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  • Writer's pictureJane Youngberg

Welcoming Chaos

In January we got a dog. A puppy, to be more precise, an eleven-week old rescue with floppy black ears and a white stripe down her chest and two little white splotches on her back paws; a puppy with the sleep schedule of an infant, the curiosity of a toddler, and the appetite and impatience of a teenager. Our internal clocks disappeared—we entered puppy time, and puppy time is less forgiving than we’d like. Her favorite place in the world is our laps, but that makes it hard for my partner and I to do much of anything together.

The rhythm that I’ve missed most is cooking dinner—what was once an almost nightly activity has become more scattered, both for better and for worse. In January we cooked bigger batches of chili and soup to tide us over for multiple days. We ate breakfasts a couple bites at a time, one set of eyes always on the dog. The Omicron surge meant we celebrated my partner’s momentous birthday by ordering absolutely fabulous Cuban takeout and eating it alone, on our fanciest dinner plates. At the end of January, we took a deep breath and ventured out to a friend’s house for a pizza and puppy playdate. The next day, we got hit with two feet of snow.

It is February now, our pup is almost four months old, and this past weekend, we opened our home to friends and hosted a dinner party. Because it is 2022, we fretted over logistics in the week leading up to it, scheduled tests, and mentally prepared to call an audible at the last minute if necessary.

But if wasn’t necessary, and so I arrived home Saturday afternoon, after a nine-hour work day, to strawberries roasting in the oven, Josh Ritter playing on the kitchen speakers. To a dog happily snuffling around the kitchen floor, while my partner and a formerly far-away friend chopped veggies and chatted. I showered, and salmon went into the oven. I solved the crossword puzzle, and stock simmered on the stove for risotto.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, two more friends arrived, and we opened ciders and beers and carried our kitchen table over the dog gate into the living room. We found our serving dishes and set the table. One friend, noticing a camera out, pulled her hands away from the plates to clear the shot. “No,” the friend filming said, “I want to catch the activity.”

I have hungered for easy dinner parties for years, since I first read Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, where she details the antics of parties cooked in a Manhattan apartment without a table, without an oven, without a kitchen sink. I have longed for the bubbly chaos of friends appearing simultaneously, or staggered, with pieces of a meal, everyone converging together at a candlelit table. In early 2020, when I briefly lived in a crooked little apartment above a yoga studio, I caught a glimpse of what that life could feel like. Then the world collapsed, and froze that way.

When my partner and I moved in together in 2021, we deliberately chose an apartment with ample counter space, an open living room, and backyard space for our future dog. We planted seeds, and it is gently invigorating to see the life we want come into view. This was not our first dinner party in the apartment, nor even the first with a dog—at our Friendsgiving, a friend’s golden doodle got her own place card. Just before Christmas, my parent’s black lab wove between our feet while my whole family sang carols. But this was the first with our dog—our dear, lanky, lap-loving chaos pup.

What did we eat this weekend? I didn’t plan or cook any of it, which maybe enhanced my wonder: salmon with parsley gremolata, mushroom risotto, roasted carrots, and a bright, crisp cabbage salad with pomegranate seeds. Every bite had warmth, zing, and oniony tang. As we played games, we ate scoops of vanilla ice cream with roast strawberries poured over. The five of us took turns at the head of the table, which was pushed up against the couch, so that everyone could get a chance to hold a dozing, floppy-eared muppet in their laps.

The volatile world continues—Saturday’s sixty-degree sunshine gave way to six inches of snow the next day—but we woke up on Sunday slightly hungover and immensely restored. The seeds are sprouting. There’s room for so many hands in our kitchen. And there’s no shaking the sense that the next dinner among friends will feel even warmer, even fizzier, even easier.

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