Thursday, 10 January 2013

Comforting food for a winter's day: Sausage and Bean Casserole

The slow cooker is a wonderful invention! And so is the sausage... And the humble bean. Combine all these wonderful things with a few other wonderful things and you get the most perfect supper for a cold winter’s day. It’s comforting and tasty, with savoury and sweet flavours balancing each other wonderfully, and with a beautiful hint of smokiness too.

Now, usually I get my ‘sweet’ mostly from the can of baked beans I throw in – and I will do this again when busyness demands! – and my ‘smoky’ from chopped, fried (smoked) bacon; but today I didn’t have any bacon and I wanted to use up a tin of navy beans that’s been gathering dust in the cupboard.  So the smoky is coming from smoked paprika, and the sweet from tomato paste and some maple syrup, as well as the sweet potato. With locally grown or produced sausage, onion, garlic and maple syrup, and herb salt used to season, I am pretty happy with the ingredients of this particular stew, and can’t wait to eat it later once the slow cooker has done its magic! We’ll serve it with jacket potatoes (baked) – their skins crispy from the olive oil and sea salt, and their insides mashed with local sea-salted butter. Mmm! Only three hours to wait! J

4 large sausages from our local butcher, in chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large organic onion, diced
2 cloves organic garlic, crushed
  ½ red pepper, diced
Large tin chopped tomatoes
Small tin organic tomato paste
Large tin white navy beans (haricot beans)
A handful of leftover black beans (optional!!)
2 Tbsp or so maple syrup
Some generous shakes of smoked paprika
Some more generous shakes of herb salt (e.g. Herbamare)
Some grindings of black pepper
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only

How to make it:
Saute the onion, garlic, sausage, sweet potato and red pepper in a little EVOO (olive oil).
Throw into the slow cooker along with all the ingredients and cook on high for around 3 hours. And it’s THAT easy!!  ENJOY!

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Year in a Word

A few days before 2012 reached its timely end, my friend Joanna asked me a question I wouldn’t have asked myself and that I didn’t instantly have an answer for. She was the perfect person to ask me this question, since she has become good at exploring it herself on her blog: What word would I pick to sum up my 2012?

I thought hard about this as I pottered around the kitchen making us poached eggs on hot-buttered crumpets, letting my mind wander back over the last twelve months.

I recalled our recently gained permanent residency in Canada, my corrective eye surgery in June, and my choice to pull back from some work commitments in order to give more of my time and energy, while it matters, to Amélie. And I remembered the unexpected pregnancy and early miscarriage that only some friends and family know about but that, now almost a year in the past, perhaps I will begin to write about. So, with all these memories, the word that came to me on one of my trajectories from stove to toaster was this: HERE.

“Is that allowed?” I asked her, lifting an egg out of the swirl of simmering water. A noun or an adjective seem worthier of summarizing a whole 365 days. But HERE was the word that came to me, so I told her what it meant to me as we sat down to the orange goodness of free-range eggs seeping into buttery crumpet holes.

Firstly, I mean being HERE in the sense of physically here in Canada. There has been something unexpectedly settling and comforting about gaining permanent residency after more than four years of temporary visas and some uneasy moments of transition and uncertainty. But our new immigration status has come at the right time. It takes longer to really settle somewhere than you might think and the four year mark finds us with roots having grown deep down into this New Brunswick earth, well and truly committed to this place and these people as far into the future as we can foresee or predict. Because, of course, settling means more than just being here in body, but also being here in heart and spirit and will. And we are – for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, four years having already given us a good test run on those highs and lows. No-one can throw us out now - unless we commit a heinous crime of course! – and that feels good.  (Being able to stay, that is, NOT committing a terrible crime.)

In 2012 I also made some deliberate choices to be more HERE, not always trying to be everywhere and ending up nowhere, not always waiting for life to be how I want it to be before I ‘show up’ and give myself to what IS. The biggest choice I made was to work less in order to be around more for Amélie. And, again, I don’t just mean being physically there for her, but with some energy and creative brain space to spare because I’m not trying to juggle 101 things outside of the house and ending up with only the rat ends of myself to offer at home. Pulling back, pulling IN, was both a hard decision to make and also felt like an absolute privilege and gift to me for this season. Hard because though some of my deepest desires have to do with being a mother, this is also the area in which I feel I fail most consistently and dismally. And, apart from that, parenting and Stay-At-Home-Mum work is often thankless, endless and somewhat monotonous, whereas work outside of the home is more measurable and challenging – often more varied – and usually brings more recognition and instant ‘reward’. But though in some ways I struggled to make the decision to put more of my eggs into this precarious but precious basket, I was ready for it: ready to try and fail and try again, ready to actually attempt to give myself more fully to what and whom I profess to value most. I have also been keenly aware of the luxury of this choice – one that not many have – and the fleetingness of this season in our family life, one in which it still matters to her whether I’m there or not. So although trying harder inevitably brings more failure and heartache, there have still been enough moments when I have KNOWN that I was more present, available and invested than I would otherwise have been, to make this a choice I could never regret.

