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October 13, 2016

On Blogs and Food Blogs: a Conversation with Emily Wight

img_20161012_122421Emily Wight is author of the cookbook, Well Fed Flat Broke, which is the cookbook that taught me what people are talking about when they talk about reading cookbooks for pleasure. She is also the longtime writer behind the blog of the same name, and I really admire her work and her perspective on blogging. 

I’d always wondered if my own philosophy of blogging (that blogging should be easy, fit nicely into your life, never be a chore…) was relevant to food blogging. Emily was kind enough to answer my questions about food blogging, and blogging in general, and what it means to be an old school blogger still at it in 2016.

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Dear Emily,

I really admire your blog, your book, and all you do, and it occurs to me that you might the perfect person for something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I teach a blogging course at UofT and think about blogging a lot, have all kinds of theories about blogs as a radical space, for women in particular. and how blogs have certainly been hijacked by commercial interest. My favourite thing about blogs is there inherent messiness, how they’re works in progress, an exercise in making it up as you go along…

But I also know that this doesn’t quite work for food blogs. A lot of work is required for a food blogger. Whereas I see a blog as a great place to practice the art of imperfection, a food blogger has to get it right or else she’ll be messing up her readers’ dinners. There is also the nature of sponsorship…

Anyway, I would be really interested in reconciling my own ideas about blogging with the realities of food blogging and expanding my understanding of blogging in general. Would you be willing to engage in a back and forth email conversation over a few days to get some of these ideas flowing?

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img_20160926_151047EMILY

I’d be happy to help! But also food blogs can be messy and alive, it’s just harder to find them now. I really like Poor Man’s Feast and The Yellow House, but to be honest I’ve really moved away from reading a lot of food bloggers. By the time fall comes, I never want to see another recipe for squash soup as long as I live. I think the “why” behind food blogging has shifted from when I started one million years ago in 2007/08, certainly.

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KERRY

Okay, so here is my first question. My whole deal is that blogging should be easy, it shouldn’t be a chore. If blogging is hard and taking up too much time, I preach, then you’re doing it wrong. But with food blogging—I suspect and as I’ve been told—there is recipe testing required, you can’t do typos (or else you can end up with a tablespoon of salt when it should have been a teaspoon). It’s a whole different game. Not to mention staging required for photographs… Has this been your experience? Is food blogging inherently hard? Is there a way to fit food blogging sustainably and easily into one’s life?

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wellfedflatbrokeEMILY

I don’t think food blogging is inherently hard—I have a much easier time of it than something like, say, fashion blogging, because I understand food but clothes remain a mystery to me. In most food blogging, food is the creative outlet—it’s a kind of art of its own, and so blogging about food is really just communicating a different form of expression, if that makes sense?

I think that people get satisfaction from different parts of it. I’m not a great photographer, so for me the staging and photographing is an afterthought, because no amount of effort in that regard is going to make my crappy iPhone photos significantly better; I think I’m a decent writer though, so I hope to coast on the quality of the writing and the recipes. For other people who are perhaps better photographers, maybe the writing feels hard.

In terms of accuracy and recipe development, that is a unique challenge but again I’d liken it to its own art form. Like, why would anyone do this if they weren’t either creating or archiving something? For me food blogging made sense—my education is in creative writing, but I am most excited about food, and we have to eat anyway. Food blogging became a way to write every day, or at least fairly often at a time when I might not have known what else to write about.

“Food blogging became a way to write every day, or at least fairly often at a time when I might not have known what else to write about.”

The challenge of sustainability now, I find, has less to do with the form and more to do with my own motivation. There’s a lot of “content” out there. I recognize that this is my own problem—food blogging is very different in 2016 than it was in 2008, and there are so many new voices that it can be hard to wade through and find your people. I won’t read on if I feel like a blogger is writing sponsored content, which is perhaps unfair, but again there is just so much out there now that I get to choose not to be marketed to if I don’t want that. At this stage, I am really looking for writers who make me look at food differently, or who use food as a vehicle for a larger story, whether there’s a recipe at the end or not.

