A Heart of Eggs, Food Waste, and “Mum, My Friends Think It’s Funny…”

Just over a month ago, on August 11th, we woke up to find this in our front yard:

Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t just any old day this vignette appeared on our lawn; it was our wedding anniversary.

And, it wasn’t just any old wedding anniversary; it was our 25th.

My reaction was — predictably — OH. MY. GOSH! WHO DID THIS?!

My husband denied all knowledge, and our daughter was also completely mystified. I considered the possibility that friends or family may have been the culprit(s), but we had told none of our Ontarian friends that the 11th was our 25th wedding anniversary, and our family lives over 3000 km away. The only possibilities left were our sons.

When they got out of bed, I called them out to the yard to show them, and tellingly, our 16 year-old got a funny look on his face. He didn’t say anything, though; he simply went inside, and it wasn’t until about an hour later that an explanation came:

“Yeah, Mom, this is actually nothing to do with you,” he said. For a moment he looked as though he was trying to let me down gently. “My friends did this. They egged and forked our lawn because you made me come in early last night. And R—, who also had to go home early? Their lawn got cheesed.”

I won’t lie; I was slightly let down that the eggy heart had absolutely nothing to do with our wedding anniversary. However, there’s no point in wallowing in self-pity when there’s a job to be done. I had 29 eggs to pick up.

(At this point you might be wondering why I didn’t send our son out to take care of the situation. You might be thinking: his friends, his eggs … And yes, I thought it too, but I didn’t want him clearing it away because he’s actually allergic to eggs. (I admit to churlishly thinking, don’t his friends know that?)).

So there I was, mid-morning, staring at the heart of eggs, trying to decide how to proceed. What to do with 29 eggs that have been lying out on the lawn all night? Should I toss them, or should I make use of them? Because of our son’s egg allergy, I don’t routinely bring eggs into the house; but the fact is, I LOVE eggs.

Because his friends had “kindly” left the empty cartons by the garage, I could see that the eggs weren’t set to expire for several weeks. The night hadn’t been overly hot, but wanting to be safe, I googled something along the lines of how long can eggs stay unrefrigerated? Reassured there wouldn’t be a food safety issue, I gathered them into a bowl, stuck them in the fridge, and set upon the task of eating 29 eggs, feeling rather happy that I hadn’t let them go to waste.

Leaving the tale of these specific eggs for the moment —

(Imagine, if you will, me in my kitchen, surreptitiously savouring them, one or two a day while our allergic son was out of the house, and then washing the dishes afterwards with sterile room-worthy technique).

— I have to admit that I’ve always been hyper-aware of food. Perhaps it was my parents’ war stories that made me this way, but then again perhaps not: aside from one rather poignant (and frightening) incident when my father responded with primal outrage to the one-and-only food fight my brother and I ever held, the issue of near-starvation wasn’t a constant refrain in our house. Rather, I feel like it’s something internal with me. I’ve always been a scraper of plates and an “Oh, there’s still a bit left there, let me get that…” kind of person. If reincarnation were a thing (and just to be absolutely clear, I don’t believe it is) then I was, once-upon-a-time, a starving peasant. Other people get “put under” by psychics and end up claiming to have been Cleopatra, but not me: I was a serf, toiling away in a field somewhere.

But even though I’ve always been very aware of food, the larger issue of global food waste wasn’t something I was aware of until a couple of years ago when I happened across Tristram Stuart’s TED talk:

This is a short (14 minute) video, and is well worth watching if you haven’t seen it already. And if you’d like more food for thought (pun intended; haha?) there’s also this documentary about food waste: Just Eat It, which you might be able to watch for free, online, here. (Hopefully it’s not restricted to Canadian viewers).

While I’ve been doing a fairly good job of not wasting food once it’s in our house, there’s one area in which I could use some improvement, and it’s an issue which was addressed in both the TED Talk and the documentary: we’re a picky species, prone to seeking out perfection, and unfortunately, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person.

