Meal Deals

May 7, 2006 | 34 comments
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I’ll admit it: I really am more likely to bring my scriptures to church if I know I’ll get a cookie for it. At a wedding reception I eyeball the buffet before I even glance at the dress or the flowers or the groom. I like airplane food; I like rubber-chicken banquet food. And when I’m at the “maybe it’s time” stage of family planning, the prospect of postpartum meals from the Relief Society is usually enough to get me off the fence. (If I have a fourth child, I’m blaming Jen Broadhead’s Black Forest cake.)

That’s not so surprising, probably; who doesn’t like free food prepared and delivered by somebody else? Homemade and hand-delivered dinners constitute virtually all the formal service I’ve received at the hands of Relief Society sisters, and, for better or for worse, they also make up a large fraction of the formal service I’ve rendered. That’s not as meager as it sounds. When my younger brother was ill, we’d often return from school to a note on the kitchen table: Jacob had a nosebleed, a headache, a seizure; we’re in the hospital; do your practicing and be good kids. Night after night for months the Relief Society of the La Canada I ward put food on that table. After a few weeks, we noticed ourselves plating the same items three or four nights a week—lasagna, green salad, jello, and brownies—all of which were novelties in our kitchen, and all of which were consumed by a motherless clutch of kids, as hungry at the heart as they were at the gut.

When my oldest daughter was born, the stars wheeled backward and the cosmos disintegrated into disarray, as it does nearly every time a first child is delivered. The meals delivered by the Relief Society of the San Diego 13th ward, once they started arriving, pointed the arrow of time back toward dinner—where it has always pointed, and ever will—and, with protein, starch and vegetable, began to piece the universe back together. I looked forward to the predictability of the delivery, the few minutes of adult attention, the sunshine from my south-facing front door, as much as to the food itself. But it was the food, too, and I remember every bite of it: the Eastleys’ Lion House salad, Rachel Whipple’s tofu-veggie bake, Heidi Griffitts’ peanut butter chocolate squares, the frozen Marie Calender cobbler that Teresa Rizzo brought, with vanilla ice cream.

This time around, the sun and moon have, mostly, been parading as they ought, but the postpartum meals have been no less sustaining. We received eight meals, not consecutively, from the sisters of the Webster Groves ward, and among the eight we’ve hit all the major schools of Mormon cooking:

High Mormon Neoclassical: Roast beef, red potatoes roasted in olive oil, chopped salad with grilled chicken, pasta, feta cheese and olives, dinner rolls, and three-layer chocolate cake with whipped cream and cherries

Romantic: Spinach lasagna with garlic breadsticks and salad

Popular Mainstream: Chicken enchiladas made with cheddar cheese and cream-of-chicken soup, served with steamed broccoli

Genre Fiction: Tacos with ground beef, chopped lettuce and tomato, and sour cream

Minimalist: Penne with tomato cream sauce and green beans

Chick Lit: Chicken salad on rolls

Belle Lettres: Pasta baked with an eggplant-and-sweet-pepper marinara and italian sausage

Gothic: Lima bean curry

The funny thing about Relief Society meals is that they always taste good, every one of them. And they generate a inordinately generous volume of leftovers, especially the green salads: I’ve got about seven Gladware tubs of romaine in my fridge still, and at least three giant plastic thimbles of raspberry vinaigrette. When Christ distributed the loaves and fishes, Matthew tells us that the disciples gathered basketsful of excess, the broken meat speaking salvation in mute abundance. I wonder these days about the widow of Zarephath, with her handful of meal, her shimmer of oil: after the trial of faith, after the cake was made and delivered, did the barrel grow heavy at once? I like to think, maybe, that it did not, that every evening she scraped bottom, that every night she turned away from a rising panic and a mother’s despair in scarcity, that it was only in the mornings she found the meal and oil restored, a handful only, a shimmer, but enough: a trial of hope. I’ve scraped bottom a few times in the last weeks, and I know that rising panic, the shadow of that despair. Some nights the cruse is empty, except for a few fragments of brownie, a trace of sour cream, the scent of vinaigrette. And it is enough.

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34 Responses to Meal Deals

  1. Adam Greenwood on May 7, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Mmm, Neo-Classical.

    If only most RS women realized that the Rosalynde Welch’s of the world, and most of the rest of us, like the food they bring over. Lots of sisters I know have a hard time bringing meals because they feel like the recipients are going to criticize their food to death. Not so. (And mute your criticisms, y’all, if you have some).

  2. roland on May 8, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Hi Rosalynd -

    We were given a notice to all primary teachers and parents today that strongly discouraged bringing food or treats to sunday meetings (except Nursery and Sunbeams). The main concerned mentioned was possible food allergies.

