Day 62 of 2021. A year ago, I was adjusting my schedule – radically – to the new normal.  Now with the arrival of sunshine, warmer weather and the vaccine, I’m feeling a tad optimistic. We will get through this. We will see friends again. And we will need to work together to help people recover, especially friends and colleagues in the food service business. And the heroic yet weary front-line workers who have kept us healthy and fed.

Which leads me to these thoughts, my Field Report on Flavors of 2021, so far. We’ve been cooking like mad for a whole year with few meals out, a decent rotation of take-out and a new interest in semi-prepared foods and condiments. Hits and misses in the last two categories. No, SOS-creamed chipped beef on toast- won’t work with Hormel’s new formulation. Bland and not that salty.  I loved the dish made using a recipe from the Joy of Cooking 6th edition. (It has finely diced green peppers in the creamy sauce.)  I know, we should have known better. But the Jonah crab and corn chowder made by Blount sold at COSTCO is pretty good.

Hormel Dried Chipped Beef

Here are some thoughts on flavors of the year, so far.

Immunity Foods – Mushrooms

How often have you thought about what foods to eat to fight a cold and protect your family from contracting something? Ginger is one. In the midst of  a pandemic, food as medicine has never been more popular.  Mushrooms have been flying off grocer’s shelves because they are a great immunity booster and a natural source of Vitamin D. Notice how many more varieties and forms are available too. Whole white mushrooms, portobello and shiitake in different sizes, whole and sliced.

What to make with them? Try a rich vegetable stock laden with shiitake mushrooms or a vegetarian mushroom Bolognese.


Bold spicy flavors make foods come alive. What’s giving the foods we are serving that burst of heat? Harissa. Fans of couscous know this aromatic hot pepper paste from North Africa. It is a blend of spicy chilies that have been dried over smoke plus garlic, cumin and caraway.  A version with rose petals is also available. We always have a tube of Le Phare du Cap Bon harissa in our fridge.  I’ve been using it more this winter than I have in years. Swirl it into pasta, with soft-cooked vegetables like zucchini or beans.  Stir it into veggie or chicken broth for sauce in a snap. Yotam Ottolenghi frequently uses harissa in his cookbooks, which have popularized ingredients to make flavors pop.

We’re also hooked on David Chang’s Chili Crunch, something I ordered online a few weeks ago. It is a condiment that has it all – color, heat, flavor and texture. Imagine a savory scoop of beach sand in hot red oil. The crunchy texture comes from onions and possible the coconut sugar in the blend. (I am inspired to try my hand at making something similar using freeze-dried onions and coconut flakes.)

Inventive-Spirit-Free Adult-Beverages

Along with pandemic comfort eating, Americans are consuming more alcohol. Especially women. In a national survey conducted by RAND, women indicated they were drinking heavily -four or more drinks within two hours- 41% more in the spring of 2020 than in the same period in the previous year.


Bring on the better-for-you adult beverages. From Athletic Brewing Company’s beers to Seedlip’s Distilled Non-Alcohol Spirits, there are now dozens of spirit-free offerings that intrigue.  I enjoy APC’s Run Wild IPA at lunch on a workday. (Only their All-Out Extra Dark disappoints. Think unsweetened flat Coke.) One of the latest in this category of brews to reach the market is a sparking tea from 3Mountain brewed in kegs like beer. I can’t wait to try it.

Cookbooks and Cooking at Home

Kim Seversen’s recent article on the cookbooks that sold in the past year inspires me. We’re looking for recipes that are flavorful yet accessible. “Comfort, speed and dessert,” and BREAD.  I’m on it.