My husband has developed a new, dangerous habit.
It shocks me, frankly, because back in the late ’90s, as a newly-minted couple, we knew better. We were wise beyond our years. We were forward-thinking and pragmatic. Yes, indeed-y. We took one look at our wedding registry and averted a looming potential life disaster: we declined to ask for a counter-top appliance called “a bread-making machine.”
My paternal grandfather spent his childhood in the family bakery in Kitchener, Ontario, twirling pretzels in a way that decades later, he could still replicate with our Play Doh. It was perhaps inevitable that all that bread-making enthusiasm and genetics landed precisely where one would expect…around my rather bountiful bottom.
So, in 1998, I knew with utter certainty–the same certainty I felt about control-top pantyhose—that I did not need any appliance on our wedding registry that conspired to deliver hot bread to our daily lives. As for my husband (known around these parts as Practical Man), being the disciplined sort, he can resist almost anything.
That is, with the possible exception of butter.
Especially when said butter accompanies bread, hot from an oven, PEI church supper, vintage Findlay stove, vending machine (ooh, I think I may have just invented something fabulous there) or…well, anywhere.
Really, the smell of hot bread is the devil’s work, isn’t it?
Practical man and I thought so and accordingly, we strode confidently away from the treacherous Bread Machine that loomed large on the wedding registry. But, since neither of us (thankfully) suffers from Celiac Disease, over the years we have cultivated a household environment that is far from being gluten-free. We were and are terribly reckless and unfashionable with the flour proteins and these days, tend to follow more of what I call the “gluten-glee” diet.
Hurray for the wheat bellies!
Pasta? Yes, please.
Baguette? Mais, oui.
Laugenbroetchen? Ja, bitte!
Why, we can ask for the doughy goodness in at least three European languages. Yet, we aren’t pretentious in our gluten glorification. Equally desired are the hand-made creations:
Multi-grain toast with creamed honey and loads of cinnamon? Mmmm hmmm.
Cheese scones and cranberry tea biscuits?
Ahem, hem, hem: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON CARBOHYDRATES.
Bannock, crumpets, pancakes, YIPPEE!
But, the carbohydrate conundrum gets even worse.
Yes, oh yes, it does.
Despite our early marital wisdom and restraint, we have recently succumbed to the perils of something called a “Sourdough Starter”.
It began innocently enough. My godson’s father gave Practical Man the sourdough goo “to try”.
I should have known better. Practical Man loves a challenge, especially when it comes with a high likelihood of built-in failure. He is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team (Skyhawks) and all-around daredevil inclined to getting wa-a-a-y too close to things like the cliff edges on Grand Manan Island.
I should have known never to let The Sourdough Starter darken our doors.
Far from languishing in the fridge and growing into either a vigorous or lonely, abandoned science experiment (as it would have done for me) or exploding all over (the way it did for my aunt, years ago), The Sourdough Starter was a raving success.
Every Sunday, Practical Man and The Sourdough Starter have bonding time. First, he dumps the goo from its jar into a bowl. He carefully weighs out and feeds it flour and water. Then, he covers it tenderly with a clean tea towel and sets it gently in a warm place. A hush falls over the kitchen as The Sourdough Starter has its little, bubbly nap. Later, Practical Man does some sort of incantation over it, throws a bunch more flour around and voila: the Sourdough Starter turns into fresh-baked bread.
Two loaves, at least.
The last few weeks alone have produced multiples of plain sourdough, roasted garlic, caramelized onion, banana and smoked cheddar varieties.
And, not amuse-bouche, nouvelle-cuisine-sized morsels either. These loaves are the stuff of gluten-glee dreams: Hearty, floured (and–even better–sometimes buttered) boules and gigantic loaves of the sort that I picture rumbling across a field on the laps of French peasants from the ’50s, riding in a Citroen 2CV.
Happy, happy, happy. With double chins.
Centuries back, I come from good, double-chinned peasant stock, like this. Let’s face it, I still AM good double-chinned peasant stock, like this.
Last week, Practical Man started converting some of The Sourdough Starter into whole wheat. Now, we have two jars of goo in the fridge. Count ‘em, that’s FOUR future loaves of hot bread coming out of the oven.
