Thursday, May 22, 2014

The epic motherhood/mango dal meltdown

It all started because of some stupid Mango Dal...and within 2 hours I ended up feeling like a bad wife, a bad mother, and a failure at everything in life.

Whenever I cook a NEW Indian recipe, it is an extremely nerve-wracking experience for me. I need serious meditative guru-like concentration (which is nearly impossible to achieve when watching a toddler). Plus, learning a new Indian recipe - as a foreigner - is like trying to teach a penguin Cantonese!

Not to mention, the pressure is immense. This is because husband-ji is basically the Indian version of Jamie Oliver. He is such a talented cook with years of expertise that he is always telling me there could be a pinch more of "this" or "that", and the vegetables could be chopped smaller. Hmmmmph!

It was just an ordinary day when I decided to try out this new recipe of Andhra Mango Dal. It was 4:30pm and I was expecting husband-ji to come home within the next hour. I figured since he would be home soon, I could handle starting this new recipe all by myself. I put Maya with her snack in front of her favorite "Dora the Explorer" cartoon whom I ONLY rely on for babysitting in special situations like these...

I found the recipe online and then I started to prepare the dish. I called both husband-ji and my MIL to double-check, and they BOTH told me different ways to cook it. CONFUSING!! I was starting to get my feathers ruffled. I decided to go with my MIL's version, just to be safe.

(Hawkins pressure cooker)
(Img via)

Then...I had to face the goddamn pressure cooker. The Hawkins pressure cooker, which is beloved to every South Indian on Earth - is a foreigner's worst nightmare. The way it hisses is just so friggin' scary - it's like an insane python with rabies!!! I am always so paranoid that the hot steam will hiss and burn my skin. Or that the entire kitchen will explode!

I could just imagine the front page of the newspapers: "PITIFUL FIRANGI BAHU SETS HOUSE ON FIRE DUE TO LACK OF PRESSURE COOKER KNOWLEDGE"....

The original recipe called for the dal to be served with a vepudu (stir fry side dish). So me, being an overachieving perfectionist, decided to make Aloo Jeera to go along with it. The whole thing overwhelmed me to the millionth degree. It was stressful enough doing one new recipe, and then I had to make sure the Aloo Jeera didn't burn, (not to mention I also had to keep an eye on the baby, who was bouncing off the walls at this point).

I was sweating, I kept losing concentration, I forgot how many whistles the pressure cooker made (apparently the side-effects of my mommy-brain make me unable to count as well), Maya wanted my attention, I was getting HANGRY (hungry + angry), and to make it all worse - I mistakenly put SUGAR instead of salt in the dal!!!

Then I looked up at the clock and realized that husband-ji was supposed to be home TWO hours ago and that Maya had been watching cartoons for TWO hours (which is 3 episodes past her daily limit). I myself was like a pressure cooker...about to explode...

I angrily phoned husband-ji and demanded "WHERE ARE YOU? Do you understand how overwhelmed I am?

(Of course he didn't...)

Husband-ji was at my parents' place walking the dog and the dog was constipated, unable to poo. So husband-ji decided to WAIT for the dog to take a crap!!!

Hearing that really sent me over the edge...

"Why couldn't you bring the dog to the apartment and WAIT for hours for him to poo over HERE?!?!" I screamed. 

Poor husband-ji. In that moment I felt like a bad wife and a bad mum. Mom guilt on steroids...

Then I phoned my MIL to update her on my dal and ended up crying my eyes out. I feel so overwhelmed. I have no help with the baby all day. I am the worst wife. I don't know how to cook this stupid thing. I'm tired and hungry and my hips hurt from standing so long. I'm a bad mother. Maya is watching too much TV today. I'm not able to lose any more weight. I want another baby but I can hardly handle this one. Why can't your son just be home on time? He doesn't know how hard it is to be a mum.

Yes, it all just came pouring out, like the Ganges river... By the end of the conversation, I felt like a lunatic and my MIL was getting worried we were having marital problems.

Then husband-ji comes home and we fight, which is basically me screaming at him and him responding by giving me "suggestions" and "solutions", like a typical guy! It irritates me even more, because I just wanted him to listen and understand.

"I feel so overwhelmed," I cry to him.

"Well, what do you want to do about it? I'll stay home and you can work, if that is what you want," he says.

It pisses me off even more. "I can't just leave my daughter! I'd miss her too much!" I say, shocked that he even brought up this solution.

And that is exactly the complicated nature of motherhood that many men often do not understand. I get overwhelmed all the time, but at the same time I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I am as attached to my child as she is to me. It is like now she is growing outside my body with the umbilical cord still attached. Motherhood is like a double-edged sword wherein it is simultaneously joyous and stressful at the same time. And how COULD he understand? He's a dad and he doesn't get mom guilt!! And can I even blame him?

Sometimes husband-ji makes everything look so effortless. He cooks flawlessly, Maya is not so clingy to him and she plays independently (a.k.a. she is way easier to handle), he is always cool and calm, not to mention, he looks perfect - all the time. Meanwhile, I am a total Bridget Jones-mess!

