January 31, 2013
My youngest daughter, aged eleven, fainted at school recently. She was standing at the teacher's desk, going over some math problems, when she suddenly felt quite hot. She excused herself in order to take off her sweater and get a drink of water from the bottle in her knapsack at the back of the room. As she took a drink, she felt overwhelmingly hot again, and in a jerky motion she fell backwards and hit her shoulder and head, fell forwards and hit her nose on a desk, fell to the floor, unconscious and began to shake. She came to, and apparently was completely coherent, but she was taken to the office, white as a sheet and made to lie on the sofa until I arrived to take her home.
The teacher thought, due to the jerking motion of her faint, and the shaking, that my daughter had suffered a seizure, and she was quite concerned when I talked to her about it. Her dad came home from work and took her to the walk-in clinic that afternoon. The doctor assured us that our daughter had not had a seizure, but had only fainted, and that fainting rarely looks like how it is represented in the movies. She ordered some blood tests and an electrocardiogram to rule out various problems, but assured us our daughter was okay to go to school the next day. Over the next few days, we watched her carefully, but she recovered her strength, and her colour, within a couple of days and was back to her old self before long.
Yesterday, we had a follow up appointment with our own doctor, to go over the results of the tests, and after a good examination and several questions, he said everything was fine, but that our daughter was 'rather skinny'. He said fainting can be caused by any number of things, and only becomes worrisome if it happens repeatedly. She has not had any 'episodes' since. In fact, she has attended her acting classes, performed in a play she helped write at school, worked hard at her schoolwork, and participated in her Physical Education classes at school as well as in basketball practices. She ate well before her fainting episode, but now we have decided to make her eat a little more, especially at breakfast. She is nearly five feet tall, but weighs 73 pounds, so a little extra meat on her bones would not hurt.
When she fainted, my son Galen reminded me of how, at her age, he used to feel faint sometimes, and how I would let him stay home occasionally, for 'mental health' days. I also remembered that when my daughter Emma was eleven she also had fainting spells when she was in a room, like a church, that was too hot or too crowded. I was not a fainter, but I was a skinny child who grew tall rather quickly and was hungry almost all the time. I did have many a pre-pubescent nose bleed and lengthy bouts of lethargy, which may have had something to do with the fact that I hated school and which caused my sympathetic parents to let me stay home a great deal during my twelfth year of life. I told much of this to the doctor (leaving out the part about hating school) and he concurred, in his lovely Scottish accent, that such things may just run in the family.
I am often being told that my daughter is too skinny. When she was ten, another mother who has four strapping, solid boys asked me if there was something wrong with her. "Does she eat anything at all?" I responded that I had been a skinny child, too, and obviously had turned out alright. (I have been a nice medium sized girl since about the age of eighteen, with healthy child-bearing hips to prove it.) Still, her question bothered me because her opinion was shared by several other local mothers. If she only knew the food consumed in our house, the money spent on good quality groceries and local organic meats, the care that went into cooking and baking healthy and wholesome meals, she might see the situation differently. Our youngest has always had a healthy appetite, too, but she is not one that overeats, especially when it comes to sweets. Perhaps, in this day and age, it is just less common to see a thin child. The doctor agreed with that, too.
One thing my youngest daughter is, that may contribute to her local reputation as a 'delicate child', is incredibly sensitive. She has moments of extreme joy when something good happens, and moments of great despondency when something bad happens. She sees other children act rudely or meanly to each other at school and comes home quite upset if she has not been able to make them stop, or victorious if she has. If someone is mean to her, she takes it in stride, but it sometimes eats away at her anyway, and I am left to put her back together with hugs and kisses, with a warm muffin and a cup of tea or cocoa. When she is at school, it is as if she has her antennae up all the time, absorbing all that goes on around her. She also puts 120 percent into everything she does, and as the school secretary told me recently, "She goes all day long!" reading to the little ones in her lunch monitor group, helping decorate bulletin boards and writing skits for plays, helping other kids with their work, working hard to play the sports which do not come naturally to her. And, if she sometimes doesn't have enough time to eat her lunch, she is going on little fuel until after school when she can come home and spend the next hour making up for it.
