How good it feels to be fed!
~Janet Reich Elsbach
You might not be surprised to hear that I asked for a number of books for Christmas. One of them was Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time by Janet Reich Elsbach. I like "reading" cookbooks no matter what they are, but this one is especially meant to be read. Elsbach writes comforting commentary before each section, which covers cooking for people who have had babies, moved, been sick, or lost someone, plus "food for cheer, distraction, and celebration," "food for a crowd," and "food for lunch boxes and care packages." I marked "Life is Upside-Down Cake" as something I'd like to try myself (is it okay to make something for yourself out of a cookbook like this? Let's say it is.)
Another thing that caught my eye (but I don't have plans to make any time soon, knock on wood) is a koliva, a Greek dish eaten at memorials, such as on the ninth day after a death. Elsbach was brought one after her sister died, and she says that the food gifts from that time "made indelible impressions." "Each one was a strand in the rope that tethered me to the land of the living and together they eventually pulled me to my feet again, altered but upright." A beautifully-put reason to try to be present when someone is in need.
Elsbach notes that it's best not to say, "If there's anything I can do, just let me know" because often nothing comes of that. If you can, offer to bring a meal on a certain day, or ask if they need anything from the store, or if they need a ride somewhere, or if they could use having their library books returned, or what-have-you. I know I have said that generic statement before but in the future, I will try to be more specific.
Back to kolivas. Elsbach explains:
"Seeds, sweetness, and spices were beautifully arranged in the bowl she presented, adorned with blossoms though it was deep winter. The notion, she said, is to take in the seeds in the name of the departed. Once consumed, you carry on the spirit of that person, whom you offer eternal life through your continued existence, I reckon, until someone eats a koliva for you, and on, and on.
Very poetic, isn't it? Here's a recipe:
Greek Kolyva (Koliva) Wheat Berry Memorial Food
In the celebratory chapter, Elsbach talks about making teeny cakes. She says, "Making a teeny cake is far less daunting for the maker than a grand creation that is destined to serve a crowd, and even if the thing turns out ever so slightly wonky, it is likely to charm." I think she's right, and will certainly make one sometime. Yesterday, we had a cupcakes for my older daughter's birthday. To meet her dietary restrictions, it had to be gluten-free and low-histamine. I used King Arthur gluten-free muffin mix (she knows the amount of sugar in it is doable for her) and added blueberries and coconut milk, and made a vanilla frosting with toasted coconut. It was tasty enough to want to eat even if you didn't have a bunch of dietary constraints.
Food restrictions can pose a daunting dilemma, but I encourage you and salute you in your efforts.
Is there a dish you always bring for special occasions like births, deaths, moves?