At first, quarantine cooking was kind of fun.
We snapped up vintage stand mixers, flirted with different grocery delivery services, obsessively reverse-engineered our favorite fast-food dishes, and flooded social media with pictures of our sourdough successes and focaccia fails.
But seven months after the coronavirus prompted major changes to how Americans eat, and with a long winter looming, a certain culinary weariness is setting in.
Enter local food entrepreneur Samantha Kanter, who thinks she has the cure: super-gourmet, adult-only meal kits that incorporate marijuana-infused oil and slowly get you high as you eat.
Think Blue Apron, but with less prep, more weed, and maybe a bit of dubious legality.
“These are high-end, three-course meals designed to replicate an in-house restaurant dining experience,” Kanter said. “We go way above and beyond the traditional meal kit. And we find that the cannabis really does elevate the experience.”
Kanter’s company, Dinner at Mary’s, launched the service earlier this summer after it was forced by the pandemic to stop offering its famous private cannabis-infused dinners. Her other venture, a more traditional catering outfit, also saw its revenue plunge in March as most events were canceled.
“The business I had run for seven years was essentially dead,” Kanter said.
Available for shipment only in the Boston area, the kits cost $79 and feed two hungry people. They’ve been popular, too: The company might ship 200 on a busy week, and sales are ticking up as colder weather makes outdoor dining less attractive.
Each Dinner at Mary’s box includes a small bottle of olive oil infused with 20 milligrams of marijuana extract, she said, which customers add in at the indicated step in the recipes. Combined with the food and split between two diners, that’s enough to brighten a dull evening.
Less experienced cannabis consumers who are nervous about overdoing it can easily lower the dose by using less of the provided bottle and substituting some regular olive oil. Kanter’s recipe cards stress that the effects can take up to two hours to kick in, and urge diners to take it slow.
“Our clients aren’t looking for some huge stoner experience,” Kanter said. “It’s just an enhancement, and you can be flexible about it. Personally, I like to add the oil to the first two courses and then eat dessert later once I’m feeling the effects.”
Her company is not a licensed cannabis retailer. In an attempt to avoid charges of selling cannabis without a license, the infused oil is technically an optional gift — the kits cost the same with or without it, and customers can request plain oil instead.
In Massachusetts, adults may legally gift one another modest quantities of marijuana; however, the gifts cannot be advertised, and authorities take a dim view of sham transactions in which consumers purport to pay for a nonmarijuana item that just so happens to cost about the same as the value of the included “gift” of cannabis.
“For us it really is a gift,” Kanter insisted. “We want to do things as legally as possible.”
The food is meant to be delicious regardless of whether one chooses to use the marijuana-infused oil, with Kanter and her chef-partner Nicolas Oscoto changing up the menu each week to reflect local and seasonal ingredients.
One recent box included an appetizer of crispy pork belly topped with spiced apricots, spinach purée, red chili caramel, and pistachio crumble; an entrée of black pepper and herb swordfish with roasted artichoke, wild mushrooms, lemon caper butter; and for dessert, a fresh fig cheesecake made with hazelnut, graham cracker, and a sweet balsamic glaze — a far cry from dorm-style Betty Crocker pot brownies.
Each kit takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete, with most of the tedious work done by Kanter’s team before shipment.
“There’s a sweet spot where it’s enough work to be a fun activity that teaches you some technique, but not so much that you get overwhelmed,” Kanter said.
Kanter said the kits have proved popular with people of all ages and different levels of familiarity with marijuana, from staunch stoners in their 20s to baby boomers wading back into the weed waters after a decadeslong hiatus. The privacy of consuming at home opens the door to more people interested in experimenting with cannabis, she added.
Kanter said she hopes her boxes will play a small role in making marijuana more familiar to consumers, who often know exactly how much alcohol they can comfortably drink but have little context for approaching cannabis.
“It says right on our recipes, ‘we hope this brings you some calm and some fun during a truly challenging time,’ ” Kanter said. “Cannabis is a great tool for anxiety and the crazy world we live in right now."