My daughter is not only a particular body type, she is also a particular personality type, and perhaps, more often than not, the two go together. My job as her mother, and our job as parents, is to celebrate and support who she is and not dwell on what she is not. She is intelligent, creative, sensitive, talented, thoughtful and kind. She is not overly robust, happy-go-lucky, tough or sporty. She will probably never become an emergency ward nurse or a construction worker, but she just may become a play write, an actress, or a librarian. As the poet e.e. cummings said:
To be nobody-but-yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.
If that is true, I don't wonder she is exhausted sometimes. Still, I am aware that we can make some little changes at home, and we can look into ways to strengthen our daughter, to help her achieve the balance she needs to grow in health and in happiness.
The photo is from depositphotos.com
January 24, 2013
I had made my carrot ginger soup many times, but I laboured over the pot during every step, as if my future life in this town depended on its success. After the soup was pureed and I had added the sherry but omitted the cream, wrongly believing that a vegan soup would somehow impress this crowd, I took a final taste and pronounced it good.
Off we went with our soup and wine, my husband and I, dressed elegantly but comfortably enough to sit through six courses of food and drink. Concerned that my soup would become cold I put it on the burner of our hosts' stove top where over the course of the next hour and a half - some of the guests were late in arriving, particularly the ones responsible for the appetizer - my soup simmered away, awaiting consumption. When my course was up, my husband and I served the soup and I waited in grave anticipation for the reactions of the seasoned guests, one of whom had recently flown from London to Copenhagen just to eat at a particular restaurant due to its reputation. Although everyone said the soup was good 'and just the sort of thing we should have had on the ferry today coming back from Victoria to the Mainland in the freezing damp', as one guest declared, I knew after one taste that the hour and a half of simmering had done it no good and had made it slightly bitter. 'Oh well,' I said to myself, 'Live and learn.'
After our New Year's Eve dinner party the idea of a seasonal supper club was born, and since then, most of us have gathered three more times, taking turns making different courses and hosting the event at our homes. I have made dessert and salad, and my results have been mildly successful but improving each time. As the least experienced, albeit passionate foodie, the gourmet learning curve has been somewhat vertically inclined. At least my husband has taken it upon himself to research and take care of the wine pairings, which has taken the pressure off me a bit. I believe that Julia Child's husband Paul took that task upon himself most willingly as well, not that I am putting us in that same category. I have no interest in deboning a duck or of making anything with the word 'aspic' in it, however much I respect the great Julia.
This past Saturday it was our turn to host, and therefore, to make the main course. After several emailed communications, our eight guests all signed up for their particular course, and I began to prepare mentally and physically for the big event. A week before I had woken up in a cold sweat, having dreamed that four of our guests had not bothered to show up, and in being kept waiting too long for my entree, Tim had lowered his head onto the table and moaned to his wife, Sue, "I want to go home!" In retrospect, I am grateful for that dream because it woke me up quite literally to the fact that stressing over hosting a dinner party was not only silly, it was downright counterproductive. The idea was to have fun and learn something in the process, so I pulled up my socks and spent the week working hard to enjoy the upcoming event to the fullest.
Not all of our members are still with us, so our table, which with the added leaf sits ten adults fairly comfortably, would do. Having recently inherited a good number of elegant dishes and linens from both sides of my parents' families, I decided that our table would be a thing of beauty. My eldest daughter was eager to help with the setting and design of the table, and my younger daughter got busy on the internet looking up a variety of ways to set the table depending on the number of courses and the available cutlery. We found one that suited both our meal and our stock of tableware and she copied the diagram onto a post-it-note. Elder daughter found our collection of seashells and with four glass candle holders, made a lovely still life centerpiece that ran the length of the table. With my Granny's damask napkins and a mix of old and new wine and water glasses, we finished the settings and were satisfied.
At 6:30 our guests began to arrive, and my husband served them my favourite cocktail, the fruity and delicious Pomegranate Martini. Our first course was an appetizer, a tart made in a crispy shell of filo pastry containing thin slices of pear, pecans and the chef's own Castle Blue cheese, which she sells to cheese lovers near and far: delicious and not too filling. Next came the soup, a hearty, rich and deeply flavoured oxtail soup with orzo. Next came a beautiful and unusual palate cleansing salad made from tender butter lettuce with slices of tart green apple, roasted walnuts, and the chef's own homemade pink saurkraut, tangy but gently flavoured, offering just the right amount of acidity to complement the rich olive oil dressing.
