We made it work as best we could
Decorating the mother-to-be –– I know it’s silly, but we always save the ribbons from baby and wedding shower gifts to decorate the woman being honored. Even with a Zoom baby shower, we kept up the tradition, and Brooke Wheeler was a good sport!

We made it work as best we could

The pandemic has changed everything about our lives — the food we consumed and the way we celebrate with our families

BELLOWS FALLS — What a year it has been in our kitchens!

The last 12 months have changed how we interacted with family, friends, coworkers, schools, our health-care providers, and most certainly the food we consumed.

Our shopping changed dramatically as panic buying left many grocery shelves bare. We lived through shortages of staple items –– flour, yeast, bread, even canned beans. We masked up, and we went to the market less frequently.

We thought twice about dashing to the store just to pick up a quart of milk, and we used a lot less gas. Will we remember this post-COVID?

We baked bread. A lot of it! I have a sourdough starter (11 years old) that I parceled out to friends and even a few folks I've never met. If we could find the flour, we could bake bread. A couple of family members fell in love with baking bread and I think will continue to do so beyond this challenge.

One of the most difficult aspects of the past year was cancelling our beloved family gatherings; holidays and special events became online facsimiles of our usual celebrations.

We made do, and we made it work as best we could. Drive-by birthday, graduation, and farewell wishes made unique memories. We held birthday parties, baby showers, and wedding showers online. I'm a justice of the peace, and I officiated at two weddings via Zoom!

We are a creative lot.

* * *

With more families at home together for the duration, many experienced a renewed interest in cooking and baking. For some, outside activities were replaced by time in the kitchen exploring those recipes we didn't have time for in the past, and everyone sat around the dinner table for once.

Feeding ourselves wasn't all about cooking. I know in our house, we committed to getting one really nice takeout dinner a week to help support our local restaurants and to help us figure out what day of the week it was. We knew it was Friday!

We had exquisite meals to go, whether fresh New England oysters from Peter Havens, a local fig and burrata salad from T.J. Buckley's, or sushi from either Panda North and Panasian.

We feasted on shrimp and grits from Leslie's Tavern in Bellows Falls, and we even had lobster rolls from Café Loco at the Harlow Farm Stand in Westminster, complete with pickle and a bag of chips. Not quite the Maine coast, but a good memory.

Post pandemic, we'll all go back to the restaurants in person but with the knowledge we have takeout options beyond pizza and Chinese.

We figured out how to gather in our backyards safely. Dining with a few friends last summer was manageable if one carefully planned the outside, masked, socially distanced barbecues and picnics.

At my home, I set up our porch and backyard for small dinner parties with just one other family cloistered at the end of two banquet tables set together with a separate table for the food. It was awkward.

But we made it work because that is what we do when faced with challenges. There was still laughter, lively conversation, and long meals together.

That is, until the cold weather set in and the reality of the sheltering really hit us.

Cabin fever never felt so long and hard.

Cancelled family meals and holiday dinners were the most difficult, but it kept everyone safe. I can truly say I've never experienced a Thanksgiving dinner for just two! It was pared down, but still festive. We ate in the kitchen, not the dining room. I set the table with our best crystal and china, and we made video calls to family.

Christmas was even more challenging, but we managed to open presents virtually, and I got lots of homemade goodies sent to all extended family units beforehand.

I doubt I will ever take family meals for granted again, even the simplest Sunday dinner or Friday night out with friends.

* * *

One of the highlights of the year was a baby shower for my niece Brooke. It took a little planning, but we made a memorable celebration.

I baked lemon-lavender cookies that I bubble-wrapped and sent out to all the guests. I included blue balloons, since she knew she would be having a boy. I included tea bags, some other little treats, and a ballot to vote on the date of birth.

All the guests got their gifts to me beforehand. Brooke and her mother sat at one end of the banquet table surrounded by presents and a computer propped up to communicate with everyone and capture the moments.

We “joined the meeting” from many states. We all drank tea and munched on little shortbread cookies, with balloons in full display, and we laughed and had all the usual baby shower conversations, not forgetting to save the ribbons to decorate the mother-to-be!

We celebrated not a moment too soon, since my new little great-nephew was born just a week later!

I chose these shortbread cookies because they stay fresh for a long time and ship beautifully! I just stacked them up into a little tower and sealed then in plastic wrap, then bubble-wrapped them for safe shipping.

Lavender from our local farmstand provided one of the beautiful flavors in these cookies. Make sure you use food grade lavender when cooking or baking with lavender.

I used a lot of lemon zest, two lemons' worth, and a full tablespoon of crushed lavender in the recipe. But sometimes in baking, both these flavors can become muted, so I boosted them with a simple lemon glaze and sprinkling of lemon zest and florets. Doing so resulted in delicious cookies that did not lean too heavily on either flavor.

This is a really good shortbread basic recipe that you can change up any way you like! You can use gluten-free baking mix, and vegan butter as well.

Lemon and Lavender Shortbread Cookies

In a mortar and pestle, combine:

¶Zest of 2 lemons, organic

¶1 Tbsp. food-grade lavender

¶{1/2} tsp. salt

Gently grind to break up the flowers and zest. You still want texture; you're not aiming for a powder here, just a good crush. Set aside.

In the bowl of your standing mixer, or with a hand mixer, on medium, beat:

¶4 sticks of unsalted butter, very soft at room temperature

¶1{1/4} cup granulated sugar

You can also do so by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.

Blend in:

¶1{1/2} tsp. lemon extract

¶{1/2} tsp. vanilla extract


¶4 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

¶The zest/lavender mixture

Mix only until combined. Pour out onto some plastic wrap and gently form into a disc. Refrigerate for at least a half hour; an hour is better. You can make this recipe the day before, and you can even freeze it.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Remove your dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Roll out each half on a lightly floured surface. (Put the second half back in the refrigerator while rolling out the first.)

Dip your cutter into flour and cut out your shapes.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Cool on a rack, then drizzle with limoncello glaze and perhaps a few lavender flowers or zest.

Limoncello Glaze

¶1 cup confectioners sugar (10X powdered)

¶Limoncello to thin glaze

Place sugar in a bowl. Add limoncello, starting with 1 tsp., and mix well with a little whisk or fork. Continue to thin with more limoncello as needed.

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