Monday, 2 July 2012

Green Banana Curry

I bought some very green bananas at Wal-Mart. I was a little hesitant, as I'd heard stories of bananas never ripening before, but I wanted bananas and didn't want to make an extra trip to the grocery store, so I bought them. Besides, I reasoned, a paper bag and an apple should ripen them up if need be. Well, after having them for probably a month, they still weren't really any less green, so I resorted to putting them into a paper bag with an apple. Apples, and other ripening fruit, give off ethylene, which hastens the ripening of fruit. However, it was no dice with my green bananas, in spite of being in the bag with the apple for a week or more (I didn't mark it on my calendar, so not sure exactly how long they were in the bag, nor how long it had been since I'd bought them). I finally gave up on ripening them, and went to the internet to find recipes for green bananas. I found a recipe for Green Banana Curry on Unfortunately, by the time I got a chance to make it, the bananas had started to ripen, no longer green and hard enough to make this curry. The skin is a greyish-yellow with a tinge of green and more challenging to peel than normal. The bananas are edible, but with a flavour and texture more reminiscent of those tiny bananas than regular bananas. But back to the curry - I had already planned on making this dish, so scurried over to Wal-Mart to get some more green bananas. Wal-Mart's bananas are almost always green. Not sure what happened, but this time, the bananas were only slightly green, and they had lots of them, not a one of them hard and green. What to do? Green bananas are actually a starchy food, so, thinking quickly, I remembered the frozen hash browns I had in the freezer in my holiday trailer. And that's what I used. I did not soak them in cold, salty water, as one is supposed to do with green bananas. I sauteed them for about 5 minutes after adding them to the oil and spices. And I used lite coconut milk. The results: delicious. I enjoyed it very much. 
I served the curry on a bed of Perfumed Basmati Rice with Black Cardamom Pods (Kala Elaichi Pulao) from 660 Curries. Let me say this about East Indian spices: if you do not have adventuresome tastebuds and prefer traditional North American flavours, skip the Indian cooking. When I opened my jar of black cardamom pods, the aroma reminded me somewhat of Vicks Vaporub. Basmati rice, itself, smells mildly like stinky socks, in my opinion (but then so do Fritos corn chips). So, no, these flavours are definitely not for the timid. I had recently bought a 1 gram bottle of saffron threads at Winners for $6.00, and that was the reduced price. Saffron is about the most expensive spice available. And yes, I know, Winners seems like a strange place to buy saffron, but that's where I found it. So, I was prepared to make this dish. I substituted vegan margarine for the ghee/butter and yellow onion for the red onion. Unfortunately, as I was only making a small quantity, I chose to use my smaller Durabrand Rice Cooker rather than my Aroma rice cooker. The Durabrand does not seal as tightly as the Aroma, so more moisture escapes. Significantly more.  Also, I frequently prepare the ingredients the night before and just start the rice cooker the next day. This gives the opportunity for the rice to soak, as it recommends in the directions, even though I don't cook it the same way. Perhaps this softens it up more. I'm not totally sure all of the rationale, but the rice turned out rather crunchy. The flavour was good, but the texture was not. Next time I use the Durabrand, I will add some extra water and hopefully, that will make the difference. In spite of the texture, which was no fault of the recipe, this dish gets a thumbs up. It was aromatic spicy, rather than hot spicy, as this dish had no heat (other than temperature) whatsoever. The heat in my meal was in the green banana (hash brown) curry.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