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img_20161006_140222KERRY

So interesting. I am also really invested in the idea of blogging as a process, and a never-ending one too. An opportunity to learn and grow. That is why I started blogging about books back in 2007ish. Which is definitely at odds with the way that most bloggers these days are urged to position themselves as experts and gurus. I feel like we don’t get to see any of the process anymore, that the process is regarded as mess, something to be swept into the corners.

Did you have any food blogger “credentials” when you started blogging back in the day? Were they even necessary? You talk about motivation for food blogging—do you think people blogging in 2016 are blogging for blogging’s sake, or are they blogging with the intention of a book deal or some other professional opportunity? And I want to know also—what motivates you to keep blogging after all this time?

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img_20161010_115029EMILY

It’s totally a process! That’s why I don’t delete all my terrible, very bad posts with their clunky writing and hideous photos, because I like the idea that you can follow someone back through their process of growth. I remember when I first discovered The Bloggess in maybe 2009, and she was so funny and wonderful, and I had an evening alone (and no children), so I went all the way back through her archives and marveled at how her voice had strengthened and changed as she worked at it. There’s value in the process, and if nothing else it’s reassuring to be able to go back and see how you’ve evolved.

“I don’t delete all my terrible, very bad posts with their clunky writing and hideous photos, because I like the idea that you can follow someone back through their process of growth.”

I think the difference between then and now is really in how we’ve come to view online writing—the idea of “content” creates this sort of urgency to post regularly, to demonstrate value and expertise and keep people coming back. There has always been talk of “building an audience,” but prior to maybe 2011 the message was “make something valuable and people will come.” I don’t think that’s changed, but social media has really altered how that happens—now you don’t just have to make good blog posts, you also have to market them, and you—that was always kind of the case, but there’s so much more “content” out there now, that you have to put in a lot of effort—on a greater number of platforms—to stand out. If you want to do it well now, you have to think of yourself as a “brand” which honestly just feels so ridiculous. I get it, but I don’t want to do it.

“There has always been talk of ‘building an audience,’ but prior to maybe 2011 the message was ‘make something valuable and people will come.’ I don’t think that’s changed, but social media has really altered how that happens.”

Which is not to say that people who are doing it are doing blogging wrong, it’s just that the culture has changed. It does seem like people spring up fully formed overnight, with these beautiful sites and strong voices, but I wonder if part of that is that these are people who are approaching it with more online experience. When I started, I had had a Facebook account for maybe a year and that’s about it; I think now, for a lot of people, the social and visual aspects of blogging come pretty naturally. The technology is better—everyone has an iPhone now and iPhones take pretty good pictures. Getting to where you can be seen as an expert in whatever you’re doing is not such an investment as it used to be. “Anyone can do it” has turned into “anyone can do it well.”

img_20160818_200928I didn’t really have much in the way of credentials when I started, short of a writing degree. But is a writing degree any less a credential than professional cooking experience, if the blog’s audience is the home cook? The people who did really well early on had really strong perspectives—people like David Lebovitz, or Luisa Weiss, or Pim Techamuanvivit (who has since quit blogging). They really created the model for what you see a lot of people doing now, and I think created a sense of what you can do if you do well online.

Do people blog just to blog, or do they want something else, like a book deal? I don’t know. I think people sit down and open a WordPress account for the same reason they ever did—a desire to connect, to write, or just to find their people online. But I think there is more of a sense that if this goes well, there are other opportunities in it. People take bloggers more seriously now than they did even a few years ago. You certainly see a lot of blogger cookbooks now, and they are often quite well done (and do very well).

“I think people sit down and open a WordPress account for the same reason they ever did. But I think there is more of a sense that if this goes well, there are other opportunities in it.”

