A couple of recipes got my partner and I through this pandemic. We ate a lot of fried rice made with vegetables swirled around in the fridge and occasionally buffered by shrimp. We made lots of curries, eggs on roasted vegetables or veggies, and frozen dumplings. Most Sundays consisted of choosing a recipe – something sturdy and familiar to us, that would be kept in the refrigerator and warmed up well all week – and making enough to hold us up for lunch and dinner. And when we didn’t have the energy, we would order a lot to take away.
I imagine our house looks very much like yours, and it is this monotony that has made most of my friends and colleagues all of them flee once the pandemic is “over” (there is no real consensus on what that means) kitchens as soon as possible for restaurants. And I will too. But after having cooked decent, stretchy meals for two for over a year and familiarized myself with the menus of almost every restaurant within a 10 block radius, all I want to do is cook something huge, fabulous, and multi-course that I would never have only do for two. I want to have dinner parties.
I always intended to become a regular host for a dinner party one day. I still remember the summer night when a couple of us came over for corn and tomato salad and Homemade vanilla ice cream with a warm peel and cherry compote on top. The fruits and vegetables were all from our CSA, and I think there was basil in there somewhere that we had planted on our balcony. Our friends raved about it, and I felt a sense of pride and joy that I rarely felt about other accomplishments. I wanted to cook more things that didn’t just feel like stews for the gal on the go.
It also felt so grown up, so much Ruth Reichl, not only to cook recipes with longer lists of ingredients, but also to be able to plan and plan the cooking of a small feast. I introduced myself to my partner and suddenly I knew which salad dressings would go with which starters, the essentials to soak beans or ribs overnight, or to know when to start the pizzas so that they weren’t cold at the time The rest of the meal was ready. After all, I thought, this is how all my meals would be.
But the pandemic has further cemented my tendencies to cook to the minimum. Like others, I have lost some level of curiosity and perseverance, with the will to thrive being replaced by the will to survive. It’s not that food was just for a living, but if my partner and I were just cooking for each other, who were we trying to impress?
I’ve spent much of the pandemic telling myself things I wanted to do because situational depression works so often. Anything that would please me felt too impractical, too ostentatious, or too much trouble for an ultimately fleeting experience at a time when thousands suffered and died. Yes, I could cook a four course meal with a whole cake for dessert, but after we eat it we would still be in our art, the only two people we ever see, and now with three quarters of a cake out how to save. I don’t even like cake that much. What a waste.
But lately I’ve been looking through my cookbooks and imagining the meals that I could excitedly put together. I could do a whole French Festival of Julia Childor spend a day doing Nik Sharmas Goan chorizoor do one a hundred dumplings and summer borscht from the Veselka cookbook. I suddenly want to search the internet for ingredients that I somehow can’t find in the five international markets in my neighborhood. I want to practice Dumpling folding techniques and make a roux. And all because there is now the promise to be able to do it for other people.
It’s not just that I want to impress my friends (I love it, please) or that I want to celebrate the fact that other people will be back in my house. The truth is, there is a whole world of recipes that aren’t for two or for leftovers that I couldn’t cook in for so long. I look forward to eating picky meals again that will have to be devoured that evening. After all, it feels like I don’t just have to be practical, I have to cook for joy.