To help us all face those challenges, we gathered some advice for navigating this year’s Easter meal from experts on entertaining and cooking. Their unanimous reassurance? It’s not actually about the food, as comforting as traditional dishes might be, so don’t worry if you can’t muster up a multi-course spread or replicate the menu you’ve made for years.
Make it special, still.
Ronda Carman, the Texas-based author of “Entertaining at Home,” usually sets a big table for the holiday. This year’s guest list is far smaller, just her and her husband, but she still plans to make their meal festive. Carman plans to bring an intimate table for two into their living room and dress it with silver and linens, just like she would for a crowd.
There’s comfort to be found in making an effort, in making something beautiful, she says. “I’ve always loved a pretty table, and I don’t think there’s anything superficial about beauty,” she says. “It’s horrible, what’s happening, but more than ever, we’re appreciating things a little more.”
Adam Howard, executive chef at Occasions Caterers in Washington, says things don’t have to be fancy to feel special. Something as simple as clearing away clutter before eating can change the mood from everyday to holiday. He and his wife have a baby, and toys are all over their house. On Sunday, he says, they will collect the toys and put the baby in a dress. “You can shave or put on makeup or whatever you haven’t done in a while — just take time to make a whole production out of it,” he says.
And even though his professional life revolves around food, he says it’s important to separate the meal from the true meaning of the holiday, however one celebrates. “It gives you perspective,” he says. “When times are tough, you realize it’s not just about the fancier, more indulgent things, but the deeper, more important ones.”
Use what you have — whatever that is.
Carman’s husband has a history of respiratory problems, which has made her particularly cautious about social distancing, and warnings from health officials that this is one of the most critical weeks in the fight to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases has made her wary of too many trips to the grocery store. Instead of heading to market to load up on a big ham, fresh asparagus and berries to make the dishes she usually cooks, she’s instead scouring her pantry and freezer.
Pork chops will do, she thinks, and she has some frozen blackberries she’s planning to toss with grains for a springy salad.
Howard says any protein can be a showstopper. “Get creative with some piece of large meat — cook it simply, and make it pretty if you can,” he advises. “Put it on a big platter and season to taste.”
For decor, Carman suggests finding ways to incorporate things you already have around the house. She’s foraging branches with blossoms from her yard instead of store-bought flowers, and she’s eyeing a stash of oranges for a pretty centerpiece. “We all have a lot of stuff around us, and it’s just looking at it with fresh eyes,” she says.
Plenty of restaurants are offering traditional Easter meals this year, and a takeout or delivery order is a way to enjoy the classic dishes that you might not want to or be able to re-create in your own kitchen. Options abound for getting lamb, ham, deviled eggs, green beans, biscuits — just like Mom usually makes. (Or better? We won’t tell.) Philadelphia chef and current “Top Chef All Stars” contestant Jennifer Carroll says this is a good option for those who don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen. “If you do not cook you should take advantage of this,” she says.
While some restaurants are selling the special meals in family-sized servings, others are packaging them as portions for one or two.
By now, many of us have experimented with virtual socializing, “gathering” with co-workers, family and friends over such platforms as Zoom and Google Hangouts. They might be happy hours or even dinner parties.
Just as Easter services will be streaming this year, so too are many dinners and brunches. Digital-invitation site Evite says virtual events have grown 1,130 percent since last year and that 9,000 people have been invited to virtual Easter events this year. Zaria Zinn, a “celebration expert” at the company, offered a few tips for getting the most out of such remote hangouts.
For meals, she says, users have found that it can be fun to have all the participants make the same menu — but food shortages and limited grocery runs can make that difficult. In that case, she says, virtual dining companions can at least sync up the timing of their courses. “When everyone is at the same pace, it creates that same energy that you’re eating together at the same meal,” she says.
A host who can guide people — and for larger groups, direct the conversation — can be helpful, she adds. Zinn has noticed that many Easter invites this year call for dressing up, which is something most people haven’t done much of lately. “People are looking for an excuse to get out of their sweatpants,” she says.
And most importantly, she says people shouldn’t get too caught up in the usual trappings of a party. “It’s a weird time and everyone knows it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a special event,” she says. “The important thing is to try to get together however you can, even if it isn’t going to be the grandest party.”
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