Friday, May 8, 2009

Old School Love-Sending Care Packages

This past week I sent four care packages to four separate destinations. My brother, mother, my friend David, and the annual USPS Stamp Out Hunger Drive are the sum total of my recipients. The decision to send a gift of comfort in the form of food was such an automatic response to people and issues I care about that it wasn't until after the packages were sent did I start to contemplate my actions deeper than the immediate satisfaction of giving and doing something good. For a bit of back story to frame why I am so introspective at this moment I have recently picked up and began reading 1000 Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Scheone. Oddly enough I didn't purchase the book because of the noted James Beard Foundation/Kitchenaid Book Award on the cover, I bought because when I flipped through the pages I caught glimpses of American food history that I have been wondering about since I could wonder. And to think this is the author's first book! She gives all us would-be-someday-oneday writers hope. Now, I have only just begun reading the book so please don't spoil it for me.

Currently the chapters I am just simply involved with are about the traditions of the Native American tribes whom lived on this continent before my immigrant European family members crossed the pond, and the cross-culturalization of the first European settlers' traditions for nourishment with the current residents indigenous, natural North American foods. Most of us now know the European and Native American story of survival makes Shakespeare's saga look sheepish, yet the some beloved, signature, current American foods come from this time of colonization and revolution. Cereal, for example, is rooted in an adapted form of porridge made by English. When they 'set-up shop' in the Northeast, the English had no oats to make their porridge with so they improvised with the Indian's sacred grain, corn. Long story short, this early part of history brought us corn flakes and the bazillion other types of cereal we all love to eat today. (I promise this will make sense later in the post!)

What was this post about? Oh yes, care packages and why I felt compelled to recently construct and send some. First, for Mother's Day I really did not want to send my mom flowers, again. I was faced with another dilemma of this situation; it's incredibly tough to send gifts of love to a person nearly totally disabled in care twenty-four hours a day. Long sigh. Trying to shake the gloom and doom I remembered my aunts and my cousin Sarah remarking how she still has an appetite for sweets, and it hit me with a ton of bricks-cookies. She can eat cookies and she can enjoy them! Eureka! With the utmost love and care I made a batch of her favorites chocolate chip cookies as well as the traditional chewy sugar cookie.

Cinnamon-Sugar Topping Sugar Cookie

Nonpareil Topping Sugar Cookie

I don't know the verdict yet because my Aunt Karen is visiting my mom tomorrow for Mother's Day. If she receives the cookies in time she is going to bring the batch. I hope she really enjoys them, so fingers crossed.

The second recipient of a special cookie delivery is my friend David. David is the younger brother of my dear friend Lauren who I met freshman year at UCF, or 9 years ago (yikes). David is in his early twenties and was recently diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. David is receiving treatment in Houston, TX. His family members have been travelling from Florida and California to be with him during his full-time recovery. To know David is to know fierceness. The definition of a firecracker, this redhead will shoot you straight and make you double over in laughter. Thinking about this poison in his body makes you angry that such a great young soul has been hampered on his way to a fabulous life. Yet, you have to know life is a strange bird and anything is really possible so he and his circle know David will survive cancer. During a phone conversation with Lauren I asked her if wants to or can he eat sweets. She said, "Oh yeah!," and I knew my mission-David must have cookies. Today he received his mixed batch and sent me the loveliest thank you text message.

My third care package was delivered to my older brother Jeremy; a one-of-a-kind soul. He is the definition of one who walks to the beat of his own drum, and because he takes chances in life, sometimes he doesn't always eat good. As his sister this worries me from time-to-time so to calm mine own nerves and to send a little vegetarian love his way in New York City, I sent him a care package containing:
  • Flax Cereal
  • 2 Boxes Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Tandoori Nan Bread
  • 1 Bag of Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed Granola
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Canned Squash and Onions
  • Canned Olives
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried Fruit
  • My homemade peanut butter granola bars
I had to track him down to see if he received it because of the constant melee that is his life, but in the end he was happy to receive the comfort food and I was more than happy to give it. I find this is an awesome way to stay connected to family when you live far apart.

That leaves the annual USPS Stamp Out Hunger Drive. This food drive is so easy to give to. If it creeps up on you, just empty out your cupboard to help feed those who struggle to feed themselves. This way, you get to shop to fill up your entire pantry again so everybody wins! Truly, I want to involve myself more in such things as food drives because hunger is an issue near and dear to my heart. I write a lot about my mom (A LOT) and one of the reasons is while we were very young children we were very, very poor. Yet Mom was very, very proud. She didn't ask family for hand-outs, but after church on Sundays we would return on our bikes for the free food the Parrish of Assumption B.V.M was generous enough to give. Following my parents divorce, we would shop for food only once a month and the church's weekly offering of:
  • Ham
  • White Rice
  • Powered Milk
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Honey
feed us for a few years. With the rice my mother would make rice pudding, with the ham-split pea soup, and from the peanut butter and honey came her infamous granola bars. My mom taught us to be grateful for whatever we have and make the best of any situation. Not only did I get my cooking knack from her, but I know how to make a mountain of a meal out just a few meager ingredients. I cook and I survive. Again, it is for these lessons that I am eternally grateful to my mother.

With all of this personal history and good karma swarming me this spring, I started to question the origin of care packages. I mean, if cereal can be hallmarked to a moment in American history then care packages had to come from a particular time and place as well. It turns out that CARE Packages are trademarked by CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), but the term is so homogeneous that nobody pays to use it (including me!). Care packages started as a relief effort from Americans to surviving Europeans facing starvation after WWII. Everyday Americans could purchase surplus US Army food packages for $10 and send it overseas (see the first image of the post). While I am sure sending food supplies is not uniquely American nor is it unique to WWII, it makes me feel connected to my family then and now by participating in sending love, hope, and health to those who need it. Take a moment to recall if there is anyone in your life who could use a little care that comes in a package because there is no written description that could properly identify the kind of joy it brings.


Heavenly Housewife said...

How sweet, I am sure everyone was so happy to get their packages!

Kristin said...

What great stories! It is always nice to give (and receive) a box full of love!!

Tangled Noodle said...

You are so sweet and thoughtful to send out such care packages! I love the little history tease - I love learning about the evolution of a cuisine and all that has (and continues to) influenced it. Hope you'll share some more!

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet said...

What a wonderful thing to do! I love making and receiving care packages. My mom and I did this for years, now I do it with friends!

Claudia said...

This is one lovely, sweet post. Lucky receivers.

Proud Italian Cook said...

What a touching post Rachel! You're such a kind soul, your mom did good,real good!

Blackswan said...

These cookies look simply adorable. Thks for your comments on My Lobster Affair @!

Tamar1973 said...

When I lived in Korea, my family sent me a care package, which included a lot of boxes of Mac and Cheese. My step-mother said, "That was the most expensive Mac and Cheese you've ever eaten!" LOL!

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