Kate Berry: The adventure that is motherhood

When we become mothers we create the strongest connection we will ever have.

But that connection can make us feel the loneliest we've ever felt. We all know what it's like, even if you're surrounded by supportive family and friends; there are times, at 4.12am, when you truly believe you're the only mother in the world who's awake at that hour, the only mother whose baby won't stop crying, the only mother who doesn't know what to do.

Kate Berry is here to tell you you're not alone. She's worked with magazines Frankie, Smith Journal and Yen, she runs music festivals, her family-focused blog Lunch Lady was turned into a magazine and is now sold world-wide. She is the mother of two daughters.

Kate Berry and her youngest daughter Pepper hit the road. Picture: Maya

Kate Berry and her youngest daughter Pepper hit the road. Picture: Maya

The publicity blurb on her first book, Family, Food and Feelings, says "she is part doer, part dreamer, and she gets good things done". If her book, and our hour-long chat, are anything to go by, she's the kind of woman you wish you'd met in mother's group. Smart, funny, knows how to make a cake. She's more likely to invite you camping than to a champagne brunch, a friend who comes equipped with as good an eye roll as your daughters will have once they are teenagers.

"I want this book to offer anyone who might be searching for the same sense of connection, a little 'I see you'," she writes.

"Our struggles offer us such great opportunity for connection, it's when we can really open ourselves up, be vulnerable and truly see each other.

"Parenting is hard, but also beautiful, and if we're open and honest about how we're actually feeling - coping or not, or just needing a cuddle - our connections strengthen and we feel a lot less isolated and judged."

Family, Food and Feelings is a book that is hard to define. There are plenty of recipes and ideas for dinners, afterschool snacks, picnics, but it's also packed full of stuff to do with the kids. There are ideas for road trips and parties, forest walks, and caravanning. Berry has little chapters too about things like learning how to back off, how to have the "big talk", the importance of good neighbours, reclaiming yourself as something more than a mother.

I love it too that it's divided into four school terms. I have no idea of the date, but I can tell you it's week nine.

"You have no clue what it's going to be like when you have a baby," says Berry.

Parenting is hard, but also beautiful, and if we're open and honest about how we're actually feeling - coping or not, or just needing a cuddle - our connections strengthen and we feel a lot less isolated and judged.

Kate Berry

"I was one of the first in my group of friends to have a baby and I remember a friend saying 'When I have a baby I'm not going to forget the fun person I used to be'.

"She said that to me after I came home from the hospital, I'd had pre-eclampsia, I was really sick, the baby was premature ... I don't think she ever actually had any children. Ha, there you go."

Berry started writing the Lunch Lady blog when her eldest daughter was in primary school, being bullied for taking in healthy homemade lunches.

"We started to write this blog about the food we liked making and then it ended up with me writing stories about being a mum," she says.

"I lived somewhere quite isolated, I wasn't near a community, the blog was a good space for me to reach out and share some experiences that I was going through and hopefully find some like-minded people who might reach out to me also.

"From that, it became Lunch Lady magazine, it was incredible to be given such an amazing opportunity, I went from a really bad blogger to a magazine editor really quickly, it was a baptism of fire."

After two years of the magazine, Berry realised her priorities had shifted and she left.

"I realised I was writing about all these really incredible ways to spend time with your family but I didn't actually spend any time with my own family.

"I guess this book has sort of gone back to where it all began for me, sharing my experiences with the girls."

Kate Berry's daughters Maya and Pepper ready for another adventure: Picture: Kate Berry

Kate Berry's daughters Maya and Pepper ready for another adventure: Picture: Kate Berry

Her daughters Maya and Pepper are 15 and 10 now. I tell her I want her to write another book addressing the teenage years. She agrees that parenting adolescents is a whole different kettle of fish.

"I think I would write a different book now, all of a sudden I'm facing 15-year-old challenges not small children challenges.

"I remember this woman saying to me when I was really struggling with my four-week-old and she said this is nothing, you wait you wait until you have a 14-year-old and I was like whatever, and now it's like ooohhh now I understand."

Maya was 15 in July and Berry was keen on a party. (There's a great chapter on parties, things learned the hard way.) But all Maya wanted to do was hang out with her friends "eat crap, talk crap".

"It's made me realise she's stepped from being a kid to the next thing," Berry says.

"When you see that happen it's such a mixed feeling, on the one hand, it's incredible to see but at the same time there's this sense of loss, that that little kid isn't there anymore. It's amazing but it's quite daunting."