As for me and why I still do it? Well, I certainly do it a lot less than I used to, because now I feel like I only want to write when I have something to say, or a recipe that’s really worth sharing, or to gauge whether what I’m working on is something people want to see more of. With other social media, like Instagram or Facebook, I still feel very connected to my community, so I spend a lot of time on there and other platforms. I treat my site as more of a portfolio—I don’t get paid to write on my blog (I don’t do ads or sponsored posts), but it generates other opportunities. It also allows me to work out my point-of-view a bit, and to figure out what I want to do. I would not have had the opportunity to write the book without the blog; now that I’ve written the book though, the blog is still very important in that it’s a place to dabble and experiment with what I want to do next. It’s a very public way of working shit out for myself. I also get the benefit of feedback—people will make the recipes or comment on the writing, so I know pretty quickly what’s working and what’s not. It’s a hard thing to let go of, especially if you came up in writing workshops and are used to a more collaborative approach to the creative process.

This ended up being a lot of words! In short, I think that blogs are valuable and the evolution and messiness is valuable and we’re in a time of transition, because at this point blogs aren’t going away and also there are always more blogs. But like anything produced en masse, there’s good, meaningful stuff in there and I want to see it, especially if it’s a bit unrefined.

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img_20160915_092424KERRY

You are my blogging soul sister! That space to grow and evolve is so essential to successful blogging, I think (and I think a lot of bloggers who head into the gig thinking strategy and imagined outcomes are going to trip up on that). I am curious about your ideas about actually reading blogs. In my course, whenever I ask students what blogs they read, they usually shrug their shoulders and admit, “none!” Which is not to say that nobody reads blogs. I think that lots of people read blogs, but we come to them more laterally. I read food blogs all the time, but usually find them by googling whatever happens to be in my fridge and seeing what recipes result. I used to use a blog reader back in the day, but then Google ended it, and my blog reading was kind of rudderless after that—and I missed blogs. So I actively sought out a blog reader (I use protopage.com) which made reading blogs more of a regular habit. Kind of anachronistic, but I like it old school. I have a small but loyal group of readers who seem to feel just the same (and this is not JUST my mom). Anyway, I am interested in your thoughts on reading blogs and also finding readers. As you said, social media is a huge part of this.

Also, regarding the messiness: do you think it’s just too terrifying for some people to show their mess in public? Is that’s what’s driving the push toward tidy blogs? And by tidy, I mean antibacterial robot blogs? Is the blogger who’s willing to show her process taking risks that might be unwise?

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emily-wightEMILY

Ha! I’m glad we’re on the same page, as I often feel like I am a cranky old man about everything and no one understands 😉

Google Reader did kill blog-reading for me, in a lot of ways—remember when you could follow, like, 50 blogs? 100 blogs?! Haha, no. I don’t read a huge number of bloggers, but I have kept up with the ones who tell good stories, or who make me laugh. I love Afroculinaria, and Eating From the Ground Up, and The Pizzle, food-related blogs that offer more than just content. The thing about “content” is it’s stuff meant to fill space. How much of what we’re putting out there is valuable? How much can any one person care about? I know content when I see it, and there’s a real difference between reading something someone put thought and time into and some junk they threw up just to have a post on Tuesdays as per usual, you know? And so, I am reading fewer and fewer blogs. But the ones I am reading, I’m really invested in. Like, I would be genuinely sad if they went away. But you’re right, I don’t think people “read” blogs in the same way that they used to—I agree, I definitely come to blogs more laterally now, and I don’t often click “follow” on the blog when I find someone I like—I find them on Instagram, or on Twitter or Facebook.

I also get to say all that as someone who has been around long enough to not really have to hustle for readers. Do I need more readers? I am sure in terms of marketing books more readers would be valuable, but I am not unhappy with how I am doing, and the amount of traffic moving through the site on a daily basis, even when I don’t post very often. I recognize that the landscape is different now, and I get to be someone with cobwebs and cat hair and it’s, like, my thing. Maybe it’s not that we’re not hustling, we’ve just earned the ability to not have to? Maybe those newbies with their neat presentations and good cameras and shiny websites look at people like us, who have been around a long ass time and don’t feel obligated to bother with Pinterest, with envy?

