Thursday, July 17, 2008

Delivering Comfort

In the South, when words are not enough to convey our depth of feeling for a friend in need, we speak Casserole. You can say a lot with a basket overflowing with food. Get well soon. I'm thinking of you. I'm sorry for your loss. I'm your friend, and I am here. With dinner. And dessert.

I put this meal together to say congratulations to a friend from church who has just had a baby, but I must give credit to a few others who helped me welcome little Gracie Kate. First, everyone's favorite Aunt Paula sent love and best dishes with her chicken pot pie recipe. I doubled the recipe and had enough filling for three 9-inch square casseroles. (One for my friend, one for my family, and another to share!) One sheet of puff pastry makes a nice lattice crust for this size baking dish. I filled out our menu with my favorite summer salad and fresh-baked blueberry muffins. And for dessert, I visited the SITS girls new recipe blog, which led me to this great recipe for Stephanie's cheesecake tarts. Her recipe makes 12 muffin-sized cheesecakes with vanilla wafer crusts, but the wafers we bought turned out to be too small for a standard muffin pan. However, they were perfect for a mini-muffin tin, and the tiny tarts turned out dainty and sweet -- just like Baby Gracie Kate!

I like to add a little something extra to food baskets when I can. Pretty details like cloth napkins and fresh flowers add to the presentation and tell the recipient that this task was not a burden but a blessing. Ribbons and tissue paper add cheery color, and a little gift tucked into the basket adds an extra element of surprise. A magazine, some note cards, or a toy are sure to bring a smile. All these elements work together to say, "You are so special to me."

I like to find inexpensive ways to dress up my food baskets, and plundering through my craft closet usually yields some easy options. Like the cardboard box above, packaging saved from a photo album. Without a lid, I couldn't use it for a wrapped gift, but with a piece of scrapbook paper cut to fit the bottom and grosgrain ribbon glued around the rim, it made a perfect disposable dessert container for Gracie Kate's family.


I would love to hear your tips for taking meals to people. Here are a few of mine.

  • Keep Your Disposable Income. Disposable containers are convenient because they make for easy cleanup and don't have to be returned. You can stock up on these when they go on sale at the grocery store, but also be mindful of products you buy that you could reuse. Yeast roll tins are the perfect size for a small casserole. And plastic fruit bowls are great to reuse, as well.
  • Please Pass the Plate. Consider giving someone dessert on a pretty platter, and tell her to pass it on instead of returning it.
  • Put Your Friend on a Pedestal. Present dessert on a cake plate made from a plate and bowl, as described here.
  • For Return, Address. Keep return address labels in your kitchen for labelling dishes you do want back. This is a good use for the labels many charities include with their fundraising materials.
  • Plan Your Menu with the Diner in Mind. Consider your recipient's circumstances. Are there dietary restrictions you need to follow? Will the dish be easy for a shut-in to eat? Is it kid-friendly?
  • Size Matters. Meals that will stretch to feed a crowd can provide several meals for a large family, while a single person might appreciate getting a few individually-portioned meals. When my late grandmother was living alone, I worried that she wasn't getting the nutritional balance she needed. So over a few weeks I saved, froze and labelled individual meals. Then when I visited her, I stocked her freezer with a variety of options.
  • Prepare Ahead. It is often almost as easy to make two casseroles as one, so prepare extra when making a favorite recipe. Stick it in the freezer, and you will have an easy option when a need surfaces unexpectedly.
  • Make Dinner a Family Affair. Allow your children to serve by letting them help prepare food, make cards or deliver the meal. This can provide a great time of family bonding, and your children's exuberance will bring a ray of sunshine to someone who needs cheer. Plus, you are teaching them valuable lessons about the blessings of giving.
  • Don't Take Off Take-Out. When there is an urgent need, sometimes time and schedules just will not allow for a home-cooked meal. Purchasing deli ham or a rotisserie chicken and tossing together a few side dishes might make getting dinner on the table possible. And sometimes picking up a meal from a friend's favorite restaurant might be the best choice. Enjoying take-out might spice up a home-bound friend's routine -- especially if you plan to visit and bring enough food for both of you.
  • Pray Before Every Meal. Be prayerful as you serve others. Using your preparation as a time of intercessory prayer will keep you joyful in service and sympathetic toward the needs of your friend. And if you feel comfortable, praying with your friend when you deliver the meal will be a blessing to you both.

Yes, in the South we are fluent in Casserole. And we'll keep taking meals to friends in need because we know that at the end of the day, what we are really offering is a deep dish of comfort. Because whether the basket holds poppy seed chicken, spaghetti casserole or chicken pot pie, in Casserole it all says the same thing: "I love you. We're in this together. And would you please pass the biscuits?"

