Four seasons deep into our pandemic journey, an accounting of all of the distracting and engaging activities birthed by this phenomenon may be in order. I’ll go first–From the early days of the confinement, I immersed myself in guilty pleasures. I rewatched every episode of Sex and the City, including the movies, which I justified with a coincident session on my elliptical. From the sheet music websites, I downloaded way too many Carpenters songs, printed them out, and made a commitment to master every one of them. (I particularly applied myself to the tune, “Where Do I Go From Here?” since the question begs the reality of a one year removal from society.) Every weekday evening, from four to seven p.m., I take to my recliner to watch three back-to-back episodes of one of my favorite British shows, Escape to the Country, to calm my seething urge to travel. Yet, all of my distractions pale to my absolute favorite activity: my Wednesday afternoons with Cooking with Tina and the Cats.
The meeting of Tina and me was kismet. Both of us career Royalistas, we met at the early morning wedding of Harry and Meghan, or at least a televised version, at the Fairmont Park Plaza in Boston. That morning, I stood on the stairs of the Ballroom, drinking in the scene: tables set for a formal affair, the large screens strategically in place throughout for optimum viewing, women in their hats and feathers, and tuxedoed waiters peddling trays of champagne to the arriving guests. Our party of five, dressed in our wedding best, fascinators and all, floated to our seats on a royal cloud of excitement.
We settled into our table, our pastries, and our tea. A party of one, who introduced herself as Christina, slipped into her assigned seat at our table. Instantly and effortlessly, we absorbed her into our group. She was engaging, funny, and as nuts as we were. Who else would go to a mock royal wedding at 6 a.m. but a bunch of crazies?
Before long, we had consumed our share of morning champers and more than a few of the signature cocktails. Giddy and a bit tipsy, we dragged Christina into our “formal” pictures with the Queen, superimposed on a background of Buckingham Palace, forever memorializing her as part of our outing. When it was over, we exchanged cell numbers and Facebook info, promising to stay in touch. But seldom do those promises stick–except this one. In four hours, I had attended a Royal Wedding and made a new friend.
For two years, we slowly became acquainted, liking each other’s Facebook posts. We shared similar political views and crazy Italian roots. I soon realized that this was Tina’s world and we were just visitors swept into the swirl of her orbit. When the world closed down, Tina, in her inimitable style as an event planner, nanny, professional chef, and mixologist, seized the opportunity to turn coconuts into pina coladas.
Every Wednesday for the past year, a motley crew of kids, their respective adults, and I join Tina on her weekly Zoom show, Cooking With Tina and the Cats. Tina’s cats, Bodhi and Bristow, occasionally make a cameo appearance on the second camera. Every week there is a theme (superhero, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras) and appropriate attire is encouraged. As the token unaccompanied adult, I avoid the dress up but dive right into the hijinx, silliness, and cooking tips. It’s the best fun I’ve had in a year.
Every Saturday, Tina posts the menu and the shopping list on her CWTC Facebook page. After taking an inventory of what I have in house and what I need, I create my Amazon Fresh cart. In a year, my pantry has expanded with the likes of rice wine vinegar, chili paste, star anise, and Thai fish sauce (medium). I have no idea what to do with these things beyond my Tina recipes but I have pledged to myself to dig up a dish that will use some, or all of them, before they expire. It’s an unlikely prospect.
Under Tina’s tutelage, I have upped my cooking game. Tina is a virtual encyclopedia of substitutions for those of us who are lacking an ingredient, a wizard of meatless options for the vegetarians in the group, and a master of cooking tips and tricks. Under Tina’s direction, Wednesday night dinner is a done deal by six, a vast improvement from my frequent eight p.m. meal prep, which seldom guarantees as delicious an outcome.
Entertaining, informative, educational, and occasionally, ‘spicy,’ Cooking with Tina is good clean fun, that is, until the time a Zoom bomber attempted to infiltrate the room with a saucy request. Tina handled the assault with aplomb, ending the siege before the kids knew what was happening. Aside from that, a few references to ‘balls’ (meatballs) is about as racy as we get. We end every class with a mock-cocktail (mock for the kids, full-on cocktail for the adults). My shaker, martini glasses, and liquor supply have never seen so much action! After some “cheersin,’” we negotiate the next week’s theme, menu possibilities, and costumes.
A few times, I’ve had conflicts that have kept me from my weekly constitutional with Tina and the Cats and I am bereft. To the world, I refer to my ninety minutes with Tina, the Cats, and the kids as “my cooking class.” No one needs to know that I spend every Wednesday afternoon with a bunch of adorable little kids and their moms and nannies, and cats attired in lace tank tops. It’s my little secret (mine and Facebook’s). A chance meeting resulting in a friendship, which sprung from getting a little drunk at a pretend Royal Wedding at six in the morning, that turned into a standing date with my cooking guru proves that destiny is real. It also proves that, in a pandemic, with the right friends, you can turn lemons into lemonade, or lemon blueberry margaritas.