Today a friend asked me to share a recipe… and here it is:
Chiles en Nogada
The Picadillo (Meat filling)
Saute 1 kilo of ground pork with:
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Add salt and pepper to taste
When the meat is cooked, use a molcajete (mortar and pestle) or a coffee grinder to pulverize:
5 whole cloves
1/2 inch stick cinnamon
Add the ground spices to the meat mixture with:
2 heaping Tbsp blanched and slivered almonds
2 heaping Tbsp dried citrus fruit peel and salt to taste
Cut in tiny pieces, then add:
1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes,
2 pears, cored, peeled and chopped
2 peaches, pitted, peeled and chopped
Add: 100 grams of raisins
Mix everything together
Put 10 chiles poblanos (and you MUST use this type of chili) straight into a fairly high flame or under a broiler and let the skin blister and burn. Turn the chiles from time to time so they do not get overcooked or burn right through. Wrap the chiles in a plastic bag and leave them for about 20 minutes. (they will sweat and the skin will be easier to remove) Once the skins have been peeled off, make a slit in the side of each chili and carefully remove the seeds and veins. Be careful to leave the top of the chili, the part around the base of the stem, intact. Rinse the chilies and pat them dry.
Stuff the chilies with the picadillo until they are well filled out. Set them on paper towels, cover with plastic wrap, and then put them in the fridge to chill (I make stuff the chilies the day before I plan on serving them)
The Nogada (walnut sauce)
Also on the day before you plan on eating the chilis:
Soak 2 cups of walnuts overnight in cold milk
On serving day (about 5 hours before eating) :
Drain and pulverize the nuts, then blend them with:
1 small piece white bread without crust
1 1/2 cups cream + 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
Large pinch of cinnamon
When the sauce is smooth, refrigerate it until it is cold.
Set the chilies on a plate and drizzel with the walnut sauce. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley leaves and pomegranate seeds on top.
You can accompany this dish with guacamole, rice and tortillas.
***Note: Although the original recipe calls for walnuts, I often substitute pecans. The difference in flavor is there… but barely.
I woke up with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blasting in my brain.
… Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on …
Although it doesn’t happen often, this is not the first time my sleep has been interrupted by a song. It happens when I get overwhelmed by all that is going on in my life. Usually, my first reaction is to rationalize the situation. “Oh go back to sleep,” I tell myself, “When this event is over… or that issue is resolved… or whatever… there will be time for (fill in the blank) and for (fill in the blank).”
My internal dialogue continues… “But what I’ve been doing is necessary… It is important… I have responsibilities…”
And yes, this is true. Good works are necessary. It is important to fulfill obligations. Living up to responsibilities is what adults do. But at this stage of my life, is it time to reassess what this involves? Is it time to take on less?
The singing has stopped, and a whispering voice has taken David Bowie’s place … it suggests that maybe I should consider making a few adjustments. Truth be told, the voice inside my head is not whispering… it is screaming at me… quite stridently. It is not suggesting, it resolutely maintains that I am not behaving in the most necessary, important, and responsible way. The voice insists that I allow for more unhurried, unstructured time in my life.
It urges me to think about spending more time with my family and long-time friends. It asks why I don’t carve out more time for writing, painting, cooking healthy meals, and exercising more. It tells me I need to do what matters most to me AND to those I love.
My priorities seem to be askew… and no one but me has caused the imbalance. I like being involved.. it’s a good thing, but I need to set limits. I guess I’ve come to a fork in the road.
It’s time to consider changing my orbit.
… This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today …
Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your bearings?
… Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do …
Hm-m-m-m-m-m-m. I will celebrate my 65th birthday in a few weeks… The time has come for me to listen, trust, and heed the voice in my head.
… I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go …
The time has come for some gentle changes in my life.
What a year 2017 has been. I’m not one to wish time away, but quite frankly, I will be glad to usher in the New Year. I’m looking forward – not back.
