Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fighting Words

Today, I need to write about conflict. To tell the truth, I’d rather write about onion jam any day. Easy peasy. But the crow has been squawking, and I can no longer ignore her.

It's all about conflict: fight, battle, struggle, strife, controversy, quarrel, discord, antagonism, opposition, collision, incompatibility ...

The crow is in a flap about conflict, but I am the classic conflict avoider. So was my mom, who would resort to martyr-like sighs whenever she was upset about something. This would send dad into the basement to putz around in his workshop, where we could hear him banging around and mumbling nonsense syllables. You can’t fight with a conflict avoider.  But once, when I was a kid, I recall mom and dad  actually having a loud and prolonged argument It upset me so much I ran for the bathroom, locked the door, knelt by the side of the tub, and prayed like mad  that God would restore peace to our home.

I still want to run away when conflict erupts. If people in a meeting start arguing with each other, I want to grab my coat and run for home. That meeting is so over for me. Why can’t we just listen to each other?

Which is why my inner crow is squawking so loudly: I am in distress. Last week I visited my sister in Alberta, a province where I lived for 33 years. For the last 12 years, we’ve been residents of British Columbia. I love both these provinces. But now they are fighting with each other, pointing fingers, threatening, accusing each other of heinous deeds and malevolent intentions. If you are Canadian, you know this. If you aren’t, briefly, the conflict centers on oil; land locked Alberta mines tar sands and needs pipelines to send unrefined bitumen to ports to be shipped to other countries for refining; Alberta’s economy depends very, very heavily on oil and oil production. BC has the ports, but says, hold on a minute, we don’t want to build more pipelines on our lands and increase shipping traffic along our coastlines. We’re taking the risks, but there is nothing in it for us. And besides, why are we encouraging the production of more products that increase global warming? In the meantime, the company that needs the pipeline is threatening to pull out, and the situation continues to escalate. It will take the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to figure this one out.

What am I to do in this situation? My facebook friends from Alberta, and some from BC, are sending out scathing memes; people who protest the pipelines are probably paid protestors from the US, they say. BC citizens who are against the pipeline are selfish, naive, and basically idiots, pawns of the snowflake environmental movement. Hypocrites, too: they’re still driving cars, aren’t they? BC politicians are digging in their heels, launching court cases that are doomed to failure, but which may buy them time to come up with alternative strategies. The contra-pipeliners cite dozens of reasons why this project should not go ahead, but can’t seem to get it together and speak with a unified voice. While it appears from here that everyone in Alberta is mad at BC, there are folks in BC who agree with Alberta’s stand. Many British Columbians work in the Alberta oilpatch; they want to keep their jobs. I throw up my hands in confusion. What am I to think?

Google tells me conflict avoiders tend to change the subject, or they run and hide (shutting down FB would be one example), or they smile and agree with both sides. They are people pleasers.  None of these tactics leads to lasting resolution, and may just increase stress. Hence, the crow is squawking, “Stand up! Let your voice be heard.”

So I will. My view on this conflict is inspired by a billboard I saw on our recent trip. The billboard flashed past as we sped along in  the 4-lane river of vehicles stretched out as far as the eye could see. The billboard was split in half; one photo showed people like us living the good life. The words said, “Our choices today”. The other half showed young children’s faces; it read, “Their future tomorrow.” Just sit with those words for a moment. THEIR future. Our choices today impact not only us, but the future of our children and the generations that follow. This world doesn’t belong to just us. In fact, every action we take has consequences for every other being, for we are all interconnected.

The irony of this situation does not escape me: I am reading this billboard as we are consuming gasoline and contributing to climate change, hurtling down these roads to visit a warmer climate. We don’t live in a world of easy choices.

But on this issue, I must choose, and stand, and speak. It’s possible that eventually the pipeline will go ahead to satisfy the short-term needs of many, including myself, I also believe it is the wrong choice in the long run, and will bring suffering and pain to this planet we call home. There, I said it.

The crow stops squawking...but only for a moment. Then she says, “That’s a start. But words are words are words. Now what are you going to DO?”

The journey continues. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Jamming it Up

It started out as an adventure, chasing a rabbit called Marmalade down the rabbit trails of my mind. That was last week's blog. It ended up with 10 jars of onion marmalade sitting on my counter. And how did that happen? Well, as they say, “thereby hangs a tale” (or tail?)

