Classic meatloaf is perfect comfort food for the soul

At north country ‘Dollar Dinners’ food is best love of all

A dollar dinner plate of potatoes, meatloaf, diced peas and carrots, and a roll are placed in the community dining area of the Watertown First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Amanda Morrison/NNY Living.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him … the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
– Cesar Chavez

In most cultures, preparing food for others symbolizes affection and caring. We bring casseroles to families who have suffered a loss, we give gifts of food at the holidays, deliver boxes of food to those in need and make soup for our friends when they are sick. When you cook for people you are not only feeding them, you are giving them your time and your heart. Now, more than ever before, our time is precious. Between work, chauffeuring children, housekeeping, errands, helping with homework, Cub Scout activities — the list goes on and on — taking the time to prepare a home-cooked meal speaks volumes.

My boys have always gone to school with a lunch that I have made for them. Occasionally Tucker will ask to buy lunch, but generally both boys prefer to brown bag it. One morning we were all running a little behind (read: totally overslept). While frantically shoving breakfast at the boys and barking at them to move faster, I suggested that this might be a good day to buy lunch at school. Silence, and then “don’t you love us?”

I am not so naïve that this Mommy Torture went unnoticed. But at the same time, it did ring true. I make them their lunches because I love them and want them to feel that love even when they are sitting in a noisy cafeteria watching their friends spray milk out of their nostrils.

Six or seven years ago, Hope Presbyterian Church in Watertown started a program in conjunction with Watertown Urban Mission called “Dollar Dinners.” The program was created to help families stretch their food budgets during the winter months when utility costs are at their peak. The Rev. Fred Garry, of First Presbyterian Church, saw the value in helping offset utility bills during the winter months, but he also recognized an opportunity to use food to welcome and care for members of the community.

A classic comfort food: meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Photo by Amanda Morrison/NNY Living.

You see, Rev. Garry loves to cook and he is the supreme master of my “food is love” theory. I have had the privilege to help cook on the First Presbyterian Dollar Dinner team since the program began. For the past six or more years, on the third Sunday of every month, from November to April we have fed an average of 400 guests a warm home-cooked dinner. Roast pork loin with scalloped potatoes and mixed vegetables, barbeque pork sandwiches with coleslaw and baked beans, baked ham with mashed potatoes and peas, and my new personal favorite: meatloaf with gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetables.

The people who attend the dinners are as different from one another as they could be. There are people who are a little down on their luck, families with young children looking for a night out and people who live alone and enjoy the company of new friends. The common thread is that they come to eat a warm meal and be treated as guests. At First Presbyterian we use food to say: “We care about you.”

Feeding people is how I nourish my soul. Whether it’s my children, guests at a catering job, friends or the pack of ravenous teenage boys who take over my house on the weekends, I am happiest when I am in my kitchen using food to tell the world that I care. Food is love.

[For the recipe and instructions for making Boo’s classic meatloaf and vegetable glaze, please subscribe or purchase a copy of NNY Living at your local Big M Supermarket, at the Watertown Daily Times, Carthage Tribune or Lowville Journal offices and the Samaritan Medical Center Gift Shop.]

Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at sacketsfarm or