Mama!

I once called my favourite child with the gentle reminder that the following Sunday would be Father’s Day. At the time we were not living in the same country and I thought a gentle reminder would be appreciated by both child and father. My gentle reminder however was met with a contemptuous groan.
‘Everyday, somewhere in the world, it is either father’s or mother’s day,’ my favourite child said. (note the lower case)
I have since stopped reminding any and everybody, especially my favorite child, of any and every possible celebration or commemoration, of either men, women, gods, children or other.
Still, was my favorite child right?
There are about 29 different days on which Father’s Day is celebrated throughout the world and 33 different days on which Mother’s Day is celebrated. 78 countries celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June, while there seem to be 86 countries opting to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May. Which, coincidentally, is this next Sunday.

This next Sunday, the 14th of May. Just saying….

freddy

MAMA!

Powder and Cubes

cube chicken

I just found out that bouillon cubes are not dehydrated stock. I am devastated. For years now I imagined Knorr, Liebig and Maggi factories to be packed with boiling stock pots, obviously of industrial size, filled to the rim with meats and bones, carcasses and vegetables, circled by chefs in white aprons, checked by chemist in similar aprons and in charge of safety and uniformity; everything giving off whiffs of our grandmother’s homey, old-fashioned, red gingham curtained kitchen.

gingham

In my imagination, childish and simple, these deep, wonderful liquids were then, thanks to advanced hi-technological know how, acumen and sapiens, miraculously transformed into dry cubes.

Wrong.

Bouillon cubes, it seems, are not dried out stock. They are, in fact, nothing more than little blocks of paste, made of already dried ingredients. Fifty per cent of each cube is salt. The rest is stuff. Flavors, flavor enhancers, MSG, stabilizers, spices, fat, starch …

As I said. Stuff.

Chicken bouillon cubes have never seen a chicken, although for legal reasons about 3% needs to come from some sort of chicken ingredient. Chicken fat for instance. Apparently the chicken flavor comes from baked yeast. I don’t know where the beef flavor in beef bouillon cubes comes from. I do know it comes ‘not from a cow’.

Bouillon cubes are safe. Salty but safe. FDA, EMA approved. Still, I feel duped. Tricked. Deceived. Hoodwinked. Misled.

It is not hard work, making broths. It is just time-consuming and, most of all, it leaves a mess. A big mess. But the result is always great, for believe it or not, very little can go wrong, preparing a home-made stock. Make it, freeze it and Bob’s your uncle. Bob. Not von Liebig, Julius Maggi or Knorr.

For years now I have been making my own stocks, broths and bases. Vegetable, chicken, beef, bone and very occasionally, fish. I cook these up in my –  Ikea ;)  – kitchen. So visualise this: 10 misty square meters of fatty meat and bones and veggies’ fog, steaming away into gooey goodness. Yes, Mr. Lebovitz, I don’t have the surface either and like you, I get on with it.

But not always.

Sometimes life interferes.

Like you, I don’t know in which world those blog writing, organic market dwelling foodies live. Whipping up dinner for eight at a moments notice, their make up flawless, their aprons stainless, their broths at hand. So, like most of us, I grab a cube.

Although safe and convenient and government approved, we seldom know exactly what we eat or what is inside the things we eat. Most of our baking goods for instance are made with egg powder.

eggpowder

Now egg powder is a safe and convenient alternative to the real deal. It has a long shelf life, is easily stored, hygienic (think of where the egg comes from), demands less handling and less energy and is, as a result, cheap. As it comes in different forms and varieties, egg powder has endless possibilities. Whole egg powder for pasta and crackers, egg yolk powder for dressings and croissants, special egg yolk powder, able to withstand high heat, for emulsions such as mayo, and egg albumen (the posh version of egg white) powder for ready-made savoury dishes and pastry products. Egg powder is an indispensable ingredient in the food industry. As is milk powder. Or all those e-additives – E100 or Curcuma. E621 or MSG. E441 or gelatine. But cream powder, cheese powder, juice powder, butter powder…. ? And that’s only the pulverized stuff.

Safe, convenient, cheap. But do I want it? And bear in mind, the alternative is of course somebody at the stove, baking and cooking away. In my case, that somebody is usually, correction, always, me. So, every so often, bring on the cube, I say. That guiltless, salty lump of taste.

As John le Carré once said ‘Your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.’

Tasty.

