Monthly Archives: March 2008

Inspiration

My e-friend, merc, has not been seen around these parts much recently, for reasons – I wish him all the best. I have not been seen much around these parts much recently either, although my reasons are much more foreseeable and reportable. My parents have come to visit, so I have been occupied in talking, and drinking, and talking some more.

As is her wont, my mother brought a book for my daughters and me, and it is a wonderful book – Kitchen Garden Cooking with Kids. It is written by Stephanie Alexander, of The Cooks’ Companion (and other books) fame, and it is about a tremendous project that she started in an inner city Melbourne school. She had the germ of an idea, that in order to truly educate children about eating healthy food, then something different needed to be done.

Alongside the expanding array of fresh food on offer, there has been an upsurge in the availability of packaged and pre-prepared food. Our daily food rituals have changed beyond recognition. … The family table has taken a battering. Far fewer families eat together on a regular basis and it is not uncommon for children to eat on their own in front of a television set, where the only advice they receive regarding food choices is from the manufacturers of convenience foods.

It is the fate of the children that concerns me. Statistics show that more than one quarter of our children are overweight. Few children eat the number of serves of fruit and vegetables recommended for optimum health. Many children are leading more and more sedentary lives. The intake of snacks featuring high levels of fat, sugar and salt is widespread and crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. …

Tables and pyramids, ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods, guidelines to canteen managers and discussions centred on ‘health’ and ‘nutrition’ have all failed to make changes in the food habits of our children….

No matter how much talking, no matter how much “education”, nothing seems to make a difference. I know this from the other direction. My children came bouncing home from school last week, with little leaflets about healthy food choices. But when I sat down and went through the menu plans and recipes with them, it turned out that the last thing they wanted to eat was Vegie Spaghetti, or Tuna and Avocado Salad, or even Fruity Ice Treats – too much kiwifruit. Yet they know that they should be eating fruit and vegies. (This of course, is an old, old debate in moral theory – does knowing ‘the good’ make you be good? Plato thought so (I think…) but famously, David Hume persuasively argued that our actions are motivated by emotions, not reasons, so knowing what we should be doing doesn’t actually change our behaviour at all. My daughters are clearly thorough-going Humeans.)

So Stephanie Alexander says that we need to think outside the square, to do something completely different. Her idea was to get a school to establish a kitchen garden, where the children would grow fruit and vegetables, and then they would use that produce in a school kitchen, cooking the food they had grown. They would learn how to garden and how to cook, and along the way, they would learn to eat good, fresh food.

She had the merest inkling of an idea. But the principal and staff, and the community of Collingwood School in Melbourne picked up her idea, and didn’t just run with it – they exploded out of the starting blocks, and with her help, and the help of dedicated staff and generous volunteers and donors, the primary school students learned how to garden, how to cook, how to enjoy real food. The children love it, and they take their gardening and cooking knowledge home. This is real education about good food. The Kitchen Garden Project has spread beyond Collingwood School; it is now being seeded at about 190 schools nationwide. It’s wonderful stuff.

There are some lovely anecdotes in the book.

A favourite recipe using silver beet is silverbeet torte. While making it, some of the students run out of time and have to go to another class. They are quite upset, and ask if they can come back at lunchtime to eat it, which is what they do. Who would have thought that kids would rush back to eat a pie stuffed with silverbeet and a bit of cheese?

And…

There are strawberries on the bushes. Few of these ever make it to the kitchen, as they are just too irresistible.

I am inspired by this book. My children are healthy enough, and they are most certainly not obese, although that’s due to sheer genetic luck. Nevertheless, I want them to learn how to garden, how to cook, how to enjoy food. Although the girls’ school has gardens, it does not have kitchen gardens and cooking lessons, so I want to work on a similar project, but at home, for my daughters.

vege.jpgSo, we are going to garden. This is our starting point: sandy Adelaide soil, between the garden shed and the clothes line, and close to the rainwater tank – I don’t want the girls’ gardens to fail for lack of water. The school holidays start in a couple of weeks, so this time around, our project will be to compost this soil, put in brick dividers (the previous occupants left a handy supply of bricks), and plant some seedlings. We are heading into autumn and winter, so we will be going long on silver beet, of which the girls will eat very little, but it grows easily. We are planning to get some chickens too (you can see the chicken run at the end of the shed, behind the trellis fence), so even if the girls won’t eat all the silver beet, the chooks will. At this time of year, we should also be able to plant some broccoli, spinach and peas. Given my earlier lamentations about potatoes, perhaps I will be able to put some in just outside of the girls’ gardens.

And then we will cook. My elder daughter has already started to learn how to cook – she makes a magnificent yoghurt chocolate cake. But it’s time to expand her repertoire, and to introduce my younger daughters to the joys of cooking good food.

I will bring you further reports, as the occasion arises.

Friday Feminist – Mary Daly

Our planet is inhabited by half-crazed creatures, but there is a consistency in the madness. Virginia Woolf, who died of being both brilliant and female, wrote that women are condemned by society to function as mirrors, reflecting men at twice their actual size. When this basic principle is understood, we can understand something about the dynamics of the Looking Glass society. Let us examine once again the creatures’ speech.

