For distanced dinner, try a Last Supper seating plan

If you want guests for Friday night, you’ll be feeding them outside. BBQ chicken? That works. Chicken soup in a mug? Hmm, not so much

July 10, 2020 15:04

Now, hands up if you think that the shift in the distancing rule from two metres to “1 metre +” means “a minimum of 1m” or “a metre or more”? I think most people, on seeing a measurement, followed by a mathematical sign, are likely to conclude that the “plus” relates directly to the measurement.

It doesn’t. It means “one metre plus mitigations”, according to Intriguingly, the government’s own communication portal does not elaborate on what these mitigations actually are — believe me, I’ve looked.

Hurrah then for the BBC website, which understands that successful communication, apparently a baffling enigma to the government, depends on conveying information clearly and simply. This enables your correspondent to offer you this handy cut out ’n’ keep summary so you can host Friday-night dinner following the new rules.

In England, two households can now meet indoors (I’m writing this on July 2, so it’s still just a fantasy for me). In Scotland, it’s up to three households, while maintaining social distancing. In Northern Ireland, groups of up to six not in the same household can meet indoors, with the distance rule also reduced from 2m to 1m. And in Wales (which has higher rainfall than England), it’s still not allowed. So, cariad bach, if you want guests for Friday night, you’ll be feeding them outside. BBQ chicken? That works. Chicken soup in a mug? Hmm, not so much.

Right, so you have two households: Family A, the Fegenbaums, and Family B, the Levys. In Scotland, as you can have three households, you may wish to add Family C, the McGoldfarbs.

I’m assuming that if you live in Scotland, it will have to be in a castle or baronial hall, because otherwise I can’t see how you can have three households in one room for dinner while maintaining social distancing. The McGoldfarbs, though they generally eat in the kitchen, have opted to dine in the Great Hall around their mediaeval long table, originally made to seat 40 people. With distancing, they think they can just about get 12 of them around it. Fortunately, a broiges of very long-standing (its origins long forgotten) is still alive and kicking with another part of the clan, so they never have more than 12 in any case.

The mitigations

1. Sit or stand side by side, rather than face to face. Luckily, there’s a really good precedent for this seating plan: if you take a look at Leonardo’s The Last Supper, you will see the disciples are all placed along one side of the table, though their failure to distance is shocking. Presumably, the guy in the middle (weirdly fair for a middle-Eastern Jew) is thought to be infectious — note how some of the guests are leaning away from him in consternation. The women must be in the kitchen, exchanging traditional Friday-night greetings: “Oh, your potatoes are always so much better than mine!”; “I brought dessert but they were out of non-dairy cream”; “What’ll I do? Until they reopen beauty salons, my moustache is getting bigger than Hymie’s!”.

2. Keep windows and doors open to improve ventilation. Obviously, don’t do this if you live in Scotland, or you’ll catch pneumonia, which would rather defeat the point. In milder parts of the South East, observe this rule but wear a hoodie or fleece over your Shabbat finery.

3. Wear a face-covering in crowded indoor environments. As we have been told to stick to 1m distance, in a modestly sized dining area it might mean seating diners at intervals against the walls. They could take it in turns to retrieve food from a slowly-revolving lazy Susan on a central table, then retreat to eat in their assigned spot.

Wearing a mask while eating dinner sounds problematic, but a can-do attitude and the ability to adapt to these ever-changing circumstances will see you through.

Here are some simple tips to aid you in combining mask-wearing and supper-eating:

  • Chicken soup — this should be served without kneidlach, carrots or lokshen. The plain broth may be easily imbibed via a straw. Use the bendy type to tuck it over the top of your mask.
  • Roast chicken — pieces should be cut very small and inserted into the mouth via the side of the mask using a pair of fine tongs. Repeat with small pieces of roast potato. Ditto carrots. Not recommended for mashed potato. Or gravy.
  • Dessert — give each guest a portion to take home. Why else do we have so many plastic tubs and foil containers spilling out of our cupboards, if not to foist extra food on to reluctant guests?

4. Don’t sing. Consider the following options when making the brachot:

  • Sing in a whisper.
  • Stand at the top of the stairs, holding challah/wine aloft, and sing the brachot while guests remain below.
  • Go outside and sing there — audible, as all your windows and doors should already be open.

NB This is harder to manage if you live in a flat with no balcony. Mind you, I grew up in a second-floor flat with no outside space and people often used to sing in the street below our windows. They were usually very drunk (we lived opposite a popular pub), but we could certainly hear them.

5. Avoid talking loudly. For God’s sake, don’t they know we’re Jewish?!

Claire Calman’s fifth novel, Growing Up for Beginners, is out now. Go and buy it immediately

July 10, 2020 15:04

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