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During lockdown, Antonia turned to the kitchen.

Lockdown Stories: Antonia Stassi

From licking lemons to starting her own family cookbook to keep Greek traditions alive, Antonia Stassi shares her memories of lockdown with her grandparents.

When I think of lockdown, not much comes to mind. I feel like many things yet also nothing happened at the same time, like one big fever dream; a reverie from a past life where all my memories turn into a pile of mush. But what sticks out the most is my relationship with food.

The week before the 2020 pandemic, my family and I moved in with my grandparents. What I once viewed as a second home became my real home, but the lack of adjustment before lockdown happened meant I never viewed it with happy memories. Instead, I associated that house with being cooped up in my room, licking lemons and sniffing candles trying to get my senses to work. We all got covid right at the start of the 2020 pandemic: My sister and I first, she lost her sense of smell and taste for a few days, and I lost mine for about two and a half weeks - which is hard when you’re Greek and a foodie. I also think it’s what kickstarted a separate eating disorder that I’m still trying to work through. But once I was out from isolating in my room - where I rewatched the whole of Friends (again) - my mum and dad were next. It was up to my sisters and I to run the house. So, I’d make dinner almost every night and be sous chef to my eldest sister. We would take it in turns and help where needed, making meals entirely from scratch.

My grandad got covid when my sister and I did, at the start of the pandemic and around the time of his 78th birthday. Three days after blowing out his candles he was taken to hospital, where he stayed for nearly a month fighting covid on his death bed. He was read his rights and asked, if he was to go, did he want resuscitating? Miles apart and forbidden to visit him, we prayed as a family to give my grandad strength, for a miracle. The lead up to Greek Easter my grandad was released, and we got to celebrate and thank God for giving us more time with him. Unfortunately, others weren’t as lucky as my family, which is why I always give thanks for what I have every day.

So, while others turned to crochet, side hustles or Joe Wicks – I turned to gratitude and the kitchen.

Baking and cooking was something I’d always enjoyed. However, this was the first time I was consistently cooking for the family without my mother hovering behind me, like a spider waiting to snatch a fly, if that fly were a seventeen-year-old girl who forgot to add dried mint to a lamb dish.

Sitting on a gold mine of free time, I decided I’d use it to expand my skills, and finally try the recipes I had stashed away for a rainy day, hidden behind icing sugar, flour and eggs. I started with the pillar, the very foundations of lockdown baking: banana bread - not to mention everything else that followed. Endless varieties of brownies; cookies; millionaire’s shortbread; flapjacks; cheesecakes, cinnamon rolls; Vicky sponge; lemon drizzle, chocolate, carrot and coffee walnut cakes; tarts and pies; focaccia; spiced loaves; and Italian pizzas from scratch. The list quite literally goes on for years. Every week without fail, I’d have a new dessert for everyone to try, or a new weeknight meal.

I was so proud of myself, I thought about starting a business on Instagram. I had transitioned from bake sale favourites like brownies, blondies and cookies to Bake Off showstoppers like pavlovas, French macarons and choux buns; even making three/four-tiered birthday cakes for myself and several of my family members, as well as various Greek desserts and native dishes. Despite not starting a baking business, it has encouraged me to write a cookbook full of Greek recipes, handed down through generations, straight from the villages back in Cyprus to keep the traditions alive.

Now, when I do, I look back on Lockdown rather fondly. We had time to ourselves, I got to express myself in new ways, enjoy new things and experiment. I see moving in with my grandparents as a blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t, I don’t think we ever would have seen my grandparents that year, let alone been able to take care of them when they caught covid. We got to grow even closer during a time when everyone else was kept apart. We were able to speak, see, hug and make new memories with them every day. I like to think I made them proud, perfecting Greek recipes they grew up on, despite maybe making them a little fatter in the process.

'Degrees of Isolation' is based on the experiences of University students who were interviewed between 2020 and 2022’.

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