Getting my eyesight corrected with laser surgery might seem too trivial to feature in a summary of the ways in which I have been HERE during the past year, but it was a significant step for me, and not just because I have been blind as a bat all of my adult life and can now see perfectly! I have always felt rather hidden behind glasses, as if it were these paltry frames and lenses rather than my eyes that really got seen, and I have been torn between resenting and feeling comfortable with this. So taking the risk of having my precious eyes pushed and prodded (and burned!) felt a little like a courageous coming out of hiding, as well as representing a choice to spend a decent amount of money on myself for something I would have in the past considered superficial, vain and wastefully extravagant. Since being given the gift of new eyes, enjoying wearing eye make-up more often has felt similarly significant as a choice to shine rather than hide – and as a push against the inner voices that still whisper their reproach. In the wake of my surgery it was very telling for me to realise that part of me still wanted to be able to have regular ‘glasses days,’ meaning days when I could somehow hide, or at least try to! But I can’t hide behind my glasses anymore. I am Here and I can SEE!

Finally, perhaps it’s hard to imagine how a miscarriage could have anything to do with the word HERE. Although it was my fourth miscarriage after (it now seems, miraculously) having Amélie almost nine years ago, this one came out of the blue after we had mostly come to terms with only having one child. So this pregnancy and its loss at 8 weeks, near the beginning of last year, brought with it so much suppressed longing, tentative hope, fear, sadness and loss – past and present – that you would think I’d wish to be anywhere but ‘Here’. But the surprising gift of this situation was that I felt, really for the first time, able to simply be present to the rollercoaster of desire, hope, fear, longing, pain, sadness and loss that life took me on, and not try to wish it away, deny it away, even pray it away, as I have in the past. For the first time I truly, deeply knew that nothing I could do, say, think, imagine, feel or, yes, pray could control or predict the outcome, for good or ill. But I could be Here, Now, in the gift of the moment, and present to the truth of what I was experiencing. And, incredibly, I discovered that there was true Life in that ability to be present Here and Now – even if it’s painful – rather than always thinking Life is elsewhere or waiting for it to be otherwise. So I just let myself cry a lot, and that was good. And then I mostly stopped crying, and that was good too. And I was truly ALIVE.

So that’s what I realised over breakfast with a friend. Although when I think back over 2012 there are a myriad of moments, days and weeks that I zoned out, stressed out, numbed out and was far less present than I would have liked to have been, still I am encouraged that I have been able to be just a little more HERE, and in some significant ways and situations. And I want this to grow. I don’t want to miss the one life I have been given.

What about you? Grab an egg as we leave a year behind and look to the next, have a think, and tell us what 2012 meant to you.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Good Question

Never underestimate the power of a question.
Don’t dismiss it as mere herald to the all-powerful answer,
Or despise its uncertainty as feeble or unsafe.

A good question is full of life.
It bursts with the curiosity and promise of undiscovered worlds.
Its key turns the lock of never-opened doors.

So don’t let your own question spill heedlessly from your mouth.
Instead, turn it,
Like a hard toffee between tongue and teeth.
Savour, smooth and hone it.

Hold and admire it, a wild bird balanced on your faltering hand,
And when you release it to another’s charge,
Be ready for it to return to you unfamiliar,
Changed beyond recognition,
And pulling in directions you did not predict or desire.

Learn to listen,
Just listen,
And to let answers be extended questions.

Likewise, when another’s question comes to you,
Don’t push it away if an answer does not spring instantly, comfortingly, to mind;
For this question’s gift was fashioned in the ferment of someone else’s strange soul.

A question should be given space
To roam through forgotten rooms.
Perhaps at first it will seem to bounce like a discarded rubber ball,
Its lonely thud echoing against the emptiness of abandoned space,
Bareness of untrodden floorboards.

But refrain from picking it up to thrust again into a cosy pocket,
And its ricochet will knock open closets,
spill chests,
split windows,
Drawing invisible arcs to connect random points,
Until the tangle of lines
Reveals a picture.

This picture you may pick up
And wonderingly exhibit,
Or carefully fold to store in your heart’s chest.

But the question?
Let the question bound on...