What Living With My Mother-in-Law Taught Me
I recently made a “mean” pot of Efo Riro. Excuse my lack of humility. But yes, it was really that good. And it was good because I cooked it the right way - the Yoruba way. There was an abundance of palm oil and Iru (fermented locust beans). But a couple of months ago, I would never ever have cooked with Iru. I couldn’t stand it.
I remember once in Uni my friends and I met up for lunch. It was the canteen for the post graduate hall students called Balewa – and so it was quite clean – albeit slightly expensive. But the cook often made a good pot of stew and so we frequently visited. For the life of me though, I have no idea why she always called Tee "Clint Eastwood". She said they bore a striking resemblance. I’ve never known who Clint Eastwood was – (and I shall google it once I get to the end of the post). Ok, so this woman who had very full hips, was often sweating and walked rather slowly always put so much Iru in her stew. Once I removed all the Iru to the side of my plate, and my friend scooped it up into hers and ate them. How someone could actually eat a bunch of Iru at once was way beyond me. So yes, I hated Iru.
How then did it end up in my pot of Efo Riro?
Oh, and Efo Riro is a Yoruba delicacy. Again, this is not a meal that I grew up eating – you know being Igbo. But now married to Tee who is Yoruba, I have come to appreciate it – although it’s nothing close to how stressful Igbo soups can be.
I’ve made Efo Riro a lot of times since being married. But I almost always made the modified version. Little palm oil, because fitfam, and then no iru! None.
So again how did this end up in my pot this past weekend? I’ll explain.
But first, why did I make Efo and not typical Sunday rice? After successfully not eating rice in 46 days, I’m trying to make it a habit. And so I asked Tee for ideas. He is rather unhelpful with food ideas. He’s often happy with any good food. It’s interesting because I often have food cravings so I know exactly what I want to eat. Well at least I think I do – until we go to a restaurant and I spend ages 'studying' the menu and still preferring to eat what everyone else ordered - evidence in this blog post.
So it was surprising when this happened:
- Me: Hey babe, what would you like for lunch
- Tee: Efo Riro and Pounded Yam
- Me: oh wow. Sure! You actually know what you feel like.
So I scramble off and go start cooking the meats. Half way through, I hear him say “I’m just joking babe, you know I’d eat anything. You can’t actually believe I’m craving that. I just said the first thing that popped in my head”
I wasn’t too fussed to be honest. Efo is easy to cook and I was going to use a food processor for the pounded yam. It's 2018 after all and the year of great cooking hacks for Nigerian dishes.
So I continued cooking. I poured a very generous helping of palm oil into the wok. And then I gasped. How could I in good conscience cook with that much palmoil? I decanted some of it into a tupperware. And then I added some Iru and added some more. And some more.
And this is the part where I tell you why I could add this much palm oil and Iru into my food.
Because my mother-in-law, Tee's mum came over to help us out for a couple of months! It's a pretty common thing in Nigeria for mums to come over when their children have kids. I mentioned in my one month of motherhood update that my mum was such a great help!
You know there’s generally some phobia about mother-in-laws. I wonder where that comes from. Maybe a lot of the movies (even western movies like Monster-in-Law) or other people’s experiences?
We’d come back to that, but real quick, here’s 9 things that happened when my mother-in-law visited and all that it taught me:
1. We ate lots of proper Yoruba food:
Case in point Efo Riro. And so I thought “hmmm, this sure tastes different with lots of palm oil and Iru”. It was often served with 'semovita' – something else that I hardly ever cooked! The other highlight was “Ewa Agoyin”. This is really mashy black eyed beans made with some kind of pepper sauce with – you guessed it - lots of palm oil! But I loved it all – a little too much and that led to number 2 below. So the lesson - other foods out of the regular can be amazing. I still haven't come to terms with 'Gbegiri" though - aka ground beans soup.
