How to take care of a friend in need – your tips plus a few more
Recently I was bed-ridden after an operation that had me off my Miu Mius for weeks. Sounds heavenly in a way, except that life goes on – kids need to be picked up, school lunches have to be packed and that bloody ironing…. Living on the other side of the country from my family had me a smidge worried, but I needn’t have. My Mum dropped everything, flew over and happily took over. My husband, a rare beast in that he is fully-domesticated, was invaluable when he wasn’t working and my friends – well – they were awesome.
From the baked treats, glorious flowers, facial and a very cool puzzle to the latest best-seller, coffee deliveries, juicy pile of DVDs and some fab meals including a very good Chicken Cassoulet – I was seriously considering extending my bed stay. Did I appreciate it? I can’t tell you how much. These truly thoughtful gestures – some expected and others simply out-of-the-blue – just took my breath away and will always be remembered.
Judging by your recent feedback to my request for your most memorable Nightingale moments, you too have experienced real acts of friendship during challenging times.
Here are just some of your delicious anecdotes –
“After a very serious emotional crisis that left me a single mother with three children & no close family support, my group of close girlfriends came in droves with a sympathetic ear, wine , food and the odd cigarette. It wasn’t just weeks, but for months and months. Also some of their husband’s understanding patience and trust was closely needed too. Close friends forever now.” – Belinda, Brisbane.
“This past January I was out of work for eight weeks due to surgery. My neighbors rallied together and made us home cooked dinners for a week….including gluten free for our 9-year-old. We are so blessed!” – nantucketdaffodil, Connecticut.
“I did a week of meals on wheels and washing for our adopted granny when she and her husband got knocked flat with flu about 3 weeks ago. She just realised I have a head cold and is about to drop around a Shepherds Pie! Aren’t I glad I helped her!” – Kylie, Perth.
“When I came home from a week’s stint in hospital to a lovingly cooked (and divine!) dinner from a dear friend.” – Kristin, Brisbane.
“I have a friend who invited me over to her place and made me a bowl of soup. It was so kind as I hadn’t known her for long. She has since become a very good friend.” – Amy, Eumundi.
“I still remember being in Kindergarten and sharing the couch with my sister while we both had Chicken Pox. My best friend Diane came to the door with a box of Colorforms….I loved Colorforms! Do they even exist anymore?” – nantucketdaffodil, Connecticut
@nantucketdaffodil: I had to google Colorforms to find out what they are and yes they still exist!
When it comes down to it, we do what we can in the time available. I have been looking after a newborn for a first-time mum in our street. It’s utterly blissful to have a little baby in the house again (especially one I can give back). I also tend to get friend’s kids over if they’re unwell – there is nothing like a deathly quiet house to aid real rest.
Otherwise, it is into the kitchen to cook – my favourite way to show love. Here are a couple of recipes that are dead-easy and jaw-droppingly delicious. I am a crap baker but even I can make these brownies. Be sure to slightly under cook them so they are sort of bendy and chewy. The stew is my ultimate comfort food – just don’t tell them there are anchovies in it (it doesn’t taste fishy, just extra punchy). I always cook double quantity and freeze, or feed my fam with it at the same time. It’s a cheat but a girl’s only got so much time.
Beef stew with anchovies and thyme (via the super-fabulous Nigella Lawson)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (or beef dripping)
- 1.5 kilograms stewing steak (cut into chunky strips)
- 1 large onion (halved then finely sliced)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced or finely chopped)
- 3 medium carrots (cut into batons the size of fat matchsticks)
- 4 sticks celery (finely sliced)
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 ½ tablespoons fresh)
- 6 anchovies (well drained, chopped or minced fine)
- 3 tablespoons marsala
- 500 ml robust red wine
- 300 ml beef stock (does not have to be home made)
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- ½ teaspoon mace
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150ºC
- Put the casserole in which you will cook the stew on the hob with 3 tablespoons of the oil or beef dripping to heat up.
- Add the sliced and chopped onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, but not colour.
- Add the beef and turn well with the vegetables in the pan until it loses its raw redness a little.
- Add the thyme, chopped anchovies, marsala, red wine, stock, tomato puree and mace and stir well.
- Bring to the boil and check for salt and pepper, and season to taste.
- Then put on a lid and then cook in the preheated oven for 3 hours.
Classic Brownies (hijacked from smitten kitchen)
Be sure to test for doneness before removing the brownies from the oven. If underbaked (the toothpick has batter clinging to it) the texture of the brownies will be dense and gummy. If overbaked (the toothpick comes out completely clean), the brownies will be dry and cakey.
- 1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.
- If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
- Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.
- Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or, ahem, in the freezer until your resistance gets the better of you.)