New Horizons

Work isn’t going as well as could be wished. Every time I do something that takes initiative, my supervisor slaps my wrist. I get the feeling that she’s intimidated by me somehow. I even asked my team leader if I’d been out of line on the last thing I got my wrist slapped for and she said no, that the supervisor seems to be feeling threatened for some reason.
Well, I can think of a few reasons. I think she’s insecure in this position. She’s not an RN. She’s an LPN who happens to have a degree of some sort. She’s worked Long Term Care, but never worked home care, so is not incredibly knowledgeable about the job. I think she’s feeling overwhelmed with the position and all it entails. She frequently seems frazzled. She might be aware that I interviewed for her job and maybe assumes I resent her? She had to sign a copy of my university transcript for a funding application, so is aware of my grades (mostly A’s, 3 B’s, final GPA of 3.75) and that I now have my degree. Yes, I admit, I have told her what to do a few times and there was also the time I told her off, even though I later apologized. So, I readily admit that some of it could be my fault.
But I don’t know how long I can stand her need for control. It was so bad last Thursday that I actually went home after work, polished up my resume and sent it off to a couple of Universities to apply for a teaching job. Yes, that is a dream of mine. I love to teach, and now that I have my degree, that’s possibly within my reach. However, I have no desire to commute all the way into the city for work, nor do I wish to move to the city, if I could even afford to. So, it might just be a pipe dream at this point in time.
However, one of my friends, a fellow Ontarian, has let me in on her plans to retire this fall and move back to Ontario and just work casual there. Well, I’m in no position to retire or just work casual, but the dream of moving back to Ontario is still there. And she just revived it with her plans. In Ontario, there are colleges and universities located where housing is cheaper than the city here. But are there jobs? Is it realistic to consider packing up and moving all that way at this point in time? Would I be able to sell my house? And I’m always reminded that the “grass is always greener...”and “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
Much prayer still needed...

