On the latest episode of Amex Essentials new series, The Tastemakers, I share one of my favorite recipes from my cookbook Feast By Firelight, Fire-Licked Skirt Steak with Mamma’s Salsa Verde. Join me as I take you on an adventure from Firelight Camps to one of Ithaca’s iconic waterfalls, and back to the campfire for a meal you won’t be able to resist, and can EASILY recreate! (Head to the end of this post for the recipe.)
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in motherhood, is how to surrender to serving my children without losing my sense of creative power. It’s a delicate balance.
The opportunity to write my cookbook, Feast By Firelight, allowed me to explore that duality. I worked part-time from home with a schedule that was flexible around Ayla’s needs and my desire to spend quality time together. When I was away, I was producing work that felt entirely meaningful to me. In many ways, the final masterpiece was a gift to my mother for her devotion to me, and my legacy to Ayla.
Since writing my cookbook, I had my second daughter, Cora (read her Belly Birth Story). With her arrival, I stepped more fully into motherhood. I scaled back my work hours. First to ten hours a week. And then, to zero. I made the choice to become a full-time mother! With that transition, my personal time and energy began to wane. I felt that I had little left to give, yet, my creative fire was still burning bright!
In the context of my new daily rhythm, I found small ways to keep my creativity alive. Ayla and I made recipes from scratch, and created artwork with any number of mediums. I invented new songs to help Cora fall asleep. And still, I was searching for a way to share my creativity with the world as I had been able to do through my cookbook and blog.
So when Amex Essentials wrote to ask if I could produce a campfire cooking video for their series, The Tastemakers, it was an emphatic “YES!”
This was the sort of “work” that felt like pure, creative play.
I was thrilled to bring Feast By Firelight to life through one of my favorite recipes: Fire-Licked Skirt Steak with Mamma’s Salsa Verde. Luckily, my dear friend and videographer, Andy Noyes, was on board for the adventure.
While we were filming, rockstar blogger Lexi Davidson was staying with us at Firelight Camps. (Look for her cameo at the end!) I told her how I admired her posts on taboo topics, such as “How I Found A Therapist.” She said, “You know, people need to know how hard it is. All of it.”
I immediately felt a twinge of regret for not blogging throughout my transition to motherhood. There was SO much I had wanted to share. And then, I gently reminded myself that less online sharing was a deliberate choice I had made so that I could relish the moments before me. It was also a survival mechanism. There was only so much I could do amidst nurturing two tiny humans, writing a cookbook, and running our family business. They say women can have it all. But the truth is, something has to give.
As Cora began to emerge from infancy into a crawling, giggling baby, I rediscovered my own desire to connect authentically with my community at large. I wanted people to know that life is not always an edited Instagram feed; most days, I’m peeing with two kids on my lap at the same time. As I began to share more from my “real” life, I realized how much my experiences resonated with others, and how much I valued the responses from other mothers in my community. Connection was also key to survival. And in sharing my more vulnerable side, I also bolstered my confidence in wanting to share my creative side again, specifically through food and video.
When Amex Essentials contacted me, it was serendipity. It also meant that I had work to do. I was faced once more with the duality of reveling in my creative power while putting out fires at home.
Brené Brown said that “the only unique contribution we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.” She also doesn’t believe in the destructive notion that in order to produce beauty, we must suffer. Neither do I. And, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to carve the space one needs to let their creative self truly run free.
So whether for laughter or for the sake of revealing the truth, I wanted to share a glimpse of what happened behind the scenes in order to create this video:
- Because of my newly appointed workday role as Mom, I had to spend my evenings and weekends working to produce this video. I was painfully aware that I was giving up precious sleep hours or family time, but I found that I was so invigorated by this project that my energy reserves were always full. In fact, it was a testament to why having a creative project in the wings is essential for me as a mother; it helped me feel more alive and happy!
