Sitting in our car in the parking lot of the now-defunct Lord and Taylor in Stamford, we shared celebratory donuts.  With a thumbs-up, the National Guardsman cleared us to go.

Marsha and I had our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and were surprised at the sense of optimism that came with the jab.  Hoping that it would be an occasion for celebration, we had stopped on the way at the Lakeside Diner on Long Ridge Road to pick up some donuts.  

The famous donuts (cinnamon sugar or plain) were a rare morning indulgence in our pandemic routine. Eating at home all day, every day, we’ve had to watch out for dietary excess.  

We like to cook and have established a system of both familiar and new dishes that are reasonably healthy and lean. The emphasis is on chicken and fish while trying to steer clear of too many pizzas and burgers. 

The problem is baking. We both like to bake and enjoy the results, but if you bake a pan of brownies or a Meyer Lemon Pound Cake, somebody has to eat it. 

It’s been almost a year of baking experimentation: hot cross buns, Boston cream pie, homemade fruit preserves, election cake, and gingerbread houses.  That’s in addition to the family standards: oatmeal cookies, banana cake, fudge, muffins, and all the Christmas baking. 

If that isn’t bad enough, some of the easiest and most successful pandemic takeaway foods come from bakeries. Cakes from SoNo Baking, monkey bread from Wave Hill, cinnamon rolls from Cafe Dolce, and croissants from all of them are irresistible. 

Our pandemic baking kicked off, like so many, with a sourdough starter. When yeast was scarce, we brewed up a successful starter and felt quite proud about it. Sadly, the bread is hard to make while biscuits, pancakes and the like are easy and quite delicious. But what good is a biscuit without butter and jam?  And who would have pancakes without syrup? You can see the problem. 

Meyer Lemon Muffins

This Spring generous gifts of Meyer lemons from down south led to muffins, cakes, bars, and cookies.  The sweet treats never end!

After some initial alarming calorie consumption, we’ve settled on a strategy of afternoon tea. As the day is winding down, the kettle heats up. A sweet treat and a few minutes of chat help to settle the day. It doesn’t always limit me to one goody per, but knowing that there’s at least one, sets some structure. 

With this routine and some careful meal planning, we’ve been able to maintain our waistlines and even shrink them a little. We’re also exercising those will power and discipline muscles. So far, so good. 

Now, with the vaccination, we’re eager to get back to restaurants sometime  soon. As vaccinations increase and the weather warms, eating outside or even inside becomes a tantalizing light at the end of the tunnel.  We can’t wait. 

All this home cooking has been fun, but restaurants need us, and I’m surprised to realize how much we need them.   

The sense that our parking-lot shot was the beginning of a return to normal (even if it’s a new normal) was unexpectedly strong. I know that with the slow roll-out of the vaccinations we’re not all on the same time line. And I know that it will never be the same for loved ones of those tragically taken by the virus.

I also know that for restaurant owners, workers, and suppliers the pandemic has been a miserable experience — one they hope never to repeat. Surely by summer or maybe even by Mother’s Day (the busiest day of the year for many restaurants) they’ll be able to welcome patrons inside and still use their newly-found outdoor dining space.  I’m hoping that they’ll soon be able to rehire servers, cooks, bartenders, and dishwashers; get back to their normal ecosystem of food, liquor, beer, laundry, and other suppliers; and be able to catch up on some overdue bills. (Governor Lamont announced yesterday that restaurants would resume full capacity as of March 19.  Hooray!)

My hopes are a little selfish. I long to be in a restaurant: being served, taking in the hustle and bustle of the staff and patrons, and enjoying the ambiance as someone else cooks, serves, and cleans up. I want to be relaxed for the experience, confident that I’m not at risk of infecting anyone, and convinced that no one is shedding virus my way. 

In the meantime, we’re still baking, savoring afternoon tea, watching our waistlines, and waiting out the virus.

 Frank Whitman can be reached at