It’s Just Pastry

lady baking

Yesterday my friend Jane and I made soba noodles. We had been complaining about the price of 100% buckwheat noodles so Jane had the brilliant idea that we could make them. We both had bags of buckwheat flour going unused in our cupboards so why not give it a try. As we mixed our dough and started to knead it into cones (why it needed to be a cone we are still not sure) Jane mentioned that I looked like I knew what I was doing and that I must be a good pasty maker. I laughed because pastry is the one item that I have never been able to master. I’ve had people offer up “no fail” recipes and yet still, I’ve failed. Maybe, June surmised, it’s because you are such a perfectionist. Wow, you know what, she couldn’t be right. Later in the day I was thinking about it and thought. Really? I can’t make pasty? Okay, tomorrow I am not going to be a perfectionist and I am going to make pastry.

So I pull out my somewhat ratty copy of Martha Stewart’s cook book that my dear friends Karen and Geoff gave to me twenty years ago. ( yes, she’s been around that long). Holy cow there are a LOT of different types of pastry. Once I figured out which one to use, I gathered the ingredients. Flour, salt, butter, lard and ice water. Five ingredients. How hard could this be? The instructions mentioned that for best results everything should be cold. Bowl in freezer, ice cubes in water, butter and lard, well chilled. Okay, ready to go. Am I really this nervous about making pastry? Given my past record of doing it, I think I’m just afraid or failing again. Come on. It’s just pastry right?

cookbook

Everything goes as planned. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in lard and butter and crumble together until it resembles a course meal. The next step is typically where things don’t work out for me. My expectation is that I will add the water and the dough will magically come together in my hands and form a lovely smooth ball. As I tip in the ice water I try to remember that it doesn’t need to be perfect and once it forms a ball I should just wrap it up and put it in the fridge. As Martha points out, you shouldn’t overhandle the dough. And then it happened. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway except instead of fire, I Had Made Pastry! Okay, so it was still just a ball of dough, but I had never felt this confident before that it actually might make it into the oven as a pie.

crumbleball of dough

I moved on to making the inside of the pie. This, for me, is the easy part. A bit of this and a bit of that. Sauté the onion and garlic, make a rue and pour in the chicken stock. Taste the gravy and throw in the chicken and the veggies. If it isn’t quite right, adjust and taste again. There is room for personalization. The insides can have lots of sage or just a little. Be spicy or slightly sweet. Be chunky or more refined. You get to pick the ingredients and season it to your taste. Lots of room for interpretation. Pastry seems so…..exact. Either it is or it isn’t. Not a lot of wiggle room.

And now the true test. Rolling the dough out and actually making a pie crust. Flour the board and turn the chilled dough out. It starts out a bit wobbly as I think it should be a bit less cracky and I start to knead it smooth. No wait, Martha said not to overhandle it. Let it go, let it be cracky. Let it be imperfect. And as I rolled and turned and flipped and rolled I realized, after all these years, that it really is “just pastry” and that the end product doesn’t need to be perfect ( see right side of top crust) it just needs to be pastry. I made pastry. Imperfect, buttery pastry. Watch out Martha Stewart, I’m on a roll here.  Yummy chicken pot pie for dinner. Not only have I made pastry, but I have made my family dinner.

pie

So, yes I am a perfectionist and over the years it has probably held me back from doing things and driven more than a couple of people (mostly my family) a bit crazy. The Best Thing in Life is that it is just another piece of who I am. A perfectly imperfect person who can now make pastry.

Divorce – Good, Bad or Ugly?

I’ve been through a divorce. Many of my friends have been through divorces. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that quite a lot of my friends are divorced. Thirty five in fact. Some recently, some many years ago. “It’s an epidemic” one friend said. As all relationships are different, so are all divorces. So what makes one divorce good and easy and the other stressful and horrific? Or are they all just bad? Are divorces good, bad or ugly?

