Sunday, 23 January 2011

My House of Cards

If it was just one thing to deal with, I could cope, as I cope every day of my life. As millions of people worldwide cope with their own day-to-day difficulties.

In fact, two things to deal with are fine, even three, several, many. I can difficulty multi-task.

When it is dealing with this stupid constant pain in my knee, which I have had since my compound tib-fib fracture in March 1993... well, ok. I am used to that pain, it is rather like 'white noise' and background, I have a coping strategy for that and most of the time I even forget it's there.

When it is also dealing with the left hand side Achilles tendon pain, that my kinétherapist has now declared an 'affliction longe durée' because it is not getting any better. She doesn't understand why there has been absolutely no improvement other than possibly it's caused by a physiological malfunction and in that case, it's most likely inoperable. Unless the tendon snaps. THEN it can be fixed. It is painful to walk and it is excruciating to have someone press on it.

When is also dealing with 'Tennis Elbow' that makes it nearly impossible to pick up a cup of tea.

When it is also dealing with running out of fioul because I could only afford 250 litres and I can't get more for another two weeks. I've applied for help through Assistance Sociale but that usually takes two months to come through. In the meantime, I have plugged in the oil-fired heaters and turned on the electric hot water heater for the shower. Tremendously costly, but, rather like the poor man's shoes: all I can do.

When it is also getting the third degree grilling at Restos du Coeur because I'm not receiving a Pension Alimentaire from my ex-husband and the 'biological' father of my daughters. "Surely he sends you something, Madame? They are, after all, his children, yes?" "They are, but no, he does not." "He must help somehow... does he pay for their clothing? School trips? Canteen tickets?" It's now when I wish I knew how to say in French, 'He pays for bugger all, frankly.' I make a mental note to ask my eldest later. Look, folks, I have no job, no income, no money, no spousal support, no child support, nada. It's just me and RSA until I can 'create' some job out of thin air, a tuppence, a satsuma and a great idea. Until then, may I please be allowed some food for the children and myself? Pretty please? Thank you.

When it is also my 12-year old being stopped by one of the advisers from her Martinique trip on the way back from our shopping trip at LeClerc. Then after a few pleasantries, and the woman saying, "Don't forget to stay in touch, dear." And my Spidey senses start tingling. And my daughter turns to me, quite matter-of-frankly as we continue on down the street, and whispers, "I think not, she's a lesbian, you see."

When it is also having all but two electrical sockets now defunct so we have extension cords trailing all over the place. I have run through four packs of 10 amp fuses that go into the wall, I can't afford to buy any more. The electrician came to look, but, it needs a complete re-wire and that can't happen for a few weeks or months. Nothing happens here in France overnight, save strikes.

When it is also coming out of your house and running smack dab into someone you did not want to run into...

Well, that was the final straw. Too many things came at me all at once. Actually more than I've gone into here, but some things are too difficult, raw, painful and personal to name, let alone discuss. Besides, even *I* am getting bored with this rant.

Heaven knows how you've sat through it.

My Doctor said there is no reason to suffer unnecessarily, I am not Christ on the cross atoning for the World's Sins. I agree. (Besides, I've never been a great Calvinist supporter.) I need to be here and present, I need to function for my children and for myself. I cannot spend hours of the day crying.

So, I am starting on anti-depressants again. These are different than the ones I was on before but are still an SSRI. Yes, they are a crutch. But I need a crutch, I'm broken. I need help to heal, to come to terms with my life situation, to find a way forward. My Doctor and I agreed to try this for a few months, see if I can't get over this difficult patch. So, Seroplex, 10mg, every night. Sadly, it has the same side effects as my last medication, notably 'Anorgasmia' and decreased libido. At least 'possible huge weight gain' isn't noted as common. I'll still keep a close eye on my weight, as that was the most depressing thing about taking anti-depressants last time: gaining something like 50 kg.

Because of my previous long-term use of Paroxetine, I have Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction which may never go away unless treated. At least I can hang a name on it now, and not just think it is all my fault because I was wired wrong. Or was caused by a lack of desire, it wasn't.

But anyway, the side effects aren't anything to concern me right now. I'm not looking forward to the 'Brain Zaps' that will come with discontinuing use. But then, at least I am aware of what's to come, I already know what to expect and I can plan for that future event.

I think I'll try making my emotional house out of something more substantial than cards or straw. I'm thinking fruitcake might have merit as a building material. At least, the American version. It's not like anyone ever eats it, is it?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Lamb Moussaka memories

I first tasted Moussaka in Greece when I was there on holiday back in '82 or '83. It was light, not greasy and with the very first bite caused an eruption of flavours to burst forth in my mouth. I was hooked. I spent the rest of the two week holiday, on the island of Skiathos, trying Moussaka at every opportunity. Since then, I have had fabulous renditions and dire attempts. I also make it myself, and that's my favourite. I make a vegetarian version with tofu and lentils and that is really delicious. But I adore lamb and when I can get a hold of ground or minced lamb, I will invariably make the recipe I am sharing with you today.

Still, I would love to go back to that tiny Taverna in Athens just down from the Parthenon and eat that particular Moussaka again and all that went along with it. The holiday, the solitude, the bright sunshine and the feeling of walking around in history... I'd just switch out my travelling companion for a certain man with strong arms, loving and gentle hands, a beguiling smile and eyes like a storm on the Aegean Sea... sigh.

