I can’t even

Hey There Lonely Parents of Older Teenagers

Hey There Lonely Parents of Older Teenagers

You can quit feeling guilty about how happy you felt when the kids went back to school: the “Baby Got Class” YouTube video has 4.3 million views. So 4.3 million of you feel the same way. When you’re a parent of older teens, though, that new backpack is full of mixed feelings. School is the best friend of working parents, and of semi-competent parents like me. I’ve relied on schools for 16 years to help raise my daughter. Along with aftercare, church, ballet and piano lessons and camps, my child benefited from trained and experienced caregivers, bless ‘em. They were so much better at it than me, and had such good parenting pro tips. I was sometimes clueless without their help. When Miss Baby used her first naughty “potty word,” and I was stumped for appropriate reaction, I defaulted to what would her caregiver do?  “That’s not a very nice word,” I said sternly to the pottymouth toddler. “Um, what would Miss Amanda say?” “She would say, ‘potty words belong in the potty’.” “And Miss Amanda IS EXACTLY RIGHT—we only use potty words in the potty.” Then came the first preschool fall break, around age 3, when I had no back-up care options. We had just moved to England, without a car, friends or family. The weather forecast signaled rain all week. I had no idea what to do with a toddler for a week. Reader, I cried, right in front of my toddler.   So our summers were structured, and the arrival of the school year merely shifted us from camp to school. No problem. We are old hands at this. We are in the competent care of people who are terrific at raising kids. But this summer, our 16th, was so hard to bid farewell. My teen has “done been raised,” and is good company, a cheerful hiking buddy, clever Scrabble player and crossword ninja. We share playlists, sunscreen and our own language based on lolcat. We consciously crafted an epic summer of bike rides, rivers, lakes and pools, late nights, sleeping in, screen porches, card games, outdoor movies, concerts, camping, mountains. The start of school means my fun friend is gone all day, beginning with the inhumane 6:45 bus pickup. No more river floats, daytime movies, or late night paletas. The “carefree” part of summer is gone too. In its place is pressure to excel toward a future we can’t see, but is surely filled with even more education and punishing schedules. As a “good” parent, it’s my job to apply this pressure. It’s the opposite of summer fun. It’s the shark swimming somewhere just out of sight, filling the water with anxiety and uncertainty. When...

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Clean Wild Blackberries: Southern Cooking for Company

Clean Wild Blackberries: Southern Cooking for Company

July was blackberry picking month at my granny’s farm. Our routine was this: long-sleeve shirt, jeans, loose socks, boots, hat, then a dousing of bug repellant. NO UNDERWEAR OR BRA, OR EVEN TIGHT SOCKS! (Chiggers crawl on your person until they can’t go any futher, like an underwear legband or a bra strap. Then they bite.) We’d pick gallons of berries for preserves, jam, freezing and eating fresh with cream. In England, blackberries also grow wild, but are very well-behaved. The species has fewer thorns, and the canes grow individually, rather than in dense hedges. In a lightly trafficked lane near our house was a nice clump of canes that provided enough berries for topping ice cream or cereal. With friends Nettie and Poppy, we’d range further afield for bigger harvests. Delightfully free of mosquitos and chiggers, too. Nettie insisted with soak our harvested berries in lightly salted water, which I hadn’t heard of. And when we did, ohmidog: the bugs–not just a few–jumped and floated to the top of the water, where they were easy to skim off. How many times had I gleefully downed handfuls wild berries? And how many bugs had I unknowingly eaten? Uncountable, that’s how many. So now I soak wild berries in water to cover with a teaspoon of salt for 30 minutes. I recommend...

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That’s No Watermelon! For Starters, It’s Hairy

That’s No Watermelon! For Starters, It’s Hairy

Southern gardeners know that compost is both wonderful for the soil and good for a laugh. It’s amusing to see what unexpected thing sprouts in a garden enriched with composted vegetables and fruit. Will it be a volunteer cherry tomato? A sweet potato vine? A cantaloupe?  This year’s pop-up plant was an obvious member of the cucumber family. The leaves were bigger than a cucumber plant, but it trailed and put out climbing tendrils like a cucumber. The flowers didn’t look like a cucumber plant–they were much bigger, and the petals more deeply divided. And it had a big central pistil or stamen. It looked more like a yellow hibiscus. “Well, more’s the surprise,” I thought, “if I don’t know exactly what it is.”  Mostly I ignored it. Then, on a little trip to the garden for chives, I spotted a little polka dotted something under its leaves. The shape, size and color whispered “watermelon.”   Well hey there! A watermelon! And the critters didn’t eat it–must be my lucky year. It was a little thrill, like winning a lotto scratcher. Just a moment of grace, something received that I didn’t work for. After all the laboring in the garden, it was about time. So I got a little closer for a better look, and….ewww! It’s covered, all over, with prickly hairs. I don’t even know what this alien UFO is. I’m scared of it. And I can’t pick it up.  And I’m sure as hell not throwing it into the compost....

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Hello, I’m Nicki

I've written about food for a living since The Silver Palate was new. Discovering a new cookbook or technique is my idea of fun. And kitchen gear--I'm helpless to resist. Like kitchen projects, the posts here are occasional and open-ended, so please subscribe. You can read more about my work at the "About Nicki" page.

Food Blog South 2014

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