In mid-March, pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz was furloughed from her leading roles at both Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar in New York City. One of the biggest adjustments, she said, was how much she missed working with her hands. So she decided to start sketching her favorite pastry creations from memory, calling the exercise “cake calisthenics.” She then sold these drawings on Instagram to help raise money for her team’s GoFundMe page. In addition to making art, Natasha has been pickling, fermenting, and using this time as an opportunity to indulge in some beauty practices that the kitchen rarely allowed. Here are the three ways she’s been carrying on:
Getting crafty: Continuing to make things with my hands has been my most vital tool for preserving my well-being. I switched from baking to sketching the pastries that I most missed. I give myself 10 to 15 minutes per doodle to remember past wedding cakes, stacks of cookies, a swirl of soft-serve, glazed bundt cakes, a wobbly flan … revisiting those beautiful memories has been really comforting, and keeping my hands busy with acrylics and colored pencils is super-soothing.
Preserving everything: I live alone, so I’ve been preserving — as in pickling, fermenting, candying, or dehydrating — half of my produce deliveries so they last as long as possible. Right now, I have frilly wedges of cabbage breaking down, red onions suspended in a hibiscus brine, pints of tangy kefir milk, dehydrated cherry blossoms (souvenirs from my daily walks), Persian cucumbers pickled bread-and-butter style, whole kumquats suspended in a chamomile tea syrup, slivers of grapefruit and orange peel candied and rolled in sparkly sugar, and adorably itty batches of strawberry and rhubarb jam. The repetition and familiarity of these processes are very normalizing, and my fridge is the most stocked it’s ever been. (I recommend Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and Camilla Wynne’s Preservation Society.)
Indulging in some grooming: When I started working in restaurants full time, I gave up a lot of fun, girly rituals. But now that I’m not in a kitchen for 12 hours a day, I unexpectedly started embracing all of the little details that were either big kitchen no-no’s or inconvenient for my schedule: painting my nails (and not keeping them super-short, either!), wearing my hair down (feels so much nicer to my scalp than a tight ponytail!), wearing wrist and hand jewelry, ultraelaborate skin-care rituals (and baths!). Seems like all of my lady pastry chef friends feel the same way — I love taking in everyone’s at-home manicures.