Friday, 16 December 2016

Excuse Me. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

I never noticed it before, how often women apologise, but I suspect it’s always been like that. 

Look at me, for example.  Here I am with a real live diagnosis, for which there’s an actual NHS clinic they let me attend only because I was probed and prodded & bled to prove I’m medically in need.  Nevertheless, a diagnosis I never name here because I secretly believe I’m malingering. 

I’m sorry.  I have a tall, long-eared imaginary illness named Harvey. 

Graffiti in Canterbury
Maybe this general propensity to apologise is more obvious to me because since the election, more women have stopped sitting with ankles demurely crossed, waiting for Rhett to give us equal pay.  They’ve begun to unapologetically ACT,  & when they do, they tell their stories – the dramatic plot arcs that rise & fall on the commute home.  The times they themselves were Boudica, or the times they froze in the face of unfairness.  The small day-to-day heroes & villains that are only known because women tell other women about them.  Wonderful stories that Harvey & I never getting tired of reading, ever scrolling for more. 

Yet when some women talk about themselves, whether they’ve physically protected another person, or bought some bigot his lunch, some women preface what they say with an apology.  They’re sorry for speaking out, sorry they aren’t deprived enough.  Aren’t non-white enough.  Aren’t glass-ceiling-ed enough.  Aren’t verbally abused enough.  Terrified enough.  Isolated enough.  Sexually assaulted enough. 

They often say they didn’t do enough.  Like we’re not ever supposed to be tired.  Never supposed to get ground down.  Never supposed to be too afraid or too inexperienced or too out of our depth to know what to do. 

Women are supposed to fix everything.  A helluva price to pay for not having a penis.

When my son El Punko first transitioned a dozen or so years ago, he said that he didn't want trans-advocacy eating up his life.  He felt guilty about that, especially because as an FtM, he’s a minority inside a minority.  But he simply wanted to transition & get on with being.

I remember we were walking down a side street in Galway when he said this.  I remember the smell of wet pavement.  I remember how anguished he seemed. 

El Punko
I told him a story about my mother who raised 7 kids while working outside the home, running a 200 acre farm, being active in her church & community.  One Sunday after the animals were fed & the kids dressed, she threw on some clothes herself & took us to church where she directed the choir.  After the service, women thanked her for being the first one to wear a pantsuit to church.

My mother hadn’t thought about what she wore that day.  She’d been too busy trying to get through her morning.  And that’s what I told my son to do.  Be the best advocate he could by living the best life he could.

All these long years later, El Punko lives his life.  He’s never been a professional advocate, but he’s supported his share of transfolk along the way.  Several months ago, a straight white man spoke up in defence of transgender people, & claims he did so because he knew my son.

You might be tempted to think I practice what I preached.  But it’s Harvey who's taught me what El Punko knew way back then.  Every moment you spend doing something, is a moment you can’t spend doing something else.  But it’s not weighted equally, moment by moment.  Something you do now may take so much from you, that you don’t have anything left to give to later.  You have to choose.

So if ‘all’ you can do is raise your chillen to be decent human beings or sweep the floor without killing the bigot ranting hate in your work place, if all you can do is talk to a woman being harassed on a train or smile at someone who calls you a bad name or stop a LGBTQ+ kid from killing themselves or invite a refugee family to dinner, if the only thing you can do is sign a petition or give another person hope, then that’s your part of the story. 

Motto of St Francis of Assisi

Each little part done by each separate person, eventually gets the whole job finished.  Someday, someone’s going to do something good because you did what you were able to do.  

No one should apologise for that.  Not even you.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Sleeping On It

Today I’m writing about lentils & disappointment. Both get stronger if you let them sit a while, but maybe not in the way you expect. 

From Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking.
A couple of days ago, my younger Sis & I got tagged by a Rogue Sibling into a group email sent by another sib I’ll call Bro.  

Bro’s an old hat at excluding us.  I don’t know why he does this to Sis, but he’s ghosted me since a minor disagreement we had about 8 or 10 years ago. 

I could see in Rogue Sib’s reply that Bro’s original email was about a phone call he’d had with our mother’s nursing home.  It shocked me that Bro’s grudge now eclipsed my access to our mother’s health issues.  I needed to think about my reaction to all this, so decided to try a new recipe full of stuff I love – red lentils with chilli & ginger. 

Heating the oil for the strong stuff.
I get all my ingredients together, convinced this’ll be great.  As always, I added more of the strong stuff to the recipe – a couple of chillis, 4 or so garlic cloves & about 3 inches of ginger.  Chopping & grating & flinging into the pan, should I or shouldn’t I confront Bro for throwing his weight around?