“Maybe it’s not that we’re not hustling, we’ve just earned the ability to not have to?”

img_20161012_121112It might be scarier now to show your mess in public. Mess isn’t marketable, and I think because there are so many blogs out there now, you need to look like you know what you are doing in order to be taken seriously, or at least to be followed by people who don’t care about stuff like messiness and the creative process (which I think is most people). Another aspect of this is that a lot of these blogs are or want to be businesses—and businesses run quite a lot differently than creative projects. I want to say this in a way that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole (because I don’t mean anything offensive by it), but there’s a difference between writers and people who like to write; I think writers, or people who have always written (in the writers-as-artists sense), may value the mess and the show-of-process more than people who like to write but have other ambitions for their blogs. Writers aren’t penalized for having written shitty first drafts (or having evolved through a period of shitty-first-draftyness) because it’s expected, that’s what we do. But bloggers who want to turn blogging into something else, something beyond cookbooks or novels or whatever, maybe they approach it differently, and are more thoughtful about how they present themselves.

Did you see Luvvie Ajayi’s post on having been blogging ten years? She talks a bit about her process, and she had a few points I liked. This one, on evolution: “This blog has evolved with me. And my changed beliefs, my maturity and my growth as a person can be charted through the last ten years. How you start is not going to be how you continue and finish and that is okay. You are human.”

This resonated, because I think this is what’s been so great about blogging. I started out when I was 25 and still really immature in terms of my voice and my world view, and I am happy I can go back even three or four years and see that I have made progress, and that I am maybe a better version of who I was when I started. And maybe that kind of thing won’t matter to most people, but there’s a vulnerability in not being your tidiest, best-branded self and I think that resonates with the kind of readers who will stick with your writing long-term.

Follow Emily Wight on Twitter and Instagram, and stop by to read her blog

February 13, 2016

Happy Valentines Day

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Everything’s been a special occasion around here lately, what with Pancake Tuesday and the fact that we had afternoon tea for dinner the day after that. And now it’s a long weekend, four days of it if you count Harriet’s PA Day, and we’re stretching out our Valentines Day celebrating and marking it with cheese. (Long weekend adventures have been extensively instagrammed.) It’s freezing cold outside but everything around here is wonderful and cozy, which feels nice after our terrible boring Christmas vacation rife with sickness. I just finished reading my second novel by Tana French (you MUST read Tana French) and now for sentimental reasons, am about to embark upon a reread of The Republic of Love.

October 21, 2014

All the Squash

harriet squashOh, so little sleep (Iris has a cold and is getting molars) and three part time jobs means that my mind is scattered this week, but I want to take a pause and write about squash. It’s partly the time of year, and also because brand new cookbook The Everyday Squash Cook  entered our lives, but no matter the reason, we are squash obsessed. Our Thanksgiving was made rich with acorn squash pie (see Harriet cleaning out the seeds, which we later roasted with the recipe from The Everyday Squash Cook) whose recipe I invented by mistake, but it turned out gloriously—I roasted the squash with the spices and butter in it, and then baked it all in an oatmeal crust. We also had this delicious Roasted Apple and Acorn Squash Soup and it was as easy to make as it was wonderful.

everyday squashThe squash that continues to challenge me is spaghetti—I don’t buy those recipes pretending the strands are pasta, and neither do my children. It’s okay roasted, but there is so much and the kids won’t eat it, and I don’t like it that much. We receive them often in our organics delivery, however, and I think we may have finally found the solution—a spaghetti squash soup recipe from The Everyday Squash Cookbook, featuring coconut milk for maximum deliciousness and the strands do indeed pass as noodles in a soup. So good.

A mysterious squash turned up on our delivery last week. The Everyday Squash Cookbook has a squash identifier, but I couldn’t find our mystery squash. So I turned to this rather nifty Winter Squash Visual Guide to discover it was a Delicata Squash. I roasted it according to this recipe to learn another thing—that Delicata Squash is the most delicious squash ever.

squashMore squash? We made Butternut Bacon on the weekend from TESC (you can see the recipe here) and it blew our minds. Easy peasy and it cooks in 20 seconds. And then we were left with a whole bunch of butternut squash, so I used a vegetable peeler to thinly slice it, and made a “pizza” from those slices, inspired by a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jammix slices in a bowl with olive oil and flour until slices are coated, then turn onto a pie plate and bake for about an hour. Top with tomato paste, oregano, and mozzarella cheese and bake for 10 more minutes. It’s so good, though Harriet wouldn’t eat it, but that’s not much of an indicator of anything.