One of my earliest and most distinct memories illustrates just that:

I was either six or nine years old and I was visiting my grandparents in The Netherlands. One day, I was sent out — on my own — to get some apples from the greengrocer. I was given a leather satchel (picture a large doctor’s bag) and a wallet with a handwritten note tucked inside. I made my way down the cobbled sidewalk, entered the greengrocer’s shop — where all of the fruits and vegetables were set out, on display, BEHIND the counter — and passed my note to the man, a strawberry-blond Dutchman I can still picture to this day. He smiled and said, “Ah, Mevrouw van G—‘s kleindochter!” and then proceeded to fill the order. I watched as he placed apples in a paper bag, and — 40-some years on! — can still remember my thoughts: Hey! Wait a minute! I should be choosing those apples! Not him! What if he gives me one with a bruise?

This quest for perfection is — if you watch Tristram Stuart’s TED talk — at the heart of a mind-boggling amount of food waste. And now that I’m conscious of it, I’m making it my mission to try to reduce the part I play in all this. I can’t do much to alter the stringent standards fruits and vegetables have to pass through in order to make it into the store in the first place, and I can’t change human nature on a large scale, but I can learn to relax my own perfectionist leanings.

Practically, this means I’m trying to stop sifting through the produce for the perfect pear, but rather, to simply take what I first touch, minor warts and all. It means I’m trying to fight the urge to reject an entire bag of apples simply because one has a bruise. It means I’m making myself ignore a few brown spots on a head of cauliflower, because I know those can simply be cut away. In other words, without sounding sanctimonious, I’m trying to actively choose what others may reject, so that less will end up going to the bin behind the store. But I admit it’s a hard thing to do, because it goes directly against my nature.

I’d like to talk more about food waste, and some practical things I do to avoid and/or minimize it (beyond being less choosy), but this post is getting way too long. So for now, I’ll return to the story of the eggy heart:

It was just about a week ago that I polished off the last of the eggs. My 16 year-old had watched, a few days earlier, as I took the bowl, with its much-diminished quantity of eggs, out of the fridge to rearrange the space for leftovers, and he said, “You know, my friends think it’s funny that you saved those eggs and have been eating them.”

I looked at him in silence for a long moment, one of those classic stretched-out spaces of time in which one has the luxury of toying with various responses. Do I use language my son will understand immediately, and tell him about the time Uncle Chris and I had a food fight and Opa “flipped shit”? Do I enlighten him with passages from the WWII books I’m reading now? Do I treat him to the ubiquitous and tired think-of-all-the-starving-children-in-Africa lecture? Do I take a different tack and enumerate the fossil fuels that were spent in the creation and transportation of those 29 eggs?

Deciding against all that, I simply said, quietly, “That’s over two dozen eggs; that’s a lot of food to waste.”

And in the silence that followed, in the expression and the eyes of our 16 year-old son, a young man who’s at times preternaturally socially and politically aware, I could see that he might just have had a glimpse of all that I had left unspoken, that he already knew all of it anyway, and — what-my-friends-think be damned — that he agreed with what I had done.


Goldilocks Knitting

After a very hot and humid August and early September, our weather has finally turned. We’ve had days where it’s been fresh and cool and breezy; in fact, the other evening, when my husband and our 10 year-old son and I went out for our (nearly) ritual evening bike ride, my hands got so cold that I found myself wishing I had a pair of fingerless mittens.

I almost have a pair. I had been so pleased with the pair I made for my daughter:

Sorry the photo’s blurry; it’s all I’ve got as the mitts are now with my daughter in another city. This was my first attempt at cables, and they are surprisingly easy to do. The pattern is Queen Street mitts by Glenna C

… that I decided I needed a pair as well. So last spring, I began working on these:

Sprig, by Glenna C. (And who (whom?) am I kidding? All my photos are blurry).

While the ones I made for my daughter feel a bit too snug (she’s pleased, but in hindsight, I should have gone up another needle size), these ones are neither too snug, nor too loose, but are turning out juuust right.

I should have finished them by now, and would have, had I not put them down this summer in order to begin knitting a hat for my daughter. She had spent the latter half of last winter wearing the hat pictured below, an overstretched monstrosity whose only redeeming feature is that it’s not itchy (unlike the beautiful one I had bought her for Christmas two years ago):

It looks worse, sitting here on the kitchen table, than it does when actually on her head; still, it IS rather ratty looking …

When my daughter came home for the summer I promised her I would make her a new hat, and after some online searching, we found this pattern for Hermione’s cable and eyelet hat, a knock-off of the one Hermione wore in the sixth Harry Potter movie. The designer’s instructions are a little vague: this is a children’s size hat, she says, but for a woman’s size hat you could try adding another repeat — or two — and then lengthening the hat by one full repeat. Now, I don’t know about you, but all of this sounds very imprecise and a bit fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants — not the kind of knitting instructions I usually like to go by.

