In late December of last year, I gave birth to our son, Baby J. And then started the biggest adventure of our lives.
Having a baby wasn’t easy for us, so we had been waiting for him for a long time. As we grew older and more attached to our lives as child-free adults (“free” being the key word here), we had many moments when we thought, why mess with the balance we have now? Why trade our freedom for a family? My freedom was the thing I was most reluctant to let go of; as a long-time freelancer, I had grown accustomed (addicted, perhaps) to being by myself most of the time, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I expected that my biggest challenge as a new parent would be to learn how to carve a space for a little one in my life, and indeed it was. I went from being alone most the time to being with someone all the time.
The challenges awaiting new parents are many, but this is not a parenting blog so I’ll leave parenting advice to those who are far more competent on the topic than I am. I wanted, however, to share my experience as a food-blogging new parent.
In the last few months of my pregnancy, my plan was to write several recipes and posts in advance and schedule their publication so my post-delivery break would go unnoticed. I expected I’d get back into things after a month or two. How hard could it be to find a few hours here and there to keep posting regularly? Other new-mom bloggers managed it, so why wouldn’t I?
The date of my last post (December 24) is proof that nothing went according to plan. Bloggers who manage to maintain their regular post schedules while caring for a newborn now have my undying admiration. I’d love to tell you my culinary routine remained the same; the truth is, save for a handful of meals (each of which felt like a victory), the only thing I did in the kitchen for the first few months was reheat frozen meals. We became addicted to our local restaurant delivery service for variety and treated ourselves to desserts from our favorite pastry shops more often than ever.
With Baby J at the sugar shack.
We still ate well at home, mind you. Although I did not manage to schedule posts for my blog late last year, I did make our favorite slow-cooked casseroles, soups, and other freezer-friendly meals in advance. Dinner was rarely disappointing; there’s something deeply satisfying about being able to enjoy your favorite chili in minutes. It just was a bit repetitive, and it wasn’t “blog worthy.”
I thought about my blog every day. I missed writing, and most of all I missed cooking. I just could not find the energy and inspiration to get back into it. Plenty of things went right: I took a shower and got dressed every day (I’ve never been a work-in-your-pajamas kind of freelancer, so keeping up this routine did wonders for my spirits), baby started sleeping through the night early on (thank goodness for that!), we managed to keep a tidy home (with the additional baby stuff sprinkled everywhere), and we ate out several times with a very cooperative baby (mostly for brunch and lunch, but still).
The biggest lesson I learned in those first months of parenting is that prioritizing properly will get you through the day. I used to make lists and order tasks by importance, but when I became a parent, my priorities got shuffled around. I put tasks that would make me feel the best first (showering, getting dressed) so I could start the day on a good note. Then I looked at my surroundings and chose to deal with the one thing that bugged me the most that day (empty and refill dishwasher, do the laundry, clean up the living room), in the spirit of feeling like I was accomplishing something. To my surprise, cooking something from scratch rarely made it to the top of the priority list. I almost always brushed the idea off because I knew I would have to rush. What I missed wasn’t pulling together a ten-minute dinner—our stash of homemade frozen dinners along with the occasional takeout was good enough to keep our taste buds alive—it was cooking or baking more complex or sophisticated things.
Over time, though, I began to feel like I was denying myself something. I was frustrated by the feeling that I never had any time for myself. One night, when I was especially grumpy, E said, “Maybe you should cook something; I’m sure it would make you feel better.” I realized he was spot on. Taking time to cook something, photograph it, and write about it for my blog was my favorite way of taking time for myself. Cooking had been off my mind for way too long. That night, after we put the baby to bed, I made our favorite risotto, which we enjoyed with a good glass of Italian red in a candlelit living room. Talk about a victorious feeling.
Juicing key limes is the kind of task that drives some people nuts, but it actually has a therapeutic effect on me.
Four and a half months later, I have a pretty good rhythm going and I’ve started being able to carve out more time for myself. I can finally get a little further down the priority list, and I feel like I’m ready to get back to cooking and writing. I’m getting help from loved ones, and we’ve started the search for a nanny who will work part time (a task that could take weeks, if not months). Thanks to government help, the standard for maternity leaves here in Quebec is a full year; I know very few mothers who haven’t taken advantage of that time to devote themselves fully to their new family. My wanting to start working on my blog and for clients early doesn’t come without some feelings of guilt, but every time I take a little time away, even just an hour, I come back to my son feeling refreshed and much more attentive.
You can’t know what kind of parent you’ll be before you become one; like all moms, I’m just doing my best, trying to keep the baby and myself happy all the while. Things will be forever different, but I’m looking forward to finding a new balance, watching my son grow, and keeping on cooking and blogging, my way.
Quick and Easy, Newborn-Friendly Lemon Bars
Lemon desserts are my favorite. Over the last months, I have purchased many lemon tarts to satisfy my cravings, but I have also managed to whip up these super quick lemon squares a couple of times. All they miss is a dollop of Italian meringue and I’d be in citrusy heaven. I’ll get there one day :)
Makes 15 bars
1 cup [250 ml] all-purpose flour
½ cup [125 ml] finely ground almonds (almond meal, or substitute all-purpose flour)
¾ cup [180 ml] cold butter, cubed
4 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups [375 ml] granulated sugar
1 tsp. [5 ml] baking powder
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or substitute lime juice)
1 tsp [5 ml] very finely grated lemon zest (or substitute lime zest)
3 tbsp [45 ml] all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F [175°C]. Grease a 9 x 13 in [23 x 33 cm] baking pan with butter or cooking spray, then line with parchment paper.
In a food processor, combine the flour, ground almonds and cubed butter. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. (You can also do this by hand using a pastry cutter or a fork.) Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and firmly press it down to form a crust. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown.
While the crust is baking, make the filling: in a large bowl, add the eggs, sugar, baking powder, lemon juice and zest, and flour. Whisk together until the mixture is airy and smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.
Once the crust is done, take it out of the oven and pour the filling over it. Note that if the crust has cooled down before you pour the filling mixture over it, the baking time will be slightly longer. Put the pan back into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the center is still slightly jiggly.
Let the bars cool completely in the pan set over a cooling rack. Cut into bars and sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.
Store the bars in an airtight container in the fridge where they will keep for at least a week. They can also be frozen; thaw in the refrigerator for a couple hours, or at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
Recipe Credit: Inspired by Bell’Alimento.Yum