After heating all those colourful things for a few minutes in a little itty bit of oil, I tossed in a tablespoon of cumin & cooked those numscious things a bit longer.  With 500g of red lentils, that was all the official dry ingredients, but in deference to my Hag Improv tradition, I threw in some spring onions that looked a bit lonely sitting in the crisper. 

Once all these bad boys got coated in oil, next came ladling in 2 pints of veg stock.  I’d seen Mary Berry do this on one of her cooking shows, maybe even the Foolproof Cooking series itself.  She found it soothing, this slow ritualistic ladling of stock, spoonful by spoonful.  It did nothing for my mental state.  Maybe when you’re thinking about a Bro like mine, there isn’t anything short of drink or drugs that’ll calm you. 

 I didn’t time it, but Mary Berry says this ladling craic takes around 20 minutes, during which the lentils get nice & tender.  And that’s it, Fort Pitt.  Can’t get a recipe simpler than that, can you?

A mint garnish.
Talk about disappointment.  I’d never tasted anything so bland in my life.  All that ginger, all that garlic, all those chillis to no avail.  Bummer.  I stuck the rest into the fridge, resigned to using it as bulk in soup.

On top of that, I hadn’t decided how to react to Bro’s email.  To be honest, it’s not like I killed his dog all those long years ago.  I’d apologised back then.  He got abusive.  I walked away.  Electronically, at least.  The entire exchange had occurred from separate continents via email.

Nobody called Bro on shunning me.  Not back then, not now when he hoarded info about my mother.  Nothing more than a Rogue Sib quietly tagging me into group emails.  That disappointed me, but it didn’t surprise me.  

Bro has a lot of power in our family.  I have none.  I used to comment on the various power imbalances in our family, but was told the act of pointing it out showed what a hostile shit I was.  Which is obviously why the family couldn’t give me any power.  Now there’s a mind fuck if I ever had one.

But this present situation wasn’t about who did dishes & who watched the game after Thanksgiving dinner.  I decided to sleep on it.

Next day, I got the lentils out, but before slapping them into the soup bowl, I gave them a taste.  Oh my good golly, the ginger & garlic & chillis . . . I cannot even begin to tell you how wonderful those lentils were after stewing in their own juices.  I chowed down, contemplating the wondrous way disappointment changes if it’s let to sit overnight.  

Therapeutic ladling.
Nothing like a full belly to make me think I could take on Bro gently enough to not bruise his gossamer ego.  Flip open the computer, there’s 8 email exchanges between Sis & Bro.  The sheer volume made me glad I slept on it.  Yup, I’m 60 goddam years old & yet I thought those emails were going to be about vital mama-related information. 

Well, they started out that way.  Sis is the only sib who lives in our mother’s community.  She went to the nursing home to flesh out what the staff’d told Bro over the phone.  In her first email, she included some funny little stories about our mother’s carers who are doing a bang up job but have a couple of idiosyncrasies between them.  Sis made the mistake of saying she was on the list of people who had access to info about our mother’s care.

Bro writes back that there’s no ‘list’.  He & no one else has legal power of whatever, so he’ll make any decision he thinks best, based on what the doctors say after he forwards Sis’s email to them. 

Homegrown mint.
With the dignity that only sisters who have no power ever have to muster, Sis asks him not to embarrass her by sharing her emails with the very people she’s making fun of – she’ll see them when visiting our mother, when she goes to church or the grocery store.  She asks that she be included in discussions about our mother’s care.

Bro says he’s already forwarded her email, & in terms of including people in future, he shares info about our mother with people who pay for her care.

That confused me.  When had paying for our mother’s care been discussed?  Then it sinks in.  Bro has legal power of whatever, which probably means he gets the bills, which perhaps means that if he doesn’t share that information with us, he can be angry that Sis & I don’t participate. 

It was also the last in a long line of slaps to the face about our earning power.  Both Sis & I took on student loans while our parents paid for everyone else’s tertiary education, including Bro’s tuition at one of the New Ivies.  Our adult lives started thousands of dollars in debt to schools we could afford, not ones run by Jesuits.  Little remarks at family gatherings about how much food we could afford to bring, how much money we owed our sibs for what we subsequently ate.  We shared the same DNA, but it was never meant to be a level playing field here.  Sis & I had been set up for this moment decades ago.

Lonely spring onion.
Something inside me shifted in a direction I really didn’t want to take.  A direction that alarmed me.  I decided to let the time difference move us through a second night, just in case anyone wanted to support Sis & me while I slept.    

And no one did.  Nobody.  Not one person said Bro, it ain’t cool to exclude your sisters because of money.  Not a one.