35 comments:

Stephanie said...

WOW!!! All I can say is WOW. I am so jealous (in a good way), I am not sure whether I want to be the one on the receiving end of all this or the one creative enough to make this look so beautiful. This is really amazing. I have to read this quite a few times and bookmark because I do want to take more time out to do things like this. Soooo pretty! And I am so glad you made those. Now, was there anything in my recipe misleading that I need to change or did you just buy small wafers? I didn't even realize they came in a smaller size.

Stephanie said...

P.S. Also, check out my post today. I wanted to make a special shout out to you because I was just so impressed with what you did and wanted to share it with those who visit me.

angie said...

I can't tell you how much I love the decorated box presentation idea. Your tips are incredible! A little dessert is ALWAYS nice, too. I always try to send something sweet. :)

Katy Lin :) said...

thanks for the tips! i'm looking forward to putting them into action! :)

Tam said...

Came over from Stephanies blog! LOVE LOVE this POST!

Debbie said...

Hi Melissa...I am catching up on my blogging and looked through a couple of posts of yours that I missed. The pics of your kids are gorgeous. Your kids are gorgeous. They belong on magazine covers! As for making meals for friends. This is a ministry that we at my church do ALOT for new moms. And I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of a friend's baby down the street as she is overdue, hot and ready to deliver anyday! When she does, I will whip up my post-pregnant mama special, Chicken Pesto Pasta, Mozarella Bread, Caesar Salad, Strawberries and brownies. However, my presentation is in a disposable tupperware, and a recycled grocery bag. Nothing quite as pretty as yours. But they are always thankful nonetheless! And it is a wonderful ministry.

Laura said...

Loved it! What great ideas! You've got me thinking, "Who do I know that I can do something like this for?"

Kara said...

Love this post! Thanks for all the great tips and ideas!

Kellie said...

I had my second baby in the south...which meant I had almost a full month of yummy southern meals brought to my home (this was amazing to me!).

Sometimes, when I am in a cooking rut (and a goofy mood) I seriously contemplate getting pregnant again!

Having a baby is worth it for the food alone! ;)

Your basket is lovely, and I loved your tips, especially the Pass the Plate idea!

Angela said...

Hi! I found you through Stephanie's site. All I can say is this is GORGEOUS. I am also from the South, but in all my casserole-speaking years I don't think I've ever seen a dinner delivery done so beautifully! Awesome!

Dawn said...

Thanks for the tips! Some of these I've never thought of. One to add that I have started telling honorees is asking them not to send a thank you card. I tell them that that is part of my gift.

I have prepared food and picked up take-out. Both are well-received! I had a ton of food when my baby was born in '06. Getting food was so wonderful for my husband and me. It really seemed like she was 3months old until I could cook a full meal. We decided we'd always help those with newborns in this way.

sweeter and the bubbas said...

Beautiful presentation! I know Karen's mouth will drop open when she sees it. Those are some great ideas you have for making meals for others. Thanks for remembering those of us "Zoe's Kitchen meal givers" too! Hahaha! :-)

Joanne Kennedy said...

I have to say that I have seen several meals being given to friends and family and NONE looked as pretty as yours. I just LOVE the idea of the box covered in ribbon with scrap paper in the bottom as the desserts container.

Very very kind and thoughtful of you to bring this over. I'm sure she will be so happy to recieve this.

Hugs,
Joanne

Joanne Kennedy said...

Oops! I was so taken by your beautiful dinner that I forgot to tell you...I've had several people ask how to do gumpaste flowers so I'm going to do a lesson the next time I make any. Which should be next week or so. Just thought you might like to take look back then.

Thanks.
Joanne

Kris said...

I think I'm sick, cough, cough, and need you to bring me dinner!! WOW! That is all I can say - is wow! You have put my bringing dinner to someone to shame. I love "this task was not a burden but a blessing." I will be sure to remember that next time I am asked to help.

Jen - Balancing beauty and bedlam said...

I wandered here for the first time from the Nester to tell you how hilarious your post was about her Google ad, but never would have imagined that I would be served some eye candy to boot. This SO speaks to my heart of engaging all the sense when we want to touch someone to the core, and you have done it amazingly.
I do a lot of meal planning and one of the things that I organize is a "kitchen sister club" where we get together like an old fashioned quilting bee, but instead of working on quilts, we leave with multiple freezer meals...some to share. I am always picking up wicker and wicker baskets, vases etc at yard sales for .50-$2.00, and adding ribbon or cute odds/ends just like you mentioned. That way when I share a meal it becomes a special love gift, and not something they worry about returning. I am SO happy I found you...(aren't beach pictures the best?)