  3. Julie M. Smith on May 8, 2006 at 12:07 am

    But, roland, the main main concern is that children will think that the reward for scripture reading is a cookie instead of a sweet spirit.

  4. jjohnsen on May 8, 2006 at 12:25 am

    After hinting at a possible pizza party, our nine-year-olds brought their scriptures for 10 weeks straight. Even though we’ve followed through they continue to bring their scriptures every week. Not bad for a couple of $5 pizzas.

    I’m impressed by the wards Rosalynde mentioned, I’ve never had that experience. When our first child was born we had one meal, a frozen pizza dropped off by visiting teachers. They spent 5 minutes telling us how busy they were, and how I should be taking time off work do cook the meals. In our current ward we received two meals when our second was born, and one of them looked like something that had been been in the freezer for months. Not to complain, but where are all these wards that are preparing a week of meals for people that are sick or having babies?

  5. Eve on May 8, 2006 at 1:17 am

    Julie, a cookie is a small price to pay to prevent any misconceceived idea that scripture study could result in a sweet spirit.

  6. DHofmann on May 8, 2006 at 1:28 am

    When I was serving my mission in Japan, the Numazu branch used to have meals after church. So we’d all be fed, both in spirit and in belly.

    As you can imagine, it was a tight little branch.

  7. anthony on May 8, 2006 at 6:17 am

    the 4 months my mom was in the hosptial, we got a relief society meal, every day/

  8. Tona on May 8, 2006 at 7:18 am

    Rosalynde, beautifully written. Thank you, I feel like something delicious was just delivered to my virtual door. For the record, jjohnson, ours is one of those wards… this week for a new baby, I dropped off a cooler on their porch because my schedule and the family’s didn’t coincide, but it contained fresh asparagus, mustard-glazed chicken breast, butternut squash with dried cranberries, a greek salad ready to assemble, a crusty mini-baguette, fresh grapes, a chocolate cake in a mini-loaf pan, and a bottle of sparkling apple cider. They told me they got home late from the hospital with new baby in tow, starving and cranky, and ate everything. I have wonderful memories of being brought meals when I’ve been sick or after a baby… I remember one woman brought a meal in a howling blizzard when I didn’t think anyone should be on the road, but she was totally unfazed by the weather and unpacked a delicious meal for me, then drove off into the swilring snow.

  9. meems on May 8, 2006 at 7:36 am

    I never had the good fortune of being the recipient of any RS meals when my 2 babes were born, but it’s true, things made by others always taste great, in my opinion. Just the fact that it’s home cooking that I didn’t have to work at makes it taste so good!!

    And yes, I was on the math team in high school strictly for the refreshments after each meet.

  10. Kevin Barney on May 8, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Our ward is like that, too. It has been a long time since we were on the receiving end of things (thank goodness), and as a man and not a member of the RS I would just as soon go buy some prepared food as have someone cook for us anyway. But my wife often enough prepares stunning meals for sisters in the ward who are in need for some reason or another. This is all orchestrated by the RS machine with remarkable efficacy.

    I think we as a people are highly motivated by food. In my view the key to good temple attendance, for instance, is to organize a group stop for pie afterwards.

    Once a month for my high school age SS class we have a class party with lots of food. (This was at the suggestion of the class itself, a suggestion I decided to adopt.) No one has told me not to do it, and that is such a tough crowd to reach I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

  11. Clair on May 8, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Our favorite RS meal was long ago in the UCLA student ward. We were all young but meant well. After our second was born, and the RS requested meals in our behalf, one single sister brought us pork chops and gravy. The pork chops were not cooked. It was a do-it-yourself meal.

    We smiled at that, pan fried the chops and added the gravy to the pan to help everything mesh. The punch line came when the first bite told us that the gravy was actually chocolate pudding.

  12. Eliza on May 8, 2006 at 11:42 am

    The compassionate service person in our RS divides meals by course before assigning. I think this is a good method because it’s less work for the person preparing the meals, and the person on the receiving end gets at least 3 visitors a night as the various courses are dropped off. Then, the CS person (or whoever) picks up any dishes/Tupperwares the next day and returns them to their owners. Maybe the method’s not for everybody–I am in a Salt Lake county ward with a huge Relief Society–but I like the idea, and am much more likely to sign up for meal delivery when I just need to bring dessert or a salad–it’s much less daunting, since I’m not the most fabulous cook.

    Although (off topic) if the CS person calls me and asks for a full meal or whatever, I will _always_ say yes, despite my shabby cooking skills. I’m a firm believer in the dominant magical power of the phone call over the sign-up sheet–that goes for anything. Committing to a person rather than anonymously passing around a paper takes more time, but I think it’s more effective.