I’m Appalachian.  Family is huge for me.  But no getting around it, the deal had always been that in order for me to have a family, in order to be part of what I’d been taught was sacrosanct, I had to allow myself to be treated less than.  I’d done that for 60 years as my duty.  To breathe the same air as people whose mores had me gritting my teeth every time we met.

These flavours are mine.
Whatever it was that tied me to them, the thing that said you have my mother’s hair & I have your father’s mouth, I am yours and you are mine – it fell away like there’d never been anything between us.  I could no longer cast my figurative lentils & chillis & ginger before blood strangers.

And that, my dear, is what disappointment tastes like when you let it sit overnight.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Don’t Let The Laksa Stop Your Gob

Warming the bowls.
I’m cooking chicken noodle laksa this week, & thinking about people who tell other people to shut up.

In these post-election weeks, I hear rational voices advise liberals, men & women alike, to not get over it.  To not be so politically correct, to stop politely looking away, stop being tolerant of people with bigoted opinions, stop giving dangerous people a chance to be better.  Instead, call them out for what they’re doing when it’s wrong.  I hear liberals, men & women alike, admit they have to consciously make eye contact, make themselves speak up, confront, complain about the outrageous, as if that’s outrageous in itself. 

I look for myself on that spectrum, think about all those male voices that’ve told me to tone it down, get back in the femininity box, & I wonder how much of that was about them not wanting to hear something true, rather than about me being a jerk. 

Because, you know, I got myself a veritable talent at being a jerk.  Or as I’d rather call it, being an enfant terrible (French for jerk).  Did I ever mention El Punko’s poor 7th grade teacher . . . I probably scarred that girl for life.

She was one of those ‘90s fresh face, big hair, all American middle school teacher types who, despite living in rural West Virginia, didn’t know there was any side but the bright side.  Imagine the assault to my misanthropy when at our first (& only) parent-teacher conference, she went all Judy-Garland-Mickey-Rooney-let’s-put-on-a-show because she saw a physical resemblance between El Punko & myself. 

I kept it together for about four choruses of, ‘I can’t get over how much you two look alike.’  Then my mouth simply opened & said, ‘Really?  Because he’s adopted.’ 

See the non-flinching resemblance?
El Punko's father threw me under the figurative school bus for lying.  El Punko himself politely asked that I never attend another parent-teacher conference. 

Twenty years later, El Punko doesn’t flinch at the type of person his mother is.  Well, there was the time I asked the guy on a Dublin bus how much fucking room he needed, but usually my son takes me with a grain of salt.  I sometimes wish his message of self-acceptance had come earlier for me.   Mostly I wish I had a better filter between my brain & my mouth.  At 60, I’m only slightly better.  I don’t swear as fucking much.

When we decided he’d host Thanksgiving this year & invite a few of his friends whom I hadn’t met, it sat in the back of my mind, that little demon of insecurity who asked me => how are you going to not be an asshole?

One of El Punko's friends agog
at our Thanksgiving bounty.

Neither said demon nor myself came up with an Asshole Prevention Plan, so I focused on sharing the fruits of my new cooking lark with El Punko.  No better place to start than chicken noodle laksa.  

As it turned out, I learned something more than cooking from that soup.

I can’t find a link to the recipe I used, but it came from Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking & was developed by one of her staff, Lucinda McCord.  Here I say – Lucinda, you’re my Soup God.  Fantastic recipe, but being me, I had my wicked way with it.

Spicy paste fixin's.
You'd think that since Siobhán now includes my ingredients in her weekly shop, I’d be done with Hag Improv, but no.  There were a gaggle of shrivelled up limes in the crisper at the time, so I didn’t order more.

A thinking person might consider whether shrivelled up limes have as much juice as fresh limes.  Me, well I didn’t think about that until I got to the squeezing part.  My first Hag Improv was to juice six* wrinkly ole limes for the spicy paste, after which I promptly forgot myself & doubled both the chillis & the ginger, then threw in an extra garlic clove or two.  Just to be on the safe side, you know.

The recipe suggests a mortar & pestle to mix this bad stuff,
but I used the chopper thing.

The paste also includes peanut butter & muscovado sugar, in case you’re wondering what else is in it.  Too yum!

Hag Improvs out of the way, there came one of those, well-shit moments.  Someone who knew what they were doing would’ve taken the chicken breasts out of the freezer ahead of time.  However, after making that kickass spicy paste & smelling that kickass spicy paste & yes, tasting some of that kickass spicy paste, no rock solid chicken breasts were going to stand between me & my laksa.  

Problem solved.

Hmm . . . so, I got me a big-ass ole knife & what do you know?  It cut through that frozen bad boy like it was butter on a summer day.

