Mom says I need a multicooker. Mom says going to the market to buy dandelion leaves takes up too much time. Mom says oats will do for a simple weekday breakfast, no need to make waffles. Mom is not wrong, you know. But I resist. Maybe because resisting is a natural response when your mom tells you what to do. Even when you are thirty four. Even when you know she’s right.
Mom spent four weeks with us. She came from Russia to Germany solely to help me with the kids. Not to see a foreign country, not to explore Hamburg, but to cook, clean and look after her grandkids. That’s how selfless and generous she is when it comes to her children. And even though technically it was her holiday, I am pretty sure she is more rested now that she’s back at work. Because our life is intense.
We have: a three-year-old, a one-year-old, a husband who works from home but has no dedicated office space, a kindergarten that came into picture a month ago so at this point it adds more work and stress rather than relieving me of it, an apartment that we moved into somewhat recently and which lacks some major features like kitchen cabinets, a dishwasher, and curtains. On top of that there’s my immense desire to make every meal from scratch, a particularly powerful trigger for my mom because she swears by her multicooker and thinks I would benefit from one too.
In all honesty, I do own an Instant Pot, purchased around three years ago when Kroshka, my older son was born. At the time, my mom also came to Germany to help out and effectively bullied me into buying one. I use it fairly often, but only to boil beans without soaking them first or to cook a piece of meat that I am scared will turn out stiff otherwise. Three and a half years later and I still don’t know where that magic button is, that allows you to throw all the ingredients inside and open the lid half an hour later to the smell of a prepared dinner.
The thing about Instant Pot is that I really really really do not want to cook in it. It makes me feel like I am cheating. Like I am not a good cook. Like I am not doing my absolute best to put a nutritious tasty meal on the table. Which is stupid and I am wondering how these ideas even made it into my brain.
Maybe it’s all the times I had opinionated chefs on TV tell me that I must boil fresh tomatoes and remove the skin and puree them in order to make delicious spaghetti pomodoro, because canned tomatoes just won’t do. Or that time Anthony Bourdain said that you don’t deserve garlic if you don’t want to peel it. And I peel all of my garlic, you know. Always fresh, not a single time from a jar. But that’s beyond the point.
That quote, along with many others, made me believe that in the kitchen there’s a right way and a wrong way and don’t you dare do it the wrong way, even if it brings you great pleasure, because your atrocious behavior will be frowned upon.
I can still remember the episode of Parts Unknown set in Brazil, where in the very end Bourdain tears a crab with his bare hands on the beach and sucks the meat out of the claws, all the while saying the following:
“When people started demanding boneless stuff, like chicken without a bone or crab meat without the actual crab or lazy lobster, that was the beginning of the erosion of our society as we know it. If you’re not willing to work for a payoff like this, how do you expect us to, like, fight Al-Qaida. If you can’t suck the meat out of a crab? A character builder and delicious.”
Seven years ago when I watched this episode I accepted his opinion wholeheartedly, not as an opinion, but as the only truth. I was twenty seven, newly married and had just moved to the USA. Who was I to argue with Anthony Bourdain?
I still love that quote. There’s sense to it. I enjoy sucking the meat out of crab claws and slowly boiling chicken bones with aromatics after roasting the whole thing. But at 34, I must say that having two kids has built my character better than shelling a crab ever could. There’s enough struggle in my life as it is, so just let me eat my lazy lobster and boneless chicken when I feel like it.
As I plug my Instant Pot in and figure out the settings I imagine Bourdain looking at me disapprovingly and shaking his head. Do you think that’s how he’d react or is it my imagination running wild? In any case, I am giving my Instant Pot a second chance. Because mom is right.
When she first brought it up, hesitantly, almost unwillingly, I was outraged. To my complaints about daily struggles she replied that I brought it onto myself. Not in a you-wanted-kids-so-why-are-you-complaining-now manner, but rather in a you-are-making-it-harder-than-it-has-to-be sense. I truly couldn’t understand what she was talking about.
And then there were questions. Why is your freezer empty? Why don’t you batch cook? Why don’t you make waffles exclusively on weekends? Why don’t you use the Instant Pot more often? Do you have to go to the market three times a week? Then she said that every time I set out to cook her eye is about to start twitching from the complexity of it all and from the amount of dishes left afterwards. Ouch.
I’ll tell you why, I replied defensively. Because going to the market and cooking exquisite meals for my family is the only thing left in my daily routine that brings me incredible pleasure and that I do for myself. I see the contradiction. I know I’ve just said I cook for my family. But in the grand scheme of things, I shop and cook for my personal pleasure and my husband and the kids are just lucky recipients of the fruits of my labor, if that makes sense. And now my mom is asking me to give up the one thing that brings me so much joy.
I can see how pushing a stroller with 2 kids, neither of which wants to stay in the said stroller, through a crowded market sounds stressful rather than joyful. So does picking groceries when the kids are screaming that they want sausage or strawberries and no amount of “wait just one minute, please” helps. But if I don’t have my stressful market walks, then what do I have left? Chores? Washing the dishes and getting bored at the playground all day every day?
Besides, when my mom asks me to scale down and do less, does she not realize that I had done it already? Before the kids, husband and I used to travel almost every weekend and go out for dinners and hang out with friends. There’s none of that now. I barely ever leave my neighborhood. Is that not enough? Should I really stop moving all together and be completely still?
For 4 weeks I kept trying to prove my mom wrong. Once she left and I had no-one to argue with, as well as no-one to help, I gave in. Tired of the uphill battle of the kindergarten adaptation and everyone getting sick, I decided to follow mom’s advice. I would do only what was absolutely necessary of me.
Order groceries online, shop at the market once a week. Allow myself to buy ready-made pesto and hummus. I usually make my own hummus from scratch: soaking and boiling beans and all. That is not to brag, just so you understand why mom’s eye was twitching.
A stroll around the neighborhood? A stroll around the block sounds more doable today. A playground 10-minutes-walk away or right around the corner? The latter. Waffles or oats on a Monday morning? Oats will do.
For every action I had to take I asked myself: can I do it later? can I do it online? can my husband do it? The most notable example of this strategy in action happened one day as I was having coffee while waiting to pick Kroshka up from kindergarten.
As I finished my coffee 15 minutes before pick-up — just enough to walk slowly and be right on time — I realized that I needed cash. Conveniently, the ATM was right across the road. I would have to run there and then walk at a brisk pace to the kindergarten. Yulia from a few weeks ago would have done just that. Yulia who listens to her mom decided to ask husband to get cash later and had a leisurely walk instead.
Do I sound boring to you? It’s ok, I sound boring even to myself. But I figured as a parent you sometimes have to be boring and bored to stay sane. It’s either that or complete burn-out. For the time-being I am being still, preserving energy. It may last a few weeks, a few months or a year. But I hope by the end of it I am bored out of my mind and ready to take up new adventures. I am embracing this phase of my life, so much so that I bought an Instant Pot cookbook. And I’ve already tried a risotto recipe from it. It tasted of creamy butter and heaps of Parmesan, and not even a little bit of guilt.