What A Gen-X Remembers

From a generational perspective, I have a bit of a strange family. My parents are older baby boomers, but I have a millennial brother. My child, on the other hand, is a post-millennial or generation Z. Therefore, most of the time I feel like a mediator of the generational and cultural gaps existing in my immediate family.

Even before I turned half-a-century, my child would always comment on how dull and boring my life must have been without the benefit of the internet. But contrary to his firmly-held belief, I feel privileged to have experienced both analogue and digital aspects to my life. I had a childhood where I played hopscotch, throwing pebbles and marbles. But I also played a version of pong, one of the first primitive video games on a black and white TV, and wrote simple BASIC code on an early programmable calculator.

My mother gets easily flustered by technology. She only reads physical books, and keeps all her phone numbers in a notebook. My brother, almost exclusively reads eBooks on his phone, and my child only reads Wikipedia articles and is more interested in YouTube and social media than he is in any kind of publication.

I might be the only one in this tight family group who is comfortable navigating between both mediums. For my cooking, I have handwritten recipes, magazine cutouts, and cookbooks (both printed and digital). However, I sometimes still do a quick search on my phone when I get an ingredient I have not worked with before. I do yoga classes online, but I still have my illustrated books. I make shopping lists on paper just like my mom, but I type the things I need to pack for a trip on my notes app. I journal both on paper and on an online multi-platform app.

I am far from being a digital native like my child. On many occasions, I have consulted that pre-teen on a hidden smartphone setting. And I am quick to cry for help when I suddenly see a split keyboard on my tablet, which I never intended to create, and do not know how to return to normal. I probably use about 20% of all the features on my phone camera, while my child knows most of them. But I am clearly more comfortable than my mother with the device. After all, I can do my own updates. New technology does not petrify me. I learn to handle it, albeit slowly. But I do not feel pressured to get the fastest phone, and I can manage for a day or so without internet connection. My child hasn’t learned this essential survival skill yet.

Digital did make my life easier on many counts. Given my poor sense of direction, I am grateful that I do not need to carry city maps in my car. When I drove in Cape Town, I never went anywhere without consulting my city map first. But even my diligent study did not help, and I often got lost. Then, I had to hunt for a safe place to stop and regroup, find myself on the map, and finally re-route the car back to my destination. My google maps helper does this for me seamlessly now. I do not miss the time I spent checking city map quadrants for an unknown street address. But I keep my city maps, just in case. I also have an Africa road atlas. I use it for my imaginary travels. Something about seeing the thin road lines and landmarks on paper and flipping through its pages, gives a more direct feel of the distance. I have a better perception of miles traced with a finger, or pages flipped than those just scrolled through.

Perhaps it is just me, or maybe it is something that I share with some of my contemporaries of Gen-X. Those of us who still hold on to some analogue and approximate perceptions of life, rather than the strict digital hyper-realism of technology. I am more content to look at my watch and register that it is a little after ten to seven, rather than find out that it is exactly 18:51:29.3. I am happy to live with the intangible less exacting, unless I am waiting for the precise time to say Happy New Year to my loved ones. And even this moment is never fixed since we might be in different time zones.

In trying to assimilate all new technology, I sometimes feel like a novice who had stepped outside of a heavy cultural tradition. I am pleased to have adopted a new easier way of life, yet still attached to some of my familiar symbols. Some aspects of technology, I have adopted wholeheartedly. But others I am still reluctant to embrace or accept fully. It is not entirely clear to me whether I have logical reasons for this, or whether I am only reacting to anecdotal observations mixed with sentimentality and superstition.

Technology has given us a lot, but I think we sacrificed small pieces of our imagination for all the things we received. Some of the magic has been lost. When we travel, my child looks at photos of the city we are visiting and checks out such details such as what the room looks like, and the view that we would see from our window. I am more happy to leave much of this as a surprise to experience on arrival. If I arrive there having seen everything, then what would be the point of taking the trip?

On the surface it seems as if the digital age has allowed for more freedom and democratised creativity. But true creative power has become more difficult to find within a crowded world, where each person is a content producer. Truth has also suffered, since everyone is now capable of expressing immutable beliefs, and getting likes for them. Fallacies sometimes get more support than the humble truth. So while it is easier than ever to find and produce stuff, it is more difficult to find quality and truth.

Collectively perhaps we now read more on the internet than we ever read in the past on paper. But in the past we had time to read longer books rather than bite-sized, and mostly irrelevant, status updates. I once read the entire Sunday newspaper, but now I rarely look at print media. I sometimes look at online headlines or read one or two stories from reputable news outlets, but I am reluctant to pay for a digital subscriptions when I know I will not have the time to take advantage of it. There is no such thing as buying a digital newspaper copy, when you feel like it. You are always pressured for a subscription deal.