But maybe...he is less stressed because he just doesn't put so much damn PRESSURE on himself, like I do. Maybe I should just stop putting unreasonable pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. Maybe that would make my life easier...

So we fought and I cried. I speak to MIL on the phone again. She tells us just to stop, that she will "scold him later for not coming home on time" and for us have dinner together already.

So, we finally sit down to have the Mango Dal...and it turned out fantastic (despite the sugar mistake). Husband-ji loved it so much that he had three helpings and we forgot about our fight. It's funny how a full stomach solves nearly all of one's perceived problems...

Husband-ji started teasing me playfully about how the sour mangoes from the dal must have made me go crazy.

I read later online that it was a full moon. I swear...sometimes the full moon is like PMS for me!!!

Needless to say, I think I probably frightened him so badly with my lunacy that he will never be coming home late for a very long time...!!!



  1. Bengalis put sugar in dal ALL THE TIME. If he complains tell him it's a fusion recipe!! And salt can always be added.

    Also, you NEED this pressure cooker if you are scared of sudden loud noises (I cannot even be in the same room with an inflated balloon without being on edge):

    NO WHISTLES. Instead, there are prescribed cooking times for different ingredients. Dals take only six minutes after full steam! I use my pressure cooker all the time now that I have this one.

    You are fine! There are good days and bad days, and sometimes we will look back and laugh at the bad ones. :)

    1. OMG THANK YOU!!! That is the pressure cooker of my dreams! It is getting good reviews online too!

  2. My pressure cooker (the literal one, not the figurative one :-)) did burst. My daughter was about 5 months old at that time and was on my lap having her bottle. In my shock at the sound I stood up and dropped my daughter! I will never forget that day and my horrible guilt.

    What you have described sounds like a normal day in the journey called motherhood. Things have become a LOT easier now that my daughter is 5 and getting ready to go to school...Hang in there.

    1. OMG I can only imagine, how frightening!!!!
      Thanks, hun...sigh! Motherhood! How do we manage, I don't know! After becoming a mother I have so much respect for all mothers. We literally have our hands full, ALL the time...

  3. Alex,

    Poor dear, don't worry about anything! Just another day in the life of a mother taking care of her family. I know, the damn pressure cooker is a piece of work...............I get that, so is mine but it is not a Hawkins it is Presto and it hisses like a uncontrollable python too!

    See your mango dahl turned out just fine, beside according to Andrea M. Bengalis put sugar in their dahl. Husband-ji had 3 helpings and I like her idea of pressure cooker, that one has a built in pressure gauge to let steam out and you just time your recipes to cook however long you like! Sounds like a pretty good deal.

    Hang in there life gets better.

    Give hubby and your girl and big hug and kiss, have a glass of wine and call it a day.


    1. Thanks Melissa....I am totally going to get that modern looking pressure cooker. It totally looks less threatening and I could use a dal that cooks in only 6 mins! That, I can handle!
      I'm glad it turned out well, that was the only good part of the stressful day! LOL

  4. You put too much stress on yourself. >hugs< You don't have to. If it's not perfect, laugh about it and make note of what to fix next time. Always ask your MIL for cooking advice because that makes both her and your husband happy lol. You only need one person's advice. I too find pressure cookers way too noisy. I don't even own one...oh the blasphemy! :P

    1. Ugh, for South Indians the dal is a must. But North Indians have it just as difficult because you guys eat rotis and it is so hard to knead that stupid dough LOL. It's a lose-lose situation for us Indian wifeys! LOL

  5. Oh! I cannot comment on having a toddler but sometimes I also have breakdowns like this. Often, because of my perfectionist tendencies.

    Last week, I finally got an oven. I have never cooked with an oven and I roasted some veggies in it. It looked like the oven was not even cooking the veggies for a long time. On top of that I roasted potatoes on the stove - my standard recipe. In the end after I was hungry and making people wait for lunch, the veggies were kind of okay and my potatoes were not cooked well :( I almost felt like crying at my cooking disaster.

    I walk around and I see all these east Asian moms look skinnier than me! Their ass is smaller than mine after 2 kids. wth! On a bad day it can make you feel worse.

    Everybody's hair seems to be perfectly straight and sitting properly except mine which is frizzy and goes the way it likes.

    I feel women often put too much pressure on themselves and other women. We are not terrible people because we let our kids watch too much TV.

    When I feel like this, I think of all the awesome things I have done - When was the last time I had a cooking disaster? - 3-4 years ago? and who does things in an awesome manner the first time they do it?

    Also, I will just drop everything, eat, and do nothing. Lie down, read or watch a movie or sleep. And not feel guilty because I am slacking. Everybody needs to slack once in a while. We are not designed to be continuously running machines. We are designed for sprints with longer periods of rest.

    1. My MIL has never used an oven either so she wanted me to teach her, she was a bit intimidated by it. I guess with anything new especially with cooking, it is practice makes perfect.
      OMG the mums in my swimming class are all so fit with abs, but they all have nannies and at least 3 people helping them. I am definitely the fattest one in the class!
      I can't even manage to do my hair or makeup anymore, I am just so preoccupied with my daughter and making food. It took me the whole first year just to figure out when to fit in my lunch time! LOL
      I have taken your advice this week and used my free time while she is asleep just to relax and not do anything. It has helped A LOT.

