Cardamom Culture

One of my favourite past times is cooking Indian.  I’m not saying I’m good at cooking Indian, but it brings me comforting memories and I am hooked on the incredible number and variety of spices that go into making good Indian food.  The smell of one in particular always makes me smile with pleasure and that is cardamom.

According to Agriinfo, Cardamom, known as ‘Queen of Spices’, is a dried fruit of a tall perennial herbaceous plant.  It’s delicate aroma make it one of the most expensive spices in the world.  Till the seventies India enjoyed a near monopoly position, but currently Guatemala, Columbia and even Sri Lanka are vying to compete in the production and export of this fragrant pod.

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Cardamom Pods – Photo Source: CardamomNation Blogspot

The comfort comes from my friend Nutan Brown, who when I was rotating in/out of our family home during my divorce, allowed me to stay just down the road in her beautiful home.  Not only are her husband Jack and her kids superheroes for sharing their t.v. room, as my bedroom, Bombay-born Nutan fed me Butter Chicken, Cholay and other Indian delicacies made from the recipes of her mother.  It helped me heal and the memory followed and inspired me.

It’s been a long road to find and learn how to grind my own spices, helped by Monisha Bharadwaj’s most awesome book, The Indian Kitchen.  Not a cook book, but a cook’s book, on the key ingredients and recipes from Indian medicinal and culinary practices that result in healthy, yummy, beautiful food.

Indian food, unless you are using Patak’s or Kitchen’s of India, is very time consuming, but I love the way it makes me feel and you will too.

Cardamom really gets around and can be used as aroma therapy and in cooking pumpkin breads, Crème brûlée, fruit smoothies and even breakfast, like in this recipe for Icelandic pancakes.  The blog Cardamom Nation shares recipes and their eight reasons for using cardamom [as if we needed more].   What’s your favourite use for cardamom?

Sex … for Over 50 Women

Yes that is the word sex in the title.  If you are looking for titillation or if you know me and don’t want to picture me in the same sentence as sex, then please do NOT read on.

Abraham Maslow presented a paper in 1943 called The Theory of Human Motivation.  In this paper, he details the motivators or needs of humans through a hierarchy and at the bottom grounding this hierarchy are breathing, water, food, excretion, sleep, homeostasis and sex.

It’s not hard to acknowledge that sex dominates the Cultural thoughts of men and women in society.  Self-help sections are full of authors who believe they all have the bead on sex from physical, emotional, spiritual, and religious or rather Cultural points of view.  The industry of sex, excluding porn and sex-trade, continues to become main stream with growth in the areas of lingerie, sex toys, condoms and other products related to intercourse and sex, representing billions of dollars.  Look at the mainstream popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book and movie.

One could argue that procreation is the only reason for sex, for the continuation of the species.  If so, then why can the act cause such pleasure or be the basis for such pain for men and for women?

I cannot answer that question.  I can only speak from my personal experience and I think it’s important to talk about sex for women over age fifty.  I’ve always liked sex, but physically I’d always found intercourse painful and never knew why.  I can’t tell you how many times I asked my family doctor if I was somehow built differently.  Each answer no forced me to examine the spiritual and physical sides, that maybe I had trust issues.  Maybe I didn’t actually love/like my partner.  Maybe I had issues from a time I was sexually harassed [before it was a buzz phrase] at the office.  Maybe I was ancestrally from a Culture of frigid women.   I mean, I was desperate to understand why my insides did not match my outsides.

The proverbial nail in the coffin of my 20 year marriage was when our therapist suggested I might have successive micro-tears causing pain and that it was okay to take a break from sex.  This loss of intimacy was reason enough for my then-husband to move onto a new partner, one where he felt “desired and appreciated” .  His argument was flawed in many many ways, but it was in motion and stayed in motion through separation, divorce and forward it goes.

After divorce, I did take a break from sex.  For five years I was celibate.  There was the odd hilarious attempt at self-sex, but in the end wine and lots of dancing seemed to more helpful than the vibrator my best friend gave me.  I’m sorry, but I couldn’t take a red vibrating phallic appliance seriously.