 

(L)Eggs and Bunnies

easter

It is the holiest of times for Christians. Christians, yes. That dying breed, that silenced group, that persecuted lot.
Once a religion, distinguished by its pantheon of saints and martyrs, by its rituals, parables and miracles, Christianity has now, for many, become an embarrassment, linked to past sins, to scandals, bans, memories of indulgences, crusades, bigotry and falsehood. Let’s face it. It all smells so medieval, doesn’t it? A club of men, fishermen for C*** sake; the only women either virgins or prostitutes. A bit Hemingway-ish, give or take a bullfight.

Religion is a tender subject. It exposes our vulnerability and places us in the spiritual realm of faith. A leap down that sharp abyss where words and phrases take on an eternal quality, juxtaposing the human and the divine, obedience and disobedience, left cheek and right cheek, right and wrong. And there’s the rub.
On Palm Sunday, two church bombings in Egypt, targeting Coptic Christians, killed dozens of people. The news made the headlines. But it did not create an outrage. Not in the way a vicious chemical attack did. The question is, why not?

A utopian era of contradictions
Everywhere, we salute minorities, coming out of their closets. We try to help the voiceless find their voice, we try and pull the disenfranchised away and free from their marginal position, into the center of power. We strive for equality or at least equal opportunities. Our public debate is a testimony of our desire for fairness and justice. We all want ‘a better world’. But striving for that better world, the question remains what to do with the old world.

The right thought, the right speech, the right action
Public utterances are being closely monitored and dissected for bias and political incorrectness. Cultural appropriation is the new template. Gender neutrality the new paradigm. But what should be a strength is quickly becoming a weakness and the powers that be, or at least once were, are now on the receiving end. How does one defend old beliefs and opinions without falling into the pitfalls of an antiquated discourse?

No matter my religious affiliation, like so many of us, I am what is called a cultural Christian. My calendar, my holidays, my food choices, my vocabulary and expressions are infused with Christian tradition. I am proud of that heritage. But pride is not enough.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

Traditions are not costumes we slip on and off. Rather, they are the transmission of long-established customs and thought processes. They make us who we are and define who we wish to be. Therefore they should never be taken for granted, but coveted and scrutinized, improved, defended and secured. And the only way to do so is through knowledge, understanding, awareness and familiarity.

More courage. Less guilt.

The Holy week and Easter Sunday. A reason for spring cleaning. Egg hunts. Bunny rabbits. Legs of lamb. Or just a few days off.
For many, however, Easter means resurrection. Hope.
And even Hemingway’s old man cannot but agree.

It’s silly not to hope. I believe it is a sin.

besteaster

IKEA AND THE HATER

A few minor embellishments aside, i.e. eye liner and padded bras, I have always endorsed a ‘what you see is what you get’ approach which is probably why I like Ikea. Ikea is. It is not B&B Italia. It is not Eames or Le Corbusier, Kartell, Boca do Lobo, or French Heritage. Ikea is and I love it. Each time I wander through its display of living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, compact 25 and 35 sqm living solutions, I am in awe. Cosy, functional, romantic, minimalist, messy, zen, urban, industrial. A bit of hygge. A bit of kitsch.

ikea

Decades ago, I witnessed the opening of the first Ikea shop in my home town. Suddenly gone, the formica and cheap plywood. Color entered our world, together with tealights and my good friend Billy.

Ah, Billy!

The ultimate iconic Ikean artefact; object incontournable in the development of homo domesticus modernus. And I, femina domestica moderna, was hooked. My student room was an Ikea blueprint, my first studio apartment an Ikea template. And still now, well, I might have outgrown Billy but I am at peace with that.

Pax!

I read that 1 in 10 Europeans is conceived in an Ikea bed. Par for the course, my children, in getting their interior design sorted, turn to Ikea. Genetic relevance or simply, the art of retail innovation? Best to never underestimate the Scandinavians.

I am not obsessed with Ikea, I am merely drawn to its persistent relevance. And I am not the only one. Douglas Coupland, be it in Eleanor Rigby, JPod, Miss Wyoming, Microserfs, Hey Nostradamus, The Gum Thief – did I miss any? – can’t get away from Ikea-referencing, which I fear might be partly responsible for the disturbing perversion in my mind that links the simplicity of Swedish furniture with the anxieties of life and death.

Oh Douglas. Mass culture and consumerism? You have no idea.

How sad I was this weekend to read that said favorite author is single after being unsingle for 20 years. That after a series of recent crises he is left unsure if he believes in God. That he feels genuinely lonely.

In his desperation, the poor man, not unlike President Trump, felt the urge to howl into The Void. ‘I am so lonely,’ he thus tweeted. And The Void replied, reassuring my Ikea accomplice not to despair, that our lives have meaning, that we are real, that we will live forever.

Apparently The Void likes Douglas more than it likes Donald.