  13. Andrea Wright on May 8, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Great post! Congratulations on your baby! I’ve been terribly out of the loop for many months.

    I just had a baby about a month ago and completely agree with your sentiments about RS meals. It’s truly one of the many wonderful aspects of having a baby. I’m having my 8th meal delivered tonight and am so grateful. It’s been so sweet to have sisters that I don’t really even know very well willingly accept an opportunity to bring my family food. They’ve been so thoughtful in trying to bring things palatable for young kids and spoiling us with their fabulous desserts. It’s a great system, and I’m so sorry that not every new mother has had it. It makes me feel like the sisters a couple of decades ago who it seems were much more connected and networked. I love it.

  14. An on May 8, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    I will never forget how delicious was the macaroni and hamburger casserole delivered when my mother had delivered her sixth baby. I was fifteen at the time and probably should have been the one taking over the mealmaking responsibility. I don’t think I did — I don’t remember doing it. But I remember how gracious it seemed to me that my mom’s friend took time away from her own six to bring that meal.

    I turned down meals when our oldest came home — he was already eight weeks old and I had my mom there to help me. Only when we adopted #2 did I realize that it was about so much more than meal preparation. Succulent slow-cooked pork over rice will always remind me now of tremendous love felt from my friend Sarah.

    Meals certainly don’t have to be haute cuisine to fulfill their most important function.

    And Clair … hilarious! Could you have added some chili powder and called it a mole?

  15. Tyler W. on May 8, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    My wife and I had a baby last year and the RS brought dinner several nights in a row. It was really great. I truly appreciated all the dinners they brought. I’m not in RS because I’m a guy, but I love to cook for others. When I hear of a new baby in the ward, I go to the RS to get my name on the list. I don’t know what it is, but I really love to cook for others (especially for my wife). I cook dinner every night and I love it. I’m always worried that the family I’m taking dinner to won’t enjoy what I make, so I usually call them to ask if there is anything is particularly they don’t like.

    A young couple in our ward is having their second baby in a month, and I am looking forward to making them dinner. I just need to think of what I’m going to make them.

  16. Juliann on May 8, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    One of the memories that will always stay with me is the last Christmas my husband shared with us. He was declining to the point that I would not leave the house to finish the Christmas shopping. He was being fed by IV so I didnt’ want to cook and fill the house with odors, even though he insisted that it didn’t bother him. Christmas had become a burden with a young daughter that couldn’t understand what was happening. There was a moment when I looked around at my stark situation and for the first time since my leaving home I reflected on the dining room table of my youth. My mother was a stupendous cook. The first offerings would begin a week or more before the big day. By time it arrived, the table would be filled with every homemade sweet possible until it was cleared away for the huge Christmas dinner. As soon as my mind selected an empty dining room table as a symbol of my situation…. goodies began to arrive. I don’t think anything was planned because ALL that arrived was sugary sweets that couldn’t possibly be consumed by a four year old and me…I was left with pies, cookies, candy, sweet breads…until my own dining room table was covered with bounty. I don’t remember much else about that Christmas. I don’t even remember what I did with all of the treats. But I will never forget the comfort..and message.. that came with it.

  17. Mike on May 8, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    About 10 years ago we had a different variant of PPI’s…

    Priesthood Pizza interviews. Have a pizza or three delivered at the ward house right at the end of the block schedule and you will have the home teachers coming out of the woodwork.

  18. LD on May 8, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    It is hard to describe how much I appreciated receiving RS meals after my baby was born. My well-ordered world “disintegrated into disarray” and it was almost impossible for me to open up a carton of yogurt, let alone fix something decent to eat. I didn’t even really know most of the women who brought food to me and my husband, but I was grateful on a very visceral level for their efforts.

    One thing that I *very* much appreciated was that not one asked (or even hinted) to hold the baby. My dd was born very small and during the winter, so I was extremely nervous about germs. Also, due to PPD, I was really not in the mood to chit-chat and was so relieved that the sisters simply dropped off the food and didn’t expect to be me and my husband to visit with them.

  19. Jerry on May 8, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    I miss La Canada/La Crescenta. I’m stuck in SLC.

  20. Mark IV on May 8, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    A young couple in our ward is having their second baby in a month…

    Wow, Tyler, that’s amazing! Two babies in a month! It usually takes my wife and me about 9 months, just for one baby!

    Just kidding. And I agree with you about men signing up to prepare meals, that is one of my favorite ways to serve.

