Toast for an Appetite Distorted by the News

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Tuna salad toast (Ruth Gebreyesus / KQED)

The joy of cooking started to fade two months into shelter-in-place. In the beginning, it was a novelty I’d previously enjoyed as a freelancer when I would turn even mundane snacks into luxurious spreads. A handful of almonds became almonds stuffed in Medjool dates with some orange slices on the side. Apples were often accompanied by cheese, maybe a rosemary cracker or two. And my most elaborate ritual was my morning toast — a platform that held a rotation of performers from roasted and pickled vegetables and cheeses to eggs, beans, fruits and jams along with fresh herbs. To me, toast wasn’t a concession of a meal. It was a celebration of creativity and utility. I delighted in its preparation sparing no expense of time or thought.  

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These days, though, the task of making my meals has become a chore. I’m grateful I can afford both the time and money required to nourish myself. At first, it had to do with how few meals I cooked and shared with friends and family. Cooking for just myself didn’t inspire as much energy or purpose. But lately, my appetite has become fickle. My days are permeated by a nauseating dissonance between toothless corporate solidarity overtures and the fact of the matter on the ground — Black people keep dying, often at the hands of the police. A new headline, a new death distorts the magnitude of each task ahead of me. What’s a deadline under this reality? What does dinner matter?

sourdough bread with jam
Lately, food writer Ruth Gebreyesus hasn't felt the same joy for cooking as she did when shelter-in-place started. (Ruth Gebreyesus / KQED)

The news comes morning and night and by day’s end, I’m often too repulsed, too tired to answer the question of what to eat. I stand in front of my fridge listlessly hoping a solution magically assembles in front of me. Most nights, it’s often a mess of a salad I eat begrudgingly. Mornings don’t bring any more clarity to the question of food. But somewhere along in the day, toast occurs to me. Gentle enough for even the most upset stomach. Bread, heat and maybe something to top it. It’s a simple equation bringing duty to my fridge’s belongings and remedy for my hunger that’s buried under weariness. .

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A couple weeks ago, a friend sweetly dropped off a whole loaf of sourdough bread. I sliced off generous, weighty slices to toast on a pan. I took my time until the corners burnt a bit. Some butter and some strawberry jam one day and a tuna salad the next. One less question to answer. One less task.