Our resident columnist fantasises about swapping at-home hosting for one for friends, fancy tables and glasses being refilled without a single trip to the fridge
By Raven Smith Illustration by Elena Xausa Friday 3 July, 2020 Short read
Coronavirus lockdown saw us reinvesting in the smallest things in life with a near-religious fervour, balancing out the sudden staunch of social gatherings. A new sense of equilibrium emerged, that wasn’t counterweighted with a life outside the domestic bubble. We revelled in long, aimless walks, did yoga for the sake of yoga, and chain-read consecutive books. Our wardrobes stagnated, but our appreciation of our surroundings deepened. Initially, out of a certain boredom and unnecessity to get up early, I found myself kamikaze drinking in the evenings. A dozen aperitivi, innumerable squirts from a box of St John wine, glugs of Kahlua straight after brushing my teeth. But I quickly got frustrated that the ‘big drink energy’ couldn’t channel anywhere – no trying to get everyone singing, no impromptu conga, no mindless chats with strangers, no dancing it off. Something about a good drink is synonymous with other people, and their new stories and indiscreet chat. Secrets are inevitably shared over Chablis. You don’t get the same satisfying jolt of gossip re-watching Jurassic Park in your pyjamas. Rather than dancing the night away, I was flying into the windows like a trapped wasp trying to escape.
In my personal Solo House™, I am fond of a bastardised Picante de la Casa, poured over ice from a jar of tequila and slices of jalapenos I keep on standby for a post-laptop evening celebration. Then shimmy-shaken with all those good barman additions that make you feel like you’re not drinking pure shots. This abominable attempt at fine cocktailing accompanies whatever tinned food I’ve warmed on the hob for my dinner, because, dear reader, I have lost my edge when it comes to cooking.
'I got sick of cooking. Bored, really. The predictability of the end result became somewhat tiresome – carrots tend to always come out tasting of carrots, don’t they?'
Lockdown originally bought a joyous tide of home cooking, a rediscovery of a better-managed edible life. My early culinary endeavours involved a trifecta of online chefs – Nigella and Ottolenghi, and the occasional Alison Roman on Bon Appétit. I worshipped at the feet of the patron saints of converted ingredients. The witchcraft of cookery cast a spell on me and I couldn’t get enough. A smorgasbord of baking, roasting, sautéing and mashing. Of marinated preparations, licked fingers and washing-up teetering in the sink. Of the casually thrown together and the painstakingly rustled up. I loved transforming vegetables into dishes – the long minutes it takes to truly brown shards of sliced onion, the thickening of a simmering reduction, the bright swirls of flavoursome herbs, the final kiss of a squeezed lemon. I was kneading, proving and raising, reassured by the alchemic properties of eggs, flour and sugar after a spell in the oven. I never openly julienned – we must all draw our own lines in the sand – but I understood the restorative meditation of a home-cooked meal.
Of course, much like the yoga, the long walks and the binge drinking, I got sick of cooking. Bored, really. The predictability of the end result became somewhat tiresome – carrots tend to always come out tasting of carrots, don’t they? The absence of surprise has made my heart grow fetishistically fond for the great wide world, and by that I mean dining out. In getting tired of cooking, I’ve realised the mystery that dining out can hold. The thrill of knowing what’s in the cupboards at home, but opening a menu and choosing whatever takes your fancy. The utter joy of meandering through a series of courses and sides that take no more prep than saying them out loud to a server. I dream of that short cycle of craving something and eating it. Of dishes I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it on the menu. I dream of marbled dining rooms and striped umbrellaed alfresco munches. Of glasses being refilled without a single trip to the fridge or off-licence. Of balmy evenings. Of good company. Of secrets spilling from loose lips.