Slamming the Door on Adoption

In my experience, adoption is an acceptable way to “grow a family.” My youngest sister is adopted. The wife of one of my nephews is adopted and they, in turn, adopted an infant when they wanted to start their family. I know several families where all or most of the children are adopted. My friend,who was maid of honour at my wedding, was a member of one of these families.
I became interested in adoption as an option for me personally when I was in my late teens. It started when I read an article on singles adopting. I cut out the article and saved it, and this began my file on adoption. I later added to it an article on foreign adoption, and newsletters from organizations like International Children’s Care.
Eventually, when I married, I had no intention of having children of my own. It wasn’t until we decided to start a family and discovered how many hoops we had to jump through for adoption that we decided to go ahead and have a child by birth. I was thrilled with my daughter, but suffered post-partum depression and decided not to go that route again.
After we moved to BC, we decided to apply to adopt. We had been approved to have a home study and were just about to start the process when my husband was laid off and we moved to Saskatchewan. Adoption, in Canada, is a provincially regulated matter, so we had to start over again in our new province of residence. Once again, we had just begun the process when we moved back to Ontario. I don’t think we actually applied in Ontario. We had too many speed bumps – my mother’s death and a couple of marital separations, which are not good material for adoption.
After settling in Alberta, we decided to try again, choosing the foster route this time. We took all of the required training, but had said that we didn’t want a teenager. Well, guess what they gave us? A teen-aged boy! Our daughter was excited about the prospect, but a teen-aged boy, especially a troubled foster child, and a 9-year-old girl reared in a conservative Christian home, are not the best combination. He only lasted two days with us. After failing to come home from school one night and not informing us where he was, I decided that wasn’t a viable situation.
Finally, we decided to pursue foreign adoption. The aforementioned International Children’s Care was a Christian organization, run by members of our denomination (Seventh-day Adventist). I reasoned that at least the children would have been familiarized with our values and beliefs prior to placement in our home since they had already been in an Adventist “foster” home in their country of origin, so the adjustment process should be a little easier, in that regard at least. Guatemala was the country from which they were placing children.
We then went through the ENTIRE process. Training, home study, everything. And we paid for it ourselves because it was a private adoption. I even read the entire training manual onto cassette tapes so that my truck driver husband could listen to them while driving. All the paper work was submitted to the government (it probably had to go to both the Albertan and Canadian governments, but I don’t remember that part) and we were actually APPROVED. Then the Canadian government closed the doors on adoptions from Guatemala! Some irregularities in some adoptions there. I actually wrote a letter of appeal, stating that International Children’s Care was a reputable Christian organization that wouldn’t support any irregularities. No luck, but since we had been approved, we were welcome to try another country. However, International Children’s Care had been our organization of choice. We really had no desire to start again with another organization.
I now realize that all of those closed doors were divine providence. I don’t believe my husband’s heart was ever really in it. I don’t even know if he ever listened to all those tapes I recorded, since he was a good liar when he wanted to be. I was also in denial as to what kind of man he really was, but God knew. And God also knew that the marriage would eventually end in divorce. Divorce is challenging enough for birth children. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be for adopted children, who already have rejection and attachment issues. They certainly didn’t need that extra trauma in their lives. And I didn’t need the added burden of caring for the extra children when the marriage ended. Nor fighting with my ex-husband for child support. That did work out for the best.
My life has settled down post-divorce. I have a good job and own my own home. The thought of adopting has crossed my mind a few times, but I generally dismissed it. After all, we had always considered adopting toddlers and/or preschoolers and here I was in my late 40’s – much too old to be starting over with that age of child. And the reasoning is, the older the child, the more bad habits and behaviours have had a chance to establish themselves in the child’s life. So adopting older children or teenagers was not something we ever considered.
Then one day about a year ago, at the age of 51, I thought, “Why not?” Why not adopt a teenage girl or even a sibling group. After all, I own a 3+1 bedroom home with just the cats to share it. So, I began the process. At the time of my original application, I had to complete a form that stated what kind of conditions/diseases I was willing to consider in a potential child. One of the conditions that I said was not acceptable was Fetal Alcohol Spectrum (FAS). Way back when we were considering fostering, I took a course on FAS and decided that that was definitely not something I was prepared to deal with. I didn’t check off a whole lot of conditions. After all, I was willing to accept a teenager (hard to place) as well as a sibling group (also hard to place) and being single and working full time, I was not in a position to be dealing with a whole lot of physical issues in addition to all of the emotional and behavioural issues that I expected. However, the adoption worker said that they wouldn’t even look at my application unless I checked more things off as acceptable. So I did, feeling rather like I was being coerced into it. Just how much did they think a single woman who must work full time should be willing to accept? Wasn’t I already accepting a whole lot just by being willing to take on a teenager? Apparently not, according to them.
