Strawberry Vanilla Bean Iced Latte

Happy Wednesday to those who celebrate, by which I mean happy Wednesday to all of us. Life doesn't seem to give one much of a choice about whether to participate in Wednesdays or not, but here we are. In my analog life, I work as a nanny. The child with whom I spend fifty+ hours a week is never happier than when being outside. She is two and a half now - I began work with this particular family when she was only seven weeks old. Wild to think how much time has passed, and what a big person she has become. I've kept her alive and well, and that's really something, considering she still tries to eat handfuls of gravel for no apparent reason.

We spend our days traveling about town like two old biddies. She and I are well-matched in our preferences: we like gardening, birdwatching, flowers, feeding turtles at the Botanical Gardens, yoga, long walks, trips to the library, stopping for a pain au chocolat on our way home from the aquarium. In short, everything that a toddler and an almost thirty year old could possibly have in common, we share. I often wonder how much of this is her nature, and how much is the fact that she has spent approximately 6,600 hours with me in her short life and I'm the adult with the driver's license and free will. Either way, we are well-matched.

Virginia has turned hot this week - the annual reminder that May is a truce but summer is the fury to come. The child is fond of farms right now and I am fond of ice cream; many weeks we make at least one trip to Bergey's in Chesapeake to snuggle some tiny bunnies and piglets, then stumble out of the cobwebby barns after an hour or two to possibly get an ice cream. She's technically not supposed to have ice cream and I'm technically not fond of sharing, but increasing spoonsful of my single scoop are surrendered after she's eaten her own snack, and no one is the worse for it. How could you be, when the ice cream is made right there from the milk of happy, free-roaming cows?

I've been coming to Bergey's since I was born. It has always been a dream of mine to bring my future child there. I have no children yet, but bringing this little one and seeing her love the place the way I did, (sweaty and grimy and covered in sand and hay and bits of melted vanilla ice cream), is nearly as good. We sat on the concrete step, shaded by an overhanging roof and watched a wood-bee with a broken wing buzzing around the gravel. We had nothing more pressing to do than watch a wood-bee, wonder when the peonies along the potting shed would bloom, and share an ice cream. Life was pretty good in that moment.

Mother's Day is coming up and I'm more aware than ever before of the many ways there are to feel about this holiday. I hope that biological motherhood is in my future, but I know that for some women it is not. I was brought up in a community where infertility was just never really discussed, and where the larger issue was whether or not one should have fewer children. I can remember knowing only one woman (and she, only distantly) who did not have any children, but wanted them. Children (and plenty of them) were an eventuality back then, and pregnancy an assumption, much as you'd assume that you might catch a cold this winter. There was plenty of awareness of miscarriage (my own mother had three and they were and are heartbreaking) but the concept of a woman who could not even so much as get pregnant just never occurred to me. Word around town seemed like anytime a woman had unprotected sex, she could (and would) very well get pregnant.

The older I've gotten, the more I realized this "so easily becoming a mother" step is not part of everybody's story. To the women who are also not (or not yet) traditional mothers on this upcoming Mother's Day, I see you. 

Maybe you're single. Maybe you struggle with infertility, are walking through another failed round of IVF, or otherwise cannot bear children. Maybe you're waiting on adoption approval, or are fostering children and walking through the grief of saying goodbye even as you're happy to see families restored. Maybe you're mourning a miscarriage, or the death of a child. Maybe you're a new step-parent struggling with how to show up for your new children. Maybe your grown children have walked away from relationship with you, or perhaps you were the one who, at some point, walked away and are now mourning that disconnection. The Lord sees you. He sees and He knows the aching of your heart for motherhood, and the way you feel like you would give anything for this difficulty not to be part of your story. I don't have good, tidy, clean answers for you because I am one of the women hoping to become a mother with a medical diagnosis that often makes that goal feel distant.

But here is what I do know: 
  • God is beautifully kind and gentle, especially to those longing for motherhood
  • He has good plans for your future (and mine)
  • There are more ways to be a mother than the classic form you're thinking of

Webster's defines a "mother" as someone who "brings up with care and affection." By that definition I know a lot of "mothers" who aren't actually mothers in the traditional sense. Nannying can be mothering. Teaching can be mothering. Being a godmother is a form of mothering. Showing up for your community is mothering. The time taken to nourish and care for another human soul can be mothering. Investing in your nieces and nephews can be mothering. Educating and protecting the younger generations is a form of mothering. Creativity is definitely a form of mothering.

Yesterday morning my nanny child and I met with my own Mom to go strawberry picking. As we walked through the dusty track to the back corner of the strawberry field (the longest walk leads to the sweetest, least-picked-over berries), we pulled her in a little wagon. There we were: three untraditional "generations" on a "family" outing: my mother who bore nine children along with three miscarriages, I (who have had no pregnancies yet), and this little kid who life has dropped me alongside for nearly 7,000 hours, and whom I love in a way I've never yet loved a nanny kid. It's bizarre. It's not compact or easily explained. It's not the same as having my own child, but more and more I realize that I'm doing the mothering thing in a dozen abnormal ways, and that counts for a lot. Yay moms of all sorts! 

Today's recipe is inspired by two of my favorite Norfolk coffee shops (Kobros Coffee and Mea Culpa) who have very different (but such good) seasonal lattes. Kobros released a strawberry latte this spring that is transformative, but I'm also a huge fan of the way Mea Culpa's lattes involve fruit puree in the milk so you almost feel like you're drinking a clandestine milkshake. I made a batch of syrup last night with the strawberries I picked yesterday. Of course very ripe, local strawberries are a real treat for this, but if it's a choice between sad, pale grocery store strawberries or frozen, use the frozen! Frozen fruit is often picked far riper and frozen hours after being harvested, so there's no shame in that frozen fruit game! 

Although I am providing instructions for turning the strawberry vanilla bean syrup into iced lattes, it would be equally good in a cocktail or even drizzled over vanilla ice cream and some freshly cut strawberries. The lemon juice in the recipe might seem like an untraditional component but I find it keeps the flavor and color of this scarlet syrup bright and punchy so you lose none of that freshness.

I hope that maybe you'll make a bottle of this strawberry vanilla bean syrup for yourself, and one for a mother in your life: some woman who has brought you up with care and affection, regardless of her official or biological relationship to you. And happy Mother's Day to my own mom and the other traditional mothers around me: you are amazing, wonderful, and strong. We love you!

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Iced Latte 
makes app. 24 ounces of syrup

strawberry vanilla bean syrup:
3 cups strawberries, chopped
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
juice of two lemons
1 vanilla bean, inside scraped, pod reserved

latte components:
espresso shots or strong coffee
whole milk or milk of choice
strawberry vanilla bean syrup
  1. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix strawberries with both sugars. Add water, lemon juice, and vanilla bean paste & pod.
  2. Bring the contents to a boil and then simmer on low for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. When cooled off, remove the vanilla bean pod. Blend the syrup mixture in a blender, then strain through a mesh sieve into a pitcher or other container with a spout. Allow to cool fully, then pour into a bottle and keep in the fridge for use in the latte or another drink.
  4. To make an iced latte, mix together 4 ounces of milk with 1 ounce of the strawberry syrup (less if you want this less sweet, more if you're a sugar gremlin). Pour the "strawberry milk" over ice, then pull a shot of espresso to pour over top (or top off with strong coffee) and shake well. 

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