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The Lost Supper
Dispatches from a dinner party that wasn't
For two years running, now, I’ve wanted to throw a big dinner party.
I’ve hosted a few in my time, and while they are often chaotic, as is my nature—the last courses being finished off as the guests arrive, improvised seating, the time I completely forgot cutlery existed—they are an enduring source of joy. I write a lot about food, including in this newsletter, but for me the principal joy of food is not its consumption but in learning about it, the making and sharing of it. Left alone, my food-for-one adventures are anemic, barely sufficient to sustain me. On the other hand, the prospect of creating a feast is electric, and immediate, kicking my dormant planning drive into high gear. I think about the progress of the courses—soup, salad, starch, and slabs of meat—and friends to accommodate, to pair like wines, to toast with hands still damp from hours at the stove.
We are heading into the third year of a pandemic, and the virus has a new variant which has once again sent my beloved city of New York into a whirl of alarm, filling our hospitals with the newly ill, and our streets with those lining up to be tested. Nearly a million Americans have died—and we are barreling towards that grim milestone—with millions more, less publicly tracked, affected by long-covid and associated post-viral syndromes, in essence a mass disabling event. The gravity of this number, the toll on the crumbling and never-sufficient health-care system, and the persistent forces of disease denial and misinformation are at the center of the covid conversation, as they should be.
But from time to time I think about the smaller casualties, in my own life and in so many others’, the nourishing joys foregone for safety, the gatherings and celebrations that dissipated into the grim atomized solitude of survival in a plague. These gatherings that never were—weddings and brises and barbecues, family reunions and christenings, markers of the passage of time, and rites that fill our human lives with sacral meaning—reside in us, like ghosts buzzing against the chest. In some other past I would have celebrated my best friend’s wedding; in the current present, I’ve never met his wife. In some other past I would presently be gleefully zipping around the country on grim research trips for my new book; in the present, the pandemic, with its omnipresent dangers, has exacerbated my agoraphobia so badly that I struggle to walk a few blocks, perennially flicking the rim of the bell jar I live in. It has seemed like every time I begin to recover some of my capacities, a new variant blows in like an ill wind, and sends me back inside.
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In this present—with Omicron ripping through the city and the country and the planet at large—I’m not speaking to those who have chosen to ignore the pandemic, to live as if no one had died, and call it freedom until they fall ill. I’m speaking to those of us who are being cautious, to our own detriment, and with the profound weariness of seeing that caution extended into another year. Those of us who are vaccinated and boosting and rapid-testing and hopeful and frightened. I am spending the last years of my relative youth in a cave of worries, and I can hear phantom celebrations echoing off the cavern walls, a little dim laughter, the sound of a poured ghost-glass. It’s Christmas for most of you, New Year’s for all of us, and again we are forced into grim calculations and choices, some of us sacrificing communal celebration, others choosing to forge on, with fear an unwelcome guest at the feast.
I move to my new apartment in the New Year, and, finally—after years of living in furnished rooms since my roommates left town in March 2020—will have the space to entertain. I’ve been alleviating my anxiety about the move and everything else by manically buying furniture—aiming to create the ambience that a consumptive but horny dauphin of the ancien regime might enjoy. And I’ve bought the most perfect table imaginable: gilded, with green-velvet covered chairs, inlaid with a floral design, rococo as hell—yearning for a feast, and starved of one. So I’m sharing my menu for the dinner party I’d throw for my housewarming—or, hell, for the book that came out in October 2020, the paperback that came out in October 2021, or my thirty-first birthday, or my thirty-second. I’ve thought about the dishes, things I love, have made before, or long to make. I’ve browsed vintage menus, considered techniques, imagined myself flour-powdered up to the elbows. I invite you to join me for this feast of the imagination, for all the celebrations you’ve missed, that you will miss. Please add your own dishes, what you’d bring, what you’d make, what you dream of making.