Spreading the joy (Photos: Amanda Thompson)
Spreading the joy (Photos: Amanda Thompson)

KaiMarch 12, 2020

Don’t know what to say? Make these sympathy snacks

Spreading the joy (Photos: Amanda Thompson)
Spreading the joy (Photos: Amanda Thompson)

Dealing with grief is hard. Comfort carbs make it a little bit easier, says Amanda Thompson.

As near perfect a country as Aotearoa undoubtedly is, I don’t think as a whole we’re so great with grief. 

Grief for a lover lost, a terrible accident suffered, a rugby game unwon, a beloved pet buried. The tragedy of infertility, of being a victim of crime, of facing your own mortality when your parents die. Unwanted and unwished for, yet even more certain than taxes, none of us can avoid all of these griefs forever as much as we try. To love or to strive is to eventually lose. Why does this feeling, so common yet so dreaded, so often set off anger and blame, even violence from the sufferers? Why do those who suffer often get so little comfort from the rest of us? Why is it so, well, hard to know what to do or say?

Like sex, bring it up in a room full of people and see some serious shuffling of feet and sheepish glancing at neighbours. Both subjects are sensitive, complicated, fraught. Everyone has an opinion on how much is appropriate, how long it should last and whether it’s OK in public. And how on earth do you explain it to your kids? 

Is it harder to suffer grief ourselves or to watch those we care about suffer and to feel helpless? I guess as much as I hate all forms of camping, if I have to fall into any camp it would have to be the latter. A naturally bossy fixer of problems, I hate knowing there are some things that I cannot naturally boss people into fixing. 

I mean, I know listening is good; listening patiently and kindly is even better. Listening without saying dumbass things like “geez, cheer up mate”, or my personal nomination for Dumbest Dumbass Thing To Say When Someone is Grieving Of The Year Award 2020, “well, everything happens for a reason!” would be better still. 

Hugs are probably acceptable. Can I especially recommend the kind where the hugger asks first, is wearing a soft jersey that smells like bread, doesn’t mind if tears or snot get on it and makes comforting noises, gently patting the huggee’s back as if they are an old, deaf and blind but so very loved golden retriever? Extra points to a hugger with a spare clean hanky tucked up their sleeve. Just a suggestion.

If none of this seems like you, if you like to show empathy through action, another way of being helpful in a helpless situation is to provide comfort food. There’s a reason people (people being me) will often drop off fish pies, casseroles, lasagnes and vast quantities of mac ’n’ cheese after a sad event. It is a wordless communication that says “I care, and because I don’t know what to say I will show you with simple carbs”.

How comforting a comfort food can be is very much in the taste buds of the beholder and although all the above options are good choices, my household has adopted a particularly simple sympathy snack. I have been making this by eye for most of my life so I went smaller as I experimented with getting the quantities quantified – double them if you are making for a crowd.

You might be more of a mashed potato or slow-cooked savoury comforter and that’s ok too. But apart from the fact you will have all four ingredients in your cupboard right now, this recipe’s simple microwaveability is possibly the biggest upside at this time of year. There’s something very mean about expecting anyone to actually turn their oven on during this hellish time of drought and melting tarmac and I would never be very mean to you, dear reader. 

Photos: Amanda Thompson


  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cups rice bubbles, or any combination of rolled oats, crushed cornflakes, or other fancy cereal that makes you feel a bit healthier (but rice bubbles are undisputedly the comfort king)

Put the first three ingredients in a heatproof jug (it will get really hot, so a handle is a good idea.)

Put the cereal in a mixing bowl.

Rip off two 30-40cm pieces of baking paper and put them somewhere handy.

Melt the ingredients in the heatproof jug together in the microwave; try 30-second bursts. Give it a good stir once everything is melted then put it back in the microwave for a minute or until it bubbles. Stir once more and boil for another minute; if you skip this step it will not set. 

Quickly tip the honey mix into your mixing bowl of ricies and get stirring. The honey mix will start setting straight away so do not dither. Once it all seems evenly mixed together, tip it out on to baking paper sheet #1, then cover it with baking paper sheet #2 so you can squish it down cleanly. It will set fully once it is room temperature. My helpful kid has squished this lot very thin; this is not compulsory. It can be shaped into anything, really, and cut while still warm. Just make sure some of it is passed on to someone who needs a little dopamine burst of honey joy in their day.

Keep going!