about if I had to go or Paige did, to get what we needed. Finally, we would call my mom, who was three hours behind, and follow the recipe together. The recipes typically were for dinner meals, even though my mom was three hours behind us, so she ended up having to eat the meal a couple hours after us. Paige and I would take turns doing different steps while my mom did her own thing her kitchen. My sister and I always critique how each other does things — how I cut the onions or how she mixes, there was always a comment about something. But even though my mom is 2,000 miles away, she still became the mediator.
The most memorable cooking night was when we really wanted to step up our cooking game and make something out of our comfort zone. We went back and forth on recipes almost every day of the week until we finally settled on one. When it came to the weekend and we had all of our ingredients together with my mom on the call, we started the recipe and came to find out our mom got ingredients for a totally different recipe. She got ingredients to make a certain kind of steak and Paige and I bought ingredients to make a fancy pasta. The realization hit when my mom held up her packaged raw steak to the camera and we had a bag of flour and eggs to make homemade pasta sitting on our counter.
We were so confused on how this happened since we usually had a set decision by the time the grocery shopping came. Paige scrolled through the text messages between all of us to figure out what went wrong. We realized that my mom sent a recipe to make a buttery garlic steak with roasted vegetables and I sent back a recipe to make potato gnocchi, but we didn’t realize no one had said anything, we just bought our own separate ingredients for our own recipes. This caused quite the stir as we all blamed one another and laughed as my mom threw her raw steak around making jokes. This is one of my favorite memories because I remember laughing so hard and being able to be with my mom even if she was so far away but feel her presence in the kitchen.
This tradition lasted all the way through quarantine until today since Arizona and Maryland have similar lockdown procedures and we see this obligation to keep us all together. It was the weekends that really got me through COVID-19 and made me happy, but at the same time sad that we couldn’t be together in person. It made me realize that I needed that family and human interaction in general to keep me going and motivated to not just sit in bed binge watching Netflix. These cooking nights have given me a much-needed break from online school and kept me busy over slow and boring weekends. But we are already planning for our in-person cooking nights and already talking about recipes for when we visit the Grand Canyon State.
By Ruth Ogunsanwo
Growing up, my mom told me how important it is to learn to cook, not only for myself but for others. I enjoy cooking with her because we get to share some alone time together. But I never took an interest in cooking because I thought it was too stressful standing in the kitchen for hours. It took a pandemic for me to appreciate my mother’s words on the importance of learning how to prepare my own meals. “You might not need it now, but you will need it in the future,” she would say.
I started learning how to prepare my own meals at the beginning of May 2020. I became motivated when I would go days without eating. I started preparing dishes as simple as frying eggs, and then moved to learning how to prepare African dishes. I would look up YouTube videos of how to prepare a dish like jollof rice and fried rice — two of my favorites — and then go out and get the ingredients that I need. Every Saturday, I would walk to the Shoppers market close to my apartment and get groceries that I need to prepare these dishes.
My mom moved back to Nigeria in 2018, and I moved out of the house to live by myself in 2019. The most memorable moment of cooking was on Christmas Day in December. When I lived together with my mom in Silver Spring, she would always prepare her famous chicken stew on this day. Christmas Day is not the same if she doesn’t prepare her soup.
She wasn’t physically around on Christmas Day of 2020. I was craved her stew so badly and I wanted her to teach me how she makes it. I called her on WhatsApp video call and asked her to show me exactly how she makes it. She gave me a list of all the ingredients she uses to make the stew. I drove to Giant, got some tomatoes, bell pepper, onions, chicken, Maggi, curry, thyme and small peppers. I called her back on video call and made the stew in my kitchen in Courtyard.
My mom led me through it, so it felt like she made it herself. She told me step-by-step how to make it. The aroma of the stew smelled like hers, but the taste was a bit mild which made it taste different from hers. She told me that I did a good job and the reason it tasted different was probably because I prepared a smaller quantity than what she is normally used to preparing. I was reminded that a woman cannot do without her mother’s guidance.
Times like these brought me closer to my mom as it made us spend a lot of hours on the phone. It made me appreciate my mom’s cooking even more because when she was around to prepare my meals, I took her teaching for granted. Since the pandemic, I have spent a lot of time indoors and a lot of my times watching YouTube videos on how to prepare dishes from my hometown. I have learned how to prepare dishes like jollof rice, ofada sauce and bean pudding. Even if I am aware that I could always count on her but, it’s a great feeling knowing that I don’t have to depend on her anymore before I can prepare a meal for myself. Preparing these dishes have given me a break from my usual routine of buying food. It has helped me to reconnect with my culture and shown me the importance of never forgetting my upbringing.