Part III of Excalibur’s 2020-21 wrap up: Skills and hobbies acquired

(Image by Riddhi Jani)

Sarah Garofalo
Cinema and Media Studies, 4th year
York University


I can honestly say that pre-pandemic I could have qualified for the title of Worst Cook in Canada. Since I could remember, I had always been useless in the kitchen — if you were eating anything I had prepared before 2020 then the risk of salmonella was essentially promised.

For the most part, my culinary skills were confined to the toaster, the microwave or a pot of boiling water for pasta (and even that had a 50/50 chance of being properly cooked.) Every time I used to try to venture out with new recipes, they either turned into charcoal or were so undercooked that they were practically just plucked from the frozen section.

When I headed back home last March, my obligatory two weeks of quarantine meant that I had to take care of myself like an adult with no classes, no work and, most importantly, no money. I decided that while bananas, bagels and Pop-Tarts straight from the box were (and still are) wonderful meals, I wanted a little more imagination when it came to my home-cooked concoctions.

I had access to a kitchen and to all the ingredients I needed, so I decided it was finally time to learn. I started teaching myself some basic kitchen skills (thank god for YouTube tutorials) such as simple knife work and how to properly cook certain cuts of meat. The first couple of dishes I produced were perilous, to say the least (my first steak felt like biting into a leather couch) but overtime, my creations became more palatable with each attempt.

What helped me the most on this journey, oddly enough, was social media. For years I had bookmarked cooking videos on Instagram, Facebook, and most recently TikTok, in hopes that one day I would be able to recreate them for myself. The recipes used to seem so intricate and advanced, but as I learned how to properly break them down, I finally started to find my flow in the kitchen.

I used to dread cooking for myself but now one year later, it’s my favourite part of each day. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve gotten pretty good. People in my life who wouldn’t have previously trusted me to build a bowl of cereal now actively look forward to the meals I make, so I’m taking that as a win.

It may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but becoming comfortable with cooking was a win for me — I finally understand why people love to do it. I find so much peace and excitement when fixing myself an elaborate dinner each day. I’ve learned there’s a degree of respect that comes with preparing food. It’s a love language, meaning it’s best shared with others, but even if it’s just a dinner for one, you still deserve a good meal made with love.

All that being said though, I still do love the occasional Pop-Tarts dinner.

Sakeina Syed
Public Administration, 3rd year
York University


Rather than picking up one hobby during quarantine and perfecting it, I unintentionally ended up spending the year exhausting every possible pastime I could get my hands on. In each, I achieved not mastery, but something unique, something that no one ever aims for — mediocrity.

In the first couple of months, it was embroidery. After hours of painstakingly-tiny stitches and one large box of abandoned embroidery thread that lies waiting for me to return, I can produce a hoop full of stitched flowers. Nothing good enough to sell, of course, as one turn in the washing machine would unravel the whole thing. Such is the fleeting beauty of mediocrity.

Next was my failed career as a pastry chef. The donuts went great, and the cookies were melted chocolate deliciousness. But the French macarons? I made three batches of them in two days, and all I have to show for it are cracked pastry shells, a giant mess in the kitchen, heightened blood pressure, and a diminished bank account (almond flour is expensive).

I still had faith in my most recent hobby, though. After realizing that perhaps the flaw in my hobby pursuits was my lofty goals, I decided to set a smaller one for my new sewing machine. If I managed to make one single shirt by the end of COVID-19 restrictions, I’d consider the hobby mastered. It was going well. The shirt looked great — the seams were even, the sleeves were puffed. On the technical front, I might consider it my one quarantine success.

I just tried it on yesterday, though. It doesn’t fit.

Laura Nuccitelli
Psychology, 5th year
York University


When I was a little girl, I enjoyed helping my mom and late aunt whenever they would bake cookies and various other baked goods. I would dutifully pour in pre-measured cups of sugar and shallowly stir in chocolate chips. My method of assisting with the clean up was cheekily licking batter off the spoon and then licking the bowl once the baked goods entered the oven.

As I got older, I graduated to measuring out ingredients myself before pouring them in. I never grew out of licking raw cookie dough off the spoon, though.

Fast forward to March of 2020 where the world was shut down and I had unprecedented amounts of free time, I used up some of that free time by baking. I had only baked on occasion prior to the lockdown and it was always with my mother.

I decided it was time to bake something entirely by myself. I chose chocolate chip cookies, a family favourite. I proceeded to bake three times that week.

As the week went by, I decided to expand this renewed interest by exploring the world of cooking. I had cooked prior to the pandemic but only during haphazard meal prep attempts and the occasional chopping of vegetables when my mother wanted help. I didn’t truly enjoy cooking until I began to do so during the first lockdown.