In May I will become an “official” senior citizen and that absolutely astonishes me. Honestly –my hair is white now and I cannot run really fast for too long, but I can usually handle whatever is thrown at me. I can walk for miles, climb several flights of stairs or a steep hill without wheezing, and I still adore staying up late.
Over the next 365 days, I imagine that some awesome and some challenging events will assail me and my loved ones. My New Year’s resolution is to take myself less seriously. When people or situations get to be too bothersome, petty, threatening or whatever – I’ll just fluff out my tutu and keep dancing!
When I was young, time crawled by – but with each decade, the days and weeks seem to have gotten shorter and shorter – now they whiz by so fast, I can hardly keep track.
It is December again – how can that be – I mean REALLY!
Except for two weeks in September, I’ve been living in Canada since June. I like it there, but I have missed Jorge, my children, my Merida friends, my home of 40 years and my garden.
And yesterday, after 20 hours of travel, I arrived back in Yucatan. I unfolded my weary bones out of Seat 15F, and filed along with the crowd towards Immigration and Customs. I knew I’d soon be runited with my husband – and felt excited for that moment – but I was bereft knowing that I’d not be seeing my children too. They will be in Norway this Holiday Season, and it turned out that they had booked a flight on the exact same plane I had just arrived on… If only we’d coordinated our itineraries differently!
I kept going and to my surprise, I saw Carlos and Maggie looking out through the window of their departure gate. They appeared to be searching for someone – and when Carlos saw me, he nodded his head up and down and took off in the other direction – Maggie ran over to me.
I could see Carlos had the attention of a young airport employee, who quickly followed him over to where Maggie and I stood – our hands pressed together on either side of the glass. Hanging around the airline agent’s neck, I spied the key to my heart – literally THE key to my heart. She inserted it into the lock and gave Carlos, Maggie and me just enough time for a take-my-breath-away embrace. OMG, I wanted to hug her too. I felt so grateful, and only the thought of Jorge waiting further along made me turn away.
The reunion Jorge and I enjoyed was not quite as emotional but it was equally wonderful – and within an hour of my arrival at MID, I found myself walking through the rooms of my home, checking out the garden and dipping my toes in the pool. The water temperature did not invite me to plunge right in, but Jorge’s smile certainly did. In all the important ways, slipping back into the “Merida Me” felt as easy as changing my shoes.
Many friends (and strangers too) have asked what it has been like for me to live in Canada again, after such a long time in Mexico. Have you adjusted – What do you do – Do you still have friends there – Don’t you miss your family?
Obviously, my move to part-time residency in two countries is a BIG change. Before actually arriving there, I didn’t know how it would all work out. But I figured I could leave at any time, so why not try?
Over the years, I have experienced both wonders and challenges in Merida. Jorge and I raised two bicultural kids, we built a college, and we’ve both contributed to our Yucatecan and international communities. Nonetheless, my western Canadian identity has always remained strong – I never stopped missing my family and my life there. While my children were small, while I was working, and had other responsibilities, I could not be in Canada except to visit. And that was OK – I belonged in Mexico with Jorge, Carlos and Maggie. But once I retired, I wondered – why not live in both places? Jorge’s ties to his hometown and culture are bound by steel cable. Although we both wish the day-to-day logistics wer easier to resolve, he understands my need for time in Canada. We’ll just have to keep working at it, until we find the solution that works best. After all, BIG changes take time to fine tune.
And, getting back to the initial point of this post – what is it like to live in Canada after all these years in Mexico?
Vancouver, the city where I was born and raised, has grown from a secondary coastal hub into a teaming international metropolis. English used to be the only language I ever heard in my North Vancouver neighborhood, and now native English speakers are a minority there. Drivers, once so courteous, seem to be on a mission to get where they’re going as fast as they can – and if you are dawdling – you’ll soon hear horns blasting. Right away, I determined I would not be living, or even driving in Vancouver.
Vancouver is expensive too. Very expensive. Rents average $2,500 a month for a one bedroom apartment – if you can find one. Eating out is at least $25.00 a pop, without alcohol or desert. A modest grocery bill for one person is $150.00 a week. Last time I looked, gas was nearly $1.30 a liter at the pump. With the traffic, it takes hours to get anywhere, so just the fuel cost of running a car is considerable.