  21. Kimball L. Hunt on May 8, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Deliciously written! Thanks.

  22. Anita on May 9, 2006 at 12:26 am

    Fun post, Rosalynde! One of my favorite memories along that line was when my first was born, and my visiting teacher was bringing in a casserole but dropped it in our apartment parking lot. The dish broke and she came up empty-handed to apologize for no meal. We went ahead and ate something of our own concocting. Several hours later, as we were heading to bed, her son surprised us by showing up with a rotisserie chicken and grapes (that he must have picked up at the store after hearing about his mother’s mishap).
    I am a firm believer in giving meals in disposable bakeware/gladware etc so no one has to bother returning dishes.
    FYI, our ward (Sandy, UT) has a 2 meal policy for new babies and those are done by the visiting teachers (we have a lot of young families). However, we do come through in other situations, such as bringing in meals for 14 months straight when one of our members was dying of ALS.

  23. Last Lemming on May 9, 2006 at 11:29 am

    I’m kind of a scrooge on this subject. I was going to regale everybody with my stories of inedible meals we have received but I will refrain. I will say, however, that after my experiences I have upgraded my assessment of my mother’s and my wife’s cooking from “adequate” to “really good.”

    My favorite was a woman in my current ward who, for no reason other than that my wife was out of town, dropped off a frozen lasagna and apologized for not having time to cook it. I put it in the freezer and pulled out the frozen lasagna I already had and cooked it instead.

  24. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 9, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Mike said,
    *Priesthood Pizza interviews. Have a pizza or three delivered at the ward house right at the end of the block schedule and you will have the home teachers coming out of the woodwork.*

    Just make sure that the pizzas are purchased and cooked at a member’s home. We don’t want to make a poor pizza delivery guy work on the Sabbath. The message that would send to the quorum would be that Home Teaching is more important than keeping the Sabbath day holy. I don’t remember seeing a rewrite of the big ten.

  25. Heather O on May 9, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    Mmm, I’m hungry!

    I love getting meals, no matter what the reason. Even when I haven’t really needed them, even when they have been less than stellar, I’ve loved getting them. I also think that when people see that you are grieving, or struggling with something they can’t really help with, it’s a way of letting them help in a tangible way, and vice versa.

    I understand that making meals for others can be stressful, especially if you have sub par cooking skills, or really don’t have time to make a meal. But I think that even simple meals can be appreciated. Well, except dried spaghetti and a can of sauce. Nobody really appreciates that. And a frozen lasagna is up there, too. Still, I think most people appreciate most efforts.

    But this is something that I learned as CS leader. Women who don’t have time to fix dinner don’t want to wash dishes, too. Put the food in disposable containers that don’t need to be returned. It makes things much easier for everybody.

  26. annegb on May 9, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Heather, good point. I’ve started putting things in disposable containers.

    I’m thinking of those new red potatoes in olive oil and pork chops.

    Food always tastes better when someone else cooks it.

  27. queuno on May 11, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    This may sound lame, but when we send meals, we just buy Tupperware and let the family keep it.

  28. Mike W. on May 13, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Just received unsolicited lasagna in a new ward (one year in) today because Jenni had our fifth child this morning, name Liliana (a surprise, three weeks early). And I am very grateful for it.

  29. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Liliana’s such a beautiful name!

  30. Naomi Frandsen on May 23, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    So this post has been over for over a week, but since I can’t resist anything that Rosalynde’s writes, I’ll just add that I think one of my rites of passage into adulthood was making a meal for a couple that had just had a new baby. The husband was in the bishopric of one of the DC singles wards, and the wife had been the stake music chairwoman who had coordianted a very large production that I’d played in, so I decided that it was my duty as a grown woman to bring over a meal to her. I made taco soup and brought it over with Fritos, green salad, and some kind of dessert. Probably brownies. I think that puts me in genre fiction, huh Rosalynde? I really did feel so very grown up pulling out a bunch of grocery bags from the car and ringing their doorbell.

  31. Kaimi Wenger on May 23, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Naomi,

    Sorry, but Rosalynde’s breakdown is clear, and taco soup is not genre fiction. (My own translation skills have never been all that stellar, but if I’m not misrecollecting, taco soup translates as “airport paperback” — which crosses over and blends into more than one category.)

    Nice to see you commenting on the blog, by the way. Don’t be a stranger at T&S.

  32. Kaimi Wenger on May 24, 2006 at 12:07 am

    “Taxonomy.” That’s the word I was looking for, in my last comment — Rosalynde’s taxonomy. As is so often the case, this occurs to me precisely two minutes after I press Send. . .

  33. Rosalynde Welch on May 24, 2006 at 12:25 am

    Rosalynde’s taxonomy does get looked for quite a lot, Kaimi, so no worries. (And “airport paperback” is exactly right.)

    Naomi: Just wait until it’s your doorbell that’s being rung; then you’ll feel *really* grown up. (The postpartum sagging will help with that.)

  34. Kevin Black on July 30, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Hey, Rosalynde, this is really well written. Thanks.

WELCOME

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