I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of entertaining and celebrating during this super weird time, so much so that I wrote a whole post about it here. As we navigate what is now a marathon not a sprint, it’s important to look at what we’re doing in our homes to galvanize for the months ahead, whether that’s a foundation you draw from and take with you to the front lines of your medical job, the pump up you need to inspire your WFH and home schooling or the strength to battle your exacerbated mental illness. With anxiety at an all time high, how do we support our bodies and minds through our domestic environment to allow ourselves some relief, or even, dare I say, an escape?
My five-year-old was asking about the five senses tonight at dinner, and that got me thinking on how that is largely what great entertaining is all about. How do you engage with each sense throughout the course of an event to create an experience that leaves your guests feeling excited/wowed/relaxed/etc.? The same principal works for life in quarantine. How do we engage the senses to bring about an experience that, for a little while at least, feels like we can get through this. The ideas below are all things I’ve tried throughout this time or am planning to try, and I continue to add to the arsenal daily.
I’m breaking down the five senses into three distinct experiences: escapism, comfort/nostalgia and inspirational/energizing. I feel these are all useful at different points during this time, and I hope that some will resonate with you and give you support right now.
SMELL- grab an incredible scented candle like this one from Voluspa. Scented with gardenia and tuberose, it’s one of my longtime favorite companies and scents, and will transport you nearly instantly. Try lighting one in the bath, if that’s your jam, or just taking a few minutes mid-workday to breathe in deeply and allow yourself to drop the heaviness of the latest facts and figures. If you have children, either invite them into the experience, or flip on a show and escape to the farthest corner of your abode.
TASTE- while different for everyone (Mexican food certainly isn’t an escape in Mexico, and a delicious Indian curry is par for the course in India), the idea should be to cook something a little bit special and out of the ordinary. This is the time to try the recipe you’ve been afraid to tackle, maybe it takes a little more time or uses ingredients or techniques that you’re unfamiliar with- all the more reason to try it! Years ago in my mid-twenties when I had just broken up with the guy who I thought was the love of my life and future husband, I was desperately broken hearted and needed something to keep me busy and to escape my cascade of sadness, if only for a few hours. I turned to the Momofuku cookbook and tackled by far my most ambitious recipe to date- “Momfuku Ramen”. I spent the entire day sourcing ingredients for and cooking this incredible dish, and I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. I got out of my head and into that recipe. This particular dish has practical implications as well. You can make enough broth to last for weeks of meals and add in whatever protein and veggies you have on hand to make it interesting when you need a quick mid-week meal.
SOUND- this gets visual as well, but please do yourself a favor and watch/listen to some great comedy right now. It can be topical, but let me suggest digging back into the archives to simpler times and just enjoy the studied neurosis of John Mulaney. Any special will do, but his special on Netflix “New In Town” is a treasure. Lest you be wary of my judgement, listen to this teaser clip for verification.
TOUCH- massage. Do it. To yourself- amazon prime will still hook you up in a reasonable amount of time. Or with a partner/friend/spouse- grab some kitchen grade coconut oil or just escape to the beach (in your mind) and use sunscreen like this one from Alba- my longtime favorite for performance, but just as important, for the scent!
SEE- fresh flowers. When I venture to the grocery store mask on and anxiety heightened, I find myself momentarily cheered and calmed by the beautiful array of spring florals on display. Consider purchasing a colorful bouquet, or snip some blossoms from your garden, if you happen to have that option. On a tight budget right now? Check out this tutorial on drawing the perfect flowers, and then frame your favorites.
SMELL- lavender. This hits both feelings at once- comfort- lavender is a known relaxant and nostalgia- my Grandparents’ garden in Santa Fe was full of gorgeously scented lavender bushes. This is really a go-to and can show up anywhere. The aforementioned bath situation- just add a few drops of lavender oil-and also in your hand lotion. I don’t know about your level of skin hydration right now, but mine is zapped, so hand lotion is a must currently. Go tried and true with L’Occitane, a brand that’s been around forever.
