Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Vegetarian Thanksgiving

As a vegetarian, I always find it disappointing to find my Thanksgiving dinner relegated to side dishes. I like the traditional stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, but without a main course, the meal is starchy and I end up hungry soon after eating while others are still bloated on turkey. Garry and I have tried multiple versions of faux turkey (AKA tofurkey) including the commercial Tofurky and one locally made by our coop, and they have only been okay. Usually dry, too salty and surprisingly flavorless. This left us looking for another stand-in. After a couple of failed attempts (pumpkin ravioli, nutloaf) we found that soufflé works really well as a Thanksgiving entrée, and it has been the main course of our Thanksgiving menu for many years.

Soufflé is, perhaps surprisingly to some, a stellar choice for Thanksgiving. First, there’s the potential for failure. Isn’t the threat of an overcooked and dry turkey the hallmark of Thanksgiving anxiety? When prepared well, a soufflé’s appearance out of the oven is impressive. The flavor and texture of a cheddar soufflé melds nicely with mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, and a green vegetable – does it matter which? It’s Thanksgiving. Between the butter, cheese, eggs, and milk, it isn't good for you, but it’s so delicious. Garry and I have chuckled with each other over a future day when a grade school teacher would survey Ezra’s class for traditional Thanksgiving foods and he would pipe up, “soufflé!” to the puzzlement of his teachers and peers.

But this past Thanksgiving, we parted ways with soufflé and made tofurkey from scratch. I’m not sure why we hadn’t tried this sooner. We are do-it-yourself, cook-from-scratch kind of people. Every year we spend Thanksgiving Day cooking with friends, making everything from scratch including our gravy using homemade vegetable broth. I was under the impression tofurkey would be difficult to make and not worth the effort, but it was one of the easiest things on our menu to make and it was delicious. Throw a few things in the food processor, spread the mix in a loaf pan with stuffing, bake for an hour. Voilà! Unlike soufflé, tofurkey is a perfect vehicle for gravy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Breastfeeding through Toddlerhood!

Amanda wrote this essay when Ezra was 2 ½ years old. Seven months later, Ezra still nurses, but infrequently - for a few minutes every two or three days. We have also moved on from the coop daycare, and Ezra attends a preschool class with children 3-5 years old.

At two and a half years old, Ezra nurses two or three times a day, usually in the morning and evening.  He also often nurses when I pick him up from daycare. It’s the first thing he wants to do when he sees I’ve arrived. “Mommy, I want to nurse!” and he will point me toward a rocking chair. We’ve been at a multi-age coop daycare since Ezra was 6 months old. Our coop has a very friendly attitude towards  breastfeeding. It’s common for a breastfeeding mother to stop by and nurse her infant during a break in her schedule and to find a couple mothers nursing and chatting in the playroom at the end of the day. 

The other day while Ezra was nursing, his friend Lucy, who is four years old, asked me, “What’s Ezra doing?” Lucy has asked me some variation of this question almost everyday for the past two years. She never seems to tire of breastfeeding conversations; indeed, in the two and a half years I’ve known her, Lucy has demonstrated an unwavering obsession with pregnancy, babies and anything having to do with childcare. Ezra was the only infant when we joined our coop and while he attracted a lot of attention from the other toddlers and preschoolers, Lucy was his most avid fan. Her first word (at least to my recollection) was “baby” which she repeated over and over while sitting right next to him and this behavior helped coin Ezra’s nickname, “Baby Ezra,” which was quickly adopted by all the children at our coop. As Lucy’s language took off, one of the first sentences she said to me was an instruction: “Baby nipple milk.” 

I told Lucy he was nursing, and she asked why. This is a very rehearsed routine between the two of us with nearly the same questions and answers every day. I told her Ezra was thirsty and having some milk, at which point Ezra stopped nursing, interrupting our routine, and said, “I not having milk, I nursing!” I laughed aloud and Lucy lost interest.

