I was never big on pranks as a kid. There were so many other ways to annoy the neighbors that toilet-papering trees and ding-dong-ditch seemed not particularly creative ways to be obnoxious.
Now, people either have doorbells with remote camera access, or they don’t bother answering the door if they’re not expecting anyone.
But I’ve started playing ding-dong-ditch again lately, and not as a prank. During COVID-19—suddenly faced with plenty of time on our hands—we baked. Cookies, cakes, bread. So much bread.
I didn’t join in on that first round of pandemic baking. I was too busy doom scrolling, in a constant search for business closings and safety updates. I’ve started to bake now, however, and not just because one day I ended up knee deep in peaches so frantically began making cobbler.
I’ve been baking food for my friends because in these incredibly isolating times, I want to offer them something more than a check-in text or an hour on FaceTime. While those platforms for personal connections, and even properly-socially-distanced masked outdoor chats are can be vital, the longer I’m away from my friends, the more I feel the need to feed them.
I think that impulse is in all of us—that in uncertain times we put in extra effort to let friends and family know that they’re loved. That’s certainly a big driver for me.
But I’m also the child of a Home Ec teacher. The urge to bake is in my blood. I bake with earnest zeal while utterly disregarding measurements, making questionable substitutions on the fly and barely thinking about presentation. (Sorry, Mom).
And I’ve been leaving these questionable concoctions on my friends’ porches, sending a text or ringing the doorbell to let them know I’ve dropped off something. Some are immuno-compromised, some work from home on interminable Zoom meetings, some have napping babies. However questionable the end result of the dish, playing ding-dong-dine brings back some tangible connection to my friends that I’ve been missing.
However the food gets delivered, I’ve made a real, human connection with someone I love in a time when I—we—need it so much.
Whether or not my friends are just being gracious, it’s been great to have something different to talk about when we do get back to that text thread, something more than: “Still hangin’ in there?”
The pandemic looms over every conversation, our jobs and virtually every decision we make. It’s the reason we have to isolate as much as possible.
Whether you’re predisposed to depression, or you’re just in a depressed state, isolation can make things worse, sometimes much worse. And spending hours online, refreshing your browser to see the number of new cases climb—that, too, can make things worse.
I’m unashamed to say that I contend with severe, life-long depression. As much as I’d like to pretend it’s something that will just go away, along with making sure I eat well and get sunshine, exercise and proper professional support, I work hard to make sure I don’t let myself isolate completely.
And so I bake. I bake as an excuse to leave the house, if only briefly. If my friends are home, we’ll talk through screen doors, catch up a bit. If they’re working, or if their health doesn’t allow it, I’ll send a text in advance so the food doesn’t languish in Sacramento’s summer heat. However the food gets delivered, I’ve made a real, human connection with someone I love in a time when I—we—need it so much.
I’ve also branched into salads and main dishes. And I’ve come up with a practical list of how-to’s. First, make sure the container you use seals well. Many people wipe down anything new entering the house, and that doesn’t mix well with a loose foil wrap. Second, if you are making something like a cobbler, add a bit more of the drop-biscuit when you bake; as you dole it out later, it makes it easier to evenly portion the topping when you’re transferring it to Tupperware. Third, even if you only plan on ding-dong-ditch, let your friends know you’re coming. Weather aside, it’s just common courtesy.
Apparently, there’s a saying that a casserole dish should never be sent back empty. I have mixed feelings on that: Yes, by all means, bring me delicious, made-with-love food, but it’s not necessary. It’s a kind thing to do, but if I brought you food, it was meant to be no-strings-attached. The implication that a gift requires something in return no longer makes it a gift; it makes it a future obligation. (While we’re on the topic, don’t give people houseplants; you have not given them a gift, you’ve given them a chore).
Maybe it’s not home-cooked food, but friends nearly always leave something in return. Most often it’s a book they know I’ll like, or flowers or herbs from their garden. I’m grateful for those gifts. They’re heartfelt, and they go a long way to chipping away at some of the isolation I’ve been feeling. They’ve made me feel less isolated, more connected and understood, and have shown me the unique ways they show me they care.
Who knew a bar of dark chocolate and an Orangina could make me feel so loved?