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Bourdain.

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Deeply masculine and a champion of counter-culture, Anthony Bourdain revealed the soul of the professional kitchen to America. He told the world what every cook knew – kitchens were raw and rude, cut-throat and macho. Though his refined tough-talk, Bourdain revealed deliciously dirty truths about the restaurant industry, captivating industry professionals and hobbyists alike – he was an insider to a lifestyle championed by those who survive it. Although the professional kitchen can be inexcusably unprofessional, he captured how it can also be liberating and refreshing. Its straight-forwardness coupled with witty banter, a fondness for pleasure and excess is the stuff of sit-coms and mini-dramas. Although its devotees sacrifice any normal social life and work grueling hours, they simultaneously escape the drudgery of decency and reality. Whether it’s the rush of adrenaline from working on the line, the afterhours (or all day) drinking or simply feeling a sense of superiority over a well-to-do patron who prefers his steak well-done, cooks are masters of visceral satisfaction. Bourdain artfully revealed every bite of it in all its juicy glory.

 

I feel simultaneously defensive and disgusted by the kitchen. I’ve succeeded in it, mastered difficult personalities, armored my femaleness, and made some great food alongside some crazy, eccentric personalities. I’ve had fun in Bourdain’s world. But ultimately, since Kitchen Confidential came out eighteen years ago (2000), the narrative of the kitchen hasn’t really changed. The core of the profession remains masculine, asses are still grabbed and women still feel like they have something to prove. I never typed #MeToo, because I felt I’d somehow knowingly signed up for all of it. Today, allegations against the Spotted Pig feel nearly forgotten and Mario Batali’s crocks and cock are already a thing of the past. Chefs will be, after all…

 

From the moment I started culinary school, where many of the instructors were old, Frenchmen and Germans, I was treated as a darling granddaughter. Somehow, there was a shadow and I was a woman first and a student second. It was subtly and charmingly offensive. While the food quality and general class protocol were of course a primary focus, more than one instructor innocently reminded me how incompatible the toils of the industry were with raising a family, should I ever want one…I’m pretty sure no one was discussing potential reproduction with my male colleagues. I had the sinking feeling that my abilities were prorated. I had a handicap. I was a woman. As I continued along my journey as a cook, I learned that the female version of Anthony Bourdain doesn’t exist because it can’t. The profession still doesn’t belong to us.

 

Bourdain gave the industry a truthful and beautiful narrative about the simultaneously freeing and condemning lifestyle of the professional kitchen. Yet, now it feels like we need to do something with his information. He was a poetic storyteller, using food to reach people all over the world. He connected with others through food, revealing sensitive aspects of humanity. He left as a keen observer. It is up to us to define the call to action.

 

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The Chef’s Daughter

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During my time in Texas, it has been my goal to get BZ to eat a quesadilla. What can I say? I dream big. Do you realize what fantastic dining options would open up in San Antonio if my child would eat some Tex-Mex? Currently, we’re limited to Italian and Asian…anywhere that serves plain pasta or white rice…so basically, PF Chang’s and Olive Garden. More recently, BZ has acquired a taste for Mac n Cheese, but only if it’s flaming, bright, blue-box blues orange. Chili’s here we come!

Somehow, my daughter became a self-selected vegan. She literally gets all of her protein from nuts and cold, cubed tofu. To my child, chicken is the devil. Even if it’s shaped like a dinosaur. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? This is not a new phenomenon. It started when she was 6 months old and she wouldn’t eat a puree to save her life. It was breast-milk or nothing. Clearly 1985 was a good vintage, but you’d think she’d appreciate some variety.

