Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
For the last ten years my neighbor and I have done food trades. She
used to be an excellent cook, better than I am, though I have
improved a lot over the past few years. This system has worked really
well because I am single but don’t want to bother cutting recipes down
and don’t want to get sick of what I make. Her kids have moved away
so it’s just her and her husband, with a lifetime of habits of cooking for


We generally eat the same types of food, though there are
various things we each like that the other doesn’t. But a portion or two
of soup or casserole during the week that I didn’t have to make myself
has been the perfect solution to workday lunches and dinners. Here’s
the rub: her cooking has declined so much that it’s not only below par
but sometimes just inedible. I don’t know if her husband can tell the
difference. But I can. How can I gently communicate the decline or
extract myself from the arrangement?

Dear Blecch:
You can try to remedy the situation or you can try to extract yourself
completely. It’s a little dicier to try and fix it and then to end it later,
but given that this is a neighbor with whom you clearly have a
friendship and a long-term relationship, it’s worth the try. It’s
definitely a situation where I would not lead with complete honesty or

Invite her for tea and tell her you want to talk recipes and plan what
you eat more consciously. You can plead health reasons or the need to
be on a new food program. But say you’d like to agree on which
recipes you’ll be using because you are trying to stick carefully to
counting [insert as many of these as are true: calories, carbs, sodium,
whatever]. If she says yes, you can hope she follows directions when
she cooks. If she says its too much work, say you want to suspend the
trade until you [lose weight, get your blood test numbers down, etc].


Note: I’d counsel an oblique approach, dealing only with the wife, not
the husband. Unless he approaches you directly to say she has a
serious illness, and he’s worried about her, keep conversations with
him casual and neighborly. If he does say she’s ill, say you’ll cook for
her but you want to diminish any perceived source of stress and that
she should turn off the burners.