Kamloops, an inland city of 90,000 – 3 ½ hours east of Vancouver turned out to be just right for me. It is slower-paced and yet it has all the services I need. There is good shopping in small shops, in malls and in markets. Daily cultural events are interesting and varied – all summer I attended free nightly concerts in the riverside park. On Seniors’ Day (Wednesdays) entrance to the current first-run movie and a complementary bag of popcorn is just $10.00 – that’s the best deal I found. The library and the university both host free or almost-free courses and workshops. As my small apartment is located right downtown, I can walk everywhere. When I need to go further afield, I can take the bus. If company comes, I can rent a car.
Most of all, I have loved being closer to my brothers and sisters, other extended family and old-time friends. When I first arrived, they helped me settle in and since then, we have enjoyed so many dinners, walks and day trips. I have also made some new friends.
The weather is well-suited to me. It is a lot drier than in Yucatan – and much less humid. Canadians consider Kamloops’ summers to be unbearably hot, but I laugh at that! In the fall it cools off quickly – I immediately bought a warm coat and boots , and turned on the fireplace. It heats the apartment efficiently – so I have kept toasty and warm.
Of course not everything is perfect in Canada. There were surprises – in some ways, it is not at all like the country where I grew up. I already mentioned the size and faster pace, which seem to have ushered in cultural challenges. Although the majority of Canadians I encountered have been courteous and friendly, especially in Kamloops, a subculture has grown.
Drug use is definitely a problem and there is a visible homeless population in Kamloops. To me it looks like many in this group are mentally ill. Concerned individuals do what they can, but the issues are as complicated as the people who need help – they won’t “get better” with methadone treatment, shelters or “Chili and Coats” provided free from time to time. Most of the indigent population lives downtown, and I talk a bit with some of “the regulars”. I sense they want to change, but it’s a long, painful process, and they fear both long-term and pain.
Fair and equitable reconciliation for aboriginal Canadians is another dilemma that the government and citizens struggle to resolve. But I must say, Canadians try – they try hard to find fair solutions – and meanwhile they do the best they can.
And isn’t this what it’s like for all of us? No matter where we live or what our situation, life isn’t a cake walk for anyone – we do our best to enjoy what works – and we work on improving what isn’t. I call this the pursuit of grace.
The Serenity Prayer, written by the theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr pretty much sums up my feelings about adapting to the changes in our personal lives and addressing those we face as members of global society.
Yee gads! Are bloggers like the dinosaurs? If so, will we be allowed to go softly into the night? Or will we be suddenly eliminated from the cyber world just as the mammoth reptiles were frozen out of our physical one?
A couple of weeks ago, a favorite blogger announced that she had written her last post. And just the other day, another popular wordsmith threatened to do likewise. And have you noticed that even the most prolific of the English-language blogs, Mexfiles, no longer appears daily.
Fortunately, my colleagues had a change of heart. They are in fact still blogging, but perhaps not with their previous regularity or enthusiasm. And there are others like me, who have changed their blog’s focus as well as their publishing frequency.
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and a host of special interest social media groups are now more popular than blogs. Anyone who has a tablet or smart phone can easily post – with or without photos – about whatever interests them. Dogs and cats (especially rescue ones), parties and other social events, home renovations, the mysteries of the Mexican Immigration law, intricacies of banking, and surprises when shopping are all popular topics. Scams and scandals in the community are circulated. But the lion’s share of polemic is reserved for politics.
Some bloggers write politically, but after a few forays into that particular Never-Never Land, I have opted to skirt around it. I have NOT changed my views but discretion is the better part of valor – why risk getting my name on some no-fly list or worse?