One of my favourite squash recipes (which Harriet does eat) is this ridiculously easy risotto that requires no stirring because it bakes in the oven. I usually use butternut squash and it’s very good.

Tonight we’re looking forward to trying the Squash/Sausage/Rigatoni recipe from TESC. I am quite sure it will prove delicious. Check out this recipe for Butternut Brownies, and also this article on squash as one of “Canada’s heritage foods.” 

March 27, 2013

The Stop by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis

the-stop-tourOh, there is nothing quite like the The Stop’s Farmers’ Market. To get there, we have to trudge up the hill above Davenport Road, which is no small feat pushing a stroller, but the journey is worth it. In the winter, to arrive inside the big hall at Wychwood Barns, full to bursting with people touring around the tables heaped with fresh produce, delicious breads and cheeses, and other wonderful things. In the summer, the market spills outside into the grounds surrounding the Barns, and you’ve got to set a budget or else you’ll go mad–cherries, pickles on sticks, cinnamon buns, sushi, honey, cookies. We don’t want to snack too much because we’re planning on having our lunch at the Market Cafe, and then after lunch, the kids play on the splash pad while we wait, hoping the artisanal cheese doesn’t melt in the bottom of the stroller. Such concerns such a luxury and these Saturday mornings a highlight of family life in the city.

That’s not the half of it though, as demonstrated by the stories told in the new book The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis. We thought we knew what The Stop was all about–I bought their cookbook a few years ago, and used it so thoroughly that it no longer has bindings (and I continue to use it still- oh, the fish tacos, the beef stew, that strawberry bread!!). We visit the market a few times a year when we’re hungry and in need of a trek. And this Christmas, we divided our annual food-bank donation in two and gave half the money to The Stop instead. But for all our enthusiasm, it turns out we didn’t know The Stop at all.

the-stopIt turns out that the hub of The Stop is not the Green Barn, where the farmers’ market takes place each week, where Jamie Oliver paid a visit not too long ago. The real heart of The Stop, instead, lies a few kilometres west down Davenport Road at their main office, which was a small food bank when Nick Saul became executive director in 1998. It didn’t take long for Saul in this role to become disillusioned with the food bank system, which, he tells us, is a relatively recent invention. Food banks came about in the 1980s as a temporary solution to community hunger, but they stayed around as government programs for dealing with these problems were being reduced at the very same time. And now it seems as though we’ve always had them, food banks, systems we support by dumping store-brand Kraft Dinner in grocery store bins every once in a while before heading home to feast on artisanal cheese and organic kale.

The Stop is written by Saul and his wife, award-winning writer Andrea Curtis, but told in Saul’s voice as he outlines his decade and a half with the organization. The problems with the food bank, he realized quickly, were manifold: it was a stop-gap measure; users picked up their hampers and left feeling diminished; the contents of the hampers weren’t anything that anyone would choose to eat, and did nothing to contribute to a healthy diet. There were other things going on at The Stop though that were having a more positive impact, such as their Healthy Beginnings Program, which taught food and nutrition skills to pregnant low-income women. Other initiatives came about–a community garden, cooking classes, drop-in meals. Around all these, a real sense of community began to form. Users came to The Stop and began to find it empowering, to find places where they could contribute to their communities and get involved.

Change is hard though, and Saul outlines how difficult it was to shift the centre’s focus away from the traditional food bank’s. First, because The Stop’s volunteers felt good about what they were doing and didn’t appreciate their efforts being criticized. The general consensus was that anyone using a foodbank hamper didn’t have the right to turn their nose up at anything, wilted lettuce, fetid peppers, and all. But Saul was convinced there had be a better way, and slowly, step-by-step, his organization began to blaze that trail. The community garden, he admits, is never going to feed the world, and there are many people who use The Stop whose problems are so complex that those problems are never going to be fully resolved, but many lives have been changed by the place (including those of the babies in their Healthy Beginnings program, all of whom were born at a healthy birth weight last year) and a community has found its spirit.

