Archive for January, 2008

Bacon the Beautiful

I am now — officially — a fan of Bonnie Stern. Every Saturday, in the Weekend edition of the National Post, she has a column (“Eating In”) where she showcases certain recipes. She always has interesting ones that never seem impossible to try out. This past Saturday’s column featured an all-time favourite — hands down — in our home: bacon!

Why the big deal? Well, it seems to me that bacon, quite unfortunately, gets a bad rap in the healthy foods department because of the fact that it’s a pork product. And if you do have health issues that strictly limit your intake of fat, probably best to steer clear of this meat. But if you’re not going to be eating it at every meal, every single day — why not have some? Our family loves bacon! And we don’t even get the kind you buy in the grocery. We get our bacon from the butcher shop because the slices are thicker and have less fat. We have it on Sundays for our big family brunch. I use it to add flavour to certain dishes, especially when I cook cabbage. It provides this great flavour, especially when browned to a nice crisp that adds crunch and texture to any dish.

So again, what’s the big deal with bacon and Bonnie Stern? Her column featured a recipe of baked bacon (just cooking bacon using the oven — which I already do — instead of frying it in a skillet) as well as two other recipes that use bacon: baked beans with bacon and spaghetti alla carbonara. These are not the kind of dishes you want to eat every single day, at every meal. These are the kind of dishes you cook every now and then, and when you do people smile. Your family is happy and the house smells amazing. Even the dog (if you have one) is a happy little member of the family. These are dishes that encourage you to relax and just enjoy the meal and the company. You can’t help but smile.

Bacon is great, not as an everyday-every meal kind of food. It is a Sunday brunch kind of food that goes so well with those light, fluffy scrambled eggs cooked in a bit of butter. (Yes, I mean real butter and real eggs.) You appreciate it more for the fact that you do not have it all the time. It is special. It is rich, and so you shouldn’t have it everyday. You shouldn’t have too much of it or you could get sick. Every now and then, once in a while, it is good to have and be happy about having it.

Chocolate, butter, good wine — there are so many things that are good in moderation because they can add flavour and a certain richness to our life if used and appreciated in the right way. It’s a good thing to be able to exercise restraint in these things that are better taken in small, manageable doses. And bacon, every now and then, is a beautiful food to eat.


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Half a World Away

A couple of days ago, I got a long and newsy email — the kind I like, actually — from Laureen, a good friend whom I’ve known since we were eleven years old. We were classmates in Grade 6, wherein we discovered a shared love of reading romance novels and potatoes (long story….) and the ability to gab for hours on end on the phone. What did we talk about on the phone for hours? Well, our nightly long, drawn-out phone conversations were about the same things we talked about when we were together at school during the day. What can I say — we loved to talk!

But more than that, Laureen and I remained good friends over these twenty-six years that we have known each other. She lives with her family in Manila and I am with mine in Canada, and yet our friendship thrives. Our friendship hums like a well-oiled machine that doesn’t shut down and is always ready to kick into full gear. We have not seen each other in over eight years, yet our semi-annual phone conversations are never stilted or awkward. They are always warm and comfortable, familiar and very happy. She has seen only four of my 8 kids, while I have yet to meet any of hers. But I am quite proud to be the godmother of her first son — her second child. She is the godmother of my eldest, Kathrine, who is now taller than her. (She’ll get a really big kick out of that…..) Ours is the kind of friendship I wish for other people to find and cherish. It transcends age, time and space.

In my thirty-seven years of life, I’ve made many friends and formed great friendships along the way. There are some, though, that come along and seem to take up residence in my heart. One of them is Laureen — she is only really as far away from me as my fondest thoughts of her.

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Smiling Away

My eldest son had been whistling the tune of a song from the film, “Pirates of the Carribean 3” for the past several days. He usually happened to be around me when he did this, and so I got this darned tune stuck in my head. Several times, I found myself humming the same tune — unaware of the fact, until I would catch this same son of mine with this mischievous grin on his face. He knew the tune was set on “repeat” somewhere in my gray matter, and he was clearly tickled pink at the thought of having been responsible for this. And it was pretty much stuck in my brain — until Saturday morning.

I woke up Saturday morning, relishing the warmth of the bed and the weekend that lay ahead of me. I was thinking of nothing in particular, just kind of laying in bed…….when it came upon me quite suddenly:

You’re never fully dressed without a smile!

Did you ever watch the movie “Annie“? Do you remember that scene where the orphan girls are listening to the Dapper Dan radio show and this song comes on and they sing along with him? It was such a great scene! It was a fun song, and now it was the one stuck in my head!