During this hiatus, I was still in my parenting group.  Our kids were older and the focus wandered to subjects other than parenting and one member brought in a guest speaker.  It was that whole empty-your-cup kind of motivational guru who also happened to be dreadlocked and male.  At the end of one session, on a beautiful June day in my friend’s garden, he asked us each to go out and buy a pair of panties.  What?

We didn’t have to bring them or show them, he said, but we had to be prepared to share the experience of the panty buying with the group.  We all tittered, shifting comfortably in our seats.

We all did buy panties, but at the next meeting two women refused to discuss it at all, blushing and stuttering.  Most of discussion was about colour and style of panty, athough one gal got up and pulled a Lewinksy.  Yes, the same gal who gave me the vibrator.

Just as it came to my turn to speak, I had an epiphany.  I said, “I had fun buying them. Then I took them home and put them away in the drawer because they are too pretty to be worn.”  That summed up my sexuality then.  I like it, but I won’t wear it because it’ll get dirty [be criticized by myself or others].

That summer, I met a man younger than myself who was searching for a life mate to have a family with.  While he waited, we had a summer fling.  Without any emotional ties, I learned that there are many truths about sex and my sexuality.  Yes, it’s never as good as the first time.  Yes, the first time is not always the best time.  Yes, fatigue, trust, self esteem all impact sex.  Yes, there are many ways to have sex.  Yes, mutual respect always laid the foundation for the best sex.  The summer was over just like that and so, we decided, was the affair.  I was 45 years old.

I also lied about the lack of emotional ties, I cried like a baby when we decided not to continue.   I guess I can’t separate sex and emotion.  Another lesson.

I dated other men with not a hint of interest in sex with them.  I wasn’t ready.  One fellow I dated four times over three years.  He turned out to be the one.  I was ready.  It’s a great story for another time.  The point is that I now knew about my sexuality emotionally and spiritually, but I was no further ahead in that physical department.  I was 47 years old.

I again bothered my family doctor about my anatomy and she sighed and finally referred me to a gynecology specialist.   I’m not sure if she was sighing because she felt she’d already answered the question, after all she is a “Doctor”.  I wondered, though, if she was thinking that I am too old to be worrying about/ interested in sex.

The gynecologist‘s office was filled mostly young and/or pregnant women, which was oddly comforting.  I waited twenty minutes before being ushered in to strip and don a paper gown.  The Doctor had my feet in the stirrups about ten seconds, when he peeled and tossed his gloves in the trash.  He handed me a script and said, “In two weeks, you will feel like a new woman.”  I was 53.

It seems that since I finished menopause at 44, and quite possibly before that, I have a severe shortage of estrogen resulting in, ahem, low muscle tone.  53 Years of Life.  33 years of painful intercourse.  Ten seconds of diagnosis and treatment.

The Doctor was right, I do feel like a new women.  Myself.

The only thing left for me to do is find a natural alternative to the drug because a. drugs are never good, and b. this product is made from urine of pregnant mares and I’m struggling with the whole cruelty of forced urine collection from a living creature so that I can have pleasure.

I’m glad I took other chances to reinvent my sexuality well into my fifties.  If you want to read more here’s another article by Marlo Thomas from the Huffington Post

Mothers

I live in a family with many different mothers.  Among us, inter-generationally and internationally, adoptees who are now mothers and mothers and through birth, death, divorce or adoption.

I could share the story about my long road to motherhood and my sense of meaning and purpose in being a mother.  If I did share this, however, it’s likely to trigger someone somewhere to feel bad about themselves and perhaps rage at me.

It seems that this is a standard occurrence for just about anything today.   A commercial about a mom and a dad negates two gays parenting.  An ad with an Asian on the left and a Black on the right of a White causes an self esteem issues.  The choice to sponsor a blogger with a hajib headscarf is called political pandering.  Witches stricken from Halloween so society doesn’t equate Wicca with evil women on brooms.  The term biological mother becomes birth mother becomes natural mother becomes first mother, still it means mother or does it?

