We’re all spending a lot more time at home—but how are we really spending it? We’re asking a few particularly creative people how they are living during lockdown, how their talents are helping them keep cool, what they’re baking, what they’re binging, and what perspectives they hope they bring to the other side.
Anyone who has walked into any of the 9 Maman locations knows what Elisa Marshall excels at—turning the simple into the sublime. The beloved all-day cafes are the ultimate haven for a lunch, snack, and sanctuary, featuring impeccable creative decor that turns your daily routine into something divine. It’s no surprise the founder/creative director/Martha Stewart contributor has been living an inspired quarantine life—even as she’s stuck in Montreal awaiting when she, her new baby, and her husband/business partner can return to NYC. Here’s how she’s balancing cookbook development with redecorating and creating a healthy sense of competition at home.
Photo Credit: The Lifestyle Edit
Where are you? Who are you quarantining with?
Montreal, with my husband and business partner, Ben, our new baby Yves, and our puppy Crumpet. I’m originally Canadian, but I’ve been living in New York for the past six years. We temporarily relocated here to have the baby near family and were planning to return to New York in April. Everything was ready to go, then the world changed. So now we are here for the unknown future.
ELISA AND HER HUSBAND BEN AND PUP CRUMPET HAD TEMPORARILY MOVED TO MONTREAL TO BE CLOSER TO HER FAMILY WHEN HER SON YVES WAS BORN. THE FAMILY HAD PLANNED TO RETURN TO NYC IN APRIL, BUT THEIR MOVING PLANS ARE TEMPORARILY ON PAUSE.
What’s your typical day like?
The timing was a bit of a blessing as we’re deep into cookbook mode. We got signed with Clarkson Potter and we were in the midst of recipe development and testing when this happened, so it’s actually a godsend that all of this happened when I needed to be stuck at home in the kitchen, researching, imagining, creating, testing, creating and writing recipes.
The quarantine has also kept us from running restaurant to restaurant with the baby napping in his stroller. Routine with a newborn has maintained my sanity. His morning nap is my “me time,” when I’m able to shower, do laundry, and organize the day-to-day. Then his afternoon nap is work time for me. And in between all of that he joins me in the kitchen, baking, cleaning, and running around the house.
THE LOCKDOWN TIMING ALLOWS ELISA TO FOCUS ON RECIPE DEVELOPMENT FOR HER UPCOMING COOKBOOK. YVES AND CRUMPET ARE DOING A LOT OF SUPERVISING.
What are you doing to try to keep a routine/keep yourself in balance?
Mapping out my day in advance really helps. Allotting my “me time,” down to showering and washing my hair (which as a new mom is actually hard to do) and then within that designating what activities that can be done with a baby and without a baby, with my husband’s help and without my husband’s help, makes me so much more productive.
Anyone who has walked into a Maman knows how resourceful and creative you are. Have you redecorated your space at all since you’ve been spending so much time at home?
Yes. It’s been tough because this was just a rental that was meant to be temporary, but for it’s home. The nursery is my sanctuary and favorite room in the house. I’ve had a lot of fun playing, redecorating, making every little detail incredible. I’ve done a lot of recycling and repurposing. My grandfather built the crib in 1972 for my sister and my cousins. Of course, I had to strip it and paint it and put modern protectors on. So far my baby is still alive. We added a plaque for everyone who has slept in it, so it’s been a wonderful, sentimental piece. I wanted to balance functional and unconventional. I removed one side of a vintage crib, added a new mattress and linens and turned it into a lounge for reading, instead of having a rocking chair. We’re using a high chair as kind of a nightstand beside the crib. We hung shadowboxes with our old stuffed animals and pictures from his ultrasound, framed cards from the baby shower. It feels much more meaningful than purchasing art.
ELISA’S SIGNATURE STYLE SHINES IN THE NURSERY, WHICH SHE CALLS HER “SANCTUARY.” “I’VE DONE A LOT OF RECYCLING AND REPURPOSING,” SHE SHARES—FROM THE CRIB THAT HER GRANDFATHER BUILT IN 1972, THE VINTAGE CRIB SHE TURNED INTO A SOFA, AND THE ART MADE FROM SENTIMENTAL TOUCHES LIKE THE COUPLE’S CHILDHOOD STUFFED ANIMALS.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to create that layered, warm feeling at home?
There’s a quote I live by from Elisa deWolfe: "I am going to make everything around me beautiful, and that will be my life." So for now, that has meant editing my own home and embracing its beauty. It’s perfect timing to give new life to old objects and then make considered, minimal purchases that help you see something larger in a new light. Maybe you swap out the linens on your bed. We’re all dining and eating at home, so how can I switch it up? How can you focus on the small joys in life that will add a little bit of new life to your house as you repurpose things that you already have? You might find this is the time to get rid of things—and start fresh with something you really love. You don’t need 18 kinds of wine glasses if you have one great set.