With The Stop’s Green Barn, Saul writes, “we can have a role tapping into the largely middle-class enthusiasm about food we’re seeing and connecting the dots between the poor and everyone else.” Because the poor, he explains, are largely excluded from the foodie revolution of the last few years. While I’m snacking on my organic kale chips, rising food costs are putting healthy food further and further out of reach of people who could benefit from it as much as I do. Saul checks Michael Pollan’s “vote with your fork” philosophy, and points out that for all the good of the movement, it leaves lower-income people as disenfranchised as they’ve ever been.

Nick Saul left The Stop in July 2012 to become president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, which aims to bring The Stop’s movement and innovations to communities across Canada, and after reading the book, I am confident in this new organization’s success and so excited by the work they’re doing. These aren’t political issues, Saul tells us, but instead these are issues of morality. The Stop is a fantastic story well told, compelling to read, and it will inspire readers to reconsider their relationships with both the food they eat and the people they live amidst.

June 6, 2012

To market, to market

The market opened today, and it was a glorious bounty, perhaps due to our early spring. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, people we know from the neighbourhood and farmers we haven’t seen since last October who commented on how enormous Harriet has grown in the meantime. And it’s true– this time last year, I had to wear Harriet on my back to the market or else she’d escape, and then she’d scream whenever it was time to leave, and I think she got a bad reputation. Today, however, she stood at my side like an actual human being, and it was so exciting to see strawberries, beets, garlic scapes, cherry tomatoes, and kale, plus say hello to our favourite maple syrup and honey men. It is very nice to say hello to summer again, and also to see how far we’ve come.

January 18, 2012

Porridge Mornings

For the new year, I resolved to start hauling my sorry self out of bed just a wee bit earlier to cook a hot breakfast for our family to eat together. Partly because a hot breakfast is a good enticement to get out of bed at all, because it’s the best way to meet cold, dark winter mornings, and because Stuart would appreciate some early morning company. Three weeks in, we’re quite hooked on the habit, and have been changing up the porridge so it never gets tired. We’ve had steel-cut oats, regular rolled oatmeal and quinoa and barley porridge. My favourite, though, is brown rice porridge, inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook which I had out of the library over Christmas (which was pretty good, actually, even though her porridges are pretty bland. Her sweet potato ravoli was delicious though). Brown rice porridge remarkably simple to prepare when we cook up some rice in the rice cooker the night before. In the morning, toss the cooked brown rice in a saucepan, cover the rice with milk and warm it up, adding 2 tbspns of corn starch for thickening. For all our porridges, we’ve found that a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract is the key to deliciousness, along with honey, cinnamon and nutmeg, raisins, diced apples or bananas. And whatever is leftover can be reheated the next morning.

Easiest resolution ever.

July 3, 2011

Best morning ever

Our friends Jennie and Deep have a new house within the vicinity of Trinity Bellwoods Park, so that was where we met them this morning for a splendid picnic brunch. It was a brilliant walk in the sunshine, from our house all the way down to Clafouti for the best croissants in Toronto. We had teas and coffees, and sat on a blanket under a tree, and marvelled at the goodness of life in general, in particular on a day like today. And then Harriet went to the playground and the wading pool, while Jennie and I dashed across the street for a browse in Type Books. I bought Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems and It Must Be Tall As A Lighthouse by Tabatha Southey. Jennie bought the Jack Dylan Trinity Bellwoods poster (at right). Then back to the park where we splashed around with Harriet in the pool. She was eventually bribed out of the pool with the promise of ice cream, which dripped until she was covered in it, and by then we were home. And then Harriet slept for three hours, which made this probably the very best day on record. Not a bad way to cap off a weekend of patio sitting, bbqs, and reading a big fat summer book. More about that book later…

June 29, 2011

Jiggety Jig

Some of you who’ve been reading awhile know about the summer of 2007 when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, and grew a gorgeous backyard garden (peppers! tomatoes! cucumber! when a raccoon ate our cantaloupe, and I cried, and watermelon!). We were off to a wonderful start as urban farmers, except the next spring we lost our garden plot when we moved to a new house, our attempts at a pot garden were thwarted by squirrels and shade, we learned we’d had less green thumbs than great soil thanks to the Portuguese gardeners who’d been working away at it for years in our neighbourhood. Anyway,  ever since,  I’ve pretty much only grown impatiens.

