After I had my first child in the spring of 1990, I wasn't home from the hospital two days when I became intimately familiar with the vigilant Southern female tradition I have come to call the Parade of Casseroles. Though I had lived here for nine years by that point, I'd only heard reports of it secondhand. Seeing it put into action was truly amazing.
My mother had come to stay with me for a week, with expectations of holding the baby, doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, and stocking the freezer with nutritious meals for the coming hectic weeks. She had plenty of help with the last of these jobs. As both of us, Northern-born and -bred, came to find out, the occasion of a birth, illness, move, or, heaven forbid, death in the family is all the prompting Southern womenfolk need to hie themselves to the kitchen and start cooking. In their view, there is no challenge or tragedy that cannot be met or helped by the delivery of a home-cooked meal.
In quick succession, we received a chicken and wild rice casserole, a roast chicken, a pork tenderloin, a chicken lasagna, a meat loaf, a vegetarian lasagna, a bowl of chicken salad, and a bowl of homemade pimento cheese. Each of these was accompanied by some kind of salad or veggie, a loaf of bread, and a dessert. It was fabulous.
The same thing happened when my second child was born, just 17 months later, by which point I was even more grateful for the service; and it happened yet again when our family moved from East Nashville to the Belmont neighborhood. Unbidden and unsolicited, platters of food appeared on my doorstep. In respect and gratitude, I became an eager participant in this ritual and have since taken countless meals to friends with new babies or hospitalized family members, or those undergoing the taxing ordeal of a kitchen renovation.
In some cases, the Parade of Casseroles has been taken to extraordinary lengths. The family of one man who suffers a debilitating and incurable illness has had dinner organized and provided two nights a week by fellow church members for nearly two years. Another family, in the midst of cancer therapy, has been the recipient not only of home-cooked meals, but also child care, house-cleaning, and errand-running. Increasingly popular are baby showers that include, along with the usual disbursement of booties, blankets, and bibs, sign-up sheets for guests to commit to cooking one or two meals for the expectant family during the first couple of months post-birth.
Recently, over lunch at The Stoveworks Restaurant at the Factory at Franklin, my party of fourall Yankee transplantswere discussing this phenomenon. We came up with a few suggestions and ideas for this most enduring and endearing of regional traditions, one that has helped us feel a real part of the fabric of our adopted community:
♦ To avoid casserole gridlock and the delivery of 12 platters of lasagna in one day, it is always good to have someone in charge of scheduling. This might be a woman who works outside the homesomeone who has little time to cook, but can do the scheduling on computer or via phone. Veterans of this scheduling system suggest that meals be delivered no more than three nights a week, giving the family time to eat the leftovers.
One organizer makes a master calendar, then delivers a copy to the recipients, so they can know when to look for a meal. She also asks that each meal-maker call the recipient and arrange for a convenient delivery.
♦ While everyone loves a pretty presentation, there is nothing more guilt-inducing than having a pile of Tupperware, crockery, and pie plates piled up on the dining room table, with no idea to whom they belong or how to return them. Not to mention that other charming Southern custom of never returning a container to its owner emptyif someone sends you a dish of lasagna, you return the cleaned dish filled with Brownies. Too much work! Home meal delivery service is why Ziploc bags, aluminum tins, and disposable containers were invented.
♦ If you are not adhering to a calendar delivery system, it's not a bad idea to make a meal that can be put in the freezer and thawed for later use, when the Parade of Casseroles dwindles to a stroll.
♦ What about the food? When it comes to trying timeslike illness, moving, new babiescomfort food is the best, well, comforter. Put away Daniel Boulud's cookbook and dust off Betty Crocker. Among the tried and true: any kind of soup or stew, chicken and wild rice, chicken-spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle, scalloped ham and potatoes, pot pies, baked pastas, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, pot roast and new potatoes, baked ham with potato salad, and just about anything that calls for a can of cream-of-something soup.
If the family has young children, be cognizant of finicky kiddie taste buds. It's probably best not to include any visible mushrooms or sliced almonds in the casseroles, and don't put any beets or brussels sprouts on the side. One mother suggests making all the fixings of a taco dinnercooked ground beef, taco shells, chopped lettuce and tomato, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, and guacamolethen delivering them in individual Ziploc bags, ready to heat and assemble. (The grownups might also appreciate a six-pack of Corona.)
If you don't have time to cook, drop by the market for a rotisserie chicken and a side dish; pick up a family pack of barbecue, beans, and cornbread; or deliver a food basket of pantry essentialsmilk, eggs, butter, bread, cheese, and some good coffee.
A deli tray, chicken salad, or homemade pimento cheese is great for weekends when friends are dropping in and out of the house to see the new addition and sandwiches are in order. Washed salad greens and cut-up fruit are a big help when putting together a balanced meal. And always include a loaf of bread or bag of rolls with whatever you're making.
As far as desserts go, less is more. Everyone eats an entree, but not everyone indulges in dessert. Forget the pretty cakes and pies; send a bag of cookies or brownies instead.
♦ One final suggestion: Along with that nice home-cooked meal, bring a stack of the latest supermarket tabloids. What better way to cheer up than by reading all about the terrible misfortunes that befall the rich and famous?
Coffee, tea . . . and a lot more
When Tom Sheffer opens his second Jackson's in Hillsboro Village within the next week or so, customers will find a lot more on the menu than coffee and teaas the original name of his first store in Green Hills promised. The new 2,400-square-foot space will have a suspended fireplace, a bar, a stage for live performances, and an outdoor patio that adds 30 seats to the interior's 78.
Chef Brett Corrieri, onetime manager of the Owl's Nest and a recent grad of Johnson & Wales culinary school in Rhode Island, is devising a spare menu that won't overtax his compact kitchen. There will be breakfast breadsincluding beignets to compliment the chicory coffeeand a couple of egg dishes for early risers; paninis, wraps, salads, and a pasta dish for lunch; and for dinner, no more than three appetizers and four entrees. A late-night menu will also be available.
Think cafe, not full-service restaurant, says Sheffer. Hoyt Hill, noted wine wonk and owner of neighboring Village Wines, has chosen 25 to 30 wines, all available by the glass, for the wine bar. There will also be a full selection of liquor and boutique beers. Jackson's will be open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sat.; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Kevin Boehm and Scott Alderson may not be familiar names to Nashvillians, but their restaurants are, particularly to that huge segment of Middle Tennesseans who vacation in Grayton Beach, Seaside, and Seagrove Beach, all in the Florida panhandle. But locals will become much more familiar with Boehm and chef Alderson when the pair opens 6 Degrees, the restaurant currently under construction in the former Javanco building across from The Station Inn on 12th Avenue South. The 9,000-square-foot space is being designed by Manuel Zeitlin, whose edgy yet uncluttered style will be evident in a big open room that will seat 200, a show kitchen, a sushi bar, and a clear-story mezzanine with three smaller rooms.
Alderson has cooked at Stars in San Francisco, Charlie Trotters in Chicago, and Harbourwatch in Cape Cod, but Nashvillians have more likely eaten his food at Criolla in Grayton Beach, Bud & Alley's in Seaside, and 30A in Seagrove, where he was for two years until leaving in January for this venture. 6 Degrees will be Boehm's fourth restaurant; he has owned two in Florida and still has Indigo in Springfield, Ill. In addition, he was coordinator of the Seaside Wine Festival for five years. He is close friends with the criminally handsome Olivier Petit, a.k.a. Belgian Elvis, who with brother Phillipe owns Grayton Beach's wildly popular Red Bar.
Boehm and Alderson met in Seaside several years ago, but 6 Degrees will be their first partnership. Look for an October opening