Plunging in regardless (because, hello!, it’s Hermione’s hat!) I cast on as directed, using a new-to-me method: alternate cable (which was an absolute bear and required several attempts to get right), but once I got past that, the hat went swimmingly.

Or so I thought.

About halfway up, I started wondering if the hat was going to be too big. The alternate cable cast-on seemed way stretchier than anything I’d ever encountered before, and as soon as the circular needles allowed for it, the hat-in-progress began to go on and off both my daughter’s head and mine, many times over, both of us hemming and hawing, both of us wondering, Is it too big? Or just right? Too big? Or just right? while I kept on knittingknittingknitting, until suddenly, the thing was done and sitting there … and yes, it does fit … but the question lingered each and every time either my daughter or I donned it, as we did several times a day over the course of several days: Is this hat juuust right, or is it too big?

Because I’ve knit a stretched-out monstrosity once before (see the blue and green hat above), I’m more than a bit worried that after a wash and a few wearings, it too, will stretch out irretrievably. So I’ve not yet taken the final plunge and blocked it, because I’ve always assumed that that’s the point of no return. Once it hits that water, there’s no going back to unravel the sucker; you’re stuck. (Is that actually the case? I truly have no idea).

Just after finishing the hat, my daughter and I found ourselves in the yarn shop yet again, this time to choose some yarn for my daughter to take to university, so she’d have a crochet project to work on during her spare time when she comes home for Christmas. Completely forgetting that I had a pair of unfinished fingerless mitts I could be working on, I said to my daughter, How about I make you another hat? Maybe two hats would be nice. And maybe this one will be juuust right … 

Like most other 19 year-old females, when faced with the possibility of more fashion, she couldn’t resist, and said, SURE! That would be great!

(It makes me inordinately happy that, unlike my two sons (my 16 year-old, who hasn’t worn anything hand-knitted for years, and our youngest, who has just declared he doesn’t want my hand-knit mittens anymore, despite the fact that just last year he said they were THE BEST for making snowballs), my daughter is ever-appreciative of my knitting).

So we chose another yarn and another pattern:

Determined not to make this one too big, and casting aspersions on the über-stretchy alternate cable cast on, which I contend may be the root of the problem with Hermione’s hat, I cast on using my usual method, but this time with smaller needles (because by this time I had done some hat construction research), and at the same time, I also slightly modified the pattern, because although my daughter loves this hat, she doesn’t want a slouchy look; she wants more of a beanie-type hat. Oh, and I almost forgot: I was also using DK weight yarn — not worsted, as the pattern calls for — so I had to do some calculations to figure out how many stitches to cast on.

(So, yes, in case you’re thinking, Oh, I can tell already that this is not going to end well … sigh … you’d be right … )

Now, when knitting with circular needles, it’s hard to tell what the eventual size is going to be. Everything seemed to be going so well, until the day came where I was forced to say:

“So … um … I’m kinda wondering if this is coming out a bit small … ”

My daughter picked it up, tried — and failed — to get it on her head.

“I think it’s just the needles making it so you can’t get it over your head,” I reassured her, suddenly deciding to rally. “I’m just not far enough, I think.”

I decided to go further out onto the limb, despite the fact that I could hear it creaking: “Actually, I think it will be juuust right … if Hermione is too big, then the changes I’ve made here should be perfect.”

“Okaaay,” she said, doubt in her voice. “You’re the knitter!”

Of course, the farther you get in a knitting project, the more you have invested; despite thoughts of Too small? No, juuust right. Too small? No, juuust right. Too small? running through my brain, I kept right on knitting, and then, one day, I inspected it closely and saw this:

If you look closely at the centre-most line of cabling, you’ll see that I made a mistake. Can you see it? The cables don’t all lean left; I zigged where I should have zagged 😦

At this point, I may have muttered words that rhyme with truck it.

The funny thing is, I had been concentrating so hard down there, near the beginning! It was the early stages, and I’m relatively new to cabling, and I was being so damn careful to get them right. Further up, I was feeling rather cocky; I had thrown caution to the wind and was knitting while watching Netflix*.