That language for millenia has affirmed the fact that Eve was born from Adam, the first among history’s unmarried pregnant males who courageously chose childbirth under sedation rather than abortion, consequently obtaining a child-bride. Careful study of the documents recording such achievements of Adam and his sons prepared the way for the arrival of the highest of the higher religions, whose priests took Adam as teacher and model. They devised a sacramental system that functioned magnificently within the sacred House of Mirrors. Graciously, they lifted from women the onerous power of childbirth, christening it ‘baptism’. Thus the brought the lowly material function of birth, incompetently and even grudgingly performed by females, to a higher and more spiritual level. Recognizing the ineptitude of females in performing even the humble ‘feminine’ tasks assigned to them by the Divine Plan, the Looking Glass priests raised these functions to the supernatural level in which they alone had competence. Feeding was elevated to become Holy Communion. Washing achieved dignity in Baptism and Penance. Strengthening became known as Confirmation, and the function of consolation, which the unstable nature of females caused them to perform so inadequately was raised to a spiritual level and called Extreme Unction. In order to stress the obvious fact that all females are innately disqualified from joining the Sacred Men’s Club, the Looking Glass priests made it a rule that their members should wear skirts. To make the point clearer, they reserved special occasions when additional Men’s Club attire should be worn. These necessary accoutrements included delicate white lace tops and millinery of prescribed shapes and colours. The leaders were required to wear silk hose, pointed hats, crimson dresses and ermine capes, thereby stressing detachment from lowly material things and dedication to the exercise of spiritual talent. Thus they became revered models of spiritual transsexualism.

These annointed Male Mothers, who naturally are called Fathers, felt maternal concern for the women entrusted to their pastoral care. Although females obviously are by nature incompetent and prone to mental and emotional confusion, they are required by the Divine Plan as vessels to contain the seeds of men so that men can be born and then supernaturally (correctly) reborn as citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. There in charity the priests encouraged women to throw themselves gratefully into their unique roles as containers for the sons of the sons of the Son of God. Sincerely moved by the fervour of their own words, the priests educated women to accept this privilege with awestruck humility.

Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, 1973

Update: An excellent obituary on Mary Daly, who died on 3 January 2009 – Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly, by Sady, cross-posted at Feministe

How to win friends

It’s a curious thing, at age 42, blessed with partner and children and family and friends, to be wondering how to go about making friends, how to go about meeting people of like mind. This is what engages me at present – just how do I find my way as a stranger in this strange land? The day to day routines of living in Australia are largely like those of living in New Zealand, breakfast, school, chores, free time, school, evening rush, bed, with small variations between the days; if today is Friday (which it is not, I know), I must be heading down to the Central Markets, and then to the supermarket. The simple routines of everyday life, more-or-less the same all over the developed world.

It’s the connections with other people that I find difficult. My e-friends, of course, have come with me to Adelaide, just as I have stayed with them in the old country, and met up with them all over the world. Other real life friends who live in Australia, friends who I would actually recognise down the street, have come to stay, and just spent time here, talking, cooking, drinking, passing the day away in a pleasant haze of conversation and company. But as yet, I know no one like that who lives here in Adelaide. Of course, it can take time for such friendships to develop, but how to meet such people in the first place?

I am an introvert. I enjoy people, but I find it hard to approach them, hard to connect with them, hard to simply find what to say. Once the connection is established, then it’s just not an issue, but until then, it takes an effort. And even then, after the connection, the time together, I need some down time, to process, to think, to restore my centre after the effort of being out there. Jonathan Rauch said it best, in his iconic piece about introverts – I urge you to read it.

There is one obvious place for me to meet new people – at my daughters’ school. Parents gather there everyday, to drop their children off and collect them. Mostly women, and a few dads. Each day, groups of women gather, greeting each other, chattering, gossiping and passing on news. A fertile source of people, surely? My beloved aunty is full of admiration for her daughter-in-law, my cousin’s wife, who on moving to Melbourne where she knew no-one, promptly got involved in the local school, setting up a craft group, and working on fundraising committees, and connecting, connecting, connecting. But the thought fills me with horror. I see the clattering claques of after-school mums, and am minded of nothing so much as a yard full of hens, scratching and pecking and clucking together, with very little space for newcomers, and certainly not for strange-feathered chooks who would rather speculate on the evolutionary pressures that led to the particular markings on a tasty beetle’s back, or gaze at the pattern that twigs make against the sky, or make an obscure reference to the fate of corn fed chickens in the Roman Republic. Of course, for the most part the women I speak to are very pleasant, and welcoming, but not being a sociable bird anyway, I’m not sure that I actually want to join the flock.

