Wednesday 6 January 2021

Think What Is Best For The Bubble (Souped-up Garden Is On Hiatus)

What!? I'll explain. A gas bubble was injected into my right eye several weeks ago in the operating room at Bordeaux Pellegran hospital. Such a procedure, as squeamish as it may sound, is used for the temporary holding in place a formerly detached retina. In my case, it peeled off that eyeball within a week resulting in blindness. During that time my normal eye floaters morphed into a rampaging dazzle of zebras fleeing a lightning storm; yes, I knew something was egregiously wrong.

A sudden medical emergency during a pandemic was challenging, but thanks to the excellent French medical system and the unrelenting focus of The Calm One who ensured I got to where, when I needed, and received/receiving all things required for my eventual recovery, I am doing well, with a high probability of complete restoration of sight. Hence during this recent festive season, the words coming from The Calm One were not the usual ones like here, have some more eggnog, but more in the vocal vein of since not only do you see 50% less than usual in addition to having double/tunnel vision along with a dizzying perspective familiar to folks experiencing seasickness, not to mention an uncanny blue tinge saturating all the foggy muck, but also because the bubble doesn't like when your eyes are lower than your heart, let me pick up the pencil you just dropped on the floor.

Call me whimsical, maybe even practical, or my preference, the paradoxical playful pragmatic, a short and sweet phrase, think what is best for the bubble, was born and has aged well in the new year because my recovery will continue at least several more weeks and even months. It works like a mantra, a soothing focus to keep us reinforcing the admirable work done by my excellent surgeon whose skill, steady hands, contagious calm, and ability to answer questions clearly in perfect english is examplary.

Her assistant is equally brilliant. She greeted me with the most beautiful bedside manner as soon as my gurney was wheeled into the operating room. Her emotional support never ebbed. After injecting local anesthesia, the surgeon told me that her assistant will hold my hand for the next stage of the thirty-minute procedure during which I felt unwelcomed pressure invading my eye. My forehead was taped to the table, but my hands were unsecured and wanted so much to flap upwards towards my eye. Squeezing her hand during that brief, but extremely uncomfortable time, was exactly what I needed to remain calm.

As an experience, it was an interesting one, well actually, up to this point of my life, it was absolutely unique. My face was covered with a thick, translucent-blue mat with an eye-shaped cut-out on which the surgeon's tools were placed. Various laser machines close by were buzzing. As time went on, so many colours flashed past my eye, and towards the end, when the gas was being injected, swirls of thick, fleecy snow-drifts whirled about, wrapping themselves around a blue sky, that is, the blue mat, until there was just a pristine, glistening blanket. It was over. The operating room staff bustled about, clearing machines and tools. Finally my eye was unclamped, the blue mat removed, and I was guided into a sitting position. The surgeon and her assistant floated into my vision field. It was so nice to see their smiling faces!

Though not needing to be put under general anesthesia allowed me to leave the hospital the same day, it also meant that my ambulatory status could lead to my doing more than the bubble liked. But it's a good teacher. If I deviate from the position my medical team inculcated in me--post operation, a large number of staff all repeated every chance they got: during the day either stand or sit up straight, that is, your upper torso must be at a right angle to your legs, at night, you must sleep on the side of your operated eye--that eye speaks to me via a heaviness bordering on pain.

Though some recommend sleeping face-down after a retinal re-attachment operation, I also had a lens transplant to take care of a pesky cataract and the advice for sleeping after that operation is face-up, so with a dual procedure covering both conditions, the compromise is sleeping on my side. But even with a good teacher, a student may act up and that's when The Calm One's personal interface reigns supreme. His respectful intervention runs on the lines something like, yes, you are independent, yes you could push yourself till you drop, but why do that? I am here, I will do what you best not do during this time of convalescence.

