Over the last few weeks, my husband and I ventured out to see some friends we had not seen in a long time. It reminded me of one of the things I missed most during the pandemic—sharing a homemade meal with good friends.

I forgot how nourishing it can be for both the tummy and the soul when everyone brings a dish to a host’s house.

At one recent get-together, our dear Indian friends brought shami kabob, an appetizer that I have so missed these past 20 months. Our friend Cathy makes the most incredible selection of Christmas cookies, a tradition she shared with her mother that she continues to this day.

Our other friends brought a salad with fresh pears from their second home in Washington state.

What made this meal special was that each dish meant something to the creator, whether they were using a recipe from their heritage, making a dish from a family tradition or using ingredients from their home state. They brought something of themselves to the dinner table.

During our dinner conversation we caught up on each other’s lives and asked for updates on friends of theirs we had met over the years. It was interesting to hear how their families and network of friends have dealt with what life brings their way: Grandbabies were born, new jobs were acquired, aging parents were supported and, for all of us, our car mileage barely increased.

As we ate and talked, I could feel us all growing closer; the gulf that the pandemic brought was bridged. This meal brought us together in a way I had not experienced in quite a while.

But it was our laughter that surprised and delighted us. It was contagious, and it was the social glue that rebonded us after being away from one another for so long.

We were transported away from our anxiety-ridden lives of the past 20 months. Our cares fell away. It was such a wonderful release and what we talked about in thank-you texts the next day.

This same group, minus one couple, got together several months ago at a restaurant we all love. It was not the same. It lacked the cocktail and appetizer hour centered around the kitchen island, the dogs running around in the background, the shared bowls of food made with care and love, and the warm comfort of a friend’s home.

These past two years have more than likely decreased the number of shared meals we have all enjoyed.

That shared meal at a friend’s home left me with less stress and a sense of optimism that I had almost forgotten existed.

In thinking about this new year, one of the gifts I plan for myself is the gift of more shared meals with good friends.

We are blessed to live in a part of the country that is mostly warm and where, even amid a pandemic, we can gather with a few friends, with open windows, and enjoy all that a great shared meal has to offer.

C. S. Lewis said, “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”

Think about who you would like to enjoy a meal with and plan a date. If you all can agree to leave sensitive topics at the door and bring a dish that means something to you, you are almost guaranteed to feel joy.

What better gift could you give yourself in the new year?

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