And yet, after the swearing, I have to admit it was a relief: I knew then that I would have to unravel the compression bandage the hat. That cable that I sent up the wrong way would bother me every. single. time. I saw the hat. Never mind the fact that I wouldn’t see the hat very often; never mind the fact that I couldn’t possibly see the hat squeezed perched on my daughter’s head as she trudged through snow to make her way to her classes; I could still imagine her trudging through snow to make it to her classes, and when I did, I knew I’d immediately see the cable that zigged instead of zagged.

But although I knew the hat would have to be unravelled, I wasn’t sure exactly how to fix the problem. Should I add another repeat? Should I use bigger needles for the ribbing? Should I once again go with the alternate cable cast on?

Indecisive, but needing to do something (winter’s coming!) I went back to Hermione. Leaving Version One alone, I cast on Version Two with the leftover yarn, this time with my usual method, and with one less repeat.

Knitknitknit and this time my thoughts were running Okay, that’s better, this will be juuust right, juuust right, juuust right … as soon as I run out of yarn I’ll take Version One apart, and then … um … okay … wait a sec … is this juuust right or is this actually too small? Knitknitknit … Oh, dammit, do NOT tell me this is going to be too freaking small! Oh, bloody hell, I think this IS going to be too small … 

Does the new one look too small to you? Yeah, it did to me, too, but I couldn’t tell for sure because I was at the end of my rope yarn and I wasn’t yet able to get the hat over my head because the needles were in the way.

At this point, I needed to call in the cavalry. So I took all of the above to the yarn store. Their verdict? Version ONE of Hermione’s hat is perfect. The yarn store woman — who knows everything — assures me it should not stretch out like that other monstrosity: firstly, because 1X1 ribbing doesn’t tend to stretch out enormously like a 4X4 ribbing will; and secondly, because it’s merino wool and it has memory, unlike the acrylic/wool blend I used for the other hat. And even if it were to stretch out slightly, it’s superwash wool, meaning I could toss it in the washer, and then in the dryer, and that would bring it back down a notch. She told me to stop knitting the replacement Hermione hat and to go ahead and block the original Hermione hat.

As for the blue Brae hat: it’s definitely too small. I need to add another repeat to the pattern to get more width, but I should definitely use the smaller needles for the ribbing band, and then switch to larger needles for the main body. But this time I should probably take no chances; as Mad-Eye Moody would say: Constant Vigilance!, and that means no Netflix until it’s done …

* Last Tango in Halifax, just in case you’re wondering. A modern-day, almost soap opera-esque series about two families in Yorkshire, England, whose characters say “summat” just like Hagrid 🙂


Reading Now …

So when I said in my last post that I was playing a game of readaholic catch-up, I wasn’t exaggerating. I’ve become of those people who gets jittery and feels like there’s something missing when I haven’t got a book on the go, even if I’m only progressing at a snail’s pace of a page or two a day.

I think one reason I enjoy reading so much is because I’m a worrier. (What a shocking statement; I bet you didn’t see that one coming 😉 ).

So yes, I worry about a ton of stuff, most of which is completely, unequivocally, 100% out of my control; in other words, all my worrying is time well spent.

(Yes, that last bit is sarcasm, which probably required no clarification; I don’t think I have any readers from Betelgeuse?)*

Anyway … diving headlong into a book is the one sure way to get me out of my head and to quiet those worrying thoughts.

The second reason I’ve become such a reader is because people’s lives — the intricate details, the nitty gritty hows and whys — provide an endless source of fascination to me. And while yes, I do know, thank you very much, that characters in a book aren’t *actually* real, to me … well … they really kind of are. So sitting amongst them and immersing myself in their lives, while curled up in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea, is my idea of one of the coziest, most gezellig, ways to spend an evening.

I seem to go on reading jags. I went through a Margaret Atwood phase, and then a prolonged jog through medieval English historical fiction. There was a longish smattering of bestsellerish stuff (John Irving and Jean M. Auel and Diana Gabaldon). There were the books I read alongside my husband (Douglas Adams, Alexandre Dumas and George Orwell). There are the classics, a seemingly endless list that I’ve been dipping into and out of ever since our daughter was born 19 years ago: Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, E.M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy… There’s been a lot of non-fiction, of the environmental and nutritional variety. And then there’s the children’s and the YA I’ve read, not aloud, but alongside our kids, after or before they’d read the book, so I’d be able to have discussions with them. (And quite often, truth be told, the children’s and YA have not only not been read aloud, they’ve not even been read alongside … but simply just because).

