Since mid-March, Unalaskans have been hunkering down and socially isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time—and even now as the State of Alaska reopens—many people have been avoiding crowds and public spaces such as bars, restaurants, and supermarkets—and spending more time in their own kitchens.
Over the past couple months, I have been putting together an Unalaska quarantine kitchen cookbook—sitting down with a few locals to hear about what kind of experiments, recipes, and memories they've been cooking up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week we heard from local Sharon Svarny-Livingston. And in part two, I investigate the quarantine kitchen of soon-to-be second-grader and oatmeal enthusiast, Maddy Castillo.
Maddy Castillo stood at the edge of her dining room table, watching the microwave intensely, counting down from 35, and waiting eagerly for her oatmeal to finish cooking.
She's seven years old and has lived in Unalaska with her parents and older brother for about three years now. She's recently finished up the school year, and next year she'll be going into second grade, and will be facing new responsibilities as well as new privileges and freedoms, like helping her brother exercise and feed the dog, and biking around the loop in Unalaska's Valley with the rest of the neighborhood kids.
When I sat down with her and her family in May, she had been socially isolating for several weeks, without attending regular school or going to community events with her friends, such as Friday Splash at the local pool.
She was overjoyed to have a visitor—especially one whose sole purpose was to listen attentively to her.
As schools closed and social interaction began to take on a completely new form earlier this spring, Maddy wasn't the only one facing new responsibilities and new trials. Educators, other students, and parents—especially those who were trying to homeschool while working other jobs from home—were faced with a unique and unprecedented challenge.
The Castillo family, like many others who were transitioning to home-based education, found themselves blending boundaries around the classroom and home-life—encountering teaching moments in places like the kitchen.
"Alright, Maddy, you like to make oatmeal because it is what?" asked Diego Castillo, Maddy's father.
"Good for you," replied Maddy, enthusiastically.
"And you can put all types of yummy stuff in it," her father responded.
Castillo motioned toward the kitchen and into the living room in their house in the Valley.
"This is their classroom. This is where we teach them. Maddy's classroom's over there," said Castillo, pointing to the kitchen counter. "And Maddy does yoga every day, right there in the living room."
For the first time, families had to carve out spaces for full-time learning—creating kitchen countertop desks or living room yoga studios.
For the Castillos, the morning I visited meant prepping and working through the details and measurements of a daily routine: oatmeal breakfast.
Castillo poured out the oats into a measuring cup. "A half-cup of oats," he said.
"Half-cup of oats," echoed Maddy, following his lead as she prepared another bowl of oatmeal.
Everyday after breakfast, at about 9 a.m., Maddy would begin yoga in the living room, while her brother Jonah started math in the kitchen. From there, they would move into other subjects, stopping regularly for brief breaks throughout the day.
A lot has changed over the past few months in educators', parents', and students' schedules, and changes will continue to be a part of daily life, as schools quickly head toward the uncertain beginning of a new academic year shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.
Among that uncertainty, and despite a fervent push for cocoa rice cereal—one of Maddy's favorite dishes to make—Maddy and her family continue to use the foundations around them—such as oatmeal, support from friends and family, and durable recipes and practices—as a guide through the ambiguity and fog ahead.