During this pandemic, the hashtag #COVIDCooking seemed to trend on social media, illuminating a renewed interest in cooking and baking while people were self-isolating at home. As FiftyForward moved its programming to a virtual format, three of our program directors shared their cooking and baking interests and talents with us. Heather McNeese, Lead program director at FiftyForward Madison Station, began sharing well-loved recipes with members on Facebook. Georgina Dench, who coordinates our FiftyForward Fresh meal delivery routes as well as serving as a program manager at FiftyForward Patricia Hart Building, shared some baking recipes with the help of her family on our virtual programming. And, lastly, Victoria “Vickee” Schoffner, our kitchen wizard who plans and plates those delicious meals in our FiftyForward Fresh kitchen, shared some of her easy and healthy vegan recipes, too. All three women bring vitality to this “cooking at home” phenomenon we find ourselves in during this time.

We asked all three a series of six questions to share with us why they think there is a resurgence in cooking and baking and what they think people can learn from this time at home as they prep meals for themselves.

  1. What do you think inspired people to take on cooking/baking during the pandemic?

Georgina shares, “This time has thrown us all for a huge loop and has shaken up the way we do so many things. I think people felt inspired to shake things up in the kitchen as well and get out of the food rut so many of us find ourselves in during the monotony of daily life. Cooking and baking are also a comfort for many of us that is so needed right now. For me personally, food is all about connection and being with my loved ones. I enjoy spending hours over a recipe and sharing it with my family.”

Vickee adds: “Their favorite restaurant was shut down and they realized cooking at home was much safer and … a lot cheaper.”

It’s true that many restaurants have shut down and there is a movement by many to order take out from local restaurants in their neighborhood to help them stay afloat financially. Ordering takeout has been proven to be low risk in terms of contracting Covid-19.

  1. Sourdough bread starter had its 15 minutes of fame. Why?

Although Heather and Vickee had no experience with it and no idea why it became such a popular thing, Georgina theorized it’s because “bread is such a comfort food for many people and since we’re all looking for comfort during this crazy time, it was a natural go-to.”

  1. What inspires you to cook/bake?

Heather shares, “I love to eat (who doesn’t?) and I love to try new recipes.” She has been making the effort to try one new recipe a week to break up the usual rotation of meals she and her husband consistently cook.  Vickee says for her it’s about saving money. She says, “I do a ton of batch cooking and meal preparation because I’m super busy.” In addition to her duties at FiftyForward Fresh, Vickee is a fitness coach, managing her own business and clients. She shares, “I really like to educate others on how simple ingredients can actually taste the best and be healthier.”

Georgina loves baking because “it is a way I can tune into my inner perfectionist! I personally love the exactness and the science of baking. I also have a big sweet tooth, so I don’t like to go too long without whipping up a sweet treat!”

  1. If you could share words of wisdom for folks who are isolated who might want to try their hand at cooking/baking/new recipes, what would you say?

Georgina says, “Start simple! Practice mastering a few basic recipes and venture out from there.”  Heather concurs, “Do it! Start with simple recipes that only require a few ingredients and steps and then work your way up to dishes that might require a little more effort. The whole process should be enjoyable … As with everything in life, it’s a learning process.”  Vickee agrees that it’s the best time to try. She says, “If there is a recipe or a specific ingredient that you have been wanting to try, just go for it. If it doesn’t work the first time, do it again. Trying new things and learning to cook is all about experimentation.”

This shared philosophy –trying things and experimenting – is what life is all about and of course, something that we at FiftyForward call “FiftyForward Firsts.”

  1. Since you are teaching cooking/baking in a virtual arena, have you gotten feedback that warms your heart?

Vickee shares that people have told her the recipes boost their energy and allow them to experience new dishes they may not have had before. Heather appreciates the comments that members leave on Facebook – “Thank you for sharing” or “I made this recipe and it turned out great” – she is happy they are engaging and enjoying the video tutorials.  Georgina’s family members have become familiar faces in her virtual tutorials. Her interactions with her family, especially her dad, have been a joy to watch. He likes to join her in the baking lessons. She shares, “I love hearing from people that we look like we’re having fun together. That’s what it’s all about!”

  1. What do you think people will “take away” from this time of physically distancing?

It is Vickee’s hope that we “won’t take each other for granted and that home-cooked meals can taste so much better.” Georgina says, “Slowing down is good for the soul. There are a lot of simple pleasures to experience at home – sitting outside with a cup of coffee, reading, doing a puzzle, learning a new craft, and of course, baking!”  Heather put it this way: “I hope people realize the importance of slowing down and prioritizing what is truly meaningful in life. At the end of the pandemic, I hope we all come out of it with cleaner houses, new skills (and recipes!) we’ve learned, and a greater appreciation for the family, friends, and strangers we get to interact with every day.”

We hope that you will jump in and kickstart a love of cooking and baking or renew your love of it. Join Heather, Georgina, and Vickee in our virtual programming as they continue sharing their love of cooking and baking. “Like” your center’s Facebook page and join us on your cooking journey.

Submitted by Misa Acox,  FiftyForward Marketing & Publications Manager