I have to be straight with you from the get go, I’m not a chef. I do, of course, love to eat. I enjoy trying out new foods, dining at unique restaurants, watching cooking shows, and even reading cookbooks. I cook. Not a lot, but when I do, I go for it. I have some regular dishes. My grandmother’s cobbler is still a work in progress. Kind friends continue to attend our dinner parties, despite being my culinary guinea pigs. But above all, I hold strongly to my faith in the restorative and healing powers of cooking, eating, and sharing food.
No matter the occasion, joyous or solemn, we have to eat. In fact, the highest and lowest times in life are when we need to eat the best, most nutritious, and comforting foods. As a child, these moments were tended to by family, neighbors and church friends, those who lived close and could easily pop over with doubled recipes. These days, we’re spread to the wind. I live over 3,000 miles from most of my family, maintain casual waving across the lawn/street relationships with my neighbors, and my parents traded religion for a combination of philosophy and spirituality long before I could be raised in the church. Of course, that doesn’t mean that our circle of friends isn’t completely willing to step up to the plate and help out in such events, it just requires a bit more coordination.
Do you know about MealTrain? I had heard about it in passing, but hadn’t had cause to use it until one was recently set up to support our friends through a tragedy. It’s a terrific site that helps organize friends and family meal deliveries. It’s so easy to set up and sign up. Honestly, the hardest part is figuring out what to prepare that will nourish a soul, satisfy tastebuds, and, most importantly, transport well across town.
Confronted with this challenge, I chose Sausage and Peppers. It’s a meal of my husband’s childhood more than my own, but I think these are the meals we return to in our minds when our bodies or hearts are broken. Crusty bread filled with warm sausage and savory peppers is served up all along the New Jersey boardwalk and in restaurants around the region. It’s a meal that conjures the sensations of summertime sunshine and sea salt air. Perfect for friends struggling through loss.
Of course, there are 101 versions of the recipe, but I settled on Food.com’s very traditional Sausage and Peppers styling, with a few tweaks here and there. One of the great things about this dish is that there are so many good veggie sausage options out there that you can swap in to make it vegan. For our friends, I chose your typical mild Italian. Summertime in Washington State means Walla Walla sweet onion season, so I made sure to incorporate a giant one. Sweet onions would nicely complement spicy sausage too. I amped up the flavor with a little extra garlic and a lot of cracked black pepper. I don’t think much salt is necessary, particularly depending on the type of sausage you select, since many have their own salt built in. But pepper, you need the kick of black pepper to set off the sweetness of caramelized onions and bells. I like it so much that I added even more to the finished dish.
Our friends enjoyed theirs on crusty Italian rolls smeared with mustard, but I can’t eat wheat. No worries! This dish stands up just fine on its own; though, it would be great over pasta or polenta too.
Few salads taste as much like summertime as a caprese. I picked a gorgeous pair of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and some creamy mozzarella for an easy side dish. A cup of balsamic boiled into a reduction on the back of the stove while I prepared the rest of the meal, for topping the cheese and tomato slices alongside a sprinkle of olive oil and a few dashes of salt, pepper, and cayenne. I packed two portions of my latest trial of grandma’s peach cobbler prepped the night before…with a pint of Talenti Tahitian Vanilla, of course.
This ended up being one of four meals I delivered as part of the Meal Train. I’m not sure who benefitted most from this process – our friends or me. Of course it was wonderful to see and hear their sated smiles and sighs, and to know that they didn’t have to add deciding what to eat to their list of worries. Trauma rarely touches only those who directly experience it. The rippling rings of grief descend upon close friends and family too. I have to admit that it was equally therapeutic for me to brainstorm these meals and take the time and care to prepare and deliver them. To feel that, in some very small way, I was doing something…even in a time when nothing could really be done. Such are the powers of a home cooked meal.