The postural restriction along with antibiotic, anti-inflammatory drops three times daily are essential to assist the bubble's purpose. It performs a similar function as a vise would when gluing two items together. The gas dissipates slowly, taking three to four weeks. During that time, the brain tries to adjust to the gradually increasing vision just like it did when when my vision was diminishing before the operation. But even with patient compliance the retina can detach once again soon after. In that case, the operation is repeated but with a different gas. I wear a medical alert band on my right wrist because as long as there is gas in that eye it is courting disaster for me to be above a certain altitude or to receive some forms of general anesthesia. To keep on top of an ever changing situation, we troop off to see my surgeon in Bordeaux, an hour and half drive from Angoulême. With one follow-up done on Christmas Eve under our belt, the next one is in mid-January. During that last visit, we followed social distancing mostly except for the surgeon and me. The Calm One as well as her assistant was seated over six feet from us in the room. When asked if there was anything I was concerned about, I yelled across the room to The Calm One, are you still concerned we'll run out of eyedrops? I explained to her that he was taking care of me. Her reply was, oh he's a good one. We were told that my prescription was a refill. Later on, I made sure he knew what she said because as I had guessed, he didn't.

Though I have a good one, many women find themselves in the opposite situation especially during the pandemic where domestic violence mostly targeting women, and yes, that includes trans women, has increased. Even in this hospital with the wonderful women professionals all around, I was subjected to sexual harrassment which I define as being sexualized without my consent. While I was waiting on the gurney outside the surgery room, about fifteen minutes before the surgery was to begin, a man attired in medical clothes and unknown to me rapidly wheeled my gurney down various passageways to a group of about ten men by whom I was made a butt of their ringleader's joke, oh no, that is not the one I want! Amid their laughter, I sat up and twisted my head around so I could identify with my good eye the ringleader. When I protested loudly at their behaviour, the ringleader's henchman tried to shut me up. He didn't succeed. I just protested louder. When I was wheeled back in front of the surgery, the henchman tried again. I spit into my mask. He recoiled and left. The ringleader and his henchman together tried yet again after I was left unescorted for a brief time following surgery. They still did not succeed as I refused to respond while moving as far as possible from them as much as the narrow hallway allowed while keeping my face sharply turned in the opposite direction and taking wide, strongly placed steps, close to a march.  As my focus was on my recovery (I had not drank or eaten for about twenty hours and I needed to do so quickly) that was all I decided to do at that time. Perhaps the staff who were leading me towards nourishment took note of my various reactions as it is very possible that these harassers have done something like this previously. At the very least, any whisper networks were probably fed the pertinent information.

I still find it difficult to do everything, from reading to cooking to drawing to photography to tapping away on the keyboard to walking up and down stairs to going out the house, even if it is just to the garden. The last time I tried to walk down the garden's central path, I couldn't get farther than a few feet because the clothes line flanking the path looked much lower plus it slanted over the path twice. So I'll be slowing down and taking the time to rest. This medical situation has exhausted us both.

Another helpful, short and sweet phrase, given towards the end of my eight-hour hospital stay by countless staff, inspiring me to do all the things I need to do to maximise healing was bon retour (welcome back). It was said with a dual purpose, that I will be able to be embraced by the comforts of our home fairly soon (yes to my plaid flannel jammies and mint green tea with a whole wheat muffin marbled with ginger orange raisin puree topped with orange icing!) and that the staff will be here in the future to continue post-operative care. That first night of recovery as The Calm One guided my eye-patched self out of our car to begin the slow walk across our front garden followed by the awkward ascent up the stairs to the balcony front entrance, the pain of the operated-upon eye which had surfaced upon the wanning of the anesthesia, was dulled by the scent of lavender wafting by my nose, whispering, you are home, bon retour.

I wish a similar double bon retour to myself and my readers. Someday we will return to my writing and your reading of Souped-up Garden.

Till then!

Thursday 10 December 2020

Last Post Until January 2021

Souped-up Garden will be taking a holiday hiatus until the first Thursday in January. Be especially good to yourself and your loved ones as this super-sized disaster year comes to an end. In France, if the vaccination schedule happens as presently planned, I will get a Covid vaccine by the end of February and The Calm One most likely by Spring.  Here's hoping the global situation improves through time.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Stovetop Macaroni And Cheese, The Evaporated Milk Version With Saucisses de Strasbourg