Myself included, when did we all get so fucking sensitive?  About everything.   So politically correct, especially in Canada, that one can hardly turn without fear of using the wrong term or offending someone and where we are legislating ourselves into oblivion.

A practitioner who works with troubled teens, that included one of mine for a time, gave me Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankel was a doctor and holocaust survivor.  He questioned why some prisoners in the concentration camp he was in rose to the challenge of life while others, even once liberated, failed to thrive.  He observed, “…  There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

The idea of finding meaning and purpose in life is daunting.  How does one finding meaning in life when we are so sure the even out basic rights are not in our control?  The step-parent with no child-raising experience is thrust into parenting rebellious teens.  The 15 year old who finds herself pregnant and her  mother making the decisions.  The 19 year old giving birth in a war torn country with no family and no social services.  The 30 year old who finds herself unable to maintain a pregnancy.  The boy, whose father remarries after being widowed, who can no longer remember his dead mother.  The father who feels himself alienated after divorce.  The 21 year old adoptee who finds his birth mother and doesn’t like her.  The adoptee who chooses not to search and gets flack from his adopted siblings.  The adoptee who thinks his life will turn around if he given his birth history, but even then finds he’s still angry and confused.

All want to label themselves as unique and call themselves down trodden.  If we are all down trodden on whose back shall we find true respite?

Frankl says, however, that while we have limited freedom with our circumstances, we do have ultimate freedom about how we react … how we take responsibility for ourselves.

He said that this choice [finding meaning] and action [finding purpose] for our suffering makes it an achievement rather than a tragedy.  How many people do you know like that, like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama?

I  believe that suffering does not end whether we choose to parent, to place for adoption, to seek an abortion or remain childless.   Even under great duress we still make a choice and  all actions have consequences.

I am neither a sinner or a saint because I worked and eventually became a mother.  I learned that my role as mother is precarious and subjective.  You do not need to be a perfect mother, nor your children’s first mother, but I learned that you are only a mother when someone calls you mother.

Suffering is not something we can just get over or move past.  Suffering is the universal human circumstance which we must make part of our everyday lives.  It may shape us, but it cannot decide for us who we are and how we will act.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl

Making Stock or In Praise of my Brother-in-Law

The loss of my brother-in-law, Greg, was an unfortunate casualty of divorce. I miss him very much.  He is an intellectual, a patron the of the arts, an entrepreneur, a father, a honky-tonk piano player, a wine appreciator and a damn fine cook.

While the brood of children, my sisters, husbands and assorted friends gathered to socialize in their Calgary home, I preferred to pull up a stool in the kitchen.  Greg would pour me a glass of something special, always a cut above what was being served in the living room.  He would cook, now and then making a comment about politics or about the dish.  Mostly though, it was an easy silence and feast for the senses.

The first thing I learned from Greg was about Champagne, but the best thing I learned was about making stock.  That it is so easy to make and that nothing compares to making dishes with stock suited to your own taste.  Keep in mind that stock is not a formula.  Each batch will be unique depending on the ingredients, but all yummy.

Making stock is uber easy, but must be attended to in the first half hour and not forgotten on the stove.  A great time to make stock is when the kids are in bed and you can freeze frame True Detectives or your other favourite show to skim the foam.

Tip 1.  Don’t throw away cooked bones or carcasses, instead remove as much fat as you can and throw into large, separately labeled, zippered baggies in your freezer.  I have bags for turkey, chicken, lamb [including gnawed lamb chops] bones, and seafood including lobster and shrimp shells.

Tip 2.  Keep a couple of carrots and a celery rib/leaves on hand in the fridge.  You can wrap them very tightly in tinfoil to stay fresher.

Tip 3.  Do not add salt.  That addition is for what you are ultimately using the stock for.

