January 10, 2013

Motherhood: The Truth About Cats & Blogs with Chicken Potpie & Buttermilk Biscuits


Making the decision to have a child–it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." - Elizabeth Stone 
One of the great ironies of motherhood is that the second you think you have a second; you're already a second too late. And that's exactly why I've been on hiatus for almost 2 weeks. 

When I sat down to type out my thoughts, my 9 month old was peacefully playing with his blocks in the background, with only the slightest hint of the sniffles. Six hours later, he was nursing a full-blown fever and a nasty cough. As the doctor put it, "something viral." Almost a week's worth of down days later and he was in the clear. And, I thought, so was I.

Not so. A new crisis was crawling around in my baby's hair.

A lice infestation!

What followed can only be described as a hose-down of the entire household. Several days of sterilization later, a semblance of sanity was restored, and I finally sat down to spill.

When I began writing for Hunger & Haw Hai, I had a very loose idea of what I wanted this blog to be; an ode to fabulous food and an outlet for my frivolous frustrations. So when someone asked me if I'd be talking about motherhood, I nodded enthusiastically. Too bad the excitement inside me felt more like a freak-out setting in.

What did I know about being a mother?

My inner voice, that annoying little troll that never shuts up, chuckled.

The thing is, like everyone else, I come from an endearingly dysfunctional family (seriously, is there any other kind?). Both my parents are strong-willed, stubborn firecrackers. Basically, they're me, just a couple of decades older. My siblings? We're a tight unit too. Sometimes, I feel like we're all just different shades of the same person.


Collectively, we laugh, we cry, we fight, we hug, we make up and more than anything else, there's plenty of love going around. In short, we're a whirlwind of hotheads, holding on to each other, for better or for worse. Just one thing though, a tornado like that doesn't give you much time to dissect the dynamics of parenthood.

So as terrifying as this may sound, the truth is, most of what I know about parenting is stuff I've learned off the internet. The rest? My cat and this blog.

Let's pause here so you can go ahead and gasp.

In my defense, both my mother and sister live out of town and really, I think Nano's been out of the game so long, it just isn't fair expecting her to remember what it was like raising her runts.

Besides, as awesome as it must be to get grounded guidance 24/7, I'm awful at taking advice.

And so, feeling incredibly insecure about my child-rearing repertoire, I delayed penning this post as long as possible.

During pregnancy, I rode the roller-coaster of uncontrollable emotions, ranging from "Yeah, work that belly, you beautiful, bulging blob," to "Wow, I'm too irresponsible to be responsible for another tiny soul," and of course, the hallowed hallmark of expecting women around the world "OMG! I'm fat, ugly, and my husband is definitely having an affair."

I'll be the first to admit that I had no real or rational basis for any of these far-flung feelings. Hormones don't really have a reputation for being reasonable or rational, right?

And finally, my little slice of sweetness arrived.

Fast forward three months and I had lost most of the baby weight. Fast forward three more and I had lost most of my mind.


We now take a break for a public service announcement: Ladies and Gentlemen, post-natal depression exists and it's evil! Please see a professional as soon as you feel yourself slipping. You're not weak! It's just that will-power just isn't enough to ward of this brand of blues.

Just for the record, my downward spiral had nothing to do with the daily duties of mommy-dom. I wasn't overwhelmed, I was over-joyed. And then I went ahead and over-complicated it.

Just one jarring realization and bang! I went berserk!

Basically, I had spent some serious time fantasizing about my fantastical future baby and not nearly enough pondering about the kind of parent I wanted to be. I mean, I had a vague idea. And by vague, I mean I knew I wanted to be a 'good mother.' Whatever that meant.

As a mother, you want to be everything for your child; a source of love, kindness, generosity, inspiration, stability, protection, comfort and so much more. I, personally, would also like to be a source of discipline, authority and fear. Just kidding about the fear. Everything else, I aim to achieve.

Definitely not as simple as it sounds.



In fact, I envy women who experience all these emotions and aspirations with ease.

See, some ladies are born with a marvelous maternal instinct, cooing at cute babies, deftly changing dirty diapers, repeatedly reciting nursery rhymes, babysitting beastly brats, all with the patience of the Pope. I, unfortunately, am not one of those lucky ladies.

Before my bubby made his extremely exciting debut, all I knew about having kids was that it involved nine months of being on my best behavior, followed by the excruciating lunacy of labor, and then I just conveniently skipped over all the psychosis, straight to the part where, like those happy families on television, we'd be snuggled up in bed on a super-lazy Sunday, soaked in sunshine, watching SpongeBob Squarepants with our son tucked silent and still between us.

