I am out of what seems like blogging-retirement because I have something I really wanted to write about: Dinner
I always jest that, other than bringing home my beautiful girls, the best part of having a baby was the dinners! I was once critically ill once and got the same treatment. I can definitely say that the best part of being critically ill is the dinners. Bringing meals to new moms and sick friends is commonplace in my little corner of the world, but I have recently learned that it is not so common elsewhere (or even here in other social circles). I thought I would make a list of my favorite tips for taking a meal that truly helps your friend when they need a little extra care.
1. Go Disposable
My most important piece of advice is to pack the food in disposable containers (or at the least ones you don't want back). If you pack in a real container, make sure your friend knows you are gifting it to them--There is nothing worse than being sick or a new mom and having to chase someone down to return her pyrex! Remembering to pack in disposables elevates worry on your friend's part and decreases extra clutter for them to deal with. After all, you are trying to help them out, not make more work. I like to bake items right in an aluminum pan with a lid as I did with this brisket last night:
While the brisket doesn't look "plated" here, adding the top finished the look and made it easy to carry.
For cold items, which I like to keep somewhat separate, I love take-out style containers. I pick these up at my local restaurant supply store (bonus tip: you don't have to own a restaurant to go there) or on Amazon. Here is an Israeli Salad I sent with the brisket:
2.Soup to Nuts
A second critical piece of advice is to make the meal from "soup to nuts," including everything the family will need. I'll talk more about what to take in a moment, but whatever you make should represent a whole meal. You may skip dessert or not eat bread with dinner at home, but extras like these round out the meal and make the recipient feel extra loved. I can attest that major bonus points are achieved when you remember to bring bread and the good Irish butter! Don't assume that the family has anything. If you are taking a salad, do not assume they have dressing or even the stuff to make it (it is hard enough to remember to buy cider vinegar and even harder with a newborn). Sometimes, if I am feeling really industrious, I even add a beverage.
3. The Menu
You may feel stumped about what to make. I always ask if the family has any allergies, aversions due to the illness or nursing, and even if they are sick of anything. Because certain meals are great to take, a family may find themselves up to their ears in lasagna and casserole! Other than that, I like to take meals that 1) fair well at room temperature or are easy to reheat in the provided container, and 2) are substantial enough to give the family leftovers. Last night I made a first course Kale Salad with a mason jar of homemade shallot-lemon vinaigrette, brisket, corn souffle, Israeli salad sidedish, rolls, and our favorite not-for-breakfast bars for dessert. Soups and chilis are fantastic in cool months (don't forget the cornbread and toppings) and grilled fish or chicken with grain salads rule in the summer.
4. Style the Food
You know the old adage that you eat first with your eyes. Even though you are using disposables, "style" the food as best you can. For me that means adding fresh herbs or a pretty-cut lemon where appropriate. I also layer my salads. Not only is this pretty, it stops the salad from becoming a soggy mess before the family is really to eat! Here is my Kale Salad from last night before it was tossed (notice the adorable lemon on top):
4. Remember that everyone loves a brown paper package tied up with string!
If dessert happens to be cookies, brownies or bars, I love to box them up bakery style. Last night I utilized craft box and parchment paper to achieve the look. Doesn't that make it look all the sweeter? Go on and put a blue ribbon on your own pie--you deserve it!
5. Box it UP
Over the years I have carried dinner to friends in many different containers. I think a laundry basket really works well, and my collapsible picnic basket is gorgeous, of course. My favorite, however, is a good-sized box. It helps keep sloshes and spills from getting on your car. It is easy to carry everything in one trip and, best of all, it is disposable (see #1). I may have had a "few" boxes after Cyber Monday. I cut the top off so that it is open for anything that doesn't quite fit and is easy to access. To take it over the top and make everything look better, wrapping the box is a nice touch:
6. Drop it like its hot (literally)
It is not always possible with work schedules and other time constraints, but I really like to provide dinner ready-to-eat near the time the family eats. That way, they don't have to worry about warming or cooling. If this is impossible, then make sure to write out heating instructions to eliminate guesswork. Once you have dropped that "hot potato," get out of there. Obviously you may want to peek at the baby or inquire about your friend's health, but remember that you are not a dinner guest. Your job is to provide dinner and provide peace of mind to the family rather than add another person to entertain!
7. Share the Joy!
In my social circle, being the dinner organizer denotes a special relationship to the new mom or patient. Others who wish to bring the person food will often ask one of his or her good friends if a meal train or care calendar has been established. That good friend, in turn, sets up the meals in a way that prevents the family from getting too much at once or too much of the same meal. I always inquire if there is a set schedule before dropping off. Even when there is no schedule, I like to ask the family when the meal would be most helpful so that I make sure it arrives when it is actually needed.
I love this idea so much that I think it would be so fun even if you aren't sick or a new mom. I am considering starting a meal swap circle....is that a thing already? Does anyone know how I could make it work? If so, share your ideas! Wouldn't it be fun to get a box like this for no reason at all?
Who knows when I'll be back,
In the meantime, happy everything!