Indeed, from time to time, bloggers are accused of writing tepidly. Actually that is one of the hardest parts about blogging – we want to be brave, to let the truth shine, to write with integrity, and from the heart. But we also need to keep one finger hovering above the “auto censor” key – we are lone voices. We don’t have the backing of a newspaper chain or the legal protection of a publishing house. We put ourselves out there and because of that, I think most of us have had some negative experiences. I’ve asked myself why we persevere.
Do we think we have insights that no one else has? Do we presume we can educate and inform our readers? Well, maybe a little bit – but mostly it is the process. The bloggers I know truly enjoy writing. They love searching for just the right words and composing sentences that express exactly what they need to say. It’s easy to write a few lines of facebook feed but a well thought out blog post takes time. Sometimes I spend ages getting the language just right – and appropriate visuals also take a while to find.
I enjoy getting comments – I’ve been blogging for a long time and it’s easy to get stale. I appreciate those who faithfully read Changes in Our Lives – they know who they are – and so will you if you scan my comments. Some of them contribute almost as much as I do.
This has been a different year for me and if not for my blog, I would have done precious little writing. Getting regular practice is another advantage to blogging. So, provided no meterorite crashes into Earth, I plan to keep on just as I am, and I hope my colleagues will do likewise.
I have no memory of the day my grandfather gave us his hand-made Nativity set. I don’t know how he got the idea to build the stable from a disgarded fruit crate. He cut out Mary’s and Joseph’s kneeling silhouettes from veneer scraps – then used his oils to paint their beatific faces and traveling robes. I’m pretty sure that Baby Jesus was a dime store dolly before Granddad swaddled him and laid him in the manger (crafted from glued-together pieces of wood). Every December, Mom would position the figures on a table and to complete the scene, she’d add pine cones, fir branches and lights of some sort. When she had finished, she always stood back, smiled, and said how much she loved it.
I would cringe because I felt too guilty to admit that I thought our crèche was too plain and too simple. I thought we should have a much fancier one.
Oh how I admired my friend’s elaborate Holy Family figurines. They were made from fine porcelain and dressed in flowing brocade. A heavenly host of angels, three wise men on camels, shepherds and their sheep, an ox and a donkey stood in adoring attendance.
Years passed, I moved to Mexico, and our family always spent the Holidays there. In many Merida homes, the decorated tree takes second place to an elaborate reenactment of the holy birth. I could never look at my sister-in-law’s without remembering the “plain and simple” one I grew up with.
I will be traveling to Mexico in a week’s time, but before leaving Kamloops, I wanted to put up some Christmas decorations around my apartment. My sister Barb brought over a cardboard box containing baubles, strings of lights… and the old family crèche!
Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I set up the Nativity scene in a corner and surrounded the vintage pieces with pinecones, votive candles and fir branches. I stood back and looked hard. The Christmas crèche is still as “plain and simple” as ever – but my eyes see it differently than when I was a child. Now it looks “plain-ly and simp-ly” beautiful.
At Riverside Park, Kamloops residents gathered around the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day Laying of the Wreaths ceremony.
Starting promptly at 11 am, the ceremony included a Fly Past by the 419th Squadron from Cold Lake Alberta… the singing of O Canada and God Save the Queen and the recital of In Flanders Fields, the poem by Lt-Col. John McRae. Bagpipes wailed the Lament and trumpets sounded Reveille.. There were prayers and 2 minutes of silence.
All around the base of the centotaph, many wreaths were laid by government and private groups. And when the private citizens approached to salute the vets, they tossed poppies on top of the wreaths.
Shelley Joyce is the anchor of CBC Kamloops’ morning radio program, “Daybreak”. Yesterday she prerecorded a short interview with me about a presentation I’ll give to commemorate Remembrance Day. The talk will be held at:
The downtown Kamloops Library, Wednesday November 8th , 7:00 pm
I told Ms.Joyce that from 1939 until 1945, my father served as a private in the BC Engineering Corps of the Royal Canadian Armed Forces. He was only 19 years old when he signed up, and just before he shipped out, his father gave him the address of a first cousin, Gisèle – If Dad ever found himself in Amsterdam, Granddad wanted him to visit her.
