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.


  1. Boil 200g lentils - no need for risotto-style ladling - in 400g (400ml) water. When soft, add half a tsp turmeric. Fry a chopped onion and 1 clove chopped garlic, add a tsp of kalonji (black onion seeds - these are essential) and fry off. Add this mixture to the lentils. Add salt to taste, sprinkle of garam masala and/or chili powder if you like. Dal!

  2. Oh, the stories we could share, we Appalachian family members