I have always been someone who spends a great deal of the day thinking about dinner. I start pondering it on the bus into work, running through a mental file of what’s in the fridge and store cupboard. “Bag of spinach, red pepper, spring onions, is there feta still? An egg, last night’s mash, might be a bit of bacon? Pasta, there’s always pasta...”
I’m in my own version of Sherlock Holmes’s mind palace, except with more potatoes and fewer clues as to how a major crime was committed. This year, the question of ‘what shall we have for dinner?’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Perhaps because, being at home, everyone is invested in the outcome. My colleagues used to indulge me asking, daily, what they were going to be having for tea. I just like knowing. Maybe it’s because it says something about the kind of day they’re having, or how they like to treat themselves. Maybe I’m just nosy.
I’ve missed that in lockdown, though my curiosity was satiated a little this week with a lengthy WhatsApp discussion about everyone’s favourite sandwich. Some people might find this sort of chat dull, I think it’s the stuff of life.
But back to dinner. This year, the evening meal has to pull more weight than usual, the Friday night meal even more so. It needs to be diverting to make and enticing to eat. It needs to make the hours spent at home thinking about what to cook worthwhile.
This week I became fixated by the idea of a dish that would be almost embarrassingly autumnal in that ‘New England in the Fall’, leaf peeping and cider mill kind of a way. I started envisioning baked apples in a pan but not with brown sugar and currants – rather, tart Braeburns with their centres scooped out and filled with herb-flecked sausage meat, then roasted with onions, soft sage leaves, dry cider and served with mustard mash.
Making it was a good distraction, eating it a proper joy. See if it can do the same for you.