Essay at Rooted in Rights

 

Garden Lites
Image Description: A box of Garden Lites Chocolate Muffins that are dairy-free and gluten-free

 

Hi Everyone!

I have a sort of unusual essay/article out today at Rooted in Rights, a disability advocacy group. It is called As a Chronically Ill Mom, Even Tater Tots Are a Way to Show My Kids Love . It’s about being a mom, food being love, preservatives, the Standard American Diet and convenience foods, and it’s part of the conversation around Mother’s Day about what it means to be a disabled mama. I hit a lot of topics in 1000 words!

Hope you are all having a great Mother’s Day weekend!

Love,

Kristin

 

Thanksgiving 2017

We are currently in the middle of renovations on our new house and aren’t living there yet. As of this writing this is what my kitchen looks like.

Kitchen a mess
Image Description: A kitchen cluttered with renovation debris and drywall dust 

Countertops are covered in sawdust, there are trim pieces and a table saw in my living room and bag chairs in the family room. We need to set up Wi-Fi and cable, and do not have any toilets upstairs. Our kitchen table, sofa and entertainment center are still in a storage unit.

We are less than a week from Thanksgiving and my ridiculousness has insisted that I still want to host Thanksgiving. It’s been our thing for years and years. Since graduating from college my husband and I have hosted a Thanksgiving dinner every year. We made pasta and turkey for just the two of us in Tennessee, and the next year there my brother-in-law came and visited. We’ve had my mother- and father-in-law over in Texas when our oldest was just three weeks old (though I did very little cooking that year). The ten years we’ve been back in Illinois we have added in my brothers and significant others, my parents, friends that became family and aunts and uncles and cousins. Like, it’s a whole thing. I have a collection of recipes and timetables and serving platters and autumn leaf-colored plates and a stuffed turkey and gold and brown tablecloths and a Tiffany-style pumpkin lamp. Like, it is on. This is happening.

My mom has teased me that this really isn’t necessary. My husband stared at me with wide eyes this morning, one of the few times in our twenty-one years together that he has admitted we probably have bitten off more than we can chew. My youngest was sad that every year we decorate a cardboard box that we then fill for the food pantry and that we might not get to this year-I told him we have a million moving boxes and I just grabbed some construction paper from Target. I’ve got Hawaiian rolls in my pantry, a pound and a half a pecans in the freezer, cranberries in the fridge.

My deviled egg plate, immersion blender and portable cupcake holder are out of storage. The big ass square stuffing bowl is ready.

Square Bowl
Image Description: Large white serving dishes on a windowsill overlooking trees

This may be the most ill-advised Thanksgiving we have ever held. But, this is one of the ways I show my gratitude for some of the people I love, and who have been there through this whirlwind process.

Let’s go.

Thanksgiving Table
Image Description: A table set for Thanksgiving with red and orange plates, a vase of autumnal flowers, gourds and leaves. This is last year’s set up

Happy Irish-Italian-American Day!

irish-Italian
[Picture of red tomatoes and a box of spaghetti above. Picture of shamrock and plaque that read “Home is where your story begins” surrounded by Celtic knots below]

I am half Irish-American and half Italian-American, more or less, give or take. On the Irish side there are a few Scottish and French ancestors, and on the Italian side we are more accurately Sicilian. This is a fairly common background for people who live near Chicago, Boston, or New York, as both of these European immigrant groups settled in these cities in large numbers. I get that it isn’t very common in the rest of the country – when I lived in Tennessee and Texas I was hard-pressed to find anyone who was either Irish-American or Italian-American, much less both.

Chicago, however, is city that dyes its river green every St. Patrick’s Day and has a bag-pipe filled parade. It is also a city that celebrates St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th with groaning tables of Italian food and the color red. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, Joseph the patron saint of Italy. It stands to reason, that in the Chicagoland area March 18th should be Irish-Italian-American Day. You know, split the difference and celebrate the best of both cultures.

