As a first-time mother eighteen years ago, I thought I was prepared - after all, I had read 'What to expect when you're expecting' cover-to-cover. Plus, having grown up with three generations under the same roof, I had helped care for my new-born niece and nephew as well. My daughter was on the smallish side when born, and one look at her brought this roaring maternal lioness to life inside me. Combine that with the speed of how hard and fast I fell in love as soon as we locked eyes, and I was a goner.
Alarmingly though, she started losing weight after we took her home, and dropped to under six pounds. The pediatrician insisted on supplementing breast-feeding with formula, but that didn't sit well with me. Most days it seemed as though all I did was feed her, all day long. Then, it seemed as though it happened overnight, and this kid started to look as though someone had taken a bicycle pump to her. I even started calling her my Michelin tire baby. Fat babies are my favorite.
Soon it was time to supplement breast milk with solid foods, and apart from rice cereal, one of the first foods she had was pureed spinach. As I added more variety to her diet, it seemed as though she still couldn't get enough. Her favorite (as well as my second daughter's), was a sort-of soup: jasmine rice, (homemade) chicken stock, carrots, spinach and chicken breast cooked in a pressure cooker, then put through a food mill to make it safe and easy for her to eat. I would mix in a spoonful of plain yogurt, and my children ate it with great relish. At the age of nine months, I fed her pad thai that I had cooked for our dinner, and this child squealed with happiness. Apparently, food has always been our love language.
Fast forward a few years, and if my children were hungry, grumpy, or just needed a quick meal, I would make them a fried rice of sorts with spinach and eggs. Carbs, protein, healthy greens all covered, plus they ate it with plain yogurt. I've been made aware through the years that this combination, as well as all the things I cooked for them were considered 'weird' and 'gross' by several of their friends, and I was okay with that. After all, I wouldn't typically reach for rice, fish, fermented soybeans and umeboshi for breakfast, but Japanese children have been relishing it for centuries.
This past week, both children came home from each of their long, tiring days to spinach-and-egg fried rice. I can't remember the last time I had cooked it, but the satisfaction on their faces as they took the first bite made me wonder why I hadn't more often. They were no longer teenagers in this mama's eyes, but little girls with pigtails, looking at me like I could make all their boo-boos better.
Comfort looks and tastes different to each one of us. But it can be as simple as a bowl of rice. What does comfort look like to you? More importantly, who in your life could use some?
We drove through eight states. Ate some fabulous food. Sipped some fantastic, and not-so-fabulous coffee. Had one unforgettable dining experience. Visited with, and were amazed by young women we had last seen as little children in a girl scout troop.
We stayed at a hotel that is an aging grand dame from a bygone era. A bed-and-breakfast that was touted as the epitome of hospitality, only to be given an attic room in which the toilet was a few steps from the bed. And by that I mean that it was in the bedroom. Without a door, or a full wall for that matter. Spent two nights at an impersonal, but surprisingly comfortable hotel. Stayed another two nights at a dear friend's house with her entire extended family (I didn't want to leave).
In short, we had a road trip from which we can file away memories, and pull them out to examine and revisit for years to come. But, as they say, there is no place like home. And for us, there is no home like Raleigh. We are very glad to be back; baking, jamming, and feeding everyone again. And I hope to release this writer's block soon, and sound like myself again. Maybe when my brain is back from vacation.
On a sticky, hot day in June, I excitedly got out of my car on the fourth floor of the parking garage at the Raleigh Convention Center. Our daughter was graduating high school that day, and I was a jumble of emotions. At that moment though, I was full of anticipation, looking forward to the ceremony that is the culmination of fifteen years of schooling.
As I took my first few steps, I heard a snap and almost tripped. The strap on my (very cute) denim wedges had broken, and because it was the kind that wrapped around your ankle before being buckled, was extra long. So here I was, heading to my daughter's graduation ceremony, walking from the parking garage, around the block and to the convention center with about fourteen inches of my sandal strap flapping behind me. "That's okay", I thought to myself, "nothing is going to bring me down today".
