Sunday, October 21, 2012

pretend, and then don't

In my new normal, with two kids and two jobs, it sometimes takes me a while to get things through the entire writing/editing/illustrating/posting process.  So, this happened about a week ago, but it's still all true.

I'm going to pretend that last night was more civilized than it was.

I'm going to pretend that I didn't let Oscar walk around the house gnawing on a stale loaf of french bread. I'm going to pretend he didn't put it on the floor, let the dog sniff it, then pick it up again.


I'm going to pretend that I didn't completely make a disaster of my kitchen while I made dinner because the kids were out of control and it was all I could do to just get through it.


I'm going to pretend my 5-year-old didn't ask me to turn the lights off so we could eat by "candelight" from a battery-powered, Halloween candelabra that my husband bought to put on the piano.

I won't pretend that my favorite version of "La Mer" came on my Pandora station right when I was putting dinner on the table, as if on cue, because that really happened. I don't have to pretend that my whole house smelled like Mela after dinner, because it did, and it was wonderful. I don't have to pretend that I can do a lot of things while holding a baby on my hip, including safely transferring an entire hot pot of rice into a serving bowl, because I can.

Last night I made adapted versions of South Indian Potato Curry and Greens with Cashews. I used up a lot of my delicious local vegetables and, for the most part, my kids ate their dinner (especially the rice). The whole scene was so entirely chaotic, I decided snapping a few pictures and turning this moderately successful night in the kitchen into a blog post wasn't too much more to ask.

When I first started writing this blog, I really thought it was mostly going to be about food. I had been inspired by blogs like Orangette and movies like Julie and Julia, so I jumped in with plans for something along those lines. I like to cook, I like to bake, I like to read recipes, I like to eat, and I like to take pictures of food. Seems like the perfect recipe for a food blog. Except - the further I get into parenthood, the less time I have for experimentation in the kitchen. And, really, what I love about cooking is following recipes, not making up my own. I'm all about making substitutions (a necessity with kids, I think) - but it didn't take me long to realize I would never have enough "original" material to focus just on food. So, I slowly migrated towards writing mostly about being a mom, even though "food" remains in the subtitle of the blog.

So here I am tonight, with a food blog, and I'm doing what I'm trying to do as a mother and photographer. I'm going to stop pretending. I'm trying hard to just be myself, not trying hard to be someone else. I follow recipes, and I pride myself on being really skilled at that. I pick out good combinations of things (usually). I can read a recipe and figure out if I want to make it, and whether or not it will taste good (most of the time). I know how to chop an onion efficiently. I love the way olive oil smells when it's heating up in my cast iron skillet. Recipe-writer, I am not. Recipe-follower, I am.

So, tonight, two recipes, from other people, that I made. I left out the ingredients that make these dishes really spicy. I added in a couple of comments about my experience making these recipes. I'm no expert - I just love good food, and sharing that love with all of you. Enjoy. Or at least commiserate with my chaos.

South Indian Potato Curry
adapted from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey by Madhur Jaffrey

3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp yellow split peas
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 lb red potatoes, peeled and diced 3/4 in
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 can coconut milk
chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add mustard seeds and split peas. When mustard seeds begin to pop, add onions. Turn heat to medium, and stir fry onions for about 3 minutes, until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes, coriander, and garam masala. Stir for 1 minute. Add potatoes and stir one minute. Add 1 cup water and the salt. Bring to boil, cover, turn heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add coconut milk and stir. Top with a bit of cilantro.

Greens with Cashews
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates

8 cups rinsed, stemmed, chopped greens (I like kale best, but chard or collards, or a mixture, also work)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 chopped onion
2 garlic cloves
 1/2 cup roasted cashews
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon curry powder

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes.

Make dressing: In a food processor or using an immersion blender, combine the cashews, lime juice, and salt until smooth. Add coconut milk and process until well combined.