So last week, when Baby #2 grabbed for my morning banana, I immediately mushed some on my finger and gave her a taste. Could this child #2 actually be interested in food? The idea that a kid might want to eat for pleasure is elating. I immediately went to the grocery store to stock up on baby-food. No, I did not make my own baby food. I did not hand-blend hydroponic, organic, locally grown, farmers’ market produce in my magic bullet mini. With BZ I spend HOURS preparing food with all of the best produce. I hand-blended carrots…

When she acted like the carrots were toxic, I tried something else. I tried sweet potatoes. They were also poison. I tried bananas. What baby doesn’t like bananas? MINE. My baby didn’t like bananas. Months passed. I started adding a pinch of salt or cinnamon and sugar here and there, hoping that her reaction might be something less than revulsion, but if it wasn’t coming from my boob, all food was suspect and ultimately, disgusting.

Finally, I broke down and tried grains. Around 9 months, oatmeal was the first food that BZ ate more than 2 bites of without gagging. It was soon after this that she entered her dehydrated period. She ate nothing, unless it was perfectly dry — Dehydrated yogurt drops, freeze-dried fruits, dry cheerios, dried apple slices. If it was mushy or wet, BZ wouldn’t touch it. They say that “food before one is just for fun,” so I didn’t sweat it until I weaned her a few months after her first birthday, figuring that once she didn’t have another source of sustenance, she’d break…Wrong.  My child has the willfulness of a salmon pushing upstream and the relentlessness of Buddy the Elf.

Yet, ultimately, I respect BZ’s relentlessness. It permeates her entire existence. She has strong opinions, not only about food, but about clothing and colors and Play-Doh and the process of getting into her car seat, and the order of our bedtime songs. She doesn’t just exist, but feels and tastes every aspect of our existence. Lately, she has refused to FaceTime with anyone that is far away. Living in Texas, far away from many people that we love, it is challenging, but, it is also her choice. Somehow, somewhere, she has chosen to demand complete physical presence of her family and friends. I am in awe of willfulness, and stubbornness, or whatever you’d like to call it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have that solidity at three years old, but I’m thankful for hers. I am thankful for her confidence and fortitude. I will do my best to strike a balance and not stifle, but strengthen her grit.

Also, I’m pretty sure that there are no quesadillas in our immediate future.

 

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Laundry Room Hideaway

IMG_1040After Busy BZ and the baby go to sleep and the toys are put away and the dishwasher is emptied and everything is reset and ready for the next day, I make a decision about what to do with my last hour or two of the day. You might think I’d relish this time, but instead I feel paralyzed. After a day with a baby on my boob and toddler in my face, what should I do for myself? I could go to the gym or dust off my yoga mat, or maybe I could read or write. Usually, just the thought of these activities makes me tired. So, most nights you’ll find me finishing a regrettable season of some show Hulu with a cup of tea (or sometimes wine) and a jar of M&Ms.

The move from NY to TX has not been an easy one. I’ve never minded moving before, but then again, I’ve never moved pregnant or with a kid. Almost a year later, BZ has finally stopped talking about NY. This a relief and heartbreaking at the same time. “Remember that house with the red door?” she’d ask from time to time referring to our old house. “We can go back there,” she’d add, continuing to play happily, emotionally ruining me for rest of the day, kick-starting my inevitable M&M consumption. Now, it’s fading. She’s forgetting our friends there and the house and those first two years and I feel alone remembering all of it so brightly. Cue the M&Ms…

Maybe the most important detail of all this, is that I can’t eat the M&Ms out in the open. A three-year-old tracks my movements all day long and she’s fluent in candy consumption. From across the room, she distinguishes the sound of a rustling bag of M&Ms from something less interesting. If they’re on my breath, she will call me out and remind me to share. So, I pop candy into my mouth at intervals when she turns her head, careful to keep it quiet, chugging tea to wash down the scent. The compromising method of consumption doesn’t boost morale.

To this day, my mom stores bags M&Ms in the laundry room. Growing up, I never stopped to think about how strange it was for the candy to take its seat next to Costco sized jugs of Tide and dryer sheets, but now it couldn’t be more clear… Laundry room candy is a last vestige from her days of concealing M&Ms from ME. Like mother, like daughter…I guess it’s my turn to find my moments of peace and chocolate alongside the fresh sheets and underwear.

