Monday, April 30, 2012

Darebin Homemade Food & Wine Festival - Talking Food

When I'm not pondering everyday life, I dabble with a food blog, and you can hear me chat about food, family and sustainable eating with Ed Charles of Tomato Melbourne and Anh Nguyen of A Food Lover's Journey at the Darebin Homemade Food and Wine Festival. See you there!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Better an empty house...

What do George Bush Sr and I have in common? Well, last week I was staying with friends. Ten of us were sharing a bathroom and, thanks to a raw foods meal heavy on the broccoli, I contracted food poisoning. The chances of the loo being free when I needed to throw up were slim, so my friends gave me a plastic container. Rather disconcertingly, it had measurements marked up the side, which is how I know I threw up almost a litre of broccoli and other raw delights.

I’ve never loved broccoli. Having been nose deep in the scent of partially digested florets for an evening, I’d have to say I like it even less now; and thus George and I finally have something in common.

Presidential comparisons aside, I was completely knocked out, and it took me a good two or three days to recover. As six kids – theirs and ours – swirled around me, I felt so apologetic.

I don’t know how many times I said sorry: for contracting food poisoning, for needing the vomit bowl, for throwing up, for washing the bucket out in their laundry sink, for needing to lie around for a couple of days, for being a bother, for being useless.

I could hear myself apologise again and again, and as I listened to myself I wondered. My friends are good kind gentle people, which is why I love them; and they treated me with a care far beyond the call of duty. They tried to take the bucket from me and empty it; they made it clear that I was to wake them at any time I needed them; they insisted that if I threw up on the bed or floor, they would clean it up. I wasn’t to do a thing other than be sick, and rest.

With such gracious friends, why did I apologise so profusely? Contracting food poisoning is hardly a moral failing. Do I think I am lovable only when I am active, healthy and useful, loading the dishwasher and hanging out washing and taking kids to the beach? Do I fear that my appeal will drop away the instant I reveal myself to be a sick, weak, vulnerable, embodied human being?

Yet it is our embodiment that has built the friendship. We’re not friends because of years of dry intellectual discourse; our friendship is based on walking together and sharing meals. It’s been years of swapping clothes and holding each other’s babies and giving each other a hug now and then; it’s being there for long hours when one of us needs to cry and the other has a safe warm room and some tissues. The very things that have cemented our friendship – our bodies which are flattered by similar clothes, our bodies which love good food, our bodies which walk and talk and relax at the beach – are what make us vulnerable. It is only because we can become bright with wine that we can be bent over by bacteria in our gut.

And I am the same person, well or ill. Better an empty house than a bad tenant, I said late at night, before cleaning out a warm bucket of sick; and, as I apologised for the bad joke, my friends who like me however I come looked directly at me, and laughed.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Peeling Chestnuts / Mindful Parenting Magazine

[P]eeling chestnuts has unlooked-for gifts. Ours come from a friend’s place in Gembrook. As I sit in my inner-city kitchen, peeling and listening to the traffic, I recall the gently rolling fields, the way the chestnut trees are tucked into a valley below a slope of proteas. I remember picnics under their dappled shade, and relive the stroll across a meadow to persimmons aflame with colour. Our neighbourhood may be dominated by traffic, but the glossy brown nuts, so smooth in my hand, remind me of a quieter landscape. Memories of trees and green shadows descend.


To read more, follow the link and flick to page 60, or click on the embedded magazine below - and don't miss other the fantastic articles on mindfulness, creativity, and children!

If you feel inspired to cook with chestnuts, you can check out my recipes here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012



We are staying with good friends this week and, as almost always happens on our family holidays, I have begun to menstruate.

So here I am, anxious in case I leak a spot of blood onto their sheets. At night I usually wear a rubber cup with a cloth pad for back up; but because I am away my back up is a disposable pad. The disposable pad is less reliable than the cloth pad; and yet I brought disposables because I couldn't imagine washing out a cloth pad and hanging it to dry on my friend's clothesline. Instead, I am anxious that I might spot on their nice clean sheets – far more humiliating indeed.

I usually remove the rubber cup in the shower and wash the night's blood down the drain; then, on days one and two of my period, I switch to tampons. This morning as I was getting dressed, I realised with a gulp that I had left the cup in the shower, so I rushed back and retrieved it before anyone else went in.

I had been preoccupied in the shower because I was worrying about where to throw used tampons. If you flush them, they can block the drains. There is a small bin in my friends' loo, but it contains finished toilet rolls so I was worried that they use it only for that – and what if, when they went to throw the loo rolls into the recycling bin, they discovered to their horror that it was a bin full of blood? I can wear the rubber cup during the daytime; and so I wondered whether I should wear it while I'm here so that I don't have to think about tampon disposal at all.

