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  • Writer's pictureMegan Jarrett

Quarantine: Part (?)

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Before the year 2020, I don't even know what the word "quarantine" meant to me. I can't recall exactly, but I think I pictured a locked down room that was completely walled in with two sets of sliding doors that opened one at a time as you approached. The kind of place that people had to put on hazmat suits to enter. It was something that only happened on Grey's Anatomy or if there was a leak in some sort of fictional research facility. Now, the word "quarantine" is used as much as the word "literally" was used figuratively in 2012.


When I moved to the UK in February, I was required to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. Once I was done with the "quarantine," we were still in "lockdown" for months. That meant no socializing with anyone outside of my household — which happens to just be me. It wasn't the ideal way to move to a new country or make new friends, but hey, not everything in life works out how you imagine it. It was a tough last 15+ months for everyone, so if that's the worst that happened, I should consider myself lucky.


Coming back to the UK from the United States this week, I had to do the same thing even though I'm vaccinated. I also had to self-administer COVID tests on days two and eight, and if I choose to pay extra for it, could test on day five to try to get out of quarantine early. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful that I was able to visit my friends and Jordan and say a proper "goodbye" to Madison now that things are basically back to normal there. But, that doesn't make the whole thing any less of a hassle. Or any cheaper.


The first time I had to do the UK quarantine, I struggled to sit still for 10 days. In an attempt to avoid getting in a rut, I kept a regimented daily routine. It included cooking fresh meals each day, working out each morning (sorry, downstairs neighbors), following a strict flat cleaning schedule, and consuming an aggressive amount of paperback, Kindle, and audiobooks. I avoiding watching Netflix to avoid spending my whole day staring at screens.


This time, instead of rigidly planning out all of my time to avoid going stir crazy, I decided to lean into the quarantine. I’ve been going to bed early, spending more time on FaceTime with friends and family, and enjoying making some yummy meals — whose leftovers feed me for days after. I've done yoga before bed a couple of times, but have not done any HIIT home workouts (you're welcome, downstairs neighbors). I restarted One Tree Hill all over again and have read only two books.


I am well rested — both physically and in my soul. I'm more rejuvenated to get out and take walks, get a coffee with a friend, go to church (in person!!), work from the office instead of my kitchen table, and finally be able to try out my new gym now that it's allowed to open. I'm looking forward to getting to attend Bible study in person instead of over Zoom.


As it turns out, choosing to embrace this forced pace of life for this period has only better prepared me for what comes next — seeking out and enjoying the simple moments of connection with the people and the world around me. Life isn't defined by just the big, bucket list times. The majority of our lives are made up of the small, day-to-day interactions that we've been missing out on for over a year. Until that next test result comes back that will let me out of quarantine, I'll rest comfortably knowing it’ll soon pick back up again and when it does, I'll be ready to appreciate it.


 

Not entirely related but: this week's Quarantine Cooking taught me a few things.

  1. Taco seasoning in the UK is woefully underwhelming. Make your own. Or at least add spices on top of the seasoning packet.

  2. Biscuits and gravy is still my favorite Saturday morning treat. The UK uses the word "biscuit" wrong. Biscuits are supposed to be fluffy.

  3. Cutting carrots into thin sticks is incredibly difficult. How do you make a round vegetable rectangular? How do you not cut your finger slicing something so thin?

Tacos


Earlier this week, I had a head cold and wanted to keep it simple so I pulled some beef mince out of the freezer and made tacos. It was a really simple meal that would let me have leftovers all week because I had a pre-packaged taco kit that included shells, salsa, and taco seasoning. I quickly learned that the taco seasoning here, or at least the one I bought, has very little kick to it; I could barely taste any flavor. It was actually so bland that I thought maybe I had gotten COVID traveling and was losing my sense of taste and smell so I went and sniffed a jar of coffee. Turned out it was actually just under seasoned. That's what I get for not tasting while I cooked.



With the leftovers, I added some cumin, cajun seasoning, and garlic powder and it made a huge difference. I did try melting cheese in the bottom of the shell before adding the beef, sour cream, and salsa and it was actually quite good. Would recommend. To give credit where it's due, one thing the UK is doing right with tacos is that the crunchy shells are smaller so they actually fit in your mouth when you take a bite. It's so much easier to eat that way.


Biscuits and Gravy


Last night, Jordan mentioned he was making biscuits and gravy this weekend and I knew that's just what I wanted to wake up and make this morning, so I pulled some sausage out of the freezer and put some butter into it. The B&G process became unnecessarily complicated when all at once, my sausage was browning, the UK's COVID police were calling to make sure I was quarantining, my biscuit dough needed folded, and a glass bottle shattered all over the counter — all while Alexa was chirping Kacey Musgraves' Biscuits in the background.


Fortunately, no sausage was burned and the COVID police believed I was still home, or were at least done listening to my chaos on speakerphone. The biscuits came out fluffy and only one shard of glass landed in the sausage skillet. Once I fried an egg to put on top, poured a cup of coffee, and sat down with The Secret Life of Bees, all was well again and I could enjoy my (now) quiet Saturday morning.



Chicken Stir Fry


I've never actually made a stir fry, but I had a lot of miscellaneous sauces and seasonings left from when we made Taiwanese food, so I decided to give it a try. I had chicken, carrots, mushrooms, broccolini, and a red bell pepper so the base ingredients were simple. While FaceTiming Jordan on his drive to the Milwaukee ferry that shuttled him over to Michigan, I started chopping up the vegetables.


The mushrooms and peppers were easy, I just thinly sliced them, and the broccolini only needed the stems removed. I saved the carrots for last because I knew they would be the hardest. In cooking terms, a Julienne cut is basically taking whatever food you are working with and cutting it into thin strips or matchsticks. In less technical terms, it's like when Chef Anne Burrell makes her team on Worst Cooks in America shout "slices, sticks, dices" (minus the dices) when prepping their vegetables. It turns out, that's actually really hard. Especially when you're starting with a round vegetable like a carrot. They were definitely not MasterChef ready cuts, but they got the job done.


I couldn't tell you what exactly I put in the sauce, but it was some combination of: sweet potato flour (because I didn't have flour or corn starch) to thicken it, chicken broth, garlic (sliced and minced), ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce (dark and light), white wine vinegar, honey, red pepper flakes, miso paste, and mirin (a sweet rice seasoning). It reduced nicely and actually tasted fantastic. This time, I made sure to taste as a cooked so I didn't end up underwhelmed like I did with my tacos. I was very pleasantly surprised this time.


Now tomorrow, I want to try these BuzzFeed Food Crispy Chicken Teriyaki Rice Balls with my leftovers.


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