As we enter our third week of confinement, I have to be honest and tell you we’re pretty sick of one another in this house. The husband, me, and our psychotically needy cat have been very polite and forgiving so far if, say, one of us sits in a favorite chair, hogs the remote, plays music too loud in the morning, or ignores desperate pleads to PLEASE stop watching Everyone Loves Raymond for the seventh time. The sons come over and we stand the required six feet apart on the sidewalk, airing out our lives for all the neighbors to hear. We’re getting along on calling relatives and texting friends but what we really need is for the house to be filled once more with the presence of anyone other than ourselves. Otherwise, there will be mayhem.
I emailed my friend Mary Chris. She and her husband Dan are among the very very few people we actually call, on our own, without any reason but to say hello. They’re the people we can not live without in our bunker.
Over the course of 18 emails, Mary Chris and I worried about our children and the inability to hug them, the insanity of food shopping, the lovingly annoying proximity of our husbands and how much our bodies are shot to hell between lolling for hours on the couch and our new diet of cookies, biscuits, ice cream and chocolate. She comforted me when I had a momentary breakdown. I assured her the cactus I gave her wouldn’t die if she didn’t water it. We both were extremely troubled by what she accurately described as a deep pall settling over the land.
“Let’s have a video dinner party!” I said.
“I love that idea!” she said.
The rest of the week immediately brightened after we decided on Saturday night, 6 p.m. sharp.
At the moment I have a freezer full of stuff I can’t identify because the labels have frosted over. I picked whatever was on top which turned out to be a cheap cut of beef and that determined my half of the dinner–chili. The husband changed into a clean shirt. I put on earrings, even combed my hair. There was a bit of back and forth deciding on FaceTime (they have Macs), Zoom, or Google Hangouts. We settled on Google Hangouts.
“Hello there!” Dan called out, already munching on something.
We were having a momentary blip of technical difficulties on our end (forgot how to reverse the screen to see them) but things finally righted and there we all were, the four of us close and a good meal spread between us to share. Life felt blessedly normal until Dan and Mary Chris’ computer battery ran out of juice.
I don’t see why I can’t have a larger party next. Multiple screens placed down the table, one each for the four or six other friends who tolerate us. Our house will be so full of merriment it’ll pull us all through the long haul.
I think we can all agree that, if nothing else, these times are incredibly exhausting and the idea of putting on a dinner party would be a non-starter. But the nice thing about a virtual dinner party is that you’re only cooking for yourself. If I was cooking for Mary Chris and Dan I would have gone all fancy and put together a slew of decent appetizers, side dishes and some kind of splendid dessert. But you can set up the screen to show less of the table and more of yourself which mean I didn’t do any more than what I have been managing lately. I felt very accomplished, indeed, just getting the chili out for the husband and me.
Like everyone else in the country, I have my own chili recipe but mine doesn’t have a long enough cooking time to tenderize the cut I had. I found a recipe in the The New York Times that seemed about right. I like the layered flavors in it and the long simmering time would be long enough to tenderize the meat but not have it fall apart.
It’s better if I give you a link to the recipe rather than record it here because it’s a bit involved. There’s several steps where you’re cooking individual ingredients and setting them aside in separate bowls. Unlike the cooks at The New York Times, I don’t have a staff on hand to clean up after me so I would recommend combining the ingredients used in steps 1 to 3. I don’t see what difference it would make to the taste or use one bowl instead of three. The rest of the recipe is straightforward and very easy. As it turned out, it makes an incredible chili.