  6. @Alexandra

    Motherhood is always a difficult phase for any women,especially when you don't have help around you. I have always marvelled at the capacity of western women who bring up their children without the help of their parents or nanny. In India it is almost unthinkable for a women to bring up her child on her own without help. There is always either of the MILs helping them out. It is understood that whenever the couple have a child the parents would help them out initially. Many a times the bride is send to her parents place for the first pregnancy.

    Keeping children in a separate room is also something we Indians do not understand but it was kind of necessary in the west when women started working after the world wars. We kept many maids to help us when we had our son but monitoring them is a headache. I suggest that you try getting some help maybe parttime nanny. I know it is expensive and unheard of in your part of the world but maybe worth the help. Your husband is not around all the time and you are not expected to cook, clean the house and look after the baby at the same time. I would advise you to keep things simple and not tire your self out. Your cannot do many things together. I know I am sounding like an intrusive Indian, but I know how women feel during this phase.

    How do you guys manage to bring up baby all by yourself without help. May we western women have eight hands like Goddess Durga.

    1. @anonymous - I feel like I am making it worse by putting pressure on myself. Becoming a parent is such a huge responsibility and it's like I just want to be the best parent I can possibly be. I want to take care of her nicely and cook nutritious meals and some days if I am too tired I can hardly manage.
      All the mothers around me have so much help and they make it look effortless. It is hard.
      Ideally I would like my parents to watch her more so they can bond with her. But then my mum is working full time and my dad is recovering. My inlaws still have about 4 years maximum for their immigration process, then my MIL says she will help me full-time.
      I really don't know how I manage most of the time. Other mothers in my swimming class have nannies AND their parents there! It really does take a small village to raise a child. Hopefully after she goes to school in January I will be less overwhelmed. Also I think I am more overwhelmed in general since this is my first baby so every small thing is a worry! Parenthood in general is so stressful especially without support. I hope I get better and less anxious as the years go by.
      I keep Maya in her own crib at night but sometimes she joins us in the morning which is fine. It is nice to cuddle with her. When we go on vacation she always sleeps in the same bed because it is a new place.

  7. I love reading your blog for this specific reason. You make reading so enjoyable though I can understand your frustrations at that point of time.

    I guess women have their moments of being frustrated sometimes. I get them all the time!

    Plus I can somehow relate to your Bridget Jones-mess.. I just had that moment couple of minutes ago and spilt coffee on my top while drinking. That's so clumsy of me!

    1. Awwwww thank you! It was a really honest post, I'm sure hubby would not be too happy that I am disclosing our arguments but luckily he doesn't read it ;)
      OMG we need to start a Bridget Jones club! :D

  8. Aww Alexandra I'm so sorry to hear about your Indian food cooking meltdown. But on the bright side, it turned out perfect! I totally understand how you feel and the pressure you feel to make it just right. These days me and the pressure cooker are best friends!

  9. I am a South Indian Brahmin too and I have a phobia of pressure cookers .. I use an electric rice cooker instead which is much more easier to handle and no steam whistles nothing

    1. OK that makes me feel a little better. They are just so friggin scary! My hubby says I should put it in the rice cooker also. Do you cook it for the same amount of time as rice?

  10. Catching up on the blog feeds. I never liked these whistling pressure cookers or even counting the whistles much, I got a futura when we got married and it makes a constant pffft pfft muted sound instead of the rabid snake hiss (love the metaphor by the way). The catch is that you need to know approximately how long to cook things in minutes rather than in whistle, but with a little experience that is easy.
    My advice to you when it comes to Indian cooking is to relax when you cook it. It is far far more intuitive than continental cuisine, and the seasoning dosage doesn't matter as much, you can always add more of a spice once the dish is cooked if something is lacking, I kid you not I never use a spoon to measure my spices, just sprinkle it all over and stir. And one thing you need to remember with salt and sugar, is that it is easier to add salt to a sugary dish, than add sugar to a desert you accidentaly salted :-) (happened to my aunt). And with Maya growing up and becoming more active, trust me you'll have more of these too much TV days to get things done. What matters is that it doesn't become an habit, but we are only human us mothers, so no need to beat yourself for this, that really doesn't make you a bad mom, not at all.

    1. Thanks Cyn, that made me feel a lot better. I know you know how I feel since your daughter is a little older! I hope I will get less stressed as she ages! You are so right about Indian cooking being intuitive.

  11. I can definitely relate to this feeling and absolutely hate the pressure cooker! Just the other day I dropped a whole tray of hashbrowns on the floor, dropped two scoops of ice cream on the floor and dumped a jar of pasta sauce down the front of me - in just one day! I swear my MIL thinks I'm the most incompetent person in the kitchen.

    1. OMG.....that is a bad day in the kitchen!! I am always spilling stuff too!
      There is something about cooking a new recipe that is just too overwhelming...especially when using all these foreign utensils that we are not used to...


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