We are bombarded with information, and have little time to digest and process. We are confused, and less likely to make a carefully reasoned decision on anything. The closest thing to online shopping I experienced while growing up was shopping by mail order. But instead of scrolling through endless suggestions of things that are not quite what we wanted, we only went through one big (but finite) mail-order catalogue. We studied it closely for weeks. We lived in the pictures and imagined what it would be like to own that dress, that toy or that kitchen device. The choices were many, even then, but the static catalogue was always there, and we could examine it for months if we needed. So we took our time, and consulted the colourful pages together as a family, or dreamed about the items individually. Now shopping is more complicated, with more variety, more decisions required, and more pressure to buy NOW. I am not sure this is all an improvement.

For my post-millennial child, this is just his old mother missing her childhood. The truth is more complicated than that. By being a generation X-er I straddle the digital fault line, and I can still remember what has gone missing. The new humans born today are unburdened by this memory, and will therefore proceed fearlessly wherever this digital age takes them. Sometimes I fear that this culture of technology will be detrimental to the way the human race will develop, that it will damage our aspiration to evolve in spirit. At other times I read some ancient text where a person who had died centuries ago, asks the same questions we are asking ourselves now. And I am then reassured of the essence of human spirit. Perhaps, the more we change, the more we will stay the same.

For more insight into the digital age, and how the internet changed the way we think, I recommend the following book: The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think, Read And Remember by Nicholas Carr.

New Look !

I started working on a new blog recently with a friend of mine. I will share details about this joint project at a later date. But while working on this new project, choosing its theme and customising it, I realised that my loskop blog is starting to look a little dated.

The old theme was TwentyTen (that’s a decade old, yikes!). The sidebars still contained my dormant social media links, and the links to the blogs I follow are so old, I do not even know whether the blogs they point to still exist.

I had thought about updating it, passively, for some time, but the decision was made for me when I tried a theme and realised that I cannot go back to the old one. It was a scramble yesterday trying to re-instate things that are important and doing away with some of the dormant clutter. I hope the result was worth it.

I have also updated my static pages, which have gone through only one light tweak in ten years. It is scary to think that I have been writing here (on and off) for ten years. Some of my material predates even my WordPress presence, and was imported from other blogging platforms.

I keep the older stuff for sentimental reasons and to look at the evolution in my personality and writing. But if I had the time I should probably rethink the mess of categories and tags, and plunge into organising things some more. For now, however, I will try to organise as I go forward, while the back-stories remain available on the Archive Page, until I take a closer look at them and decide what to do.

Thank you for staying with me, and I hope you visit again for more thought-provoking posts

Mashed Green Bananas and Other Comfort Foods

I have mentioned here before that I have very simple taste in food. My favourite dishes are the ones that are simple to prepare, use accessible ingredients, and are made with very little waste.

I was not this diligent half a year ago. My interest in vegetarian cooking was born during quarantine. I avoided the shops and supermarkets, so I made an arrangement with a local farm to deliver a weekly basket of vegetable produce, that set me off on a cooking marathon from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon. And I started using ingredients I did not know, and parts of vegetables that I usually discarded.

Last year I remember buying a bunch of unripe bananas, as I usually do, to ripen slowly over the week, but the bunch remained green for the whole week and was destined for the bin. Nowadays I get these green bunches that never ripen, and eat them.

The first recipe I tried with green bananas was a curry-type dish in coconut milk and peanut sauce. I used the recipe from Kaluhi’s kitchen, but I was first tempted to try it after watching her step-by-step video. I credit this lovely lady’s lively instruction with seducing me to the simple charm of African (and Kenyan) cooking. I now check her out regularly and consult my Kenyan friends on traditional dishes. I love the resourceful way Africans cook their food with little or no waste, and using available ingredients and tools. On another Kenyan channel I found a recipe for a divine- looking stove-top baked chocolate cake ! It was fascinating to watch, and I trust that it works, because of its simplicity.

I later discovered that green bananas can be prepared simply, as a mash. There are two ways of doing this. The first method involves peeling the bananas with a knife or potato peeler then boiling them in water. This might cook the bananas faster but one would need to be careful with the resulting sap that might coat and discolour the hands or clothes. I read advice to rub the hands in oil before peeling. The bananas also discolour very quickly and you have to drop them in water immediately after peeling to prevent them turning dark. The second method is to cut the ends of the bananas, make a side slit in them and boil them in their skin. Once done, you can peel them easily while they are still warm, and you save your hands from the sap. There might be a discolouring to the pot, but this is easily remedied by putting a little vinegar in the cooking water.

