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A Tonic for What Ails You

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I often think about what raising kids was like before you could hop online and instantly connect with moms everywhere. Was it lonelier? Harder? Or was it better? I’ve heard my mom and aunts talk about raising their kids along with all the other women on their block. When they reached out for companionship or advice, they picked up the phone or knocked on a door.

Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t isolating at times. There are days when every mother feels trapped by the constant needs of their little ones. And it’s true that the Internet is a nice little peephole out into the world. But it’s also true that the Internet is just one more thing to do, one more thing demanding my time and attention.

Your computer isn’t like your TV. You can’t just turn it off and stop thinking about it. It’s always there, pulling on your skirt, wanting more from you. I’m grateful for this public space I have that forces me to write and allows me to share, but not updating a blog constantly is just one more thing that gnaws away at me late at night when I can’t sleep. Why don’t I post every week? Why, despite my best intentions, is my Instagram account updated like a slow drip from a faucet? Why don’t I have any desire at all to tweet or be tweeted to? I should really read that one article someone posted…I should email her back…I should be more interesting….

I’m suffering from a case of Internet Fatigue. There’s just too much, of everything. And there’s a lot of the same thing, over and over again. But everyone just seems so into it and so adept at navigating it and so damn gung-ho about participating.

Maybe I don’t need to abolish the Internet entirely. Maybe I just need a good night’s sleep?

I’m on the tail-end of a cold that the baby and I have been sharing. Miraculously, it was not brought home by my preschooler, who’s immune system seems to be getting stronger as mine gets weaker. In addition to not catching this cold, she also didn’t catch the stomach flu going around last month, but I did. How does that happen?

This past winter, I started making batches of thirst-quenching, immunity boosting beverages to drink in the afternoon instead of coffee, which I really only like to drink in the morning. And I think they helped me avoid one or two bugs that went around. If nothing else, they tasted good. So I’ve started making the elixirs again, and all of them are refreshing enough for any season, not just winter.

My main go-to is Bon Appetit’s Classic Tonic with many variations. I skip the Swedish Bitters and added elderberry syrup instead. Sometimes I used fresh herbs, sometimes not. And I don’t add ginseng. My typical blend (with no measurements) is lemon or lime juice, a little bit of orange juice, unsweetened cranberry juice, elderberry syrup, echinacea and chilled chamomile tea. I keep a jar of this blend in the fridge, then mix a little with sparkling water before I drink it.

 

Berry Shrub

You’ve probably heard about shrubs (the drink, not the plant) making a comeback. A shrub is basically flavored vinegar that’s topped off with sparkling water. I make them with fresh berries and apple cider vinegar (for the purported health benefits) and less sugar than usual. Here’s a basic shrub recipe to get you started.

This Lemon-Ginger Brew is also great.

Now get off the Internet and get outside. Summer is calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Labor Day

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The strategic placement of Swiss chard wasn’t intentional, and miraculously it was large enough to cover what has bloomed into a hilariously large baby bump. How do our bodies do it? Even the second time around I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that a tiny human has developed in there over the last 9 months and any day now (please, please, let that day come soon) will emerge.

I am quite literally bursting at the seams. My maternity clothes barely fit. There is no position that is comfortable. It has been miserably hot all week. I’m cranky and tired and also really happy. A baby is coming! It’s such a strange time, waiting for a baby.

Needless to say, I have not been cooking much. A few easy dishes, like this stove-top lasagna and skillet pizza. I’ve thought about making quinoa enchiladas, but can’t quite find the energy. My mom is in the kitchen right now making spaghetti and meatballs, which is exactly the kind of carb loading I should be doing with labor imminent, right?

As anxious as I am for this baby to come and as eager as I am not be 9 months pregnant anymore in 100 degree heat, I don’t believe in rushing a baby out before she’s ready . They’ll be no chugging of castor oil or acupuncture or doing squats all day going on over here. The last time around, I mostly just listened to this for inspiration.  Waiting is indeed the hardest part.