What that summer did, however, is turn me onto fresh food like serious. I realized the difference in taste between local food and food trucked in is worth every penny extra. And especially since I’m now feeding a little person, and trying to teach her to appreciate the marvelous flavours the world offers, I make a point of buying the freshest, best-tasting fruit and vegetables available. And this time of year, there is plenty of stuff available. Becuase the season of abundant abundance has begun (and oh my, to imagine August– bursting peaches, corn on the cob, tomatoes, necterines, and blueberries…), and our local market offered up plenty of delicious this week.

We got garlic scapes (so good roasted on the bbq, with a bit of olive oil), hamburger patties, zucchini, strawberries, raspberries, rainbow chard, basil, cheese, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Also a strawberry rhubarb pie in the freezer made with fruit that I bought last week.

So many wonderful ways to eat the sunshine…

July 4, 2010

Pie in the sunshine

Will you tolerate another picture of a pie in the sunshine? This time a cherry pie (my first! Hulling is tedious, but the pie is delicious) in stars because I don’t have a maple leaf cutter. Purchased with cherries from our farmer’s market, which supplied much of the deliciousness we partook in this weekend. We had a wonderful Canada Day in the sunshine, with friends for dinner, and then spent the rest of the weekend soaking up the city. We went to Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday, and I’d forgotten about wading pools, which meant that Harriet had to go swimming in her clothes. She was all right with this, however, and also got in lots of swinging, and sliding, and crawling in the grass. A similar day was had today at Christie Pits, where we also watched an old-time baseball game, went swimming in the city pool (not just wading, and we were equipped with suits and towels), and then played afterwards underneath shady trees. The parks in this city are better than any backyard you could dream of. It was a whole weekend as good as the pie.

The one problem with all this goodness, however, is Harriet’s “separation anxiety”. Quite a difference from last year at this time when Harriet didn’t like anything, she now doesn’t want to leave anything she encounters– she cries when we take her out of the swing, when we take her out of the pool, when she has to get off her bike, when her dad leaves the house in the morning, when the UPS guy leaves the house after having me sign here, when she has to put her ball down, when anybody (including complete strangers) is playing with a ball and she can’t have it, when we get to the last page of Over in the Meadow, and heaven forbid I take my keys out of her mouth, and suggest she not eat my credit card. She’s also taken to pointing at things she wants and screaming in a way that shatters eardrums. I now understand why sign language might have been useful (but still, not I how might have implemented it into life).

She does take things hard, does Harriet. She has never ever left a  playground and not had eyes streaming with tears… Though she really is a happy kid, recovering quickly from her traumas. At left is a photo of us taken last week by Star reporter Vinnie Talotta, which is pretty much our Hats most of the time.

Anyway, I am very busy lately working toward an upcoming deadline, and I’ve also gotten involved in a reading project (which I’ll tell you about when the time comes) that involves me having to read 20+ books in the next two months. This means my library books are way backlogged, and some even due back without having been touched, and my summer rereading project has totally stalled. I should be able to step up some in the days ahead, however, and I look forward to reading Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive, rereading Joan Didion, and writing up a post about our next meeting of The Vicious Circle and this month’s book, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And updating you about my ongoing obsession with bananas, of course. You’ve probably been waiting for that.

January 6, 2010

On my newfound trekker, newfound confidence, and the mystery of defensive mothering

Oh, if I could go back seven months, what a lot of things I’d have to say to the me I was then. I would urge that shattered, messed up girl to, “Get thee to a lactation consultant” a week sooner than I actually did, and advocate better for myself and baby whilst in the hospital, and promise myself that life as we knew it was not gone, gone, gone forever more.

I would also tell myself to run out and buy a Baby Trekker. I know why we didn’t in the first place– I thought Baby Bjorn was the end in baby carriage, but that $150 was too pricey. Since then, I’ve learned that you get your money’s worth, and that Bjorn’s not where it’s at anyway. We’ve had the Trekker for about three weeks now, and I’ve used it every day (it’s snowsuit friendly!), whether to haul Harriet around the neighbourhood, or to cook dinner with her happily strapped to my back (and this has improved our quality of life more than I can ever describe).