There's also the upside of not having to grab squishily old dead chicken flesh.  

Defrosting the chick chick.

I put the bowl of sliced chicken on the plate warmer & they defrosted themselves nicely.

Browning the pasted chicken.

The chicken got pasted & browned, after which the spring onions got themselves fried a little, so then it’s time to put in all the liquid stuff.  

I opened the first tin of coconut milk, saw this thick white gunk inside, turned the can over & gave it a hefty thwack into the wok.  If, like me, you don’t know anything about coconut milk, then you might not’ve expected this result:

Spilt coconut milk.

Fortunately, Siobhán threw herself between me & the 2nd tin of coconut milk.  

Adding the 2nd tin
of coconut milk.

In addition to more lime juice & Thai fish sauce, you use one lemon grass stalk.  Mary Berry suggests that you beat the feck out of it before putting the lemon grass in, so that’s what I did.  

Medium rice noodles.

The recipe uses medium rice noodles, but this soup is so delicate in flavour that after my first batch, I switched to fine noodles.  I hear there’s even extra fine rice noodles out there somewhere, so if I ever find those, I’ll try them next.

Lastly, my brain says coriander tastes like soap.  Since in this instance, coriander’s only used as a garnish, I skipped that part & didn’t look for a substitute.

Chicken noodle laksa.

Isn’t this fantastic looking?  
I made that.  I did.  

Despite how well my Hag Improvs turned out, when I cooked the laksa for El Punko’s pre-Thanksgiving lunch, I obediently followed the recipe, used fewer limes, chillis & garlic, grated less ginger, & didn’t even freeze the chicken.  El Punko thought the flavour was good, but not strong enough.  

I’d toned things down so he’d like it, & he didn’t.

Now there’s a life metaphor . . . here’s me, who sometimes (a lot of times) says things that I shouldn’t.  As a result, people’ve told me to tone it done, to shut up.  A lot.  Enough that my little black heart believes my voice is something too caustic to take out of the box.  And even though I haven’t shut up, the idea that I should is the single belief by which I define myself.  I measure myself against a standard I can never in my wildest dream hope to meet.

And I shouldn’t measure myself in only that way.  As a card-carrying introvert, I’ve never really mastered the art of social finesse, that's true.  But I’m kind & generous, occasionally tolerant, funny (at least in my mind), a great problem solver & a kickass good listener.  I love my dogs & brush my cats.  My garden is my biggest vice, I recycle like a crazy thang, & there are actually 3 digits in my I.Q.  Oh, & if I’ve known you for more’n 30 seconds, there’s a good chance I’ll knit something ugly for you.  So why shouldn’t I speak?  Why shouldn’t you listen?

Besides all that, if those yappity rational voices are right, speaking out is a trait a lot of Americans are going to need over the next 4 years.

Anyway, the day after Thanksgiving, El Punko & I wake up to a kitchen full of turkey & brownies, cinnamon swirls, apple crumble, the world’s best cornbread, stuffing, ice cream, candied carrots, cranberry bread.  He looks around at all this food, then says to me, ‘I’m hungry for your soup.’

El Punko at work.

You gotta love that guy.

*After making this recipe several times, I’ve learned that 3-4 limes work fine, depending on size & freshness.

Friday, 18 November 2016

What a Fine Mess

Plenty of garlic!
This week I learned how to make garlic & cheese scones, then wrote to the Electoral College.  Both were a little itty bit messy.

When I was little, clearing up after dinner was the sole responsibility of my older sister & myself.  At the time, I didn’t wonder why my 4 brothers were exempt from this chore; I was concerned with how messy it was to scrape dishes.  My sister, eternally 9 years older & 9 years wiser, said, ‘Lora, you can always wash your hands.’

Oh, if only all life’s messes were so easily dealt with.  Now, onto the mess in my country, the mess in the kitchen, how I’m reacting to both.  Let’s start with the Electoral College. 

They call it a Hail Mary plan, but being 3000 miles from home means there’s limits to what I can do.  So, when a link came up on Facebook to all the Electoral College email accounts, I filled in the template & sent off my request, thinking I’d done a little bit of my bit.

My only reply came from Alex Kim, a Texan College member, lucky me.  Without any salutation, not even a rude one, this is partially what followed:  

The good citizens of Texas have voted for Donald Trump.  The voters of this great nation have rejected HRC, and I have no desire for her to become President . . . The fine people of Texas really have no interest in the opinions of someone from your state . . . We all have our own political process, not to be interfered with (sic) others.

You cogitate on that a while & I’ll tell you about Life With Scones.

If you look at the recipe, it seems to be made of normal cupboard stuff.  I whacked off the butter I needed, put it on the plate warmer to soften & went in search of my normal ingredients.  