The ceremony took place like clockwork. I laughed, I cried. My heart swelled with pride for my daughter, and her friends, all of whom we are going to miss as well as they scatter across the country for college come fall. We were a part of the mob of parents and families who went behind the stage afterwards to get 'one last picture' with friends and classmates, and of course with the family. Since we had taken two separate cars, my husband drove his mother and our younger daughter back home. Our graduate(!) and I decided to walk the few blocks down to her place of employment - which happens to be my favorite patisserie - so she could go see her work 'family'. I had also ordered her a cake as a surprise. As we exited the building to begin walking, she said, "Mum, your dress! What happened?" Turns out someone had apparently stepped on my long, summery (also very cute) dress, and it had ripped almost up to my knees in the back.
So, here I was, trailing the strap from my sandal, as well as a torn dress, limping three blocks on a hot summer afternoon with my confident cap-and-gowned daughter by my side. If that isn't an apt representation of how it feels to bring your child through high school and into adulthood, I don't know what is.
So I asked for a pair of scissors to cut the straps off both my sandals, and we tossed them in the trash along with any bad memories of high school. I found a safety pin so my dress didn't trail behind me anymore, and we walked out of the patisserie with the most delicious, decadent chocolate mousse cake.
Here's to every high school and college class of 2018 - I wish for you scissors, safety pins and chocolate cake in your journeys ahead. Congratulations!
If you've experienced a hot, sticky, humid summer in the South and feel like you can now handle anything, I would invite you to visit South India. Notice I didn't say 'visit South India in the summer'. That's because we pretty much have two seasons: summer, and the monsoons, which last for a couple of months. So, that leaves us with just summer, really.
It's the kind of heat that saps you of all energy, where taking a breath outside is like taking in a lungful of air when you accidentally open the dishwasher during the sanitize cycle. Your brain slowly turns to scrambled eggs inside your head, and you often find yourself perspiring while taking a shower. Not a pretty picture to paint, I know, but that is the reality of living in a coastal city in South India, which is where I was born and raised.
Part of my childhood was spent in a two bedroom apartment on the first floor, which was shared by my parents, sister, two brothers, paternal grandmother, me, a dog, cow, and her calf. Yes, you read that right. Our cow, Lakshmi, lived on our back patio with her calf, and the only way to take her out of the apartment for her walks was through the bedroom shared by my siblings and grandmother. Lakshmi provided us with more milk than we could possibly consume, and the (heavenly) butter that her milk produced left us with buttermilk that was impossibly delicious. We Indians like it lightly salted, with crushed mint leaves added sometimes. It is hands-down the most refreshing, naturally cooling and hydrating drink you can consume, and is very nutritious to boot.
My grandmother, who lived through giving birth to fourteen children (and losing seven of them), making the torturous journey from her country of birth during the Partition of India and Pakistan, and too many difficulties to recount, was naturally reticent and not very sociable. She lit up at the sight of her grandchildren, though, and spent most of her days in prayer, which I would like to think brought her some peace.
However, pretty much every afternoon in my memory, my grandma sat outside our apartment, with a huge clay pot of cold buttermilk. I can still see her, in an old white rattan chair, covering her head with the end of her sari in a feeble attempt to stay cool, calling out to every rickshaw puller, day laborer, construction worker or delivery person to stop and have a refreshing drink. It is no exaggeration to say that in several cases, that was the only nourishment they were going to receive until they went home with their meager wages and ate a meal of boiled rice and watery lentil soup.
Watching her, I learned that giving someone what they needed at that particular time was more important than making a grand gesture and making yourself look important. Showing up is better than showing off. Interaction with another human takes more time, and effort than writing a check to make a donation. That prayers might assuage your conscience, but they cannot fill an empty belly. Kindness and empathy don't come with a price tag. Looking someone in the eye and making them feel like a person, not a statistic could be all someone needs to turn their life around.
