#sol17 day 17: Letter of Recommendation-Recipe Reviews

One of my favorite writing assignments is modeled after the New York Times’ Letter of Recommendation, “celebrations of  objects and experiences that have been overlooked or underappreciated.” Students have written about the best topics: Chap Stick, street performers, BBQ potato chips. This is one of a few other assignments intended for writers to pay attention to the little things that are, when we notice, quite big, indeed, and one that students love every single time.

ReviewsThis morning, I was reading a Cod Cakes recipe. I’d opted to do much of the prep work before school because I knew I’d never have enough time to let them chill for 30 minutes this evening when a hungry toddler’s stomach demanded otherwise. What pushed me to that choice, particularly knowing that chopping, browning and forming the cakes would definitely make our attempt to leave the house that much more chaotic?

The reader reviews. While I did not read all 160, I did read what I considered a representative sample. I also read Sam Sifton’s response to someone who lamented that his cod cakes had fallen apart. Sifton insisted they had to be chilled. That was the key.

And because so many people had already made the recipe and rated it highly, I conceded that if I wanted cod cakes with at least a fighting chance to be as good as Sam Sifton’s, well, then, I should make some effort to let them chill in the refrigerator before introducing them to my cast iron skillet later tonight.

Reader reviews about a recipe are a rabbit hole. I now try to read them with a timer in hand. For every recipe I think I want to make, it’s only a moment or two of scrolling before I’m either second-guessing myself, making a list of amendments to the recipe, or high-fiving myself on selecting what seems to be a good meal. I’ve also learned that people write recipe reviews with a couple of intentions: to call something a good recipe only after they’ve made it their own (thereby changing the original recipe, which, then, as it stands, seems that that would change the original recipe and not garner an excellent rating, but, okay, duly noted); to comment on the picture the original recipe posted (and they haven’t made the recipe yet but just wanted to say it looks “delicious”); or to complain: someone tried the recipe and hated it and/or it didn’t work for their child/SO/family. For these reasons, reviews must be read with a bit of levity.

I give about as much consideration to the reviews on a recipe as I do the recipe itself, largely because if a bunch of people are complaining about something, then they’re usually on to something and the truth is somewhere in between. My brilliant colleague, Michelle, and I have similar approaches to reader recipe reviews. We might be enamored with a photograph of something delicious on a plate, but we scroll right past the narrative that accompanies the picture to land ourselves smack in the midst of the reviews. That is where the meat of the recipe is, if you will.

Bon appetit.

One year ago: #sol16: Holders of Memory

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.



#sol17 Day 16: Thank You Notes

Growing up, writing thank you notes was always part of receiving gifts. I vaguely remember it usually happened in a 24-hour span: open gift, ooh and aah, pull out some pretty paper and write a thank you note. Find a stamp–which my grandmother always had in abundance–address the envelope and either walk the card or letter out to the mailbox beside the road that evening, or wait until first thing the next morning.

Receiving gifts was a cycle that was completed only when the thank you note was mailed. It was a habit my grandmother started with me when I was young, and I probably only signed my name to start, progressing to more formulaic thanks as I got older until I evolved to be able to write thoughtful, genuine notes of gratitude.

I picked up a penchant for lovely paper along the way. I might have several boxes of correspondence cards stored in a drawer. Might.

Recently, I realized that I seem to have accumulated more pieces of lovely paper than were actually being used. Blame never having stamps on hand, blame email (my grandmother would probably lose her mind over that one), and blame self absorption.

What was once an ingrained habit had became rusty with lack of use.

Muscle memory is a fantastic thing, though. For the last few months, I’ve been writing thank you notes. Real ones. Some on lovely paper. Some on copy paper that I embellish with doodles I find on Pinterest. Lots for the many people who give E presents.

