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The Evolution of a Quarantine Diet

Troy Johnson

By Troy Johnson

the tweet

Ah, the dreams. 

Troy Johnson

I sent this Tweet out on my fourth day in quarantine. I didn’t expect it to resonate with as many people as it did. Now on my 30-something day of quarantine, I think I understand why.

Because, oh man, you had plans.

Much like America itself, you started with the purest intentions. You granted yourself a couple days drinking wine in amounts proper for a pandemic (it is gallons). Then, as you wrote in your morning journal, you will shake off the physical and metaphysical hangover and begin your transformation.

You are the caterpillar. Quarantine is your chrysalis.

Though the media describes it in varying degrees of doom, this quarantine is actually just what you needed. You’ll spend meaningful time with yourself, listen to your innermost thoughts, be terrified by them, and then you’ll be a wellness influencer. You Google “how to win meditation.” You will enter this historic time a mortal and emerge a beam of light with a self-haircut that, while keeping children away, isn’t so bad when compared to the national hair average. Without the distractions of life BQ (Before Quarantine), you will become a master coder, and learn to play guitar one-handed as you mix the batter for banana bread with the other. Your children will become the prodigies who finally add the perfect lyrics to all of Beethoven’s songs, and they will TikTok exclusively in Mandarin.

You will eat, love, pray. But, mostly, you will eat.

So much eating. Almost immediately, you find yourself standing at the precipice of your fridge, door open, for hours, just staring blankly into it, looking for answers to questions that shouldn’t be asked of a fridge. Since outside is closed and you’re reduced to micro-dosing sunlight, you briefly consider replacing your fridge light bulb with a self-tanning bulb.

That first day of quarantine, you wake up and do your hair for what will be the final time. You draw up a schematic for your quarantine meal plan, a little hymn book of gourmet recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time. You do not know yet that each day of quarantine includes two lunches and six or seven dinners. You are determined to cook like Julia Child in the FEMA tent that is your home. The resulting culinary ecstasy will get you and your loved ones through this. You will make healthy, Pinterest-worthy foods in the shapes of various animals for your offspring. You will use your emerging food artistry to get your little warriors the proper nutrition.

Then the reality hits. And that reality is dishes. They seem to have learned how to procreate in the sink. The stack is massive, sculptural. As you finish cleaning the first three plates, a family member drops off two more. How many spoons does it take to eat steel-cut oatmeal with coconut oil and chia seeds? Seven. The answer is apparently seven.

You think about the restaurant dishwashers paid $12 an hour, and you give them a million dollars in your mind. On day six, you decide that all those orphan Tupperware lids make excellent single-use dinner plates, and you decree that new rule to your family. It makes sanity feel a little more nearby, maybe under the laundry.

By the second week, your quarantine menu shows visible signs of degradation. Coq au Vin on the first day becomes soup du can on the tenth. This restaurant has gone downhill and you’re pretty sure the chef is drunk.

Your freezer looks like Noah’s Ark hit an ice age. You have so many beans. Pasta is now five of the seven major food groups.

Cooking becomes more of a food rescue program. You start basing meals around which piece of food is beginning to decline and needs the sweet hospice of your cooking. The broccoli begins to go limp, and you rush to it. How could broccoli do this to you, now? Buck up, broccoli. You briefly swear to never buy broccoli again. What a hot house flower. Broccoli is stupid. Then you whip up a batch of broccoli cheddar soup. You will buy fresh broccoli again, because though your relationship with broccoli is toxic, you’ve heard nutrients are important during a pandemic. But this time it will go onto a plate with ranch dressing—which you had every intention of making from scratch, but then the Zoom meeting ran long and you spent too much time arguing science with a person on the internet.

You log onto the U.S. patents and trademark website and enter “Non-Spoiling Broccoli.” No one has nabbed it yet, so you start the process, but then seven texts come through all starting with “How are you doing?” And by the time you’re done answering them all, it is Thursday. Your phone says it is Sunday.

A tomato springs a leak, and you decide “mealy” is an underrated texture. As you start to make the caprese salad, all of your kids—is there an extra one? there seems to be an extra one—say “look at this” simultaneously. You start to sob a little bit and just stuff a handful of basil in your mouth and eat the mozzarella from one hand and the tomato out of the other. Your family is nice but they are on their own now. You look at them. Their math lessons on Zoom seems important, but you know at some point they will need to learn how to make spears out of your furniture.

Keeping your day job while simultaneously hosting six Instagram Live “episodes” a week has proven a little tricky, time wise. Pretty soon, canned goods regain their appeal. There is something comforting about lentils partially disintegrated in liquefied salt. You once boasted to friends that you only used the microwave to reheat coffee (“or make potatoes, did you know that Bobby Flay says the microwave is the best way to cook a potato?”). Now the microwave has earned your respect. “Nuke it or lose it” is your new catchphrase.