Ezra’s outburst was a subtle reminder of the shift in nursing from infancy to toddlerhood. Whether or not he recognizes that breastfeeding now isn’t really about milk, I’ve known for some time that it has little to do with nutrition. Even though I have no clue how much milk he takes in with only two or three nursing sessions a day – such a change from when I was counting every ounce I pumped! – it certainly isn’t much. While he might not be getting a substantial number of calories or other nutritional inputs from my breast milk, there are other, clear emotional and developmental benefits he still receives from nursing: comfort, security, and routine.

He nurses less and less with every month, with breastfeeding sessions growing shorter and shorter over the last few weeks. In fact, a few consecutive evenings passed when he didn’t ask to nurse before going to sleep. I was surprised the first night. I was a little sad too, which was mystifying because I had felt, for a period of several weeks, increasingly frustrated with breastfeeding. That first night convinced me to have a little more patience with his need for nursing and was a gentle reminder he will not nurse forever. 

Oddly, as Ezra’s nursing is on the decline, his interest in verbalizing breastfeeding is on the rise. Lately he has been fond of telling me “I nurse a lot” and the other day he told me, “I love nursing.” Well if I had been feeling Grinch-y about nursing, my heart grew three sizes that day. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Costumes

Last year, Ezra answered “frog” every time he was asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween. At least this is how he answered the month and half up to Halloween. Then he changed his mind. After seeing his completed costume he decided, “I don’t want to be anything.”

Ezra reluctantly wearing half of his frog costume.
I love Halloween, and I was sad that not only did Ezra no longer share my enthusiasm for the upcoming holiday but that his change of heart was entirely my fault. When Ezra said he wanted to be a “frog” for Halloween, he meant the “frog”: Kermit the Frog. This was obvious to both Amanda and I, but for several reasons I vetoed the idea. Ideologically, I preferred Ezra to dress in a costume that was not a licensed character. Amanda and I planned to avoid exposing Ezra to TV and pop-culture characters for as long as possible. By two, he could already name every supporting character on the Muppets as well as the cast of Yo Gabba Gabba!, Dinosaur Train, and Sesame Street. Dressing Ezra as Kermit seemed to point out one of the many discrepancies between how we had planned to parent and our real parenting. Oh, the pressure to be perceived as a crunchy parents. On an equally selfish but even more superficial level, I had a great idea for a tree-frog costume that I thought would be cuter than a Kermit costume. It turns out that a tree-frog costume that nobody wears is not really that cute, and I had allowed my own self-interests to ruin this holiday, a day in which you can be whoever or whatever you want, for my child.

This year when I asked Ezra what he wanted to be for Halloween, I tried not to treat his answer as the first suggestion in a costume brain storming session. When he again said he wished to be Kermit the Frog, I began thinking of how to construct a Kermit costume.  In complete honesty, I first countered with, “How about Animal?” before reminding myself of last year’s lesson. Ezra continued to talk about being Kermit for a month and a half, and then changed his mind a week before Halloween.

This time he changed his mind because he thought of another costume he was even more excited to wear. Kermit was out and replaced by Pidsley, the “mean cat,” on Shaun the Sheep. Shaun the Sheep is a stop-motion, animated television series produced by Aardman Animations for the BBC. The cat is a supporting character only appearing in a few of the second season’s episodes, so the costume is obscure even for people who are familiar with the show. I anticipated that nobody would have any idea who Ezra was dressed as even after we simplified the costume from his initial request. Originally, he asked to be the “mean cat” wearing a cheetah costume as he does in one episode to scare the sheep. I respected his ambition, but we agreed wearing a costume on top of a costume might be too confusing.

Getting in character.

Even though no one recognized his costume, Ezra loved being the “mean cat.”  He completely immersed himself in the character: growling, showing his claws, communicating with animated gestures, and giggling at the thoughts of his evil plans. In a Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the characters literally become their Halloween costumes. If you dressed as a ghost, these magical costumes turned you into a ghost. Ezra’s Pidsley costume seemed to have the same effect. I now imagine what I missed by not making the Kermit costume last year. A wonderful Halloween night filled with a toddler playing the banjo, singing Rainbow Connection, and introducing very special guest stars from 70’s now only exists in my regrets.