Agood friend had a baby on Sunday, and by Monday I had an email invite for a meal train waiting in my inbox. For anyone who’s never been sick, sad or welcomed a newborn, a meal train is this lovely community tradition of bringing food to people who can’t, or would prefer not to, cook during times of stress and duress.
If you’re on the giving end of the deal, you not only get to cook something you love for another person, but then you get to drop it off and meet said baby, or cheer said person up. And if you’re on the receiving end, well, it’s obvious why it’s great.
We were living with my parents when our son was born last summer, so I had a permanent meal train (thanks Dad!). But now that we’re back in Aspen, we reluctantly signed up for Green Chef, one of those meal delivery programs where everything arrives in a box and all you have to do is cut it and cook it. I like to cook, but not having to think about going to grocery store and meal planning after a day at work, while also juggling an infant, has been a blessing. This is likely the same relief for anyone dealing with life changes, where at the end of a long day, making dinner is not a priority.
That said, it’s hard to beat receiving a pre-made meal. It’s such a simple thing, and yet so meaningful. The apps today, like mealtrain.com, allow people to sign up for different days and list what they plan to make so others don’t repeat it, and the site sends reminders a week and a day out. (I forgot a meal one time for a family with a new daughter and still feel guilty about it.) Even people who don’t cook can order someone’s favorite takeout and deliver a similar sentiment – a gesture that also works from a distance when home-cooked meals just won’t make it thousands of miles.
A wintertime go-to drop-off meal for me is soup with a good loaf of bread. Serious comfort food. This recipe is adapted from the New York Times, without the chicken. A shout-out to all the friends who’ve dropped off food for us in the past. And now this recipe is a hint at what people will be getting from me in the future.
¾ cup roasted and shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 medium red or white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups stock or water
2 sweet potatoes or yams (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into thick slices
8 plum tomatoes, cored and halved (canned are fine; drain and reserve liquid for another use)
½ pound collards or kale, washed and cut into wide ribbons
¼ to ½ cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth
Chop peanuts, or crush them with the side of a knife, or pulse them in a food processor to chop roughly. Put oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat; a minute later, add onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup peanuts and the cayenne and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Stir in the stock and the sweet potatoes, bring to a boil, and turn heat down to medium-low so the soup bubbles gently. Stir in tomatoes and collards, then cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup peanut butter. Taste, adjust seasoning (you may want to add more peanut butter at this point) and serve, garnished with remaining peanuts.
Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can reach her @cabenedetti.