Over coffee with friends, I shared my ponderings about making onion jam for my brother-in-law. Was  it really worth the trouble – cutting up kilos of onions, stirring for hours, bottling and processing. They looked at me like I was one onion short of a basketful. “Surely you’re not going to do that!” they said. “And if you are, he must be some brother-in-law.” Well, yes, he is, but there’s more at work here.

What it’s all about is that I have terrier instincts.

Once I’m on the scent of something, it’s hard to stop me. (Just ask the RS.) Onion marmalade was the golden grail, shining in the distance. I had to hunt it down, to see what it was like.

If Martha can do can I. Simple, right?
First step: find a good recipe. I checked with faithful Google. One recipe mentioned cooking it up in a slow cooker, eliminating the hours of stirring. Easy-peasy, they said. It was another thing to find a definitive ingredient list. Red onions? Sweet onions? Sure, whatever. One recipe matched onions and sugar one to one by weight. Another called for 100 gm. sugar to 3 kg. onions. One called for wine and vinegar, another for paprika and mustard seeds. It seemed as though, whatever you decided, you couldn’t go wrong. So, I decided, like Frank Sinatra, to just do it my way, which is making it up as I go along. That’s what a terrier does, right?

Next step: buy the onions. Well, now, 3 lbs/$2.97, or 10 lbs./$4.97? I’m Dutch, so what do you think I did? Right. The big bag came home with me. The corollary to a big bag of onions is a big batch of jam. The corollary to that is a big cooking pot, lots of jars, lids, etc. Check. Oh, oh, I should have bought sugar, too. Oh, well, probably brown sugar will do if I run out of white. Maybe even corn syrup. Terriers are not all that fussy.

And then I make my first mistake (if you don’t count deciding to do it, and forgetting to buy sugar the first mistakes). I had decided to go with the slow cooker method, but I didn’t get started till 2 p.m. Would it be done by the time I wanted to go to bed? Oh, well, I’d use the high setting on the slow cooker. We shall see what we shall see. Easy peasy, remember? You can’t go wrong. Terriers aren’t so great at planning ahead.

Down from the high shelf came the Cuisinart, only used when I get similar hair-brained ideas. Al watched the tears rolling down my cheeks as I peeled the first onion – only 9 left to go. He took pity on me. Now you might think this is above and beyond the call of duty, and it is, but not quite as masochistic as you might think. He’s been known to chop 10 pounds of onions by hand at the local soup kitchen with not a single tear burning his eye. With Al at the controls of the Cuisinart, the job was done in jig time. What a guy! Love him.

It turns out that 10 onions is way too much for one crock pot. Out came the second one. Well, if I’m making two batches, I should try two flavours – one simple sweet one with a bit of brown sugar, one with a bit of bite and spice with the addition of paprika, mustard, vinegar, and more sugar. Why keep it simple if you can make it complicated?

The hours ticked by, and the kitchen smelled like simmering onions, not a bad smell on a cold rainy day. But by 11 p.m., my onion marmalade looked more like onion soup. I turned the heat down, and went to bed. One online cook had said that’s what she did when it took longer than planned to become jammy.

Are you getting tired of this blow-by-blow cooking adventure story? I am. So I’ll skip over the part about getting up at 12:30 a.m. and turning the crock pots off to quell the bad dreams I was having about the house burning down. And I won’t go into details about additional spices and vinegars and sugars that needed to be added to make the jams tasty and cover up the musty paprika smell.

Ras-el Hanut is a Turkish spice mix. It had been sitting in my cupboards just waiting for a dish in which it could make an appearance.
Nor will I wail about finally having to resort to stove-top cooking to get it to jammy consistency -- 22 hours after I started this gig. Turns out slow cookers are not so easy-peasy after all.

Here’s the end result:

Oh, and this:

Al came home just as I was leaving to run some errands. I said I’d do the dishes later. When I came home a few hours later, this is what I found:

Like I said, he’s a keeper. He taste-tested the sweet onion jam on a slice of bread and said it was very good. I hope Don thinks so too.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Chasing down Rabbits

Well, the rabbits have been busy blazing new trails in my head this week.