TASTE- my best friend reminded me recently that boxed mac and cheese is an absolute must right now, and she’s absolutely correct. This was my dinner every night during my first pregnancy, and it works for anxiety induced nausea as well. I took some liberties here and developed my own souped up recipe, but feel free to just go classic and get that hit of pure joy in your gut in record time.
If you feel so inclined, I offer the following for a truly outstanding dish.
Cook the pasta according to the package, then add the following to your drained pasta.
- 2T butter
- 2T half and half or cream or milk
- ½ C shredded mozzarella
- 1 ½ t smoked paprika
- ¼ t pepper
- Extra credit: saute some mushrooms in a clove of chopped garlic and top with microgreens
If you’re thinking- perfect! I have paprika. Please check yourself (or your spice rack). There is a world of difference between smoked paprika and regular paprika. Smoked paprika tastes like a campfire or several pieces of bacon just infused themselves in your processed extravaganza, so do yourself a favor and while you’re stocking up on rice, get a very large jar of this essential spice.
SOUND- Ina Garten. What we all need a lot more of right now is a soothing voice letting us know we’re going to get through this (or at least get through making a three course meal for Jeffery) Watching old episodes of Barefoot Contessa, or catching Ina’s quarantine cocktail tutorial on her insta page should help. At the very least, you have a little more cooking know how and some recipe ideas for the days ahead.
TOUCH- if there was ever a time to invest in a weighted blanket, now would be it. This one from Baloo Living is made of organic cotton and has a simple box stitch pattern. I also love this one from Bearaby in a nice chunky knit.
SEE- this one is a no brainer. Reach out to your most comforting friend or family member on Facetime, Zoom, Skype or whatever your preferred technology is. We not only need to hear their voices, but we need to actually see their faces. Depending on what you need right now, maybe you’ll decide to play a game together, “have dinner” or drinks together, work on sewing facemasks while you reminisce about your earlier botched attempts at making clothes for your favorite stuffed animals, or just have a heart to heart or some belly laughs. This has been key for me and my kids, and I’ve found myself getting far more “Facetime” in with family members and friends than I would typically.
SMELL- buy yourself a rosemary plant. The smell is delightful, but beyond that it improves brain function, eases stress and helps to perk you up- all pretty useful right now. Not only is the smell stimulating, but having fresh herbs on hand saves you a trip to the grocery store and turns those pantry dinners into something a little extra.
TASTE- sure, coffee is a go-to for energy, but I find myself reaching for something far more satisfying when I need a pick me up and that’s a bar of dark chocolate with ginger. I’ve done quite a few unofficial taste tests, and my hands down favorite is crafted right here in Seattle- Theo’s Chocolate.
SOUND- now is the time for music. I prefer mine live, but that’s not on the menu right now, so I’m doubling down on all my sources and, in particular, getting super invested in my Spotify playlists. If you need a classic to get you started and get you pumped, turn your ear to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”. If you’re not ready to tackle your four kids’ four different distance learning programs after those nasty beats, I don’t know what to tell you.
TOUCH- master a puzzle. It’ll keep your mind focused and your hands moving, and the sense of accomplishment at the end will inspire you to take on the other challenges in your life. Find something you’ll like looking at for a few days, like this beautiful gradient puzzle.
SEE- While fear and uncertainty loom large worldwide, I have been overwhelmed by the beauty I’ve seen when human beings come together to comfort and support each other. I see it in the rainbows and hearts kids craft and put on display in the windows of their homes, in the signs of gratitude posted on social media to our dedicated medical professionals and I see it in the cheerful fabric masks our creative neighbors and small businesses offer their communities. It’s as easy to find images of hope as it is to find ones of heartbreak, and that’s the line we’re all straddling right now, isn’t it? Knowing enough to be informed, safe, mobilized and empathic while also allowing ourselves to capture moments of joy, to connect with each other in new and deeper ways and to recognize the positive ways this will shape our local and global communities for years to come.