Thursday, November 12, 2009


Some of us are slow starters. No I’m not talking about the fact that I’m a day or two late posting this week (though there IS that too!), but about techno experience. For as I type this I am on an Air Canada flight to San Francisco, my laptop happily recharging from the plug on the seat in front. It’s the first time I’ve ever worked on the plane and felt so free about it. It seems so civilized and calm somehow.

And from this moving perch in the sky, I feel as if I’m taking in a bird’s-eye view of events and time, rather than of landscape (the one below me right now, probably somewhere in Nebraska, is lightly wrapped in cloud, in any case). Part of my mind’s-eye/bird’s-eye is in November 11 mode: Remembrance Day as it’s now called, Armistice Day as it was called when I was growing up. In those days it was quite focussed on the First and Second wars, with images of Europe and poppies, and set in a time past.

My grandfather was in the artillery in the first war, and went on to write history books about the army in that war. I remember as a child asking him something about the trenches or a battle, and he said, “I have the memory of that horror in my head; there is no need for you to have it in yours.” That war experience gave him an appreciation for each day, for he hadn’t expected to survive it. So many did not.

And my father was in the second war, starting as a nineteen-year-old in 1939, becoming a major at a too-young age, and leaving the army only after it was all over. Only a couple of years ago I discovered that he’d been in the landings on D-Day, on Juno Beach, and then in the fighting as they advanced inland.

But when I was growing up, the Canadian Army was not engaged in active warfare, just in various peacekeeping efforts. Those had their complicatios and their horrors, but still were not “war”.

These days the Canadian Army is in southern Afghanistan, the Americans in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the toll of dead mounting, and the toll on families and on the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan immeasurable. Remembrance Day has come very alive for many Canadians and Americans, as we see the horror of war in the statistics and in some of the reports that filter out.

At Dom and Tashi’s high school on Remembrance Day, instead of speeches about long-ago wars, kids who had come from various war zones around the world and were now settled in Toronto would talk about where they were from. Perhaps they still do. It seemed to me to be the best kind of Remembrance Day, far from “true patriot love” (for non-Canadians reading this, those are words in our national anthem, O Canada) and the sometimes mindless militarism that that inspires. Instead the school was reminded each year about the pain and loss, and the disruption of ordinary people’s lives, that war and conflict inevitably entail.

Apart from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are plenty of smaller wars and conflicts around, and plenty of related suffering. When effort goes to building civil society, rather than supporting dictatorships; when villagers are given a hope that tomorrow can be more peaceful than today; when kids everywhere can hope to pursue education and engage in the free exchange of ideas, then we can talk of celebrating Remembrance Day and of meaningful peace. But for now we are in a quagmire of war, with no real end in sight and a lot of posturing going on, from Jerusalem, Tehran, and Kabul to DC, London, and Ottawa... I want Mr Harper gone (such a tight-minded ungenerous right wing guy, aiming to wreck our social fabric if ever the electorate is foolish enough to give him a majority), and I want us out of the war. ASAP.

Meantime, we still must eat and love and exchange ideas, so, on a more domestic topic, Tashi’s dal last Friday was spectacular, worth trumpeting about. There was some pork sausage from our meat CSA in the freezer and I had assumed he’d cook it separately. Instead, once the dal was cooked, he cut the sausages into short lengths, heated oil and panch phoran, then cooked the sausage, adding chopped cauliflower and the remaining purple carrots to the mixture, before adding the whole pan’s worth into the dal. Another few minutes simmering until the vegetables were tender and we had the best deeply flavoured one-dish meal. Wonderful! All of it went over fresh rice of course.

On the weekend I finally dug up the back garden, added manure, and dug it in a little. In the course of doing that I came across some unharvested garlic, tender late-planted little pale treasures, and I discovered that the greens I’ve been culling to cook with my morning egg are beet greens; I’d forgotten that the seeds I planted in that row were for yellow beets. So we ate them on Monday evening, as one accompaniment to dal, along with some beef burgers prepared roughly as they appear in Mangoes and Curry Leaves (tender with a little yogurt in the mix, and aromatic with ground coriander and cumin as well as ginger and garlic). The beets were small, and so were perfect thinly sliced and cooked with the garlic and with their greens, tasting of both freshness and freshly dug earth!

The weather was the imperative that got me out finally on the weekend, for we have had balmy soft days, tender light and air in which the whole city seems to bask. Each day has felt like a gift, and for once we all know it (last year’s snow and cold are recent enough to make us grateful!), so the happiness level on the street and in people’s faces is tangible.

But I am not staying for the rest of the sunshine. Instead I’m headed to Greystone for the Worlds of Flavor conference and then on to Chiang Mai next week. I talked to Fern last night on the phone, Fern who is the anchor-person in Chiang Mai for immersethrough. We plan to get a lot of prep done for the late January session. I’m also hoping to get a short trip to Burma, before I fly back to Toronto in mid-December. And then in mid-January I’ll head back to Chiang Mai...

It feels like the best kind of luck, to be able to move between worlds and to cross-connect, learning from each, and hopefully giving back, too.

And a footnote: I went to the Royal Winter Fair on Friday and again on Saturday. It’s huge, and still feels real despite the new soulless display halls. The cattle barns, the pigs and sheep, etc, are as before, and I’m glad. Lovely to have something stay wonderfully itself over time!

On Friday there were the Cuisine Canada book awards, and luckily Beyond the Great Wall won gold in the category Books about food and cooking. It’s always a privilege to win an award, and I’m grateful.

On Saturday I was back, as part of a series of demos from this year’s nominated books, giving a demo at a small stage. We made Kazakh hand-stretched noodles from Beyond the Great Wall. The people watching all got involved, stretching noodles and hanging them on a clothes rack, then six of them (by answering some questions correctly) “earned” a sit-down bowl of the noodles freshly cooked in chicken broth. I like it when kids and adults can take real pleasure in physical tasks, together, without hierarchy. Noodle-making is one of those easy kitchen skills that is not age-related and is genuinely fun to do with friends and family, a chore that becomes a pleasure. We want more of life to be that way, don’t we?

1 comment:

Sue G. said...

Thanks for your thoughtful blog! I, for one, love making homemade noodles, too.