Life & Culture

Post pandemic entertaining: crisps and gin

Will Angela Epstein ever go back to hosting lavish Shabbat meals? She hopes not


Potato chips in a wooden plate close-up on a white background. Isolated

Clearing away the glasses, we agreed we’d both drunk — and eaten — far too much. Still, it had been worth it for the pleasure of entertaining again. Especially since the weather on this particular Shabbat had been unexpectedly kind.

Is there anything nicer than being able to fress, booze and shmooze in the sun? And the best part of it? Preparation had been minimal, to the point of negligible. Just bags (and bags) of crisps, nuts and other calorie-freighted treats, washed down with gin, gin and a bit more gin.

Welcome to post-lockdown entertaining which is revolutionising the way we dish up Shabbat hospitality. Forget that Monday morning shpilk when you wake with the ice cold dread of wondering how you’ll factor making Friday night dinner for 20 into the working week. Or the trolley dash to assemble all the ingredients for that new dessert recipe (you know, the one with fresh ginger and crème de show off).

If there has been one benefit of the pandemic it has been the end of competitive dining. Sure, we may have spent lockdown perfecting how to craft an hors d’oeuvre, involving a lump of chopped liver shaped like the Taj Mahal. Or experimenting with 12 ways to make head-turning latke and kishke sourdough bread. But now we’re beginning to enjoy scraps of liberty there has been a change of mood. Once six people were allowed in the backyard, who could be bothered to flex the creative muscles and start all that high octane dining again? Who wants to make vastly complex Ottolenghi Shabbat lunch salads, or the kind of spread which apes the Friday night buffet table in any self-respecting Israeli hotel?

Sure, hospitality is ingrained in our DNA. But what we have been starved of is company not calories. We need to interact with our friends, butter up family and just enjoy human connectivity again. That’s why it’s been so thrilling to invite (six, thus far) guests for a long lazy post shul kiddush. Or a “come in for bits and bobs coffee” on one of these long Shabbatot.

I must stress to all my guests, past and present, that it was always delightful to have them at our table. I love Friday night dinner — coming in to the yeasty smell of challah, as the chicken soup bubbles on the hob. I never resented having to do it. I wanted to. And I loved being asked out. The difference is that now we’re no longer tethered to hearty expectations or lengthy guest lists. The joy of eating pud has been displaced by the joy of entertaining people

As one sozzled pal told me before stumbling out of my house after kiddush the other week: “Who needs Shabbat lunch?” Chasing down my crisps with a slug of something cheeky, I could only nod. Who indeed?

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