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story.lead_photo.caption From left, Abigail Zinn, 13, Stephanie Zinn (mom) with her ground beef with broccoli and Cody Zinn, 16. Stephanie is among the coordinators and contributors to a cookbook called "Pots and Pandemic: Cooking in Quarantine," that includes recipes and reflections about coping with the pandemic by getting busy in the kitchen. The book is a fundraising project of Temple M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill. Zinn was photographed in Haddonfield, N.J. (Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — It took a nightmare to make Ellen Zinn's longtime dream of publishing a cookbook a reality. But "Pots & Pandemic" is not only a collection of recipes, it's also a memento of a strange and scary year in which making and sharing comfort food has become a new kind of essential work.

Subtitled "Cooking in Quarantine," the book includes 125 recipes from 75 contributors. Most were submitted by South Jersey home cooks, although out-of-state friends and relatives, as well as local restaurants and food stores, also participated. The book offers concise, straightforward instructions for preparing traditional and contemporary American, European, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean starters, soups, salads, sides, breads, main dishes and desserts.

Oh, those desserts: They roam whole realms of lusciousness, from the familiar (coconut cream pie) to the fanciful (peanut butter lasagna) to the fabulous (cheesecake-stuffed cookies); from Bubbe's Chocolate Meringues to Grandma Jackie's Fruitcake to hummingbird cake. That's a confection best known in the South; simply skimming its ingredients should be enough to inspire any sweet tooth, regardless of geography.

"Our dessert chapter is called 'Fattening the Curve' and it's longer than any other chapter," said Marsha Seader, who along with Zinn served as the cookbook's "executive chefs." They and other volunteers ("sous chefs") created "Pots & Pandemic" as a fundraising project for Congregation M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Some of the proceeds also are earmarked for the Betsy & Peter Fischer Food Pantries of the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Southern New Jersey.

Seader and Zinn said the eight-months-long effort to compile, edit, illustrate and arrange for professional printing and production of "Pots and Pandemic" by Morris Press Cookbooks helped anchor the early days of being in lockdown at home. Cooks found themselves using and tweaking beloved old recipes; people who usually didn't cook found themselves falling in love with it. And the project also was something of a family affair, with Seader's daughter Stephanie Zinn, who's married to Ellen Zinn's son, Andrew, playing a key role.

"It was just such a joy to have both my mom and my mother-in-law jump in with both feet and take on this huge endeavor — and perform such a service for the synagogue," said Stephanie Zinn, a 46-year-old former teacher, now a "professional volunteer" who also serves as M'kor's vice president.

Early in the pandemic, "when you couldn't find flour and you couldn't find anything, all of us were almost obsessed with cooking and baking," said her mother, 74, a retired job coach whose recipes for sourdough bread and Armenian Wedding Cookies are in the book.

"I am an accomplished home cook. But the only way I was going to do this book was if Marsha were involved."

Said Seader, 71, a retired event planner, said "I'm a very organized person, and Ellen is very good at recruiting restaurants, and Stephanie knows everybody at the temple. So we all kind of took our part and ran with it."

Foodies in the M'kor community and beyond submitted recipes for venerable Jewish dishes (Mom's Potato Latkes), vegetarian or otherwise updated versions of traditional fare (Veggie Chopped Liver), and creative feats of fusion such as Tortilla Stew and Eggplant Parmesan for Crock Pot.

In sharing her Romanian-born mother's recipe for Sweet & Sour Stuffed Cabbage in Soup, Ellen Zinn recalled the first time she made it as a young, newly married woman. She tasted it, something seemed to be missing, and it turned out her mother had forgotten to include the recipe's final step: Put the soup in the oven for two hours.

"It's the perfect dish to make in quarantine," Zinn wrote in the book. "Too many ingredients, too much time, great memories."

The adage on the cookbook's back cover — you're never alone in the kitchen — has become especially true during the pandemic. Home cooks would drop off a hot dish or a loaf of fresh-baked bread for neighbors who live alone; volunteers made meals for essential workers at the synagogue. And are bonds have been strengthened as well.

"When I was using someone else's recipe, I was bringing them, their essence, into my kitchen," said Stephanie Zinn, whose recipes in the book include ground beef and broccoli.

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