In 2019, Skip Sunday Brunch and Do This Instead
As we all settle into mid-January—peak hygge season—my sense is that a good many people are gamely attempting to hold true to New Year's resolutions that relate to cooking and food. If it’s not too late, I have a suggestion that will ideally get you to become a regular and more adventurous cook, while also potentially eating healthier.
Here goes: Instead of going to brunch on Sundays, commit to cooking an elaborate dinner every Sunday night instead.
Think about it this way: Brunch is social and fun but generally involves eating something greasy or cheesy (or both!) in the middle of the afternoon. It often starts your drinking day hours earlier than it would otherwise. And the great Anthony Bourdain long ago taught us that Sunday brunch was, as an economic necessity, the meal of the week at which restaurants clear their larders of Friday’s swiftly-perishing produce. Basically, brunch is about having mediocre, high-calorie food, washed down by a mimosa with some gossip on the side.
Meanwhile, cooking a big Sunday dinner can be a boost for the soul. This has been my happy policy for the past few years, a jealously-guarded ritual of cooking a many-ingredient, time-is-no-object recipe each week, sometimes for a few people but as often as not just for myself. Friends know not to invite me over or to a movie on Sunday nights because I'll probably say no. I’d much rather be at home in the kitchen. I’m very rigid about it, which is after all the point of a resolution.
My happy experiments have ranged from Jonathan Reynolds' chicken la tulipe (featuring an at-home cognac flambé that set off a smoke alarm in another room) to Alison Roman's earthy chickpea stew to Todd English's pappardelle in “dreamy” mushroom sauce.
Sometimes, these meals turn out great—and always when I have guests, thankfully. Occasionally—and especially when I’m casually cooking for myself and therefore a little less attentive—the results are mixed. On nights I find myself refiring a pink piece of chicken while the opening credits of Game of Thrones roll, I’m glad I’m only responsible for a party of one.
Of course, that sense of agency and control may explain exactly why I value Sunday dinner so much. I'm starting the week (or ending the weekend?) trying something new, peaceful and creative. I can take a risk or follow a script depending on my mood. The stakes are real, but also pretty low. Unlike so much of weekday work life, I answer only to myself—and maybe my butcher or a guest who wants extra sauce.
The psychological benefits don’t end there. Experts will tell you that learning how to do something new and making things with your hands are two time-tested drivers of happiness; cooking an unfamiliar recipe once a week accomplishes both of these goals. Plus, every minute my phone is parked on a recipe is a minute I’m not mindlessly scrolling Instagram.
Beyond that, home cooking is associated with physical health benefits as well. Even if you’re cooking a rich dish, a meal made at home from quality ingredients is generally prepared a bit healthier--with less salt and butter and so forth—than most dishes you’ll eat out.
Sundays pose some challenges in terms of ingredients, of course. Sourcing fresh fish requires planning and freezing, for example. There’s a Sunday farmer’s market in Tompkins Square Park near my home and I’ll often see what they have and make a dinner plan based on what looks good.
As I type this, I just finished a bone-in porchetta pork chop stuffed with fennel, garlic, and rosemary, topped with flakes of red pepper and a squeeze of lemon. I’ve never made this before, but the pink, marbleized meat caught my eye in the supermarket, its shape like a pleasingly crooked smile.
I was pretty diligent watching the clock and using a meat thermometer because I find it easy to misjudge the time it takes a pork chop to cook through. This particular recipe called for searing a thick, 1.5 inch chop for 5 minutes, then flipping it, and baking it in the oven for another 10. It came out nicely browned and the right amount of juicy. I used the bulb of fennel to make a side salad with orange and honey.
The Golden Globes are on in the background and Regina King is giving a nice speech about James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins and equality for women in film. Tomorrow I’m headed out of town on a work trip, so I may not have much control over when and what I eat in the next few days. That makes this meal all the more precious to me.
At this hinge point to the week, solitude with a side of self-care is exactly what I crave. If you are similarly looking to infuse your new year with soulful and sane-making choices, all I can say this has worked for me.
My only additional piece of advice is that you open a window before you attempt to flambé.