Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Supermom … forever!
Every mom has a Superwoman outfit.  She puts it on in a flash.  Ever ready to serve, save, protect, bake 3 dozen chocolate muffins for a class party or take 6 overly-excited kids to football practice.  And still have some energy left to plan a surprise birthday party for her best friend.
That is what moms do.  But for how long?
After many adjustments to the costume, the loosening of the seams as the body changes, the extra tuck here and there, the fabric does wear out.  And so does the energy level of the ordinary woman with superpowers.  
Yes, age creeps up on us.  The kids become adults, the challenges more complicated, the x-ray vision impaired by cataracts, varicose veins and bruised tendons slow down the leap over tall buildings.  But we manage.   With each heroic act and one more promise of  - ok, just one more time… and then, off with the outfit.    
Until, there is another call to action. And there we go again – faster than the speed of light.  Or just about.  
Because moms will be moms.  No matter how old we are.   No matter how old our children or their children are.  And if we are so lucky (or got married really early), the generation after them. 
I am a realist.  I have shed the skintight Lycra tights and cleavage enhancing bustier and taken up the 100% cotton pants with adjustable, expandable waistline and topped it with an all-natural fiber, kind-to-women-over-60 blouse.
I have opted to be SuperLola  (aka SuperNana, SuperNona, SuperGran…) instead. 
The fervor is still there.   Ready to strike when needed.  Willing to pack my bags and jump on a plane to London to hold my daughter’s hand as she nervously prepares for yet another major presentation.  Eagerly awaiting the call to move furniture and pack boxes as soon as my son finds the suitable, affordable apartment for his family.  Standing by with a Spiderman ice pack and orange muffins for the countless times my accident-prone grandson falls.  All set with a cuppa for any friend in need of tea and sympathy.
 I am ready and still able.  Except, sometimes I forget my limitations and spring into action. And .... whoops!  But I pick myself up, brush the sand from my scrapped knees, square my shoulders and up I go again.
Yes, there is no force stronger than love.   
It is that which keeps Supermoms, SuperLolas, SuperDads and all the other Superhumans going.  Neither age, nor time, nor space can change that.
May the force be with you all !

In line with the keep-Superlola- (or as my friend, Marilen, likes to call us GlamMa ) -fit -program, I decided a couple of months ago to put my husband and I on a salad diet.  This is the one I started with.  Except, I added Chicken Schnitzel on the side.  I know.  I can't help myself!

Orange, Fennel and Rucola Salad
1 orange
1 medium size fennel bulb
  ½  onion, white or red -  thinly sliced
a big handful of rucola or rocket  ( I use double the amount)
crumbled goat cheese, walnuts  (optional)
Orange Dressing 
Combine :  ¼ cup juice from the orange, 1 tbsp. olive oil, a dash of salt, a bit of sugar (only if necessary)
Procedure :
This can be done ahead of time, including the dressing
1.  Remove the skin and remove each orange segment.  Do this over a small bowl as a lot of juice will pour out which you will later use for your dressing
2. Take out the outer stems of the fennel, leaving only the bulb.  Thinly slice the bulb with a sharp knife or use a mandolin.  The stems can be kept for another dish such as a  soup or a casserole.
3.  Thinly slice the onions.
Just before serving :
Place all the ingredients including the rucola, in a large bowl, or into individual salad bowls.  Pour the dressing over it.  Toss slightly.  Top with a bit of crumbled feta or walnuts, if you wish.  
This recipe serves 2 as a main course and 4 – 6 as a side dish.

Chicken Schnitzel for 2 or 4
2 - 4 chicken thigh fillet, with skin or without
¼ tsp. salt (more or less), a dash of fresh pepper
1 small garlic, grated or pressed
a squeeze of lemon juice
For the batter, prepare 3 separate bowls for each of the following :
1 small egg, beaten
¼ cup flour
¼ cup breadcrumbs
oil for shallow frying
Flatten the chicken pieces with a meat mallet or place in a plastic bag and pound with a rolling pin. Season the chicken fillet with salt, pepper, lemon juice and garlic. Rub this all over the chicken pieces.  Dip the chicken in the egg, then the flour, then back to the egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Keep in the fridge till you are ready to cook.
Fry till golden brown. Serve warm.  Or cold.
Low Fat version :  use chicken breast instead of thigh fillet and for the batter, omit the egg and flour and simply coat with breadcrumbs.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kerala, here I come … again!