Macaroni and cheese was a familiar dish served frequently during my New York City childhood either in my home (from a Kraft box of course!) or a diner or a friend's house or . . . you get the idea, it was ubiquitous. My favourite of all was the version sold at the original Horn and Hardarts automat chain because of tomato paste being added to those delectable little pots of goodness giving a pleasant tang and deepening the colour closer to orange than yellow. I swear they were winking at me from behind their coin-operated glass prisons. As a preschooler, I would reply to the question where were you born with at Horn and Hardart though I actually was born at Horis Harding Hospital! Different preparations for this dish abound including making a bechamel sauce and adding spices like prepared mustard/cayenne, or even a bit of tomato paste a la Horn and Hardart.  The cheesy, creamy mixture can be poured into a baking dish. Chunks of mozzarella and/or beaten eggs can be mixed in before topping with bread crumbs and popping it in the oven. Mine substitutes evaporated milk for regular milk plus adds saucisses. Why? Its creaminess will last much longer without congealing before you get a chance to savour it slowly. After a long while it becomes a bit tacky, but never globby. The small amount of saucisses add lots of flavour, acting more like a condiment.

makes four moderate servings or 6 small ones

  • Evaporated (NOT condensed which is sweetened) milk, 410 g (400 ml)
  • Cheddar, 227 g, freshly grated (packaged grated cheese has starch added to prevent sticking, causing the clumping when macaroni and cheese cools defeating the purpose for going the evaporated milk route.
  • Pasta, (in my case, torti), 227 g
  • Saucisses de Strausberg or frankfurters, 2-3
  • For more oomph, add a large pinch of chili powder to the grated cheese

Grate the cheese. Measure out the evaporated milk and pasta. Unwrap the saucisses.

Put pasta in a medium saucepan and barely cover with water. If not using the saucisses, salt the water. If using, add them without salting the water.

Bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring all the time. In about five minutes, fish out the saucisses. Let cool and thinly slice. Reserve. Meantime, keep boiling and stirring until all the water is gone except for a bit of moisture on the bottom.

Add the evaporated milk and bring back to a boil.

Add cheese, lower heat, and stir non stop for about two minutes until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the saucisses. Salt to taste.

A sprinking of fleur de sel at table gives a nice bit of crunch.

Its long-lasting creaminess is a delight. Any surplus can be frozen. It reheats readily with some regular milk. Keep in mind when pasta goes cold and is rewarmed, it becomes resistant starch which encourages your all important gut bacteria to flourish.

À la prochaine!

Thursday 26 November 2020

Book Review / Good And Mad: The Revolutionary Power Of Women's Anger by Rebecca Traister

Ms Traister wrote Good and Mad in just four months because she wanted to keep the intense intellection and emotionality flowing from a series of connected events happening in the United States as fresh as possible such as Donald Trump winning the 2016 presidential election, International Women Marches, #MeToo/#TimesUp, and record numbers of women running and winning political office in 2018.  With each paragraph, she succeeds in sustaining her passion.  My finishing the last page was like letting out a sigh of satisfaction, wonderment, and joy, as if her book was a long love letter, but focusing not on all the emotions connecting two people, but instead on the many intriquing facets of anger as they relate in the struggle for gender equality throughout its long, honourable history, describing in an intimate tone⁠—at times, soothing, at other times, invigourating⁠—various guideposts that has led the way and will continue to do so. She writes:

In the popular imagination, feminism has since its inception been on the verge of collapse, thanks to the intensity of its very real internal conflicts: divisions over race, class, sexuality, and generational difference, not to mention the flare-ups of personal jealousies and combative power plays. These rifts have often been serious and damaging. But they have not set the women's movement apart from any other social justice movement, from the civil rights or Black Power or immigration or gay rights or the New Left or socialist movements, all of which at times been riven by generational, racial, gendered, and class divides, by homophobia, strategic differences, and personal feuds, To some degree, this is the nature of mass activism.

The nature of mass activism is what it is because what it is fighting is what it is.  Entrenched power for a few is only able to hold onto to its privileged position by encouraging and cementing through mass media, education, and policing a climate of division and distrust. To break away from the 'normal' interface to wage protest against 'normality' is a supreme challenge. Taking two steps forward, one step backward is to be expected.

The author participating at a Bay Area Book Festival

Grounding women's anger by showing how it has repeadedly got the job done despite being perceived through the distorted lens of the powerful white male minority as crazy or in less dismissive terms as ineffective is essential. In many instances, women expressing anger was the exact trigger making significant advancement towards social justice possible. Mrs. Till directed an incandescent fury after her murdered, teenaged son Emmett was beaten beyond recognition by white supremacist terrorists on August 28, 1955 by demanding that not only would his hastily buried body be returned to her, but his wake would be conducted via an open coffin so the horror of what was done be seen.