I have however, taken steps to entertain myself, and perhaps, in the longer term, even join something. I have long hoped that I might be able to sing – I can sing in tune, reasonably strongly, and my speaking voice is well trained, so there seems to be no reason for me not to be able to sing well too. Good voices run in my family; one of my cousins has an operatic quality voice, though for reasons, she was not able to train it, and another plays and sings with the epitome of hip, the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. There’s hope for my voice yet. So I have been going to a singing class at the WEA, and it might lead to something more. You won’t next hear of me coming from the Sydney Opera House, but with a bit more training, I might be able to audition successfully for a choir. It seems to me, aside from enjoying singing in any case, that I am more likely to meet kindred spirits in a choir that I am in the school playground.

This all sounds maudlin, I know. A young man approached me at the bus stop today, to ask about the Adelaide free bus service. He had been in the country for ten days, a migrant from mainland China. His spoken English was superb, but it was obvious that he was living in translation, a true stranger making his way in a new country. What a courageous venture on his part, and how much more difficult the barriers for him. I think I am, however, entitled to at least say out loud I find this whole process of uprooting myself and starting again, difficult in its own way.

As for influencing people – I am doing a tiny bit of lecturing at one of the universities here. Twice a week I have a captive audience of students, who come to hear my words of wisdom. They sit and listen, take notes, ask questions and even debate with each other, and generally treat me with something approaching respect. Now that’s influence!

Wet sheets

It is raining in Adelaide.

The sheets on the clothes line are getting wet, and I have no prospect of getting them dry today.

I am very happy.

How to support breastfeeding

The Labour government in New Zealand has proposed legislation to support breastfeeding. Specifically, employers will be required to provide private space for breastfeeding mothers to feed their babies, or to express milk. There will be flexibility for small employers, but workplaces with more than a few female staff will be expected to provide space. For anyone who is getting grumpy about this ‘extra cost’ imposed on employers, I’m guessing that it could be as simple as providing a screened off area in the lunchroom, or even just access to an office with a door that can be closed a couple of times a day.

I can’t help thinking that this is tinkering around the edges, and that the government is still refusing to follow through on its alleged commitment to supporting breastfeeding. As I have written before, when commenting on the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative, it takes time and effort to establish breastfeeding. For the first day or two or three after giving birth, a mother’s breasts produce colostrum, and the milk only comes in at day two or three. That can be a painful and difficult experience, but it’s also exactly when you need to learn to get the baby latched on and drinking. You need lots of support and help, and ideally, you need to be able to do nothing except concentrate on your baby. But what do we do with new mothers at that time? We ask them to leave hospital.

There are plenty of women who find breastfeeding easy, who have support at home, who don’t have other children to run around after, who don’t need to get up and prepare meals and wash clothes and clean the house. For them, leaving hospital at day one or two or three may not be a big deal, and may even be highly desirable. I know that all I wanted to do when my eldest daughter was born was to get out the door and take her home, especially after the other bed in the room I was in was filled, with a mother who had the telly permanently on the soaps. But many, many women need to have support and help with establishing breastfeeding, and that support and help is most readily available in maternity wards and units.

If the government is really committed to supporting breastfeeding, then it needs to fund maternity wards properly, so that women can stay in hospital for more than a day or two if they need to, in order to establish breastfeeding. Alternatively, they need to fund out-patient services properly, so that new mothers can access help with a phone call, twenty-four hours a day.

Hot atheist buns

One of the delights of blogging on WordPress is that there’s an ever changing selection of posts on the front page, and I have found some real gems there. Today’s find was a recipe for hot cross buns, from Butter Sugar Flour, a blogger based in Melbourne. Fantastic – I like using recipes written or adapted by antipodean cooks, because they suit local ingredients, and they are written in terms I understand. I have seen some fabulous recipes from North American and European sites, but the recipes which work for me and my cooking style are the local ones.

I prefer to make my own buns; the store or supermarket bought buns are often hard and cardboardy and flavourless, designed to appeal to a mass palate. Butter Sugar Flour’s recipe looked excellent, but I do regard a recipe as an opinion about which ingredients should be used, and how they should be combined, rather than a hard and fast rule that must be followed. So I adapted her recipe slightly, adding about a tablespoon of exceedingly strong coffee, and using brown sugar instead of white, both in order to get a lovely, brown coloured bun. I didn’t have mixed spice on hand, so I used ginger, nutmeg and a bit of allspice in addition to the cinnamon. I contemplated some almond essence, but decided against it.

rawbuns.jpgIn the spirit of Easter, that is, appropriating existing feasts and festivals to your own purposes, I made not hot cross buns, but hot atheist buns. Instead of piping macabre crosses on each one, I made atheist “A”s, ‘though not in scarlet. I didn’t think the food colouring would survive the baking process. The sharp-eyed reader will notice that the buns are in a checker pattern, half with currants and sultanas and glace (candied) peel, and half without; the little godless heathens in my house don’t like dried fruit.

And the finished product, hot from the oven, dripping with butter, full of flavour and with a beautiful texture. Perfect with a cup of coffee, and just the right way to mark Good Friday.

bun.jpg

Friday Feminist – Theodora Episcopa

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Theodora Episcopa