My brother and I went back and forth on suggestions. Maybe of viewing of Brooklyn or Return to Me (apparently there is an Irish-Italian restaurant). I can’t remember if it is A Bronx Tale or Goodfellas that features characters who cannot be full mafiasos because they are part Irish-but I’m thinking I’m tired of Italian heritage being reduced to the mob. Maybe I’ll watch the beautifully animated Song of the Sea again.

My general feeling is that I would be best served eating Italian (and Italian-American) food while listening to Irish (and Irish-American) music. Gnocchi, lasagna, caprese salad, tiramisu, cannoli, lemon knot cookies, pizzelle, agli olio, espresso, eggplant parmesean, stuffed artichokes, pasta fagioli. Gaelic Storm, the Cheiftains, Van Morrison, Flogging Molly, U2.

The reverse would be all right too, if perhaps a tad less illustrious. I really do love a good stew, potatoes are always a favorite, and my oldest kid even likes cabbage. I can appreciate opera (Nessun Dorma sung by Pavarotti is heaven) and Frank Sinatra will always have my heart.

I could binge read, James Joyce and Dante, William Butler Yeats and Petrarch.

Check out the artwork of the Book of Kells, and the Renaissance.

Drink beer or wine.

And both places are beautiful.

You know, it is almost as if there is no wrong way to celebrate.

So for everyone out there who has both Irish and Italian heritage in America, in between Shamrock Shakes and sweets tables, there is one day that could celebrate both. Let’s do it!

Happy March 18th, everybody!

In a Land of Twelve Kinds of Cupcakes…

IMG_3031

For my younger son’s seventh birthday we had an experimental bake-off as one of his presents.  He is always coming up with flavor combinations he wants to try, be it a lemon peanut butter cup (which was actually amazing) to an apple orange soymilk smoothie (a lot less amazing). He has wanted to experiment with cupcake flavors forever, so when he got home from school we had a whole table of ingredients and sprinkles and frosting ready to mess around with. We whipped up basic vanilla and chocolate batter and set out all of our extracts (vanilla, almond, peppermint, orange, lemon, coconut and anise) all of the fruit in the house, nuts and candies and toffee bits and chocolate chips and marshmallows and food coloring and Teddy Grahams.

He was beside himself. The four of us, him, me, my husband and my older son would make three different experimental flavors each, and we started plotting and planning and dicing and mixing. In no particular order we ended up with…

  • Peanut butter-banana-chocolate with chocolate frosting
  • Lemon-banana-vanilla with yellow lemon-vanilla frosting
  • Maple-pecan-vanilla with cream cheese frosting
  • Chocolate-marshmallow with chocolate frosting and Teddy Grahams
  • Peppermint-chocolate-sprinkles with chocolate frosting and holiday sprinkles
  • Vanilla-strawberry with vanilla frosting and red sprinkles
  • Chocolate-Rice Krispies with purple-tinted vanilla frosting
  • Orange-chocolate-chocolate chip with orange-tinted vanilla frosting
  • Vanilla-almond-cherry jelly bean with pink-tinted vanilla frosting and a red jelly bean
  • Lemon zest-chocolate chip-vanilla with orange-tinted vanilla frosting
  • Vanilla-orange-pine nut-freeze dried strawberry with orange marmalade vanilla frosting
  • Classic chocolate with teal-tinted peppermint vanilla frosting and pastel sprinkles

The cupcake production was going full tilt…until it came grinding to a halt. In the midst of us all being excited about trying our cupcakes out for dessert that night, my husband casually mentioned that we could have friends and family test them out the next day at the huge family birthday in our little guy’s honor. That stopped him dead in his tracks. He suddenly refused to do any more – even though he had only come up with two of his three designs. Even though he had been so bouncy before. Even though the only reason we had to come up with this idea was that we knew it would make him extravagantly happy. He stopped.

We should have known. Our seven-year-old is terrified of other people’s reactions to his creative work. He has been known to throw Lego creations when they don’t work out, or to literally not move once he feels he is being watched too closely. He dances joyfully at home and messes around with a guitar, but the thought of taking lessons for either paralyzes his fun.