Add greens to pan, stir to combine, cover, and simmer until wilted (time varies depending on greens - less time for chard, more for kale or collards). When wilted, remove from heat and stir in dressing until well combined. Serve hot or room temperature. SO delicious!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

more photos than words

In parenting, there is no shortage of comparison. “When’s your due date?” “How much does he weigh?” “Who’s her teacher?” etc. etc. etc. Asking these questions of each other isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s often a vehicle for validation. Whew, I’m not the only one who lets my kid watch TV while I make dinner. Ooh, interesting - her baby ends up in bed with her, too. It’s a way to seek out a familiar face in an ever-increasing competitive world, to find another common soul on this journey of imperfection.

The comparison activity gets ramped up to a whole new level when you become a parent for the second time. Now, not only do you have two sets of peers to compare yourself to, you have yourself to compare yourself to. Me as parent of 1 vs. me as parent of 2. It is literally the most exhausting sport on the planet.

In many ways, I feel I’m doing a “better” job this time around. It’s easier, at least. I’m more relaxed (not without the aid of a professional!) and I worry about things less (most of the time). I’m not obsessing about schedules and milestones and food the way I did before. I’ve realized that, as long as there is plenty of love to go around, most of the other stuff has a way of working out.

But this realization doesn’t remove the guilt, or the comparison of current self to past. For one, this baby - my sweet little Oscar man - has many, many less words written about him. For the record, he started walking last week - 13 months old and he is toddling around the house, throwing things. Quite the little devil, cute as can be, sweet and tough all at once. 

When Dora was an infant, this blog was one of my only creative outlets, and I poured my heart into it (nearly) every day. As a result, I have many of her milestones recorded - if not in a baby book (and don’t worry, I have guilt about that, too), then in a “virtual” baby book that just happens to be a public document.

What Oscar has that Dora did not have so much of is a multitude of photos. I took a lot of photographs of Dora, too, but she was 2 years old when I upgraded to a much better DSLR. Before that I still used my old SLR film cameras, but not with the frequency that digital allows. That was the beginning of a big shift for me, a return to an art I have always loved. As the photo population increased, the words went down. With Oscar, it’s more photos than words. I’m photographing him (and Dora) almost every day. Of course - I will probably never get to all the editing I need to do (another source of guilt!) - but at least they are captured, saved, and backed up - and someday I will get to them.


Last week a friend of mine sent me an article about how important it is for the mom to be in the picture. Even those who are not photographers know that it is often the mother who ends up taking the pictures (not always, but often) and the result is that momma isn’t in the picture very much. In my own family, my mom did take a lot of photos (mostly with her Kodak Instamatic). As the blog post that my friend sent me so deftly points out, our children need to have pictures of us with them. Now that my mother is gone, I cherish those old, square, slightly yellowish/orange images of her - a young woman in a plaid shirt, looking a little tired and a little annoyed at having her photo taken. Next to her is a 2-year-old me, with a shock of straight blond hair just like Oscar’s, and on the other side is my brother at 8, getting tall and thin and probably annoyed by me already. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t look perfect to herself - to me, she is perfect - my mom, my friend, a woman who I still love and admire deeply. I cherish the photo of her and the chance to remember her as she was, to love her imperfections as much as her good qualities, to see in front of me the woman who still visits me in my dreams.


The point is - be in the picture, because to your kids, you are perfect. You are their mother, and that’s all that matters to them.

The same is true about all of this comparison. A little healthy discussion is fine, but in the end, all that matters is that you are yourself, the mother your children love and cherish and want beside them. Whether you take loads of photos of them or spend hours writing about the experience of mothering them, your love, your hugs and kisses, your home-cooked food (or not), your messy (or clean) house - all of these are perfect in the eyes of your children. Dora was only 2 days old when someone told me, “you already know exactly what this baby needs”. Imperfections aside, I believe this to be a divine truth. We are what our children need. They already believe in us. Now all we have to do is try to believe in ourselves.