In the first days after coming home from the hospital with Oliver, we got a few care packages from friends and neighbors. One was a box from my friend Anne in San Francisco with a handful of sweet little baby things and a batch of homemade breakfast cookies. They reminded me of the recipe from my cookbook and, because I was up at all odd hours of the day and night, they fueled me equally well at 3am and 3pm. The other box was from one of our neighbors: homemade chocolate chip cookies. In truth, they weren’t even great cookies and normally I may not have even eaten them, but I cried with happiness every afternoon when I reached for one — they were keeping us going.
We all lead busy lives and taking time to make something homemade and box it up and get to the post office is no small thing, and the gesture was so far from lost on us. Simple daily tasks like making breakfast were far harder than I’d imagined they would be (people told me this would be the case but I figured since Sam and I like to cook and bake, things would be different for us … and they were most certainly not). The combination of lack of sleep and little to no routine made the days feel like one diaphanous tunnel, and having friends bring us meals, treats from around town, and homemade baked goods was a lifesaver. So much so that I always make an effort to do the same now for friends who have babies — even acquaintances, actually. A homemade cookie is a big deal for a new mama.Our friends Jenny and Tom just had their first baby, Rivers, about a month ago and the second we heard he’d arrived we started thinking about what books and treats we could send them. Preparing a care package takes a little thought (especially one traveling across the country) as you want to bake something that will hold up ok (pie and cake are out, in my opinion), but that’s also delicious. The treats need not be healthy necessarily, but I loved having nourishing snacks mid-day as a second breakfast, and nursing mamas in particular really need to keep snacking to keep their calories up, so breakfast cookies are always a good bet.
For Jenny and Tom, I decided to go that route and changed up the recipe in my book with nursing mamas in mind: I added flax meal from one of my favorite natural food brands, Bob’s Red Mill, which is said to help with milk production, and then I cut down on the oil and sweetener just a bit. Dried tart cherries, pistachios and dark chocolate chunks felt like vibrant and delicious mix-ins, so in they went – and we were off to the races. If you wanted to really amp these up for nursing mamas, you could experiment with adding in some brewers yeast and even sesame seeds, too (both also purported to help with milk production).
A few other good tips I gleaned after having our own baby that you may find helpful as you think about the new parents in your life:
Don’t Stress About Timing
While it’s great to get something in the mail soon after baby arrives, keep in mind that the chances are good that this pair of new parents may have family or friends doing the same thing right about now — there tends to be a rush right at the beginning … and then nothing. And truthfully, we found the period of time after the meals and treats dropped off and after the new baby adrenaline died down to be the hardest. I would’ve killed to have a homemade meal dropped off at week 8. So it’s never too late and you haven’t dropped the ball. When it comes to treats for new parents, any time is a great time.
Check in Regarding Dietary Restrictions
There are a lot of dietary restrictions these days, and of course you want to be sure that whatever you send is something the new family can enjoy. That being said, I make sure that’s where my questions end. The last thing a sleep-deprived new family needs are lots of decisions and, for some people, asking for help can be really tough, so they may feel uncomfortable answering a lot of specifics about what they may like: check in about allergies and end the conversation there. While the kind of muffin you’re going to send may not be the one they’d order at their local coffee shop, trust me that they’re going to love it. In many ways, it matters less what’s in the box than the act of sending the box in the first place.
Dropping Off in Person?
If you’re dropping off something in person, sending a quick text to a family member — not the new mama if possible as they often have their hands pretty full with nursing and hopefully catching up on a little sleep — is always smart to determine what might be a good time to stop by. Then I always assume and overtly communicate that I’ll be dropping something off on the doorstep at, say 4pm, and if they decide they’re up for visitors to text me, otherwise zero pressure and I’ll catch up with them once they’ve all settled in. Getting to understand a new baby’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof) and, frankly, showering is enough of an undertaking for new parents; the last thing they need to think about is how and when to be welcoming and accommodating to guests. That can come later.
One-Handed Treats Rule
In the early days with Oliver, Sam and I would take turns eating dinner while one of us bounced him on the bouncy ball or rocked him to sleep. I remember crying one night, thinking we’d never eat at the same time again. Of course, that worry was unfounded and now we eat together every night. But it is true that in those early days you’re often either holding the baby or holding baby-related things when hunger strikes and having treats or snacks that are easy to eat with one hand (not super crumbly or messy) are great for new parents. Granola bars, muffins, scones and cookies are all perfect choices.
A Little Goes a Long Way
As for other goodies to include in your care package, here’s a good rule of thumb: a little something is better than nothing, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just send cookies! Still overwhelmed? Buy cookies instead of making them! There are no awards here – it’s the gesture that counts. That being said, if you have the time to pick up a few little things for the baby, it’s always so appreciated; to this day, when I read Oliver most of his books I remember exactly who sent him each one.
Beyond the Care Package
Looking to send something but no time to bake or pull together a package? No problem. When Oliver was born, one of my editors sent Sam and I a gift certificate for diapers which, on one hand, feels a bit impersonal but MAN were we thrilled to have it. Also, there are so many wonderful and convenient meal delivery services out there these days, and that can offer parents all the convenience and ease with a bit more control over when they’ll prepare and enjoy each particular dish. I’ve also had friends tell me they’ve gotten their new-parent-friends a gift certificate to a local housecleaning service, which I imagine was welcomed with open arms.
Curious to Read More?
Beyond Casseroles: What to Cook for New Parents – Serious Eats
10 Meals to Bring to a New Mom – The Kitchn (by yours truly!)
15 Make-Ahead Delicious Meals + Treats to Bring to New Parents – Brit and Co
These cookies are not too sweet and lightly spiced, so they’re a strong candidate for a mid-morning snack but they also make for a simple dessert. They don’t spread at all on the baking sheet and are a touch biscuity in nature, so do be sure to flatten them before baking as the directions here indicate. You can use any mix-ins you’d like, just keep the proportions about the same; I made a special batch for Oliver with golden raisins, sunflower seeds and pepitas and they were met with immense enthusiasm. They freeze beautifully, so a double batch is always a good idea.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, oats, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the banana, coconut oil, maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Fold in the cherries, pistachios and chocolate. Let dough sit and rest 10 minutes.
Using between 2 to 3 tablespoons of dough, scoop balls onto cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Use the palm of your hand to gently flatten the cookies until about 3/4-inch thick.
Bake until golden brown around the edges and firmed yet slightly soft in the center (they’ll continue to firm as they cool), about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool at least 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. If kept in an airtight container, cookies will remain fresh for 3-4 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.