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First days, fresh starts

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I had a few ideas for things to do during Josephine’s nap today, after I dropped Catherine off for her first full day of Kindergarten. Jo asleep in her stroller, I could take the ferry across the Hudson to IKEA, and browse throw blankets I didn’t plan to buy. I could take a walk along the Hudson Esplanade and do some “thinking.” Or, I could find a coffee shop and sit down and attempt a blog post. The coffee shop was too full to accommodate a stroller, but there were some little tables outside - so here I sit. There’s a chilly breeze, and I don’t know how long Josephine will stay asleep without the rocking motion of me pushing the stroller. But here we go. This morning, the scene outside Catherine's school was mass chaos. Parents smiling and crowding round to take photos of their new little students. The students themselves stood, or rather wiggled, in noisy lines, and let themselves be herded into the building by their new teachers. It would be overwhelming for anyone.

I watched Catherine, and clearly remembered being her age and how big the world seemed. She wore a Trolls backpack, clutched her pink lunchbox in one hand, and held tightly to Miss Camille’s hand with her other hand. Her face was so worried! She squinted against the sun and surveyed her surroundings as best she could. I knew she was searching for her friend Nina, who wasn’t there. I saw her look up at the sky and notice an airplane, but she was now being pulled along and tall grownups soon blocked her view. She then spotted a brightly colored hair tie on the ground and leaned towards it as if to grab it, then looked to her teacher a little urgently as if wanting to notify her, but still she was pulled right along and there was no time to stop and no one listening.

I tried to make eye contact to give her one more encouraging wave or blown kiss but she disappeared into the school without seeing me. I know she will be just fine. More than fine. She’s lucky, she isn’t very shy at all, unlike me as a child.

I know I haven’t been around these parts lately. When Catherine was born, suddenly nothing could compete with being mom.

And life, and all it’s surprises - most welcome, a few not - has a way of taking over if you let it.

Years ago, on my first blog, I wrote a post about what I’d do if I knew I could do anything. At the time all I wanted was to be a contributor to NPR and write about food. Soon after writing that blog post, my wish unexpectedly came true in the craziest way. I got a call from NPR because they’d seen my food blog, and were looking for contributors. Isn’t that crazy? I thought it was pretty awesome.

Which brings me back to that same question. If you knew anything was possible, what would you choose to do? Something for us all to think about.

I’ll end on that note! Miraculously, Josephine is still sleeping, so we’re going to walk to the grocery store and get the ingredients for chili. I’m feeling fall-y. Goodbye for now.

She's here!

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Our beautiful Josephine Violet Cobb is here. We've spent the past nearly four weeks snuggling her, learning to navigate New York and basically life with two girls, and enjoying visiting family. I've been dying to share the news of her birth on my blogs. And now she's down for a nap, and everyone else is out braving the rain to see the Museum of Natural History, and so I find myself with some time - how much, I never know, could be two minutes or two hours - before Josephine wakes up, in which to write.

Let me start by sharing her birth. She arrived in nearly the exact same fashion as her big sister! My mom and sister Mary came up two days before her due date. We spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday hanging out and enjoying the waterfront and walking around New York.

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Each night, we watched a little TV or a movie and then went to bed, wondering if that would be the night it happened. Mary took this picture of dad, mom, and big sister on March 7, the evening of my due date.

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That night we went to bed. Just like we did when I was pregnant the first time, with Catherine. And that morning, in the wee hours, at 2:00am - just like with Catherine - I was dreaming that it was time, and that we were rushing around looking for my doctor to deliver the baby, when I woke up and knew.  I woke Catherine and moved her into my bed just because somehow I felt she was closer to me that way. I told her what was happening, and kissed her and told her how much I loved her and that I'd see her at the hospital soon. She had a bag of goodies and presents for the waiting room, and most importantly, my wonderful mom and sister, so I knew she would be beyond fine!

We caught a quick uber to the hospital, and at 4:44am, just 2 hours and 45 minutes after I first woke, on May 8 - Mother's Day - I had my dark-haired baby girl in my arms.

WOW. She was stunning. I was madly, utterly, head over heels in love with this perfect, pretty little peanut. I was floored by how pretty she was! I was so proud of her. I put our new baby to my breast and she knew what to do right away. There she remained for the next hour and a half, and I was quite happy to have her. She weighed 7 pounds and 1 ounce, and was 20 inches long. And she delighted us all from the start and continues to do so!

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Grandmama Newberry’s Vegetable Beef Soup

Growing up, we went to my Grandmama Newberry’s house about once a month for the weekend. We’d leave right after school and drive the two and a half hours up to Gray, Georgia, where we’d spend the weekend playing with cousins (some of the most amazing fun I had as a kid) and spending time with my mom’s side of the family – which always meant eating delicious food. When we’d arrive Friday evening, there was almost always a pot of vegetable beef soup and cornbread waiting. Grandmama called it “vegetable soup” but I’m going to call it “vegetable beef soup” because there’s always stew beef in it – just wanna be clear.

The soup is very rich in flavor and good for the soul. You have to cook it the way she did, or it won’t taste the same. And that familiar taste is what makes it so great for me.

please forgive the soup sloshed over the rim.

Grandmama Newberry’s Vegetable Beef Soup

Trim a pound of lean stew beef, chop into bite-sized pieces, season generously with salt and pepper, and brown in a little oil in a big soup pot. Add a diced onion, a 14.5-oz can whole peeled tomatoes chopped by you, a beef bullion cube or two, and water to cover well. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for an hour or until the meat is very tender.

Now you can begin adding vegetables gradually, in order of cooking time. Add about three quarters of a cup (eyeball it) of frozen baby butterbeans first. They’ll need about twenty minutes. Then add two medium diced carrots. Add about half a cup (eyeball it) of frozen corn and four small peeled and diced red potatoes last, after everything is about done. You may need to add a little more water or bullion along the way. Once the potatoes are tender, stir in a tablespoon of butter and the soup is ready.

Serve with cornbread or corn muffins. I prefer slightly sweet, buttery cornbread because that’s how my grandmother and mom usually made it growing up. In fact, I’ve made cornbread from scratch many times but I really prefer this mix. Please don’t tell my husband I said that. He is very loyal to the original Southern way of making cornbread – without sugar!

UPDATE: Grandmama sometimes added okra and a little thinly sliced cabbage, too, I think along with the carrots.

If I had to pick just one.

We’ve been in New York now for a year and a half. And to say we love it seems pointless - I’ve definitely never lived in a better place, and I don’t think I ever will. Different one day, yes, equally great though in vastly different ways, yes – but no better. Maybe we’ll end up on that rocky cliff overlooking the sea somewhere, someday, and I really hope we do. But for now, here we are and happy.

Since I haven’t consistently documented or shared our life here in New York, I wanted to at least briefly share something that takes up a good deal of our time and sort of encapsulates what we love about the city. I mean, I am pretty sure it’s my very favorite thing to do here. And I think it’s what I’d take with me if we were to leave today.

It’s actually really simple. Every morning, Catherine and I and sometimes Chris, depending on how early we go, walk a few blocks, past the ice-cream booth and the balloon store, to the corner of Duane and Greenwich and get an espresso and a cherry pistachio biscotti from Laughing Man Coffee.

We sometimes sit on the tiny stoop outside the hole-in-the-wall shop and watch what I perceive to be very glamorous or at least fashionable or at the very least interesting people and their kids or dogs go in and out of the shop or loiter around it like we’re doing. Other times, we head straight over to the playground across the little street and Catherine digs in the sandbox and plays with other children who have names like Teddy, Lucie, and Wolfie, while I sip my coffee and watch.

This whole ritual makes me very, very happy. It's the combo of the caffeine, beautiful surroundings, and, hello, company of this perfect little person.

There is also that while I imagine everyone around us to be so glamorous, the neighborhood itself is intimate enough that even though we’re probably only here temporarily, I can almost believe it belongs to us…and that it assumes we belong to it.

As for Catherine – who races down the sidewalks on her purple scooter and skids expertly, for a 3-year-old, to a stop using the toe of her shoe in front of the shop and walks in to order a biscotti, sometimes while I’m still parking her scooter in a more out-of-the-way spot – she totally belongs here. It’s the only home she remembers, and I enjoy watching her eat her biscotti with the confidence of someone who deserves every delicious bite.

Simple Summer Strawberry Pie

Years ago, a friend - ahem, Jennifer - gave me a recipe called "Simple Blueberry Pie." It's been my go-to summer berry pie ever since. But at the farmers market on Saturday, Catherine and I were more inspired by the tiny baby strawberries. So, using the blueberry pie recipe as a base, we made a strawberry one.   Here's the original recipe. I think with a few tweaks it works with any berry. Just be sure to reduce the sugar by a fourth cup if using strawberries, as they're sweeter. You'll love this for summer because it combines cooked fruit with fresh and it's a bit lighter than a traditional baked pie.

  Simple Berry Pie

1 cup mashed berries, 3/4 cup sugar (1/2 for strawberries), 1/2 cup water, 2 Tbps cornstarch, 3 cups whole berries...and a baked pie crust.

Saucepan: cook 1st 4 over high heat until bubbling and thickened (a few minutes, stirring. I undercooked this last pie and it didn't set as quite firmly). Remove, mix in whole berries. Pour in baked pie shell. Refridgerate a few hours until firm. Serve with whipped cream.

Oh, and don't forget to make your kid super happy with a big piece of pie for lunch the next day!

   

My runs, along the Hudson

These days, my runs take place along the Hudson River. It goes like this. I wake up to an insistent little girl's "Mommy, get UP!" and put some oatmeal on the stove (or lately, rice pudding!), and brush my teeth and put on my running clothes. I take Meeks out to do his business and buy myself an espresso at the little Cuban coffee hut downstairs. Then I drink it while doing a puzzle or playing with legos on the floor with Catherine. Once sufficiently awake, I give Catherine her breakfast and let Chris know I'm leaving, and what they do while I'm gone, is their business (but I'm pretty sure it involves Catherine watching Mickey Mouse on Chris's phone while he sneaks in a few more Zs and showers in relative peace).

These runs are just about the only time that is all mine.  I step out the door of our apartment building in the early mornings and run three blocks west, past construction sites and coffee shops, dog walkers and high-heeled professionals, cobblestone streets and stinking bags of trash until the shadowy streets and fire-escaped brick buildings part and the sun comes bursting forth, reflected on the rippled water (that sounds a little dramatic but it really does appear like that). I have two Pandora stations and I alternate between them. One is called Mos Def. The other is called Counting Crows. I feel decidedly different depending on which one I'm listening to. When I listen to the Mos Def station, I am a bit of a badass, just so you know. But my Counting Crows station, which plays a wide variety of emotionally charged and poetic songs from the 90s, is the best.  When I run to Counting Crows, I feel open.  I'm sure my running posture says so.  Eyes fixed on the Statue of Liberty, the breeze cold and sharp on my face, the water-smell of the river, and Adam Duritz and all his feelings, and I literally feel like I'm about to take off like one of the fat pigeons that won't get out of my way until the last minute, except more graceful-like, much more graceful-like (of course).

I think while I run.  Often about Catherine and whether or not I'm being a good mom and what she needs more of or less of and what I can do with her to delight her or what new thing I can teach her or, on a bad day, how I can distract her. Other times about myself, how free I feel in that moment, how starting today I'm not eating any sugar and surely I can make it until bedtime, this time, and how I want to be a writer but I don't know when.

I come home with flushed cheeks and a surge of optimism. The time is short, like this nap during which time I've shirked my other duties in order to write this blog post.

"Mommy petty. Mommy petty bond hair. Wike pincess." Touches my unwashed hair which is still in the shape of the sweaty ponytail I've just removed. Then suddenly, "I gotta pee!" and jumps up and runs to the bathroom where I hear her do just that. This time is short, too.

Well, I wrote something. And that feels good. And when Catherine wakes up (any minute!) we're going to make m&m cookies (her choice!) and that will feel good too. And as for not eating any sugar? There's always tomorrow.

My Favorite Smoothie

So much has happened since I last blogged. Catherine has blossomed into a perfect almost-two-year old girl with big blue eyes and white blonde curls. We have moved to New York City. And, I have discovered this smoothie and haven't looked back.

[Here is where you imagine I took the time to post a photograph of this pure grass-green smoothie in a tall glass on my white, sunlight-drenched breakfast table.]

Here's a little exercise I did just for you.  Q: Can you describe this smoothie in a few words? A: Yes. Clean. Creamy. Refreshing. Filling. Light. Perfection.

Banana Parsley Smoothie

1 banana

1 big handful fresh parsley

chia and flax seeds

water and ice

Blend until smooth. Drink. Enjoy flavors like: subtly sweet and creamy from the banana, grassy and clean and fragrant from the parsley, substantial from the seeds, and cold and refreshing from the ice water. You'll feel completely satisfied and it will hold you over for hours, yet has very few calories.

Little Dipper

Tonight we had sandwiches, cut into the shape of stars.  They were grilled extra sharp white cheddar cheese sandwiches, with finely chopped spinach inside, all on "whole grain" bread bought at Target, because there was no time to get any really good bread from the farmers market, and this was the only imperfect part of the whole meal, though it was barely noticeable.  Because the sandwiches were stars only in shape; the true unintended star was the dip/soup.  Composed of sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, parsley, cooked chickpeas, and a little sea salt, pepper, and bay leaf – simmered in just enough water to cover – then, and this being key, pureed in the Christmas Vitamix (as it shall hereto forth be known, for obvious reasons) to the consistency of velvet, it was first dipped into, then devoured with a spoon – poor grilled cheese sandwichescast aside (you got that, right? GRILLED CHEESE. CAST ASIDE!) in favor of orange velvet soup, by okay let’s be honest the TRUE, BIGGEST star of the table who has been on this earth only 18 months but knows a good dip/soup when she tastes one.

The moral of this star-studded story is that kids like to dip, and when we act on this knowledge we sometimes stumble upon something too good to share the stage.

I know it doesn't look like much, but 18-month olds' tummies just don't lie.

A decision has been reached.

When you become a parent, you instantly love your baby more than yourself, or any other person or thing – or even any dream.  Yet while you gain a new identity, you also remain who you always were before you began changing diapers and sitting on the floor making a dolly talk for someone else’s entertainment. I've always loved to write.

Currently, I face obstacles.  I don't want to write about food in the same way that I used to. I, like most people, love food, but don’t you think it’s become a little cliché as a topic?  What else is there to say about it?  Everyone’s talking about their preference for local, seasonal, and organic – as if it were a new idea, or as if they're more virtuous for having chosen it (never mind that it isn't an option for many).  We've described it in every term imaginable.  I no longer want to read about plump, juicy, deeply red heirloom tomatoes with just the right balance of sweetness and acidity.  I want to read about the tomatoes the more down-to-earth among us experience. The ones my kid bit into – then promptly spit out – so that its slippery seeds lodged themselves into hard-to-reach crannies of the high chair. Oh, and it wasn’t even a great tomato.  It was slightly green, probably loaded with pesticides, and came from a hothouse in Florida. But hey, it still tastes good on toast with a little mayo and a sprinkle of salt.

If I didn't write about food, I could write about something really nice, a place I’d like to be.  Perhaps I could write about a girl who dwells in a little cottage on a rocky cliff overlooking the New England Atlantic.  Each morning, she sits at a wooden desk beside a window, and writes and writes over numerous cups of steaming earl gray.  When she can’t write anymore, she takes her dog out for a run on the beach below.  She picks up pastel-colored seashells along the way, then drops them clinking into a shallow crystal catch-all dish on the foyer table - where they look effortlessly charming.  At night, she chops vegetables for a simple soup and goes back to writing with a glass of red wine.  Other nights, she prepares a feast and invites friends over.  They sip cocktails by the fire and converse long into the night.  Before she goes to bed, she braids her hair, puts on a pretty nightgown, and reads a little before dozing off, worry free, in a four-poster bed under a white down comforter. If this were my story, I guess it’d make me a romance novelist.  If it feels too perfect to be true, it lacks soul, and there’s little satisfaction in that.

Instead, maybe I’d write about a walk across the parking lot to Target at 7:59a.m.  It’s cold, dreary, and misting.  I’m carrying my 18-month old daughter on one hip.   Her face is crusted with oatmeal.  She’s wearing a pink beanie and a puffy jacket.  We’re going to get a cappuccino and stroll around under florescent lighting in search of toilet paper and laundry detergent.  Getting these items back into our apartment will require two trips up the stairs, since we’ve also brought along a toy baby stroller bearing a white stuffed kitty.  By the time we make it back inside, I’ll have just enough energy to deposit the plastic Target bags on our foyer floor, and they, like the seashells in my dream, will also look effortless.  You wouldn’t know it, but these early morning walks with Catherine are the happiest part of my day and I relish them.

Aside from the subject matter, yet to be determined, there’s something else to consider. Can I not care what you think?  Because in order to write well, I can’t. I’m not sure I’m capable of writing all the stupid things I need to write, in order to get to something halfway decent, with you watching.  Wait.  What is that you’re saying?  I’ve already written lots of stupid things here?  Oh, trust me, it gets way stupider.  Or then again, maybe it gets better.  In the past I’ve written with others’ perceived tastes cluttering up my mind, and the result is something that rings ever so slightly untrue.   So the reverse should be an improvement, right?

Do you know the feeling of having suddenly decided it’s worth it?  You just know.  That you’d rather be skinny than eat ice cream.  That you’d rather be alone forever, than stay in your current relationship.   That you’d rather be poor, than stay in your current job.  That you’d rather be happy than right.  That you’d rather be wrong than silent.  That you’d rather get lost than keep driving the same boring route every day.  That you have defined your priorities, and you know what to do.  It feels good, like steering a ship, one you’re qualified to steer, your ship.

Mada Lorene Cox Belyeu

This weekend we drove to New Albany for Lorene’s funeral.  Mrs. Mada Lorene Cox Belyeu passed away at 99 years old.  She was a kind, wonderful woman who lived through, as James pointed out at her funeral, the Great Depression, both World Wars, and countless other events that shaped our nation.  It’s amazing to think of one person living to see so much change...and probably so much lack thereof, come to think of it.  I only had the privilege of knowing her a few years, but I always thought very highly of her.  She was a kind and giving person, never seeming to put herself first, or put on airs.  But she had a vain streak, which was charmingly girly.  Everyone, especially Chris, made it clear to me that her cooking and  virtues were something to strive for.  I don’t think I’ll ever make cornbread or tomato soup as well as she did, and I know I won’t grow a tomato or cantaloupe that tastes better than her homegrown ones. By the time I met Lorene, she was very hard of hearing.  If you wanted her to hear you, you had better assert yourself loud and clear.  Being reserved, I found this difficult at first so I missed out on conversations I could have had with her.  But eventually I found my “Lorene” voice and am thankful I did.  When Catherine and I went to Mississippi without Chris, we got to spend some extra time with Lorene.  We made breakfast together, looked through old photos, went to Walmart for some groceries.  Lorene mentioned she really wanted some new shoes and clothes.  But I had to get back to the house to breastfeed Catherine, who was still too little to be away from me for very long.  I planned to take her back to Walmart for a real shopping trip the next chance I got.  But Lorene fell and hurt herself, and we didn’t get another chance.

We spend Catherine's first Christmas in Mississippi.  Since by then Lorene was living with James and Margaret, we got to spend more time with her than usual, though she couldn’t get around easily and so spent much of her time upstairs in her chair.  Catherine was just learning to sit up.  In the morning, I’d spread out a blanket and prop Catherine up with pillows and give her toys.  I’d sit in the chair next to Lorene and drink coffee and work on sewing Catherine’s Christmas stocking.  We didn’t talk too much but I figured she’d like some company and I enjoyed hers.

Lorene’s eyes were pale blue and she had very good hair, especially compared to most 99-year-old women - even though she was always critiquing it.  She never had children, but she had a husband named Carlton who died in the 80s, and a brother named Hunter who died in 2009 at age 100, I think.  When Hunter went into the nursing home, Lorene went with him to make sure he was taken good care of.  When he died, she went back home to live out her life.  Last year, she was still planting a garden.  One day as we sat in her kitchen watching her slather a ridiculous amount of Country Crock margarine on a "cathead" biscuit (these are the large frozen biscuits she liked, from Stokes), she told us how people always poked fun of her for eating so much butter.  "I'm 98," she said.  "I guess it must be good for me."

When Catherine is older, we’ll show her pictures and tell her stories about Lorene.  I think the biggest thing about Lorene is her sweetness.  I’ve heard she has a temper, too, though I was never close enough to her for her to show me that temper.  I wouldn’t expect anything less though.

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