Quarantine bodies, potatoes and anticipatory grief
It's the fall of democracy, eat a potato
This week: An essay about quarantine and body image to distract from more pressing issues, a recipe for potatoes au gratin that would really hit the spot today, and why it feels like we’re mourning something that hasn’t happened yet.
A few weeks ago I went for my usual plague walk around the neighborhood and caught my reflection in a bus stop shelter. I barely recognized myself. My face was completely obscured by my mask and sunglasses, and I was wearing sweatpants—an item of clothing I didn’t own before quarantine, let alone wore outside.
But also, I was noticeably bigger. Maybe it was partly the pants or the funhouse effect of warped MTA plastic, but it was confronting in a way that even feeling my clothes get tighter each week hadn’t been. Surely this is a tough time for anyone who has ever been told they “have a pretty face”—a ‘compliment’ that exists solely to deliver the insult within it. My weight has fluctuated before, but at least I could distract with a socially acceptable face then. Now all I have are a handful of masks in colorful prints.
It’s embarrassing. Not the weight gain—caring about it. Aren’t we supposed to be past this? Isn’t it even a bit immoral to stress about weight gain when you’re lucky to have a healthy body, whatever its shape?
But the thing is I don’t feel bad about my body—my body feels bad. Especially this last week, sitting on the couch watching the pouring rain for days and not getting out even for my walk which takes an hour and results in fewer steps than my commute to work used to account for. My shoulders hurt all the time, but I’m too scared to book a massage, let alone go to the gym. I feel like my heart rate hasn’t budged for 8 months, except for one panic attack in April where I ended up walking around my block in the cold so someone would at least find me if I was indeed having a heart attack. I can’t get comfortable in bed at night. I slouch.
We’re conditioned to examine ourselves in the mirror every time we sense something might be off to gauge the severity of the situation, but we should be focusing on solving the real problems: our ergonomically-compromised home office set-ups, the complete absence of endorphins in our current lives, and the fact that we’re spending all our free time penned up for fattening like veal.
(I was going to add something here about how ethical farmers try to keep their livestock from experiencing stress because cortisol affects the taste of the meat, but I couldn’t bring myself to Google the details. I’m pretty sure this is a thing, though, so turn off the news before you ruin your meat.)
If you’re feeling like garbage and stressed about weight gain but of course know that it absolutely doesn’t matter at all and suspect that anyone who has gotten in better shape this year is probably at least a little bit of a psychopath, your body probably feels bad too. I would suggest a two-fold solution: get some exercise while continuing to eat whatever you want. (And maybe Google laptop stands.)
I bought an elliptical last week and it’s the best choice I’ve made all quarantine, even though it took about 4 hours to assemble. Like a lot of people, I also enjoy Yoga with Adrienne, though I find the peer pressure of a live Zoom class makes me work harder. But my real quarantine find are these creepy animated workout videos on YouTube. If you’ve ever turned off a workout video because the trainer’s chipper chumminess felt like a slap in the face to your depression, these are for you! I only want to work out with a persona-less humanoid from now on.
And because this week is going to call for the ultimate comfort food, potatoes, I give you this recipe for potatoes au gratin based off a recipe from The Kitchn, but made even less healthy by me.
Potatoes Au Gratin Plus
8 ounces Gruyère cheese
3 large potatoes, sliced thin on a mandoline
1 small yellow onion, 1/2 large onion
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Heat the oven to 400ºF and butter a baking dish. Grate the cheese, slice the potatoes and onions, and finely chop or grate the garlic.
Place the butter and garlic in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour, salt, mustard and pepper. Whisk to combine and cook for about a minute. Add the cream and whisk vigorously until well-combined and simmering. Remove from the heat and add all but a handful of the cheese, slowly, stirring to combine until the cheese is melted.
Layer the onions, and potatoes in the baking dish, salting as you go and pouring the cheese sauce between every layer or two. Pour the remaining cheese sauce over the top, then sprinkled the remaining cheese and thyme over top. Bake for 60-75 minutes until brown and on top and the potatoes are soft.
Serve on election night with a stiff cocktail and a cozy blanket.
Are you angry? On edge? Resigned to the worst case scenario? You might be grieving. Many people experience anticipatory grief when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal condition. Grieving the loss before it happens is different than grieving after the loss. You may feel more helpless and angry, be hyper-vigilant, and experience an ever present feeling of dread. Sound familiar? Psychologists have warned the pandemic could cause such grief even among people whose loved ones have been spared so far. We’re all living with the fear of losing someone close to us before all this is over, coupled with the certain loss of so many strangers. But I think we’re also feeling anticipatory grief for the election results. Burned from 2016, aren’t we all feeling pretty resigned to an unthinkable win? As someone tweeted yesterday, it feels like we’re all awaiting a biopsy result. I haven’t met anyone truly optimistic about the outcome because we’ve become conditioned to expect the worst by receiving the worst for the past four years. We’re angry and exhausted, and though we each have individual power, we fear that votes won’t count in the end.
There’s not much you can do about anticipatory grief, but staying in touch with friends can help. It feels absurd to suggest self-care in such circumstances but…it couldn’t hurt. All we can really do, though, is hope that the patient pulls through.
This celebration of the humble galette. (True to the dek, I made one last week, and though it was a bit of a disaster because my rolling pin is larger than my available counter space and my dough got too warm, it was still delicious.)
This video of Stoffel, a very smart honey badger who yearns for freedom.
An extremely accurate animated interpretation of the workday.
This feature on the runners who still ran the marathon on Sunday.
And for ultimate soothing distraction: every episode of Samin Nosrat’s podcast.
What are you cooking to calm yourself? (And is it working?) Email me.
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