MLC: Sympathy meals that don’t suck?
I agreed to take a meal to a family who recently suffered a loss. We aren’t terribly close, so I don’t feel comfortable calling to ask what they’ve gotten so far… How do I avoid taking them their 12th lasagna or their 86th casserole? The last thing they need now is a painful meal, so I would like to take something that travels well from my house to theirs.
Simply bringing a meal is a kind gesture, obviously, but I love how thoughtful you are being here. It is true that, in times of loss or tragedy, families can be inundated with so much “heat up when you need it” food, they can actually become overwhelmed. I wonder why we don’t have a volunteer at these times to clean out a family in mourning’s fridge and freezer, since that’s about the last thing someone who is grieving wants to do (but likely needs, with the steady influx of casseroles.)
In both my mom’s Swedish-American family and my dad’s Italian-American family, an attempt was (and is) always made to bring food to grieving people that a) requires essentially no work and b) can be put out to share with friends and family stopping by to mourn alongside them.
My mom talks about knowing, instantly, that someone had died when she walked into her home after school and saw her mother making their family cinnamon rolls, which were otherwise reserved for holiday baking. Cinnamon rolls are sweet and filling, and can sit out at room temperature for hours without spoiling—in other words, they are perfect for a family hosting mourners.
On my dad’s side, a quick trip to the local Italian deli/grocery for a big platter of antipasti and some crusty Italian bread is the way we show love. Perfect for make-your-own sandwiches, or just nibbling when you need a little something, it’s hard not to beat the healing power of prosciutto.
Inspired by these two traditions, and because you want to keep another heavy, reheated casserole off of their menu, I’d like to recommend you bring assorted appetizers and “munchables,” so they can have a meal that may feel like tapas, or simply eat up little bits as they’d like over time.
Let’s face it: people in grief may be ravenous, or they may barely eat. Small bites work for both ends of the spectrum.
You can simply go to the store and pick out a few freezer-friendly apps (i.e., small quiches, puffed pastry wrapped goodies, spanakopita, etc.), and/or make some of your own favorites. Think meatballs, small slider sandwiches, cut up veggies and a fresh dip—the critical point is the assortment of things, so the family can pick and chose what they would like and get some variety.
Kids love appetizers, and there are lots of kid-friendly versions to make or buy. Chicken fingers, pigs in a blanket, little cubes of cheese—any of these things may likely be a hit with little ones, and could also be eaten by adults. My daughter makes pigs-in-a-blanket for every potluck, holiday, or event we attend, and she’d like to share her recipe with you here (see end of post), along with her “specialty dipping sauce.”
If you are concerned assorted appetizers won’t feel like a real meal, provide a big, delicious salad, something with optional nuts, cheeses, etc., to go along with them. Since you don’t know the dietary restrictions of the family, having all extra elements optional is key, so they can toss in what works for them as a family, or each person can sprinkle on what they’d like. Salad is also fresh and filling, which will be a nice counterpoint to freezer casseroles.
If nothing else—if appetizers and a salad isn’t their cup of tea, and they want more lasagna—everything you bring will be perfect for them to set out for others to eat while visiting, which is also a huge help to them.
Hope these ideas don’t suck, as you requested. Thank you for caring for others in this way.
- 1 pound (about 30) mini hot dogs
- ¼ cup of AP flour
- 1-2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
- 1 large egg
- Sesame and/or poppy seeds
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 1 teaspoon mayonaise
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon tabasco sauce
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- In a small bowl, combine ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and tabasco; cover and chill.
- Cut first sheet of puffed pastry into thirds (packaged puff pastry will be folded into thirds, follow these guide lines.)
- Flour your work surface and rolling pin, then roll out pastry until ⅛ inch thick.
- Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut pastry into 1 inch wide strips.
- Roll each sausage with a strip of pastry, then place seem side down on the baking sheet, keeping them 1½ inches apart.
- Continue to work in puffed pastry thirds until all sausages are covered. If the pastry becomes sticky you may need to chill the pastry while it waits be rolled.
- Beat the egg with a teaspoon or two of water, then brush onto puffed pastry wrapped sausages.
- Sprinkle with sesame and/or poppy seeds.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden.
- Serve with chilled specialty dipping sauce.