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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.