Letter from the Editor

What We Need Right Now Is Rainbow Cooking. What’s Yours?

published Apr 6, 2020
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Credit: Faith Durand

Last week, a time-lapse video on Instagram caught my eye: a woman standing in front of a big window and making, as if by magic, an enormous paper rainbow to span its width. She bends and leans and the color fans out from under her fingers. At the end, her family sits cheerfully under a rainbow of color, pasted up in their Chicago window, like so many other rainbows right now: a small symbol of hope in the face of unprecedented change and fear.

Since I wrote to you early in March, so much has changed. Half the planet is staying home. Covid-19 cases have passed a million. We’re in a time of social, economic, and political crisis. But there are two things we have in common, at least in the United States: we’re all cooking a lot more, and we’re all looking for any scrap of certainty and hope that this disaster will pass and life will expand again without fear or confinement.

I’ve been thinking about Amanda Jane’s rainbow in the window, and so many other rainbows like it right now. Funny enough, the very first rainbow of all signaled the end of a very long confinement. As the story is told, Noah and his family were shut up together for weeks in a dark boat, with no one else to wave to from the window, and with probably all-too-little social distancing from the matched sets of anteaters and water buffaloes. After the family is finally released from five months of cabin fever into a new world, the rainbow is given as a promise that such a disaster will never come again.

Once that ancient storyteller told the Noah story, the rainbow became a symbol of hope, freedom, and peace, especially in times of pain. Most notably, of course, the LGBTQIA community’s rainbow flag has waved for solidarity, allyship, and what seemed at times impossible hope in the midst of oppression and the battleground of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The rainbow is a two-way ribbon, and I thought of that when I saw this tweet last week:

Add to the vulnerability of the queer community the marginalization and neglect of those who are disabled, undocumented, immunocompromised, elderly, jobless, underemployed, and homeless. The least and the last face increased hardships in our present crisis. You may be feeling hardship yourself; are you one of the nearly 10 million who filed for unemployment in the last two weeks? Have you been sick yourself, even hospitalized? Even if you have not, you have probably been affected in an increasingly material way.

The rainbow makes me look up and down at the same time. Hope, and sadness, the sky and the mud, the rainbow never lets us have one without the other. My rainbow daughter came after two losses. I’ve been trying to use her tissue paper and poster paint to make our own rainbow in the window but it keeps coming out smudged and crumpled. I finally just set out my children’s wooden toy rainbow in the kitchen as a reminder to live and cook with a hope that those I love will come out of this unharmed and on the road back to something that feels healthy. My own craft and art is (I’ll be real!) not craftiness at all, but feeding people, so I have been thinking: what does rainbow cooking mean right now?

Maybe rainbow cooking for you is starting sourdough, or eating down the pantry trusting you can refill it; maybe it’s not cooking at all and getting takeout from a local restaurant that’s still trying to make it. For me, cooking at all is a start: it grounds me in the everyday and keeps my head out of the news. It also is a way to share and keep a line of connection. Last week a friend from my cookbook club and I swapped yeast for baking powder (I had the first; he had the second). We never saw each other but we shared our kitchens, with a mailbox as swapping ground. Rainbow cooking was baking a batch of a local bakery’s biscuits; it felt a little bit like a “before time” weekend to taste those honey-butter-glazed goodies and surprise my husband with them too.

The bench just outside my front door is turning into the end of the rainbow; on Friday my in-laws left three huge bags of greens from their garden (if the apocalypse comes, please, get yourself in-laws who garden), and I left my father-in-law half a cake, with sprinkles. (They eat so healthy and he really needs a break sometimes.) My mom dropped off sourdough starter, and a tray of peanut cookies that my kids devoured. It wasn’t a fix for not seeing Grandma in real life, but it was a little bit of hope that we will soon.

Credit: Faith Durand
Look, I'm not even going to pretend to be embarrassed about the screen time implied by this photo. Shimmer and Shine, guys, Shimmer and Shine.

For me, rainbow cooking will be really celebrating Easter, in all its already-not-yet hope. I’ve got all the fixings for an enormous braided loaf of my family’s Easter bread, a ham in the fridge, and candy hidden too-casually in the pantry. I hope you are planning something too. Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, Ramadan, or simply the arrival of Cadbury Mini Eggs (blessed be they): we need to celebrate more than ever. We need our rhythms of celebration at the end of winter, marking time of a different sort, gathered around a flickering Zoom screen. Plus, spring isn’t canceled, so get your butt outdoors and give thanks that the leaves are back.

Rainbow cooking isn’t ignoring the present situation we’re in or treating it with cheap, easy sentimentality. We’re living, brutally yet quietly, through a major disaster, slow-rolling its way through our entire country, and we can all expect to be touched. Rainbow cooking takes that all in; there’s no way through this that doesn’t mean some pain, and I’m not going to pretend that cooking itself isn’t part of that itself, as many struggle with budget, availability, and the omnipresent difficulty of how to grocery shop safely. But cooking can be that two-way ribbon; just look at all the people baking banana bread this month and reveling in its comfort, normalcy, and hope. Rainbow cooking is anything that gives you hope.

So, what is rainbow cooking to you? Whatever it is: I want to hear about it. What’s your kitchen rainbow right now, as deeply earnest and cheesy as that may sound? I’ll never apologize for my earnestness; there’s no room right now for cynicism in our homes and kitchens. May we all stay well, and find our rainbow this month.

Credit: Rachel Barehl

Over here embracing screen time with you,


Credit: Faith Durand

A few more things…