 

 

 

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A List of My Nervouses

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Bon Appetit’s Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Not too long ago, O said out of nowhere,  “I want to make a list of my nervouses.”

She took an imaginary pad of paper out of her pants and with an imaginary pen began to write. “What is my first nervous?” she asked.

“Hmm,” I said, intrigued by this impromptu therapy session she was running. “Do you get nervous about being dropped off at school?”

Yes, she agreed, this was true. We were just nearing the tail end of her month of school anxiety. Tears at drop-off had stopped but she still wasn’t 100% Gung-ho about the whole thing.

As we continued to work through her list of “nervouses” two other biggies emerged:

1.) There are too many kids at school
2.) She doesn’t like to go to sleep

Neither of these were a surprise to me. But still, it made me kind of sad. As adults, we all suffer from anxiety. Who among us hasn’t been paralyzed by a small task that feels overwhelming or lain awake at 2am crushed by anxiety over big life issues? As a parent you realize that anxiety starts at such a young age. No matter what sort of protected, fairy tale existence you try to create for your child they are not immune. They are human. And life is scary.

My conversation with O made me start thinking about my own list of nervouses and which ones I need to prioritize and conquer. For the last month, the one that’s been keeping me both paralyzed and tossing and turning is so simple it’s silly.

Babysitters.

My stomach just rolled. Arranging for strangers to come into my home and take care of my little defenseless daughter is near the top of my list of nervouses. Which isn’t to say we’ve never left the house without O. We had a worry-free and fantastic babysitting swap with our dear friends who also had a baby, until they moved across the country; we leave O with grandparents the few times a year they visit so we can have a date night; we’ve also had a few random babysitters who came over after O was already asleep. Mostly, though, Sorin and I go out separately and date nights are few and far between.

When I was easing back into work after O was born, we had two different sitters for brief periods of time. Both were lovely girls that I trusted but I realized pretty quickly that I was much more comfortable with a group care situation. It was with great relief that I found her current preschool when she turned 2. Yes, it is the school that O claims has too many kids – 24 for the record, although usually not all 24 are there at once. Watching over them are 4 teachers, 3 aides, the school owner and additional teachers who lead enrichment classes. I am completely comfortable with this arrangement, a small village watching over my child instead of one stranger in my house at night.

Ideally, of course, we’d get to know a person who would sit for us regularly and no longer be a stranger. But the truth is, we don’t go out that much. Who can afford to when you have to tack $30 to $60 of childcare on to every evening?

But mostly, it’s not the cost. It’s that I just can’t bear kneeling down and telling little O, “See that stranger who just walked in the door? She’s going to stay with you and put you to bed tonight while mom and dad leave. Good luck! Have fun!”

Yes, O and I have some codependency issues, but I don’t want to start delving into that right now. My goal this week was simply to solve the babysitting problem that I’ve been avoiding for months. It needed to be solved, because we have two events in November, a dinner and a concert, that we don’t want to miss.

And then just like that, once I finally faced the issue and forced myself to deal with it, a solution appeared. It turns out that one of O’s preschool teachers also babysits on the side. Someone we know and O knows who will come over and watch my girl. Phew.

Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

I chose this recipe because one of my other anxieties in life was that I was never going to make a great meat-free red sauce. I’ve made a lot of mediocre and flat-out bad red sauces over the years. A good red sauce is something every cook should have in their back pocket to pull out when cravings for spaghetti strike. Especially since most jarred sauces are so awful.

I think Bon Appetit’s Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce has finally removed the curse. It’s a lot like Marcella Hazan’s famous Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, but easier and more flavorful.

When I decided to make the sauce, the only whole peeled tomatoes I had were of the cheap Trader Joe’s variety and the can had been sitting in my pantry for awhile, continually shoved to the back. I had one measly, moldy garlic clove that I had to throw away, making it the first time ever that I didn’t have an abundance of garlic on hand. I wasn’t surprised by any of this though. I’ve known for a long time that whenever I try to make a red sauce, the culinary gods conspire against me.

