Monday, 16 November 2009

Being Spoiled

Saturday was just one of those days. When Jared called me from work (yes, he works Saturdays), he thought I sounded stressed. So he came home from work with a big bouquet of flowers and a box of Maison Blanc Macarons Parisiens for me, and then proceeded to cook dinner. After we put the girls to bed, he ran me a hot bath.

It was very relaxing, romantic, and rejuvenating. So here's to being spoiled sometimes. Thanks hun xxx

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Poppies, Poppy Seed Muffins, and Paying Tribute

I've been meaning to write a post for Veteran's Day for over a week, and finally have the time to actually do it. I'm sorry for the delay. I can only say that although the message is belated, it is no less sincere.

At 11:00 on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, World War I officially ended and peace was declared. Remembrance Day, also known in different areas as Veteran's Day or Armistice Day, began to commemorate this establishment of peace, and to honour the sacrifice and service of the war veterans and the many men and women who lost their lives during the war. The first World War, or the Great War, was considered 'the war to end all wars.
Unfortunately, the peace founded in 1918 did not last for long. We now have many more veterans to honour and remember, including those involved with WWII, the men and women currently serving in the Middle East, and those involved with all of the wars in between. War has touched all of us in some way, no matter how indirectly. My grandparents were involved with WWII: one of my grandfathers was in the airforce, the other in the navy, and my grandmother was in the women's forces until she was discharged when she admitted that she was under-age. There were many involved with the Korean War, Vietnam War, First Gulf War, Falklands War, and other modern conflicts. There are now thousands of soldiers serving in the Middle East, many of them in Afghanistan. These are men and women with families and communities back at home.
Whether or not you agree with the politics of the war, whether you are a pacifist or a military general, regardless of nationality or political affiliation, you must feel something when you think of the many many people who have been involved with these wars. I would love to imagine a world at peace without the need for military. Unfortunately, history has shown that nations are often compelled to fight, and I am thankful for the people who are willing to do so on our behalf.
Poppies have become a symbol of Remembrance Day. In Flanders, where the landscape was devastated by WWI, poppies now blanket the country side in shocking swathes of color and life. These beautiful wild flowers grow best in disturbed ground, and so the battlefields that had been bathed in blood were soon red with blossoms. One of the most famous poems from WWI centres on the image of the poppy. John McCrae, serving with the Canadian military, wrote the poem In Flanders Fields after his best friend died in battle in WWI:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarell with the foe.
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
[I copied this from First World War Poems.]
In the UK, everyone wears red paper poppies on their coats and collars around Remembrance Day. The money donated to charity for them is used to care for Veterans and their families.
It seemed only fitting for Remembrance Day to do something with poppies. I decided on poppy seed muffins. They are easy to make, easy to share, and have a mixture of sweet and tart flavours perfect for an introspective day like this one.
Rememberance Muffins Recipe
3 oz butter (room temperature)
3 oz sugar
1 egg (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
8 oz plain flour
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup cranberries (I used dried, but you could use fresh)
120 ml (1/2 cup) milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat well (preferably with an electric mixer).
2. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold into the wet mixture.
3. Stir in 1/4 cup of the poppy seeds, 1/4 cup of cranberries, the milk, and lemon juice.
4. Put into either greased and floured or paper-lined muffin tins. Fill each muffin about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Use the remaining cranberries and poppy seeds to sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.
5. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for about 20 minutes (until a butter knife comes out mostly clean).
These are delicious hot with a little butter on them (stick in the microwave for 20 seconds to reheat if needed). They will also keep for several days, and are good cold as a snack or stuck into lunchboxes.

(A special thank you goes out to the kind Freecycler who gave me the beautiful poppy design dishes.)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Closure of the Women's Research Institute at Brigham Young University

Normally this is a feel-good blog. I write about my projects at home and in my garden. You hear about my kids. However, I feel compelled to write a post that is different. There are times when you hear news that forces you into some type of action because you are so dismayed by what you hear that you have to try to make a difference. This is one of those times.

A few days ago (on the 29th of October 2009), Brigham Young University (BYU) gave a very discrete statement. It wasn't widely spoken about or really announced. You can find the announcement hidden away on the BYU website news page, next to links to stories like Cleanliness IS next to godliness:new research shows clean smells unconsciously promote moral behaviour. The story I'm interested in is titled BYU reorganized women's study program. When you read the story, you realize that the title is misleading. BYU is not just reorganizing a program. In fact, they are discontinuing the Women's Research Institute.

The director of the program, Dr Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, is being moved to the psychology faculty. It gets worse. The women's studies minor, instead of being under the jurisdiction of the Women's Research Institute, is being allotted to the College of Home, Family, and Social Sciences. The implications of this move are seriously disturbing. As the Women's Research Institute, women's studies has it's rightful place as a serious academic area that researches the special issues pertaining to women, including the role of women in history, current issues specifically related to women, etc. This approach respects and validates the role of women both in the world now and in history, by showing that they are worthy of serious research, and by viewing them as part of the larger world as they contribute to and are affected by larger environmental, social, political, religious, and other issues.