Ms Traister guesting on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

The expertly cut gem of insectionality shines throughout her writing, reflecting light and emitting a rainbow of colours, sending enlightening beams right through the fog of structural, systemic racism and sexism. She quotes Brittney Cooper:

White women and black men both want what white men have--white women want to have corporate power and black men want to be patriarchs. Black women a) know we're never going to get that and b) don't want that. We don't want to wield corporate power and we don't want to oppress people. That's why I look to black women as the political future.

Ms Traister admits though expressing anger and channeling it into action is effective and emboldening, it is also demanding on relationships and families which was born out during the second feminism wave in the 1960s of which I can personally confirm because that's when I was a young woman. Additionally, if being angry will cost you your livilihood among other supports, this approach doesn't align with everybody who is focused on the arc of progressive change. Regardless, Good and Mad inspires, upskills, and empowers.

Childhood photo of the author: girl power and some!

À la prochaine!


I Saw Emmett Till This Week At The Grocery Store (Poem by Eve L. Ewing)


Book review / Inferior:  The True Power Of Women And The Science That Shows It by Angela Saini

Book review / The Golden Thread : How Fabric Changed History by Kassia St Clair

Book review / Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Warner Townsend

Book Review / Against Empathy by Paul Bloom

Book Review / The Tulip by Anna Pavord

Book Review / The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton

Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Book Review / Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal

Baking From Around The World by Jessamyn Waldman

Rodriguez with Julia Turshen

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova

Book Review / The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates

Thursday 19 November 2020

Whole Wheat Muffins Marbled With Ginger Orange Raisin Puree & Topped With Orange Icing

Several weeks ago, I posted about preserving a huge quantity of raisins close to their due date by making a puree. A small batch was done separately, one spiced with ginger and enlivened with orange juice which I envisoned would eventually marble whole wheat muffins. The vision has been realised and here they are! And they are beyond fabulous, fluffy, rich with egg, butter, and milk, sweetened with maple sugar and the oh so tasty ginger orange raisin puree, not to mention the extra oomph of orange icing.

makes ten (batter filled to the brim which is my preference) to twelve muffins (batter filled 3/4 to the brim)

  • Flour, whole wheat, 240 g (2 American 8 fluid oz cups)
  • Sugar, 100 g ( 1/2 American 8 fluid oz cup/8 T)
  • Sugar, brown, (1/2 American 8 fluid oz cup/8T) or in my case stir in 1.5 tsp of maple syrup into white sugar
  • Baking soda, 1 tsp
  • Egg, l
  • Vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp
  • Milk, whole, 1 American 8 fluid oz cup/16 T)
  • Orange ginger raisin puree, 4 T (recipe is here)
  • Orange juice and icing sugar depending on the amount and consistency of the finished icing (I use 3 T of juice to about 9 T of confectioner's sugar)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Liberally brush a 12 muffin tin pan with butter, making sure each well is well doused along with a bit just outside their perimeters. 

If opting for maple sugar instead of brown sugar, stir in 1.5 T of maple syrup to 1/2 cup of sugar and reserve.

Using either an electric aid (in my case, a stick mixer) or elbow grease, cream butter, sugars, and baking soda until resembling mashed potatoes.

In a separate small bowl beat the egg with the vanilla and add to creamed mixture. Beat in the milk, and then gradually the flour until it is all barely incorporated. It's time to fill the muffin tins.

Fill the tin 1/4 the way and drop about 3 to 4 small amounts of the raisin puree. Repeat until the well is either 3/4 filled or in my preference, to the brim.

With a wooden skewer inserted right to the bottom of a well, swirl the batter, Turn the pan a quarter, and repeat.

Bake around 17 minutes or until centres are springy to the touch and/or a skewer is inserted and comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for a minute or two and then work carefully around each well with a butter knife. Turn the pan over and gently shake out the muffins. Let cool.

For the icing start with one tablespoon of orange juice and add enough icing sugar to get the consistency desired. The topping can be quite thick where it is spread on or it can be close to watery so it soaks into the muffin which is what I did.

Best whole wheat muffin ever! It's quite sweet, so besides gracing the breakfast/snack table, it would do just as well if served for dessert. The surplus chez nous was frozen and I can't wait to eat one of these soooooooooooon. Egads, they are DELICIOUS.

À la prochaine!