Long story short, when I realized that my abstract analogy was bogus, I panicked and hosted a one-person pity-party until finally, my Mom persuaded me to pop by my therapist's.

After several weeks of stressing, sulking and driving myself seven kinds of crazy, I stopped by for a couple of sanity-restoring sessions. And finally the fog began to clear.

What'd I learn?


Well for one, there's no denying that there's a sense of safety and security in tradition. I take refuge in rituals on a regular basis, only they're not the run-of-the-mill variety. And that terrified me. I was probably about to trash a truckload of time-honored totkas, just by taking on the task of parenting without supervision.

But that's ok.

The truth is, nothing curbs my enthusiasm quicker than convention. I'm just not cut from that kind of cloth. In crazy times, I'm wired to count on creativity. And that is the upside of coming from an unconventional clan.

Like any other crises I conjure in my head, I can rely on my Mom for comfort. She's a radical role-model who puts things into perspective, especially when I'm leaning towards losing the plot. For the most part, my mother was a single parent, but, no matter how much she struggled and sacrificed to support her children, she miraculously managed to retain her sanity. In a tough situation, she was tougher.

And isn't that what real motherhood is about; rolling with the punches?

As amazing as it might have been to receive a neatly typed page outlining a perfect plan for parenthood, being a parent isn't about playing a part; it's a process. And it's a whole lot easier if you break it down into baby-steps.

So as a favor to my family, friends, feline and myself, I quit my struggle to become a Stepford Wife. It was too much of a burden trying to balance bits of my old life with what was a brand new ball-game. And that gave me a chance to churn out a pecking order of priorities.



Also, in a rare occurrence of self-love, I cut myself some slack.

I still want to be a 'good mother," except now, I'm counting on my own experiences, not the expert's.

So what do I want to teach my son more than anything else? Everything that he's taught me. To be fearless. To love wholly. And to pursue passions.

Tall order? Sure, but for now, all I need are a furry friend and a boisterous blog. Check and check!

Now, I don't know how you feel about pets, but I'm crazy about my cat. My fuzzy feline is often a stand-in for my best friends. And boy, oh boy, has he taught me a boatload about babies. In fact, my four-legged friend is half the reason I stopped second-guessing my parenting prowess.

Frankly, I don't think there's anything you need to know about a newborn that you can't pick up from playing pop-and-mom to a pet.

I'm guessing you don't buy it, but believe me; my bitty beast helped me nail baby-basics.

For one, I'm prepped and primed for potty-training. I've also developed keen communication capabilities. Seriously, when most of your questions are met by a meow, you'd be surprised how naturally it beefs up one's body language basics. Also included, the inhuman experience of inoculations and terrifying nail trims. I've seen the benefits of a structured schedule and regular rituals. And most importantly, I've learned a most unassuming way to express: heartfelt hugs and kisses of comfort.


So what's the difference between my cat and my cutie?

Not much. Actually, my feline learned to walk a lot faster. Aside from that, my tomcat was a terrific trial-run that happened to have totally trained me to tackle a toddler. That's right, my cat's coached me in caring for my kitten.

And finally, there are those little life-altering lessons you want your child to learn and lean on.

As a first-time Mom, it comes out sounding like a cheesy cliché, but having a baby changed my world and I've done some learning too. As a newbie with a newborn, I held out pretty well under the pressure to perform. But, I hadn't had a job for a couple of years and life had begun to seem like a joke. I mean absolutely no disrespect to stay-at-home-moms when I say that. I'm one of you.

It's just that some women are completely capable of balancing a career and kids and they deserve congratulations for their courage and commitment. Too bad I'm not a part of that pack.

The real reason? I have serious separation anxiety. Yeah, when he's in the next room, sometimes even when he's right there, I miss my munchkin madly. But after eight months of being inseparable, I had driven myself half-insane. And so, I adopted another pet; a pet project, that is.

I understand that I'm not cut out for a conventional career, but I have this desperate desire to be more than just Mommy to my son. This blog was the blessed answer I was looking for.

Hunger & Haw Hai started as a writing exercise to help me unwind and unload. What's it turned out to be is a slow, soothing soul-search with a secret motive.


Pre-baby, the idea of pursuing my passion didn't seem practical. In fact, it paralyzed me with fear. Post-baby, my mission doesn't seem even mildly mindless. It's the exact example of the things I might've otherwise struggled to sear into his mind. Talk about game-changer, right?

I get paid a pittance, I spend countless hours in front of the computer, and I'm a photo-fiend when it comes to food. And I love every second of it!

