PITTSFIELD — The novel coronavirus pandemic lockdown this spring found many people in their kitchens, perfecting their bread techniques (sourdough starter and bread especially); cooking three meals a day for their constantly-at-home families, and even procrastibaking — baking to avoid doing something else, such as working from home.
For Pittsfield native Amanda Rae Busch, now of Aspen, Colo., being home during the lockdown also meant being in the kitchen — testing around 100 recipes for inclusion in a cookbook, “The Aspen Cookbook,” being compiled by the Young Professionals Network Aspen/Aspen Board of Realtors as a fundraiser for restaurants in the Aspen area that were being affected by the pandemic.
Busch, a magazine journalist, saw the fundraising project on social media and reached out to YPN Aspen at the end of April, and was hired in May. The recipes came from Aspen area restaurant and private chefs.
“It was a community cookbook,” Busch said. “We tried to get all the restaurants on board.”
During the “long period of isolation” of the lockdown, Busch said she had the time and the space to test and work on the project, adding it was at a time when people were cooking anyway.
“I had a couple of people who tested some of the recipes for me,” Busch said during a phone interview last week. “I did 80 myself.”
So what did she do with all the food she was producing? “I would give food away on Facebook, to friends. It gave me joy to bring food to friends in a time when we weren’t able to hang out” Busch said, adding with a laugh, “I lost a lot of Tupperware.”
She added, “My mom [Anita Busch of Pittsfield] also deserves credit. She tested things like meat dishes and sauces and anything not altitude-specific. [Aspen is roughly 8,000 feet above sea level, which requires adjustments to the recipes.] It also helped keep me in touch with Mom during the pandemic.”
Busch said her mother also served as a copy editor/adviser. “She taught me to cook. I could ask her questions and she would provide the nitty gritty information that I needed. She cooks everything from scratch and always has. Having her as my virtual kitchen assistant was invaluable. I don’t think I could have pulled it off without her.” Busch added her mother also was able to provide and outside viewpoint since she doesn’t live in Aspen.
“And I know my father, Mark Busch, enjoyed the process, too, in a roundabout way: by sampling the recipes she helped me test, like Jimmy’s famous crab cakes with cocktail sauce!”
Busch graduated from Taconic High School in 2000 and earned a dual degree in magazine journalism and psychology from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and College of Arts & Sciences at Syracuse University in 2004. She then joined the staff at Berkshire Living, rising from editorial assistant to senior editor until the magazine folded in 2011. She also served as chair of the Berkshire Young Professionals from 2010-2011.
After her Pittsfield apartment was destroyed in a fire, she “road-tripped” across America, documenting the journey on her travel blog, AmandaRaeWasHere.com. Once in Aspen, she helped Hunter S. Thompson’s [founder of the gonzo journalism movement] widow, Anita Thompson, to re-start The Woody Creeker, a small local magazine.
“I realized how much media is in Aspen — two daily newspapers, and five or six glossy magazines — and being a diehard skier/snowboarder, it was a good place to be,” she said.
The cookbook features dishes for brunch, soups, salads and starters, in addition to a number of main dishes featuring poultry, meat, seafood and vegetables, side dishes, desserts, cocktails and even a dog treat.
“There’s a great recipe for a locally famous cheeseburger,” Busch said, and a recipe for pizza dough.
What were Busch’s favorite recipes?
“I love all the recipes so much. There were so many favorites,” she said. “They change with what I feel like eating and how much time I have.”
Some of her favorites she admitted were the black rice porridge, which is “a creamy, sweet breakfast treat;” the empanadas; “Chef Nobu” Matsuhisa’s signature black cod with miso, “it’s a classic;” bass with spicy island sambal sauce and chicken schnitzel with roasted chicken jus, “it’s a flavorful gravy.”
“The great thing is all the recipes are at different skill levels,” Busch said. “There’s something for everyone from the novice cook to the advanced.”