Recipes for a lockdown

Be kind and bake crumble bars

It was still dark when I parked my car in the nearly empty parking lot. As I walked into the grocery store the barest shimmer of dawn was just beginning to peek out from around the clouds. Inside it was nearly empty, save for a few employees dotted around the store like little islands, unpacking cases of fresh produce and stocking the shelves with jars of peanut butter. I plucked a shiny red bell pepper straight out of the case as I walked by and thought, "I could get used to this social-distancing thing."

Our household is a multigenerational one, with an 87-year-old and two small kids living under the same roof. My grandmother, though in excellent health, is still extremely vulnerable to the COVID 19 pandemic that is rushing into communities across the country. So, with the advice from doctors and public health officials we've started making some major adjustments to our lifestyle, including keeping the kids home from school to limit grandma's exposure to the germs that the darling little vectors inevitably bring home, and grocery shopping at off-peak times. This is not just to keep my family from falling ill, but to do our part in not overwhelming an already strained health care system. Public health professionals call this "flattening the curve," essentially spreading out the incidences of folks getting sick over a longer period of time so the health care system can adequately care for those who need it most.

I'm profoundly grateful for the ease with which I was able to make the decision to hunker down, because it is a difficult and nearly impossible one for many others. For most of my adult life I was like so many other food service workers who are paid on an hourly basis with no paid sick leave or health insurance. I went to work ill more times than I care to count because missing even one day of work would have thrown the fragile finances of my youth into chaos. Missing days or even weeks of work would have been unimaginable and it's not like kitchen workers can telecommute.

So even as I quietly joke to myself while shopping in the predawn hours that social-distancing isn't all that bad, I am fully aware that many others are being forced to make heart-wrenching sacrifices everyday. I am incredibly privileged, and that comes with responsibility. For the next few weeks I'll be laying low, delivering groceries to some of grandma's friends who live alone, and inevitably cooking and baking up a storm.

Based on the evidence at hand, fastidious hygiene and social-distancing are two of the most critical tools we have to stymie this pandemic. In some instances this will mean making incredibly inconvenient adjustments to our lives and schedules, but it doesn't have to be at the expense of connection. I like to believe it is possible that if we seize this crisis as a reason to check on our neighbors, go hiking with friends in the sunshine, and to simply say more often, "I love you. How can I help?," we just might emerge in several weeks kinder and more resilient than before.

Crumble Bars

These pantry-friendly bars are very adaptable, and a perfect baking project to have up your sleeve during a lockdown. Don't have fresh or frozen fruit? Substitute a 12-ounce jar of jam for the berries and powdered sugar.

1 cup butter or coconut oil

3 cups flour of your choice (all purpose, whole wheat and gluten-free flours all work fine)

1 ½ cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups fresh or frozen berries

½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment or foil, leaving an overhang on each end. Lightly coat the paper and pan with cooking spray.

Melt the butter or coconut oil. In a bowl, mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder. Pour in the melted butter and mix till thoroughly combined. The mixture will be crumbly. Press half the flour-butter mixture into the pan to create a level crust. Place the crust in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Toss together the berries and the powdered sugar, then evenly distribute them over the top of the crust. Sprinkle the remaining flour-butter mixture evenly over the top of the berries. Return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the berries are bubbling in the middle of the pan and the streusel topping is lightly browned.

Let cool completely before cutting.

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