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The 'New Baby' Meal: No Gluten, No Dairy, No Tradition

When my first child was born, friends lined up to bring us the most delicious meals. And I’m not talking about a bucket of fried chicken. I’m talking three courses plus dessert. I had never eaten so well. From the sun-dried tomato frittatas to the cassoulet, I felt the love and care of the people in our lives in every bite. My friends are seriously amazing cooks.

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My plan was to reciprocate. For the past three years I’ve been perfecting a signature dish like a marathoner preparing for the Olympics. It’s been an uphill climb because, as much as I like to eat, I’m not much of a cook. It’s been humbling to expand my repertoire beyond buttered toast and scrambled eggs. But I did it. Early this year I perfected my signature lasagna. It’s zesty, filling, and a true one-dish wonder. I’d put mine next to Mario Batali’s anytime.

And just in time. No fewer than four friends have had babies recently. With each announcement, I fired up my oven and prepared to bring them a dish full of love and comfort.

There was only one hitch: Each family had dietary needs and limitations. To each of them, my perfect dish—in all its glory—would have to be deconstructed and made anew without gluten, cheese or meat.

I hit my culinary wall.

The first family requested all organic (no problem) and gluten-free food. I didn’t balk. I found some corn flour pasta and adapted my beloved lasagna. I ditched the idea of including some freshly baked (not by me) bread. While my dish wasn’t the same, I deemed it “good enough.”

The next family was gluten-free, but also vegetarian. Again, I made it work. I diced portobellos and peppers like I knew was I was doing. The dish was even less recognizable to me, but it worked for the family’s needs.

It felt good to provide home-cooked meals to my friends who wanted to focus on their new babies instead of slaving in the kitchen. I felt a few pangs that my original, to-die-for lasagna had yet to be tested beyond my kitchen, but I took comfort that I was passing along the gift that was so generously given to me.

But I hit my culinary wall. Most recently, a family requested gluten-free vegan meals. As an extra bonus, one of the children was just diagnosed as allergic to tomatoes. I was starting to feel like I was on a reality show where the host comes in at regular intervals to increase the pressure. I did some soul-searching, and it turns out that vegan lasagna without tomatoes is on the other side of my comfort zone. It’s like Moby Dick—an impossible conquest far beyond my capabilities. I simply can’t wrap my head around how to make that edible.

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But I want to feed them. They brought me a pizza (extra gluten, sausage and cheese) after my C-section. But I don’t know how to give them what they need solely through my own limited skills. So, I’m copping out and ordering food from a vegan restaurant and having it delivered. They’ll still get their mouthfuls of love; it’ll just look different than I wanted.

So my signature dish has yet to launch out into the world, and I’ve come to accept that it may never leave my kitchen. I also accept that we can’t always give back in the same way that we have received, and I console myself with heaping plates of homemade lasagna.

Photo by The Cozy Apron

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