By Leoni Ryan
Four teenagers? What was I thinking when conceiving this wonderful brood of collective individuals? Well the reality is, I wasn’t thinking. Back in my early thirties, the need to procreate had overridden the left logical side of my brain drawing me into the joys of pregnancy. And those hormones were right…at least for No 1. Argh No 1. The virgin pregnancy which propels us into the unknown. I recall those heady days, floating on my back at the local swimming pool in my size 10 black Sea Folly, wrapped in the bliss of impending motherhood as time stood still and I created shapes in the clouds. So addictive were these 40 weeks ( minus 12 weeks of nausea and 2 weeks of early labour ) that I went back again ( 3 months later ) and again ( 3 months later ) and again 3 months later ( albeit that one was an ectopic pregnancy and perhaps God’s way of saying I think that’s enough for a while ) and then 4 years later , No 4. Exhausted yet?
That was just the beginning. In the early days, when my cute little girls were 5, 4 and 1 with a 6 year old brother, I did reflect on the fact that when they would be experiencing puberty I would be experiencing men-o -pause. I pushed that idea to the recesses of my mind until NOW. Reality has hit and it’s a daily source of challenges and learning. Learning which shapes me as a woman? Well, yes, that IS one way of looking at it – well it’s the only way to look at it if one wants to stay upright and not over identify with doona days.
One of the biggest indicators that your cuddly, smiley and adorable offspring has reached adolescence is THE GRUNT. Well intended, loving questions such as, “ How was your lunch today honey?” or “How do you feel about going to the beach on Sunday? ” which used to be met with enthusiastic responses such as “Wow” …“yes” …“great” …“you’re the best !!”, are now met with (that’s if you are even heard ) by “I dunno” …“OK I guess”…“aaay?” or “what?”, all said as if you resemble the martian from Lost in Space (showing my age) or the alien from the Alien movie.
When the change occurs one needs to be prepared and high on the prep list is a self esteem made of impenetrable concrete – no, make that titanium. Unfortunately my super hero suit was made from marshmallow. To say I have struggled is an understatement. Yet, I am surviving. And as I love writing about food first, and self-development second, I will focus on how food can assist in navigating this tumultuous time.
Before I share a couple of recipes that have the potential to save family dinner time sanity, I want to describe an invaluable yet simple strategy. A great piece of advice given to me by my school bestie Anna, who was a few years ahead of me in the parenting experience, was the value of one on one time with an open agenda (make that no agenda). She suggested that you should try and get side by side with your teenager (especially with boys). For instance, it is a good idea to lie down next to them when saying goodnight instead of standing by their bed and utilize the time in the car with the pubescent strategically placed in the passenger seat next to you. Use these opportunities to discuss whatever THEY wish to raise. Why? The adolescent is able to avoid eye contact and finds this physical set up much less threatening. It was hard advice for me to take in when my under 11 boy was cute and cuddly and happy to stare longingly into my maternal blues. However when the hormones hit and the isolation began, I found Anna’s side by side advice invaluable in extracting some level of constructive conversation between me and my beautiful child who now sounded like a rude version of Babe.
As my cuddles and maternal smothering was no longer appreciated, I learnt very quickly that cooking was still an appreciated way of communicating my love to my delicate brood. The subject of food was still very alive in our household and was my way of holding on to the demonstrative love that on other levels was eluding me. New challenges presented themselves though, as No 2 child ( No 1 daughter ) became temporarily vegan and No 3 child (No 2 daughter) is now a fishetarian (is that even a word?). Thankfully food is my lifelong passion and continues to convey an unspoken word or two to my family.
I am struck by the influence of my own mother on my cooking. She taught me the basics and the meals she created for me, adoring me through food, I still cook today. No 3 daughter sent me a link to a Jamie Oliver recipe last week. It resembled my mother’s salmon patties which I recall with fondness. My shopping trolley was spotted this week with Ally salmon to produce these tasty morsels which were consumed in rapid time.
Another favourite, a spinach pie based on a recipe I developed in Year 9 home science, is another meal which seems to generate a degree of gratitude (empty plates and the occasional grunt) in my household.
Speaking of grunts. Alongside the side by side open agenda strategy, the dining table is a great place to break through the grunts. Whilst eyes are on the food, conversation has a chance to develop. The challenge as a parent is to allow the conversation to flow without having an agenda. To be in the moment is difficult for many parents because there are so many things we would like to impart to our children. My son’s Year 7 school rector gave me another piece of great wisdom. He believed that we should approach family conversations with a childlike sense of curiosity and see where they go. To be rigid with set agendas only gives our developing adults something to rebel against. Rebelling against the system, in this case the family system, is a natural part of adolescent development yet hard to comprehend as a parent. Trusting the process around the dinner table is important, but be prepared for healthy conflict and debate. That is life with adolescents as they struggle to find their place in the world and who they are individually and separate from their family.
Picture this. Whilst the spinach pie bakes, I grab one of my daughter’s faded, mismatched size 10 bikini to float recklessly in the pool in an attempt to resurrect the sense of peace experienced during the virgin pregnancy. Peace however was elusive as I was interrupted by No 4’s grand entrance after school shouting, “Mum I want something to eat!”. Finding me floating in her Sunny Life flamingo inflatable, untanned flab spilling over her old bikini, she stares at my well-earned stretch marks and flashes me the all familiar disgusted face followed by the all too familiar and customary grunt !
Off to mine for some more Titanium!
Mum Noeline’s Salmon Cakes
1 large tin of Ally Salmon (other tinned varieties would be OK but I love this one). You can use fresh salmon and lots of coriander and chilli.
1 brown onion diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 large potatoes boiled, mashed and cooled
Plain flour for dusting
Salt and Pepper
Zest of one lemon or lime
Sautee onion in fry pan and add to cooled mash potato. Drain tin of salmon and flake and add to potato mixture. Add well beaten egg. Add zest of lime or lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Form small patties and touch with plain flour as you go. Place patties in fridge for an hour or more.
Melt half butter in fry pan and fry in batches of four. Makes about 12.
Spinach Pie ( without filo as my daughter took off with my car …oh the joys of P platers!)
Normally I would make this wrapped in filo. However, if you find yourself without filo like me (see above), then increase the eggs from 3 to 6.
1 bunch of silverbeet
1 punnet of english spinach
1 onion diced
1 cup of ricotta
200g of fetta
1 1/2 cups of grated tasty cheese
Few handfuls of pinenuts
3 tablespoons of melted butter for filo
Salt and pepper (season well)
Fry spinach in olive oil with one diced onion. When wilted, place in a mixing bowl with all the cheeses and eggs added one at a time. Season with salt and pepper. Line a pie dish with four sheets of filo, brushing between each layer with melted butter. Let pastry over hang as it will wrap over the top. Place spinach mixture in the dish and cover with filo. Brush with melted butter and place in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes in an oven of 180°. If you are not using filo, you will know it is cooked when you place a skewer in the centre and it comes out dry. Let the pie cool in the tin and turn it out. Slice and serve with salad. Enjoy.
The “what’s to eat ‘cos I am hungry and I have dancing” request – Smoothie Bowl
1 cup of frozen banana
½ cup of frozen mango
½ cup of frozen strawberries
½ cup of water
Blend in a food processor and top with granola. Serve in a bowl and eat with a spoon from the passenger seat while you have a gruntless conversation with your parent en route to ballet!