First aid food

April 2, 2009

chicken-soupWhen I think back to the days after my husband’s father died a few years ago, two things stand out in my memory among the many kindnesses bestowed upon us.

One was my friend Anna showing up ever so briefly on the doorstep with a (fantastic) seafood curry and her two girls proffering a homemade card to tell Sean they loved him and were sorry; and the other was opening the door, about to embark on another funeral-related errand, to find a Tupperware container of the most delicious homemade chocolate-chip biscuits. They had been made by the girlfriend of a bloke Sean worked with a year or so previously. We lived on those biscuits for days, and on the kindness that sent them for much, much longer.

Another time, one of the few occasions I’ve been really sick, with borderline pneumonia, my friend Jane showed up with a tiffin, one of those beautiful tall layered stainless steel stacks of tins with a handle that locks them all into  a little tower. Each layer contained some morsel of goodness – soup, a little casserole of some kind. I could barely move, and had no appetite at all for any of it, until the last layer revealed a twist of greaseproof paper with a tiny handful of perfectly dry roasted unsalted cashew nuts. Few things before or since have been as nourishing to the body and soul.

And on the other side of the coin, I confess that when I hear of a calamity befalling someone I love, my first thought is: Cook something. Mostly it’s because one feels so useless – when your beloved friend is in hospital, or bereaved, or having some other kind of horrible time that you can’t do anything about, cooking a freezable meal and leaving it on the doorstep can make you feel like some kind of loving, but not demanding, presence. Even if the person has no appetite and ends up throwing your food in the bin, the gesture has been made. But often they love it. Or if they can’t eat, their beloveds who are looking after them can. And if what you make is freezable, they can toss it in there and forget about it until they do have the desire to look at food again, but not the energy to cook.

The best form of delivery is unnanounced, unobtrusive – pretty much, hopefully, invisible. The recipient should not have to talk to you or even know you’ve been there. Texting the person about the package’s presence on their doorstop is acceptable after the fact (leave it in a chiller bag if you’re worried about perishability). This can be difficult for people in security apartments! In which case I would arrange by non-verbal means to drop it off, and make sure to hand it over and leave – kisses optional, but you can’t let them make you cups of tea or go to any other effort for you – it defeats the purpose. Oh, and use disposable takeway containers that don’t have to be given back.

Anyhoo – here are my Top Five Foods to Cook for Someone in a Crisis.

1. Syrian chicken (the Karen Martini dish that is my heroic mainstay for anytime, anywhere, that everyone loves) with accompanying box of couscous and very basic instructions.

2. Osso bucco or lamb shanks, with a separate container of creamy mashed potato – comfort food to the max.

3. Risotto – mushroom, radicchio, whatever (I leave out the parmesan to add at the end, but supply it separately, already grated, with a note).

4. Pasta sauces – any kind, but the ol’ puttanesca (anchovies, olives, capers, all our salty friends) is hard to beat. Make sure you leave pasta too, and Parmesan.

5. Soup – tomato & lentil, minestrone, or chicken & vegetable. A good chicken soup really, really does make people feel loved. Strange but true.

Hmm, lots more to add here now I think about it. My sister Bernie’s fabulous easy chicken pie with green peppercorns, for one thing. And another beauty, a Neil Perry lamb, pea and mint pie. And chicken cacciatore. And lots more …. looks like I may need to continue this list another time. And I bet you have some things to add, don’t you?


  1. Jamie Oliver’s fish pie- so comforting. And a bog standard lasagne (Donna Hay has a really good basic bolognese sauce, except I use more garlic and add red wine) never goes astray. I love this post, it’s such a lovely, relief-bringing gesture the world over.

  2. Coq au Vin is a great one as well… I like to knock the little knuckle off the end of each leg, and when it comes to simmering them, I put them in a pot all standing closely next to each other . As the legs gently braise, the meat shrinks back exposing the bone in a kind of “frenched” effect. A simple trick that adds alot of visual when you place the pot on the table, or drop at the front door.
    Chef Bernard once pointed out to me that Alain Ducasse likes to finish the sauce with the chicken livers, which is a great tip. For a coq au vin I recently cooked for my friend’s (who had just had their first child), I finished the sauce with foie gras… of course this was for medicinal reasons only!!

    • This one makes me WANT a crisis so this can be delivered to my house. Specially if guilt-free foie gras is an option (still have my doubts on that score … but The Love, if you’re out there this one is definitely for you!!)

  3. […] guess, food being such a simple way of making an offering – peace, sorrow, love. After I wrote the first aid food post I recalled a glass of orange juice in Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, a book that is […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: