SOMEONE tells me that at her most recent white suburban birthday party for a six-year-old, there were three joyless cakes, all home-baked without sugar, gluten or butter. Cakes that are so healthy, they have wings and extend your life on earth.
Apparently, every single child refused to take a bite and there was an awkward scene with Mum theatrically storming into the house in tears and guests cajoling their children with a “we can buy a McFlurry on the way home, just take one bite, please".
It reminds me of my first parents' evening at a new school years ago.
“Can we please NOT pack sweetened flavoured yoghurt in our children's lunch boxes," announced one vegan mom, staring straight at me, as the parents balanced in a circle on miniature chairs like docile circus elephants. (I'm the one who rescued my child from the neighbourhood public school — a land of Ghost Pops, Monster energy drinks and endless licking of Zoo biscuits — and enrolled her in the nearest Waldorf school.) A pedantic lesson about the sugar content of flavoured yoghurt and its consequences followed. From the disapproving looks, I gathered that I might as well have sent her to school with a zol.
I wish I could teleport myself back to my 34-year-old self and make some snappy comment like, “Yes, Karen. It is a shame that we cannot save our children from the evils of other people's lunch boxes." But alas, I was very anxious to be a good parent and tried hard not to offend the mums around me in sad, pale beige.
A few weeks later, the loose reins of my household were exposed again when my child passed around a book about the birds and the bees during break time. Worried moms who thought their 10-year-olds weren't ready for the facts of life called the teacher, and the teacher called me. That's how I learnt the ways of joyless, pale, beige moms. Friendly in the parking lot. Quick on the phone.
Hell awaits you
What I'm describing here sounds so semi-annoying but especially shoulder-shruggingly mundane and boring. Who cares, you might think.
Well, there's a certain hell awaiting you when you become a mother (or grandmother).
That hell is the social pressure to be a Good Mother (or Good Grandma). Nothing you do can escape the cloud of Good Mother hanging over you. It sometimes feels as if every choice you make — from packing the lunch box to choosing the school and a million other small and large decisions — will cause you either to harm your child irrevocably or make you a Good Mother.
Of course, “good” is a completely arbitrary concept, because how do you measure it? What do you measure it against? Do we measure it by our own actions? Or do we measure it by the actions of our children when they are adults? And how will you ever know whether you have achieved it?
I can honestly say that any evil I have committed as a parent has been under the deep conviction that I had be a “good mother". In the name of being a good mother, I was sometimes too strict because I imagined it was my job to have my child behave herself. And in the name of being a good mother, I sometimes encouraged her to change parts of herself to be more acceptable to other people. In the name of being a good mother, I sometimes chose rules and anger over loving curiosity.
As parents, it is our biggest job to preserve and protect the distinctive and unique personality of our children. We should never force them to betray themselves in order to feel accepted and loved and safe. It is bloody difficult sometimes, as my father used to say.
The recipe of the week is saucy mushrooms on cheesy polenta and it has nothing to do with motherhood. It is good enough.
Saucy mushrooms on cheesy polenta
Mushrooms and beans
350 g mixed mushrooms
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil
2 leeks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 glass of red wine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can cannellini beans
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 cup stock
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
½ cup (80 g) of polenta
2 cups (500 ml) vegetable stock
½ cup (80 g) parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons (30 g) of butter
salt to taste
1. Fry the mushrooms in batches until golden brown in the olive oil. Season with black pepper. Set aside.
2. Sauté the leeks, carrot and celery until soft and fragrant. Add the red wine and garlic and let most of the wine evaporate. Use an immersion blender to pulse it all together.
3. Stir in the beans, tomato purée, stock, thyme and paprika, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. If you prefer the sauce thinner, more stock can be added. Stir in half of the mushrooms. Taste and add black pepper and soy sauce or salt.
4. Heat the remaining mushrooms and add the butter and soy sauce.
5. Polenta Bring the stock to the boil. Stir in the polenta and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When the polenta comes away from the sides but is still runny, it is ready. Stir in the cheese and butter, taste and add salt to taste. Set aside.
6. Spoon the mushroom and beans onto the polenta and serve with the extra fried mushrooms and parmesan on each portion.
TIP You can spread the cooked polenta on a flat ovenproof sheet or bowl, sprinkle it with the cheese and grill it just before serving. This works especially well if you're afraid the polenta will set and become too thick.
♦ VWB ♦
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