Tip 4.  Invest in a skimming ladle from Pampered Chef.  I got one in 2013 and can’t remember how I stocked without it.

Instructions:  Put a medium to large sized stock pot beside your cutting board, compost pail and chopping knife.  With the fat/skin removed put the meat/bones you have chosen to stock into the pot.

Cover the meat/bones with cold water one to three inches above the bones.  Turn on to simmer.

Add two bay leaves, 10-12 peppercorns, two chopped carrots and half stalk of celery/leaves and a smidgeon of chili flakes.

Tip 5:  Sometimes you might try adding dried mushrooms or other starchy veggies like cabbage or turnips, but do so sparingly.  Experiment.

Tip 6:  If you are going to add other seasoning, stick with whole herbs.  For example, cumin seeds not ground cumin.

As it simmers, not boils, use a spoon to keep skimming the foam in the first half hour.  It’s annoying, but doing this during the initial stages of cooking is key to a good clear stock.

Keep simmering until the stock reaches the intensity you desire.  For example, I usually simmer it down till one to two thirds of the water has cooked off.  This intensity makes for varied uses in gravy, soup or stock for paella and risotto, for example.

Turn off the stove and let the stock cool till you can safely drain it into a large bowl through a sieve or cheesecloth.  You can further reduce the fat content by putting the stock overnight in the fridge and skim off the fat in the morning, or when completely cool you can bag and freeze it immediately.

Tip 7. Use a Sharpie to label the bag because once frozen it’s hard to tell the difference between different kinds of stock or leftover gravy.

Tip 8.  Sometimes it’s nice to have stock divided into small sized bags for quick interventions.  For example, your husband or child is sick and you want to make a small portion of chicken soup!

I made a pseudo-Bouillabaisse with frozen left over BBQ salmon fillets and ten cups of poultry stock.  It was amazing and likely never to be repeated.

Extreme Snowshoeing and my Ex-Husband

Several of my social media acquaintances recently posted about their experiences learning how to ski.  To strap boards to your feet at -12 degrees Celsius and hurtle yourself down an icy mountain at age four is one thing ~ you bounce well, but to attempt it at age forty plus is incredibly brave, if somewhat treacherous.  I’m pumped by their accomplishments, but I’m worried about what’s motivating them.

I’ve skied since I could walk, you know when they laced up boots, but that doesn’t make me a good skier.   I faced the fact that I will never ski with my family because as they’ve progressed to double blacks, I’ve stayed on the green runs.  In my early forties, skiing gave way to snow shoeing.  Being a tentative skier, it’s better cardio and it keeps me in the alpine environment I love without the fear of broken bones [you know that small white female malady called osteoporosis].

Giving up skiing was difficult and even more so because my then husband took it personally.  Maybe, he said, I need private lessons or perhaps boot heaters and better skis.  It arrived finally into accusations about why, with thirty plus years of skiing under my belt, why wouldn’t I want to ski with them.  Ouch!  It felt like the moment when you tell your child not to be silly and to get their ass out onto the ski hill, only to find out that they actually have frostbite.  Only I was the child and he the parent and he didn’t care about the frostbite.

As my skiing ended, so did the 22 year marriage.  It had put into sharp relief that I was doing things not because I wanted to, but because I bought into a romanticized bully’s version of what shows as a good relationship.  A family that skiis together …

This feeling came full circle again six years later when I frequented my new boyfriend’s hockey games.  To only person in the bleachers, me, one of his team members said, you must be a new wife or a new girlfriend.  Newly in love I didn’t pick up on this not-so-subtle hint of what was to come.  Packing hot cocoa and a blanket, my fella quietly said perhaps I could stay home that night.

Wet salmon smacked up side of the head.

I was totally crushed and moped around the house for weeks bemoaning love lost, honeymoon over, blah blah blah

before I saw how silly I was being.  I was too busy waxing poetic about my hot hockey playing “boyfriend” to realize that he really needed his guy time back.  Nothing personal.  I mean, do I want him at Book Club.  Nope.  Point taken.