Becky Welch said...

You always inspire me. I have not blogged lately for many reasons but one being I just lost my grandmother this morning. I have seen great acts of kindness like yours today and hope to blog about them soon. I will def. be back to reread all these wonderful ideas soon!!

Jennifer P. said...

I'm with Debbie--my food is great (I make a mean baked ravioli or sausage and polenta lasagna!)--but my presentation is probably lacking! Thanks for inspiring me to try a little harder. I think a meal given in the manner you have presented it would truly feel like a gift!

Susie Harris said...

All I can say is you have one blessed friend... Wish you were mine, smile... Susie h~

Leah said...

Melissa, you're amazing! This is beautiful, as always. You have such a gift and are such a sweet blessing in using it. (now I'm afraid to take Karen dinner! HA HA)

Rebecca said...

Since I have been on the receiving end of a "welcome new one" basket from you, I can say from first hand knowledge that you are wonderful! I know Karen will always include you in her thoughts of this special time in her life, just as you are a part of my memories of Reese joining our lives.

Emily said...

WOW! What a treat to recieve these! You know just how to ritz it up a bit and make a dashing display of kindness and service!

Laura said...

Hi, Melissa,
I live in Fort Deposit and I think we have a couple of people in common. I find that when I buy Campstew or a Boston Butt from a fundraiser event, buying a little extra to keep on hand for passing on in a hurry to someone in need is a good thing. I find that when we are organizing meals, I can always volunteer to take the first day because I have reserves in my freezer. Another tip is to have a casserole freeze. Every person who takes a meal will also take a frozen casserole with reheating directions attached, so that all that needs to be done is pop it in the oven and dinner is served.
I am so glad that I was directed to your blog. God bless you and your family.

So very blessed said...

Melissa, I wish I could tell you how special you made me feel when you walked in with such a beautiful meal. You are such an inspiration to me! I am so thankful to know you and wish I could just sit at your feet and learn from you! I will always remember this beautiful meal when I think of this time when our precious baby girl was born. Keep the blogs coming, I love reading them. They always challenge me! Thank you again!!
Karen

Kathleen Grace said...

Wow, you have a great blog and this was a wonderful post! I just wanted to share that I have picking up real glass casserole dishes and pie plates at yard sales for 25-50 cents each. This makes them even cheaper than disposable and I don't care if I get them back. Great for giving a pie, a quiche, or whatever I need to cook! Better for the environment too:>)

Mama Hen said...

Wow, I wish I could have another baby just to get a pretty basket like that. What wonderful ideas.

Mod Girl said...

Beautiful post -- love that dessert plate -- full of practical tips. Thank you for spurring me on to extra special kindness!

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

gracemercyandpeace said...

Here from LikeMerchantShips. LOVE your cheesecake tray! This was a delightful, heartfelt and educational post. Thanks,

deb meyers

Anonymous said...

I just found you through LikeMerchantShips and must say you seem to do everything so beautifully. Thanks for the uplift today! I also want to say that I adore the way you dress your beautiful children. What a treat to browse thru your previous posts! Patsy

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Here from LikeMerchantShips. Lots of great ideas for making someone feel special! I would just add never send a real dish you aren't willing to have broken or never see again. When I receive a meal I much prefer to NOT have to remember to return dishes. Also, after my last baby a friend included pretty paper plates, cups and napkins with her meal. Not only did I not have to cook that night, I didn't have to wash dishes! A win-win situation with a newborn!!

Empty Nest Full Life said...

Wow, Now that's a way to send a meal. I think I will try this the next time I take a meal, so much more special. Thanks for the inspiration. Jackie

Chief Family Officer said...

Wow, that is so awesome and very inspirational. I just came over from Like Merchant Ships and I am definitely going to subscribe to your feed now. Thanks for the ideas!

odomfamilyfun said...

I am not exactly sure how I came upon your blog but I feel so blessed just by reading it! This post has put serving others into a new light for me. I take meals to others all the time but I will do it in a totally new way now. Thanks for the helpful hints & do you mind if I link this post to my blog? My friends would get so much from this entry....this was really a much needed read for me...thanks for sharing!
Brittany

Lynda said...

I love the language of casserole. Thanks for sharing this.

Ronnica said...

Cool tips. I am a newbie in learning how to take meals to people, but it is something I want to get better at.

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