I can hear you laughing.  

Hag Improvs 1 & 2 - mustard seed & baking powder.
The first Hag Improv, no mustard powder, but I did have mustard seed, so in it goes.  I trebled the garlic as usual, cut fresh chives from the garden, then dearie me, the flour isn’t self-raising.  What does that mean for my scones?  

Google told me that for every 150g of ordinary flour, add 2 tsp of baking powder.  The recipe already called for 2 tsp, so this would increase the amount to 8 tsp.  I have no idea now if all that were needed, but since I’m writing this, you know I didn’t blow up the kitchen.  At least not fatally so.

How do people live without parmesan?
Now for cheese.  Grater in hand, I fling open the crisper drawer only to discover we had no cheddar & that the little tub in there isn’t parmesan at all.  How do people live without parmesan?  I can’t stop now, so what cheese do I have?  Bleu & Babybel Light.  In they both go.

Can I help?
(I smell cheese.)

Beat the eggs, add the milk to them, pour that mess into the dry ingredients, & learn that a whisk is not my friend.  There I stood, holding my clogged whisk, looking at the unmixed dough.  Mary Berry had blended this scone gloop with her hands.  She touched that cold, wet, icky stuff.  Eggs & junk. 

When I cook, I clean as I go, kitchen roll & hand towels always nearby, sometimes so fastidious that the utensil I used 10 minutes ago & need again is already in the dishwasher, the dishwasher already turned on.  I like order because it makes the what-happens-next easier. 

And not just in cooking, but in social interactions as well.  I value the order of social etiquette in first social contacts, in all professional contacts, because etiquette is a prophylactic for both sides of the situation.

This whisk i not my friend.
But when public officials such as Alex Kim or, in my own state, Pam Ramsey Taylor of the ape-in-heels comment, when they ignore basic respect in their interactions with people different from themselves, it’s only a matter of time before words become actions.  I see Alex Kim & Pam Taylor as not just insulting, but as dangerous.  First, because they’re shits in responsible positions & second, because they get applauded by more powerful shits.

In my heatless kitchen, I meticulously unclogged the whisk, put it in the sink, then mixed the gloop by hand, Mary Berry style.  Except with gritted teeth.  After forming 22 irregular blobs, I added my last Hag Improv, a sprinkle of dill, then into the oven with them.  The scones turned out so well, Siobhán got me the proper ingredients, & more batches were made with less gritting of teeth.  You can get used to most things.  But not everything.

Cheese & garlic scone w/dill sprinkled on top.
In my country, compassionate, sensible people are saying, take the moral high ground, give things a chance, work with the system, it won’t be as bad as it looks, there are checks & balances.  They think the whisk can be unclogged by playing nice.  

I think they delude themselves.  I want to be wrong.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Soup, Flatbread & the Giant Tangerine

Let's get cooking.
This week, I continue my learning-to-cook adventure here, but first, I want to comment on the US election.  If you can’t hack more of that right now, then jump down the page to the heading: 


Last week I said, being alive means accepting reality in its ugly & miraculous.  This week, my country told the only professional presidential candidate to get back in the kitchen, then gave her job to a Giant Tangerine.  Our social equality clock just got turned back to the Good Old Days which, for people like myself & perhaps you, too, weren’t all that good.

I remember at the large family gatherings of my childhood, men visited, children played, women cooked.  The chillen were served first in a side room, the men were served next at the proper table, the women ate in the kitchen.  The last to be fed, they stood or sat on stools or counters, ready to tend crying kids & serve pie to the men.  No real surprise, then, that the little-girl-me found no enticement in cooking. 

The women's private little fuck-you to this unfair, hard-work segregation, was keeping the best tidbits of food in the kitchen for themselves.  But being a woman, both then & now, means more than being taken for granted.

Females are taught from the beginning that we’re smaller, weaker, less able.  As children, our families protect us from all the scary things that eat little girls or worse, in too many cases are the scary things themselves.  As women, we take charge of our lives & yet pretend it’s normal to automatically check for danger, even in daylight, taking precautions men never take when we walk to shops or to work or through the park.  If we don’t, we deserve what we get.  We accept that.  Men accept that.  Our court systems enforce that.

Women know fear.  It's a natural part of our every day, just like it is for ethnic & religious minorities, immigrants, the disabled, the elderly, the LGBT+.  It's been said by smarter, more talented people than myself that with Brexit, with Trump, it's not about ideological differences.  It's that those of us without power have been give notice that it's officially okay to harass, bully, insult, exclude, grope, attack, injure and kill us.  It's about being afraid to live in our own countries.

