It's The Thought

Want To Do Something For A Struggling Mom Friend? Try Just-Good-Enough Food

When life is overwhelming, the gesture, and the energy it saves a friend, elevates literally any food item.

sisters eating chocolate cupcakes
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My son had COVID-19 and we were under house arrest, so when a friend asked if I needed anything — a cake delivery, perhaps? — I made no attempt to dissuade her. She arrived at the door with a huge slab of mud cake layered with creamy chocolate ganache. I cut a sliver, just to taste, then another. I cut a generous slice for my husband, and generous slices for our kids. I cut a sliver, just to taste. And another. Technically I never had a slice.

Later, she told me the cake was overcooked and dry, and the ganache was an attempt to rescue it. Suddenly the gesture was even more touching — she’d given us IMPERFECT cake!

I’m a big fan of imperfection, of lowering the bar. If my friend hadn’t lowered the bar, I would have missed out on that dreamy cake — that’s proof, right there, that perfect is the enemy of good.

It’s a principle I try to keep in mind — in cooking and in life. I love cooking and I love my friends and I love the idea of cooking for them when they’re going through tough times. At the same time, I have three primary school-aged kids, two jobs, volunteer work, and a social life. When I have the time, l make (yes, imperfect!) cookies and cakes (even pasta by hand!) from scratch; but I often just don't have the time.

I think what helped me to lower my standards (not that they were ever that high) was being on the receiving end of meal rosters when each of our children were born. Contrary to my expectations, I didn’t have all day to cook (turns out babies don’t just sleep and smile) so when people from our church started rocking up with meals, we took them gratefully, if not a little desperately.

I’m not saying the food people gave us wasn’t objectively great — it likely was. I’m just saying we (well, we adults...) would have loved it either way.

I still have to remind myself of this when I’m cooking for others. I love cooking, and I love it when people love my cooking. If I make a stir fry with veggies that are a “little” overcooked (okay, a lot), or a quiche that needs more cheese, or a pastry that’s not flaky like I’d planned, I’m still tempted to abandon plans to pass it on.

I still have to remind myself that when life is overwhelming, the gesture, and the energy it saves a friend, matter more than my ego or reputation. And so, with numerous disclaimers, I’ve learnt to hand my cooking over as it is.

What’s more, I’ve seen the food-tastes-better-if-you-didn’t-make-it rule prove true repeatedly. Just the other day a friend was reminding me of a “very tasty” green chicken curry I once cooked her and how, when she asked for the recipe, I confessed I’d used a packet. Another time I spontaneously gave a family a hunk of frozen bolognese from our freezer and a packet of pasta from our cupboard. The mother later said the meal had made her cry — not because it was bad (though objectively, maybe it was…) but because she was so tired, and so touched.

I guess it’s an (un)scientifically proven fact: in times of sickness, uncertainty, busyness and stress, B-grade baking is an A-grade gift. Baking is about timing and care, not perfection. Giving is too.

Emma Wilkins is an Australian journalist and freelance writer who currently spends more time wrangling children than words, but enjoys both pursuits immensely. Topics of interest include friendship, parenting, food, literature, culture and faith.