In search of lost competence – Part 1

These days, my mind is working faster.  I mysteriously seem to come up with solutions more effortlessly. It may be that the children are older, it may be the beginning of menopause (have I mentioned that I am an OLD mother?), it may be necessity, although that’s never worked in the past.

An example of those competent bamboo cutting boards..

It’s been gradual and somewhat rocky –maybe I’m reaching a tipping point as new challenges present themselves. But in a happy way, I noticed another jump, another improvement a few days ago, when I whipped out at the last minute some fairly credible food for a picnic.

Some women are trained at their mother’s apron strings how to plan, organize and entertain. I was not, nor do I have the brain for this, not even remotely. Once, at some type of toddler event, a mother was brimming with excitement about some bamboo cutting boards she’d found – light, thin, two colors: a new idea, say eight years ago. She often had to entertain international guests for her husband’s business and had come up with a routine for such evenings. Always serve champagne, sparkling water, and white wine with chilled grapes, several types of cheese, and some fun crackers or bread. Her new final touch: throw all the food on these new cutting boards for a chic presentation, and voila, stylish nibbles and drinks that would please most palates.

I was stunned with how simple it was, and how little thought was needed to implement such a plan that would work well every time. Why couldn’t I do that?

Well, thought was a scarce commodity in those days. I wasn’t remembering any recipes beyond roast chicken. And honestly, the right presentation for brie and grapes has never been a priority.

But when it was time to have people over, I’d freak out – not only because the house was a mess and the kids took all my energy, but also because I’d never taken the time to put together a simple, pleasant and easy approach so I could relax and be proud. As a single woman, yes to some degree, but then I could also take all week to fuss in advance.  Part of competence, it seems to me, is being able to think and move quickly. The final result of my entertaining was, I’m sure, more than passable. But the chaos it has spawned inside, the exhaustion and resentment were all so huge, I no longer cared what I’d come up with – I was just sure I’d blown it and was too tired to consider otherwise.

Another difference, perhaps superficial, is that I didn’t know how to market my cooking. I have noticed how well other mothers do, as well as any cooking magazine I happen to pick up.  All these super-marketers might have presented my recent picnic like this (tongue firmly in cheek):

One of B's desserts in the making, along with her taster...

With less than an hour to go, I checked the refrigerator for tried-and-true staples (an especially competent phrase) and whipped up a Caesar salad with fresh corn sliced off the cob, a variety of yummy rolled tortillas: organic cheddar cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and for the grown-ups, pork tenderloin with tender baby spinach leaves with a mayonnaise vinaigrette. All this was washed down by a couple bottles of dark porter and followed by fresh strawberries in yogurt and maple syrup made by my charming daughter B.

My way of thinking about it:

Everything came from leftovers – there was not an ounce of forethought. Most things were wrapped up in ugly, reused plastic bread-loaf plastic bags – no elegant and tidy presentation.  We had tortillas because we were out of bread. The beer comes from Trader Joes and costs the same as Budweiser. The (bottled) mayonnaise smeared on the tortilla just happened to mix with the dressing from last night’s salad. Caesar salad is the only salad my kids will eat so of course I have the bottled dressing and prepackaged Romaine hearts in the refrigerator. What else do you make in a pinch for kids but plain cheese sandwiches and PB&J?

But the point here is that once we settled down on the grass, even I was able to look at the this good food, be grateful that I remembered the plates, napkins, and camping chairs, and realize I’d done well.

I’d done well. Perhaps only because we had good leftovers that day, but still, my mind was able to make something interesting out of what was there rather than zone out in panic. And I could write a description like the former one, not that I’m planning on it, without feeling too much like a fraud.

A small example, but deeply satisfying. An old burden is relaxing somewhere inside with tears of relief. And shifting into enjoying a little of the fun that comes with preparing good food to share with others. Does this little meal seem to be a metaphor for my life? Yep, you bet.

More next week in Part II

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6 Responses to In search of lost competence – Part 1

  1. Ashisha says:

    I appreciate it, Cynthia, that you linked me to your blog. I have read nearly every word.
    Your honestly is impressive and refreshing. The images add to the topic. I knew you
    pre-girls… and know in a sense what a mountain you have had to climb to be a “mother.”
    Hey, the effort clearly was worth the exertion.
    You are loved by two beautiful daughters who, indeed, bring out that famous smile of yours.

    • growingmygirls says:

      Thanks Ashisha — you’ve been a great support the whole time. Yes, it’s been worth it…Glad you stopped by!

  2. I love B’s taster.
    This past Mothers Day my newly retired Father took over the task of preparing everything for the annual family picnic. When we showed up my Mom started pulling stuff out and saying, ‘Jim, you forgot the forks, you also forgot the appetizers,……’. The list was getting longer and we could see my Mom getting pissier. All was resolved when she pulled out the bottles of wine! As long as he didn’t forget those all could be forgiven.

    • growingmygirls says:

      Love this! I feel like we live some version of this every day, sigh. But the wine is available, and does make a difference!

  3. Leftovers are the best! And some of the best meals I’ve ever had came as a result of needing to use up what was in the fridge …

  4. growingmygirls says:

    Yep — thank goodness for leftovers! I think the difference now is that I’m managing better quality leftovers and that makes me very happy.Tired of chicken hot dogs…..

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