Or does it? Do we need The Void to like us? Will adulation save us from the miseries of life? Loneliness? Lovelessness? Isolation?

I like therefore I am. I am liked therefore I am, what? Happy? Less lonely? More hopeful?

Not necessarily.

Likes are fine. But are they the sine qua non of our wellbeing? Are ‘likes’ the stuff we are made of? Not according to Hater, the latest dating app that matches potential partners according to their mutual hatreds. In an era of social media political correctness, this is a major leap; a break with our growing obsession with like-ability. Thumbs up gets a thumb down. Love, not based on shared interests but on joint dislikes.

hater-app

Pundits rave about this new found freedom. Cats? Nah! Dogs? Don’t think so. La La Land? Are you kidding? And as for Valentine…

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,                           
I hate flowers,
And I don’t like you.

ikea-heart

A Christmas Carol

listFrom around the 12th of December, her life is ruled by lists. As a mother of four adult children who all come to spend the Christmas celebrations at home, together with their boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and children, lists are her lifeline.

Shopping lists. Food lists. Menu lists. Lists of phone numbers, per shop, per ingredient. Lists of what to order and pick up, where, when and at what time.

Candles, a few more decorations. An additional gift for an additional guest. Wine and champagne. Beer for the boys. Bottled water, still and sparkling and soft drinks for the children. Biscuits and crisps. Lots of crisps. Toilet paper. Wipes. Extra wipes.

She takes out bed linen and towels. She hauls mattresses from the attic. She irons tablecloths that have remained folded for far too long. She polishes silver. Makes sure the glasses shine.

She makes pot-pourri and buys the biggest tree that will fit, leaving just enough space for the white glittery angel her youngest daughter once made.

From around the 22nd of December, the first kids arrive. She picks them up from the airport. Happy, happy, happy. She picks them up from the train station. Happy, happy, happy.

The house is full and warm and noisy. Bags and suitcases. Eat, drink! The TV is on the Disney channel. More and more gifts under the tree. The baby coughs, a slight fever. They go and see a doctor. No panic.

The bathroom is forever occupied. That’s the way it is with six women in the house. The washing machine turns and turns. The dishwasher constantly on ‘Express’.

A first minor dispute between siblings. Nothing new. Old stories, familiar tunes. Open wounds that never healed. ‘You always…’ ‘You never…’ and ‘Why do I always have to…?’ Soon forgotten after a glass of wine or two. ‘Remember?’ somebody asks. And the good times return.

Her husband finds the children unruly. ‘Bad table manners,’ he complains. She tries not to agree. But then he mentions the daughter in law she could never quite stomach. And there she goes. Yes, it is all her fault.

The 24th of December. The big night. The anticipation. The children would like their presents now so her husband agrees on a pre-present. ‘One to warm up,’ he says. He is like that. Soft. Malleable. Enthusiastic.

The meal is delicious. Chaotic. But delicious. Excellently paired wines. And real napkins are so much nicer than the paper ones. The seafood fresh. The bird moist and cooked to perfection. A gratin des gratins. Cheese to pass the time. Dessert, not too sweet and very Christmassy.

Later on, around the tree. Coffee. Tea. Brandy. She has made a Christmas playlist.

Everybody likes their gifts. It is way after midnight when she turns off the Christmas lights.

The 25th. A late morning for most and while she and her husband do the dishes one by one a pale face appears. Coffee. Left over panettone. Toast. More coffee. The daughter in law, yes, that one, prefers breakfast tea. Fresh leaves.

No lunch but an early dinner so everybody can spend the afternoon outside. A walk. Or a play. Or a nap.

She checks her list. Check. Check. Check. And now for the phone calls.

More dinner. More drinks. Another dispute, a bit harsher this time. Less good cheer. But they survive even if they do not make up.

They all leave on the 28th. The day of the Massacre of the Innocents.

She has three days to prepare for New Year’s Eve. She lies in bed and goes through her mind list. Leftovers. Washing. Recycling.

She looks at her phone. She waits for their messages. Have they arrived safely? Are they all well? Did they have a good time?

She waits. Her husband tells her to sleep. She tosses and turns. ‘Surely a message can’t be that hard,’ she thinks.

The next day, the 29th the daughter in law, yes, that one, calls. She is the first one. The only one. She is wearing the sweater Santa gave her. It is such a good fit. And warm. Cosy. The children are fine. They had a great time. The food. So good. The bed. So soft. And can she send her the recipe for that delicious rabbit terrine? They say goodbye. She goes over to her desk and takes out a fresh sheet of paper.