I had planned for months to make a delicious and satisfying entree enticingly called Chicken Asiago, but by Saturday morning was still unsure as to how to plate it, and with what on the side? The recipe suggested serving the dish with pasta and sprinkling everything with fresh basil, so I decided on spaghettini. With no fresh basil to be found anywhere, I remembered my stash of homemade pesto in the freezer and knew what I would do. Each half breast of chicken, coated in asiago cheese, breadcrumbs and finely chopped Italian parsley, and then browned in olive oil, was dressed with my homemade tomato sauce enhanced with the fresh Rosemary from the plant still thriving under the eaves on our sundeck. Slices of fresh mozzarella were then placed on top and the chicken finished its cooking in the oven. I had learned from an Italian friend that the best way to cook a lot of pasta was to pre-cook it, then just before serving, flash boil it again and drain. I did so, and found the pasta much less starchy the second time, and easy to mix with the pesto and a bit of extra olive oil. We plated the wonderfully aromatic chicken with a lovely little twist of pesto spaghettini and placed a garnish of Italian parsley on top. (I had been able to practice plating my course for my kids, who had eaten earlier.) As we served our course, and poured glasses of Italian Merlot, we heard encouraging exclamations from our guests, and Stefan, who sat beside me said quietly after he was finished eating my entree, "That was very good".
After a slight delay due to my daughter coming into the kitchen and turning off the oven - ack! - Stefan presented the most amazing and beautiful dessert: ricotta souffles and blood orange salad with triangles of vanilla semifreddo drizzled in crisp dark chocolate and garnished with a half moon of dragon fruit and served atop swirls of fruit and white dessert sauces. The perfect combination of textures, colours and flavours, and the lightness of the dessert proved, once again, what it takes to make a professional chef.
And then there was the cheese course which made use of the wonderful baguettes from our new local Magpie's Bakery, which we had forgotten to serve with my course. "We didn't need the bread," said our local cheesemaker, Debra. "Bread is for mopping up the sauce when there is too much of it. You had just the right amount of sauce on your chicken." I do not think I could have been any happier at that moment. "I'm learning," I said. Four types of Debra's wonderful cheese, honey from her own hives and rose jelly made from her roses, were handed around the table along with another glass each of Marsala. The clock read 11:45.
Along with course after course of food and wine went laughter and discussions on subjects ranging from 'Vancouver restaurants, eat your heart out!' to Lance Armstrong and the definition of 'hero'. In one of several group emails the next day, Marilee summed up the evening nicely: "Thank you to (my husband and I) for hosting and to the social gods for making it all come together with laughter and good stories. These kind of evenings cannot be really anticipated...sometimes all the best intentions still don't produce the momentum of fun and camaraderie that we were blessed with last nite."
Still basking in the glow of my first attempt at hosting our foodie group, I have taken a precious organic chicken out of the freezer and plan to make my family a special meal this weekend. We might even use the good dishes again. I hope my grandmothers would approve.
The photo above was taken just before the guests arrived. Wishing you a wonderful weekend.
P.S. We have a new post up at Stella's. Something hearty and healthy for this time of year.
January 16, 2013
I am going to be on T.V. I was interviewed yesterday morning for a spot on the Chilliwack cable access channel, Shaw TV, in my capacity as a spokesperson for the community arts council with which I have been involved for over nine years. I am not sure how many people watch Shaw TV, but they do have several community programs on the go, and a certain audience base. The interview will also be seen by all those who go to the channel for the television listings which take up the bottom half of the screen while my spot, and many others like it, are airing; so, I am imagining competing with what is on at 5 pm, 8 pm, 11 pm...etc. I am also imagining my son responding to my being on Shaw TV by quoting Austin Powers: "Whoop-dee-do, Basil".
