The meaning of life? 12/10/2020

Quick things:

I read an article a couple weeks ago (ish) about the importance of routine in our lives, positing that part of what’s so difficult about pandemic life is the disruption to our normal routines. The author suggests (and suggests that the science suggests) that the specific routines we’ve given up or lost are less important than routine itself; that routines and rituals give us a sense of security and comfort almost regardless of their specifics; and that establishing new routines an important way we can take care of ourselves right now. She quotes a psychiatrist: “People get so stuck in how they want it to be that they fail to adapt and be fluid to what is. It’s not just Covid, it’s around everything in life.”

The article really stuck with me.

I haven’t written a newsletter/blog post since before Thanksgiving, a major disruption of my routine. My life used to be marked with the gentle rhythm of three days at the market/a weekend or at least a day/a couple of days working from home. Something I loved about Market life was that every day was different, but also, every day was the same. I suppose that’s still true now, but it’s a lot more of those days, and the “different” things that pop up are a lot less familiar and a lot more stressful.

In my non-work life, to the extent that such a thing exists these days, I’ve kept some of my routines, adjusted others, developed new ones, and abandoned some. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning before work. Late in the week sometimes it takes a while and I have to scramble to get out the door, but I learned my lesson on February 29th when I didn’t finish a tricky Saturday puzzle before leaving for Market and then after work wound up at a bar until after midnight — streak broken! Not that I could wind up at a bar after work these days anyway, but that ritual of completing the puzzle before I leave every morning has been important to me, and my streak remains unbroken since March 1. This is an important source of meaning in my life.

On the other hand, cooking dinner several nights a week (while Dusty took the other several) used to be an important source of meaning in my life, and that time in the kitchen grounded me and connected me to creative impulses, to the seasons and the land, and to you, who might be cooking with the same ingredients at your home at the same moment. I think these days I’m more likely to order take out than I am to cook something (though Dusty still makes us dinner or scrounges up something for us to eat most nights), and I sure do miss that, both for the feeling of creativity/of creating, and the sense of connection. I miss it more than can be offset by my new ritual of ordering takeout nearly every Monday evening.

I have houseplants now, but I haven’t really developed a rhythm and routine for watering them. They’re doing, um, okay…

I have this newsletter, which has shifted days (despite my continued dreams of shifting it back), and occasionally falls by the wayside for a week. Even when it makes it to fruition, it’s different — for me and for you, I imagine — because without my spare thoughts being occupied by what I’ve cooked and want to cook, it’s a lot less about food. Someday again.

In the last week I actually did cook some food, and for one whole day the week before that I did almost nothing but cook food. Pictured here is our Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV, which was a cozy culmination of a day of being together in the kitchen (except during Dusty’s nap period) cooking enough food to have fed both our families — but just for us. It was a nice day, and disrupting the expectation by saying, “It’s okay to just watch a movie while we eat Thanksgiving dinner,” made it a little less lonely, I think, than if we’d set the table as if for company.

In the days since, I’ve produced two whole meals that definitely count as cooking — meatloaf and turkey tikka masala (all those leftovers!). Both have provided us with many meals since, which is a boon unto itself.

The meatloaf was a little bit of an experiment, using some methods I’d never tried before, like shredding the carrots and onions in the food processor rather than just finely dicing them, and mixing the breadcrumbs with as much milk as they could hold before mixing everything with the meat (a combo of beef and pork in this case). I think the jury’s out on both techniques — they created a softer and more homogenous meatloaf than my normal style, and I honestly can’t tell you if I liked it more or not. I do know that it didn’t hold together quite as well as I’d have liked, so if I try it again I think I’ll add one whole egg in addition to the two yolks this batch got. Maybe a little less milk in the breadcrumbs. I’ll also remember to salt it during the final mixing, which won’t help with the texture, but would with everything else (luckily I had salted several of the components on their own, so it wasn’t too bad — but oops!).

The turkey tikka masala is always spectacular (though it also could have used a little more salt), and always so labor intensive I wonder if I’ll do it again the next year. But I do, because somewhere between one Thanksgiving and the next I’ll find a portion of it that I froze and have it for lunch and I’ll be far enough removed from the making that I’ll forget the work involved and think only, “Oh yeah, this is the best way to eat turkey leftovers!” It’s become, you might say, something of a ritual.

Governor Wolf, as you’ve probably seen, announced new restrictions today on indoor dining and other activities. New cases in our area are something like 10 times higher than they were during the lockdown in the spring. It’s all so anxiety-inducing; it’s all so routine.

I’ve been reading articles about how with rapid and widespread testing, with universal mask wearing, with voluntary physical distancing, we could avoid the situation we’re in right now — not just the restrictions (a symptom) but the disease (literally). It makes me tired that we haven’t, as a society, managed to get our act together enough to achieve this.

Anyway — I hope you’ll order some takeout from your favorite restaurant sometime soon. Maybe also order some takeout, on another night, from a place you’ve never tried before. And I hope you’ll indulge yourself in some home cooking, too — something that connects you to the land and the seasons, something that makes you feel powerful in its creation.

Our lives, after all, are bounded by the ultimate routine of the earth spinning on its axis, orbiting the sun. Maybe we can find some comfort and meaning there as we wait for the light to return.


P.S. I meant to tell you but forgot to work it in — due to the rise in cases and the level of community spread in our area, we will not be opening for in-person shopping in 2020. Though it’s been months since we felt like this decision was within our control and it’s wrenching to not move forward now that we are all but ready, we are right back to where we were in the spring in some ways — we believe that the current system is the best way to continue getting good food into your hands (bellies) and the best way to support the farmers and producers we work with. In a small staff, an infection could be devastating and could force us to close completely for two weeks or more — so we’d like to avoid that! We are currently targeting mid-January for re-opening, though nothing is set in stone yet.