Emily Griffith knows her way around local food. Living in Boston (technically Somerville, Massachusetts) the Bowdoin College grad farmed with The Food Project near Walden Pond, managing its farm share (CSA) program and training a crop of young interns.
But when her daughter, Lydia, was born two years ago, it wasn’t local kale, but rather hearty comfort foods, that most appealed.
The favorite meal Emily and husband Dave Griffith, a visiting chemistry professor at Bowdoin (where the pair met), received after Emily gave birth was individually wrapped, homemade chicken burritos – easy to freeze, reheat, eat with one hand while nursing and, most significantly, quite tasty.
Now, Emily brings these handy freezer burritos to all her new-mom friends; vegetarians get a zucchini and brown rice version.
The Griffiths just made a big batch for themselves, stocking the freezer in countdown mode before their second child, another daughter, Tess Marie, made a surprise arrival nine days early on May 13.
Writing this column around Mother’s Day, I’m contemplating the meals we’re due to bring friends who’ve just had – or will soon have – a baby. New life so emerges this time of year, including our own Theo, born in Oregon three years ago this June.
We still remember savoring a gift of cheese-and-spinach enchiladas and a garden lettuce salad, with local sugar-snap peas and local honey vinaigrette.
Chances are you also owe a meal to new parents, or to friends recovering from surgery or mourning the loss of a loved one. During such times of transition, few gifts are as treasured as food. So I offer these guidelines, to ensure your meal hits the spot.
Think beyond lasagna.
You don’t need to bring it. Someone else surely will.
As the sister of Source editor Peggy Grodinsky convalesced after major surgery several years ago, her well-meaning neighbors in Tennessee all brought lasagna. Eventually, nine pans of it clogged the freezer. So think outside the box.
But this isn’t the time for super-complex, presentation-heavy recipes either (note to self). Nor are these tips hard-and-fast rules. My sister, Elaine McCandlish Dinos, didn’t receive a single lasagna when her son, Thomas, was born in Atlanta two years ago this July. Neither did I, come to think of it. But she did get a lot of whole roast chickens.
That’s because nothing says comfort like chicken, and their eggs.
My Nonny, Evelyn Friedberg, would always roast chickens stuffed with whole lemons in the cavity, a technique my mom often used when friends needed a meal. Recipe developer Carolyn Malcoun Tesini usually brings an Eating Well recipe for barbecue pulled chicken, with buns and shredded coleslaw mix; dressing on the side.
For Brunswick therapist and yoga teacher Leslie Joy Simmons, chicken pot-pie is the platonic ideal of comfort food.
You also can’t go wrong with (ideally homemade) chicken stock-based soups. Simmons recommends the “Nourishing Traditions” recipe for Thai coconut chicken soup. My sister Elaine and Kate O’Doherty, a psychology post-doc at Bowdoin, both often make crave-worthy chicken tortilla soup, with all the fixings.
When O’Doherty’s second daughter, Genevieve (“Gigi”) was born in Nashville in June 2012, a friend dropped off garden-fresh ratatouille with couscous, inspired by the popular Smitten Kitchen blog. She included her own backyard chicken eggs for the O’Dohertys to poach and serve on top.
Even plain hard-boiled eggs were a welcome snack given to Eli Arlen, a Brunswick massage therapist.
Quiche (ditto frittatas) also hit the spot, warm for dinner with a salad and again the next morning for breakfast, for Arlen and her musician husband Matt Loosigian when their son Micah was born. Arlen plans to bring the Griffiths quiche, too, which she’ll fortify with now in-season stinging nettles, rich in iron for an iron-deficient mama and her nursing babe.
Consider meat, even raw.
After giving birth to daughter Adley in Brunswick on Jan. 2, Megan Taft and her partner, Sara Cawthon, craved local, pastured meat; no “street” (industrial) meat was their only food preference. Homemade meatloaf was “killer,” as were grass-fed burgers from Frontier in Brunswick, said Cawthon, who runs the Bowdoin Organic Garden.
I threw in a package of Crystal Spring ground lamb for them to quickly saute over rice or pasta. I also just dropped off a pound of fresh Gulf of Maine pollock, and spinach and a dozen eggs from Milkweed Farm with a friend’s homebound parents, visiting from Japan. They were more than happy to cook it up while waiting for their jaundiced new grandson, and their daughter and son-in-law, to return home from the hospital.
Breastfeeding moms need snacks and drinks, too.
Cluster feedings cause extreme hunger and thirst. That’s why smaller bites – granola (loose or in bars) and smoothies – stood out for Arlen. I craved Oregon’s seasonal fruits: cherries, strawberries, early tomatoes and eventually cane berries.
Emily Griffith loved simple loaves of banana bread, freezing one to preserve the treat. Swallowtail Farm’s Lauren Pignatello, who is pregnant with her seventh (!) child in Whitefield, bakes up her secret-recipe Irish soda bread.
Hydration is also important for nursing moms. Bring beer, since hops are said to promote lactation.
My sister-in-law Julia Stone in New York found that putting whole cold cabbage leaves in one’s bra clears clogged ducts, soothing breasts too engorged with milk (a remedy to remember when weaning, too).
Consider allergies/dietary restrictions.
Though omnivorous, Emily Griffith is allergic to crab; her husband Dave doesn’t love fish. Good thing I asked. I had been planning on the Acadian redfish tacos I’ve brought several families.
Gluten-free is another common dietary constraint. Recipe developer Tesini does a gluten-free mac and cheese with spinach. Simmons makes her pot-pie crusts gluten-free.
Many moms limit gastrointestinal triggers that could pass through their milk: spicy foods, the gas-inducing brassicas, lots of garlic and onions, even tomatoes bother some. Some shun cow’s milk dairy products and soy, too.
Stick to a schedule.
Plenty of websites – MealBaby, MealTrain, SignUp Genius (most user-friendly) – help with coordination. Or just create a Google Docs form. Note details here about the family’s food preferences. If possible, list the specific meal you will bring. To ensure a diversity of dishes and less duplication, resist the urge to write “TBD.”
Also, stagger delivery days – say on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – since leftovers can be consumed in between. Or drop off freezer meals in advance. Better to stretch the meals out for a month, or longer.
Bleary-eyed new mothers will appreciate as much time away from the kitchen as possible, especially come summer.
Laura McCandlish is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. You can reach her through her blog baltimoregon.com, though she hasn’t posted so regularly since son Theo was born. Also follow her on Twitter at @baltimoregon.