On Women’s Day, 8th March, 2020, my husband, Tom, and I went out to lunch with friends. We were surprised to find that we were the only customers in the restaurant. A special Women’s Day lunch, with a piano player and general celebration had been planned, but, with Covid-19 threatening, it transpired that we were the only group of people there. We had the place to ourselves and found it slightly surreal.
Two days later Italy went into full lockdown. I, personally, was terrified. Was I going to get this mysterious virus? Would I die? My anxiety levels were through the roof. My sleep pattern was all over the place, I couldn’t get stuck into reading more than leafing through a glossy magazine, nor could I write a word of my new book. It was as though my brain had frozen. To be honest, I am not the calmest person on the planet at the best of times, but the feeling of being stalked by an unknown enemy was deeply challenging.
First of all, I turned to Netflix for solace and watched TV series after TV series for several weeks. Then I calmed down a bit, began to read again and actually managed to finish writing my book, which will be out next April/May called “In the Shadow of the Olive Tree”, a follow-up to my previous novel “The Blonde in the Gondola”..
In the meantime, I had a hungry husband to feed, a true foodie, who was keen for me to try to produce a different dish every evening in order to entertain and titillate our Facebook friends. Having nothing else to do at that point, other than binge-watch Netflix, I complied happily and Tom posted my culinary offerings almost every evening on his popular post, which goes by the name of “What’s Burning Tonight.” I went by the name of “Chef Double O”.
I am not a professional cook, not at all. I am someone who spent many years cooking in bulk for four children with healthy appetites and have never thought too deeply about the subject of food, other than its nutritional value. Certainly, there was not a whole lot of variety and making it look pretty never crossed my mind. However, all that was about to change.
So, here’s how it went: I would try to create a dish I had never cooked before. Then, as it was nearing completion, I would call Tom and he would hurry to the kitchen, poised to photograph whatever was bubbling on the stove-top or steaming in a dish.
When I would serve it, Tom would take several photographs, while it – from time to time – got so cold that he had to reheat it. By then, I would often have finished eating. Such dedication!
In May we had artichokes and I learned how to prepare them and tried out several dishes. Artichoke lasagna and fettucine, steamed, grilled, in risotto – you name it, it had artichokes on board.
In August our two fig trees provided bountiful fruit which I made into quiches, with brie or blue cheese, cakes, crostata and jam. We dried them and froze them and ate them straight off the trees. They were unbelievably delicious.
Here are a few of Tom’s and my photos of some of the many dishes I tried out over that period and some from later on too.
I even froze tarragon and basil for winter in our very own olive oil.
Tom and I have remained in our own bubble since March and have no plans to begin eating out or mixing with family or friends until this terrible virus has been brought under control. Luckily, we have the beautiful countryside of the Itrian Valley of Puglia around us, where we can walk the trails through the olive groves, keeping ourselves fit and healthy.