If I could go back about six months, I’d tell myself to START PUTTING THE BABY TO BED EARLY. That she doesn’t have “a fussy period between 7:00 and bedtime”, but that she’s screaming for us to put her to bed then. Of course, I wouldn’t have believed myself then, and even once we’d figured it out, it took another six weeks to learn how to actually get it done. This, like everything, was knowledge we had to come to on our own. And most of motherhood is like that, I’ve found, and it seems to be for my friends as well, which is why all my well-meaning, hard-earned advice is really quite useless to them. But even knowing that we have it in us to do so, to figure it out, I mean, is certainly something worth pointing out.

Even more useful than my Trekker, I think, the best piece of baby equipment I’ve acquired lately is confidence. I had reservations with Naomi Stadlen’s book, but she was right about this: “If [the new mother] feels disoriented, this is not a problem requiring bookshelves of literature to put right. No, it is exactly the right state of mind for the teach-yourself process that lies ahead of her.” Though it actually was the bookshelves of literature that showed me I could go my own way, mostly due to the contradictory advice by “authorities” in each and every volume. (Oh, and I also read Dreambabies, which made it glaringly obvious that baby expertise is bunk.)

Solid food was the turning point though. I have three baby food cookbooks and they’re all reputable, and each is good in its own way, but they agree on nothing. When to start solids, what solids to start on, and when/how to introduce other foods, and on and on. It was good, actually, because I found that whenever I wanted to feed the baby something, at least one of the books would give me permission to do so. So I decided to throw all the rules out the window, and as teaching Harriet to enjoy food as much as I have the power to do so is important to me, I decided we would make up our own rules. As we’ve no history of food allergies in our families, and Harriet is healthy, we opted not to systematize her eating. We’ve fed her whatever we’ve taken a fancy to feeding her, without rhyme or reason, including blueberries, strawberries, fish, chicken, toast, cheese, beans, chickpeas, smoothies, squash, broccoli, spinach, spaghetti, and cadbury’s chocolate, and she’s devoured it all.

Okay, I lied about the chocolate. But the point is that my instincts told me that this was the best way to feed our baby, what made the most sense, and so I tried it and we’re all still alive. And it was liberating to know that the baby experts could be defied– I really had no idea that was even allowed. That as a mother, there could be something I knew about my child and our family that an entire panel of baby experts didn’t. And we can go onward from there.

What has surprised me, however, is that confidence hasn’t done much to reduce my defensive-mothering. You know, feeling the need to reassert oneself whenever someone makes different choices that you do. How not going back to work, for example, makes me feel like a knob, and moms going back to work feel threatened that I’m not, and we keep having to explain ourselves to the other, in fitful circles that take us nowhere.

It’s not just working vs. not working, of course. It’s everything, and this past while I figured it was my own lack of confidence that was making me so defensive. The best advice I’ve received lately is, “Never be too smug or too despairing, because someone else is doing better and worse than you are.” And it was good to keep in mind that any residual smugness was due to probably due to feelings of inadequacy anyway.

Anyway, it’s not just inadequacy, inferiority. Even the decisions I feel confident about prompt defensiveness when other mothers do differently, and now not because I’m unsure of myself, but because I’m so damn sure of myself that I’m baffled when you don’t see it the way I do. And there’s this line we’re meant to spout in these sorts of situations, to imply a lack of judgement. We’re meant to say, about our choices: “It’s what’s best for our family”, but that’s the most sanctimonious load of crap I’ve ever heard. Some things, yes, like me not going back to work, are best for our family, but other things, the other “choices” we’ve made: I’d prescribe them to everyone, and that not everyone is lining up for my prescriptions drives me absolutely mad.

Mom-on-mom action continues to fascinate, nonetheless. There are politics like nothing else, like nothing in the world of men, I think. It brings out the best and the worst in me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. And I doubt the action is going to be letting up anytime soon.

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