What Carried me Through the First Half of 2020
“…I have learned that it is valid to feel disappointed and fortunate at the same time.”
–Andrea Romero, 19. Computer science student at Purdue University
On a personal note…
As people the world over grapple with how to re-emerge and so much more, I figured it was time to set down some things that have lifted me above the sadness during these surreal months. I am abundantly grateful my family has been in good health and that I live where I have open space to walk undisturbed. But like the young woman in the NY Times piece by Frank Bruni, I recognize that disappointment and anxiety co-exist with awareness of my good fortune. A pleasant lockdown environment is still a constraint from which to break free. When will I feel safe to travel across the country to visit my son and his family? When can I hug my very elderly parents? The clock is ticking.
Still, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the moments in the past several months that have brought me comfort and even pure joy. Can you think of three things unique to this time that made you happy? Once you begin this exercise, you may discover you have three more things that happened only in the way that they did because of the pandemic.
Peak joy: Weekly Zoom book club with my 14-year-old granddaughter and my two daughters. This English Lit major is positively giddy watching and listening to our teen read beyond plot. We finished Little Women on June 18, 2020, which means, that for us, this book will forever be associated with the pandemic. Best news, Delfina wants to continue; she’s chosen Wuthering Heights for our summer read. I’m quite certain this inter-generational activity will continue to be possible for us precisely because it is virtual. BTW, rereading a childhood classic is a soothing respite from the troubles. Highly recommend.
How I came to love virtual connection: Two weeks into SIP, I was asked to help launch the Jewish Women’s Theater’s Virtual Sunday Mornings program with “The Un-Loneliness of a Long-Distance Seder.” Gazing at 100+ squares of hopeful participants in those early days of isolation, I felt the powerful embrace of community. The act of giving gave me much in return. As a result, my own family Seder was the best it could be in 2020. No staid video conference call for us. As we moved through our separate kitchens in real time to bring this or that to our separate tables, our gathering expanded beyond the confines of our computer screens to draw us closer together. We even managed a virtual version of our Passover play tradition. The sweet overcame the bitter.
Where once we looked forward to meeting friends at a terrific restaurant at week’s end (and hope to again, soon-ish), a virtual dinner for 2 to 4 people–with take-out from the same restaurant–became an equally-anticipated weekend change of pace. It’s hard to convey the surprising degree to which this breaks up the endless sameness of SIP days within the same four walls, but trust me, it does and then some. That’s my table set with Eastside cocktails (gin-based cucumber martini I learned to make from Gaby Mlynarczyk–follow her on social media @lalovingcup!) in anticipation of a retro-style meal from Dear John’s.
I’m not talking typical meal kit or lukewarm takeout. When they weren’t feeding front-line workers and the suddenly unemployed, chefs turned their boundless creativity to ingenious and inspiring ways to keep their own businesses alive and at least skeleton crews employed. From casual meals to elaborate feasts, restaurants have figured out how to trim their menus, offer curbside pick-up, and package components with precise instructions to yield the best possible results of their food in our homes. For us on the receiving end, it’s been a powerful window into the soul of a chef.
At first, getting food to-go was a way for us to support independent restaurants, their workers, and suppliers (even the poshest establishments often work at a very slim profit margin, to say nothing of how most workers survive). This was motivation enough for us to risk venturing out. As with the JWT Zoom Seder panel, it soon yielded much more. It’s become a shelter-in-place activity kit for food lovers. A little bit of “coloring within the lines” produces a beautiful meal without having to cook for days.
Los Angeles appears to have been an early adopter of the phenomenon, but I see that as restaurants across the country contemplate various ways to re-open, elevated take-out is a part of the plan for the time being. From Oleana in Cambridge, MA to Bird Cafe Supper Club in Point Arena, CA to Hotville Chicken in Los Angeles, establishments are offering multiple options to suit a variety of comfort levels and situations. Kudos to everyone of them.
Whether it’s your local mom and pop joint or fine-dining favorite, local restaurants need your support. If you want to see more than fast-food chains when this is all over, please do what you can. Ralph and I have had a special “dinner out” maybe half a dozen times over the past three months. And probably will continue to do so until we feel comfortable with “dine-in.”
An elegant menu from Melisse/Citrin by Josiah Citrin inspired my friend and me to pull out our good china for a special “night on the town.” How could we not, after the Michelin-star chef stood in the alley behind his restaurant to hand us our carefully labeled food?
Michael Cimarusti of Providence transported my husband and me to the south of France with this generous bouillabaisse enjoyed in our garden.
And even I could look like a Michelin two-star, when I plated this Italian Crudo for an Amalfi Coast-themed menu, also from Providence.
Not sure how long the virtual take-out dinner phenomenon will last as we move to socially distant porch visits and the like, but I’m keeping this new way to socialize with faraway, or even crosstown, family and friends.
Well, that was a lot of a lot. I’ll close with this. The heightened sounds of birdsong on evening walks these past few months and of my little neighborhood banging and clanging away at 7pm every evening to salute those on the front lines will stay with me always.
So, what are your first three things?