In 1945, my father did indeed end up in Amsterdam – his division was among those that participated in the liberation of the Netherlands – and he could hardly wait to join in the victory celebrations. But first, he wanted to honor his father’s request. When he got leave, he and his friend made their way to her home, a small apartment on the Herengracht. Coincidentally this is the same canal street where my grandfather was born. What Dad found there dampened every bit of enthusiasm for partying.
During occupation by the Nazi forces, Gisèle hid her Jewish friends. They survived, but on the day Dad met them, before food distribution was reestablished, he figured none of them weighed more than 80 pounds. All plans for his celebration were cancelled – Dad and his friend returned to their base, got food and fuel and returned to Gisèle’s home as quickly as they could.
Almost six decades later in 2003, my sister and I travelled to Amsterdam and met Gisèle – she was 91 years old and still living in the same building. She showed my sister and me where she’d hidden her friends during the raids (in the dumbwaiter) and she told us about the hardship and fear they endured. She jumped over to one of the front windows, and said she’d looked out from there and seen Dad. She added that the provisions he and his friend brought to her and her friends, had saved their lives.
In memory of my father and to honor her, I wrote my book, CIRCLES. Reflecting on their lives, I am impressed by how both of them went on to live happy, full lives – and in the case of Gisèle – a famous one. She was a painter and a writer. She lived a 100 year-long life of curiosity and joy.
Her bravery was officially recognized by three countries. Initially Gisèle came to the attention of the German government. She received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the federal cross awarded to people of great valor.. The second citation bestowed on Gisèle was that of Righteous Among Nations. This honor is the highest tribute a non-Jewish person can be given by Israel. Gisèle’s third honor, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau — “Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau,” pleased her immensely – it is presented to Dutch citizens who deserve appreciation and recognition from society for special service to the country.
With characteristic humility and generosity, my father said his award was life itself. He added that Mom and us eight children filled him with all the joy and recognition he wanted.
I look forward to Wednesday and the opportunity to share the story of my dad and his Dutch cousin. I hope those who come to the Library will also bring photos or other mementoes of their loved ones who served Canada. I would like them to tell their stories too.
And to end today’s post, I will reprint one of the most iconic of all poems written about war. Those who attended elementary school in Canada, no doubt memorized it – and perhaps still remember it – as I do.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Yesterday I met a young woman who told me her dream is to write a book. She said she has never taken any writing courses, and she has no writing experience. She said she has no idea how to start writing. She feels her dream is unattainable.
Later in the evening, my mind returned to our conversation. I thought back to the time when I first turned to writing. I was 24, newly-married and living far away from my family. I wanted everyone to feel part of my adventures, and so I wrote letters. Lots and lots of them. I tried to write as expressively as I could, and in the process, I built up my vocabulary and I learned to trim my sentences for clarity.
A few years later, a friend showed one of my letters to Joe Nash, a legendary editor at “The Mexico City News”. Before the internet, the paper was the largest English language daily in Latin America. Joe invited me to be the correspondent for Yucatan – a unique learning experience that lasted 12 years. People read my column and some of them asked me to write for their publications – travel articles mostly. I did make sporadic attempts at structuring a longer piece but I never got far.
Then one January night in 2007, I woke up with an idea that would not leave me alone – I wanted to write something “long”. Literary terms like: “genre”, “point of view”, “the story arch” or “the hero’s journey” meant nothing to me. But I sat down at the computer and began. I typed my first paragraph:
“I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could recognize pivotal times in our personal journeys – the “forks in the road” that present themselves. Do we ever see them coming? Does a vague premonition warn us that certain decisions are destined to truly change our path? If we could anticipate these critical junctions, would we have the nerve to follow through? Thirty-plus years ago, I surely did not sense that my life was about to veer radically off course. I had no idea what was in store for me for the rest of my days. I was caught completely unawares… and I went headlong through the door that opened to me…”
And that was it – I followed my own advice – I went headlong through the door that opened to me. Since that night, four books, many short stories and umpteen blog posts have been composed, letter by letter, on my trusty HP.