But I soldiered on. I crushed those pale, limp canned tomatoes in a baking dish with a finely chopped shallot instead of garlic and the remaining ingredients: 2 anchovies, 1/4 cup unsalted butter chunks and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

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Roasted in a 425 F oven for 40 minutes (stirring once), the sauce comes out thick and deeply flavorful. It’s magic. I pureed the sauce until smooth, since I knew O would have nothing to do with a chunky sauce. I added a little more salt. Then I tossed it with a 1/2 pound of capellini and about 1/3 cup of reserved pasta cooking water.

Grate cheese on top, liberally sprinkle with fresh oregano and basil.  It’s the best easy + delicious vegetarian red sauce I’ve had in a long time. I think it would be stellar with meatballs, too.

Next time, I’ll add the garlic the original recipe calls for and I’ll use higher quality whole canned tomatoes. I’d also like to try cutting the amount of butter back just a bit and replacing it with olive oil. When I first tasted the sauce I thought 2 anchovies was too much, but the more I ate the more I realized that 2 was probably just right. Definitely add at least one; it’s a secret ingredient that gives the sauce a little extra something.

Here’s what I recommend: Go over to Bon Appetit and make their recipe for Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce. After you understand what the recipe is all about, then start making a few changes if you want. Or not. It just might be perfect the way it is.

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Why Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Isn’t a Journey of Self-Discovery

Last night during the post bedtime shuffle I do between the kitchen and O’s bedroom before she falls asleep (bringing more milk, changing a diaper, telling her this time I mean it, she better close her eyes and go to sleep) I read “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In” by Judith Warner. It’s one of those articles that is kind of interesting and kind of irritating, which is how I feel about most working mom vs stay-at-home mom discussions.

Discussions I have with close friends about this topic aren’t irritating at all. They’re cathartic and thoughtful and often enlightening. But public conversations about working or staying at home, especially those waged in the comments section of articles, can be highly irritating.

My feelings about the entire subject of staying at home vs working out of the home can be quickly summed up:  There is no right answer. Every woman and every family situation is different. There are pros and cons to both, and both choices have consequences.

Ms. Warner’s article points out the obvious consequence of staying at home for a decade or more: you will probably not be able to step right back into the workforce exactly where you left off.

While this reminder might be a reason to panic, it can also be a good thing. I know plenty of women who want to work outside of the home again at some point but have no desire to go back to exactly what they were doing pre-baby. An extended leave, whether it’s for a year or ten, can reset your career path in a really positive way.

The challenge is figuring out what that new thing is during one of the most exhausting and emotionally challenging periods of your life.

One of the husbands in the article, who’s wife volunteered for an organization while also staying at home with their 3 kids, commented about what he called his wife’s journey of “self-discovery.”

“Being the kind of person I am, Type A, wound, always going after something, I wonder what I could have done, having 12 years to sort of think about what I want to do. I sometimes think, Wow, I could have been an astronaut in 12 years, or I could have been something different that I’d really enjoy and that I never was afforded the financial opportunity or the time or the resources to enjoy. Maybe call it jealousy. Maybe envy. What could I have been in 12 years of self-discovery? I’ll go out on a limb and say: ‘I’d like to try it. It looks pretty good to me.’

This man is so clueless about what it’s like to stay at home full-time with kids (and no nanny) that it both pains me and makes me laugh. Really? In between changing shitty diapers and catching vomit in our hands and cleaning the house and shuttling kids to and from appointments and activities and making dinner and soothing and teaching and disciplining and everything else that goes into raising human beings there’s also time to become an astronaut?

Being a stay-at-home mom is not like attending a university for an advanced degree or like going to a secluded artists’ colony in the woods. Children undeniably open our hearts and minds and enable parents to tap into a creative and emotional side that is life changing, but on most days, kids take more than they give. The daily tasks involved in childrearing are often mind-numbingly tedious.

