Being indoors for weeks magnifies your normal routine: it’s the same thing you do most days; you’re just doing it for longer. But little things are slightly off-kilter, reminding you it’s not normal. I am working, eating lunch and drinking tea at home every day, which leads to a critical dishwasher stacking imbalance. Mugs, glasses and small plates now crowd it, meaning the top shelf (drinking vessels, long utensils laid on top of same) is now full and ready for a cycle while the dinner plates below have barely got their shorts on. I need to find other things to fill it up or commit to a half-wasted cycle. This is a crisis.
Come Easter weekend I’ve been here for four weeks and I’m not looking forward to four days off work without anything to do. But Good Friday will prove my best lockdown day so far, better even than the one when Amazon delivered my new four-socket surge-protected extension lead.
In the morning I get a screwdriver out and fix an unsteady chair, and tighten up its partner chair for good measure. By rights I could now have a quick nap, but it makes me a bit restless for something else to do. I wander into the kitchen.
There are chicken thighs in the fridge I’ve been planning to cook this weekend but haven’t decided what to do with. I could have a second go at that Nadiya Hussain chicken shawarma recipe, and perhaps not ruin it this time by overdoing the cinnamon and leaving it tasting like a Lebanese Christmas biscuit. It’ll need a salad. I’ll busk one later. I have one dry Tesco flatbread from the last attempt. I could … I could make some?
I used to make bread quite often in the first flat I lived in, always enjoying the process more than I enjoyed ultimately doing anything with it, the race against time to eat it within the two days before it went stale being stressful enough to cancel out any relaxation experienced while making it. But I’ll only do enough of this for about three meals, and the main thing is I’ve just figured out a way to keep myself occupied for most of the rest of the day.
If I’m going to make bread I need to clean the counters a bit more thoroughly than the usual cursory wipe round. As I make a start I realise, the adrenaline of chair repair still coursing through me, that this would be a lot easier if there weren’t quite so much junk around the place. The last visitor to this kitchen, a month or so ago, was throwing stuff away and asked whether this pile of paper napkins was for the recycling too. Not having had to explain this out loud before, I realised that what seemed reasonable in my head (there is a pile of Nando’s and Pret napkins next to the kettle because I take them home whenever I get given extra and I don’t like wasting them) would make more sense if I could explain why; what their function now was. It made me realise that I could perhaps put them away, say in a cupboard or drawer. And only four weeks later I do just that.
I could also throw away the various bits of vaping apparatus that have sat in the same space gathering dust since I gave it up nine months ago. I tidy up the ten or so salt and pepper sachets that have been left over on the counter from Chicken Cottage visits (the salt I use to salt pasta and rice water rather than use up the sea salt; the pepper I keep because you never know when you might need pepper that is markedly worse than the pepper in your pepper grinder) and put them in one of those glass Gü ramekins next to the oils and vinegars.
The flatbread decision has kicked something off. I now have a kitchen that’s relatively tidy and clean, and we’re into early afternoon. I dig out the chicken and the big mixing bowl and start to chop it up. This takes a while: they’re bone-in thighs with the skin on, so you can take off biggish chunks but there are always sinewy bits around the bone that require some more legwork. This is fine. I want to take my time. Nadiya’s book Time to Eat is one of those ones aimed at people much busier than me, and concerned with keeping it simple. She cuts a lot of corners with this audience in mind, one of which is not specifying that you need to marinate this chicken for any length of time, but come on: much as I love the woman, you can’t just throw some spices on some chicken bits, cook it straight away and expect much other than it getting hot enough not to kill you. I stir up her spice mix – cayenne, cinnamon, ground cloves, coriander, cornflour, cumin, paprika, salt, turmeric – mix it up with the chicken and some vegetable oil, cover it and put it in the fridge and go out for a walk.
The only thing I have left that’s green is the end of a cauliflower: the leaves and a bit of the trunk. You can stir-fry the leaves quite effectively if you want: they’ll wilt at the tips but the base of the leaf will stay rubbery and chewy if you underdo it. Here I don’t want them fried particularly, so I blitz them in the food processor with some garlic, then sauté them very lightly with some cumin seeds, salt and chilli flakes so it’s aromatic but still more or less raw, and mix it up with some mayonnaise and some hot sauce.
We’re nearing the shores of Flatbread Island. I set about it with some flour, salt, paprika and toasted/crushed mustard seeds, then make a well for some warm water and olive oil. Kneading is something you could do for hours if you fancied it and had a decently long episode of a true crime podcast on the go about the disappearance of a child from rural Kentucky in 1981. I give it five or ten minutes, the clean counter floured up, pulling it about until it’s stretched and about as thick as a coin. A thick coin. The chicken will need to rest for a few minutes when it comes out of the oven, so that’ll be the flatbread griddle window. Two minutes each side. A bit more on the first side again because it wasn’t hot enough the first time.
Now this is satisfying for a number of reasons: today was a day I wasn’t much looking forward to, but it’s turned out great. This is one of the best things I’ve cooked in some time: I’ve got the spice mix just right. The slaw is something I improvised, so now I feel like Miles Davis, and it used up a vegetable I might not otherwise have found a home for, so I’ve saved the world. The flatbreads are now something easy I can make as a side, for which I’ve always got the ingredients in. I’ve used up the whole day. And because I used the food processor I’ve got something to go on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher. I’ve perfected lockdown. There’s a potential lockdown kill screen coming up if anyone wants to watch.