- Because of my scheduling challenges during regular working hours, Andy offered to come over after work and discuss the project while I was with the kids. It was an intuitive and sensitive offer from a conscious, astute man. In fact, this is the new paradigm that can allow mothers to continue making contributions to the public sphere! He arrived to find me and the girls in the garden. Stifled by the heat and uninhibited at home, both were running and crawling around the yard in their birthday suits, while my clothes were splattered with spit-up and slobber. The girls managed to interrupt our conversation every five minutes, in the process, learning about “Mamma’s work.” Though marginally less efficient than a kid-free meeting, we were able to refine our vision and create a clear list of next steps.
- The night before our first video shoot, I was looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep. (I mean really, had I not yet learned that plans are hogwash with children?) That night both girls were up for various reasons ranging from poop explosions to nightmares. By 5:30 am, I had had only three hours of sleep.
- It was trying and heart-wrenching getting out of the house to be at the shoot on time. I had one baby clawing at my breasts and the other sobbing as I waved goodbye. Since I didn’t have time to get dressed alone, I packed a small suitcase with possible outfits, makeup and everything else I might need. I got dress onsite out of the back of my car. It did not exactly feel serene or “put together,” but I was still carried by adrenaline and felt excited to begin!
- In between shoots, Bobby met me with the girls so that I could nurse Cora. This resulted in Ayla wanting to join me for our on-camera swimming adventure, so off came the clothes again! (Look for her adorable cameo at the end of the video.) She did a marvelous job waiting for me on a shelf of the waterfall until we were finished shooting. When we emerged from the water, two park sheriffs were waiting to tell us that we were not allowed to swim there. Ayla was very curious about why we were getting in trouble for swimming. I was grateful that we didn’t get a fine, as I had once been nearly arrested for skinny-dipping in an obscure, unpopulated swimming hole in the middle of the woods. (Truly, where can we still be wild and free in nature?)
- The third shoot was in my kitchen, and Bobby was taking the girls out on an adventure. By the time Andy arrived, I was still in my pajamas and packing the girls’ bag for Bobby. I felt flustered and stressed, and was also aware that I was choosing to feel that way. This was simply the reality of my situation at the moment. If I were regularly hosting a show, for example, I would be managing my time and childcare differently. It ended up working perfectly, because I was able to get ready while Andy set up the equipment.
As the shoot at Firelight Camps ended, I habitually picked up my phone. “How are the girls?” I texted Bobby.
He responded. “Great. Everyone’s asleep. No rush.”
I felt the urge to head home and start the tedious work of unpacking props and putting away the contents of my cooler so that I could salvage some of my sleep hours. But something held me back.
I realized that it was the first time in years that I was alone at Firelight Camps. I looked around me and saw my friends sipping wine and polishing off the food from their plates. I saw another couple holding hands, mesmerized by the campfire’s morphing flames. I went to the bar and chatted with our amazing staff while preparing myself a Campari Spritzer. Then I whisked myself and my cocktail to the campfire and sank into a chair next to Andy. We clinked our glasses together. “We did it!” I smiled.
Suddenly, the girl nestled next to her beloved blurted out, “We want to get married here!”
I was speechless. “Congratulations!!!” I exclaimed.
She said, “Well, we’re not even engaged yet, but it’s our second time here and we just realized this is where we want to get married. I know the date and I’m ready to book it now.”
The moment felt magical. With the stars and string lights twinkling overhead, and the crackle of the fire, it dawned on me. I was basking – reeling! – in the beauty I had helped create.
When we are called to manifest something from our hearts, the world becomes a better place, for all of us – and especially, for ourselves.
I hope you enjoy this video and this recipe, as much as I did making them! And I hope I’ll be able to share more stories from my heart and my kitchen soon. In the meantime, please share yours in the comments below!
With love and firelight,
Reprinted with permission from Feast by Firelight, text and illustrations copyright © 2018 by Emma Frisch. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2018 by Christina Holmes.