So, when I'm tempted to put a check in the mail and check a box off my good deed list, I only have to think of my grandma sitting outside in the sweltering heat. Perhaps I'll cook them something instead.
Loosely defined as "something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure", the concept of lagniappe or la napa is Spanish in origin, later adopted by the Creole French.
If you are fortunate enough to be as old as I am, you might remember this concept played out as the baker's dozen: you bought a dozen donuts, and the baker might throw in a 13th donut, just because. Or so you would think. In reality, the practice dates back to medieval times, when bakers would be flogged if they cheated their customers by providing anything less than that for which they had paid. To be extra sure that they didn't miscount, bakers began throwing in an extra loaf, as a precaution against a possible flogging.
Thank goodness, it's not the fear of a flogging that makes us want to include a little something when our customers keep returning to purchase our baked goods. In some cases, we just want you to try a new cookie we may have baked. In others, we know that you may have ordered a dozen cookies, but the temptation to have one 'on the way home' is just too much to resist, and you can't show up with one less cookie for your family (don't worry, Beth, I won't tell anyone).
So, we are bringing back the baker's dozen. Anytime you order a dozen of our cookies, or bonbons, or whoopie pies, we will throw in one on us. Just because we're nice like that. But we are not too nice either - in order to get your lagniappe, we invite you to join our newly minted Baker's Dozen Club. Simply sign up, and every time you order a dozen baked goods from us, you will get one on the house. Bonus, you will also be the first to know about our new products and promotions.
This has really inspired me to think of more old-fashioned customs or traditions we can bring back - any ideas? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and if we like your suggestion and implement it, we'll send you a little something. Now, isn't that nice?
Also, just a little reminder: with a graduation, family visiting, birthdays, and a trip coming up, we will not be at the Midtown Farmer's Market until July 14th. Except for when I'm traveling between July 3rd through the 11th, our ovens are still on, baking up cookie gifts for teachers, graduation cakes aplenty, and decadent pies.
Now, please excuse me while I go cry my eyes out so I don't embarrass my daughter during her Senior Assembly tomorrow, at which she is one of the speakers. Wish me luck!
If my math is correct, Grandma Lucille would have celebrated her 102nd birthday yesterday. I still miss her tremendously, although I last saw her in 2006, when we moved from California to Oklahoma.
Having just eloped with her 20 year old grandson, I didn't know what kind of reception to expect when my brand new husband took me to meet his grandparents. Both 80 years old at the time, they were my first true glimpse into an American family, and they welcomed me with open arms. Grandma Lucille in particular, with her wide open smile and embrace instantly made me feel like I belonged. Given the fact that 57 years and a continent separated our upbringing, we should have had very little in common. But our love of family and food created memories that I will cherish forever.
Grandma was of Norwegian descent, and in fact grew up speaking the language on their farm in South Dakota. One of her favorite memories, and a tradition that she continued for her children was of making lefse, very thin pancakes make with potatoes and flour. Slathered with butter and sugar, they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. There is a true art to making them, and getting the dough just right. Being Indian, and making rotis (whole wheat flatbreads) almost since I could stand upright, lefse were fairly easy for me to make. Learning how to make lefse from Grandma, and her delight when she realized that I knew exactly what she meant when she said that "the dough just needs to feel right" is hands-down my favorite memory with her.
I understand why we feel the need to memorialize people. Statues do it for some people. Grandiose poems have been written about others. We have an entire day (weekend, really) dedicated to fallen soldiers too numerous to honor individually. For Grandma Lucille, I think a fitting memorial would be to continue making memories - to pass down the art of making lefse to my daughters, to love someone because they love your family, no matter where they came from, to stay smiling until the very end no matter how many hardships you've endured, and to make a big difference in a thousand small ways. We don't have the time for anything less than that.
Making lefse, 2006
Insert emoji with one finger tapping my chin, while I thoughtfully look up somewhere beyond the tree tops. There are lots of things that make me go hmm...such as flip flops with fur on them. That one is pretty contradictory, in my opinion. Then, there are other things like cautionary signs on hair dryers that say "Do not use in bathtub". I mean, that one ought to be pretty obvious, right?