So eating the best bits in the kitchen, well that’s funny, at first, then it becomes a little sad – that small act of defiance, of dishonesty, is that all the women in my family had?  Actually, they had each other in those kitchens, where more went on than sneaking food.  I think about them, now that I’m desecrating Siobhán’s kitchen.  I’m glad other disenfranchised people may read this, too, because it’s always nice to have company in here. 


Are you sure?

So on to cooking.  Despite it being election time in the US, is there a better season than autumn?  My son, El Punko, iguana that he is, thinks Fall is the beginning of evil incarnate, but I love being outside in autumn, all the sensory things that go with it – colour, textures, smells, sounds – & then coming inside to all those wonderful autumn foods.  Great stuff.

Not surprising, then, that my first stab at this new cooking lark would be soup & bread a la Mary Berry. 

Hag Improvs
If you were with me here last week, then you know I should’ve learned not to be Hag Improv when it came to cooking, especially not with Maestra Berry’s recipes, but the little cogs in my wee brain, those little cogs, those little cogs. 

The soup recipe starts by browning some garlic.  I decided to use leftover seed garlic rather than store bought.  The Garlic Farm's rule on this is, you can eat growing garlic but you can’t grow eating garlic.  Although this particular type of garlic’s supposed to be hot (Red Duke), I used 3 cloves cuz I do love my garlic.

I also added a couple of chili peppers for that kick in the taste bud’s trouser seat.  Where sugar was added to cut the acid of the tomato, I substituted 4 beetroots.  And since we had no cream, double or otherwise, I used 0% Greek yoghurt, even though Mary Berry warned it’d curdle.  It didn’t.  In fact, the soup came off without a hitch.  

My take on the proving drawer.
Now for the flat bread, which uses yeast.  Our kitchen has dubious origins, possibly as part of the garage, but wherever it came from, it has no heat and we have no proving drawer.  My solution to this was a plate warmer, a metal bowl and the inside of the nuker (not turned on, of course) to keep off any wandering cold drafts.  This worked quite well, actually, but I’ll note that this particular bowl has a rubber-esque bottom.  A plain metal bowl might be too thin for this sort of carry on.

The herbs in this flat bread recipe sounded a bit dull for me.  Basil and parsley.  I’m a great basil lover, but parsley?  At least that’s what I thought until I cut some of the stuff I’d grown for Siobhán.  My God, what a wonderful peppery smell.  Still, I wasn’t convinced this would add enough BAM factor, so Hag Improv once more.    

In addition to the herbs, I kneaded in sundried tomato, parma ham, salami and Leerdammer, the latter being the only cheese besides bleu in our fridge.  To do this, I shaped the dough into a type of hill fort, 

Hill fort dough with toppings.

put some 
of the stuff 
on top, 

Folded over.

folded it over several times, repeated the process until all my goodies were inside.  

Cut into sections.
After that, I made the dough into a little mound, divided it evenly into eight sections with a knife, & proceeded to flatten them into individual breads.

About this flattening craic.  When we moved into our current house, the dryer didn’t work.  We dragged it out to hook up our new dryer, & found a large marble pastry board shoved in behind it, reason unknown.  Cleaned up, it’s a thing of beauty.  Problem is, I’ve been a lifelong knitter and my hands are now 60 year old knitter’s hands, so pressing dough against a marble surface hurts.  Instead, I flattened the bread with a rolling pin.  This probably is akin to sacrilege in cooking theocracies the world over, but in my book, pain is not a worthy price to pay for food.

The sacrilege of rolling pins.
Dough sufficiently flat, I sprayed them with oil and slapped them onto the griddle, where cooking took a helluva lot longer than Maestra Berry claimed it would.  At one juncture, I tried cooking them in a small skillet (frying pan, to non-Appalachians), which took a lot less time than the griddle – only 2 and a half minutes each side.  However, I did like the dark lines made by the griddle, so in this case, aesthetics won out over speed.  And breathing.  There was a lot of smoke involved.  Eventually Siobhán wandered through (perhaps concerned about the smoke) & talked to me about heat conduction through iron griddles.  End result, a small regulation of hob temperature sped the process up considerably.

And so we ate.  The soup turned out perfect & as a leftover, the chili flavour was even stronger, enough to smack my taste buds around just the way I like it.  The flat bread still didn’t have enough punch for me to eat on its own, although it tasted great in the soup.  Next time, I’ll add meat & cheese with stronger flavours – I’m thinking chorizo, definitely.  Undoubtedly the little cogs in my brain will flooster with the herbs as well.  This recipe had endless variations ahead of it, I suspect. 

