Letter from the Editor

On Monotony and the Gift of the Outdoors: A May Letter from the Editor

published May 4, 2020
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Credit: Bijou Karman

If I had to choose one word that sums up the very weird, very hard past seven weeks, it would be monotony. An eerie monotony has settled over our lives, our fears, our social media feeds, even what we cook (banana bread and sourdough — is there anything else?). But monotony of course is also a sign of privilege for those who get to stay home — unlike healthcare professionals, grocery store stockers, Instacart shoppers, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, and meat plant processors.

Our collective sense of monotony is to some degree an illusion as the worst scenes of this pandemic (nearly 70,000 deaths here in the United States, and growing) play out behind the closed doors of high-risk jobs like these and in hospitals. But even privileged monotony is still monotony, heightened by the surreality of staying home in a safe bubble with my stir-crazy kids as this crisis rolls on.

Can you relate? Maybe you’re with me, stuck at home with no public pool or zoo opening this season. Maybe you’re staying with family, thrown back to feeling like a teenager again. Maybe the hardest thing in your life the past few weeks has been getting a grocery delivery. Maybe you’re out of work and stuck in a monotony of anxiety. Perhaps you have been sick or hospitalized, or lost a loved one.

Even as states “open up,” our reliefs are few, but there is one small but significant one that cannot be overlooked, and that is the outdoors.

Every May at Kitchn we do a month devoted to the pleasures of eating outdoors, which in my case is a bit hypocritical. Usually I hate eating outdoors. It has to be perfect weather, no sun in my eyes, no mosquitoes, and just the right humidity. This year, forget that. Anything to be outdoors is my 2020 mantra. We sat on the back steps yesterday and I actually got a sunburn (in May!). I was hot. My kids got muddy. We ate chips and guac. It was glorious.

The outdoors is the ultimate break from monotony, as it evolves and changes constantly with no attention from us. Heck, just watching the sunset feels like a break. A friend told me yesterday he went to the market and picked out tulips and felt, after the monotony of the past two months, a rush like being on a high or binging on sugar after a long time without.

Right now, eating outdoors is the best thing we have going, as cooks and eaters, whether that’s just taking your chips out to the back stoop and staring at the sky, or actually cooking on a deck or patio. I realize this is difficult in the city, especially in New York, where even the parks are crowded. But I urge you to throw open a window, find a fire escape, go up to the roof. Drink a cocktail at sunset at the window and watch the sky change.

For those in the suburbs and country, it’s a little easier. I live in a small city and have a petite back yard that I am extra grateful for. We only just now discovered the magic of actually power-washing a mildewy deck (whoops! We’re still novice homeowners, clearly!). Last year I planted (okay, my husband planted!) scads of daffodil and tulip bulbs, and watching them come up this spring has been the sweetest surprise, far more than I could have predicted last fall. I even bought the kids pretty yet practical new plates for eating outdoors.

Cooking outside is the best spring treat of all; my kitchen has been ridden hard the last two months, and to grill now with easy cleanup and no dishes to wash feels like a mini vacation. Has there ever been a time when we needed to eat outdoors more than we do now?

So this May we’re doubling down on our outdoor month, with good ideas for you, your grill, and any bit of outdoor space you may have, from growing herbs in a Tiny Victory Garden to turning your grill into the best meal-prep tool of all. We’ll talk about safe grilling practices at the park and give you of course some really excellent new recipes to try (maybe we’ll shake you out of that banana bread rut, or at least convince you to try adding Nutella). There will be a great collection of foil packet grilling recipes to add to your repertoire and a chicken salad showdown. For those of you who feel crispy burnt-out by cooking right now (I certainly put myself in that camp), we have some fresh thoughts and advice coming for you too. And of course Mother’s Day is this Sunday and we have put together some stories I really love about what motherhood (and relying on your mom) means during a global pandemic. And we will continue our reporting and researching to bring you the best advice on grocery shopping and cooking safely during a health crisis.

Thank you for reading and for cooking along with us in this strange, difficult time. I hope that you will also go outdoors with us where and when you can, and that you find a little fresh hope in the sunshine.

Credit: Rachel Barehl

Wondering if I can grill banana bread?


P.S.: A big shout-out to our Design Director Margaret Lee and the lovely and talented Bijou Karman for my brand-new illustration.

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