I miss Friday night dinner parties. I miss filling bowls with crisps and olives and covering the table in good things to be snacked on while the first drinks are downed — a pile of ice cold radishes to dip in sea salt and butter, pickles, some sort of creamy dip laced with garlic, little saucers of oil and vinegar, a board with torn hunks of sourdough. I miss lighting candles and putting on lipstick and pouring very strong gin and tonics. But above all I miss my flat being full of people. I miss that feeling when you finally crawl into bed in the wee hours, a hangover already starting to creep in at the edges, filled with the deep contentment of having laughed your way through several bottles of wine with good friends.
Our Friday nights have been hijacked again by lockdown round two. It’s small fry, of course, compared to what people all over the country are coping with. But it’s not nothing either. I’m lucky that in London we can still meet five people in a garden. For my brother, in student digs in Manchester, it’s back to the distanced park bench chats of April and May. Except now you need to don stormproof gear first. This weekend, all my plans have moved outdoors. A 30th birthday celebration is now lunch for six on someone’s tiny south London patio. We’ll eat cake, drink fizz and try not to get too wet.
Family dinner on Sunday will be eaten under a gazebo in my parents’ garden with coats and hats. Both meals will be great because it was never really about the food. The food was just the vehicle for getting the people together. And if you can find a way to still have dinner with your people, even if just on Zoom, everything might feel ok again for a bit.
If al fresco dinners are part of the plan for you this weekend, this warming mushroom, leek and pancetta stew deserves a place on the table. Serve it in deep bowls with something hearty like mash or cheesy polenta.