I chose to follow a recipe for my first attempt at an entirely self-made dish so I didn’t add too much or too little of any ingredient. The first dish I made was a creamy garlic rigatoni which featured cream cheese as the base and, you guessed it, lots of garlic.

I continued to cook multiple times per week for the next few months. Cooking had become a revered hobby as opposed to a necessary component of saving money and eating healthy like previously.

As I continued to cook throughout the pandemic, I became much more comfortable veering from recipes and would even add ingredients not listed in the recipe on occasion if I thought it would be enhanced by the addition. For example, after seeing this in a recipe, I now frequently add a touch of pure maple syrup to chilli, whether listed as an ingredient or not, because I like how it reduces the acidity of the tomatoes.

For about a month or two in March and April of 2021, I ordered takeout for nearly every meal because I had grown sick of having to do all of the cooking and clean up whenever I cooked, as lazy as that sounds. I had grown to resent the hobby I had grown to love.

After a while of constant takeout, I was tired of this lifestyle as well. I knew that I had to break out of this rut or else my weight would balloon even more than it already had. And so, I slowly returned to my weekend meal prep routine I had cultivated shortly before my takeout slump.

As of August 2021, my lifestyle nearly mirrors my pre-pandemic one with only some limitations. I still cook but less frequently than I used to due to life getting in the way. I haven’t baked in quite sometime but still enjoy that as well. I am not above an occasional cooking disaster as when I recently made a tomato coconut milk curry so salty I had to throw it out. However, I can now name cooking and baking as true hobbies of mine that have made me into a more well-rounded and self-reliant individual.

Mahdis Habibinia
Professional Writing, Hons. BA, Alumni
York University


A topic that was constantly put at the front of social discourse this past year was mental health. You saw it plastered across headlines, social media, and I’m sure you even had a discussion or two with friends or family about the world’s waning mental health.

Well, I was certainly one of those individuals. 

As a way to tackle one of my biggest mental health obstacles, I took up knitting. Before your eyebrows furrow together or a smirk beckons your face, don’t knock it till you try it. Despite the wrist pain after a couple hours straight of looping yarn and needles, it can be quite compelling — time flies!

It was a great stress reliever, to say the least. Partly because it allowed me to focus my attention on something other than my stress or anxiety, but also because there’s something exciting about creating items from scratch with your bare hands.

There’s also something prideful in finishing a coaster as a beginner or a mug cozy as an intermediate that gives you a small sense of accomplishment. My family and friends loved their gifts so there’s definitely a sentimental factor to being creative in this way as well. 

Lyniesha Bulze
Professional Writing, 4th year
York University 


Growing up in the early 2000’s, I didn’t play a lot of 8-bit games besides Super Mario Bros and Bratz: Forever Diamonds for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. Yet somehow, I found myself, a writing major, dedicating my summer to learning pixel art.

In May of 2021, I picked up pixel art solely out of admiration for the art style. What started off as a hobby became an activity and an unconscious practice each time I opened my laptop. As I progressed, I realized that pixel art could be an extension to my storytelling and a tool used to develop my writing weak spot, descriptions.

Along with pixel art came the difficult task of being a beginner. Being a beginner meant learning how to walk all over again. Because I was a beginner, how I viewed my skills and abilities was warped into constant self-scrutiny.

I undermined my growth and focused on my flaws. At times I was very discouraged and doubted whether I wanted to continue. Quitting was always on my mind but my determination to succeed at whatever project I assigned myself was stronger.

The most difficult part is the mental hurdle of being my own teacher and cheerleader. As my own teacher I have to filter through all the information available online and select information tailored to my needs.

The task seems easy but determining what information is valuable depends on my own intention, which, as a beginner, is not easy to decipher.

As my own cheerleader and supporter, there are times when I have to distance myself away from a project that is mentally draining me. There are times where I want to quit but instead I give myself a break and allow myself to exhale all the tension and stress.

My most recent project (posted on my TikTok account where I mix pixel art with instrumental music and text) was one I was unsure of throughout the entire process. There were many deleted layers, scraped ideas and moments where I did not think I would post my art online. 

Taking breaks is an underrated part of the beginner process, especially when my goal is to constantly improve and produce art. But after each break I would produce a project that not only allowed me to show off all the tricks and techniques I learned but also produce something that I felt genuinely proud of. This pride in myself is the most rewarding feeling I have gained from this hobby, and it is what motivates me to continue. 

Part I: Zoom stories

Part II: Lessons learned

Part IV: Then and now

About the Author

By Excalibur Publications



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