Back to the Future – And I Love It!

By: Patricia Chadwick

It’s an understatement to say that the coronavirus has turned life as we once knew it on its head, with experiences ranging from truly life shattering to frightening to exasperating.

In the realm of what can only be considered an inconvenient – rather than a critical – fallout of the pandemic has been the upending of that favorite American pastime – eating out. Whether grabbing a quick bite at a fast food joint, or frequenting a local restaurant with friends, or reveling on a special occasion at a fine dining establishment, there’s something about getting out of the house for a meal that turns monotony into variety – the “spice of life”.

During those frightening early weeks of isolation, when staying huddled in the house seemed like the only safe existence, millions of creative and entrepreneurial restaurateurs converted restaurant dining to “curbside pickup” – takeout with a twist – offering much the same fare at much the same price.
The summer months have brought back some semblance of normalcy, with accommodations by cities and towns across the country that have allowed outdoor dining to impinge on spaces normally dedicated to vehicular traffic. And it’s been salutary for our mental health to be able to dine out once again.

Now, as summer turns to fall and fall rolls into winter, we face a dilemma – at least in New England where I live – because no number of gas heaters will be sufficient to make outdoor dining a pleasurable experience. We’ll soon be reverting to sparse (at best) inside opportunities for dining, and restaurant proprietors and managers will once again resort to the creativity they adopted in the early days of the pandemic by offering “curbside” service.

In my family, while we availed ourselves of curbside service a few times, I found that I got far more psychic satisfaction from making meals at home – from scratch. There was almost a frenzy in my domesticity, as though I was the mother bird (or a Mother Superior, or just a plain human mother), making sure the nest (or convent or home) was safe and sound and perfect.

In the beginning I’d make a single weekly trip to the grocery store. Usually on a Saturday morning, I’d rise in the night blackness at 5:30, and – un-showered and hastily dressed – I’d arrive at the supermarket a few minutes before the magical hour of 6 o’clock to participate in the luxury of “Senior Shopping Hour,” that precious 60 minutes dedicated to those of us who were considered to be “seniors”, a term I deplore but will use to my advantage.

When I’d get a few sideways glances from masked fellow “seniors,” I took them as compliments – did I look too young to be shopping at this ungodly hour? I could have shown my driver’s license as proof of my legitimacy, but we all know that fake ID’s are a dime a dozen – at least that’s what our children tell us.
Fresh vegetables, fruits, greens – cilantro, endive, and radicchio in particular – and all varieties of fish and meat filled my cart. Once home, I’d go online to find exotic recipes and then spend hours in the kitchen. My vichyssoise became my husband’s favorite, particularly once I realized that putting it through the (inexpensive) blender made a far superior soup to one that went through the (expensive) Cuisinart. Meal after meal, day after day, week after week – and I never got bored!

That 1950s style living – long before eating out became a symbol of American culture – is now a permanent part of the life of my family, with one meaningful change since March. Instead of rising before dawn and shopping in a giant supermarket, I now head out each afternoon to an array of small shops, sometimes with an already planned menu, but more likely with an open mind to pick whatever tickles my fancy. It’s reminiscent of a time a few years ago when my husband and I spent some time in Provence and we observed the local townspeople coming to market each day.

Technology has provided extraordinary benefits to billions of people worldwide during this pandemic – the ability to work without having to go to the office, to visit the doctor without having to leave the house, to receive a vast array of products simply by ordering online – and all of that has saved lives as well as time, energy and the environment.

Knowing that I can always rely on technology when I need it, I’m now able also to revel in life as it was lived 70 years ago, and I’m planning to live this way for a long time to come.