I was having a wild hair day yesterday because I am letting it grow out a bit and it is presently at its winged stage, but I ran my fingers through it and put on my best moss green wool jacket over a black t-shirt and went off to meet the TVcrew at the arts council gallery. The crew turned out to be one multi-talented fellow, whose voice I had heard for years on the station, although I had yet to see his face. While he set up his equipment, gave me a clip-on microphone and adjusted the camera settings he told me to take a deep breath if I was nervous, which honestly, I was not; a bit keyed up is a more accurate description. I have given so many speeches in that gallery as to be quite comfortable babbling away by now. The great thing about being interviewed by a professional is that it is his job to make you feel at ease. I did not have to look at the camera at all and just answered his questions to his face, which appeared open, interested and friendly. The show presently on display in the gallery is a retrospective of work by an abstract artist who passed away in 2010. I had interviewed the artist's husband who sponsored the show, and co-written a newspaper article on the artist's life, so I was well able to answer the interviewer's questions at length with, I think, some clarity, which was a great relief. Of course, afterwards, I remembered all the little things I had forgotten to say in the interview, but the guy who works in one of the back offices of the gallery has been interviewed several times for the same channel in his capacity as a spokesman for the local festival of the arts, and he assured me that the interview would be edited to such a degree as to barely resemble my expectations of it.
Of course, the experience of being filmed and interviewed, which was a new one for me, got me thinking about the concept of having one's face on television for the public to see. I remember in college, an older male friend suggested, somewhat teasingly, that I become one of those news readers on TV. Perhaps it was my 'all Canadian girl' look. People are often telling me I look like I come from Saskatchewan. I'm not sure if, in their eyes, that is a compliment or not. My cheeks are always pink, so perhaps I have a permanent look of having just come in from the cold. I think it would get a little depressing, reading all that bad news hour after hour, day after day..."and today, more bombing in Syria"...and such. Nevertheless, I considered a career in broadcasting for a short time, mainly because I loved, and still love, radio, but the consideration passed and I went on to other things. My sister Monica is the reporter in the family these days, although my dad wrote for his university paper and then the Vancouver Sun for a short stint. Monica is naturally curious, loves a good story and very much enjoys talking to people about any manner of subject. She is also quite community minded, has a good sense of the bigger picture of a situation and knows which questions to ask. She writes for a newspaper these days, but her dream job, she tells me, would be to work for CBC Radio. I'm not sure if she has ever considered working in TV.
I am amazed at the advancements in the world of television that have been made since I was born. When I was a baby cable television was a new thing. My family did not have cable, but as I was growing up I never really felt denied because all the major shows like The Muppet Show, Magnum P.I., Remington Steele, The Wonderful World of Disney, Family Ties and The Cosby Show were broadcast on our two channels via our television's antenna. Then along came satellite dishes the size of something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and PayTV. I remember watching Superchannel at a friend's house, and having to pretend that horror movies didn't scare me to death. Television and movie stars, to us back then, still had an aura of mystery about them and lived in a magical land far, far away, but with the introduction of VCR's and expensive home video recorders, suddenly having one's face on the screen was not that unusual. And, with local cable access shows popping up everywhere, any high school student who was truly interested in a career in television could volunteer at the station and work their way up from there.
With the invention of YouTube anyone with a video recording digital camera and a computer could have their 'fifteen minutes of fame'. I don't watch a lot of YouTube or other internet channels, but I have read about various television stars popping up with unusual and often quirky programs which are available for viewing only on the internet by an astonishing amount of people around the world. The attraction to those stars who make these internet shows must be complete creative control: no network executives breathing down their necks over content and accepted standards (yet), no censors really to speak of, low production expenses, and immediate release of episodes. My filmmaker daughter is bemoaning these changes somewhat. She says YouTube used to be about the amateur filmmaker, the little guy. The YouTube home page used to have equal representation of all sorts of videos according to subject matter, not according to number of views. Now, she says, only those videos with millions of views are featured. People like her can still make and upload their videos, but the chances of them being seen are becoming more and more limited.
I have a natural curiosity to see myself on television, perhaps because television was such a big part of my childhood as it was for so many of us who grew up in the last half of the 20th century. I suppose I will have to start watching the TV listings channel more regularly to try and catch my spot. Besides in my capacity as speech maker for the arts council - we commissioned my daughter to make a montage of scenes from one of our annual gala events in which I make a brief appearance on our website - I have never been in any of the films my daughter has made and uploaded to her YouTube channel. She did once film her sister and I dancing around the kitchen singing along to "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today...uhu uhu uhu uhu" by The Proclaimers. Fortunately, that video is stored deep in the files of this machine, where it will remain. I'm certainly not after fame at any price; yes, I am showing my age.