Then began the whole process again: paying for a Criminal Records Check, getting a child welfare check, obtaining references, filling out forms, getting a physical, and taking the training. The training: driving back and forth to the city (over an hour’s drive one way), two nights a week for 4 weeks during what turned out to be the worst weather of the winter. Each session ran from 6 to 10 p.m., so it was often midnight by the time I was home in bed. And I had to get up and work the next day. All that time, all that gas, all those late nights and the sleep lost. And then the home study. This was contracted out to another worker, not my adoption worker. The first appointment we booked I cancelled. I was in my last month of my last course towards my Bachelor’s degree and wanted to focus on my studies. The next appointment, the worker doing the home study cancelled because it was Mother’s Day (okay, both of us had neglected to notice that on the calendar). The following appointment, she cancelled again because “something had come up.” Fine, I needed to get the house cleaned before she came anyway and was more focused on getting ready for my convocation than on an adoption home study.
By this time, I had bought a trailer and was beginning to resent having to tie up my time with planning a home study when I could be out camping. We finally picked a day that I took off work so that we could get together. Again, I felt almost resentful of having to take time off work for a home study when I could be using that time for far more exciting things. I had lost my initial enthusiasm for adoption and was beginning to question and pray about whether or not this was really what I should be doing. My life had reached a pleasant equilibrium. After all I’d been through, I was finally living a relatively peaceful and contented life. That could all be turned upside down and inside out by adoption.
During the home study, I had to again pick what conditions/diseases/whatever that I would accept in a child. I gave in on even more conditions (emotional blackmail?), but once more refused FAS. I was also questioned on how much time I would take off if a child were placed in my home. I had already questioned one of the nurses I knew that had been on maternity leave to find out how much money I could expect to receive while on parental leave. Not much – only a fraction of what I normally make! With me being the only bread winner, I figured I could subsist on that for a month, but to take off longer than that would be financially irresponsible. Sure, I would love to take off more time to help the children and I adjust to each other, but it’s not like I would be adopting preschoolers. Any children I adopted would be in school all day anyway.
We finished most of the home study and she said that we only had about an hour and a half of interviewing left to do. Yesterday when I got home from work, there was a voice message from her. She wanted to arrange a time to complete the home study, but she also wanted to tell me that she’d talked to my adoption worker. The adoption worker wanted me to know that they work with a high risk population, so there was no guarantee that any child available for adoption would not have FAS. Also, that they recommended that the parent take off work for at least 6 months.
Well, I was more than just mildly annoyed. I made it very clear from Day 1 that I am not willing to accept a child with FAS. I’ve no doubt that conditions have not radically changed in the intervening year, so why wasn’t she up front with me a year ago about the FAS? Was she hoping that as time went by, I would get desperate and decide to accept an FAS child? And why didn’t she tell me a year ago that they expected me to take 6 months off and ask if I could afford to do that? I never hid the fact that I am single. I did not pretend to have a husband hiding somewhere who could support me on his income while I took 6 months off work. I am not independently wealthy. If she had been honest with me about these things when I first applied, I probably would not have proceeded with the application. I wouldn’t have wasted all that time and money and gas, endured the late nights, lost sleep and poor driving conditions during the training or the intrusive questioning during the home study.  I could have spent more time studying while I was still working towards my degree. Or camping now that I have my trailer.
So, I have left a message for both the adoption worker and the one doing the home study, stating that I will not take a child with FAS and I cannot afford to take 6 months off work and if those are the conditions of adopting, then we might as well not finish the home study.
I feel like the attitude is: if you are not willing to accept a child who is mentally, emotionally and physically an invalid and ready to sacrifice all of your time, energy, attention and interests for the sake of that child, without hope of reward or pleasure, then you are not worthy to be an adoptive parent. If that be the case, so be it: I am not worthy to be an adoptive parent. And if I’m being selfish, so be that as well. I spend my entire work day nursing. When I get home, I want to lay aside my nursing cap (if I even wore one...) and just be me. If I adopt, then I want to primarily be a parent in my relationship with my child(ren), not primarily a nurse.  And I want my parenting, like my nursing, to be rewarding, not just demanding. If not, why bother? I refuse to be a martyr to motherhood.
So, for me, this wasn’t just closing the door on adoption. What I perceive to be a lack of openness, honesty and integrity, and unrealistic expectations of a single career woman, plus a feeling of being coerced into accepting something I’m not willing to accept, slammed the door. I’m disappointed, and not without some degree of grief, but also with a certain sense of relief as well. I have pursued this as far as I am willing to take it. Now, I can move forward with my own life.
(Closing note: yes, there is still the question of how they will respond to my voice messages, and what I will do if they backpeddle and say that we could still proceed with the home study and see what transpires... But no, I really do believe that the door is closed. Even if the workers try to leave it open a crack, if God has closed it, it’s closed).

