Lasagna in a time of lockdown

Amanda James highlights the tremendous and grounding power that lies in a good routine or ritual. So too the meals that often accompany. 

For some, what they do in the very early hours, before the rest of the world stirs, sets them up for their day.  A kick of sorts, knowing they’ve had one hell of a head start.  Particularly if slogging it out in the corporate rat race, “The email from the US desk? Saw that. Responded a few hours ago after my PT session. Keep up mate.”  

For others, it’s the hit of endorphins that comes from slowly brewing coffee as the sun rises, before heading off for a stroll, or onto the mat for a gentle flow of yoga.  The perfect segue into the day, particularly for the anxious among us.  

More often than not, our very early morning activities – a real Australian thing – conclude with our first meal.  One where we don’t deviate.  Creatures of habit we are.  The classic avo on toast (plus or minus an egg), bowl of overnight oats or green smoothie to-go.  

I grew up in a household, where more often than not Monday dinner was a roast.  Tuesday something deliciously stewed and slow cooked.  Wednesday?  A slab of lasagne mum would lovingly heat up, so I could scoff it in the car between swim training and club night. Thursday was fish.  Friday, forever a surprise.  It was an evening routine, it was order.  We, her two daughters, forever enthusiastic for an after school activity, needed it and hats off to her for it.  

Interestingly, after my high school swim career teetered off (I didn’t have the shoulders), so too did my appetite for  lasagne.  Fast forward, 15 plus years to 2020 and a passionate love for that layered pasta dish returned.  Not just eating it, but making it.  An endeavour to while away the hours.  The mise en place of nearly 20 ingredients to be done, before setting out on a four hour quest to make a ragù of equal parts pork and beef.  Rich, meaty, and positively unctuous.  

With that simmering, it was time to continue the quest to perfect the béchamel sauce.  That tricky mother of sauces that required total unflinching attention.  Keeping an eye on the roux, a blend of equal parts fat and flour, so it didn’t catch, then slowly streaming and whisking in the warmed milk.  It was all there.  Soon to be assembled, topped with mozzarella, baked and scooped into bowls for friends, while waiting out another lockdown.   

Regardless of our location, if ever there was a year that highlighted our unified need for rituals and the link those have to consumption, it was 2020. 

Anyone, who has undergone quarantine (hotel or hospital), will know all too well, the key is routine, with meal delivery being the marker of hours.  The door knock, the scurry to collect.  To open and narrate internally, “Okay, let’s see what they’re dishing up today. 

More often than not, taking out what looked edible and interesting, then boosting it with something from your grocery  stash.  A bit of hot sauce and/or a spoonful of creamy labneh?  You’re good to go.  Pro tip – ask for pescetarian.  Funnily, when your sentence is done, you’re incredibly accustomed to a Pavlov’s existence – lunch at noon and dinner at five.  

For those spending 2020 in the outside world, there was also routine to be found in consumption.  Parents turned teachers overnight.  Their need to know algebra came back.  Shout out to the local coffee haunts who provided a moment of caffeinated takeaway silence before yet another day of equations and english.  

But along with the extended hours at home, came a silver lining in the form of real menu planning and the question of what to consume that week.  Anticipating and trying out recipes we would never have normally attempted.  Slow food to match a slower life – beef cheeks, fermenting vegetables, sourdough starters, toasting a myriad of spices, and grinding them pre marinade.  Planting herbs (willing them to thrive) and discovering a knack for gnocchi making.  The real beauty of being home during the working day?  Dinner prep at noon.  Hello beef bourguignon.  

Interestingly, in 2020, what separated us, also brought us together.  Sharing our creations via social, boasting perhaps if it resembled the original picture.  We’d scribble out how we did it for long lost friends now in other cities, who reacted and replied, “Hey! Long time. What flour mix did you use?”  

When it comes to the intersection of food, routine and ritual, 2021 is a different story.  We’re now looking forward. We’re entertaining others at home in generous liberal formats…Setting the table, mulling over napkins, the works.  Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  

If we’re not eating or entertaining at home, we’re heading out. Populating weekends, months in advance with bookings. Places we’ve wanted to long try.  The thrill of  securing a Saturday night booking for six?  Priceless. 

It’s about unification and returning to the table.  Because ultimately, regardless of custom or border, be it during, or at the end of the day, we all have an intention to sit, pause and share a meal.  To break bread.  A bread that now, we’re gurus at making ourselves.  


Read the full James St A–Z Guide here.

Posted on

January 14, 2022