I left my ex-husband 17 years ago when our son was 3 months old. Mine fell into the “stressful and horrific” category. I was hurt after discovering that a past friend and co-worker was involved with my husband. When I think back, what I most remember was the overwhelming desire to broadcast to the world (preferably by a large, well lit billboard) that it was not my fault. For some reason it seemed really important to me. Was that normal? What is normal in a divorce? With so many questions running around in my head I felt the need to write.

I started by asking my thirty five friends to tell me what were the worst and the best things that happened during or as a result of divorce? The feedback was so interesting and passionate. Obviously this is something that gives rise to a fair amount of emotion. It’s not a simple question. There is so much more to it and clearly the women I know aren’t shy about giving me their opinions on how things went down.

For one friend the worst part was that her kids have been so affected by what had happened and they really had nothing to do with it. “They didn’t ask for this to happen”. They weren’t responsible yet they have to deal with the fall out. They are collateral damage so to speak. I think that is something that we would all agree on. Missing the kids was a big downside for a lot of people. Those long lonely weekends spent counting the hours until they came home from their dad’s. In hind site, it was a blessing that my son was so young when my divorce happened. By the time he was old enough to sort of understand what was going on, most of the bad behavior (not on my part of course) was over. Don’t get me wrong, we still don’t see eye to eye, but at least there are less issues to deal with than there were when he was little.

For those of us who have older kids graduating from high school or in university, I got the feeling that there was a huge sense of accomplishment. I think maybe divorced parents need to work a little harder in that department. Now before you get your knickers in a knot, I’m not saying that we are better parents than people who are still married. I’m just saying that we have more hoops to jump through in the parenting department. It can be hard enough to parent a teen within a solid marriage but having to do it with somebody you may not trust, respect or even like, can be a major challenge. To come through it with well adjusted kids is a major coup.

Some found that a year or two down the road they are better friends and closer to their exes than they ever were. This is not the norm I discovered. It is quite rare and, in of some circles, even frowned upon. Particularly if there was some sort of infidelity involved. That’s a whole different animal from just growing apart. Yet for some that’s really how things have worked out. “We’ve made mistakes, we’ve survived, we’ve moved on and we’ve discovered happiness.” Are they the lucky ones? One friend is even in the process of getting back together with her ex. Can you go back? I guess she’ll find out.

More often than not there is animosity, distrust and well, dislike. What’s odd, to me, is that even with these feeling raging inside us, our exes are still able to incite very strong reactions. Some might even say passionate. After a disagreement with her ex, one friend had a particularly strong reaction. “I got home and I stormed around the house and cried and yelled and when it was all over I was okay.” (Come on, we all did it at some point). We’ve yelled, sworn, cursed the day we ever walked down the aisle (in my defense I was foggy from cold medicine and Tylenol). You would think that we would know that it shouldn’t get to us. At some point you loved that person and perhaps it takes a while for the strength of those feeling to go away even if those feelings are anger.

I find it really funny that by far the best thing for most divorced women was that they now get to cook whatever they want. Or better yet, not cook at all. They felt free and independent. Able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. (Midnight McDonalds run anyone). Don’t get me wrong, these women were not in relationships that were oppressive. These are strong, capable women. “Neither of us knew how stressed we both were until he left. It was a huge relief.” Perhaps we were working so hard on trying to make the marriage right, that when we finally gave in, the freedom was a sweet release.

As an old friend and I were catching up over a couple of large glasses of wine in a noisy restaurant, I realized how deeply she felt her divorce. “I felt a huge sense of failure”. And she wasn’t alone. Why is it that even though our actions had not directly caused the split (and by this I mean that we weren’t the ones that slept with our secretaries) we still felt immense failure. Even marriages that ended simply because they grew apart, incited feelings of failure. Of course it doesn’t help when people’s first reaction is “I’m sorry”. We are so programmed to believe that when we marry, we have to do everything in our powers to make it work. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t really worthless and a bad wife, my ex-husband was just an asshole. Go figure.