Currently, I’m on a World War II historical fiction jag, and the reason I find this narrow genre so interesting is two-fold:

First, it makes me enormously grateful to be living in a time and place where there’s peace and good government, as well as sufficient food, clothing and shelter. It also hits me at a very personal level, because both my mother and father, as well as my father-in-law, were children in Europe during the war.

My mother is from a small town in The Netherlands, just outside Rotterdam, and she was eight years old when the war began in 1939. She huddled under desks and church pews during bombings; she had to try to sleep in dank, over-crowded cellars; she felt the fear engendered by the German soldiers occupying the community centre directly next door; she went hungry in the latter years of the war when much of the Dutch population faced starvation.

My father, on the other hand, was only two years old when the war began. His German family was living on a farm in Prussia (an area which today is encompassed by both Germany and Poland), and he had older siblings who were part of the Hitler Youth. When the tide of the war turned, his family didn’t heed the warnings to leave; their farm was overrun by Polish soldiers who rounded them up and transported them to a work camp. My father-in-law’s war story is eerily similar to my father’s: he was the same age as my father, also living on a farm in Prussia, and with an older brother in the Hitler Youth, but when the warnings came to his widowed mother to skedaddle, they did. He was seven years old when he and his brother and mother made their way — by foot, by Red Cross train, by hitching rides with anyone who would take them — to relatives in Austria.

Experiences such as these can’t help but colour a person for the rest of their lives, and reading accounts that resemble the conditions in which my parents found themselves as children allows me to understand them more fully, and has helped me come to terms with events that occurred in my own childhood.

The second reason historical books of this vintage fascinate me is because I’m keenly interested in knowing how people used to live. I’m not so naïve as to wish to go back in time and live in a different era (I’m rather fond of medical advances such as antibiotics and such), and while I do have a soft spot for ALL historical fiction, I do feel there could be something to be learned from this relatively recent history. You know, before we embarked upon this age of consumerism and globalization, before plastics and convenience and disposability became so ubiquitous and so pervasive that no one can seem to fathom how to hold a school dance without supplying flats of bottled water and dollar store trinkets…

(Whoops … I guess that’s a mini-rant; my apologies).

So … the books I’ve been reading:

  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. I loved this book, not just for the historical details, but also for the back and forth, “what if you could re-live your life” aspect, which was a fascinating concept for me.
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. I read this alongside our daughter; we both loved it, although it is a very sad read.
  • Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. This seems to be one of those must-reads that people either love or hate. I hated it.
  • The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. I wanted to love this book, but I couldn’t quite get there. It’s definitely not a hate, but is somewhat of a meh.
  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. Our 16 year-old son read this for English last year, so I read it after he did. While I didn’t love it, it was a very compelling read, and the time travel made it very interesting.
  • All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. What can I say? I absolutely loved this book. The gorgeous writing, the back and forth in time, the separate stories that came together in the end, the mystery of the gemstone …
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This one had me with the title alone; I loved this post-war story, which is told solely through correspondence between the characters.
  • The Occupied Garden, by Kristen den Hartog and Tracy Kasaboski. I happened across this book while buying stroopwafels with our youngest ( 🙂 ) at a small Dutch deli. It’s a memoir of a market gardener and his wife and family, set in The Netherlands during the war, and ohmygosh hello?! … my own Dutch grandfather was a market gardener who had an orchard and a large vegetable garden behind his house. So, even though I’ve been trying to limit my book purchases and use the library more often, this was one I had to buy. I’m only halfway through, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

I’d love to know what you’re reading now, or, conversely, if you’re not reading, I’d love to hear about that, too. There was a point, when the kids were young, that I hit a wall; it felt almost as though I was reading my life away. It may not look like it (from the list above), but I don’t read ALL the time. On that note, I’m thinking my next post will be about knitting … because that’s gezellig too.

* Shameless literary reference: Betelgeuse is a planet in Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; they don’t have sarcasm there. I feel immensely sorry for them and can’t quite fathom how they manage 😉