The more I write, the easier it is, and, miracle of miracles, the happier it makes ME, the one writing the note! I think that feeling of personal joy was not as apparent when I was younger. Back then, I’m sure writing thank you notes felt more like a chore than anything. At present, however, writing thank you notes is a reflective, mindful exercise. I’m able to write about what the gift meant and how it impacted me (or us, if it’s a gift for the both of us). I sit at my tiny kitchen table remembering, writing, and being thankful that someone thought enough of me to send something of meaning. I’ve even begun keeping a few cards near my journal and other writing supplies to make it easier to dash off notes.

The least I can do is write notes of thanks and teach E to do the same. (He already has his own lovely paper.)

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.

#sol17 Day 15: 42

I am 42 today. I made my own birthday cake, with E’s help. And tonight, we had a little dinner at our local favorite restaurant, came home, lit the candle and sang Happy Birthday. We mostly ate the frosting (brown sugar caramel over a white cake). He is my child, for sure.


One year ago: #sol16: So Fresh and So Clean (Clean)

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.

#sol17 Day 14 Catalog Poem for a Snow Day

My awesome colleague Michelle is always quick to remind me that the energy I direct to any situation determines how it plays out. Because I have lived that out in practice, I decided to have an enjoyable snow day with my boypie. And, because it seemed poetic, of sorts, I offer the following catalog poem as today’s Slice of Life.

Snow falls, and I sense the building crescendo behind my right eye signaling a migraine.
Snow falls as I creep from my bedroom and onto the couch in the living room, pushing aside his owl pillow and a hungry kitten and falling asleep again.
Snow falls as I hear “Mommy! I’m up!”
Snow falls and, in quick succession, he eats breakfast, builds a fort under the table, and washes his trucks with a paintbrush and a cup of water. I do want to scream because while it seems that hours has passed, I realize it’s only been 20 minutes.
Snow falls: time for a call home to my mother and sister while E squeals with joy, asks them the same question over and over (and they answer it!), and tells them he is ready to see them soon.
Snow falls and it’s time for a Paw Patrol marathon for him. Online shopping for me.
Snow falls. Nap time. Finally. Back to my couch for the episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” where Izzy is going to die. Then, a quick click over to the more comforting rerun of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
Snow falls and Kelly, Dylan and Brenda make this the best day ever. At least for the next 20 minutes until his nap is over.
Snow falls and we’re in the after nap homestretch. Because it’s a snow day: MORE Paw Patrol.
Snow falls and I remember how much I love baking. I try a new recipe for my birthday cake this year and E joins me for a moment to stir the batter, lick the beaters, and parade around the kitchen in his apron. He’s nearly naked and we have a dance break before he leaves me to complete his television watching.
Snow falls. Dinner time. I finally master how to cook the perfect pork chop. We eat them, while I admire how brown and savory they are, and I eat both of our kale and beet salads (because he won’t).
Snow falls: teeth brushed, 10 Tiny Babies read, boypie tucked in, sleepy head kissed.

Snow falls and I’m back on my couch, marveling at what a changed attitude can do to make this snow day a day of grace.

One year ago: #sol16: Patron Saints of Parenting

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.


#sol17 Day 13: That Day That Finally Arrives

I’m pretty sure I was delirious when some parent somewhere said, “Don’t worry. Eventually, he’ll be able to wipe his own butt.” I’m sure I stared them at disbelief.

Tonight, while home from school, E galloped into the bathroom, used the toilet, and returned to stand before me, wiggling himself back into his Paw Patrol underwear. When he pulled them up to his satisfaction, he reached back down for his pants, hitching them up around his legs before stopping, unable to work the pants over the rest of his body.

Rising, I helped him with the final few inches to reunite pants with waist and he smiled, joyful at his accomplishment and went back to chasing the cat.

I sat down, proud of what E can now do, and cried. I find myself so underprepared for these moments of transition and I have become so close to the verge of tears all the time. When they ultimately arrive, I can’t believe it because time seems to get compressed and what seemed like such a long way away (an eternity, if you will), happens in an eye blink.

Yet, here we are.

One year ago: #sol16: The Kid Stays in the Picture

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.