Because food is more than just a flavour, it's a memory as well. Mine includes my legs feeling sunburned from the beach and tired from walking up to the Acropolis, the sharp resin taste of a cold Retsina wine and the salad we ate: creamy feta, Kalamata olives, fresh oregano and a red-wine vinaigrette mixed with chunks of cucumbers (hold the tomatoes, thanks) which complimented the rich main dish. The Taverna was cool inside and it was fun to look out and people watch; the tourists and the locals intermingling on the busy pedestrian passage.

The walk up to the Acropolis is worth it, even if it is tremendously tiring, because you are walking through all these little alleys and passageways (like the one to the left) with the backs of the houses actually carved into the rock face behind it: these houses are part of Mount Olympus in a very real sense.

What struck me most about Athens, especially the older bit of the city on the walk up to the Acropolis, were the old ladies dressed in black sitting in their whitewashed doorways with their cats. They don't seem to pay attention to the hundreds of people filing past their homes, invading their personal space, they seemed preoccupied to me, their thoughts elsewhere.

In their minds possibly preparing meals for their menfolk who left to go to war and never returned... as they have sat as such in the same doorways for millennia.

Generations of women who gave up their fathers, their sons and their brothers to a war they didn't understand.

Gave up their husbands, their life companions to some cause and now all that remained were their memories, their dreams and the ubiquitous cats. Sitting in the sunshine, their hands busy with their Rosary beads, their bright eyes seeing a scene I could not. I found that so sad. So incredibly sad.

This particular Moussaka recipe isn't too difficult to prepare, it just needs a lot of preparation so allow at least an hour for that. You put together five parts, similar to my lasagne: fried or grilled egglant slices, a white sauce, a meaty red sauce, fresh breadcrumbs and cheese

The Eggplant part
Wash 3 Medium eggplants, slice 2/3"/4cm thick, salt and let drain for 1/2 hour while you prepare the white sauce and start the red sauce. Then dry eggplant and shake in a bag with flour and a good grind of black pepper. Brown in a bit of hot olive oil. Be careful with the amount of oil, and use only enough to brown a few slices at a time. The eggplant is like a gready sponge and will absorb an amazing amount of oil if you let it, and greasy Moussaka is gross. Drain the eggplant and reserve. Or, you can grill the eggplant without flouring it until it is slightly brown, which is how I tend to do it now. (Or even get frozen, grilled eggplant slices, easiest!)

The White Sauce part
In a saucepan over medium heat mix together:
6 Tbl Butter
6 Tbl flour
Whisk for a couple minutes until well blended, add:
750 ml (3 cups) milk
Gently bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer couple minutes. Whisk a cup or so of this mixture into:
3 eggs, well beaten. Whisk the egg mixture back into the white sauce and bring up to a very gentle simmer, whisking just until thick. Do not boil, or sauce will scramble.
Good grating of nutmeg
dash Tabasco Sauce
Let White Sauce cool. It should be quite thick. Note that the white sauce can be prepared a day ahead of time, covered and refrigerated.

The Red Sauce part
Brown well together in heavy frying pan:
2 Tbl olive oil
500g ground lamb.
Drain grease. Add:
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Sauté around until the onion is limp. Add:
250ml can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
tsp dried leaf oregano
Tbl chopped parsley
Tbl chopped mint
bit of salt and pepper
Simmer gently until quite thick. The red sauce can be prepared well ahead of time, and keeps well refrigerated or you can freeze it.

Breadcrumbs and Cheese part.
You will also need 250g dry bread crumbs. Make fresh by blitzing in a food processor then spread out on a baking tray and leave in a slow oven, stirring occasionally.
Also 500g grated Mozzarella cheese and 150g or so of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

To assemble the Moussaka
You need a either good sized casserole with a cover or a lasagne dish you can cover with aluminium foil. Put about 1/3 of the eggplant on the bottom in a solid layer. Trim eggplant to fit. Spread 1/2 of the red sauce on top. Spread 1/3 of white sauce over red. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese, 1/3 of the crumbs. Repeat this set of layers. Then put in a layer of the rest of the eggplant, the rest of the white sauce and cover with the rest of the crumbs. Garnish top with a sprinkle of ground red chile or paprika and a small handful of chopped parsley. Cover, and bake at 350°F/160°C for an hour, uncover and bake until browned on top and bubbly. Serve with a green salad, good bread and a bottle of light red wine. Greek Retsina wine is quite wonderful with this.

Monday, 3 January 2011

La Rentrée: well, one down, one to go.

Little one started back this morning. It's particularly tough getting up, dressed and petite déjeunered when it's still pitch black outside.

She is rather excited since tomorrow is her eleventh birthday. It amazes me how the year has flown past. She is still undecided as to the cake I'm to make for the event. And I got a firm  "Non"  to my idea of Birthday Cupcakes for the class. It seems only Chupa-Chups will do. Cupcakes are better but are apparently still an unknown entity to most French children around these parts. Philistines.

Big one goes back tomorrow. We have yet to locate her French textbook so devoirs can be finished completely. She is currently rooting around in various hiding places.
"Honey? Why did you need to hide it?"
A long careful consideration later...
"I don't know."

I'm honestly going to miss their company come tomorrow. I never thought I'd admit that, but, I'll feel lonely without their little quarrelling, noisy, curious, enchanting selves about the house.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A minute in history

This is the beginning of a new day.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever,
leaving in its place something I have traded for it.
I want it to be a gain, not a loss;
good, not evil;
success, not failure —
in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it today.