When Louis and I decided that we would go to Kerala for the Ayurvedic experience, I saw ourselves in a quiet, restful haven, being massaged with warm oils once a day, eating delicious vegetarian curries and leaving this Nirvana-type place after 14 days, rejuvenated, restored … just as the brochure promised. 
We arrived in Cochin with the sunrise.  A stunning heavenly display of pink slowly turning into shades of  russet and then all at once into a blinding gold.  A perfect backdrop which would set the tone for our 14-day R&R (rest and recreation!).  Or so I thought.
All through the 2-hour trip from the Cochin airport to Thrissur where our Ayurveda hospital was located, I kept hoping that we would not end up in one of those crowded hospital compounds we passed along the road.  But sure enough, we drove into one of them.  Right along highway 69.
Thankfully, the room that was reserved for us was in the last cabin with the garden view.  The room itself was a throwback to the 70s with its shades of brown furniture and furnishings.  (What ever happened to the lighter shades of pale?) Louis and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and agreed to simply enjoy the experience.
Our treatment began as soon as we arrived.  We spoke to the doctor about our ailments.  I had a long list but Louis really had none. He came for me.  To keep me company, give me moral support.  He was never into alternative medicine.  He is your regular skeptic.  Whereas, I have always been a believer of the – nothing to lose, every thing to gain – theory.
By the afternoon, we had our first warm oil massage which certainly erased the vestiges of the long trip as well as the cold winter residue in our bones and our spirit. We took the prescribed hour's rest after the massage and thought … hmmm, we can get used to this!  
The following day, we were promptly woken up at 6 AM by a troupe of nurses who gave us our morning cocktail of herbs, the schedule for our treatment along with the timing of all the other medication we would be getting the rest of the day.  This is when we came to the sobering realization that this was not a Spa holiday venue.  It was really a place where people came to be healed. 
Day 2 went as scheduled and before dinner we braved the traffic of cars, rickshaws and people and crossed highway 69 to find out what the neighborhood had to offer.  It was not a lot. 
After dinner, Louis’ first nosebleed occurred.  The staff came immediately to our aid but it took nearly 20 minutes to stop.  We charged the bleeding to the dry heat and the warm wind that blew all day and night. 
The 3rd day, the bleeding came again.  This time with a bit more intensity.  We were asked to report to the emergency room at the general hospital in the compound, but Louis refused, believing that surely his body would eventually acclimatize to the heat and the surroundings. After all, he had lived in Asia for more than 20 years.
On Day 4, the bleeding came just before lunch and it came in big lumps. This time we could no longer refuse the Ayurveda doctor’s order for us to go to the hospital.  Accompanied by 2 nurses, we were rushed by rickshaw to the emergency ward and Louis was immediately laid in one of the beds.  His face was white, his body was cold, his BP was up to 220/110 and the blood was still flowing. The cold packs were no longer sufficient and he was given a blood coagulant to stop the bleeding.  Within an hour, the EENT specialist had found the tear in a vessel in his nose that was causing the bleeding, medicine was placed in the cut and his nose was packed. But he would not let Louis back to our cottage.  He had to remain in the hospital. The nosebleed was not the problem, he assured us.  It was the high blood pressure.  
For Louis and I, the problem was every thing.  This was not supposed to happen.  This was my much-awaited holiday.  No family to take care of.  No work commitments.  Pure relaxation and peace after a rather difficult year. 
Yet it was not meant to be. During the 3 days of Louis’ hospital confinement, I had to walk back and forth in the scalding heat from the hospital to the shops across the road, then back to the cottage to prepare his meals (vegetarian curry was not doing it for him) on a 1-burner gas stove with whatever utensils I could find.  I had to make sure I was on hand, ready to pay for every bit of  prescribed medication, pick them up from the pharmacy, give them to the nurses so that they could be administered to him.  Unlike the hospitals in Holland, it was a pay-as-you-go kind of arrangement.  In-between I had to take the Ayurvedic treatment that had been designed for me.   In my mind, I kept a mantra going …  you can do this, you will not fall apart.
 I did not.  Far away from home, I found support and friendship in Annie, a wise, no-nonsense lawyer from Bombay who shared the cottage with us.  To her, I run for comfort, advise and some real lovely curries!  I was surrounded by true care- givers - from the motherly lady who cleaned our rooms, to the women who lathered us in oils and herbs, to the young, good-looking doctor (!) who supervised our treatment.  To each one of them, we were not the couple in Room 15.  We were Louis and Alma. 
Would I go back again?  Yes! 
I did not think so shortly after we arrived home.   All I could feel was relief – that Louis was well again, that we were home and close to our kids, that we were back to life as we knew it.
Today, I see things differently.  I look at the foto of  Louis and I  in the Keralan auto rickshaw and I smile.   I now understand that I needed that jolt to the system.  Living a middle class life in Holland (in Northern Europe!) had given me this false sense of entitlement.  A trait I accuse the younger generation of mastering.  Yet, I am just as guilty.
In those 14 days, I learned that one can sleep soundly on a bed without matching bed linens; that a one-burner gas stove can cook just as well as a stainless steel Smeg gas burner; that a hospital in a small town in Southern India is just as good as the hospital in my small town in North Holland. But more importantly,  that the art of healing is not dependent on a setting but rather on the people who heal.
Yes, I will go back to Kerala. Back to Thrissur.  But next time, I will come with an open mind and an open heart. And I shall rejoice! Perhaps that is when I shall truly be restored.