Except, seemingly it's not. Apparently, we have to state fundamental facts like "Smoking Causes Cancer" and "Black lives matter".
Let me introduce you to Mr. B, a former student from the culinary class I teach at the downtown men's shelter. These men are homeless for various reasons, and the reasons they are there is of less concern to me than the necessity to equip them with skills so they can get employed, and stay employed. Believe me when I tell you, not a single one of them wants to be there. Mr. B., who was initially quiet, emerged soon enough as the fastest learner in the group, and witty to boot. His interest was obvious from the keenly intelligent questions he always asked, and his quick comebacks kept class light-hearted.
One day I was teaching knife skills, and expounding on the various types of knives, their uses and specific functions, as well as the importance of keeping them sharp and at peak performance. Mr. B's voice piped up and said, "so you're saying chef's knives matter". Of course that got the intended laugh out of the class (I will admit it took most of them a minute to understand that he was, in fact, alluding to the slogan of Black Lives Matter). Have I mentioned that Mr. B is a young man who is black? I thought his 'Chef's Knives Matter' quote was awfully clever, and the more I've thought about it, the more appropriate it seems. We are all different, with various experiences and unique skill sets which, when applied properly, enhance the melting pot of our society. But, in order to contribute to society, we must first, as children and then young adults be taught our purpose. Be nurtured, taken care of and cherished, so we know to do the same. In other words, be honed to peak performance.
It should go without saying that all lives are of equal importance, that we as human beings matter. If ought to be shameful to us as a society that we have to talk about the fact that lives other than our own matter. I prefer Mr. B's take on it, his tongue-in-cheek approach that we can say anything we like, but it's what we do that matters. I liked it so much, in fact, that I put it on a shirt. Multiple shirts. And have decided to offer them for sale. Available for now at our Farmer's Market booth in North Hills, we are going to use every cent of the profit from the sale of these shirts to benefit children and youth who are not being taught their own value. I have a few ideas, but would like to hear from you, if you know how we can make an impact.
Do something. For someone. I promise you it matters to them.
Don't call attention to yourself. Don't smile at boys. Always be ladylike. Don't laugh too loudly. Don't run/jump/ride a motorcycle/take chances because you could hurt or disfigure yourself, and then who will marry you?
We, as girls, keep getting told that we should let other people's expectations define us. That we should be careful about our behavior, so we don't cause negative, derogatory or lustful thoughts in other people's minds.
My older daughter and I had a wonderful time while watching the musical Waitress last night. As entertaining and funny as it was, it brought on some pretty strong emotions because of the underlying theme of battered women - some emotionally, and some physically. Jenna, the main character, is stuck in an unhappy, controlling marriage, where she does everything she can to placate her abusive husband on a daily basis. Her only outlet is in baking - specifically, baking pies with true-to-her-situation themes like Betrayed By My Eggs pie - when she finds out she is pregnant.
Happily, I am not in an abusive marriage. But, the message of burying oneself to please others definitely dredged up the words, thoughts and old wives' tales brand of wisdom employed in my upbringing, and in the upbringing of almost every other girl I knew. And as I sat there watching, with my daughter at my side, and thinking of my younger daughter at home, I realized that to some extent, I had tried to teach them the same things that were taught to me. Not to repress them, but to protect them. To keep them safe from culture and society's portrayal of women.
But safety never has, and never will be in just staying home. To stay in a box made of society's expectations. We are safer when we are vocal, together. When we have each other's backs. While I observe plenty of young men who follow centuries of rules for the roles they are expected to play, I've encountered enough teenage boys who don't follow those rules. I see them treating young women as equals, and with dignity. Being open with their own feelings, and being vulnerable to getting hurt. Recognizing that while they might be physically stronger than some girls, they can't hold a candle to a woman's inner strength. And for that, I thank their mamas. The ones who changed the dialogue. The ones who taught them that paying attention to a girl's feelings doesn't make them weak, it gives them a partner. And to the dads, who are raising boys and teaching them how to be men of character.
