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.
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
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.
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.