He sat angry on the couch as first I tried to coax out of him what was wrong, then his father took a turn. Eventually my husband was able to get him to admit that he was worried other people might hate his cupcakes. We first reassured him that people would love them, and if they didn’t it would be okay. When that was met with a skeptic scowl, we then reassured him that only our little family of four would ever taste them if that would make him happiest. My husband got him to design his last cupcake-the classic chocolate one with the elaborate topping.

 

IMG_3027 (1)

 

He is my child, for sure.

I am the one who procrastinated on writing papers until the last moment because if they turned out badly I could blame it on the time crunch. I am the one who was given an opportunity to write the introduction to an online curriculum series in college and turned it down because it made me too nervous. I am the one who decided I would rather be “well-rounded” than put all my energy into ballet. I am the one who got solos, but would then show up to voice lessons and even competitions woefully underprepared. I am the one who refused to let anyone coach me on my monologue audition I would perform just once for over twenty colleges’ theater departments.

Sometimes my fears honed my actual work into a fine point – my almost late papers taught me how to get an “A” even with limited time by using my (not-often-used) laser focus, my monologue got me admission into ten different theater departments. But then I kept shooting myself in the foot. I didn’t go into theater for fear of a lifetime of rejections. I don’t dance or sing anymore except in my own kitchen. I still write though, and I am trying for my youngest to show him that putting your creative work out there in the world is incredibly difficult, especially for him and for me, but that it really is the only way to be happy. It is the only way to be true to yourself, to be honest with who you are and what you bring to the world – putting your work out there for other people to see.

The beauty of living in a land with twelve kinds of cupcake is that you haven’t put all your hopes and dreams into just one cupcake. When you make just one, you are scared of your aunt who doesn’t care for chocolate, worried about the cousin who is allergic to nuts, terrified that another cousin will think it is too boring or that your grandpa with think it too crazy or that your grandma will say she likes it even if she really doesn’t.  When you have twelve different kinds of cupcakes, twelve experiments of flavor and texture and color it is okay that the jelly beans fell out of the bottom of one but left a delicate delicious flavor. It is okay that the peanut butter banana was too dense, it’s a great surprise that lemon and banana together is light and airy. It is more than okay to make a classic chocolate cupcake perfectly simple and beautiful decorated.

I am trying to take my own lesson from this. Right now I am grateful I am letting myself send so many cupcakes into the world, because I am less worried about each one being perfect.

I have, out there in submission-land and in no particular order…

  • A very short piece about school shooting fears
  • A very long piece about a hurricane evacuation while I taught high school
  • A medium piece about being mistreated as a patient with chronic illness
  • A rewrite of a blog piece about speech delays, open heart surgery and one-syllable words
  • A rejected piece about science fairs and art that turned into a blog post

And

  • An accepted piece about baby food, insecurity and watermelon

 

Eventually, in the sixth hour of his family party, our youngest let other people try out his cupcakes, once the big cake had been served, once the numbers of guests dwindled and he felt happy and content and comfortable with sharing his creativity. I think it went well, and I hope both he and I remember that while sharing can be scary, there are tricks to make it less so. And, ultimately, even if you are temporarily paralyzed with fear, moving forward anyways is worth it.

IMG_3029

Essay at Mamanomnom.com

Ripe Watermelon

 

Hi! I have an essay published today at mamanomnom.com called Watermelon Mush.  It is about feeling inadequate as a new mom and how that DOES NOT lead to culinary greatness.  I’m excited to be a part of this new food writing offshoot of Mamalode, to combine culinary and parenting writing in one place. If you know me you know I love my kids and I love my food, so this is a perfect fit!

Hope you can check it out!

Love,

Kristin

Tiny Bites

big bowl pomegranate

The bowl of little red jewels caught the light, the reward for nearly a half an hour of preparation. Pomegranates require patience. Once scored you can peel back the tough outer layer and begin to use your hands as claws pulling sections apart. Submerging the whole fruit under water, you can delicately loosen the gems from their white pith moorings and let them sink gently to the bottom of the bowl. Some will fall easily without bursting. Some will require finesse, like wiggling a baby tooth loose from pink-red gums. Some arils will split under too much pressure or when they catch the edge of your nail, but there are thousands upon thousands left to pick from. Like fish eggs, we assume so many are created because inevitably so many will be lost along the way. The whole lot is drained though a fine mesh, and the work continues picking out the blemished and the burst, rescuing the ones that need the last bits of white scraped off their bottoms. Then they are ready to eat.

I worried about this Thanksgiving. My body is dysfunctional in that way that means specialist doctors with extensive waitlists, daily confusion as to what healthy can look like for me, the possibility that something is very wrong or that no one will really know what the problem is. Until the cause of that dysfunction is uncovered, most of the canon of holiday food is actively dangerous to me if I lose my inhibitions and eat too much. Candied sweet potatoes and stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, cocktails and pecan pie are only safe for me in .01 parts per million, like arsenic. Turkey and green beans are acceptable. I worried about how empty and sparse my plate would look. That that emptiness might feel so much like sadness, or grief.

I worried that all the time it takes to make all these things, the hours and hours of peeling and mashing and sautéing would feel like masochism. Like deprivation. Like resentment of the people I love for being able to enjoy these things when I couldn’t. I worried that my love of cooking was purely selfish and greedy, that I was able to indulge my gluttony by it, but didn’t enjoy serving other people no matter how much I care for them.

Worse yet, I worried that my family would be able to see the sadness and selfishness flash across my face. The twin commandments I placed on myself, to be truthful and to be loving, were going to be compromised either one way or another. I didn’t want to lie, nor did I want to pout in envy, and I was quite convinced that at least one would be unavoidable.

As I worked through the process of freeing the pomegranate arils with my oldest son, as I shopped and cooked and cooked and cooked, I was happily surprised that I didn’t feel unhappy at all. The work was as satisfying as it had always been. I felt happy to make, and make, and make without hope of more than a mouthful of each treat. Without the expectation of tangible reward. And I was absolutely relieved to find out that I could be content that my loved ones could have something I couldn’t. The frustration I anticipated in myself dissolved before it materialized.

I had a beautifully happy Thanksgiving, where I got to find out that I still love cooking, I still love my friends and family more than my gluttony, I still can enjoy life with just a taste of this or that, I can be more than my self-pity.

Persephone, the goddess of springtime, spends part of each year as the Queen of the Underworld. We have one month of winter for each pomegranate seed she ate while in the keep of Hades, her kidnapper. As I allowed myself just a few arils out of the thousands we harvested for Thanksgiving, I let the juice burst into my mouth one by one. I was happy with my few, and thought ruefully that four months of winter was more than enough. Too many pomegranate seeds and spring might never come again. But the temptation to have at least a few is too much to pass up altogether, especially when winter, in all its coziness and closeness, is pretty wonderful.

4 pomegranates

Standing Still-A Free-Write Response

Literary Mama had a free-writing prompt today asking, “Consider how you make space and time for stillness.  How do you slow down?” I decided to free write today, to answer that question for myself.

pizza

Home-made pizza is what makes me slow down. It is a ridiculously slow process for something I can get other people to bring to me, hot and ready, for a really nominal fee. I live in such a busy suburb of Chicago I can even get deep dish pizza delivered within the half hour. But scheduling in homemade pizza as a dinner is my way of saying to myself, “We are not bound by deadlines today, we are not going to try to make, eat and clean up from dinner in thirty minutes so we can rush off to do God knows what else that seems more important than just relaxing.” It takes time to knead the dough, to let it rise, to roll it out, to get everyone’s apron on and off, to let everyone put their own toppings on, to take pictures of the pizzas before they cook (always) to clean up the four cookie sheets and one glass bowl we need to use, to wipe down the flour-covered counter and floor and to let the piping hot pizzas cool off enough to eat. We eat on a blanket in front of the TV. It is a signal. We do not need to rush every moment of our lives. We have a luxury of time we either don’t admit we have over fears of looking too privileged, or don’t use because we fear we’ll be the only ones. This is a signal that the world doesn’t need to swirl around us, that pausing and taking unnecessary time together is necessary.