If women's studies becomes part of the College of Home, Family, and Social Sciences--as it will in January 2010--BYU is implying that the study of women is not a serious independent pursuit and that women's studies and research is an inferior area. Within the same college as home and family, women' studies will be relegated to the position that it had before the feminist movement, and we will be back in the suffragette type position of being forced to fight for the right to be viewed outside of our familial roles. It is a subtle statement that the correct position of women is in the home and family, and it automatically creates a dichotomy seperating women in the home and family from women in the world and workplace. It implies that women's studies is not necessary as an independent study because it is included in home and family studies. In short, in one fell swoop BYU has completely negated everything that the Women's Research Institute faculty and students have worked so hard to establish since it was founded in the 1970s.

What is truly infuriating about this decision is the lack of communication associated with it. I understand that sometimes programs will be changed and reorganized, or even cut out altogether. However, this has been done in a secret way, as though it was either something that they wanted to hide, or something that wasn't important enough to bother mentioning. (To view the news release, click here.) BYU has not communicated with students or staff, and so there are lecturers left unsure whether they will still have their job or not, or still be teaching the same courses or not, or whether conferences that they were scheduled to speak at will still occur. There are students unsure of whether their funding, which came from the WRI, will continute past January. There are students unsure about whether they can continute their studies as they have planned. And they are not getting any answers.

There are a lot of good things that I could say about BYU. For example, they have a mind-blowingly amazing library and special collection. They offer an excellent education at low prices. Yet this decision, to me, undermines their academic credibility as well as limiting the freedom of ideas and respect that is necessary for excellent scholarship. I don't think that BYU has realized yet the ramifications of this decision.

I don't know if there's anything that we can do to save the Women's Research Institute. I hope that if enough people are concerned, they will reconsider, or at least discuss their reasoning behind the decision and their plans for how to move forward with women's studies. There is a Facebook group devoted to trying to save the WRI.

Here are some thoughts by other people on the dissolution of the Women's Research Institute:
Deseret News
Weightier Matters of the Law
The Universe (BYU's newspaper)
Feminist Mormon Housewives

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Rosehip and Apple Jam

Both rosehips and apples are in season from about September through November, varying slightly depending on the weather and plant varieties. Roses and apples are actually related plants, and so the flavours and textures compliment each other really well.

I gathered rose hips (each variety of roses will have slightly different rose hips that vary some in size, taste, and colour---although some varieties are better than others, you can eat any of them; I used rose hips from several different types of roses that happened to be growing either in my garden or nearby) and apples (this is a good way to use up windfall apples if you have an apple tree) and made jam.

Rosehip & Apple Jam

1. Pick the rosehips. You can tell they're ripe when they turn a nice red or orange colour instead of green. As you'll cook them, you don't need to be too picky about how ripe they are--I used a range of very firm and mushier rosehips. Then you need to prepare them for use. Cut off any stalks and dried up flower bits and then wash them off. (Remove unwanted bits before washing or else the shrivelled up flower bits will cling to the rosehips and be difficult to remove)

2. In a large saucepan, cook the rosehips. Add enough water to cover them and keep them from catching on the bottom of the pan. You may need to add more water as they cook. You want the rosehips to simmer until they are all soft and pulpy and broken up. If you want to help speed up the process, you can either make cuts in the rosehips before adding them to the pan, or use a masher on them while they're cooking to help them break down. Exact cooking times will vary depending on how many you're cooking at a time, how ripe they are, etc. Generally, a colander full of rosehips will need about 6 cups of water and about half an hour.

3. When the rosehips are fully cooked, then you need to separate the good pulp from the waste (seeds, etc.). There are several ways you can do this. I cut up an old, clean pair of tights, and lined the inside of a sieve. With the sieve placed over a bowl to collect the juice, I put the pulp into it. I left it to drip, and then gathered the tights into a ball around the pulp and squeezed it to get out as much of the useful pulp and juice as possible. Keep that pulp/juice, and discard the seeds that are left behind.

4. Next I prepared the apples. I peeled and cored the apples (I kept those bits for juicing to make syrup with) and cut out any bruised or bitten bits. Then I chopped the apples into small pieces (the size you want them to be in the jam, so it's a matter of personal preference--I like them to be small enough pieces that they don't make the jam lumpy, but distinct pieces as opposed to apple sauce). Cook them with just a little water and a splash of lemon juice until they are soft.

5. Combine the rosehips and apples. You want about equal parts fruit to sugar; the easiest way to do this is to weigh it. Add the fruit and plain white granulated sugar to a large saucepan. You don't need to use special sugar or add pectin. (In fact, both apples and rosehips have high levels of pectin in them naturally, so you need to be careful not to over-set the jam).

6. Bring the fruit and sugar to the boil and--stirring regularly--boil vigorously for about twenty minutes or until set. Test for a set by pouring a little jam on a cold plate as you would for any jam.

7. While cooking the fruit, you need to have sterilized jars to put the jam in. An easy way to do this is to fill clean jars and lids with boiled water, and then pour out the water and put them in the oven on a low heat to dry.

8. Jar the jam. You can put some in the fridge to eat now, or save sealed jars for a couple of years. I particularly like rosehip and apple jam spread on wholemeal toast, and my daughters love it in peanut butter and jam sandwiches.