I’ve been sent a message over the past three weeks or so. It has been loud and clear, and it hasn’t been an entirely happy one. It boils down to this: “Enough with the creative, ‘unexpected’ and mashup recipes. Can’t we just have something familiar and comforting for supper?”
Fish and Chips need not be Battered Cod and Wedgy Fries
all the time. But I’ve found that it’s not wise to mess
too much with your ‘customers’ expectations…
The first indication that my family was beginning to reject my ‘COVID-19 Lock Down Cooking Fun’ ideas came when sister Erin said, out of the blue: “I don’t think I want Dumplings tonight.”
“What?” I said thinking that, perhaps I had heard her wrong. After all, she was the one who originally suggested that we declare Tuesdays ‘Dim Sum Supper Night’, to inject a nice, regular break from the same old ‘Meat and Potatoes’ menu rut we had fallen into a couple of years back.
“Yah, well… I’m getting tired of them,” she explained. “They’re all starting to taste the same to me, and they all look the same size and shape since [our go-to Asian Grocery] stopped selling the high-end specialty Dumplings.”
“Well, okay…” I acknowledged her but didn’t really have anything I could say to argue the point. And so it came to pass that, while Mom and I continued to have Dim Sum on odd nights of the week after that, Erin chose not to dine with us, even though she could have had something different. Lord knows, we always have lots of food in the house.
Since then, Erin has withdrawn into her own dietary world, and rarely joins Mom and me for dinner when I may be test-flying some new recipe or blazing new culinary trails in other ways.
And Mom has since made it gently clear that she’s craving more of the old family favourites more often, again. “All these new things are fine, but I really prefer simple, homemade stuff.”
Okay. Got it.
A case of ‘Variety Fatigue’
I’ve diagnosed this phenomenon as a case of ‘variety fatigue’, brought on by an extreme change in our ‘family’ dining patterns since early last spring when the COVID-19 crisis was officially declared. The underlying cause is frustration with an ever-changing menu that doesn’t always deliver what it promises for our particular tastes, and makes the overall blur of our daily lock down lives even worse.
I used to use weekly menu anchors like Dim Sum Tuesday, Pizza Thursday and Fish and Chips Friday, and and Sit-Down-Dinner Sunday as landmarks on my calendar. This regular cycle of reliable faves was especially helpful when the lock down first blew up my regular weekly cycle of work week vs weekend, grocery shopping day, change the bedding day, round up the pet hair ‘bunnies’ day, etc. Now, Erin and Mom can’t agree what they want for supper on any given day.
Now, all the days seem the same; everybody is home all the time, the chores seem to all need doing all at the same time, all the time. It is, frankly, overwhelming. Add to this that Mom is also suffering from daily and weekly routine melt-down, one result of which is that she requires more and more personal assistance as the weeks and months go by. And this means that I have increasingly to drop half-accomplished chores and other tasks in the middle to help Mom with her mobility challenges and personal care activities.
My confusion and frustration grow by the day. My little family’s collective ‘life’ is is out of control.
So what am I to do?
Turns out the solution – at least as far as the weekly menu routine is concerned – is simple. As I have striven to make the COVID-19 culinary experience as interesting as possible, my family has been trying to tell me it wants more familiarity and more structure in our dining patterns. There’s more than enough disruption and confusion in our lives already to make us uncomfortable and, overall, unhappy.
So I’m going to try bringing back reliable landmarks on our family calendar such as Dim Sum Tuesday, Pizza Thursday, Fish and Chips Friday, and Sit-Down-Dinner Sunday. But I’m going to vary the selection of Dim Sum Dumplings from week to week, change out some Pizza toppings each week in favour of others, and upgrade the Fish and Chips experience to include different modes of preparation and other varieties of Fish and Seafood, and play with different, complementary Sides.
The underlying lesson?
Too much variety is just as bad (or worse) than too little.
You have to have a certain amount of variety to ward off cabin fever. But you also need familiar landmarks to maintain a connection between yourself and the rest of the world. I maintain that one great way to establish landmarks is to maintain a dietary pattern of most-favoured foods throughout the week.
I’ll let you know how this works out…
~ Maggie J.