When family and friends can't gather to cook, inventive people are finding new ways to keep old traditions alive.
"Every time I've been baking throughout quarantine, I've been FaceTiming with family members the whole time," said Nate Hara, who has been baking with relatives in California and Minnesota as well as nearby people who he can't see due to the pandemic.
"It brings his passion to them-even though they can't actually taste [his cooking], they can see what he's doing and be a part of it," said Nate's mother Betsy.
Even after the pandemic is over, Hara hopes to keep baking with faraway relatives over FaceTime. He sees it as a special time that he carves out of his life to keep in touch, and at the end, there is a tasty treat to enjoy with his parents at home.
Many other teens have enjoyed baking virtually with Skokie CTeen, a program from Chabad of Skokie. Before the pandemic, Monday nights were a time for teens to gather for a home-cooked dinner and socialization. When COVID hit, "we wondered how we could bring everyone back together and give them their safe space, stability, a feeling of normalcy, and something productive to do," said Yona Posner, one of CTeen's co-directors with her husband Rabbi Yochanan.
The couple formed a plan where they would plan and prepare ingredients for a recipe each week and deliver the ingredients to the teens' homes. Then, the teens would cook together over Zoom and enjoy dinner together.
With attendance of 50-60 teens in each event, the program has been highly successful. Posner has received feedback that the cooking sessions have been a "lifesaver" for the teens to keep part of their normal routine and have an opportunity to socialize while learning kitchen skills.
For Cookie Walner, who usually saw her older grandchildren several times a week before the pandemic, virtual cooking has also been a way to stay actively involved in their lives.
The kids choose episodes of cooking shows to watch, then create recipes based on the shows and what they're learning about in school-Irish bread during a unit about Ireland, for example. Each grandchild then creates their own version of the recipe live on Facebook for Walner to watch, while Walner cooks on her own screen. Even without physically sharing the food, she is thrilled to share the experience of cooking like she usually does in real life.
With the cooking competitions, "we have something [good] to share," Walner said. "How much can you talk about that COVID sucks, and the separation is awful?"
Fellow grandmother Merrie Spade also uses cooking as a way to bond with her grandchildren during COVID. After dropping off ingredients at her 13-year-old granddaughter's door, she returns to her home and they make recipes like pizza, challah, and pretzels together.
"I feel close to my grandkids by cooking the same thing at the same time," Spade said. "It's a good time for all of us. It's hard when you can't be together in person, but I have been coming up with ways to help that connection."
Whether those ways involve cooking new recipes, knitting blankets together, or just saying hi over Zoom, Spade and many other grandparents are enjoying the opportunity to foster family bonds from afar, even if this is different from their typical routine.
"This is our way to connect, and it works," she said.