Are you suffering from COVID-19 fatigue? Tired of lockdown restrictions? Feeling boxed in from working, living and schooling at home? Are you hungry for the opportunity to meet up with friends at a nice restaurant, enjoy good conversation and the energizing sounds of hubbub, and savor the delightful tastes of superb food that is well prepared and professionally served?
Naturally, we are all eager for life to return to “normal.” But for now we must remain vigilant and patient, and take the on-going safety precautions to protect each other from the virus for several more months until the vaccination programs are fully implemented. Hang in there! We’ll get through this together.
In the meantime, I’d like to share a creative idea to help you stave off the boredom. It is both culinary and cultural in nature. And it’s super fun. I call it “Dining IN Around the World.”
Idea In Brief
Dining IN Around the World is basically a culinary experience that you can create in the comfort of your own home. It’s what you can do when dining out isn’t an option. And you can share the experience virtually by patching in friends or family through FaceTime or Zoom.
Each week you select a country that you would like to travel to virtually. Deciding where to go is half the fun. You can choose an entire country (e.g., India), or you can get more specific and focus in on a city or region (e.g., Delhi).
To prepare for your virtual trip, plan your menu and shop for the ingredients a few days in advance. Select a day of the week that works best for you and your virtual travel companions. (Saturday or Sunday evenings work really well for me).
If you have children, get them involved, too. Remember that cooking is a life skill. And there’s more to life than McDonalds and take-out Pizza.
The Source of Inspiration
This idea for Dining IN Around The World was inspired by an experience we had with Wendy Green, host of the Hey, Boomer! podcast. Wendy is building a motivational mecca for adults 55+, providing inspiration, information and entertainment to help Boomers stay relevant, engaged in community, and actively pursing new goals and interests. She is on a mission to turn retirement upside down, and she is well on her way. Check out her recent show Forest Bathing with Wayfinder Angie Stegall.
Wendy hosted a special virtual event on New Years Eve 2020 called Shake It Off. In addition to the opportunity to choose our power word of the year for 2021, she provided a recommended 3-course menu with pairing wines. 10 groups of people gathered on Zoom to enjoy their meals together and learn more about wines from a guest wine expert. It was super fun and I’m so glad that my husband and I participated.
It was then my husband Byron suggested that we do something like this every week. We are going on our 9th week in a row and we’ve really enjoyed it. And while we do miss dining in restaurants and going out with friends, this creative alternative has given us something to look forward to each week.
Where in the World Can You Go?
In the last eight weeks I have been a virtual traveling fool. My virtual airline miles are racking up. What will I do with all of those miles? Here’s a fly over of the culinary trips that Byron and I have enjoyed so far this year (and links to a few of the recipes that we’ve used):
- Week #1: CHINA (with Kung Pao Chicken, white rice, and green tea ice cream)
- Week #2: GREECE (with antipasta, Dolma (stuffed grape leaves – purchased), Moussaka (greek lasagna made with ground lamb), Baklava (purchased) and Greek Butter Cookies)
- Week #3: NEW ORLEANS (with Cajun spiced stuffed mushrooms, Shrimp Etoufee, and yummy homemade Beignets)
- Week #3: ITALY (with Caesar Salad, Baked Shrimp Scampi, and out of this world, homemade Tiramisu)
- Week #4: SAVANNAH (with Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles and Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie) – a lot of work but really scrumptious)
- Week #6: PARIS, France (with French Onion Soup, Ratatouille, Crème Brûlée Chocolate Bundt Cake with Blackberries. All recipes from Julia Child). Note: alternate main course recipe: Red Snapper with Lemon Beurre Blanc & Asparagus – absolutely delicious (shown here)
- Week #7: INDIA (with Garlic Nan, Aloo Palak – spinach and potato curry, and Chicken Tikka Massala)
- Week #8: GERMANY (with German Cabbage salad, sour kraut, 2 kinds of sausage and assorted mustards, and homemade Apple Strudel)
- Week #9: ????? We are thinking about maybe going to Cuba or somewhere in Oaxaca, Mexico (chicken mole sounds pretty nice).
How To Do It
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, here are some simple instructions and fun decisions you’ll need to make along the way:
- Select where you want to travel virtually this week.
- Decide what you want to eat and drink.
- I recommend a three-course menu: Starter/Appetizer, Main Course, and a Dessert.
- Examine the instructions for each recipe so that you know how long it takes and how complicated it might be. If there is a dish that you really would like to have but don’t think you can make, see if you can purchase it from a local restaurant.
- Complement your meal with beverages that are traditional to that country or cuisine, or simply pick a beverage that you enjoy and have easy access to.
- Shop in advance for the ingredients that you’ll need.
- If some items are not available locally, research online for substitutions or consider switching to a different recipe.
- If cooking is not your thing, consider ordering from a local restaurant that specializes in food from that region. Try ordering from a new/different restaurant and spread the wealth. Order online and have it delivered to your residence, or pick up.
- Decide which friends you’d like to invite to join you virtually.
- Set up your iPad or laptop so that your friends can watch you in your kitchen.
- Consider making one of the courses together as an activity (e.g., the starter course). Meanwhile, you might want to have made the dessert and main course ahead of time.
- If noise becomes too distracting, use the “MUTE” feature to manage the multiple conversations.
- If your virtual dinner group is larger than 3 sites, consider using the “Breakout Room” feature of Zoom to split the group into small clusters.
- Select music from that country/culture as part of your experience. I like to ask “Alexa, play music from _____ (country).”
- Commit to eating at the table together (and not in front of a TV) to enjoy a quality conversation, sharing past travel stories and experiences.
- Plan your post-meal entertainment. Is there a movie about the country or filmed in the country that you are dining in virtually? Or is there a card game you can play from that country, or book you could read written by an author from that country? Get creative.
- 4 days before: choose the menu and share the recipe links
- 2-3 days before: shopping for ingredients
- 1 day before: make at least one dish ahead of time (recommend the Dessert)
- 2 hours before: start your kitchen preparation (chop/slice/dice)
- 1 hour before: set your table and begin the music
- 30 minutes before: set up your technology. Get dressed up (or be casual), and prepare to welcome your dining companions into your home virtually
- 90 minutes – 2 hours to enjoy dinner together on Zoom or Facetime and then sign off to do your own thing
I would be remiss in writing such an indulgent article without recognizing that many of our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens of the world are grappling right now with food insecurity. They are dealing with much more significant issues than not being able to go out to restaurants whenever they want. They are struggling to put food on the table for their children and families each and every day.
And so, if you’ve enjoyed this blog and want to try out Dining IN Around The World, I invite you to make a financial donation to the food pantry in your local community. I like to support my local Meals on Wheels nonprofit organization which delivers food and meals to people of all ages who are home bound and alone, including seniors and disabled people.
Research the organizations in your community that tackle food insecurity issues and provide food for children and vulnerable adults. Charity Navigator allows you to search for Human Services/Food banks, food pantries, food distribution.
Thank you for reading my blog post … and for your creativity and generosity!
Please SHARE this idea with people in your network!