When you make your soup & bread in your version of the pantsuit kitchen, be sure to share your efforts evenly with the people you love, around a table where you all get to sit.  As nasty women & bad hombres, know more will be asked of you, & probably less will be valued.  You’ll face fear & undoubtedly be grabbed by the very body parts they hate you for having.  Remember to go high.  That love trumps hate.  Help the person next to you who helps the person next to them & we all survive this. 

Mary Berry's tomato soup & flat bread.

You & I, we’re in this together, & that’s not a platitude.  Let's eat. 


Friday, 4 November 2016

Learning To Cook At 60

My mother, who’ll be 93 this month, said life began for her at 60, possibly because her youngest turned 18 that year.  Her mother passed her first driving test at 63, left the home she’d been born in and became a university dorm mother, forming relationships that lasted the rest of her life. 

The world outside my bedroom window.
Me?  On my 60th birthday, I’d been incapacitated for 5 months by an illness I secretly didn’t believe in.  My days had been reduced to watching magpies outside my window chase copulating pigeons away from the view of their own impressionable fledglings.

I used to have plans that didn’t include getting tired every time I took a shower.  At first glance, it seemed everything had been stolen from me.  Gradually, though, it became evident that I was on the same journey I’d always been – i.e. my life – the only difference being that rather than going 70 mph down the freeway, I was now on foot. 

In practical terms, that meant that a few minutes weeding the rose garden followed by a few minutes of lying on my back watching the buzzards and kites scream at each other over sky space, well, eventually that does get the job done. 

Or as a Valentine's Day craft.
One day, lying on my back took the form of plopping down on the couch beside Siobhán who was watching Mary Berry make a chicken pie on TV.  The part where they wove the pie crust reminded me of the woven heart Christmas decorations we made in Appalachia.  I can do that, I decided. 

Later, when Siobhán made her own chicken pie, she couldn’t remember how to weave the crust.  Without consulting anything or anybody who might know better than myself (which would be just about anything or anybody), I took on the job.

When the scientific mind cooks, wine is essential.
Let’s stop here for a life observation.  The scientific mind (that would be Siobhán) interests itself in rules – learning them, repeating them, sticking to them in order to repeat desired results.

The creative mind has an element of oppositional defiance in it that constantly asks, Why?  How can this be better?  Can that be more suited to my liking?  When does the fun come into this?

So when Siobhán tells me that Mary Berry says we need 2 packages of pastry for the crust & we only have one, I decide to go for it, even though I know feckall about cooking and, well, she’s Mary Berry. 

But the creative mind is more than oppositional.  It’s curious.  I wanted to know why


Lora's pre-bake weave.

turned into this.  

A lake has formed.

Re-watching the episode proved the instructions were a little more complicated than my memory of them. 

I watched another episode in the series and thought, oh my . . . what I’ve missed, being surrounded by good cooks all my life.  

Making smoke.
Into the kitchen I go.  And no, I didn’t become scientific.  My mind had its questions.  I substituted what I didn’t have.  I added what I thought I’d like better.  I made a lot of smoke.  And I got to eat as well.  Several times.

The lesson my mother and grandmother passed along from their sixties wasn’t about achieving.  It was about taking a life’s worth of kickass learning and moving forward with as much bravery and foolishness as I did in my twenties, despite whatever shit life has hurled at me.  It’s about recognising that the ability to experience something, to experience anything really, well that’s just about two shades past precious.  It’s not a Pollyanna, look on the bright side, never get what you want but be grateful approach.  It’s accepting reality in its ugly and miraculous because that's what being alive is, then seeing what the fuck this next thing’s all about.  In other words, while it’s not 70 mph, keep moving and you’ll meet things.

Going it on foot.
If I hadn’t gotten sick, I’d probably find as much depth in my life as I do now because that's what creative minds do.  Most likely, though, I’d not stop weeding the roses to watch the buzzards and kites.  And I certainly wouldn’t take the time to learn to cook.  But I did, so I am.  It ain’t heroic.  Cooking’s not life changing (unless it’s fatal, which in my case, is possible.)  But I am.  I’m going to learn how to cook at 60. 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Woodpecker Asks

The tag line under this site’s title reads, The first year of my partner’s gender transition.  This month, that year is up.  So a little reflection.

About a decade ago, my spouse (who’s now known as Siobhán) first admitted to me her gender dysphoria – being transsexual.  I turned to the folk who’d helped me with my son El Punko’s transition – Transfamily –  a web support group with chatrooms for different family member groups.

Their trans-parents chatroom had been full of concern and worry and the grief that comes when you realise your child’s future will always have this gargantuan   

It's behind you!

THiNG in it. 