2. I gained weight!
I was pretty impressed with my post partum body. I didn’t gain much weight during pregnancy (see baby bump photo shoot 31 weeks and baby shower photos 35 weeks) and right after I had the baby, I could fit into a lot of my clothes. When my mum came over, I was also cautious to not over eat. But with my MIL, it got a bit tricky with all the food and ofcourse her cajoling me to eat. So yes, I’m trying to shed it all – but as I’m now cooking this efo myself – it could be a tough one! The lesson: I still need to learn how to say a firm No to good food.
3. I learned different ways of cooking ...
some I’d never quite seen. I assumed everyone simply made pap or "eba" with hot water, but apparently you could cook it on the cooker too! Lesson: There are several ways to kill a rat. Be open to ideas, your way isn't always the best.
4. We hardly did any dishes
and no she didn’t use the dishwasher. So now when I look at the dishes in the sink, I wishfully recall the days when she was here. So, If you know anyone who’s just had a baby – offer to cook for them and do the dishes. They may love you forever.
5. We partied!
So, she was here for only a couple of months, but I probably attended more Nigerian parties than I had been in to the past year. Thanks to her, I finally got to attend my first ever Yoruba Traditional Wedding Ceremony. My lesson: have more fun. Find it!
6. Baby Got some Native love
If you’re Nigerian you’re familiar with the concept of backing a baby. Many mums swear by it. But I knew I’d probably have no clue how to do it even though it’s essentially using a wrap with the baby at your back. Anyway. Grandma came over and ofcourse J got backed! I hear babies love it.
And then there was the baby bath experience – we had tried to convince her to use our favourite bath support – which was amazing. She opted for the typical Nigeria way of bathing the baby with him on her legs in the bath. After a few screaming bouts of discomfort from J, she realised these new kids prefer to be much more relaxed! Lesson: Be open to change and learning new skills - the world is constantly moving.
7. Some awkward moments
First, my awkwardness with the Yoruba kneeling culture isn’t that much better but that wasn't a big deal. But we had some tad awkwardness around J’s names – especially when we introduced him to the Yoruba part of the family and they express slight surprise and difficulty in pronouncing his first name which is Igbo. And also surprise at his not very typical Yoruba name. Oh well. If we had gone with a French or Greek name, we may have still had raised eyebrows. Or maybe not. But it was all interesting to see. My Igbo family don’t exactly pronounce his Yoruba name right as well. Lesson: awkwardness would be a part of life - learn to deal with it.
8. So much Inspiration!
We had some really good conversation and as usual I was keen to hear her life journey particularly in relation to her career, seeing as she's still very active. The stories were full of inspiration - raising kids, building a career, faith, marriage and all of it. And what inspired me the most? How she went to church almost daily and constantly took long walks even in the cold - and was pointing out places to me in my own neighbourhood! I chose the couch as always. But you already know that - it's in my bio! Lesson: Move more. walk more. Exercise. You are not a tree.
9. I thought of the Circle of Life.
Now this. Life really is in circles you know. And her visiting made me pray for the moment when I’ll be a grandma with my first son just as she has been with her first son. But again, it’s interesting how at that point, he’d have his own family and I'd become the guest. Hopefully, and God willing, there’s many many years for me to enjoy before then and I look to maximise every moment. Every single moment - this is what matters in life.
My new likeness for oil filled Efo riro and Iru aside, it was really lovely to have her around. And I think we need to spread some more of these decent mother daughter-in-law relationships. There’s this new thing where people choose to use Mother-in-Love to show good relationship. I’m not a huge fan, but hey whatever works. Anything to quell Pentheraphobia – yes, that’s a real word, and it’s fear of your mother in law!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this – from efo riro and yoruba culture, native baby love and mother-in-law relationships. Do you have this fear or a good relationship with yours? Any tips?
pS: Tee read this post and said “oh I want that ewa agoyin right now”. It’s tempting for me to make some – but I’ll assume he’s kidding because it’s all fun and games till your jeans don’t fit! Oh and I googled Clint Eastwood - I see no resemblance!
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