Thursday 12 November 2020

Heat Pump Installation

My most vivid memory standing out on that day full of disruption and commotion which also was the second day of the new lockdown was The Calm One trying to find his mask before he sprinted down the hallway leading to the bathroom from which one of the two workers, both Moldavians who live in Paris, the epicentre of the Pandemic, had cried out while handling a major leak from an ancient toilet tank fastened high up on the wall caused by certain pipes just removed in the sous-sol. Before The Calm One could locate his mask, the installer called out again, and The Calm One flashed out of sight. Soooooooo, there were two unmasked people, strangers to each other, in a small, unventilated space. I cracked open the bathroom door and dangled the city-issued blue jobbie inside, robotically uttering mask, mask, mask, mask, mask, until it was grabbed. In three days time, fourteen days, the recommended time for quarantine if one suspects exposure, will have lapsed. Despite not having any covid symptoms as of yet, our oximeter is never that far away. The workers arrived masked, but soon discarded them. They mostly worked in ventilated spaces like outside and the sous-sol with its front and back doors opened, but still. The two men did a fabulous job in about eight hours. When first staring at the tangled mess of dusty pipes covered in ghostly, insulation strips dangling from our thirty-five-year old gas system that was in place when we moved here ten years ago, a long, tortured series of ooh la las came from the installers. They agreed not to place the outside unit on the side of the house closest to a neighbour as was originally planned because it makes a noise like a loud fan along with the air getting pretty blown about from time to time. However, the change in plans meant more work for them because they had to drill through two rooms to get to the side farthest away from other houses.

The jumbled mass of pipes/valves were replaced. The old boiler and water heater were removed. We were told that our old gas system was way more powerful than needed, spewing out more gunk than was even necessary because all those decades ago gas was cheap.

The spanking new HUGE water heater was put in a corner.

To the left of that went an evaporator, and to left of that . . .

. . . a compressor that is connected to . . .

. . . to the outdoor double fan condenser in the east garden, essentially a reverse refrigerator. A refrigerant runs throught all parts of this system. Our upstairs which is where we live (our home is a pavillon sur sous-sol, a common abode in France) is heated via the heat pump set-up through existing water radiators. This arrangement also heats the water for the kitchen and bathroom. Part of the deal was our getting an induction stovetop to replace our gas cooker which once installed will allow us to cancel our gas service.

A most lovely rosemary of the hedge type had to be hacked down to make room for the outside unit.

The mass of aromatic foliage will be composted eventually.

Fortunately about two months ago I took two rosemary cuttings which have rooted well. Our household will not be sans rosemary!

A very plain, straightforward thermostat was affixed to the centre hallway wall of our upstairs living quarters. My goodness, everything is so much more comfortable, very much like being in a luxury hotel providing tons of almost instant hot water with pronounced pressure along with a stable temperature in all rooms. I am glad that this government subsidised program approved us as participants; acceptance took about four steps spaced over several months. The part of the expense we need to pay is in the form of a loan with a moderate rate of interest which can be paid in full if we wish before the final scheduled payment. Our Total Conversion To Alternative Energy Project which now includes the completed installation of photovoltaic panels (no government subsidy, but an interest free loan) and the heat pump will continue with our getting a storage battery in due course. Following that, if required, we will get more photovoltaic panels.  Though our motivation for our grand project at present is to reduce our monthly utility bill, the eventual goal is not only to get off the grid but also to earn income by selling surplus energy back to the sector.

See you next week!



Thursday 5 November 2020

There's A Heat Pump Chez Nous!

With the Pandemic back on the front burner along with my doomscrolling Twitter regarding the American Presidential Election, I have enough focus and time to give just a teaser on the continuation of our total conversion to alternative energy project. We already have had PV panels put on the part of the roof facing south last year, and this past week we did the second stage of this plan with the installation of a heat pump set-up. Out went the gas boiler and gas water heater, and in went this stupendous system. Once we replace our gas cooktop with the induction jobbie the installers left with us, we can cancel our gas service. The next and final step will be the purchase of a storage battery. Following that, if required, we will get more PV panels. Our eventual goal is not only to get off the grid but also to earn income by selling surplus energy back to the sector. Next week I will provide more info and photos regarding the day-long fitting of our new, fabulous, and environmentally friendly arrangement. Until then, here's a photo of the outside exceedingly pretty double fan unit.

 See you next week!