Without question every friend I spoke to said that the best thing to come out of the divorce was the huge personal growth they experienced at the end of the day. Would they have felt this way if they hadn’t gone through a divorce? Hard to say. I know lots of emotionally evolved women who are happily married. I know this; the end of a marriage forces you to look not only at your relationship, but at yourself. You are on your own in the big wide world. Therapy, friends, family and wine were all cited as coping mechanisms in the first year. And while you may feel lonely at times, as one friend pointed out, you make it through. Sometimes it happens quickly and other times it takes years, but we’ve all made it and are, dare I say, better off?

As all people are different, so are all divorces. I’ve learnt that there are some common threads but, for the most part, we have all dealt with the end of a marriage in our own unique way. I for one, have learnt that nobody can make you happy but yourself. Others have discovered that they can love again. All have found a strength within them that they maybe didn’t know was there. Today I find happiness in the fact that I have been happily married to an amazing man for 13 years. They’re good, they’re bad and yes, they are ugly, but divorces happen. It’s what you do with them that can be The Best Thing in Your Life.

Michele

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A few years back I was part of a group of women who would head out onto the cross county biking trails of the North Shore mountains as often as we could. We were all moms of varying cycling and fitness abilities but we enjoyed each other’s company, the exercise and the time away from our angelic children. Typically Sunday morning we would meet at about 8:00am and ride for a couple of hours or until the need for coffee kicked in. It was on one of these Sunday morning rides that I met Michele. Michele is a police officer.

Recently Michele and I got together for a drink with the purpose of talking about divorce for a piece I’m writing. We did talk about divorce, but we also talked a lot about her career, relationships and parenting teenage boys. What I took away from our conversation are some great additions to my piece on divorce, some excellent parenting tips, but more importantly, I learnt about the life of a female police officer and how her career has been instrumental in her personal growth.

When Michele and I first met, she had just recently moved to the Vancouver area and was looking to get hired by a local police force . She was going through a separation (potential divorce) but totally seemed to have it together. Having been through a divorce, I admired how rational she seemed to be when it came to talking about her soon to be ex and their relationship. Was I assuming that as a police officer she was probably pretty tough and could handle herself in any situation? I guess I was, because I know now that in her own words she was a mess. Living in a new city, no job and a failing marriage. Yipee!

Things did turn around pretty quickly for her career though. She was hired by the Vancouver Police Department and started to settle in. When I asked her about harassment on the job she said that it has never been an issue, mostly because of the way she has handled it. She told me a story about how, as a new member of the VPD, a fellow officer had made a sexual comment to her after a drunken Christmas party. The next day when she figured out who had said what, she didn’t get mad, she got even. She walked into the morning briefing with a sealed envelope in her hand. Looked the guilty culprit in the eye and told him that she didn’t take these things lightly. She put the envelope down in front of him and said. “You’ve been served” implying that she would sue him. Inside the envelope was a picture of a huge set of hooters with the caption “Next time you want to look at a set of boobs, look at these.” Classic.

Dealing with the end of her marriage proved to be more difficult. She was seeing a therapist but still struggled with feelings of failure and self-doubt. At this time Michele was working with the domestic abuse unit of the VPD. While on a follow up call to a battered woman’s home she suddenly realized that she was saying all the same things to this woman, that her therapist was saying to her. It’s not your fault, you are a strong person who can do anything and do it on your own. The lightbulb not only went on for her, but it made her realize what these women were dealing with and how best she could help them. I’m pretty sure that this is what Oprah refers to as an “ah ha” moment. As she continued her work, not only did she get stronger herself but her ability to empathize and help the women she worked with grew immensely.

After a few years Michele moved out of the domestic abuse unit and into homicide. How cool is that? She is confident and knows that whatever life has to throw at her she can deal with it. Her sons are in university now and she is venturing into a new relationship. She is grateful for the time she spent with the domestic abuse team and knows how much it taught her about life and handling adversity.

I truly have a new respect for police officers and how they approach their work. Michele became a police officer to help people and ended up helping herself. How is that not one of The Best Things in Life?