Who cares that they’re wearing, on Main Street or Saville Row? It’s what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe that matters!

So of course I found myself looking up the words to the song on the Internet. And I found them! What a treat!

You’re never fully dressed, Though you may wear the best, You’re never fully dressed without a smile!smiling-baby.jpg

And you know what, it is so true. You could be wearing the most expensive, fancy-shmancy dress in the world, and still look blah because you’re missing a smile. A smile can turn someone’s day around. It can makes others relax. It can make the difference between a so-so day, and a great day. Sometimes we don’t smile enough because we may not get a smile back in return. Who cares? A smile doesn’t only make others feel better, it can make us feel better too! In fact, a real smile can make you feel healthy.

It is a great way to greet the world! It’s a beautiful way to greet your husband or wife in the morning. It is a loving way to welcome them back at the end of the day. It is a comforting thing to do for a child or an older person. It is an act of kindness towards a person who has to apologize or admit to a wrongdoing. It is a sign of friendship that needs no words. It can be a mark of hope and trust for those who may feel troubled.

All that from a smile — all that and more. But it has to be a smile that comes from your heart for it to make a difference to the world and the people that receive it. It’s something you can keep on giving and still keep. And it really doesn’t cost anything to give.

I don’t mind having this song stuck in my head so much. (Except for those times I have to stop myself from launching into a full song and dance routine that apes the orphans in the movie….) It’s a good reminder to all of us, whatever it is we happen to be wearing:

You’re never fully dressed without a smile!

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Dough Therapy

This afternoon, I engaged in some dough therapy. There is something very comforting and relaxing about handling dough. Yes! The very act of cutting in the cold bits of butter into the flour and salt is an exercise in stress release. Then you slowly sprinkle in the cold water and bring everything together into a ball….and voila! You’ve got dough to build on for a dish that can fill your family up. Beautiful!

I have this great passion for cooking, you see. For a lot of people, it is a chore and nothing more. For others, it is something that approaches an obsession that can only take place with everything perfectly in place — a bit of a snooty attitude, if you want. I belong to neither group. Cooking is not something I resent having to do. But it isn’t something I need to be extremely finicky with. If I do not have the specified ingredients or tools, I will improvise. Creativity is the catch-word here! Ultimately, cooking is a means for me to provide my family (and others, on occasion) with sustenance that not only tastes good but also looks good. If you’re going to spend any amount of time doing something, it is worth doing well.tourtiere.jpg

The work and art of cooking has afforded my family to come together and share in the repast prepared in our home kitchen. The smells invite interest; the sights tempt the palate. The shared meal becomes an experience that nourishes the body and — many times — the heart and soul.

Back to my dough therapy this afternoon. I tried out this recipe for tourtiere, a shallow meat pie and French Canadian specialty. I got the recipe from one of Bonnie Stern’s recent columns in the National Post’s weekend edition. The warmth from the oven has started to fill the kitchen and spill out into the living room area, where the children are busily playing a game of Monopoly. In a while, one or two (or more) of them will come by to ask what it is I am baking. The inevitable smells that go with the baking or cooking of anything will slowly infuse the air. It is a small delight that makes me happy.monopoly-game.jpg

When you love what you’re doing, it is said to be a passion. But what about when you are doing something you are passionate about for those whom you love? You do your best. You apply yourself totally. After all, you are doing what you do for those who have a place in your heart. Your actions are transformed. They become acts of love.

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The Up-side of Down Time

I went to bed last night with a plan. I was going to get up on time and not hit the snooze button. I was going to get an early start to my day and do all sorts of things. Wonderful, important things. I was going to have the energy of the Energizer bunny!

Of course, I did not count on my three-year old waking up with a fever, restless and crying at 2 AM. And I didn’t count on the little baby waking up with a fever as well at about 3 AM. Neither did I figure on not being able to go back to sleep right away. Sigh. And so my day started out groggily, kind of fuzzy actually. My cup of java helped me to get through a slightly sluggish morning. My day has been anything but “according to plan”.

Like a lot people, I think having a plan is great. You know what you have to do, where you have to go, any time constraints, etc. There is a certain sense of control over life. And then — life shrugs its shoulders and things are thrown off kilter. We are reminded that, in fact, we are not in total control of everything.