On the other hand, the cup can be a bit leaky on days one and two, and so I'd have to wear a panty liner – which also would need to go in a bin somewhere. The loo is in the middle of the house, and carrying a small bloody mess down the corridor, through the side door where the screen door slams and round the house to the bin outside is a three minute walk – too much of a palaver to be discreet.

Meanwhile, changing a rubber cup is never as neat or quick as changing a tampon. I invariably get blood on my hands, which I wipe off with loo paper; but it never all comes off. Ten people are in the house this week; and the hand basin is in the bathroom, down the corridor from the loo. I'd have to walk like Lady Macbeth, hands bloodied, to wash them – presuming, of course, nobody else was brushing their teeth or having a shower and I didn't have to detour to the second bathroom or the laundry. I still have to wash my hands after using a tampon, but there is no evidence as I flit from one room to the other looking for a free hand basin.

Why am I writing all this down? Because I am thirty six years old, and I still haven't got over my fundamental embarrassment that I menstruate. We are staying with good friends who also have children; and the lady of the house has borrowed an emergency tampon from me from time to time, so I should hardly feel awkward about it all. And yet I do.

I can't blame my parents. It was never a big deal in my family. Perhaps my embarrassment is due to my experiences at high school. 500 girls cycled together, so once a month there were long anxious lines snaking out of the toilets at recess and lunch; the boys walked past and sniggered. The sanitary bins were always full, and so pads were folded and stashed between the pipes and the wall, reaching higher and higher as the day went on. Signs on every cubicle door warned us not to flush tampons; of course, with no other option, we did. Often pads were left bobbing around the loo, too. It was absolutely revolting; I still cringe when I think about it.

I thought about the loos at high school when I read about Arunachalam Muruganantham's quest to develop cheap hygienic sanitary towels. Over 70% of women in India have reproductive tract infections brought about by having no sanitary options during menstruation; and so he has developed an inexpensive disposable sanitary pad.* Woman all over India are now being trained to run the machines and sell the pads for a pittance; and the money they earn from their work is going towards basics, such as education for their children. Muruganantham's company has distributed 600 machines so far; he is aiming for 100,000 machines employing one million women. But behind this good news story were the years of trial and error, in which he wore a sac of goat's blood to test the pads. He was accused of black magic and witchcraft; his wife left him for shame; and he endured humiliations galore.

Muruganantham is my new hero. His willingness to go beyond the taboo of menstruation for the common good shames me and the awkwardness I feel. My husband isn't bothered by menstruation; in fact, he is the one who keeps track of things and, when I feel strangely tired and downcast, gently reminds me that I am due to bleed the next day. We have no taboos about sex or sleeping together during that time, and I can participate in every aspect of community life. Everywhere I go there are flushing toilets and sanitary waste disposal and places where I can wash my hands. I have absolutely no excuse to feel embarrassed.

Menstruation is a sign that I have been able to conceive and bear three beautiful daughters; and that I am fortunate enough to be able to choose not to have another eighteen children. It shows that I am young and fertile and healthy. And I am grateful, so grateful, that we have access to hygienic disposable pads and tampons, and good washing facilities for rubber cups and cloth pads.

Now, I sense my tampon is close to full, so I'm off to ask my friends what they would have me do. Then I'll change the tampon, toss it in the right bin, and pee and flush the toilet. I'll wander down the corridor and wash my hands; and as I lather up the soap in good clean water, I'm going to give thanks.

*Note 1: reusable cloth pads are terrific when you live in a society where there is no shame about washing them and you have access to good washing facilities. They are not a good option when you have to wash in a public or inadequate facility and the taboos associated with menstruation are great. It's kind of like nappies (diapers). Cloth nappies are great for middle class families with a washing machine and hot water. If, however, you have to save them up in a small apartment then take them to a public laundry with three kids hanging off you, and have to pay for every wash, disposable nappies are the only reasonable option.

*Note 2: You can order a rubber menstrual cup here or here. In my experience they are fantastic for lighter days and overnight (with a cloth pad for back up at night). The second site also sells a silicon cup (for those with allergies to natural rubber and latex), and cloth menstrual pads. You can compare the rubber (the Keeper) and silicon (Lunette) cups here. I have also found that, in lieu of the menstrual cup, a folded ragged old face washer, while bulky and inelegant, is the best overnight option by far. Unlike every disposable pad I've tried, and I've tried a few, it never leaks. In the morning, throw it on the floor of the shower and stomp out the blood while you wash, then chuck it in with your next load of laundry.

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