Remember the “good parts” of the COVID shutdown? Massive decreases in global pollution. Reemergence of woodland creatures in our backyards (yes, my daughter and I actually saw a coyote loping down our street). And who can forget all the inventive home cooks who took on new culinary pursuits, like fermenting kombucha, bread baking with friends’ sourdough starters, and revisiting beloved dishes that, in the “Before Times,’” were way too time-consuming. They’d share their brilliant results on social media, inspiring legions more to give it a shot. Full disclosure: I did none of that, but watched, transfixed, from the sidelines.

Here we are, three years hence, and I got to wondering: what culinary dishes or practices stayed with folks post-shutdown? And which fell to the wayside? So I tapped into my database of friends and business associates to get the skinny and as usual, my hive mind was more than willing to dish.

Deborah’s favorite ingredients.

Deborah Vaphides of Equilibrium Acupuncture is a great home cook, and I speak from personal experience. Here’s what she served up: “I barely remember what I ate during the pandemic, but toward the end … I became obsessed with Asian food, particularly Korean and Japanese. Ingredients (condiments…lots and lots of condiments) were readily available on Amazon. I watched tutorials on YouTube to learn which basic ingredients worked and how to prepare rice and roll it all up!”

“Sushi, it turns out, is very calorie dense,” she relayed. “And also salty! So I had to cool my indulgence after a bit.”

“Alas, no more oatmeal-coconut-walnut-chocolate chunk cookies.” That sad statement showed up from Rosalie Saferstein, former restaurant reviewer and food writer for New Jersey Monthly. “They were a staple, having baked them regularly in our house since the ‘Covid Era.’ During that time, I savored my daily glass of wine and that has not changed, but we stopped baking because we got the Covid 19 pounds.”

Then there’s local artist Elizabeth Horowitz. “I really didn’t cook anything special, so I can’t help ya. I did a lot of take out from Aurora.” For those in the know, I don’t need to fangirl about the late, lamented Aurora in Clifton. The food was scrumptious, portions plentiful, and the prices, more than fair. When they closed after a devastating fire, it was Elizabeth who texted the son to see if they had any plans to reopen.” The answer? “As of now, no.”

Julie Ingenohl is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut. “I literally don’t remember cooking anything,” she told me, “but we did have some fun food-related celebrations. For my birthday (and because we missed a scheduled trip to Turks), the kids set up a little bar with a blender where I ordered tropical drinks. My husband, Kyle, got tropical-themed decorations, they cooked lobster, and my daughter made a carrot cake from scratch.

“For my son’s 16th,” Julie says, “we set up a candy & milkshake bar, and for my daughter’s 21st, I had a wine tasting with appetizers. I even printed out a menu with descriptions. No wonder I’m still exhausted from Covid!”

John Yewell’s sourdough

“Like many,” John Yewell shared, “I took up baking sourdough, using a starter I got from California.

Yewell is a co-director of Writeaways, weeklong writing workshops in marvelous locations like France and New Mexico, designed to liberate writers from their day-to-day responsibilities to devote full attention to writing.

“I have kept it up, gradually refining my recipe. It’s pretty damn good. I bake two loaves at a time, whenever we run out. Happy to share my recipe if you like; it’s 17 steps. By the way, I also make my own duck confit and a bunch of other stuff,” he adds.

Sharon Gill is a real estate broker and Jersey girl who loves family, nature, fitness and food. As she told me, “During COVID, I was very busy, as the real estate business in NJ had no government restrictions and people were rushing to buy—so there was no time for a new culinary pursuit.

“But as I needed to eat, I tried a meal prep service (HelloFresh gifted by one of my daughters) for several months. This I enjoyed, as it reignited my interest in cooking and reminded me that I had the skills and the tools to make good meals. A few favorites which I still make on occasion include shepherd’s pie and a few different bowls and salads, and I expanded my spice collection to experiment more, especially with roasted vegetables.

“Another culinary treat I picked up during COVID was watching (dare I say BINGING?) on cooking/culture shows. Oh, and I did a SKYPE cooking class with friends. Our chef was in South Africa. Amazing, fun, educational.”

But it was Lynette Harrison Brubaker’s contribution that struck a deeply poignant chord while impressing the hell out of me. She’s CEO & founder of consulting firm, The LHB Group. “During the pandemic, I became borderline obsessed with keeping my family healthy, in good spirits and well-fed. Most weeks, it felt like cooking a good dinner every night was the only thing I could control when everything else around us felt so uncertain and scary. So I got into a ritual of obsessive meal planning.

“Every Sunday night, I would write out our weekly menus on the big blackboard we have in our kitchen,” she said in an email. “Initially I started … because I got tired of hearing the kids ask me 3 times a day what we were having for dinner. Then I started posting the menus on my social media accounts and it quickly sparked conversation and community among friends. I would send recipes around and friends would make their own suggestions on meals they cooked and loved. We all looked forward to it every week. While I don’t always share it on social media anymore, I still create a weekly menu that I write out on the blackboard in our kitchen.”

Lynette’s weekly menu.

It was Lynette’s last paragraph, though, that captured this restaurant consultant’s heart.

“We also started doing Takeout Tuesday, which meant every Tuesday, we’d choose a different local restaurant we’d never been to and we’d order takeout ….The restaurants all suffered so much during the pandemic, it was our small way of trying to support local businesses; plus, the bonus was that it was one less day I had to cook! This is another covid eating habit that stuck as we still do takeout Tuesday at the Brubakers every week.”

Cook when you can. Support your local restaurants. As Ruth Reichl said, “Life is so endlessly delicious.” Thank heavens.

It’s safe to say that Karen Schloss Diaz lives to eat and not the other way ’round. For 20+ years, her MarComm firm, diaz * schloss communications, has been serving up PR, community engagement, advertising strategy and social media for food & beverage brands. Her newspaper column, “Choice Cuts,” ran in The Montclair Times (USA Today/Gannett) for 11 years.