This week in Newtown, Connecticut, families began laying to rest the young victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. As I have followed the news of this tragedy, my heart has been blanketed with a heavy sadness for the Newtown community and especially the families of Sandy Hook elementary school where the shootings took place.
As an adult I struggle with the questions of why bad things happen to good people. As a parent, I want to protect my children from pain and sorrow. Having conversations with my daughters about the Newtown shootings has been hard for me because there are no answers to the many questions we all have. In my conversations with my husband and adult friends, we are only left with more questions and a deep longing to understand how something like this could happen. As a mom, I want to reassure my children so they feel safe.
With nearly around the clock news coverage of the shooting, your children may be having a difficult time processing what they know about this tragic event and subsequently have feelings of anxiety, sadness, and/or fear. Recently on Twitter, @PBSParents shared a few great tips on how to help your children during this time.
“Avoid having the news on with young children around. Violent images can be traumatic for them and hard to process. #Newtown “
“Help ease kids’ fears by sticking to routines, playing together and providing extra comfort/nurturing. #Newtown “
Admittedly, when the news from Newtown started streaming last Friday I couldn’t help but recognize the familiar feelings of shock, disbelief, fear, and helplessness as I had with 9/11. But what I have learned from both of these events is how goodness can reign in moments of pure terror. Reading stories of heroism and random acts of kindness remind me that although evil does exists in this world, so does goodness. When people help others to get through tragedy it also brings people together.
Two weeks ago the grandmother of a close friend passed away after living a long and wonderful life. A couple days after her death, I brought over a meal from one of our favorite eating spots. As we ate not one, but two orders, of crispy sweet potato fries I listened to stories of how special my friend’s grandmother was. Then, the day after the Newtown shooting, the 18 year old son of a friend of ours also passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident as he was coming home for Christmas break for the first time as a college freshman. Today I made a casserole for them and had my husband take it over. My instructions for him were to just leave it on the doorstep and to not bother the family. But because it was raining, he did knock, and they greeted him warmly. He came home telling me how appreciative they were for the meal and for thinking of them, and that many people had blessed them recently.
I share these stories with you not to pat myself on the back but to tell you that in a world where tragic events happen every day, ordinary people like you and me can care for others with simple acts of kindness that can help comfort a grieving soul. I know many people offer up thoughts and prayers, but when possible we should also consider showing others we care by doing something that can help ease the burden of a daily chore or necessity.
When families lose a loved one, having to deal with waves of wavering emotions and mental exhaustion can feel overwhelming as people simultaneously grieve and adjust to their new reality, not sure exactly how their new normal will look. By helping families in the grieving process with tasks such as driving their children to/from school or other activities, house cleaning, running errands, babysitting, providing meals, or offering a listening ear, what you’re doing is allowing families to have a moment of reprieve and giving them the gift of worrying about one less thing.
Nearly two years ago I wrote an article here on Kitchen Explorers about bereavement meals shortly after my own father passed away. I invite you to read it to remind you of how meaningful meals can be during a difficult time.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a recipe for a Spinach, Mushroom, and Sausage Casserole. I love this casserole because it is one of those comfort food meals that ministers to the body, mind, and soul in only a way that comfort food can. This casserole is also wonderful because it can be served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
To the Newtown families, on behalf of Kitchen Explorers, we are so sorry for your loss and send you our heartfelt thoughts and prayers.
Recipe: Spinach Mushroom Sausage Casserole
A savory casserole made of spinach, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes, cheese and cream, this dish can be served for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.
- 1 pound mild or spicy ground Italian sausage
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 8-oz. package sliced mushrooms
- 2 ten ounce packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 cups frozen tater tots
- 2 cups cubed baguette
- 2 cups packaged shredded Italian blend cheese
- 8 eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- In a medium skillet, brown the sausage on medium high heat until no longer pink.
- Spoon the sausage to a bowl and sauté the onion and garlic for 3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the burner and stir in the sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and basil. Set aside.
- Spray a 9×13-inch casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Place the tater tots in the casserole dish followed by a layer of the bread cubes.
- Evenly spread the sausage and vegetable mixture over the bread cubes, followed by a layer of shredded cheese.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, milk, ricotta (or cottage cheese), mustard, and salt and pepper.
- Pour the egg mixture over the casserole.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
- Remove the casserole from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- When the oven is ready, remove the plastic wrap and bake casserole, uncovered, for one hour, or until the cheese is nice and bubbly.