Given the current Covid crisis, our collective, blended nest is full again at six: five adults and a precocious nearly 11-year-old. As have many families, we have enjoyed revisiting the oft-neglected tradition of all-sit-down-together family dinners. In the olden days, we made reservations more often than we made dinner. My former husband married two women who would rather do yoga than cook any day. Unpredictable, busy schedules precluded predictable dinner times. And with my boys having grown and flown, we’d normally only convene for meals all together when they visited for holidays.
But now, we convene in our bubble almost nightly. At the outset, planning was as haphazard as it had been pre-coronavirus. Last minute decisions, scrambling for ingredients, late calls to restaurants offering take out. But the three adults in the group with graduate business degrees took the situation firmly in hand and came up with a brilliant solution. “How about if we make a chart for the week?” I know; what an amazingly innovative concept! Everyone would get a night. Everyone would cook. Even those of us who are adamantly kitchen-averse. And we’d order in a few nights to give everyone a break.
The results have been surprisingly delightful. My youngest son has mad culinary skills, so he’s concocted some mouth-watering meals from scratch: cast iron skillet chicken pot pie topped with home-made biscuits, fish tacos, and cacio e pepe pasta. Our youngest chef made a mean grilled cheese and tomato soup, and the oldest offspring who lacks kitchen confidence, served up delectable egg sandwiches with a variety of toppings that we could customize. The delightful weather has allowed for great grilling. I have déjà vu from the days when the boys were young, and I had to feed them whether I liked it or not if I wanted to avoid a visit from Child Services.
It’s been surprising satisfying to plan and present meals. It gives me something to do. Nothing fancy mind you: I made two quiches yesterday with herbs from my deck garden, and I dragged out one of my mother’s go-to chicken recipes with apricots, Catalina dressing, and Onion soup mix. And it turns out that there is great gratification in feeding people. I’ve watched celebrity chefs say it for a long time, but now I feel it. It’s very different to what I very loosely call “cooking” for myself. I do that as quickly as possible and, more often than not, sit with a plate perched precariously on my lap on the couch while I binge on some Netflix show. That kind of meal is a lonely, mindless, biological necessity. These meals nourish us in many ways.
That’s not to say they’ve been idyllic. We are neither a Normal Rockwell painting nor a scene from a 1950’s sitcom. We do plenty of whining, (and wining), quarreling, and exercising general snarkiness. But overall, we spend less money on food, eat more healthily, and enjoy time to catch up, connect, and comment on current events. We often wonder what will happen when “this is over.” How will Covid-19 change us in the long run, on both macro and micro levels? I know that we will disperse to our own lives once it is safe to do so, and that these meals will occur again less frequently. I hope, though, that some remnant of the joy of cooking – and convening – will stay with us, and that we will, perhaps gather at the table more often than we did before.