Irene Panke Hopkins
Irene Panke Hopkins

Pulling out fixings for oatmeal cookies the other day, I discovered that I was missing a key ingredient: brown sugar. Dang it. I really, really didn’t want to go to the store for just one ingredient, especially with all the masking and gloving required these days.

I vaguely remembered my husband talking about his mother making brown sugar back in the day. Looking online, I learned that the ingredients in brown sugar are white sugar and molasses, both of which I happened to have. I mixed it up, used it in the cookies and stored the rest in the plastic zip bag I already had from my last purchase of brown sugar. No driving, no additional plastic, no mask, no gloves. Done! Yet another piece of ammunition in my anti-plastic arsenal.

Covid-19, with all its sad stories, is causing many people to stop, think and get creative.

Missing an ingredient for that recipe you are making? Find a substitute in your cabinet.

Wondering about the things hidden in the deep recesses of your cabinets? A friend told me that she finally figured out what to do with three cans of water chestnuts that had been in her pantry for years!

When I ran out of toothpaste the other day, I pulled out my ingredients (see my April 15 column and recipe for homemade toothpaste) and made a couple of jars of toothpaste for my husband and me.

Prior to the pandemic, I never wanted to waste time or materials experimenting with something that might not quite come out the way I need it to.

Why bother when I could just get it at the store? Based on conversations I’ve had with friends, I am not alone. Alas, we have traded creativity for convenience, patience for instant gratification.

David Mitchell’s novel “The Bone Clocks” presents an imagined scenario where electricity is running out and the internet has all but crashed. The taken-for-granted endless supplies of food, water, medicine, fuel and power are no longer readily available. People are isolated and being forced to reach way back in their DNA to remember a time when shampoo and soap and laundry detergent were home-made. When in order to eat, we had to grow food. When things we needed required planning and time to acquire.

And here we are, not quite in a dystopic existence, but possibly the closest we have come in our lifetime apart from our elders who lived through the last pandemic (100 years ago), the Great Depression and World War II when people struggled financially, emotionally and were dependent on their own resourcefulness.

None of us know what is going to happen in the future. The climate crisis is real and will have major impact on our lives if we don’t take action. I am hanging on to hope by a thread, but also being realistic about the possibility that our collective greed and denial will be our undoing.

With all that this pandemic has taken from us, one thing it has given us is time. Time to experiment. Time to try things you’ve been thinking about trying but haven’t gotten around to. Time to plan for a future where these actions may come in to play.

In addition to the abundance of home-based mask-making ventures, people are baking bread as suggested by the sparse bread-making supply shelves in the grocery stores. (Think how many plastic bags that is saving!)

The Seattle Times reported in an article May 6 that correlative to the corona virus stay-at-home order, Google searches for bread recipes, among other homemade recipes, have surged nationally (“Everyone’s been cooking like crazy during the coronavirus stay-home order. Here’s what Seattle’s been making,” Seattle Times, 5/6/20.)

I started baking bread in a bread machine that I acquired on a “Buy Nothing” website but which sat for a couple of months. Until now. I tried my first loaf and it came out great! Tried another recipe which, while edible, didn’t quite get a five-star rating, but I learned from it.

All of us are cooking at home, pulling out recipes and rediscovering the pleasures of home-cooked meals.

A neighbor recently remarked, “There are so many dishes to wash now that we are cooking at home and not eating out!”

And, if you are lucky, the side benefit is that your money is stretching farther than it was before all of this set in.

This is a time we can use well to examine our habits. To figure out ways to do things differently, particularly when it comes to saving this precious planet.

Course Correction: Pick one thing you’ve been wanting to try that would either save you money, help the climate or just fire up your creative juices. Bake a loaf of bread. Make some toothpaste. Pull out all the cans and supplies in your cupboard and figure out a way to use them. Document in writing or photos your experiences for future generations who may wonder what it was like back in 2020 when the pandemic ran the world right off its rails. Think about your elders while doing so and what it must have been like during the times they lived through. Make this time count. It might come in handy long after the pandemic has faded away.

Irene Panke Hopkins is an essayist who lives on a sailboat in Seattle.