I tried both methods and I preferred cooking the bananas in their skin. The resulting cooked bananas are light in colour and can be mashed with butter, salt and milk. The texture might come out less creamy than mashing potatoes, but the taste is comparable, and they are very filling. My choice of comfort food.

In terms of nutritional content, it might also be the type of guilt-free comfort food. Green bananas are 70-80% starch, but the starch is resistant and does not get digested in the small intestines, so while tasty and filling it could aid in weight loss.

In addition to green bananas, I learned also to use up root vegetable tops. Beetroot, kohlrabi and radish are all delivered with their leaves. Some of these leaves are higher in nutritional content than the edible root. The trick though is to wash them well and cook them gently for a short time to preserve their nutrients, or even use them in salad if fresh and tender.

I have waxed lyrical before on my love for radish. Another humble veggie that I love is the leek. I love its silky taste and the way it softens into sweet perfection in a stew. I have taken to making it with roasted turnip and kohlrabi, another of my favourite comfort foods that I never tire of eating, either with couscous or with buckwheat.

So my adventure continues. Sometimes the results are stellar, successful and tasty, but I also fail a lot. Other times I feel that the effort is not worth the result. I have yet to discover a carrot greens recipe that warrants the long process of cutting, sorting and washing the feathery leaves. I have so far put them in soup, and made them into salsa. The stalks I have used for broth. But most of the time I wish that I had a big enough compost pile, or a grazing animal to use them up.

Cake For Breakfast

Yesterday I turned fifty, and it was a day of many blessings. There was no huge party, no great announcements on Facebook and social media. It was just a quiet morning to reflect and be grateful.

I am lucky, and grateful, to have my mother greet me on my 50th birthday and celebrate with me virtually. As a gift she sent me long-forgotten, and blurry pictures of my childhood.

I am grateful that my child made me a birthday card, self designed, and adorned with a our picture, and Happy Birthday in 50 languages.

I am grateful that cousins and aunts sent me birthday wishes, some sang me Happy Birthday in English, German and Arabic, and one aunt drew my portrait, and sent it on Whatsapp.

I am grateful for friends who sent messages and virtual flower bunches, who commented on my old pictures and who just connected with me.

I am grateful that I could bake an ugly-looking cake that tasted heavenly of chocolate, coffee and spices.

At the end of the day I know that I am loved and remembered. Most of those who love me are in Germany, and those are the dependable family and friends whom I know and expect to care. Some greetings came unexpected from people I do not often think about. Two people who particularly wronged me at one time congratulated me, and I am grateful that I can let go of my grudges against them. I wish them well, although they can no longer stay in my heart.

The one person I missed most yesterday (as I miss today and every day) is the one who does not want to remember me. But even for him, I am grateful.

And my cake ? I can have it for breakfast today, because it did not pass the taste test of my chocolate monster. Too much coffee and too much spice, he said. So it is all mine, and I am also grateful.

I Wish He Knew

Tell the dear one, who dwells within my heart
That I see him there, even when we do not meet.

That my eyes are attached to the sight of him,
Even when we are far apart.

I wish he knew that I never remember him,
How I can remember someone I can't forget?

And if he claims that I do not recall,
God knows that I never forget him, even for a second.

When he is absent from me, he inhabits my soul
How could the heart forget someone who dwells in the soul?
أبلِغ عَزيزاً في ثنايا القلبِ مَنزله
 أني وإن كُنتُ لا ألقاهُ ألقاهُ
 وإن طرفي موصولٌ برؤيتهِ 
وإن تباعد عَن سُكناي سُكناهُ 
ياليته يعلمُ أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
وكيف اذكرهُ إذ لستُ أنساهُ 
يامَن توهم أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
واللهُ يعلم أني لستُ أنساهُ 
إن غابَ عني فالروحُ مَسكنهُ 
مَن يسكنُ الروح كيف القلبُ ينساه؟

- أبو الطيب المتنبي-

The first block of this post is my interpretation of the Arabic poem (above) attributed to the Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi. I always find Arabic poetry very skilled in describing the deepest devotion. I call it Love (with a capital L), or love major. This is the stuff of pure love, that is less concerned with possessing the beloved and more with the experience of Love, the pleasure of seeing the beloved, or even just remembering and mentioning him/her.

It is not a coincidence that some of these Love poems are used in references to divine love, mystic, and sufi traditions. Love in these poems is transcendent and spiritual.

While researching the poem, I found a page that contains another English translation of the lyrics. The same page also contains a link to a link to a beautiful rendition of it in an Arabic song, by Faia Younan.

Lament of the Forgotten

I send only one,
of fifty texts that I draft
then say it's the last.

Chiselled from heartache, 
my words pretend to be light,
love hides in plain sight.
 
And each time I get
a thoughtless response, or none
I swear I am done.