Our family is moving yet again. It sucks. Thankfully, this time we’re headed to Ohio to be close to family and M&Ms are small and easy to pack. Still, all this moving has made adult-ing at 33 feel more challenging than it did at 30. I thought I’d already organized most of life’s “big picture” pieces like a job, house, good friends, baby, etc. While reinventing yourself at 20 is exciting, after thirty it’s just exhausting. I suppose that moving forces you to find the core of your identity because it strips away so many of your surroundings. Motherhood is also transformative and challenges identity…basically, I’m like the hollow shell that’s lost her chocolate filling and peanut. Or perhaps, I’m the solid candy center missing her colorful candy coating? Only Mars knows. For now, I’m taking baby steps when it comes to planning and focusing on the two little girls who have become my world. One thing is certain — I’ll be spending plenty of time in the laundry room.

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This has NOTHING to do with food.

WARNING: This has nothing to do with food. This is simply a random collection of thoughts

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There’s nothing like having a baby to disrupt to time-space continuum. Today, I built purple snowmen out of Play-Doh and had to explain property law to a princess-dress wearing five-year-old who ripped a toy waffle iron out of my 21 month-old daughter’s hands. I feel frazzled, tired and I’m not ever sure what I did most of the day. I do know that the day ended with fishing bZ’s slippers from the toilet. That’s what happens when you sneak into the corner of the kitchen for five minutes to check The News when you think your child is watching Pooh Bear.

As a 21st century woman, most of my girlfriends, like myself, are just beginning to have babies. We’re in our late twenties to mid-thirties and we’ve got it going on. Many of us have degrees, some post-graduate work, powerful tribes of female friends and we’re filled with ambition. We’ve spent our twenties working towards Big Things. For many of us, we didn’t actively “work” towards motherhood – it’s a choice that happened along the way. Somehow, I was trained to not expect it, even when it was what I wanted. In my experience, it would have been socially unacceptable to “only” want to be mother. As a 21st century women, you are expected to do it all.

During pregnancy, I anticipated the life-changing adventure I had chosen. I understood my life would never be the same. People tell you that, but I’d always imagined the emotional transformation – the profound love of motherhood, the joy of seeing your child for the first time, etc. Having bZ has been all of that, but it’s also been something more. Becoming a mom has required me to completely redefine myself.

Motherhood came at a time when I felt like I was really getting in the groove of things. In my personal life, I had solid relationships and in my career, I no longer felt like a kid. I’d had my first pastry chef job, I’d worked abroad, I’d published some articles, I bought a house and I knew who I was. That’s the trick about your late twenties and early thirties, though, isn’t it? That’s the age when careers really start to define themselves. As a woman, the timing of that whole thing is really the pits because these tiny creatures comes into your life and every priority, relationship, and expectation is redefined at the moment you began to figure life out. I think Jessica Alba and Beyoncé have got it figured out, but personally, I’m still working on it.

So, where does that leave me? I’m not fully my own human. I belong, in part, to her. I’m okay with that. I’m writing this in between trying to convince her to go to sleep (…That I’m less okay with. She needs to just go to sleep for Paté’s sake…She’s obsessed with Frosty the Snowman and yells “Frosty!” anytime I stop singing the song. So, if my writing is incoherent, it’s because I’m half in a world of magic hats and the North Pole). While, some parts of me have become more silent over the past 21 months, other parts have been awakened with a sense of purpose. I’ve never felt more like more of an activist than I do right now.

I’ve gone radio silent over the course of the election. I’ve been conserving all my political energy and fueling the reserves. I’ll tell you something – it’s been an interesting time to have a baby. When you have a baby, you look at the future differently. The sad feels sadder, remote violence becomes almost palpable and inequality becomes personal. Everything feels personal. On the flip side, joy is heightened and if you slow down, some days feel like that childhood Christmas that you never want to end.