We talk about how we feel our own children would judge us as mothers, just as we judged ours. How when you're a child, mum is mum, she's not a woman with her own place in the world. It's only when you become a mother that you realise the, not sacrifices, but the choices your mother made. That was truly always doing her best, whether you thought her best was good enough at the time or not.

"Sometimes I frustrate the girls, particularly the oldest, she thinks I'm a little bit silly and maybe I should grow up, not in a bad way, but because I don't have that regular nine to five job. I never understood that anyway, the kids get 13 weeks off school a year, and what, you might get four weeks. We all know that doesn't work.

"I tried to have a real job once, they'll often ask me how do I make a living, but you know I'll write a book or put on a music festival, I just do stuff that makes me happy and I get through.

"We're not living in a palace but the thing I want to teach them anyway is that these things are the important things, doing what you love, cooking for each other, adventures."

Family, Food and Feelings, by Kate Berry. Plum, $39.99.

Family, Food and Feelings, by Kate Berry. Plum, $39.99.

Berry dedicates the book to her daughters, "you are my light", but also to her mother.

"I finally get it," she says.

"The girls and I have been through a bit of a rough patch, similar to a rough patch that I had when I was growing up with mum. At the time I didn't understand her decisions and I thought she could have done better, you hold you parents in such high regard, they're almost like superheroes and then when they don't live up to that its confusing.

"Now, at 43, I've faced some of the same struggles and I've realised it's not easy. I've realised that my mum's only job in life wasn't just to make us okay, she had all these other external things, and her own shit to deal with as well.

"When you're finally put in that position it's like ahh, now I get it."

Family, Food and Feelings, by Kate Berry. Plum, $39.99.

RECIPES

Zucchini, bacon and thyme tart. Picture: Kate Berry

Zucchini, bacon and thyme tart. Picture: Kate Berry

Zukes and bacon: Zucchini, bacon and thyme tart

Zucchini season always starts off with excitement and ends in "if I see another freaking zucchini ..." so it's good to arm yourself with a few handy recipes to get rid of those guys at peak season. Tarts are great because it's easy to make heaps of them, and you can just pop them in the freezer for less productive days.

Ingredients

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

olive oil, for pan-frying

3-4 zucchini, cut into 2cm thick rounds

salt

150g bacon, rind removed, sliced

3 large free-range eggs

125ml double cream

1/2 cup grated parmesan

a few thyme sprigs

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200C (fan-forced). Grease and flour a 30cm x 20cm tart tin or high-sided baking tin.

2. Roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle and lay it over the prepared tin. Gently lower the pastry into the tin and press the pastry into the sides, then roll a rolling pin over the top to cut away any excess pastry.

3. Cover the pastry with a sheet of baking paper and fill it with baking beans or weights (you can use rice, lentils, beans or any other dried pulses you have in the pantry).

4. Pop the tin in the oven and blind-bake for 15 minutes. Remove the baking paper and weights, then bake for another three to five minutes or until nice and crisp. Set aside to cool completely before you add the filling.

5. While that's in the oven, heat a good splash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add the zucchini and salt and cook for five minutes or until the zucchini begins to colour. Add the bacon and cook for another three to five minutes or until crisp. Set aside to cool.

6. Whisk together the eggs and cream in a medium bowl, then add the cheese and season with salt. Add the cooled zucchini mixture and stir to combine.

7. Pour the filling into the pastry case and scatter over the thyme. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and set. Serve warm with a green salad.

Serves 6

Pear and vanilla cake. Picture: Kate Berry

Pear and vanilla cake. Picture: Kate Berry

A pear-y yummy cake: Pear and vanilla cake

Sometimes you bake something that just has that thing that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and this cake has that thing. Vanilla always helps to bring the fuzzies, if you ask me, especially when you serve this still warm and you can sniff it as you scoff it.

Ingredients

185g Greek yoghurt

3 tbsp vegetable oil

160g caster sugar

2 free-range eggs

11/2 tsp vanilla extract

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

185g plain flour

11/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

2 very ripe pears

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pure icing sugar, for dusting

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (fan-forced). Line a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper, or grease and flour it.

2. Place the yoghurt, vegetable oil, caster sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest in a large bowl and mix together until smooth.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl, then whisk the flour into the yoghurt mixture until well combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula.

5. Peel and core the pears, then cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices on top of the batter, then sprinkle over the cinnamon.

6. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Or better yet, transfer it to a serving plate and enjoy it warm. Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve.

Serves 6-8

This story The adventure that is motherhood first appeared on The Canberra Times.