Quinoa is an ancient grain (technically it's a berry, but it cooks like a grain) which is categorized as a "super food", due to it's combination of all life-supporting nutrients. A complete protein, quinoa is also packed with amino acids, is easy to digest, is a good complex carbohydrate, providing the body with lasting energy, and is gluten free. Originally grown in the Andean mountain regions of Peru and Bolivia, the Incas considered it a sacred food, marching for days and weeks at high altitudes consuming no animal protein; subsisting solely on "war balls"; a mixture of quinoa and fat. When the Spanish conquered the Inca empire, they razed all of the Incas quinoa fields and forbade them to grow, consume or worship the "magical grain". Through the years, quinoa was replaced by other grains, such as wheat and barley. Recently, quinoa has made a come back, though I was none the wiser until I came across a quinoa cookbook at the library. I soon became obsessed, to the point that my eight-year-old daughter, Morgan, would look at me each evening and smirk, "What's for dinner? I'm guessing something with quinoa". My mother bought me the cookbook for my birthday, along with what had to be a twenty pound bag of bulk quinoa, double bagged. I had to clear an entire shelf of my pantry to fit it in. Occasionally when my kids see the fourth installment of the week of some type of quinoa salad on their plates, they roll their eyes and exhale loudly. Sometimes, though, I'm sneaky, mixing small amounts of quinoa into some of their favorite dishes as filler; they rarely notice. I hope this is only the beginning of a beautiful, long-lasting relationship for me and quinoa.
Another meal regularly found at the Stanger dining table is "American tacos". To build an American taco, you make a pile of Fritos, then load it with chili, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes; maybe a dollop of sour cream if you're feeling adventurous. I grew up eating this quick, easy meal, and now I find that it makes good use of the cans of chili we keep in our food storage and need to rotate regularly. The night of my Winco trip, I had American tacos on the weekly menu, hence the bag of Fritos. As I looked down at the two remaining items on the belt, I almost laughed out loud. The disparity was not lost on me. The last two items, which would share a bag, were, respectively, one of the world's most ancient super foods, and a heart attack in a red and yellow bag. As I drove home that night, the back of my mini van brimming with boxes, bottles and bags, I thought about balance. I thought about the kind of mom I would like to be and the kind of mom I was. I would like to be the quinoa mom; the mom who cooks every meal from scratch, with organic, health promoting, nourishing ingredients. Some days I am that mom. But some days, I'm the Frito mom. Some days, after swimming lessons, horseback riding, t-ball, and three loads of laundry are all finished, I have exactly enough time to dump some Fritos on a plate and adorn them with toppings which, although they may not be ancient super foods, will keep my children alive. On American taco nights, there are few dishes to be washed, and I am usually able to read to my children for up to an hour before bed. Sometimes I wake up early, exercise, and cook a hot breakfast for my children. Some mornings I sleep until the moment I know I must get up to fix Morgan's hair in time for school, and pour Frosted Flakes into bowls. After my older children leave for school, I throw the few bowls and glasses in the dishwasher, and am sometimes able to spend a few minutes reading or rolling a ball with Monster (my two-year-old, aka, Ryan). The meals we prepare for our families are just one ball in the constant juggling act of motherhood. Motherhood, the circus act, would be the equivalent of riding a unicycle across a tightrope while juggling a combination of flaming torches and small swords. Every day requires us to find the balance as we strive to maintain clean homes, prepare nourishing meals, keep up with a truly infinite amount of laundry, taxi our children to the five places they are supposed to be at once, help with homework, read, dispel arguments, bandage owies, and answer a seemingly constant stream of questions, all the while trying to really listen to what our children are saying and to make sure their emotional needs are met, as well as their physical needs. Talk about a balancing act! The trickiest part is, the act is ever changing. Every day, there are different needs to be met, different miniature dramas played out, different demands on our time and energy. Often, just as we find our feet, or find the perfect rhythm at which to juggle the flaming torches, an element changes and we have to re balance and start again. And that balance is different for each mother. Maybe you don't occasionally feed your children chips masquerading as a "taco" for dinner, but some days, it's the only thing that keeps me on that tight rope. Maybe my American taco nights are your cold cereal nights or frozen pizza nights. The truth is, most of us can't be quinoa moms every day. If we cooked only health food magazine worthy meals every day, our sanity may drain as fast as would our wallets. I think the trick is, to find that balance that exists somewhere between Fritos and quinoa. For me, finding that place requires a lot of give and take, but if I can let my expectations of perfect mothering go, and do a quick reality check, I am more able to soak in those brief, perfect moments in motherhood. Often these moments have come as I have talked and laughed with my children over a heaping plate of American tacos.