I feel like somewhere, in some attainable future, women can have it all. One day, we’re all going to nail it like Diane Keaton, Baby Boom style. I have a daughter. She will have it all. I am here to blaze her trail.

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“Last Season on the Metro North” and “Cadbury Eggs are my Train Beer”

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Everything and everybody in New York City needs a good power-wash. I imagine one, big, beautiful musical montage of spraying the town back to its original colors (whatever those might be) as grey sludge drips down the buildings and into the sewage grates where it belongs. There’s nothing that can’t be accomplished with a good musical montage – Ashley Judd running around the jail yard track in Double Jeopardy, Mulan readying to face the Huns to Donny Osmond’s motivating anthem, and Daniel LaRusso’s fight to the top in the Karate Kid.

Each week when I go to class, I imagine a version of my musical number power-washing the city clean. The mental imagery is as satisfying as a full bottle of Softscrub and pack of new sponges from Costco. This is my last semester at NYU’s Food Studies Master’s program and my third year of taking the two-hour trek on the Metro North. If it weren’t for the grind of traveling with disgruntled, pushy commuters, rather than happy-go-lucky weekenders, I might still find romance in the city’s gruff charm. But for me, New York City more closely resembles that hot rebellious crush from high school whom you recently ran into while he was working at the Sunglass Hut and whose glory years were smoked away in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen – once attractive and exciting, but no longer easy to talk to, practical or your vision of success.

Lot’s of people disagree with me on this. But then again, lots of people think that Cadbury Eggs aren’t delicious. And they are wrong. Cadbury Egg season is upon us and I’ve been eating my fill. A milky chocolate shell filled with pure fondant is right up my alley. It’s like a cherry cordial with no cherry and completely skewed proportions of chocolate to fondant. Is it excessively sweet? Maybe. Is the yellow tinted yolk disturbing to some? Perhaps. Are they made of pure Easter Bunny magic? Absolutely. Queue the Cadbury Egg eating montage…Hey, if I can’t have a train beer to get me through the commute, a shot of pure sugar will do.

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Dessert Potato

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While contemplating the baked potato, I concluded that it was, in essence, a blank canvas. With a relatively neutral flavor, the bare and naked potato is no more than unrealized au gratin, or a French fry that has yet to reach its fullest potential. But, served with melted cheese, broccoli, butter, sour cream and bacon, the baked potato becomes the ideal vehicle for delicious flavor. This was the thought that entered my twelve year-old mind. And naturally, I extrapolated on this idea with the following logic – If a baked potato is only as good as its toppings, then it has the potential to be a vehicle for sugar. I was on the brink of inventing the dessert potato.

My logic was reinforced by my recent discovery of breakfast pizza. It follows the similar formula of a Neutral base + Flavorful Toppings = Culinary Success. And who wouldn’t want the excuse to eat pizza for breakfast? And if it was socially acceptable to eat pizza for breakfast, why couldn’t I eat a dessert potato for dinner? I was already getting away with eating frozen yogurt on my waffles in the morning and I had great ambitions of transforming every meal into some sweet reincarnation of its former, nutritious self.

I approached my dad and explained my theory. Remarkably, he was open to conducting some research. We cooked a baked potato in the microwave and got the chocolate sauce ready (and by that, I mean that I retrieved a bottle of Hershey’s syrup from the fridge). After eight long minutes of anticipation, the microwave beeped. We split the potato down the middle and I squirted syrup all over it. As far as condiments go, maybe, Hershey’s syrup wasn’t the best selection. Rather than coating the potato, it soaked right in, resulting in a mealy and wet, dark brown potato blunder. As it turns out, the potato was not as neutral and accepting of toppings as I’d hoped. Imagine letting an Oreo get soggy in a bowl of potato soup, or stirring mashed potatoes into a mug of hot chocolate, and you’ve got the basic idea of our dessert potato results.

I know, I know. You’re surprised that the dessert potato failed. I was too.