#sol17 Day 11: Nonlinear Friendships

I was listening to the Edit Your Life Podcast: Handling Friendship Changes a couple of days ago (BTW, this is another #trypod!). Some points the hosts made that I’ve been thinking about:

  • The average friendship lasts seven years.
  • We have the right to decide who we want to spend our time with.
  • New relationships are wonderful.
  • Friendships satisfy different needs.
  • Only you control your behavior.
  • Reach out to someone who lights you up.

This podcast comes at an interesting moment in my life. I have a handful of “ride-or-die” friends. Two (both White women) have been my friend since elementary school. We seldom see each other save for when I’m home for a visit and some random texts here or there, but I also have no doubt that if I needed them–or they needed me–we would fold time in an instant and do what we could to help each other.

My best friend (another White woman) and I have had a friendship for over 20 years. She lives in New Orleans and I’m in Boston. We see each other once a year, twice if there’s some sort of lucky coincidence. Our friendship has weathered some moments where it probably shouldn’t have: we had a moment early on in our friendship that was about race and it was hard and we got through it. We almost didn’t, but, somehow we did. And now, I’d like to think we are the type of friends that discuss hard truths when they arise and live to tell the tale.

Most recently, I’ve had friendships that are of a different sort. One is with a friend (a White woman) who has become reliable, true blue. She was that way before I had E, but since then, has turned into even more of those qualities I had undervalued before having a child made me crystal clear about what to value: she shows up. Again and again and again. And she is unafraid to speak up. That means she calls people on their racism. She speaks up when a person is rude. She is the ally I’m learning parents of color need.

My friendship with her is contrasted with a friendship I ended. A hard decision, largely because I can’t quite recall when the last time was that I’ve done something like that. Essentially, what happened was that that friend sent me a picture over the summer: her white son in the back of a police wagon during a local community fair. She sent it to me with the intention of showing me how much fun they were having in a small town over summer vacation.

We had been friends for nearly ten years. During that time, she’d been loyal, the person who showed up even when I said I wasn’t up for visitors, who chased my baby blues away because she was so consistent in her friendship. When she sent the picture, it was in the midst of protests from the Movement for Black Lives, of lots of deaths of unarmed Black men by police officers, of general stages of panic and worry. The picture she sent wasn’t intended to trigger any of those particular contexts.

Yet, it did.

In the moments that followed, when I moved from disbelief that she would send me this particular picture to a sort of momentary sadness and disappointment, I also wondered if I was overreacting.

Long story short: I couldn’t get over this one, despite my friend’s explanation that she simply wanted to share a moment with me, not unlike many others we’d shared over the last couple of years of our children. What was different about this particular moment was that, as she later admitted, she simply didn’t spend a lot of time having to think about the issues that I think about as a mother of color, particularly as a mother of color to a Black sun. 

That admission, while honest, was also what ended that friendship for me. I simply am unable to have friends who don’t have time to think about how their whiteness (and here I should also add white supremacy and white privilege) impacts their interactions with me, or with my child, or even with other children and folks of color. Certainly this does not mean we sit down and talk about race and racism nonstop–though having friends who are unafraid to talk about difficult issues is a non-negotiable–but at least taking the time to be thoughtful is paramount. I do not have the luxury of not thinking about how my Blackness, my gender, my parenting, even, figure into anything.

I miss her, though.

So some of the points of that podcast wind through this post. I have a few key friendships that defy that average of seven years because they are with folks who have been loyal, honest and true. That they have been with white women also demonstrate that Black and White women can forge lasting friendships, broach tough topics, and remain friends. To that end, I also think that the friendship I recently ended had run its course, and that is finally okay to admit. I do know–now more than ever–that the people I want to spend my time with are the friends who mean the most to me and who push me to be the best person, friend, mother that I can be. And I bet that these are the friendships that will endure, the ones I need to endure. I can also say that perhaps the friendship that ended is not ended forever. I recall a quote I read about friendship that said that friendships are not linear.

We’ll see what happens. It’s been these nonlinear friendships that have proven most enduring.

One year ago: #sol16: Busy Making Other Plans 

slice of lifeThis post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.