Take-Away, Part I: Abundance

A few weeks ago LittleMan requested baked potatoes for dinner, and I realized with some horror that while I have made all manner of potatoes in my time, from smashed to hassleback to scalloped, I could not recall ever making just plain-old baked potatoes. Like, I literally didn’t know how long to bake those suckers. But it’s rare for my kids to request specific side dishes, so I got some russets and washed them and pierced them and set about figuring it out. There is a first time for everything.


When I was a little girl my mom made baked potatoes a lot. There were four of us, but she would always make one or two extra potatoes. Occasionally she would forget about the leftovers, and, some time later we would turn on the oven again and open it to find days-old (often pre-heated) russets.

As time went on, I realized that my mom always makes more than we need : procuring four sandwiches when two would do, making three kinds of sausage (and chicken, and salmon), when most would stop at one. This is because she is always looking beyond her own confines; she is deeply attuned to the fact that someone, somewhere probably needs something warming and wonderful : a neighbor who’s had a long day and can’t be bothered to make dinner; a young teacher on a budget; a new mom; her doorman, watchful and kind. My mom is a provider, generous to the core. Her “love language” is Food in Abundance, beautifully presented, and preferably shared with others.

We tease her, but it’s a wonderful quality. Because as we’ve learned all too well, a buttery baked potato can soothe all manner of troubles, for a while.


In the Before Times, our day-to-day lives didn’t really suit family dinner. My husband worked late, the kids had practices and were hungry, bedtime occurred hours before 8pm, the adults were casually experimenting with vegetarianism, and the kids only wanted meat and starch. We were busy! On most nights I would feed the kids early, we would have some hurried “family time” after, and then my husband and I would eat quite late, 8:30 or 9, and catch up on the day. We cooked well, but on the average Tuesday, we were not expansive.

A funny thing happened when we were all home, all the time. We started eating all of our meals, together.

Not only that, but cooking and eating became one of our primary sources of joy, individually and collectively. We had nothing but time : time to think about what to eat, time to prepare anything we wanted, time to miss flavors we took for granted when we could just bop out and get anything, anytime. Four-hour braise? Why not! I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE. Birthday cake for dessert? It’s no one’s birthday, but who cares? Restaurant-style carnitas? YES! We need something to do! A project! A challenge!

During those hazy months, time was nothing more than a construct, today was tomorrow was yesterday — but DINNER WOULD BE AMAZING. We made our own pizza dough and topped each pie with our personal favorites. We roasted all the chickens in all the land, whole and in pieces, in the oven and on the grill.

When we were most afraid, we got the most creative. We discovered that we love Yankee pot roast, only because post roast was literally the last cut of meat on the shelf during the first week of Lockdown. We leveraged a random slab of ham foraged during another grocery panic (remember buying random slabs of ham?) to produce a quiche with dense pastry made from whole wheat flour (remember when it was hard to find flour?).

We did a couple of cleanses, just to mix things up. Bring on those greens! Let’s try that bean-based pasta! In a fit of springtime madness last May, we ordered live lobsters and shriekingly hurled them into boiling water and watched them turn from gray to vibrant pink.

We threw parties for ourselves, built appetizer platters, perfected dips, cultivated our love of tinned fish. We made pilgrimages to butchers or green grocers located 30 minutes away because the drive there and back gave us something to do. Babygirl claimed Thursdays as “her evening” to plan and prepare the meal, which means that Thursdays now involve tablecloths, and my husband and I are expected to dress up a bit.

Back in the Beginning, I spent a lot of time asking myself what I was learning from all of this. What, if anything, might be gained from the time-standing-still, the not-going-anywhere, the not-knowing-what-will-happen? How might we grow, in lockdown?

(It is important to note that back in the Beginning we also did family yoga and took virtual field trips to the Smithsonian. Which is to say : back in the Beginning, when this was “only going to last a couple of weeks,” my game was ON POINT. After that? Well. I got very, very tired.)

I quickly learned that it is hard to make sense of anything when you’re in the middle of it. You can’t really appreciate the ways you are growing when you are just trying to make it down the rapids in one piece. In fact, sometimes (MANY TIMES) over the past year, I felt like shouting, to no one in particular : NO! You know what? I’d like to take a pause on growing, please! Instead, I’d like to go get a glass of wine and some new jeans. Maybe do some SoulCycle. Thanks.

But that was never one of the choices. So instead, I pulled out a cookbook and thought about what to make for dinner. Imagined a meal that would make the day special. Got some thick steaks and learned how to bake a mean potato (they are best with the skins smeared with butter at the halfway point).

So what did we learn? How did we grow? Well. We eat slower. We talk and we laugh and we scold about manners and spills. LittleMan is only allowed to quote one Simpsons episode per meal. Babygirl needs to breathe between thoughts. Occasionally the kids will deign to share some news from the Discord chat, or some drama from socially-distant recess. And truly, it feels like we gained something pretty magical. As much as we are all desperate for some space from one another, at the table we are happy to be together.

We’ve started venturing out again, post-vax. Baseball practice runs until 8pm on Mondays. My husband and I have made plans that take us out for the dinner hour. It’s a strange thing, to walk in heels and do my eyebrows, and it tugs at me a little bit, missing the ritual that has anchored us this year.

But it’s Tuesday, and we’re here now. So I think I’ll make beef tacos tonight with all the fixings.

Everyone likes beef tacos.

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