Rather than make us feel scared, or upset, the knowledge that we are not in control of everything should serve to free us from having to worry ourselves willy-nilly. There are just certain things we cannot do anything about. Mind you, I am not being fatalistic. I believe in giving or doing my best, as if everything depended on my efforts. I believe in trying again if I fail the first time in something. But I also believe that if things do not work out as planned, it is for reasons more important than what I know or understand at that time. In the end, I know things work out for the good — for what is best.

dscn0481.jpgAs I type away on the keyboard, my 3-year old daughter is alternately resting her head on my lap and looking at the computer monitor. She still looks tired. No one has any fever now, but there is a lot of sniffling, sneezing and coughing going on in the house. (Quite obviously, a bug has taken up residence in our home.) My hope is the children will get better soon. Really soon. I hope my husband doesn’t get sick. I hope I don’t get sick! (My patients need me!!) But if things don’t go according to plan — as they often times don’t — then I will chalk it up to a chance for some down time with the family. It simply means my child needs me to get her milk, hold her hand, or feed her more soup. My energies are needed more in certain endeavours, and not necessarily what I deemed to be top priorities at first.

Whatever the reason may be, the change in plans will not be the end of the world. Life happens. I’ll deal with it.

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To Blog and Be Counted

screenshot-blog.jpgTwenty-eight days ago, I started this blog. I sat before the computer, staring at the screen, willing my fingers to start typing away the words that had been crowding around in my brain. The minute my fingertips made contact with the keyboard, the words seemed to scurry away into the corners of my mind. Eventually, the thoughts came back to the fore, slowly but surely. Words appeared on the screen. Sentences made sense. Paragraphs came about, one by one. And then — I had my first blog entry!

As of this writing, this blog has had 885 hits. Whether it is a couple hundred people who have visited the blog or just a couple who have come back a couple hundred times (I’m almost sure this isn’t the case…..), there have been visitors here. My son, Raphael, asked me why I had started the blog in the first place. I’ve had people ask me where and how I find the time to blog. Where and how, indeed……

Fifteen minutes here and there doesn’t seem like much, but that is how it is. Several times, I’ve written entries while surrounded by my very curious children. At times, the family was watching a video while I sat before the computer, trying to frame my thoughts. I’ve written some blogs late at night, some in the morning. None of them have been a “piece of cake” to write. I think that if you’re going to put anything out there on the Internet, you have to make sure it makes sense and that you really want it out there to begin with.

So why do I blog? I blog because I want to be counted. I blog because in trying to keep up with the news and what is going on in the world, I realize that — too often — what needs to be heard remains unsaid. Many people are too conscious about being politically-correct or inclusive, and certain things fall by the wayside. Many values and truths are deemed too old-fashioned: love, marriage, children, family, prayer, faith, God. And really, they aren’t old-fashioned but timeless. I want my voice to be heard, not because I think I know everything. I know for a fact that I don’t know everything. But perhaps something I blog about will make a difference to someone out there, whether I know them or not. Maybe there are others out there who can identify with what I write about.

You don’t have to start a blog to let your own voice be heard. Post a comment. Tell people about what you’ve read or heard. Make the effort because it makes a difference to others and to yourself. Let people know you are there — be counted.

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January 10, 1970

Today, I am moved by the thought that thirty-eight years ago, a young man and a young woman exchanged vows before God, family and friends — to love each other for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do they part. I’d like you to meet Ruben and Evelyn Umali, and I am proud to be their daughter.

It has been 13,870 days and four grown children since they made that promise to each other. Their marriage continues to be a beautiful and living proof of a truth often overlooked: Love is a verb.

The passions that once flared red and hot can sizzle out if the fires are not stoked. And even then, one has to realize that love is much more than just sweet, mushy words and warm, fuzzy feelings. Love is an act of the will. This is what I have learned from bearing witness to my parents’ marriage. This is what I am living out in my own marriage to my wonderful husband. We do not lay claim to perfection; in fact, I dare say we belong squarely on the other side of the scale, right between imperfect and complete opposites. The same was and is true of my parents.

Theirs was never a perfect marriage. It was one that they had made their very own, and really — those are the ones that take more time, more effort, more love. I have learned from them the value of getting to know each other really well and respecting each other as individuals. I have gained from them the wisdom that comes from years of trying again and again, never giving up. Some days have been better than others, but the hope that comes from this kind of love — true love — has never died.

I remember dateless and timeless moments when I would see them talking, laughing, even arguing or just being together. I recall these moment with deep appreciation and fondness because at those times, I felt loved the most. I never felt richer or more secure as a child than during those moments.

So today, I pay tribute to two of the most important people I have been blessed with in my life. I could not ask for better parents. They have my most profound gratitude for the unconditional love that they have for each other and for each one of us, their children, children-in-law and grandchildren. I have them to thank for my vocation as a wife and mother.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad — I love you!

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