Welcome to this month’s edition of Burning Questions! On today’s collective brain? Easy things to take to new parents, affordable cloth napkins, and thinking outside the chip-n-dip for party starters…
What’s an easy, portable meal to take to a new mother? — Eleanor
First, can I just say how amazing it is that so many of you asked this and so many of you answered it, reminding me how grateful we should all feel to be surrounded by people who mother each other, virtually and otherwise? Second, when I’m tasked with feeding a new parent — or anyone going through something difficult for that matter — I’m a big fan of dropping off healthy soups, packaged in single-serving bags for flexibility. They freeze well, work for both lunch and dinner, and offer a nice counterpoint to the fleet of casseroles taking over the kitchen. Reader Caroline had a solution for the casserole factor, too: New parents are “usually overloaded with lasagna and other entrees, so I always stick to bringing healthy-ish, easy-to-eat-with-one-hand snack food. Cut-up fruit — pineapple, watermelon, or whatever is in season. Homemade granola bars, cookies and herbal iced tea have always been well received. When my father died, all I wanted was for someone to bring me a big, fresh salad with homemade dressing!” How smart is that? And just a reminder, food does not have to be homemade to be appreciated. As reader and mother of three Katie Larissa wrote: “One friend who works full-time went to the grocery store and brought a rotisserie chicken, frozen mashed potatoes, a package of frozen french green beans, fun yogurt for the kids, and fancy ice cream for the adults. It was a hit, and I appreciated that she made the effort to care for us, even though she didn’t have time to cook something.” Let’s keep this up, friends.
Q: Why is it so hard to find cloth napkins that don’t break the bank? — Everyone, Constantly
A few weeks ago I discovered I was short on napkins only an hour shy of having people over and ended up spending desperation inflation on a four-pack of linens from Sur La Table for $40. Even in ideal shopping conditions it’s difficult to find cloth napkins that are reasonably priced — by reasonable, I mean not more than six or seven bucks per napkin — a concern echoed by a few of you over the years. To solve this quandary, I turned to my market expert, aka Joanna, who uncovered these cotton napkins from West Elm (I love the texture) and these from H&M which come in a robust range of colors, both of which meet my cost criteria. And here’s something lucky: those Sur La Table favorites? They’re on sale. Be smarter than me and pick up a pack now.
Q: FTLOG, what are good appetizers to bring to a party that do not include chips? Dips (salsa, guac, etc.) are delish but I hate always bringing chips to a party. Veto to crudite, too boring. Help! — Ashely Em
It means For the Love of God — I had to think about that one, too! This is a good question, Ashley Em. While I don’t have anything against the chip-related appetizer, I am always on the lookout for starters that are a little unexpected and — this is crucial — assembly-only (or assembly-mostly). Of course, my brain immediately defaults to a ball of burrata with baguette slices and prosciutto — ask the butcher for super thinly sliced and serve the cheese surrounded by the meat. Even simpler? A plate of Parm hunks (is there a better cheese?) and fresh figs, which checks every box of Ideal Starter: fresh, not too filling, and whets-your-appetite salty. Joanna’s friend Anna likes to serve store-bought vegetable sushi rolls (bonus: it’s easy to pick up on the way to the party) and I love Alison Roman’s hot take on deviled eggs — i.e. top 7-minute eggs with the things you’d normally be deviling them with. I’m gonna give that a shot this weekend.
Thank you, everyone! Keep the questions coming!
(Photo illustration by Maud Passini.)