Here are The Proclaimers with 'I'm on my Way'. Because they do it best, of course.
January 9, 2013
I remember the exact moment when I realized that cooking was integral to my sense of well-being as a parent, as a wife, and as a person. We had just moved after Christmas that year from our comfortable home on a side street of Courtenay's historic downtown district to a draughty summer cabin with a tiny kitchen at an outdoor education center on northern Vancouver Island. We made the best of our situation, which was temporary while we made improvements to another more suitable cabin for our family, and with most of our belongings in storage, got through that first winter, sometimes surprisingly, with our sanity intact. I did not have to do much cooking for the first year. All of the center's staff were on a meal plan which meant we were welcome to any of the stores in the center's kitchen in the off season, and we ate with everyone else, including the other families who lived there, and all the students and staff, during the spring, summer and early fall.
We had three children, aged 13 months, three years, and four and a half years when we moved to the center where my husband was employed as the program director. As most parents will agree, mealtimes with little ones are not always easy. More often than not, one or more of the children must have their meal served a little bit differently than the others, certain foods have to be disguised, and the environment for eating must be relatively calm. Such was not the case in the eating hall of the center. The meals were served buffet style, and we would take our children up to the tables and try to help them select a well rounded plate of food, depending on what was served that particular day. At first, the meals were novel: grilled Ahi tuna, assemble-your-own stirfry, bean burritos, salads - all healthy offerings. Our children were not particularly picky eaters, but more often than not, they would fill their plates with baby corn and rice, then eat distractedly, waiting impatiently for an opportunity to run around with the other children. And, more often than not, we went home and made a peanut butter sandwich to round out their meal. While we were adjusting to our new and very different life I was grateful for the meal plan, but as time went on I became increasingly dissatisfied and could not put my finger on 'why' until we had moved into our renovated cabin in the spring and life was beginning to take on a more regular day to day pattern.
I think I felt rather more like a shepherd than a mother, herding my children into the eating hall at prescribed meal times, to eat prescribed food which someone else chose for them, and it was then that I realized how important the act of cooking for my family was to me. Before these meals in the hall I would feel listless and unproductive, waiting around for someone else to feed my children while we sat around a table which was not ours, noon after noon, night after night. It took some convincing, but we were eventually allowed to opt out of the meal plan entirely, and a few other families soon followed suit. I once again felt that sense of well-being in making a weekly meal plan - we had to, living a forty minute drive from the nearest grocery store - shopping at my usual stores, involving the kids in the process as well, scheduling my days around marinating, simmering, sauteeing, and baking. Our independence from the rest of the community at mealtimes was integral to our ability to stay at the center for five happy years. Our family grew around our table, talking to each other over fairly standard family fare like spaghetti and meatballs, homemade soups and breads, stir fries, and apple crisp with ice cream for dessert. Sure, I could no longer go into the center's kitchen and help myself to a substantial chunk of Asiago cheese in the off season, but my family appreciated my efforts and their results as they do to this day, and they all learned about cooking in the process. Our eldest son would often get up in the morning and announce that he was making pancakes for breakfast, and I always had helpers for every baking project.
Now, ten years on, my repertoire in the kitchen has expanded exponentially, as have my children's taste buds and skill in the kitchen. I own two solidly packed shelves of cook books, and while I would certainly not call myself a full-fledged foodie, I do turn to cooking for comfort and for joy, as does my eldest daughter. Some days when I am feeling disjointed, a bit down or in doubt, I cook a great meal. I honestly find cooking up a roasted chicken with sweet onion and lemon gravy, whipping up a pot of buttermilk mashed potatoes, and a citrus beet salad great therapy. I put on some music and an apron, and with my chef's knife and my wooden spoon I chop and stir my way into a sense of satisfaction so deep in my soul as to soothe whatever has disturbed it. When I put the meal on the table, and we all gather around to enjoy the food together, my day's therapy is complete...especially when someone else does the dishes and I get to put my feet up with another glass of wine.
I found the above illustration on Google Images. When I clicked on it, it was called 'Cooking Therapy' then dash 'Ishiki' dash 'children's illustrator'. That's the best I can do for crediting the image, which I really like!