What I want for our daughters and sons is a life where they count on themselves first for happiness.  Not to be assessed by how much time and doing what activities with their families, but to be defined by if they show up for each other when needed.

At the end of the day, them skiing and me snowshoeing, I can still meet up with my kids and significant other in the hot tub to regale each other with stories of snow snakes, near misses and getting lost on the hill.

Ladies, keep skiing as long as you feel pleasure and challenge and if and when you’re ready for some extreme snowshoeing, call me 🙂

A Short Story about Book Club

shutterstock_127158032My husband jokingly refers to our Book Club as Chardonnay Club.  I could defend our Club by kicking him in the shins, but I let the joke lay between us unchained by my annoyance.

I wasn’t always a member of this group.  I knew they existed and many of my friends and neighbours were part of it.  It is a rather large group fluctuating between ten to twelve members, but always at least eight, all women, are in attendance.  We meet for nine presentations and a year-end social where the books are picked for the next year.  Each member is expected to present and to host at least once a year.  Books are selected from a myriad of genres with attention paid to styles we have not done before.  We throw coats, catch up, fill plates and pour drinks, but the main event is the author presentation and ensuing discussion.  It’s interesting to note that a high enjoyment rating of the book does not equal interesting or raucous conversation about the book.

I was ambivalent about book club.  I was busy with my parenting group that, as our children grew, became more social.  Also, this was not the kind of club you asked to join.  That would be considered rude.  Not because the women were snobs or because they were looking for “like” kind, you know the people who can’t stand dissension and gather around them people who nod ~ but because like many women’s groups, it was a place with a vibe and a rhythm, where you kept confidence, and where you could make outrageous statements and people would actually entertain them.

Yes, there was gossip and, yes, sometimes the din was unbelievable, so much at times that I felt I needed to, and did, raise my hand like a school girl to express a point.  Men are not built for this din, but then also my husband does not want me at his shinny game and I don’t want him at book club.  Win win.

At the time the invitation came for me to join, I was experiencing the death of my mother, a divorce, a change of homes and one of my children went insane.  I don’t mean clinically insane, but the kind of insanity that comes with being a hormonal teen with divorcing parents and ready access to drugs and alcohol.   It flummoxed me how a teen feigned helplessness at shopping and cooking supper, but proved able to obtain alcohol underage, to swipe cough syrup from the drugstore and mix it with crushed heart medication from seniors to make a potentially fatal cocktail.  Spoiler alert, we all survived.

I’m lucky that a friend down the street let me stay in her home on the rotating weeks when I was away from our family home and my children.  I stayed in their “t.v.” room for which all their children, also teens, should be given a medal.  It was she who got me in the club door and it was the promise of and being in this club that kept me buoyed to an afterlife.  Meaning a life after whatever I was in at that time.

Not because of their sympathy or sandwiches, that too, and not because they understood divorce, they were all married, but because individually they were brilliant, funny, open, and interested in what I had to say.

That’s really important.  The interested in what I had to say part.  For most people who are divorcing, men and women, it’s the disinterest of their former partners that hurts more than anything else.

At the time I began with Book Club, I was a wounded animal, incoherent, dizzy with grief.  When she was alive, my mother called this state of being, my state of being when sad, as the dying duck in a thunderstorm.  My mother also was part of something she called Group.

Group was started in Calgary by friends, including my mom and my Auntie Joan, meeting in a local church, being the only space available to them sans children, husbands and beckoning mangle machines.  They told the Minister that it was a sewing club.  Being the early 60’s they could find no words that would make the Minister sympathetic to housewives with young children who wanted to explore beyond domesticity and their own intellect.  The book they started with was The Feminine Mystique, written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, an American writer, activist and a leader in the feminist movement.  You should check her out.

My mother would be happy that I am part of a Group because together, these women, my Book Club, have woven a blanket of comfort around me and if there is Chardonnay involved, all the better.