By day 30, you turn the cold hot dogs over in your hands feeling for, well, you’re not really sure. Tumors? You’ve given up on Googling questions of food safety. You are the USDA now. On the TV you see the news that Florida has decided that suntan lotion is the best protection against coronavirus, and so they reopen the beaches. The mayor beer bongs a Coors Light on national TV, and you can’t quite remember if this is what Dr. Fauci recommends or not.

You could cook the hot dogs, but that ruins their true nature, you reason. You’re a purist now. Your kids say they’re not going to eat hot dogs, they are tired of hot dogs. Worried about their nutrition, you tell them that’s OK but they must at least have some Cocoa Puffs. So they do, and somehow dirty nine bowls eating one bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

As you savor your cold hot dog, sharing a bite or two with the new member to your family (a shelter puppy, a real ugly one, on account of supply being low), you realize it’s not the grand culinary gestures you had in mind when you bought Jean-George’s cookbook months back.

But grand culinary gestures are for another time. For the before and after times. And Jean-George is on a couch somewhere picking the shrapnel of store-bought snack chips off his soiled undershirt.

So you crack open a fresh White Claw, and let yourself have this. For now, it’s good enough just to be alive.


Here are three recipes that have gotten us through quarantine. Simple, basic, bulk things that leave you with leftovers.


You may have had some wine. I basically researched every anti-inflammatory food and put it into a smoothie. This smoothie is ugly, and not terribly sweet. But my wife and I love it (my eight year old won’t touch it). Fills you up for hours. I have a Vitamix, which blends this no problem due to Vitamix being able to blend rocks. If you have a less powerful blender, reduce ingredients by half. 


Four cups cold green tea (brew ahead and refrigerate)

TSP turmeric

TSP black pepper

TSP cinnamon

TSP cayenne

TBSP hemp seeds

TBSP chia seeds

inch fresh ginger (keep in freezer)

half inch fresh turmeric (keep in freezer)

1 1/2 cups greek yogurt

1 cup frozen spinach

One frozen banana

Half of Sambazon acai packet

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1/2 cup frozen mango

1/4 cup raw steel cut oats

1/4 quarter cup raw almonds

Put everything into a blender and gradually go to highest speed. Might need to press ingredients toward blade a few times. Save remaining amount in fridge.


I don’t feel good unless we’re eating fresh veggies every day. Consider getting a farmers market box to help local farmers during pandemic. This is so simple, so damn delicious. We always make a ton so we only have to cook once, then eat them over a couple of days. The curry and turmeric make this so good, and there are a lot of veggies to season, so don’t be shy. I usually eyeball the spices, but I’ve tried to approximate the amount below. 

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

2 squash (yellow or green), cut into half inch slices

2 heads broccoli, cut into florets

4 carrots, sliced into half inch pieces

1 eggplant (slice half-inch rounds, then cut those slices into quarters)

2 TBSP oil (grape seed or avocado, something with high smoke point)

1 TBSP curry powder

1 TBSP turmeric

1 TBSP sumac

1 TBSP smoked paprika

1 TBSP garlic powder

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. In a large mixing bowl, toss all veggies with two tablespoons of oil. Add spices and toss to coat. Spread veggies out on large baking rack lined with parchment paper. Roast for 30 minutes depending on (carrots will be al dente, squash will be a little over, but we love it that way).


We use cauliflower pasta or brown rice pasta almost exclusively. Any pasta that has actual nutrients in it. The “cheat” here is jarred marinara sauce. Normally I make this with homemade marinara and red wine, but who the hell has time right now and I worry that my eight year-old won’t eat it if I include the wine. 

TBSP Oil (grape seed or avocado)

TBSP butter

2 carrots, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 LBS ground beef

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 TBSP dried thyme or Italian seasoning

1 TBSP smoked paprika

1 24-oz jar of jar marinara sauce

3 bay leaves

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese to taste (we use Parm-Reg)

In a large pot at medium heat, heat oil. Add carrots, onions, and celery. Season with salt and pepper and sauté about 10 minutes until soft. Add garlic and sauté for another 3 minutes or until browned (don’t burn).

Add ground beef, season a little more with salt and pepper and smoked paprika (go easy, you can add more at the end, but if you over-season, it’s ruined). Sauté the beef, breaking it into bits until it’s fully browned.

Add tomato paste, jar marinara sauce, thyme/Italian seasoning and stir well.

Simmer for at least a half hour to a couple hours. Your house will smell great and the sauce will taste better the longer you do it.

Add the cream last, stir, let simmer for a 2-3 minutes.

Toss with whatever pasta you’ve made (reserve a cup of pasta water, which has all the starch and will help the sauce cling to the pasta)

Grate parmesan over pasta and serve.

Be well, be safe, hang in there.

Dear god the dishes. They seem to have learned how to procreate during quarantine. 

Troy Johnson

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