Mr. Mattox is a parent, he should know that. But still, he doesn’t understand why, after 12 years at home taking care of 3 kids, his wife doesn’t have an amazing new career lined up that’s both financially and emotionally rewarding.

Why? Because being a stay-at-home parent is not about you, it’s about your kids. There are precious few moments during the day when a mom can focus on her own self-development.  It’s all about making sure the kids are fed, clothed, safe, healthy and happy. The time spent alone is rarely spent in a meditative state, pondering a personal self-journey.

It was clear in the article that this husband did his share of housework and kid-shuttling and care while his wife was doing volunteer work. If he was so unhappy with his own career then why did he resent those hours spent in the mini-van or in the kitchen? Wasn’t that a perfect time for him to explore his own needs and desires and go on a personal journey of self-discovery?

What’s that you say, Mr. Mattox? You couldn’t think above the din of your kids squabbling or concentrate on anything because they were constantly interrupting you? You didn’t feel especially creative or ambitious while pushing a shopping cart around a grocery store? While sorting laundry, no new career ideas just popped into your head?

I work part-time from home, three days a week. I love being home with my daughter and I also love the days when she’s at preschool for 8 hours and I’m working. It’s an ideal schedule, one I work very hard at to sustain. I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, part stay-at-home mother and part working mother.

Without exception, the days when I feel most creative and mentally alert and ambitious about my career are the days when I’m working. This is because those days are about me. Even though I have tasks to complete and clients to deal with, I also have time alone in my quiet office to think my own thoughts and pursue ideas.

This is not to say that stay-at-home moms aren’t ambitious or career-minded. It is only to say that I think it would be really, really hard to discover and pursue a new career while simultaneously being a full-time stay at home mom.

Being home all day with a child is amazing and fulfilling in many, many ways and I would not trade it for anything. But being with O is all-consuming. On the days when I’m with her, I don’t have the mental space needed for real and focused career development or soul searching. I am not on a journey of personal self-discovery when I’m with my daughter. I’m on a journey of discovery with her, showing her the world and guiding her as she discovers her own interests and talents.

I am also focused on the job of running my household. Stay-at-home moms are busy! On the days when I work and O is at preschool, I’m relieved that the house stays in the same condition all day long. It might not get cleaner while I’m at work, but it doesn’t get dirtier. When you’re at home with kids, the house just keeps getting dirtier all day long, despite your best efforts to keep up with the chaos. When I’m home all day and not working, dinner is no easier to get on the table. I’ve already spent a good part of the day fixing snacks and lunch and now you want another full meal?

Stay-at-home moms are busy with the full-time job of making sure their family’s life doesn’t implode. Who can blame them for not having their next step in life, beyond their kids, all figured out?

But what is the answer for women who have taken time off to be with their kids but also want to, or need to, re-enter the workforce at some point?

A work environment that’s friendlier to parents would be an obvious and much-needed improvement. If Mr. Mattox’s wife could’ve found a job as flexible as her volunteer work, she probably would’ve re-entered the workforce instead of giving her time without pay. I have the schedule I do because I’m a freelancer with no benefits and a very unpredictable yearly salary.

I think it’s also important to find a little time each week away from your kids and out of your house. Volunteer, or take a class or just sit quietly and think at the library. Continue to pursue and cultivate your hobbies and interests instead of abandoning them; these interests can often spark ideas for a new career. Expand your conversations with other stay-at-home moms beyond kid stuff – I am constantly amazed and inspired by the women in my neighborhood moms’ club.

Most importantly, don’t waste the years you have at home with your kids worrying about re-entry into the workforce like this article encourages women to do. Enjoy your kids. Enjoy your time. Be hopeful about the future, not fearful.

And since we’re all so damn busy and don’t have time to cook anyway, today I give you something simple: leftover quinoa turned into a delicious breakfast.

Leftover quinoa warmed with almond milk, cinnamon, maple syrup and fresh berries.

Leftover quinoa warmed with almond milk, cinnamon, maple syrup and fresh berries.

 

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