I think I need to make a Time For Change pie: two equal layers of dark chocolate and white chocolate mousse on a baked graham cracker crust made just nutty enough with ground toasted pecans in it. Topped with a mixed berry compote that is sweet and tart, for fruitiness. Finished with cloudy, cardamom scented whipped cream, for the dreamers.
Is this post a little over the top? Yes. Do I hear my mother's voice in my ear saying, "it's too much, you're going too far, don't call attention to yourself?" Yes. Am I posting this anyway, for the women who won't, or can't say anything? Yes.
Oh, and Happy Mother's Day.
Clearly, the pictures above are of the same person. With just a few years in between the time that they were taken. What I'm not going to post (so that we may remain on speaking terms), is the picture of a time in-between. As most children do, my daughter went through a phase where she didn't look, or feel like herself. Where she only saw what was reflected back from the mirror, along with a hundred other imagined things.
The picture on the right was taken this past weekend, at her Senior prom. All the myriad details of dress shopping, getting her nails done, finding the perfect pair of shoes led to this one perfect moment, where her laugh is open, uncontained, and full of joy. Joy in knowing that not only did she look good, but felt good. Because she was with a group of people that she cares about. Because we had five of the girls come over to our house, and they did each others' hair and make-up while sharing stories and anticipation. Because although this was her last prom, and hence bittersweet, she had arrived at this point, intact and thriving.
The childhood laugh is in the moment, the one on the right was earned. Earned by being hurt, but moving on anyway. By realizing that you work hard to get what you want. That friends are extremely important, but your family is fundamental to your well-being. By losing loved ones, and honoring them by loving life.
My hope, as she is getting ready to graduate is this: that she can add another picture, taken thirty years from now, with laugh lines forming parentheses on either side of her face, eyes lined and crinkled at the corners with the same laugh, and a whole lot of living in-between.
Because the more things change, the more we want of the same.
If you follow our blog posts, and have read this one before you-say-farmer-we-say-market.html, you could possibly begin to understand the excitement, preparation and anticipation that went into our first day of the Midtown Farmer's Market.
After only three hours of sleep, and obsessively checking lists to make sure that we weren't leaving anything behind, we set off in our caravan of the minivan carrying Penny, followed by the SUV carrying all the baked goods and product for sale. We shall not speak of the minivan brakes overheating, necessitating an unscheduled stop, nor of the panic of getting there and getting set up on time. What I will tell you is that the day was glorious: a tad on the warm side, but perfect for market. From the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit to the hand-sewn aprons, and all the local honey, breads and various goods for sale, I'm not ashamed to say that I shed a tear over the sheer perfection of the day.
And we took in everything: the adorable, polite little twins whose eyes lit up when offered samples. The elderly beagle with the mournful eyes. The gregarious gentleman who announced himself a connoisseur, and bought two jars immediately upon sampling Rosalind, our raspberry-rose jam. The lovely family who just moved to Raleigh a month ago with their two little ones. The scruffy little dog who did a fine job keeping the area around our cart clean by vacuuming up every crumb. The older gentleman who said that the chocolate chess pie reminded him of his grandmother, long gone from this earth.
And then, the next week was even better. We got to see some faces from the previous week, and meet a whole lot of new folks. And we sold out! Every blueberry muffin with lemon glaze, every slice of pie, every lemon bar, and almost every jar of jam. All we had left were five oatmeal craisin cookies, which we were happy to share with our neighboring vendors. And in return, got the most tender, flavorful early spring lettuce from Nourishing Acres. Honey from the Pleasant Bee. A thumbs up of thanks from another vendor who was too busy enjoying the cookie to say anything. I'm going to get all Southern and say, "we LOVE this y'all"! And can't wait to come back every week.
You can come find us from 8:00 a.m. until noon every Saturday - we'll be the ones with the cookie samples and smiles.