It’s been awhile. Let’s just blame the fact that we recently switched hosting companies and all our pictures turned into boxes with question marks and no amount of coding voodoo was able to make them magically reappear. Since this blog is just a hobby it’s taken us awhile to plod through manually updating all the pictures and will probably take us a little longer still to get the other aesthetics to our liking, but let’s not talk anymore about that right now. In our absence, I ended a three year stint as a leader in my local church’s women’s organization. The position was one that I’m not sure I ever felt completely comfortable with. I was awkward when I conducted meetings (one time I announced someone’s name as booty instead of Betty) and utilitarian in my activity planning (thankfully I had a great committee chair who knew how to give things that feminine touch women so love), but the one area where I always felt comfortable was taking food to new moms and the sick (or otherwise afflicted).
When it comes to compassion I’m not the person people run to for hugs and a shoulder to cry on, but when I bring you a meal it’s a labor of love. I’ve always liked cooking, but putting a meal on the table and taking a meal to someone else’s home are two very different things. Even the best of cooks can run into problems when making a meal for someone else and I’ll admit I’ve run into my share. This year has given me a lot of practice to refine my process. Our congregation recently had a baby boom. At first that meant attending lots of baby showers, but later that translated into taking lots of meals. Here are the the things I have learned.
- Plan for plenty of prep time. As often as I am able, I only volunteer to take someone a meal on a day that isn’t already overbooked. Occasionally, a genuine immediate need will trump this rule, but when I have the option, I prefer to have adequate time to prepare a good dish that will make a family feel loved and not like an afterthought or just another item on my to-do list. If you’re really in a time crunch make something easy, but tasty like our gnocchi al forno and if it’s really bad, consider buying them something from a decent restaurant. Yes, I just said that. One of my most embarrassing meal taking experiences was just one of those days. I didn’t have time to run to the store and just whipped something up with what I had at home. It ended up being a sad and scanty dinner that I sheepishly delivered to their home. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up getting takeout anyway. Sometimes you have to check your pride and outsource. (I’m talking to myself here.)
- Ask about food allergies, restrictions, and dislikes. If you’re going to go to the effort of making someone a meal it may as well be one that A. Won’t kill them and B. Is something they’ll actually eat.
- Use dishes you won’t miss. A lot of people will hail the virtues of throw away dishes here and while I have used them on a rare occasion, It just crushes a little part of my soul to use them. That being said, I also don’t want to be without one of my precious pyrexes for an indeterminate amount of time. My solution: I hoard durable takeout containers (most of mine are from Tokyo Joe’s and Pei Wei) as well as any other durable containers (yogurt, sour cream, etc) or boxes. Even if the person I’m taking a meal to throws them away instead of recycling or reusing (another soul crushing sin) the containers will at least have been reused once. If I happen to run out of containers (this actually happened with the baby boom) I resort to using my third string tupperware containers. If they make it back, great, if not there’s no real loss.
- Label food items. No one likes eating mystery food. Even if you give a quick explanation of what everything is when you drop it off, they will probably forget. Most of the time I just type up some quick labels or a “menu” in a word document and print them off. Including the recipe or recipe source is also helpful in case they need to examine the full ingredients or want to make it for themselves in the future.
- Choose meal items that taste good reheated. Whether the food gets cold during traveling or there are leftovers, there is a good chance the food you make will be reheated at some point. As much as I love a good egg roll or a hamburger, it’s best to avoid foods that don’t taste quite as good later. Generally, you can’t go wrong with casseroles or soups. I’ve also listed a few of my go-to meals at the end of this list.
- Don’t skimp. This is one of those times to really “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (paraphrasing of Mathew 7:12). I view these meals as special occasion meals where I really get to showcase my love and care for the person and I try not to be chintzy on ingredients or portions. Also make sure you make enough for your family! You’re already going to all the hard work so you might as well eat something delicious too.
- Hit all the food groups. When I say this I really mean, don’t forget the fruits and vegetables! Comfort food does amazing things for the soul, but fruits and veggies can do amazing things for the body.
- Include dessert. Since this is a special occasion type meal it requires dessert. Even if the person has special dietary restrictions see if you can’t accommodate them. The internet is a great resource for all sorts of interesting diets. The most exciting diet restriction dessert I’ve personally ever made were these Easy Vegan “Cheesecakes.”
- If you’re feeling generous, include breakfast. Going this far is incredibly thoughtful and I’ll admit I rarely am. Once in a blue moon though I’ll include some muffins (like almond cranberry or double coconut) or a loaf of blueberry lemon bread. On one occasion I even made a breakfast casserole.
- Don’t try something new. Cooking can be finicky without trying something new. Save yourself stress and make items you have feel comfortable with. This rule also goes for dinner parties.
Now for the meal ideas. All of the ideas are field tested and have received complimentary feedback.
- Heart Healing Lasagna from Dirty Dish Club
- Baked Chicken Parmesan Meatballs from Annie’s Eats
- Swedish Meatballs with Sneaky Veggies from Dirty Dish Club
- Chicken Pot Pie from Smitten Kitchen (When taking this to people I make it as a big pie.)
- Chicken Quinoa Soup from Dirty Dish Club
- Bowtie Chicken Alfredo from The Pioneer Woman
- Chicken in Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce from Dirty Dish Club
- Skillet Lasagna from Annie’s Eats
- Crusty Sourdough Bread from Dirty Dish Club
- Pasta or Mashed Potatoes
- Super Fluffy Jumbo Garlic Knots from Fifteen Spatulas
- Take and Bake Baguette (for those days where you just can’t make everything)
- Cut pineapple
- Berry Summer Salad from Merrick’s Art
- Raw Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Tahini Maple Dressing from Cookie + Kate
- Dijon-Braised Brussells Sprouts from Smitten Kitchen
- Check off the Veggie Box by including them in your main dish, say by adding broccoli to the bowtie alfredo.
- Smitten Kitchen’s Favorite Brownies
- Salted Carmelitas from Dirty Dish Club
- Coconut Lime Cupcakes from Dessert Now Dinner Later
- Snickerdoodles from Dirty Dish Club
- Better than Oatmeal Creme Pies from Carlsbad Cravings (add 1/4 C four to keep from spreading at high altitude.)
- Any of our Oreos.