A few recipes have gotten my partner and I through this pandemic. We’ve eaten a lot of fried rice made with whatever vegetables are flailing in the fridge, occasionally buffered by shrimp. We’ve made lots of curries, eggs on top of roasted vegetables or greens, and frozen dumplings. Most Sundays have consisted of picking a recipe — something sturdy and familiar to us, and something that will keep in the fridge all week and reheat well — and making enough to last us for lunches and dinners. And when we haven’t had the energy, we’ve ordered lots of takeout.
I imagine our house looks a lot like yours, and it’s this monotony that’s made most of my friends and colleagues agree that, once the pandemic is “over” (there’s no real consensus on what that means), they’ll all be fleeing their kitchens as soon as possible for restaurants. And I will too. But after over a year of cooking sensible, stretchable meals for two, and becoming intimately familiar with the menus of nearly every restaurant in a 10-block radius, all I want to do is cook something huge, fabulous, and multi-course that I would never make just for two. I want to have dinner parties.
I always planned on becoming a regular dinner party host, one day. I still recall the summer night when we a couple came over for corn and tomato salad and homemade vanilla ice cream with warm husk cherry compote on top. The fruit and vegetables had all come from our CSA, and I think somewhere in there was basil we had planted on our balcony. Our friends raved over it, and I felt a sense of pride and joy that I rarely let myself feel over any other accomplishments. I wanted to cook more things that didn’t just feel like One-Pot Meals For The Gal On The Go.
It also felt so adult, so very Ruth Reichl, to not just cook recipes with longer ingredient lists, but to be able to plan and time the cooking of a small feast. I pictured my partner and I suddenly having the knowledge of which salad dressings would pair with which entrees, having the wherewithal to soak beans or marinate ribs overnight, or to know when to start the pizzas so that they weren’t cold by the time the rest of the meal was ready. Eventually, I thought, this was how all my meals would be.
But the pandemic further solidified my cooking-for-the-minimum tendencies. Like others, I’ve lost a certain amount of curiosity and stamina, the will to thrive being replaced by the will to just survive. It’s not that food existed for sustenance only, but if my partner and I were only cooking for each other, who were we trying to impress?
I spent a lot of the pandemic talking myself out of things I wanted to do, because that’s how situational depression often works. Everything that would bring me joy always felt impractical, or too ostentatious at a time when thousands were suffering and dying, or too much effort for what would ultimately be a fleeting experience. Yes, I could cook a four-course meal with an entire cake for dessert, but after we ate it we’d still be in our apartment, the only two people we ever see, and now with three-quarters of a cake to figure out how to store. I don’t even like cake that much. What a waste.
But lately I’ve been pawing through my cookbooks imagining the meals I might excitedly put together. I could do an entire French feast from Julia Child, or spend a day making Nik Sharma’s Goan chorizo, or make a hundred pierogi and summer borscht from the Veselka cookbook. I suddenly want to scour the internet for ingredients that I somehow can’t find at the five international markets in my neighborhood. I want to practice dumpling folding techniques and make a roux. And it’s all because there’s now the promise of being able to do it for other people.
It’s not just that I want to impress my friends (I do, please love me), or that I want to celebrate the fact that other people are going to be in my house again. It’s that there’s a whole world of recipes that aren’t for two or for leftovers, that I haven’t been able to cook in so long. I’m excited to welcome back fussy, involved meals that need to be devoured that night. Finally it feels like I don’t just have to for practicality, but I get to cook for joy.