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Cookbook & Recipe Review

Today, we had a potluck for my team leader, who is retiring. I tried out a couple of new recipes in honour of the occasion. The first is from The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson (Robert Rose Inc., 2010). This is an attractive cookbook that combines one of my favourite small appliances with my chosen cuisine (vegetarian). The print is a reasonable size and the recipes are well laid out and easy to follow. Quantities are given in both imperial and metric measurements. Each recipe tells how many servings it provides, whether or not it is "Vegan Friendly" and also lets you know if it is a good recipe for company (Entertaining Worthy) as well as if the recipe can be halved. It also details what size of slow cooker to use and adds tips on choosing and handling ingredients. While not totally vegan, there are many "vegan friendly" recipes in the book and even ones not listed as such could frequently be converted by the knowledgeable vegan. The Vegetarian Slow Cooker is liberally sprinkled with pictures, generally located across the page from the recipes they portray. The recipe I chose from this book was Tomato Dal with Spinach. This was a fairly simple and straightforward recipe and I got compliments on it as well. One of the things I think could have been done differently would be to cook the split peas directly in the slow cooker. The recipe calls for you to boil them for 25 minutes on the stovetop before adding them to the cooker. This, of course, creates extra dishes to wash and I feel it could have been done differently to avoid this. I also felt that the dal could have been thicker, so I added 2 tablespooons of cornstarch after adding the spinach and curry powder-lemon juice mixture. It turned out fine. If you choose to eat it out of a bowl, then leaving out the cornstarch would work as well. This recipe is listed as serving 4 to 6, which would be generous servings. 
I served the dal with a rice dish, which I took from 660 Curries (previously reviewed). Dirty Rice with Caramelized Onions (or "Mitty" Chawal) makes a very aromatic dish. And yes, it does indeed look dirty. While the author of this cookbook does not recommend cooking rice in a rice cooker, that is my method of choice. I have a programmable rice cooker and when rice has to be cooked while I'm working or at church, I turn to my rice cooker. I put the correct amount of rice and water into my rice cooker (I doubled this recipe since, unlike the previous cookbook, I do not find the serving sizes generous in this book), using brown basmati rice rather than white since I prefer to use unrefined grains as often as possible. One other insignificant change I made was to substitute unbleached organic sugar from crystallized cane syrup for the white granulated sugar. I then prepared the rest of the ingredients as instructed, dumped them into the rice cooker with the rice and water, covered the bowl of the rice cooker with plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight in preparation for cooking today. This recipe was both sweet and hot (but not overly much of either taste), smelled wonderful and tasted great. It is, however, not for the culinarily timid. This unique combination of flavours, textures and ingredients might not be welcome to those to whom East Indian cooking is unfamiliar or unwelcome. Cinnamon and cloves, normally associated with desserts, are combined here with onions and black pepper. There is also one more alteration  I would suggest, especially to make this recipe more palatable to the uninitiated palate. East Indian cooking uses ground spices or whole spices. This recipe starts with whole spices but instructs the cook to pound them to break them into smaller pieces and release the aromatic oils. When spices are left whole, they can be readily removed after cooking if desired. However, pounding them left them in a somewhat unpleasant texture of grit and sticks, which some may find repugnant. Though pounding may release more flavour and the texture is not inconsistent with East Indian cuisine, I think next time I use this recipe I will leave the spices whole.
An interesting side-note: we have one staff member at the health unit who is married to an East Indian man. He taught her how to cook Indian food and that is what she usually brings to potlucks. I'm not sure what she brought today, but everyone smelling the Indian food cooking assumed she brought it. Surprise, it was Laura this time.


Well, people, I finally did it! Praise God! I finished my studies and have my Bachelor of Nursing degree at last. Yippee! I'm so thrilled. I plan on taking a year off studies before I decide to pursue anything else, but I can definitely see a Master's degree on the horizon...
Meanwhile, on the work front, our team leader is retiring. While our employer does not plan on continuing the team leader position, we still need a nurse in the office for clients that come in for wound dressing changes, injections, etc. as well as doing other office duties. Yours trully is taking the position, which means I'll have a straight Monday to Friday job (at least until my employer changes its mind again). So, when I was at my convocation and other graduates were mentioning being able to get a better job now that they had their degree, I was thinking, "How much better can I get? I already have a Monday to Friday day job. It doesn't get much better than that in nursing jobs." I praise God for such a wonderful opportunity!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

He Knows My Name by Maranatha Singers

I love this song. When I'm feeling lonely and insignificant, I just need to remember that the God of the universe knows me by name. "I have called thee by thy name. Thou art Mine." Isaiah 43:1.
Vegan Quesadillas
Just tried this recipe for supper. Modified it a little as I wanted to use some peppers I had in the fridge and made some guacamole to go with it. I used my Rival Quesadilla Maker rather than a frying pan, so I didn't have to worry about flipping it over. Yummy!
Here's my modified version:
Vegan Quesadillas
1-2 bell peppers
3-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion
Canola oil for sauteeing
1 can (19 oz.) white kidney beans
2/3 c. nutritional yeast
Several shakes liquid smoke
Garlic powder to taste
10 whole wheat tortillas
1 c. chopped tomatoes (may be canned with       
         some juice)
¼ -1/2 tsp. Salt
Cayenne pepper to taste
Soy sour cream

In food processor, chop peppers, onions and garlic fine. Sauté in oil until desired tenderness. Rinse food processor and whiz beans and tomatoes until smooth. Add nutritional yeast and seasonings and whiz until blended. Spread approximately one fifth of bean mixture on one tortilla, top with sautéed vegetables and another tortilla. Bake in quesadilla maker for 5-7 minutes. Remove from quesadilla maker when tortillas are nicely browned. Allow to cool slightly and then cut into wedges. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Makes 5 quesadillas.

By the way, I tried to make "sour cream" by adding some lemon juice to some Silk Creamer. I don't recommend that. The creamer is too sweet to make good sour cream.