Does that happen to you, too? You’re sitting there minding your own business, and then, suddenly, the puffy tail of one of those little creatures peeks out from an opening between your brain cells and runs off.  You could ignore this invitation to follow the rabbit and see where it leads you, but what’s the fun in that? So you are off on another mind adventure, like a terrier chasing a delicious scent. You might get lost, unable to find your way home again for a while, but the chase – well the chase is worth it.

The rabbit first appeared as I was sitting at the breakfast table all alone, a book open in front of me. Absent-mindedly I took a bite of toast, and wow! Fireworks! Yellow splashes of sunshine! I sat up straight and regarded my jammy toast. Of course – kumquat marmalade – the taste of it brought memories of Phoenix, and warmth, and experimentation with sugar, kumquats and canning jars. That’s all it took.  The rabbit called Marmalade was off and running.

Marmalade: what a lovely word. The mmmmms and the llllls roll off your tongue with a little help from the rrrrrrs. I’d never made marmalade before, but I’m sure I’ll do it again, if I ever see kumquats on the grocery store shelves.

Kumquats – there’s another – but no, that’s another rabbit, another trail. Stick to marmalade..

 Which reminded me: I’m going to visit my sister and brother-in-law next week, and Don once posted a picture of a British pub lunch that featured onion marmalade; he wondered plaintively why nobody ever made onion jam anymore. When I looked up the recipe, I was daunted by the pounds of onions and hours of simmering it would take, and nixed it. But wouldn’t it make a nice gift to bring to him? Yes, I do have other things to do, but this trail smells good. I think I’ll do it, but don’t tell him. He doesn’t read my blog, so it will be a surprise.

Do other people make marmalade? Do they still do canning and preserving? It’s so easy to just pick up a few jars of jam or pickles or chutney at the grocery store – why go to the time and trouble of creating all those jars of stuff? But it’s something I enjoy. Sometimes I get the urge, and can away to my heart’s content. The kitchen smells oh so yummy when that happens. Right now I have applesauce, tomato sauce, tomato jam, relish, 2 kinds of chutney, pears and more sitting on my shelves. Why? Maybe because the flavours that tickle your taste buds are ones you yourself added to the pure goodness of the fruits and vegetables, and maybe, like my marmalade, the tastes burst out in your mouth like nothing else, bringing back memories of their original state. Maybe. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe. It’s another trail to explore another time.

Not yet, though, because the words canning and preserving give me another rabbit to chase. A week or so ago, my quilting friend Lorraine wrote about the Jesuit Pear – a heritage pear brought from France by the first Jesuit missionaries to the area where she grew up in SW Ontario. Some of those pears still survive hundreds of years later. You can read her blog and look at the wonderful art she has created based on these pears.  (Yes, you'll be running down a new rabbit trail, but it's worth it. I'll still be here when you come back.)

Lorraine's blog made me think of my mother’s “stoofpeertjes” (pronounced stofe pairtches). The name means “little stew pears,” – these pears were apparently popular in Holland but little known in Canada. Hard as golf balls, you had to simmer them for hours in a light syrup of sugar and water until they softened and turned a rosy pink. You could gussy them up with cinnamon sticks and wine, but plain and simple is how we had them. They appeared as a side dish at special meals, and they were highly prized. Back then, in the 50s and 60s, a woman in the church had a stoof peertje tree in her yard. When the fruits were ready in late September, the call went out to come and get them. Mom came home with paper bags full of pears and set to work to stew and bottle them. The memory of those peertjes makes my mouth water, and I am off on another trail, to see if I can track down my own source of stoof peertjes. I poked around on the internet – lots of trails to follow there – and found out that this type of pear is called the Giezer Willemand, but only nurseries in Holland and the UK carry it. So that’s a dead end trail, but perhaps one of my 14 wonderful readers, some of whom grew up eating those pears, will have some clues that I can follow up on. And I’ll be off and running again.

Well, slowly but surely, the rabbits trails are petering out. Oh, that’s a good one: petering out/Peter Rabbit – get it? Yes, another little trail...and where that one leads could be fun, but I do find myself heading back home again, tired but happy after a good run, to give my brain some rest.

Until the next time another little critter pokes its nose out of the space between my brains cells.