And speaking of cooking, Stella's Virtual Cafe is embracing winter and serving up comfort food, with a new post coming later this week. Cheers!
January 2, 2013
I have, for the first time in a long time, made a New Year's resolution. Perhaps it would be better thought of as a personal theme for the upcoming year, because resolutions are too often broken. I should know. I have yet to run a marathon, or a half marathon, for that matter.
The interesting thing about this resolution, is that the need for it has been building up for a while without my realizing it. The last couple of months of 2012 were fairly challenging for me, personally. While quite adept at dealing with the various ups and downs of family life this year: my husband's emergency surgery, a big and happy family wedding in the summer, our eldest son moving out, etc. etc., I have not been quite myself in other ways, suffering a bit from a mini identity crisis, which has chipped away at my confidence bit by bit. Most people go through difficult phases from time to time, but the fact of the universality of the problem doesn't seem to make it any easier on the individual. So, come December, I was sending out mixed signals to my friends and family, which, while confusing for them, was much more so for me. I will elaborate.
I am ambitious, but I'm also a self-preservationist. I want to achieve greatness, but I also need a good night's sleep. I need to work, both for financial reasons and for my sense of self, but I also need to be entirely flexible for the sake of my family - my husband often works long hours and we have no nearby relatives to rescue us in a pinch. I want to live a life of integrity and creativity, but I am often distracted by that odious mother-in-law of a word: 'should'. Sometimes I feel as if I'm living my life as a version of Dr. Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu, a sort of antelope/unicorn cross which has two heads and and a pair of corresponding legs at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads and pairs of legs try to go in opposite directions, which leads the duck in the story to ask, "How does it make up its mind?" How indeed.
On a good day, the answer to my dilemma becomes quite clear and refreshingly obvious to me: I must do what I must do. I am essentially a creative person, so whatever I do must not drain my creativity. That in itself is an act of self-preservation, but it is, at the same time, ambitious because the world is rather against that way of living. The world seems to like people who think of creativity as child's play, and who strive to live within the acceptable norms of society, especially once they have grown up. I have never been very good at 'normal', but what is 'normal' anyway? My clever nephew, and the talented and creative musician James Lamb says, "Normal is just a setting on a dryer."
Although I really do enjoy preparing for Christmas I was still struggling through December and trying to keep a stiff upper lip for the sake of everyone in my life. One day after Christmas, when I was preparing the leftover turkey for soup, my girls were watching the last Harry Potter film, parts one and two. With an ear and sometimes an eye on the television, I went about my work in the kitchen. When the broth was bubbling away, I made a cup of tea and joined the girls in the living room. I have enjoyed the Harry Potter books and movies, but I would not call myself an avid fan of the series, or of fantasy stories in general. However, as the story's climax unfolded I felt a rising sense of something other than mere entertainment in the battles on the screen. After Harry and his friends had finally defeated the evil Voldemort I felt genuinely inspired, and I knew why. I believe the reason for the huge popularity of stories like Harry Potter is that they encourage us - in the real sense of the word - to fight for what is right, and to discern what, and who for that matter, is real and worthy in our lives.
Perhaps the key to living the way I want to live is to just get over trying to make so many different people happy, which is hard for me because one of the things I like to do is to make people happy. Perhaps the things in life which give me joy and a sense of fulfillment should be enough for me and for those who love me; it has been said by someone wise, "Do what you love and the money will follow." But here we come to the crux of the matter. I need courage to focus on what I love and what I love only, especially when it is not something easily understood by many to be worth spending time and energy on. I do know, in my heart of hearts, that I am going to be most unhappy if I veer away from my true purpose, as I think most people truly are. Most of the important people in my life assure me that something will work out for me, and to keep faith in the process. Perhaps I should pin up their photos all around my computer to remind me to believe in myself - except that's not really my style.
So, the theme of this coming year, if it has not already obvious, is to be more courageous and to have more spirit and more faith, not to mention more patience. It is time to practice what I preach to my children. True, the need for this resolution could have happened at any time in the year, so I find its timing interesting. I suppose the turning of the calendar from one year to the next is as good a time as any to acquire some new virtues. As Winston Churchill said, "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities...because it is the quality that guarantees all others." Here's hoping...wish me luck?
I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year. Photo by Shutterstock/nito