The spouse chatroom had ANGER.  Understandably so.  Most, like myself, hadn’t been told what they were getting into before they married.  Few, if any, had been through a transition before.  And let’s face it, our culture is SO focused on sex, sexual orientation, sex, sexual identity and did I say SEX, that while the supportive trans-parent becomes an archetype of parental love, the supportive trans-spouse gets tarred with the weirdo-pervert-just-plain-crazy brush.

As one of Siobhán’s friends said, Lora didn’t sign up to be a lesbian.  As if that’s all marriage is about.

I didn’t last long in the spouse chatroom.  The only bits of advice I remember were (1) Don’t let her EVER wear your clothes and (2) be prepared for her to turn into Uber Diva.  

Pre-Uber Diva
To be honest, Siobhán’s clothes are nicer than mine, so I steal hers.  And Uber Diva?  Puh-leeeeeze. The woman’s a huge softy, quietly in the background making sure everyone gets more than what they need.

At least pre-transition, she was.

Fast forward to last June. 

Between the two of us, I don’t know who was more excited about Siobhán’s transition.  I certainly showed it more, although I did have a sense that neither of us could know how much this would challenge us. 

And it was exciting, all the firsts.  First pre-transition talk at work, first hair, first posh do.  Four months into it, though, I started not feeling well You go without me, missing out on this and that until my life gradually became days of watching wildlife in the trees outside my bedroom window.

Blech!  Not this kisser.

For years, they tell me, 
insidious medical problem 
quietly sneaked up on me
until . . . 


right in the kisser.

Although I didn’t have the focus to write, my brain still worked like a writer’s brain, so I did what writers do – observe, observe, quietly and mutely observe.

As a result, I became a spectator rather than a supporter of Siobhán’s transition.  

And I noticed a few things.

(1)  I'm extraneous to everyone in her life, friends and involved professionals alike.  As any non-professional SOFFA* will tell you, we’re excluded from the process for confidentiality reasons, but there’s also no supports for us in place.  The most important people in the trans-person’s life and no one takes care of us.  As if that doesn’t negatively affect the trans-person.  I’ve offered my professional skills on occasion to develop support groups for myself and others, only to be patted on the head and sent back to my hole where hopefully I’ll stay.

(2)  I suspect when a person waits this long for validation, it becomes addictive once she finally gets it  This means that advice given by casual strangers or the sudden interest from people who’ve not been overly compassionate with Siobhán in the past, carries more weight than the last 10 years of my consistent support.  It’s maybe this particular dynamic that prompted the warnings in the trans-spouse chatroom to watch out for Uber Diva.  There’s certainly been the rare sighting of her in my house during the last year.

(3)  The dominant culture for male-to-female transition equates 


Many, many people, both trans and SOFFA, refer to the beginning of transition as a second adolescent.  All of the above, even Uber Diva, is stuff Siobhán should’ve done as a teenager.  And although I’m not her mother, the spouse is often put into that pseudo-parental test-the-limits-in-a-safe-place position as the trans-person explores their representation of gender.

I understand this, but I'm tired from being powed in the kisser.

A year after starting her Real Life Test, Siobhán’s finally had her first appointment at the NHS gender clinic.  In case you're not familiar, the clinic's supposed to help in transition, not rubber stamp it once it's done.  I've been there, done that with El Punko’s struggle to get adequate medical care; the memory wears me out.  

Siobhán’s friends come over and discuss hair, voice, hips, until my eyes roll back in my head.  All my adult life, I’ve dealt with this What A Woman Should Be shite. 

I’ve paid my dues.  

To hell with social norms.  

Be a goddam trans woman
not Cait feckin Jenner.

I’ve become a trans-heretic

Our woodpecker.
If I were healthy, this wouldn't be so in-my-face because I’d be up to my eyes in writing and gardening, painting furniture and chasing a Doodle over the moors.  With my own interests taking centre stage, I’d be supportive.  I’d play fair.  

But you know what?  Fairness is a social construct with shifting goal posts.  A 16 year cancer patient taught me that.  She said there’s no reason for anything.  

Life just is.  

Get on with it. 

Out the window, I see woodpeckers nesting in the back garden.  In my pantheistic mentality inherited from a Leni Lenape grandmother, Woodpecker is birth medicine; it beats the drum of honouring ones unique path, rejecting conformity.  

Appropriate for a heretic.

If I were healthy, I’d be writing.  Or gardening.  Or painting furniture and chasing the Doodle across the moors, although not at the same time.  I’m not healthy but I am a realist.  Woodpecker says, even though I’m sick, get up from the trans table and find my own project away from the sound of other people’s drums.

I’ll let you know 
when I get there. 

*  Significant Others, Friends, Family, Advocates