I can’t fully explain why I need to write, but I can describe how I write.
No mincing of words here – determination is essential. When I want to write, I sit in the chair with my fingers on the keyboard – this is the only way I can get going. I get up to drink water or to stretch a bit – but I stay in place until I finish – or am forced to leave.
Even when not writing, my thoughts are always wandering through the years and my life experiences – to such an extent that it sometimes feels as though I’m reliving them. When I write, I draw on those experiences and feelings.
I watch people – how they move and how emotions show on their faces. This helps me portray my characters.
My head is always full of ideas, memories, and plans. This helps me to spin plots, to create characters and find the words to develop them.
After pondering my afternoon’s encounter – this is what I wish l had said to that young woman:
NEVER give up on your dream. The time to start your book might not be here yet, but you will absolutely know when it has arrived. Meanwhile, you need to practice. Start a journal and write something every day, even if it is just a few lines. Read as much as you can, and try to figure out how authors craft their sentences. You could benefit from some creative writing workshops and learn a lot at book presentations. Watch Ted Talks by authors (Anne Lamott has an amazing one)
Be an observer – watch how an old man trudges up a hill, and how a little girl scampers down the front steps. You need to remember how a kiss tastes, and how it sounds when your mother calls your name. Fill your word bank so that you have a healthy balance – just in case you need to withdraw some – to describe the smell of the rain, or the sound of your boots crunching in the snow. Little by little, you will learn to put your thoughts and emotions into words, and then write those words down for others.
That’s what a writer does – and you can do it too.
I have seen lots of my sisters, Anne, Barb, Cathy since arriving in Kamloops last June. We have cooked, shopped, wine tasted, gone for drives along back roads and dog walked. Not earth-shattering entertainment – but just the sorts of things that sisters enjoy together.
We have all recently moved into new digs. I am in Canada just part time, but still, I’ve had an apartment to fix up. My sisters have all downsized. Not having so much house to care for is great, but the inconvenience of a smaller place is less storage. My sisters wonder what to do with the memorabilia they have collected over the years – their children don’t want it – and they have nowhere to keep it. The photographs are fading and the letters are dog-eared – but they can’t bear to throw the stuff out. And really, it would be a shame to lose all that history. So, we came up with the idea of a “posterity project”.
It did not take long to collect four big plastic storage bins of “treasure”. The apartment where I live in Kamloops seemed like the logical place to keep it all – I don’t have much space either but I am the one with the most time to separate, cull and organize.
We call our project: “The vdG Repository”. My dictionary defines repository as : a central location in which data is stored and managed. Perfect, eh?
And we are off to a great start. In the living room, next to the window, we’ve placed an old photograph of our granddad’s family in Amsterdam, and below it, a photograph of the family taken at my grandmother’s 65th birthday party. Above the couch, we have three of Granddad’s paintings – and the family memoir I wrote about Aunt Gisele’s life is on the book shelf – as are other books written by family members.
We’ve sorted the letters, photos and keepsakes into piles and have started to make scrap books. We don’t have much of cataloguing system. The four are called: “Granddad and Further Back”, “Dad, his Siblings and Cousins”, “Us Kids and Our Cousins”, and “Our Kids and Their Kids”
We have a copy of the family tree that Aunt Gisele put together, and the chart that accompanies it. Her birth, 105 years ago is the last recorded entry, so obviously we have a lot of catching up to do.
The van der Gracht family is an interesting mix of characters. Artists, explorers, pirates, n’er-do-wells, humanitarians, businessmen, real estate developers, teachers, farmers, nurses – and even a saint! We hope that future generations will want to know more about us than just our birth and death dates, so we are adding stories to the scrap books, and postcards, kid’s drawings, first communion photos, and wedding invitations.
It goes without saying that this project is also a tribute to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They instilled in us a love of family, and we want to carry that on.
We hope that other family members will send us the missing links and data, but if not, we’ll do the best we can.
Do you or anyone you know have a project like ours? Any suggestions?