‘To Do List 2017’ she writes.
1.Recipe for rabbit terrine

Happy New Year  

2017

Clothes and High Horses

I have a male friend whose taste in women leaves a lot to be desired. I have girlfriends who married complete arseholes. Still, I babysit their children. I listen to their problems. I have them over and cook meals for them. I try to be a good friend. Despite their not so better halves.
In the same way, I dare not think about what my better half’s friends must think of me. But as long as they remain friends with him, I leave it at that.

At times it is not about me or about us, but about them. At times, our judgement and preferences need to be put in their right place. Sometimes that place is ‘aside’.
If we continuously walk through life principled, our chips visible on our shoulders, we risk severe exhaustion. Not to mention sore wrists. Virtuous and righteous, we need to know when to stand down. No need to be irksome. Repetitive. Tedious. Boring. Inconsistent.
Sometimes it is better to go with the flow, to allow the benefit of the doubt its moment and to choose your battles wisely.

Save your rants for when they are important.

I will therefore not mention the Primark shop that recently opened in my neighbourhood even though prices at said shop are suspicious and bring to mind images of certain practices I would rather see abolished. But if you are a low wage family with children that need to be dressed, who am I to judge?
Nor will I mention, on the other side of the scale, how Dolce & Gabbana, so avant-garde, so sexy, so extravagant, have released a collection of hijabs and abayas. Nothing wrong with that. D&G dress women, gays, transgenders, catholics, anglicans, atheists, even men (wink). They shoe Mrs. Theresa May. (as in to shoe: tr. V. shod, shodden shoeing, shoes: to furnish or fit with a shoe or shoes). Muslimahs are fashionistas too. Very much so.

Primark, D&G, Mango, Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi, H&M, … let’s face it. We all know which side our bread is buttered.

Do we? We do, but the principled minority, from time to time, doesn’t. Sticks out its neck. And snubs. Where it hurts the least.

Sophie Theallet. Largely unknown clothes designer, known to have dressed Michelle Obama on occasion. What she lacks in international fame she makes up for with inflated ego. In an open letter posted on Twitter she explains that she will not dress the next FLOTUS Melania Trump. And urges other designers to do the same.
Ms. Theallet refers to her noble principles. Diversity, freedom, respect for all lifestyles, and integrity. Sadly, Mrs. Trump misses out. She married the wrong guy.

Following Ms. Theallet’s logic, many other people should go naked through life. Maybe stay hungry? Walk and not take the bus. Stay out of our schools.

Ring a

bell

Not serving or helping people based on beliefs, religion, colour or gender is segregational, segregationist and racist. It reminds us of those episodes in the past, now identified as backward, shortsighted, and based on the wrong principles.

Not our finest hour. A time and place we should not return to.

As for Melania, she could sew her own clothes, wear her old stuff, start her own clothes line, MyFLOTUS.com. She could buy out her adversaries. But she will probably ignore the whole business. As should we and the Theallets of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, ….

It all starts somewhere.

Remembrance and Old Books

This morning I have been watching the Remembrance Day celebrations. The Last Post in Ypres, the 19 240 figurines on the College Green in Bristol, the poppies thrown in Trafalgar Square, the placing of the wreaths, the reading of poems.
Somehow, this year, it seems the celebrations are overshadowed by Donald Trump’s victory and Leonard Cohen’s death. Nothing however can or should eclipse the historical significance and relevance of the Armistice commemorations.

There are many ways to reflect on our history of war and on the many sacrifices that had to made for us to enjoy its ensuing peace. Wear a poppy or a bleuet de France, promote and defend peace according to our beliefs, political convictions and priorities, either with deeds or words, alone or in partnership.
As for my own, personal contribution, I have been re-reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road. Books on the horrors of the war and its aftermath. Books that should be read and re-read, just as commemorations should be observed, honored and repeated. Year after year.

Repetition, the mother of learning, the father of action, ….

I have done a lot of re-reading this year. Literary novels, historical novels, romance, comedy, the classics.
It is remarkable how the written word contains new messages at each reading, how our personal experiences blend and combine with the decisions and perceptions of our old, literary friends. As we change it seems protagonists change as well. What once seemed insignificant takes on a new meaning. Differing points of view that continue to differ, in a different light.
It is the same with our traditions, commemorations and probably election campaigns and results.

Age? Experience? Who knows?

Returning to our bookcases and libraries, be it physically or in e-mode does not equal reliving or returning to the past. Instead it allows us to give our present a new and fresh meaning. To see how we can do things, see things, experience things in a better, fuller and more appreciative way.
That is what commemorations are about.
The true spirit of November 11.

poppy_field_in_argenteuil_claude_monet