Nearly two decades into our marriage, all our early restraint and wisdom was apparently for nought. Instead of merely registering for it, I am now married to it:
Practical Man has become a bread-making machine.
A darn good one.
There’s no help for it so now, when the charming, evil man pulls his latest carbohydrate creation out of the oven, I immediately order myself to the nearest carb confessional (any old Paleo diet website will do). When I’m truly desperate, I launch myself out into The Nature (which I usually avoid even more than control-top pantyhose). I go anywhere that will allow me to escape the tantalizing smell of hot, fresh-baked heaven.
And that, dear friends, is what is called: the Gluten Flee.
It’s almost the 11th hour
on the 11th day
of the 11th month
and I’m gearing up for it.
Lest we forget.
First comes the reading of the stanzas from that famous poem:
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon
I take deep breaths, trying to hold things in.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…
– John McCrae
But the hardest part, the part that always makes me lose it, is the standing. Wherever I am, at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, I stand and observe a moment of silence.
Lest we forget.
I do this, not because I want to glorify war, conflict or nationalism in any way, but rather, out of respect for all the victims of war and those who are called to stand up on our behalf, those left behind and those who return, never to be the same. Some years, Practical Man and I stand, hands clasped in each other’s, in our living room. Or in the middle of a store. He has 20 years of military bearing to draw on. I am a frequent fainter so I spend a lot of time trying to stay standing as the waves of emotion roll over me. Some years, I stand, locked in my office at work, the service from the National War Memorial in Ottawa streamed to my computer.
Then the bugle plays the Last Post.
No graceful tears slowly trail down my cheeks. No eyes glisten like pools of water filling up beautifully on a super model. No siree. I am a full on snorting, sobbing, blotchy mess each Remembrance Day. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s how it should be.
War is terrible. It is not glorious or glamorous or good–even when it’s necessary and especially when it’s not. It is terrible. For victims. For soldiers. For families. For all.
Lest we forget.
I think of another poem about how easy it is to turn away when the one being oppressed isn’t ourselves. The poem’s powerful last stanza reads:
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemoeller
Of course, I don’t think that war is the only way to speak against oppression and evil. Some believe that Remembrance Day or wearing a poppy means supporting the politics associated with war.
It does not. War is a terrible, awful thing.
Yet, there are still people who volunteer (or don’t have the choice) to stand out front and face evil, bombs, political agendas, greed, death, human rights atrocities, injury and injustice. In doing so, they also stand up for those who hate and disagree with them, so that those dissenters might live in a world where they have the right to speak out.
Lest we forget.
I think of my Grandpa Howard, in the tanks during WWII.
I think of my Grandma Helen, newly married in 1943. Soon after, she received one of the Missing In Action telegrams that every sweetheart and family dreaded.
My Grandpa Lou had been shot and was in a German prisoner of war camp. He himself wrote a telegram a few weeks after the MIA telegram, sending his love and asking for cigarettes. He escaped then got shot and captured again but eventually came home and started a family.
I enjoyed both my grandfathers into my 20s. I am so fortunate. Millions of those Grandpa Lou and Grandpa Howard went to fight for and with, were not.
Lest we forget.
I think of Practical Man, who served 20 years in military service to Canada and his father, Russell, who served in the Korean War. Russell contracted malaria in Korea and died in his early 30s after routine surgery–possibly of complications from that malaria virus.
He left five young children and a young wife behind, just as many men and women posted to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, have done in recent years. Of those who come back, many face PTSD and other forms of mental and physical illness because of what they saw, did and didn’t do. Families have to cope without their loved ones for months and years at a time. Then, they face the challenge of re-integrating a sometimes very different person into their lives. Those families will never be the same.
Lest we forget.
Despite what the media sometimes portrays, I don’t think those families are mourning or glorifying heroes. They are mourning and remembering mothers and fathers, sisters and sons, friends and loved ones. Regular people, gone or wounded in mind, body or spirit, forever.
My runny nose and red eyes are just a drop in the ocean of sorrow on this day.
As an advocate of peace, I wear a red poppy over my heart each Remembrance Day to honour what all military personnel (past and present) and their families know: entering war and conflict should be the absolutely last resort. It is too costly.
Lest we forget.
I hope we never will.