But these pregnant texts, 
seem to be writing themselves,
yearning to be sent. 

The Humble Radish and Other Simple Pleasures

The negative aspects of quarantine are often mentioned these days. I have seen some adverse effects in my own life. Today however is a day to appreciate some of the nice and simple things.

This is now my third month of home-based confinement. Like almost everyone else I am still finding it hard to keep to a routine, find motivation at work, keep my child disciplined with online school, and, frankly, keep a clean and well-organised house.

One of the responsibilities I had to take on recently was kitchen duty. Before quarantine, I ate lunch at the staff cafeteria, and my child had his main meal at school. We complemented this with eating out at weekends, and some light and easy to prepare meals, mostly omelettes or other quick pan-fried meals.

My domestic skills have always been challenged, but a woman (and a child) got to eat, now that all our sources for cooked food are gone. Now, I have to create our dishes from scratch. Fortunately, this is fertile Africa, and raw food is readily available especially vegetables. I signed up with a weekly fresh vegetable basket from a nearby farm and got to work.

My weekly veggie basket has become a notable highlight of my quarantine life. I cooked the traditional African greens like sukuma, terere and managu. Some of those I would have readily mistaken for weeds, if I ever saw them in the wild. I enjoyed salads with arugula, and at least four different types of lettuce. I searched for recipes that combine wildly different ingredients (bok-choy and beetroot; lentils and celery; chickpeas, leek and parsley; green banana and peanuts). To compensate for my lack in knowledge, I took photos of unfamiliar vegetables trying to identify them online. I also asked my neighbour for tips on local plant names and cooking instructions.

The vegetables I received, weren’t always as familiar as your broccoli, cabbage and leek. I know what rhubarb looks like, but was never tempted to buy it, nor bake a rhubarb cake from scratch. But I found the red stalks three weeks ago in the basket. Now even my long disused cake pan is getting a workout. I also got to meet live specimen that I only saw before on a food plate, like baby bok-choy. I had to explore the versatility of some strange items that are neither fruit nor vegetables, like chayote. I also suffered a few cases of mistaken identity. Last week, I prepared a smoothie with what I thought was a guava. Much later I learned that it was White Sapote (some strange fruit that is sometimes called Mexican apple). The smoothie tasted a bit like bitter almonds and I feared that I had ingested some toxic substance from the seed, but it tuns out that the slight bitter taste is normal in this fruit.

In short, I had to work with ingredients that I would have never bought from the grocery. I am a simple potato, onion, tomato and green pepper girl. Anything more requires research and a recipe I probably never cooked before. Furthermore, I always considered cooking a chore. I was, after all, raised by a super-human mother who spends half her day in the kitchen, producing delicious fare that took so long to prepare, and no time at all to polish off the plate. To complicate matters further, my child is a very picky eater, who dislikes almost every kind of food, so there was never any motivation for me to try anything new, and I stuck with the few tried and true dishes he liked.

Surprisingly, and even with the lack of encouragement from my younger quarantine mate, I managed to find pleasure in the simple farm order. One day I received the basket while I was on the phone with my friend. She laughed at me when I became excited at finding a small bunch of radishes hiding in my basket. I have always been a huge radish lover. But getting it from the farm was a treat because in addition to enjoying its crispy bite, I could also do something with its leaves. They are wonderful in an omelette and can also be cooked like spinach greens. When cooked, they retain the slightly spicy taste of radish. The radish itself, can go into salad but I love eating it on buttered toast with a little bit of salt and pepper. It is a poor-man’s feast and something that takes me immediately to my childhood. I think it was something that my grandmother ate with great enjoyment. My mother introduced it to us kids, as I introduced it also in my home. Even my finicky child liked it, so there must be something genetic about loving radish.

Radish the humble ingredient, is always present at the breakfast table at my parents’ house in Germany. Mostly for my benefit I guess, since its season is very short here, while in Europe it is cheaply available all the time. My father laughs at me when I eat it raw like a piece of fruit, but he always buys me fresh bunches whenever we visit them.

I have always been a sucker for simple pleasures. Now I am discovering the simple joy and adventure of cooking. I approach it with great abandon, like love. And while I chop and mince the ingredients, I am not afraid to try adding something different, or leaving something out. At times this works well, and at other it turns out horrible. I learned for example that chayote, as tender as it is, takes time to soften, so it is best to add it first not last to the pot. Otherwise it remains crunchy, while the rest of the vegetables turn to mush. I also learned that it is ok to alter cake recipes. When my rhubarb cake tuned too moist the first time, I added less milk on my next attempt and it turned out in perfect balance the second time.

Yes at times one might go wrong, but it is about the journey, not about this one dish. I am taking it as an adventure.

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

 Harriet Van Horne, Vogue Magazine, 1956