How To Raise A Four-Star Baby

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he’s gone, he’s asked his friends to cover for him. Today’s post comes from Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included, a book that Adam loved. Phoebe and her husband, Andre Mack, both of whom worked at Per Se, are recent parents and this is Phoebe’s account of raising a four-star baby.]

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You know you’re food-obsessed when you go into labor and your first thought is “I should go to the farmer’s market now, before these contractions get any stronger.” So, two Saturdays ago, I roused my husband, grabbed the dog, and waddled the five blocks to our local market, stopping every few minutes to lean against a tree and moan. We stocked up on the deep summer bounty – peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, basil – knowing that we’d be curled up at home for the next few days. A few hours later, our son Finnegan was born in our kitchen. Not long after that, we were eating peaches on the couch, wondering whether they were really going to let us keep him.

When you’re expecting a baby, everyone warns you that your life is about to change. They are right of course, but not only in the ways that one would imagine – sleepless nights, endless laundry, etc. What I noticed right away was that I had suddenly moved to Sesame Street. Until this point, I had often felt like an intruder in the historically African-American, increasingly African, quickly-gentrifying neighborhood. But overnight, my feeling about the place changed. Suddenly the people who make up my world – in my case a world revolving around food – were cooing over the baby, hugging me, and telling me about their own children. Neighbors introduced themselves when I sat on the stoop in the evenings and stopped to chat in the grocery store.

During our first week together, I took Finn on the rounds, narrating all the way: here’s the Senegalese bakery with the killer coffee and almond croissant; these are the red velvet cupcakes that your mama has been eating for the last nine months and now sincerely regrets; this is our wine shop; this is Carlos, the world sweetest health food store owner; this is the best Ethiopian restaurant in the city; and this is the 24-hour deli where you’ll (hopefully not) buy your first beer and cigarettes.

When Adam wrote asking whether I would write a guest post on the blog, he suggested that I talk about “How to Raise a Four-Star Baby.” I think the first step is to give birth in a kitchen, if only so that later you can utter phrases like “what do you mean you won’t do the dishes – you were BORN in a kitchen!” or “what do you mean you don’t eat vegetables – you were born in a KITCHEN!” Of the next step, I’m not so sure. We’ve been holding garlic, tarragon, and Oregon Pinot up to Finnegan’s nose, imagining the neurons multiplying. Four-star or no, the people he meets, the foods he smells, the sound of the Mister Softie truck driving by – a world is taking shape. And I am doing my best to make it a delicious one.

Southern Harlem highlights for munchkins of all ages:

Les Ambassades (almond croissants, mango and ginger juices, cafe au lait)

2200 Frederick Douglass @ 119th St.

Make My Cake (red velvet cake)

121 St Nicholas @116th St.

Zoma (Ethiopian cuisine)

2084 Frederick Douglass @113th St.

Harlem Vintage (friendly neighborhood wine store)

2235 Frederick Douglass @ 121st St.

9 comments

  1. Congratulations on a beautiful baby, Phoebe! He is actually smiling at the camera. I enjoyed reading “Service Included”, and it’s fun to learn that you and Andre are together and now are proud parents.

  2. Phoebe –

    A couple things:

    1. That baby is gorgeous! Congrats!

    2. We live in Harlem too! This is an awesome neighborhood to raise kids. Moving here with our two girls has been the best decision. And you’re right – I can’t walk down the street without people coming up to me and talking to me or the kids. It is all about the people here. This is definately not the Upper West Side.

    3. There’s a fantastic play group (Don’t resist the play group – it’s your destiny) that meets at 148th street in this lovely garden every Friday from 10 -12p. It’s a great place to meet other Moms, several of whom are actually writers, a few doctors, photographers, really interesting women. If you feel like mingling, let me know and I’ll shoot you the details.

    3. You did your first birth in the kitchen? God love you girl – my husband wanted to buy me a tub and do it in the living room. I might do number three that way, but I was never that brave the first time around.

    4. Loved your book. Read it months ago. Looking forward to reading the next.

    Kim

  3. Phoebe – congrats on the baby! He’s so adorable. I loved your book and was so excited to see this guest post on Adam’s blog.

    I just finished reading The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin and a section of the book applies here. When he was raising his daughter Claudine, he and his wife served her all the wonderful food the adults were eating from the very beginning. And if she didn’t like something, they just nodded and said, “okay.” And if she ate her swiss chard they didn’t react as if she’d just done something amazing (as many parents do). I thought that was a fantastic primer on raising a “four star baby.”

  4. Phoebe, do you need a babysitter? I’d love to explore the foodie world of south Harlem. And Finnegan is indeed smiling for the camera. What a star!

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