Lets face it: on Sunday afternoons many of us go into a funk, particularly if we do not yet have families of our own. I know one very outgoing fellow with a girlfriend, a flatmate, and plenty of professional work and personal interests to keep him busy, who tells me that most Sunday evenings he starts retreating into himself. This is simply one of those quirks of human nature, the way that some people love wintertime, while others get down in the dumps until the days lengthen. So I would like to suggest a solution for those of us who experience this affliction – or affectation, depending on how you look at it – and that is the idea of the Sunday dinner.
A few weeks ago on the Catholic Weekend show we had as our special guest podcaster and blogger Jeff Young, The Catholic Foodie. Jeff presented an idea which I had never considered, of making Sunday dinner something special during the week. Of course many of us grew up with the idea that Sunday was a time for a special meal with family or having people over, and to the extent that it brings families and friends together reviving this practice is certainly a good idea. But what about for those of us who are single and NOT planning on having people over this Sunday?
As is the case with many American bachelors, much of my in-house dining consists of things which come out of a microwave or which can be cooked in ten minutes or less. Paradoxically, I am in fact known for being a very good cook, and I love to cook for other people. However when it comes to making things for myself at home, I must confess that a frozen dinner or a simple bowl of pasta is usually enough to satisfy me.
Nevertheless, I decided to take Jeff’s advice, and began an experiment of planning and making something special for Sunday dinner. I chose dishes that would not be too complicated to make, but which would require more than just a few minutes of preparation and cooking time. I also liked the idea of experimenting, for like many men I look as a recipe more as a set of general instructions. You then subsequently personalize the instructions based on your own experience, your understanding of different kinds of technique, and also what’s in the cupboard at the moment.
I decided to use rice as the base for my month-long experiment, since it takes quite awhile to cook, making it the last thing I would turn to for dinner during the work week. My first Sunday dinner was a chicken and sausage gumbo, which I had never made before, and it turned out rather well, if I do say so myself. The following Sunday I made risotto with wild mushrooms and prosciutto, and the Sunday after that I made arroz a banda, which is a type of saffron-seafood rice. And for yesterday’s Sunday dinner I made garlic and red pepper rice with roasted chicken, peas, and carrots.
What have I learned from the experiment so far? Well for one thing you are very much more conscious of how fortunate you are, when food is something you carefully prepare. You become aware of the real blessing it is to make something nice to eat, but also to be able to enjoy the process of making it.
For another, the prospect of Sunday dinner has made my late Sunday afternoons fly by quite happily. When Sunday teatime rolls around, I start thinking about what I have to do to get ready for dinner in a few hours, and plan accordingly. The time spent preparing, cooking, and then eating the meal simultaneously allows some good time for solitary reflection, since there is not much else you can do while you are waiting for some ingredient in your dish to finish frying, melting, etc.
This is not to say of course that you should not have people over to enjoy your cooking, or that you should not go out to see friends or family on Sunday evening yourself. Yet particularly for those of us who are single, and who as a result often find ourselves at a loose end on Sunday evening, I would suggest you try this experiment yourself for a month, and see how it works out for you. Even if you choose to fast and live on locusts and wild honey the rest of the week, the prospect of preparing and enjoying a Sunday dinner is something which will bring home to you, in a very tangible way, how blessed you are.
Sunday Dinner No. 1: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo