Lessons From Mom’s Kitchen

Happy Mother’s Day to the Mom’s out there! I have quite a few friends who are celebrating their first Mother’s Day, which, I can only image is super special.

When I watch these girlfriends with their new babies, I can’t help but wonder what I will be like as a Mom.

Will I do the right thing?

Will I lead my children to be independent adults?

Will I maintain who I am in motherhood?

Will I keep working?

Will I use cloth diapers?

Will I ditch the Windex and switch completely to all natural cleaning supplies?

And, what’s the deal with vaccinating?

Or, how about gluten? Will I give them gluten?

Or breast milk long enough?

… And, what is long enough without being weird?

Oye.

Being a mom is tough. And, confusing.

And, I am not a Mom yet! Heck. Being a mom is just barely a blip on my five year plan radar.

Growing up, I was surrounded by great mom’s who have set the bar high for motherhood without even knowing it. My aunts, friend’s moms and my own mother were (and still are) all wonderful mothers and great role models. And, they made it look easy.

I can hear my own mother laughing.

She is probably thinking something along the lines of, “It wasn’t easy… but, it’s only as hard as you make it…” Referring to the (exhaustive) list on concerns I rattled off earlier.

It’s those little words of wisdom that make moms great and my mom was full of them.

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She wasn’t a huge fan of a lecture. In fact, I think half the time I took advice from her, she didn’t mean for it come off that way. It was just something she would say in passing through her nurturing, keeping it real, you will know when you figure it out style of mothering.

I have carried much of my mom’s advice into my adult years and it has shaped me to become the woman I am today. She would say something little, be it about relationships, friendships, failures or life, that would just stick with you.

What is interesting is that many of her bits of wisdom are related to the kitchen. She was and still is a great cook. She is actually more like an artist than a cook. The kitchen is her studio. Her creativity is unlimited. She can really make a meal come to life.

But, what is really interesting is that these “words of wisdom” weren’t actually words. These few great life lessons are things I have interoperated from her actions in the kitchen.

And, the saying is true: Actions do speak louder than words.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Yes, my mom is very good at keeping it real.

But, that doesn’t mean she just lets it all hang out. She just knows her limits.

When entertaining my mom has an arsenal of favorite crowd pleasing dishes. These are menu items that she knows she could have mostly prepared earlier in the day and that, I think by now, she has memorized.

She knows a dinner party was not the time to try something new. However, if she does want to give something new a whirl, she will do a test run before the party.

This means she could spend time with her guests. She has always wanted people to feel comfortable in her home. No one feels comfortable when the hostess is stressed and working hard (Or worse, struggling) to get dinner on the table.

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Try New Things

Sure. There are times to stick with what you are good at and there are other times that you should stretch yourself.

My mom had that arsenal of great dishes, but she also loved to bust out a cook book and try something totally new and different. She taught us that if you can read a recipe, you can cook just about anything. I would say that 85% of my meals growing up were made from scratch.

But, she didn’t stop with just new recipes.

She was a maven of the natural food stores before they hit the main steam. I remember my sister was once on a tropical, rain forest, monkey-loving kick. (Don’t be embarrassed, Kerry. We all were seven once…) So, my mom purchased coconuts so we could see what they looked like on the inside and try the milk.

My mom made an effort and pushed herself and us. She saw value in broadening our palates.

Today, my siblings and I are far from picky eaters. We will try any kind of food, because we know from growing up that it might just become one of our favorites.

Think Outside of the Box

Literally.

Growing up we rarely ate processed food. I remember longing for my mom to buy Dunk-A-Roo’s and lunchables so I could be like everyone else at the lunch table.

I also remember hearing, on multiple occasions, my friends say “Your house has weird food” as they looked into the pantry trying to find a snack.

And, by typical standards, yeah. We did.

Instead, of the Pringles or Cheetos they were looking for, we had homemade Chex Mix. Or, blue corn chips with salsa she had canned. Or, hummus that she made.

… talk about freaking your friends out. “Umm… why are these chips dark?”

I know that her meaning behind this might have been for us to avoid added sugars, unneeded calories or artificial ingredients but it really taught me to not settle for the easy route. I enjoy using my skills, knowledge and creativity to the extreme.

Find Balance

My mom knew that nutrition was important. That is why she made meals from scratch and put an emphasis on fruits and vegetables versus chips no matter how much we complained.

But, she also knew that life is all about balance and you have got to live.

On occasion she would make phenomenal desserts or meals, like risotto, that were more caloric, but were worth experiencing and often were served at times that were worth celebrating.

I remember her once saying, “You can eat a cookie. Just don’t eat ten.”

As an adult, I love this lesson and because of it I have adapted an 80/20 lifestyle when it comes to food. I try to make the right choices 80% of the time.

I try to have fruit and vegetables at every meal. I do my best to make much of what we eat from scratch.

But, when there are cupcakes at a friend’s bridal shower, I am going to eat one. And, if I want to make ice cream, I make ice cream and I enjoy it. I don’t worry about it blowing “my diet.”

I savor each bite because it’s special and something that decadent deserves it.

And, so do I.

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Grow Wings, but Remember Your Roots

The summer I was thirteen I had the incredibly amazing opportunity to go to Australia and stay with a family there. Before I left, I had a sleep over with a few close friends. My mom stocked up on vegemite, essentially Australia’s Peanut Butter. It’s rough, but the Aussie’s love it. She also made Pavlova, a traditional Australian dessert that is similar to a meringue with fruit.

She could have run up to the grocery store and picked up a cake that had “Bon Voyage” scripted on it. But instead, she did the research and wanted not just me, but my friends, to experience a piece of Australia’s culture.

When I got to Australia’s customs the attendant asked me in a thick Australian accent, “Miss, do you have lots of sweets and lollie’s in your bag?”

Umm? Lollie’s?

She pulled a gallon zip lock baggie of candy from my checked baggage.

Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, and sandwich crackers with peanut butter filled the bag. As kid whose mom rarely bought this kind of stuff I wasn’t sure what to think.

But, I won’t lie… it made me pretty excited.

On the bag there was a note from my mom. “To share a piece of America with a new friend… because you can’t bring Apple Pie.”

I love broadening my horizons but I know you always have to remember where you came from.

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Around the Table Is the Best Place to Be

When Adam and I first started dating there were dates where we just talked and talked about our favorite things, what are families are like, where we grew up and so on.

While these conversations were exciting, we really didn’t have that much in common.

At least on the surface.

He liked to hunt, fish, and farm. He grew up in a small town surrounded by a corn field.

I liked shopping, shoes, and wine. I lived like a princess in a suburban bubble.

Even our parents seemed pretty different.

Adam’s Dad built a small business up from the ground and his Mom was a tough love nurse. They met in grade school and married in their late teens.

My dad was a right brained, successful marketer and my mom had stayed at home since I was born. They met at Business School and married approaching thirty.

But, then we got to the core. The values they imparted on us. That’s when the similarities started rolling in.

One major part of our childhood that both Adam and I valued was that our families ate dinner together at a table almost every night.

Both of our mother’s, who were driving kids to and from practice most week nights, made an effort to eat dinner as a family around the kitchen table.

TV’s were off.

… Phone’s and Ipad’s weren’t an issue.

It didn’t matter if it wasn’t until eight o’clock.

Or, that you had a paper due the next day.

You sat and spoke to one another. Listened about the other person’s day. Talked about current events. Learned it’s okay to have an opinion, but you need to respect someone else’s. Helped each other get through something challenging. Laughed. Said thanks.

This is something that Adam and I do everyday and know we will do when we have our own children.

And, if it’s the only lesson I am able to take from my mom and impart on my future children I will know I had done something right thanks to the huge impact it has had on me and my relationships with everyone I love.

Thank you, Nancy.

Thank you, Mom.

For teaching us both the most important lesson of all:

When you have family, friends and love with your whole heart, you have everything.

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End of the Season and So Much More

Autumn became a little aggressive last couple weeks bringing blustery wind, biting cold, and even flurries. Yuck.

This made me very glad that Adam and I had taken advantage of the sunshine the weekend before last and cleaned up the garden for the end of the season.

We tore out the remaining plants and tilled up the garden beds. All the herbs were pulled from their pots and composted; after trimming pieces we could still use.

Cleaning up a garden at the end of the season helps to make planting easier in the spring. You want to wait until the first frost, so that plants don’t grow back after removing them and trimming them back.

After a day of putting the garden to bed, I looked out at the empty piece of land.

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It was hard to imagine that just a couple months ago that same spot was booming with life and vibrancy.

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This brought on a little reflection.

The garden has given Adam and I so much more than produce. It has helped us grow. Learn. Expand who we are as individuals and together.

I read something somewhere that you should take time each day for your mind, body and soul.

And that is exactly what we did- without even knowing it- through this summer’s garden.

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Mind

Outside of a pathetic attempt at green beans and a couple cherry tomato plants, Adam and I had never gardened before this summer. We learned so much.

We learned how things grow. How to take care of plants. The benefits of eating food from a backyard garden.

This learning made us want to know more.

We were open to new concepts. Tried new things. Created new recipes with our veggies.

We read. We researched. We attended conferences. We listened to old pros. We Googled and Youtubed.

As a strong, yet apathic student in my younger years, I don’t know if I have been so interested, engaged and excited about learning ever.

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Body

First? The injuries.

Two bee stings. A sliced thumb when making cucumbers. One very, very bad sunburn when I thought it would be a good idea to pull weeds in a bikini top. And an unfortunate canning incident where boiling water poured down my right hand, branding the outline of my claddagh ring to my finger.

Don’t worry… Adam happened to make it out unscathed.

Second: A lot of people ask if we were doing it for the health benefits.

And I would be lying if I said, “No.” And we did see them.

We weren’t doing 4,000 calorie burning Cross Fit workouts, but we were outside and moving.

We didn’t feel like we were on a diet, but we were eating more vegetables than we had in the past.

I didn’t lose any noticeable weight, but I also didn’t gain any.

However, one thing that is fatter is our wallets. Grocery lists were shorter than ever. We also used to eat out at least once a week, but since June, we have maybe been out to eat just a handful of times.

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Soul

Tonight, I told Adam I was writing this post and asked him what he would say the garden gave us. Without hesitation, he said, “It has changed who we are.”

I smiled, because I couldn’t agree more.

As an individual, I felt like I gained a stronger definition of myself.

Ten months ago I was a young woman who worked hard trying to develop her career and liked to be with her friends. You might have gotten “shopping” out of me if you asked about my hobbies.

Kind of superficial. Very on the surface. Pretty boring.

Now, not only do I love working hard, being with my friends, and shopping, but I can go so much deeper than that.

There is so much more that makes me… me.

I love to spend time in the garden, getting dirt under my nails. I giggle with I have a gaggle of hens following me around the yard. I get so excited create something delicious with the fresh food from the backyard and share it with my friends and family. I like to learn more about local food growers, sustainable and self-sufficient living. I seek out hyper local restaurants and opportunities to share this new found passion.

I looked at Adam, who clearly was thinking of nearly the same things I was, and said, “But you know what was so great about all of this? What was at the core of everything? We did it together.”

Adam lit up and nodded.

Hours were spent working alongside each other outside in the garden with no other distractions. We laughed remembering the chicks when they were clumsy, little fluff balls that could entertain us more than any episode of Big Bang Theory. And the evenings in early June spent in the garden together catching up and checking out the changes in the growing plants with a glass of wine are memories that we both will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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I don’t think we needed it, but the garden did make us closer. It made us stronger. It made us better.

And we both cannot wait to see what next year will bring.

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