Every summer during high school, I’d spend two weeks of my six-week summer vacation camping with my best friend’s family. The campground we frequented—one of my favorite places in the world—is nestled inside a national park on Australia’s Central Coast, right by the beach. We filled our days swimming and reading and almost every night, we’d slap on head lamps and climb to a lookout to watch the sun set. At the end of the trip, I’d always be sad to leave, but ready to go home. Back then, two weeks felt like a lifetime—I’d spend the whole car trip back counting down the kilometers on road signs.
Every time I got home, my mum cooked a thick, goopy beef stew with big chunks of beef and potatoes, carrots, and onions, and bay leaves that I swear only ever make it into my bowl, served on two slices of white buttery toast. To this day, whenever my mum asks what I’d like my first meal at home to be, after a long time away, I always say stew on toast.
I’m supposed to be in Australia right now for a friend’s wedding. But, like a lot of expats and immigrants, I’m far from home with no easy way to get back there—even if I desperately wanted to—with almost all flights between my two homes, Sydney and the US, grounded until further notice. I’m happy to be in New York with my partner, safe in my apartment with a job I can do remotely, but at random times each day, I’ll feel a sudden onset of that same heavy feeling I would have on the last day camping, I just want to be at home.
Last week, as the last regular flight from New York to Sydney was leaving, the thought came to me: I should make stew. I searched my email inbox for the recipe I could have sworn my mum sent me years ago when I first moved away from home, but found nothing. So, I searched the NYT Cooking app and found a recipe for an Old-Fashioned Beef Stew that looked just like my mum’s. For an hour and a half the stew simmered on my stove, the smell of red wine and tender beef filling up my apartment. That night, with two slices of stew-covered toast in front of me, I felt at home. I took a photo and sent it to Mum, unsure if she’d even recognize the significance of my cooking a meal I wouldn’t normally attempt. Her reply, “Looks wonderful,” didn’t seem to convey that she caught onto the significance, but I was happy to be sharing—in some capacity—a meal we have in common.
Right now, I’m thinking a lot about the recipes that can momentarily transport me to the long wooden kitchen table where I grew up eating dinner. So I’m curious: What’s a recipe or meal that makes you feel less alone you when you’re homesick?
Animation by Lorenza Centi.