STEPPING INTO A MAMAN CAFE FEELS LIKE BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE MOST STYLISH VILLAGE, FULL OF CREATIVE TOWNSPEOPLE WHO ARE DELIGHTFUL COOKS.
The Forest Feast: I’ve been dusting off my collection of cookbooks as we do recipe development, so that’s been my main “reading.” This is the most beautiful book with delicious seasonal easy recipes.
The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings: 110 Simple & Seasonal Recipes: Anna is a friend of mine, and her book is filled with amazing, creative, accessible beautiful recipes. I have yet to cook something from this book that I didn't like.
That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life: I love this book. I’ve taken and hosted her classes. It is a simple approach to entertaining, and when you have a French husband, cheese plates are necessary even in quarantine!
Radio Cherry Bombe: Amazing stories around women in food
Heritage Radio Network: Broadcast from two shipping containers in Brooklyn this thought-provoking channel covers all things food and restaurants.
Wine and coffee are the staples in this house. Coffee before 12, wine after 12.
AN IMAGE OF QUARANTINE LIFE SHOT BEFORE 12.
For the first time, I’ve gotten into canning and jarring. We’re very fortunate that we have an outdoor farmers market close to us, so I’ve been experimenting with different recipes—rosemary and blackberry jam, caramelized onion and garlic marmalade, pickled carrots, pickled onions, I’ve pickled everything you can imagine. It’s been fun to stock the pantry for the unknown—and to gift those to neighbors and friends we see from afar.
ELISA HAS BEEN RECIPE DEVELOPING—AND SHARING HER PROTOTYPES WITH FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS.
Sidebar: Entertaining, even if you’re alone
Elisa isn’t going to let quarantine stop her love of setting a special table. “Because we can't go out to restaurants, once a week we like to elevate our dinners at home. We get the baby to bed early, put on 'real' clothes, open a nice bottle and create a more formal table setting,” she shares. “A simple change like adding in linens and layering plates helps elevate dinner when we are stuck sitting around the same table meal after meal.” Here are her tricks to making another meal at home feel a little more extravagant.
1 - Load up on layers
Linens can add a sophisticated touch to even the simplest setting. “Texture is my best friend on the table, and for a quick update to the usual meal try adding textured neutrals. I love combining vintage handkerchiefs or lace with classic table runners to elevate a setting,” she recommends. “Or play with color, and use kitchen towels as placemats or napkins.”
2 - Freshen up your flatware
Don’t ignore the workhorse of your table setting. Swapping out your spoons and forks add a big lift to your mood every time you lift a bite to your mouth. “Dressing your table with something out of the ordinary like brushed gold flatware is the perfect way to make any meal feel a little more special.”
3 - Classic for a reason
Elisa encourages people to use this time to streamline their collections. “Being in quarantine is a perfect time to do some spring cleaning and invest in some essential entertaining pieces,” she recommends. “A timeless set of dinnerware basics like go-to white dinner and salad plates can layer with fun vintage or seasonal items, but are also top quality for day-to-day family use. A flexible and economical approach is to pick a dinner plate and a shallow bowl that can be used for soups, salads, cereals, and desserts.”
The most useful thing around has been my Google Home. That has been my godsend device for everything—for playing music to calm the baby, for asking questions when I’m cooking, for setting timers, for listening to podcasts, for asking what’s the weather going to be like or what’s the news today. We couldn’t live without it.
How are you recreating some of your favorite out-of-home experiences at home?
We like being able to enjoy wine while we cook, and, of course, Ben and I are huge cooks, so we’ve been having a bit of fun with it. We started a cooking competition—we choose 4 ingredients for the other person and one main ingredient we both share, say cabbage because it’s going bad. No phones, no time limit, but we each have to create a dish, either an appetizer or a main. And that’s been so fun to get us creative and make us feel like we are back at work and having fun again in the kitchen. Ben made an incredible carrot tartare with a bag of carrots that were going bad, pickles, stale bread, and mustard. He lightly cooked the carrots, tossed them with a dijon-mayo sauce and the pickles, put in a mold, and peeled carrots for a garnish on top. He keeps winning, but I think it’s because we haven’t had a baking challenge. When artichokes were our main ingredient, I tried to make an artichoke pilaf/risotto dish that didn’t turn out as well. You think how can anything with parmesan and cream be bad and...well it was bad.
What have you found yourself using more and more since you’ve been home (your food processor, your printer, etc.)?
My KitchenAid stand mixer has been running non-stop. There’s all the baking, but we’re also using all the attachments—making homemade pasta at night and fresh juices in the morning.
What advice would you have given yourself on Day 1 of lockdown knowing what you know now?
Stop planning. You’ve made so many plans and look at what happened. As a business, we’ve been forced to cancel over 100 events of our own or booked in our spaces. Personally, our move back to New York, our life, our family’s future is on pause. In all this uncertainty, all I can do is go with the flow, enjoy today, and not worry about tomorrow.