By Charlene Giannetti
New mothers quickly learn a simple scheduling trick: Baby’s naptime means free time for mom. Many spend that time luxuriating in a bath, talking on the phone, or napping, too. Kelsey Banfield spent her time cooking. “As soon as I put my daughter down for her noontime nap, I would start to do food prep,” Banfield said. “Cooking is something I enjoy and I didn’t want to feel stressed out over making dinner.”
During playdates, Banfield would tell her friends, also new mothers, what she made for dinner. “I would say that I made eggplant parmigiana for dinner, and they would ask, `How could you do that? We ordered out!’” Soon those friends were asking for her recipes. Thus was born the Naptime Chef (www.thenaptimechef.com), Banfield’s food blog where she passes along her recipes as well as her thoughts on food, motherhood, and living in New York.
The Naptime Chef is quickly building a loyal following and Banfield’s recipe for Go-To Chicken Quesadillas was included in a recent issue of Cookie magazine. (See her recipe for Thai Pasta & Chicken Salad in “Entertaining Around”). “I want to empower others to cook for their families,” she said. “I find recipes that work well in the time frame a mother has available. I say, `This is how I figured it out, and you can too.’”
Reading Banfield’s blog is like having coffee with a good friend. Her writing style is warm and inviting; her approach towards food and cooking non-threatening. “I don’t want to preach,” she explained, saying that she buys white pasta and that Cheerios remains a staple in her cupboard. Being a new mother herself, she understands the pressures and demands. “I want to be practical. I don’t want people to read my blog and feel overwhelmed.”
Banfield grew up in Cooperstown, New York, where her parents, both excellent cooks, took advantage of neighborhood farm stands, local butchers, and milk from local dairies. “I grew up in an idyllic food setting,” she said. “I never understood how industrialized the food world had become. We had a slow food chapter in town and we didn’t eat out a lot. We did a lot of cooking at home.” She still loves to go home where she can visit some of the local food merchants.
Banfield’s food education continued at Bates College, where the cafeteria featured all organic food. “It was a Maine-rich food culture,” she said. The school also was on the cutting edge of the Green revolution, phasing out cafeteria trays and limiting the use of paper and plastic goods.
An internship at Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang, importers of Belgian beers, opened doors to the food world. “I learned a lot about Belgian cuisine and served as a liaison with food writers,” she said. “I helped Wendy Littlefield (the owner, my mentor) found the Slow Food Convivium of Cooperstown.” That venture taught Banfield about the history and origins of food and her job, looking through magazines and clipping articles, served as a tutorial on how to write about food.
Banfield met her husband, Duncan, when his parents and friends of her parents arranged a date. He grew up in neighboring Ithaca and the two had known about each other for a long time. She went to the first date with few expectations. “All the stars were aligned but we didn’t believe any of it,” she said, with a laugh. “Then we met and hit it off.” Their daughter, Daphne, in the photo above, is now 18 months old.
“When you have kids, you think differently about everything,” said Banfield. “You have to shift gears. Projects that are six pages long go out the window.” The first few months after her daughter was born, Banfield, too, struggled with cooking until she realized that preparation makes all the difference. Now when Daphne naps, she does her food prep so come dinnertime she can be ready to cook with little fuss. In between, she writes her essays and recipes to post.
Bringing her small town sensibility to New York, Banfield prefers to visit a local butcher, The Garden of Eden, for her meat, the 97th Street farmer’s market for produce, and Gourmet Garage on Broadway and 96th Street for other supplies.
For kitchen equipment, Banfield shys away from stocking her kitchen with the latest gadgets. “The more I cook, the less I need,” she said. An essential item: a good set of kitchen knives that she has sharpened regularly by an oldtime artisan who visits neighborhoods in his truck. She also swears by her Kitchenaide mixer, Pyrex dishes, wooden spoons, and Tupperware for freezing foods and leftovers.
Spending her high school years at the Emma Willard School, Banfield learned about women’s issues. She was inspired to find a good career fit. Through her blog, she is able to bring all her life experiences together and share her knowledge with others. “This is way I can help people to make them feel good,” she said. “That old adage is true—food is love, something tangible and heartfelt.”
Photo of Kelsey and Daphne Banfield by Mimi Torchin, www.mimitorchinphotography.com.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Shop: I swear by JMcLaughlin for my everyday “uniform,” they have gorgeous blouses, pants and bags that look great and work well with my active lifestyle. When I need a cocktail dress I stop by Theory on Columbus Avenue, they always have dresses with flattering cuts. For my daughter I love Petit Bateau for clothes, Giggle for gear, and West Side Kids for toys.
Favorite Place to Eat: Otto is my favorite spot for a night out with friends. Their wine selection is amazing. For “date night” my husband and I love Telepan. It has delicious food and a nice mellow atmosphere. When it’s family night we always head straight to Island on Madison Avenue. Their burgers can’t be beat.
Favorite New York Sight: I love the fall season, especially in Riverside Park when all of the trees are shocking shades of orange, yellow and reds. I am always struck by the beauty of New York parks and am so grateful that we have them.
Favorite New York Moment: Bringing my daughter home from the hospital on a gorgeous day in late fall, the sun was out, the leaves were vibrant autumnal colors and the air was crisp and clear. We drove through Central Park to bring her home and it was the happiest moment of my life.
What You Love about New York: The diverse neighborhoods and their proximity. I love that I can jump on the subway and be in Chinatown or Battery Park in 15 minutes. We are so lucky to have so much interesting culture at our fingertips.
What You Hate About New York: When perfectly able-bodied men will NOT give up their seat on the bus or subway to a pregnant woman or elderly person. It is always the women who offer them seats instead. Seriously, the men in this city need to learn some manners. Hopefully chivalry isn’t totally a thing of the past.