I write what I feel and I feel what I write. And for those times when all I can muster is silence, I secretly hope that watching me stubbornly trying to succeed will help him strive for his own succes. Plus, I read somewhere that, "nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." Word!

And just in case I'm ridiculously wrong and none of this works, I've named him Mahir, which literally translates to 'expert.' No harm in a little subliminal set-up for success, right?

I've learned that perfect isn't possible and as a mother it's natural to set your sights sky-high. But when I see my baby's smile, brighter than that blazing bulb in the sky, I'm reminded of a piece of Maya Angelou's brilliance; "You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better you did better."

And really, I believe that 'better' is the best I can do for the little love of my life.

I want to thank my therapist for helping me think it all through. Still, I feel far from done. But like I said, I'm trying. Of course, I know that I'll still stumble and fall. This time, though, I'm brave enough to pick up the pieces. And for my son sake's, I've learned to just live, laugh, let go, and love.


For my son, Mahir, the light in my soul, the warmth in my heart, the inspiration in my life. I love you. 
Oh, the Places You'll Go! 
By Dr. Seuss  
Congratulations! 
Today is your day. 
You're off to Great Places! 
You're off and away! 

You have brains in your head. 
You have feet in your shoes 
You can steer yourself 
any direction you choose. 

You're on your own. And you know what you know. 
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go. 

This week, because I've spoken so much about my little darling, I thought it would be fun to cook something that he might be interested in eating too. My son is just not interested in mush, and as a mom who's a maniac about food, that secretly makes me proud. An adventurous eater makes everyone's (or at least my life) easier. 

Also, like salt-fiend mother, like son, I'm thrilled that he prefers savory over sweet. And so, today we had a lovely little mother-son lunchtime, with freshly baked chicken potpie topped with fluffy buttermilk biscuits.

This potpie, loaded with sweet peas, carrots, and creamy potatoes, is a great way to sneak some veggies into your kids. The chicken is just a bonus. Actually, scratch that. The real bonus is the buttermilk biscuits that top this pie.

Baked into golden peaks on the top, cutting into the biscuits reveals a crumbly, buttery inside, perfect to soak up some of the creaminess of the filling.

The greatest thing about this recipe is that you can pretty much use any vegetables you happen to have stocked in your fridge. Spinach, broccoli, turnips, zucchini, and cauliflower are great additions. Cheese is another extra ingredient to consider if you want to excite the kids.

For anyone wondering about the availability of buttermilk, don't fret. I've given a quick, simple recipe for home-made buttermilk.


Chicken Potpie with Buttermilk Biscuits (4-6 servings)
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking: Chicken Potpie, by Irma S. Rombauer

Ingredients Potpie Filling
  • 2 ounces butter 
  • 1/2 cup flour 
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 1 cup chicken stock 
  • 1 teaspoon mustard 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 
  • Salt, to taste 
  • Pepper, to taste 
  • 2 cups boneless chicken breast, diced into 1 inch cubes and poached 
  • 1 cup potatoes, diced and boiled 
  • 1 cup carrots, diced and boiled 
  • 1 cup peas, boiled 
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit).

- In a medium bowl, whisk the stock, milk and flour together.

- In a saucepan, over a medium heat, melt the butter.

- Slowly pour the flour, stock and milk mixture into the saucepan, stirring constantly. Forget to stir and you'll end up with a lumpy white sauce.

- Add the mustard, thyme, salt and pepper and continue stirring. Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from the heat.

- In a large bowl, combine the chicken, peas, carrots and potatoes with the sauce. It's a good idea to check your seasonings at this point, particularly salt and pepper.

- Spoon the potpie filling into baking dish and set aside.


Ingredients Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 ounces butter, chilled 
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 4 teaspoons white vinegar)
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

- Cut chilled butter into cubes. Using only your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

- Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all the buttermilk.

- Combine the flour and buttermilk, kneading it to form a wet, sticky dough.

- Using two spoons, drop walnut-sized balls of the dough onto the top of the potpie filling, repeating until the top of the pie is completely covered.

- Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top of the biscuits turn golden brown.

- Serve hot.

Until next time, here's to laughing and learning to live with flaws!

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5 comments:

  1. Insha!!! You pull your readers into your world so effortlessly!! Bravo Girl. SUPER.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sadaf! It's a crazy world and I love that I'm not taking the rollercoaster ride on my own hehe :)

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  2. Love the writing, love the pics even more. Totally in awe of your culinary skills. Adopt me please?

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    Replies
    1. P.S. Adopting an adult...even trippier :P

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  3. Dear Unknown,

    Sorry, I just wanted to say that because it sounds so trippy :) Thank you much for the love. Love you right back! xx

    ReplyDelete

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