From a bird's eye view, I can see two bright white plates from Homegoods filled with rice y gandules (rice and pigeon peas), fried chicken cutlets, tostones (fried plantains) and a salad filled with red cabbage and arugula. The brightly colored salad is dressed with an apple cider vinegar dressing from a friend's recipe that I've added to the list of comfort foods in our home.
A green olive is peeking out from the mound of rice on the plate, conjuring memories of when my sister and I would count each other's olives to make sure Mom gave us the same amount. (That quickly reminds me, I should double-check to be sure my husband and I have a fair share of olives, too.)
The rice has one slice of a freshly roasted red pepper lying inside out across the top—a classic touch from my mother. The chicken, although fried, is not how she would typically make it. Since we don't often fry food in our home, we don't have breadcrumbs, so I use what we do have—a piece of a baguette blended with coarse cornmeal.
The tostones topped with Grandma's famous tomato mojito, per usual, are tucked neatly on top of each other. The extra mojo (and there is always extra), is in the wood pilon.
This was our Sunday dinner a couple of weeks ago. The beauty of the spread on our counter took my breath away. So I took a photo. The moment I put the phone down, I had my first mini-meltdown since our mandatory quarantine began. I cried hard for about three minutes (which felt like 20) and collapsed into my husband's arms.
Because at that moment—it all felt like too much.
This meal reminded me of home. Not just the place I currently live, but "home" home. That safe space which includes my parents, my sister, my brother and my grandma, too. The place that raised me. The best food that I was raised on. The place where the scent of every ingredient lingered throughout each crack in our home.
The place unlike any other.
It reminded me that my sister is currently in LA in her apartment, by herself, until further notice.
It reminded me that my grandmother keeps crying because she is sad she won't be able to see any of us, until further notice.
It reminded me some of my new mama friends are going through their fourth-trimester postpartum ups and downs and cannot see family or even simply ask for help from friends, until further notice.
It reminded me that one of my best friends is exposing herself to the coronavirus daily while treating her patients and is unable to see anyone, until further notice.
It reminded me that I cannot hug any of these people, the people I love the most—my family, "framily" and friends—until further notice. Hugging, for me, is a sign of affection that has been ingrained in me since I was in the womb.
It reminded me that I currently cannot even step foot inside "home" home right now, until further notice.
It reminded me I cannot even leave my current home for weeks because I've tested positive for COVID-19.
Even though we have made it through more than half of our mandatory quarantine already, I'm terrified by the thought of leaving again—even when I'm cleared to. I cannot stop thinking about the possibility that I could fully recover and then be reinfected, unknowingly carrying this virus around people I love.
It's all frightening and heartbreaking. I wonder, should I even be hugging my husband? Although, this act of affection and love is probably one of the only things helping me heal right now.
I cried looking at this meal full of comfort food I made because I wish I was sitting down to eat it with my entire family. Now, quarantined, until further notice, I don't even know when I will see them again. Although this meal is off from my usual low-carb-meatless diet, my soul has been craving ALL OF THE CARBS and meat. With the belief that food is medicine, right now I'm feeding my soul what it wants, plain and simple.
Although this comfort food brings some comfort, it breaks my heart, too. It's hard to reconcile the fact that we are required to stay inside our home for an indeterminate amount of time combined with the idea that we still know so little about this virus. The truth is though, that we are among the luckiest. I know this.
I feel privileged to simply be alive during this pandemic while so many others are losing loved ones every day. I have a job and am able to work from home full-time, for a company that cares about its employees.
My family is alive and well. I get to hug my husband whenever I want. My awesome brother has been picking up and delivering groceries to our building. And we live in a time of innumerable technologies that enable us to keep in close contact with our loved ones no matter where they are.
For the time being, I am doing my best to trust in our incredibly hard-working essential workers to keep crushing it, to have a positive outlook and to keep smiling. Bringing the feeling of home to my actual home through comfort food, hugs from my husband and FaceTime chats will do for now.
Hang in there, mama.