Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes those good people are our friends and neighbors. Other times our friends and neighbors might even have good earth-shattering news: the arrival a baby or two–or eight! In cases like these our instinct is to feed them. But what to make?
We asked our friends and neighbors what they remember as good choices during their own times of need. The main theme that emerged: whatever it is, make it easy to use or to pop in the freezer for another day. And make it easy to understand: a neat label with a list of ingredients and instructions for heating and serving makes your item worry-free, even if it’s as simple as “Fruit Salad: pineapple, honeydew melon, pomegranate seeds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.” Pack food in dishes you won’t miss, or in disposable containers. No bewildered family should be washing, cataloging, and returning a bunch of empty pots and pans.
When a friend’s spouse or parent dies, providing something their children will want to eat (a safe, no-flair macaroni and cheese) might be more helpful than stirring up a batch of your friend’s favorite broccoli rabe risotto. (“At least my children were getting nutritious meals, even though I felt like I’d never want to eat again.”)
Some suggestions from the wise:
- Macaroni and cheese: leave one area bare of your signature delicious buttery crumb topping for the breadcrumb-fearing child in the house
- Chicken parmesan with an extra container of sauce, a box of pasta, salad, and bread
- If you’re good at making something without tomatoes, make that. Tomato-less food deliveries are apparently rare and treasured in times of need
- Vegetarian chili with cornbread or corn muffins
- Soup and crusty bread: a pureed soup in a pretty color (like carrot ginger) or a classic favorite (like minestrone or lentil)
- Lasagna: so beloved in these situations, it’s a cliche
- A word about casseroles in general: these are handy (easy to freeze and reheat) and appealing if the ingredients are visually identifiable, otherwise they are equivalent to a pan of ick
- Takeout: because it doesn’t have to be homemade to be kind
Perfect add-ons to any meal (things that are easy to take in here or there, in little bites, for those without much time, appetite, or focus):
- Granola and a shelf-stable box of almond or rice milk
- A baguette, brie, and marmalade
- Your favorite bars or cookies
- Neatly cut raw vegetables in many bright colors + a big brick of Valrhona chocolate
- An assortment of ice cream, sorbet, or gelato–three pints will do
- Hearty muffins filled with things like dried fruit and nuts
- Fruit salad (doesn’t freeze well, but is easy to eat in small doses)
- Zucchini bread
- A roasted chicken (great at room temperature or to pick bits off from the fridge)
- A small side of raw, leafy salad makes anything feel like a complete meal and might appeal to someone with very little appetite
And don’t forget the…
- Magazines. For those who are ill or injured, trashy magazines usually hit the spot. During the last weeks of one dying friend’s life she read only In Touch Weekly. I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but once this woman had given up on the books and periodicals of her healthy life, her path was: Vanity Fair, then People, then Us Weekly, and at last In Touch Weekly
- Hand-written note (pre-printed sympathy or get well cards often rub people the wrong way)
- Puffs Plus with lotion
- Liquor, in many cases, is most welcome
- Flowers that arrive in a vase are far better than a plant or cut flowers that will require any arranging, fluffing, or watering
Need more specific ideas? The Good Neighbor Cookbook is filled with ideas for the most human moments in our lives. Divided into chapters by life-shattering event (e.g. new baby, illness, death), an appropriate, deliverable meal is easy to find. Surely these are worthwhile rewards for giving birth: Smoothie Kits, Easy Bake Eggplant Lasagne (recipe provided below), and any of three crisp salads, each with a custom vinaigrette. At the other end of the human frailty spectrum are comfort foods: Smoky Corn Chowder, Sweet Potato Torta, Fresh Apple Cake. There is a page in the “Condolences” chapter with a list of things to deliver if you are unable to cook: wine, chocolate, crackers and cheese…This list of ways we can try to help someone (however feebly) in the wake of a tragedy (however enormous) is the perfect nudge to do something when you’re not sure what’s right.
I’m pretty sure I’m not a good neighbor. I didn’t bring anything to my across-the-street-neighbor whose name I never really new (Elaine? Eileen?) when her boyfriend (Chip? Mitch?) died, other than the funeral bouquet a florist erroneously left on my porch. Now she has moved away. If I had it to do over again, I like to think I’d bring the chocolate. Or this, reprinted with permission from the publisher:
Easy-Bake Eggplant Lasagne from The Good Neighbor Cookbook
The eggplant in this scrumptious and substantial meatless main dish is baked rather than fried–you get all the flavor without the guilt. The lasagne makes for wonderful leftovers and freezes well for up to 2 months.
Â½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Â½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Â¼ teaspoon freshly ground
2Â½ cups dried bread crumbs
Â½ cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
4 large eggs, beaten
1 large eggplant, cut into Â¼-inch- thick rounds
1Â½ cups (6 ounces) grated mozzarella cheese
1Â½ cups (6 ounces) grated GruyÃ¨re cheese
Â¼ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400Â°F.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and Â½ teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring often, until softened and light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes (decrease the heat, as necessary, to prevent scorching). Add the tomatoes, oregano, sugar, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and Â½ teaspoon of the salt and simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, the remaining Â½ cup oil, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Place the flour and eggs in separate bowls. Dip the eggplant slices first into the flour, then into the eggs, and finally into the bread crumb mixture, pressing to help them adhere. Arrange in an even layer on 2 baking sheets and bake until tender and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes.
In a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, spread 1Â½ cups of the sauce over the bottom. Layer half of the eggplant over the sauce, then add another 1Â½ cups of sauce. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, sauce, and cheeses. Bake until heated through and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes.
Cook’s Tip: Refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for up to 4 days. To reheat, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400Â°F until heated through, about 30 minutes. Freeze, unbaked and tightly wrapped with foil, for up to 2 months. Bake directly from the freezer, covered, for about 1 hour.
–From The Good Neighbor Cookbook by Sara Quessenberry and Suzanne Schlosberg/2010 Andrews McMeel Publishing $17
Ed. Note: Andrews McMeel sent Kidoinfo a review copy of this book. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews and only runs reviews of things we have tried and liked.
Newborn photo courtesy of Anna Sawin Photography.