Toronto Life

A few words about dinner rituals during lockdown


This month, my family and I will be participat­ing in our second Zoom Passover. The holiday, in which Jewish people tell the biblical story of how the Israelites were freed from enslavemen­t in Egypt, is usually celebrated by an elaborate meal with as many people as you can fit around the table. Last year, Passover happened a few weeks after the world shut down, and we scrambled to invent a distanced way to mark the holiday. This year, the arrival of Passover is a painful reminder that we have lived with the pandemic for a full year. It’s a bitter anniversar­y.

On the plus side, at least now we know what we’re doing. For better and for worse, we have become accustomed to marking big occasions remotely. We’ve attended Zoom graduation­s, weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals. Virtual celebratio­ns, we’ve all reluctantl­y had to learn, can be joyful and meaningful.

Humans still need each other, maybe now more than ever, and throughout the year, we’ve been admirably creative about how we connect at a distance—we send flowers, make cards, bake for each other, book FaceTime chats and porch visits, take online classes together. In the past, we could rely on old traditions to keep us connected. This year, we’ve had to invent new ones.

My parents celebrated their 50th anniversar­y late last fall, and instead of a blowout party, my siblings and I organized something we called a “Party in a Box.” We invited their close friends to send cards, memories, poems and other expression­s of affection, placed them all in a box, wrapped it with a ribbon and gave it to them along with balloons and a photo album of my parents throughout their marriage.

Last fall, when the government cancelled Halloween, neighbours of mine suggested something they called “reverse trick-or-treating”: families put brightly decorated baskets on their porches, and throughout the day, kids walked around with their parents, dropping off little bags of candies. Halloween was saved and, in my opinion, possibly even improved upon.

One of my sisters celebrated a milestone birthday during lockdown with an online gathering of friends and family from all over the world. She and my brother-in-law sent attendees into Zoom breakout rooms to form teams and compete at a cleverly conceived trivia game featuring multiplech­oice questions about her life. The whole thing was fun and memorable.

In our house, we have marked many festive days with takeout meals: birthdays, good report cards, long weekends. Restaurant­s have always been in the special occasion business; now they ship the experience to you. This month’s cover story, “Where to Eat Now” (page 37), features a remarkable collection of elevated at-home dining adventures, including meals that come with their own playlists, candles and wine. The package is a celebratio­n of an innovative and resilient industry—and it contains a lifetime’s worth of great dining ideas.

The unwelcome one-year anniversar­y of the city’s shutdown gives us the opportunit­y to mourn all that was lost this past year. But as we enter our second pandemic spring—with its second pandemic Passover, its second pandemic Easter and its second pandemic Ramadan—let’s also acknowledg­e our fortitude, our ability to reinvent ritual and strengthen relationsh­ips, and maybe even celebrate that with an excellent takeout dinner.

—Sarah Fulford Email: editor@torontolif­ Twitter: @sarah_ fulford

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