Passover is drawing to a close and I am so excited to celebrate the end (and my successful adherence to its particular dietary laws) with carbs and cocktails. Tomato sauce simmers on the stove, the 72hr pizza dough I started Monday is on the counter coming to room temperature, and I have a plethora of toppings ready to go. Food normally takes center stage at gatherings as we celebrate momentous events and bring people together, exactly what we’re told to avoid at the moment. I don’t want to give up those special feelings that come about when you’re eating a good meal in good company. And now it’s easy for the days to blur together, especially since many people are either eating solo or sitting down with the same people over and over again.
My friend and I video chatted yesterday as he made dinner. He told me how he dreads the idea of cooking up until the moment that he’s in the kitchen, at which point he enjoys himself and is excited to eat the delicious food he’s making. I want to encourage everyone to delight in dinner, to look forward to cooking and leisurely eating. It is, in my mind, one of the best ways to unwind. Below are some ideas for dinnertime rituals to make the end of the day an enjoyable experience.
1. Cook something – even if it’s super simple. Even if you have leftovers that just need to be reheated, be productive in the kitchen. Cut up fruit for dessert. Make a topping to jazz up your leftovers like toasted chopped nuts, an herby yogurt, or a tangy quick-pickle style salad. Make a piece of garlic toast to go with leftover pasta, a good salad or sauteed vegetables as a side dish, or roasted potatoes to dip into soup. You can also prepare something for breakfast tomorrow morning. Batter for crepes, pancakes, or waffles, or chia pudding or overnight oats. Just end your day with a few minutes of cooking as it’s such a concrete way to care for yourself and to engage in an act that’s immediately rewarding.
2. Media. Normally much socialization happens over dinner. You and your dinner companions are catching up on the day’s events and sharing what you’ve learnt, but if doing so feels like a chore, then find a type of media that everyone enjoys and have that to look forward to every night. I know we’re not supposed to watch tv while eating, but my roommate and I are together all day everyday and it’s nice to have a time that’s dedicated to togetherness without the pressure of having to entertain each other. We have two shows that we’re alternating between, Broad City (hilarious) and the Final Table (wow talk about food as art). Maybe you want to pick a new album to listen to every night, listen to a podcast, or you have old magazines to flip through.
3. Treat yo self. I wrote a piece on how to make comfort food healthier, because I really do think it’s important to eat what you want, but to not cause yourself physical harm in doing so. With that in mind, buy some ice cream and eat it for dessert because it brings you joy and makes the world feel like a safer happier place. Eat pasta for dinner because you love it, and make sure you’re only buying your favorite shape. Do you enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail as a way to unwind from your day? Have it. A little moderation goes a long way – but it’s important to find the balance between guilty pleasure and pure pleasure and I’m sure that you will.
4. Set a nice table (or if you’re lucky like me, your roommate is a set designer and she will do this consistently, effortlessly, and beautifully). Put a place mat down, a napkin (I bought very cute ones from the dollar store), a pitcher of water (which will encourage you to drink more) or a pot of tea, cutlery, light a candle (if you’re feeling fancy), etc. It will make sitting down for food a much more meaningful experience.
5. Plan an event around dinner. “Eat” with family or friends on zoom once a week, or have a game night and make some delicious snack-meal food like warm homemade hummus with good bread and cut up vegetables, or loaded nachos with beans, guacamole, and fresh salsa. You can also Netflix party a movie with a friend while eating delivery pizza (if you play it on your computer with one earphone in, you can video chat on your phone and talk to each other at the same time). Just try and break up your regular routine in the same way that you’d normally go out with friends or family once a week.
6. Challenge yourself! Try a new recipe or cooking project. Make a loaf of bread (when yeast is finally back in stock), try your hand at sushi or falafel, buy a new ingredient like rosewater and discover how delicious it is in chia pudding or lemon cake (cake is a perfectly acceptable meal, especially if you eat it with yogurt – for protein). This will help you stop viewing cooking as such a chore, encouraging you to see it as a creative act with the most satisfying reward.
7. Connect/disconnect. Now more than ever, we are spending the entire day on our phones and computers, so when marking the end of the day with dinner prep, make an effort to either chat with someone you want to talk to (video or phone) or to stop replying to messages all together. If possible, protect the time you need to decompress by setting aside the work phone/email while you cook and eat your meal. This is your “you” time and everyone (except my grandmother – she always gets an immediate answer) can wait before you respond.
With that in mind I leave you with two cocktails recipes that my good friend (who is an excellent bartender) has shared with me. My roommate and I have had a few of these on our balcony, bundled in winter coats and scarves. Both of these cocktails can be made in larger batches – just treat the measurements as parts instead of ounces and scale up accordingly.
- 1.5oz rum*
- 1oz fresh lime juice
- 0.5oz simple syrup (or 0.75oz sugar cane syrup)
- Generous handful of mint
- 2oz soda water
- Ice (ice baby)
* Light rum is traditional though aged rum will add a more pronounced flavour. Adjust the amount of simple syrup based on how sweet your rum is.
**You can turn this into a Hemingway daiquiri by leaving out the mint, replacing the simple syrup with maraschino liqueur, and adding in 0.75oz of fresh grapefruit juice.
Combine the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup in a glass and stir to combine. Slap the mint twice in your hands (this will release its flavours whereas if you muddled it your drink would be bitter) then add it and the ice. Top with soda water and mix. Delish.
- 2oz gin (ideally chilled in the freezer)
- 1oz fresh lemon juice
- 0.75oz simple syrup
- 2oz soda water
- Ice (ice baby)
Combine the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup and mix together. Add ice and top with the soda water. Stir once more. My friend finds that Tom Collins needs a little bit of help in the flavour department so he recommends adding in fresh raspberries. I put a spoonful of passionfruit sorbet (which is quite tart) and (slapped) mint in a batch and it was wonderful.
What I’ve cooked since the last blog post:
- Dahl with baby spinach and roasted cauliflower and potatoes
- Rosewater chia pudding with berries and coconut milk
- Rice noodles and broccoli with garlic, ginger, sesame + chili oil, with crispy hoisin sriracha tofu
- Arepas with black beans, sauteed peppers, onions, and eggplant, and a tomato, avo, grapefruit salad
- I have a sourdough loaf rising, ready to be baked tomorrow morning. It’s filled with poppy, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds, and chopped walnuts.
- Tonight is a pizza party: 72hr dough with a medley of toppings – homemade tomato sauce, fried eggplant, spinach, garlic, thinly sliced mushrooms, black olives, pesto, mozzarella, parmesan, and goats cheese
I WAS ON THE RADIO sharing “tips and ideas on how to reduce the number of trips to the grocery store by getting the most out of your load of groceries.” It was incredibly fun and exhilarating. You can listen to it here.
Let me know what you thought of this post in the comments down below and if there’s a specific ingredient or topic you’d like me to cover. Don’t forget to like my Facebook page, follow me on Instagram and on this site in order to receive a notification for the by-weekly content I’m posting here during the quarantine here. If you subscribe to my YouTube channel as well, I will love you forever.