Valerie, a very dear friend, was my guide to Indian cooking. She gave me the courage to try the various spices and pastes, making it all seem a lot easier and allowing me to cook curries for my spicy food-hungry family.  
But lentils were something I could never master, until I met Annie. On the one-burner gas stove which we shared with 2 other guests in our cottage in Thrissur, she made the most delicious vegetable curries. This is one of them.

Annie’s Dhal
Part 1 :
1 cup dahl (lentils), soaked for a couple of hours
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp. Asofoetid (optional)
A pinch of salt
2 cups water
A pinch of turmeric

Put all the ingredients together in a pressure cooker.  Allow to boil and pressure cook for 3-5 minutes.

Part 2 :
2 tbsp. oil
¼ tbsp. black mustard seeds
¼ tsp. cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
Heat the oil and drop the seeds allowing them to pop.  Add the garlic, gently browning the pieces.   Pour in the softened lentils.  Add about ¼ cup water.  Allow to boil, letting all the flavors blend.   Taste and add extra salt if  necessary.
Serve warm, topped with fresh coriander. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

 And the Winner is ……
It took me by surprise.  I always thought I was made of stronger stuff.  I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.  I always believed the family mantra - you can do it.  You will manage.  You will carry on.
But I couldn’t. 
All it took was a feather of a gesture that came down like a knock out punch in round 1. And my spirit threw in the towel. No more.  I gave up.
I stepped out of the ring.   And then, I took the time to heal. 
Much like the grieving process, I had to go through the five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
The first three stages, I have always been aware of but considered them part of life as I knew it. To some, it may seem like denial.  But in my culture or at least in my upbringing, one never questioned authority.  It was not only a sign of disrespect, but also of bad manners.
The anger was always kept inside.  Do not ever let that little devil of a temper show.   Keep your head down.  And every thing will be all right.  It will pass.
Except the anger stays, and festers.
So I bargained with myself - if you hang in there, things will get better.
Yet, some times, they don’t.  They don’t escalate; but the problems stay.  Lingering.  Coloring every decision made or not made.  Leading to insecurity and eventually creating actual physical illness - allergies, insomnia, diarrhea.
There is a feeling of defeat.  And depression sets in.  Like carrying a load that one can not lay down.  A cross.  But to where?  There is no Calvary.  Just a long, long  road to no where.
Healing for me meant accepting all of the above and conceding the fact that I had allowed all of it to happen.  That I was a compliant participant in the whole affair.
At 64, I should have known better.  I should have seen that feather coming. 
I can see it all clearly now.  But it did not come easily.  It took many talks and walks with friends, a caring doctor, a non judgemental mediator provided by a social system which believes that employees as well as employers have rights, the support and love of a man who protects me even from myself, a parish priest who made me realize how much I am blessed.   And finally, time.  Time to learn to be kind to ME. 
In my previous blog, I borrowed the words of Bob Dylan.  Today, it’s Michael Jackson’s :
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place   
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.                                                   
I have made small steps in this direction.   Yes.  I feel so much better, so much stronger now. 
And the real winner is …. Me!! 

Creating a new dish out of the leftovers and bits and pieces from the fridge gives me such a great sense of achievement. The recipe below is one of them.  I know that each time I make it, it will never quite taste the same.  But it is still worth doing again.

Pasta for 2 with Creamy Leftover Salmon Sauce

Cook 250 gms of your favorite pasta al dente.  Set aside while you prepare the sauce .
The sauce :
2 tbsp. butter
1 garlic, chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped
1 -2 pieces baked, fried or smoked salmon, flaked
100 gm. Fresh or canned mushroom, sliced  (optional)
1 cup milk
4 tbsp. cream cheese or crème fraiche or a cheese similar to boursin
1tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. of the water with which you boiled the pasta (optional)
1 tbsp. catsup (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter, sauté the garlic and onions until the onions are soft.  Add the mushrooms and cook for about a minute.  Pour in the milk.  Let it boil and then add the cream cheese.  Add the lemon juice.  Season according to your taste  with salt and pepper.  If you want to put a bit of sweetness and color into the sauce, add in the tomato catsup.
 I also add a tbsp or more of the pasta water to the sauce to thicken it and to make the pasta cling better to the sauce.   
Mix the pasta into the salmon sauce, top with parsley or rucola and serve immediately.  A glass of wine on the side makes it even better!