I was thinking about the potato experiment because I was thinking about my baby. Let me explain. For the love of all things delicious, I am going to do my very best not to turn this website into what is known as, “the Mommy Blog.” My focus and dedication here is, and will always be, the sweet, occasionally excessive, and sometimes disastrous discoveries of my eating, baking and traveling adventures. This being said, my brain is consumed with all things baby and my personal experiences are a big part of what I like to share here. So, how do I maintain my own voice and sense of self with the new role I’m about to play? How do I write about food and not complain about the current absence of blue cheese and beer in my life? Or how do I not bore you by rambling on about pineapple cravings? (we’re talking entire pineapples in a single sitting).

While the focus of the story might be the potato, I guess it had me thinking more about my dad and the weird things you do with your kids. It’s my hope that I do lots of weird things involving food with my kid when she’s old enough. Whether it’s eating chocolate on potatoes, deep-frying pancake batter and dipping it in ketchup, or trying to bake and consume homemade Playdoh (yup, I did all of those things), kids approach food from a strange and wonderful angle. While I won’t gripe about diapers or report on natural, baby-friendly meal plans on the blog, I can’t wait to have a co-conspirator in cookie-making, beater-licking and culinary creation and tell you all about it.

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Just Keeping it Down

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Don’t worry. I’m not going to suddenly turn my blog into a dissertation about pregnancy, or mommies, or suddenly take a great interest in mundane household things like finally learning how to fold a fitted bed sheet (I feel at peace with the fact that that’s just never going to happen). Nor will I chronicle the progress of my “bump” on Facebook. I don’t want to see pictures of other people’s stomachs and I certainly don’t want to parade mine around the internet. No one needs to see that – just put it away. These days, my newsfeed is inundated with tiny, fresh humans and contains no more “news” than an aisle of Gerber diapers. Although it’s undeniably wonderful and cute, I nostalgically scroll back to the days when status updates contained more beer than babies.

So I’m not here to share anything gushy, chubby or small. I just want to talk about the food aversions. If you don’t already know me, here are a few facts about me: I love eating. I love cooking. I’m an unapologetic carnivore. The drumstick is my favorite part of the chicken, a full rack of ribs stands no chance of survival in my presence, and I believe that most meals are made better with a pile of pulled pork. Well, at least that’s the champion eater I once knew. Today, I’ve been reduced to a corn puff eating shell of my former self.
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The unexpected detail that growing a small creature inside of me would completely alter my previously palate is something I hadn’t fully expected. Chicken nor beef has passed through my lips for the past three months. The smell of beer offends my senses and once beloved barbecue has become the enemy with which one sniff sends me off to the bathroom to cradle the toilet bowl.

It is embarrassing what I willingly drop into a grocery cart. The ungodly amount of popsicles I go through is the least of it. At least those sometimes contain real fruit. It’s the frozen waffles, Super Pretzels, and dare I say, PopTarts, that lead me to believe that I’m no longer in control. Basically, my new self hates flavor. I’m supposed to be growing a human inside of me – not a carnival clown. Luckily for my body (and the little creature in there), I can keep down apples with peanut butter and the occasional yogurt.
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The upsetting bit of this whole thing is that food preferences are so embedded into my sense of being that their sudden disappearance and dreading each meal feels like I’ve lost a friend – A beautiful, deep-fried, spicy and dynamic friend. Also, my social life has gone out the window. Let’s just say that when you’re nibbling on the bread basket and sipping seltzer, while your friends want to indulge in poutine and beer, you kind of suck the life out of the party. It’s a bummer. So, I’ll just sit here alone with my crackers and PopTarts trying not to throw up.

I know, I’m getting a little melodramatic. I also know that this is temporary. Or so they say, whoever “they” might be. I love this little alien inside of me more than all the foie gras in France, more than all the bubbles in champagne and more than Keebler elves love E.L.Fudge, but I can’t wait to be reunited with real food. In the meantime, I ask that you take a moment and thank your functioning taste buds, stomach and bowels. Drink a glass of wine for me and always eat with lots of great flavor.

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