Whatever happened to postcards?

Decision Fatigue. I experienced that almost daily a year ago when emptying the house my parents bought 51 years ago.

Decision Fatigue is a real thing – with research showing that as a day filled with decisions progresses, the quality of decisions made later in the day decreases and/or we postpone the decision. This so-called “decision avoidance” may sometimes have a silver lining.

That’s what I’m thinking as I look at the box of postcards from their house. As I sorted through “stuff”, you can guess what the daily onslaught of decision options were – keep, donate, trash – we didn’t bother with “sell”. I bet my first impulse was to trash the postcards. A few were written by me, to my parents. Most were actually blank. Was it decision fatigue or good sense that I kept them? There were many days when unable to make a decision, I brought things home. Now, a year later I am slowly sorting through all the stuff that was added to the clutter in my house. It’s clear to me that trashing the postcards a year ago would have been a failure of curiosity, and I would have been robbed of all they made me ponder and explore.

I begin by wondering how many people remember when postcards were part of normal life? 

   Source : ZITS Comic Strip: April 29, 2018

Source: ZITS Comic Strip: April 29, 2018

There was a time when it was neither easy nor practical to call family or friends while traveling. “No news” would have been “good news”. In my mother’s case, receipt of the first postcard reduced her anxiety once I shared the license number of our rental car. She had this idea that if anything ever happened at home, she would call Interpol or some such authority and tell them to find us.

It was fun to receive a postcard. Sending a postcard was– in my memory – not so much fun. It could be like an albatross around your neck. The annoying burden of purchasing the cards, the stamps, carving out time to write them, finding a post box for mailing them. All this required that you remembered to bring addresses for all who “expected” a postcard – and there could be people in one’s life whose nose would be out of joint if they didn’t get a postcard. On shorter trips, the timing was critical. More than once we arrived home before the postcards did.

I recall sending them only to family and close friends. I was gobsmacked to see that my parents had received postcards from neighbours! In one case, neighbours from over 60 years ago! Either I never grasped the level of friendship they once had with these folks, or sending postcards to a neighbour was at one time “a thing”.

That some of the cards were blank did not surprise me. They may have been purchased and not used, but often people bought postcards as souvenirs. If you did not have a good camera, were a poor photographer, or could not get into a helicopter to get that perfect shot – on a sunny day – then postcards were a welcome addition to a souvenir / photo album.

There are two postcards I stare at every day. Each of my guys did a Europe trip when in high school. Each sent a postcard from Paris. We were camping in Paris when we decided to start a family, so I have always been touched by their postcards from that spot on the planet.  I trust that you, dear reader, don’t think I am crazy to still have those postcards on my bulletin board some thirty years later. (I must have inherited the "postcard-keeping" gene.)

I also found one of the most memorable postcards I ever received. It was from Hugh R. Geldart, a work colleague, who sent a hand drawn postcard from Amsterdam. It still boggles my mind that I got to work with such creative people.

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So, what did happen to postcards? Have we become lazy? Have we so much bought into the idea of “getting away from it all”, that we are self-centred on holidays? Are we socially isolated, not even knowing our neighbours, let alone sending them a postcard? Are postcards outdated in the age of Instagram and social media? If so, they have had a good run.

The world’s oldest postcard dates back to 1840 – so sayeth "deltiologists" – those who collect and study postcards. As it turns out, there is much to study and enjoy. Even when viewed only online, old postcards can capture many aspects of history – buildings, events, people. It's a history that included periods when the cards were used for sexual imagery, and sometimes even banned. I assume those postcards were never mailed, even though postage for postcards used to be cheaper than for regular cards and letters. “Naughty, bawdy” postcards even received government attention. In England, “in the early 1950s, the newly elected Conservative government were concerned at the apparent deterioration of morals in Britain and decided on a crackdown on these postcards.” [Source]

Today you are more likely to find postcards in tourist areas than your local corner store. Some are even “artisanal”, as in creative and not mass produced. In fact there is a subscription service that sends you artisanal postcards each month.

Ever wonder if the mail carrier reads the postcard? These days, I’d say doubtful, given the state of people’s handwriting. After years sitting at a keyboard, mine has become increasingly illegible. In any event, the digital “postcards” on Instagram are there for all the world to see, so "postcard" privacy may have always been a non-issue.

Interestingly, the “public” nature of postcards has been combined with the “private” in the Post Secret Art Project which since 2005 has weekly been publishing postcards on which anonymous senders reveal a secret. The project has been the focus of controversy with some edgy and bogus postings, along with occasional pathos. 

Of more interest - a bit of internet searching reveals that there are, today, postcard clubs, archives, museums, collectives – even a podcast. Google ‘postcard projects’ and be prepared to be bowled over by the number of projects people have taken on – for example, sending 1000 postcards to people. There are even postcards from the future.

From time to time, I suppose we all still receive some form of postcard – the “save the date” types, some from politicians or real estate agents.

On the day when I was dotting i’s and crossing t’s on this post, the postcard below arrived in the mail! Spooky coincidence… but a real treat.

  Postcard from Japan, where foxes have mythic status in folklore.

Postcard from Japan, where foxes have mythic status in folklore.

Maybe I’ll have to start my own postcard project. Meanwhile, I’ve come to the point where I share a recipe linked to my blogpost. Since I have a postcard from Amsterdam, how about if I share a cake that uses Dutch-processed cocoa! Click here for the recipe – Chocolate Quinoa Cake.

Any postcard stories? Click on the word "Comments" below - or.... send me a postcard :-)

Slow Down...

  Allan Gardens Conservatory: Toronto

Allan Gardens Conservatory: Toronto

It was Valentine’s Day and my yoga class ended with a guided meditation about chocolate. Unorthodox you say! Actually, you can easily find chocolate meditation “scripts” online (example) – so maybe it really is a thing.

Bringing attention to the chocolate, to the look, the shape, the feel, and then moving on to taking a bite, the taste, the mouth feel… then taking another bite… 

Let me pause to say that every chocolate I eat gets at least two bites – it is important for me to “see” the filling inside. I happen to know someone who eats a chocolate in one bite. I have never approved.

I may as well add at this point that during the chocolate thing, I meditated on my water bottle. I was doing an Elimination Diet and chocolate was a “no no”. The Diet? Will tell you more about that one day.

Back to the chocolate. Some serious time elapsed before that "yoga chocolate" was consumed. And that’s how it should be for many reasons.

As empty-nesters, I am astonished at how quickly Mr. KB and I consume supper. Whether the meal has been slow cooking all day, or a 30-minute miracle – it tends to disappear in less than 10 minutes. We sort of laugh at that, and reflect on how we eat restaurant meals much more slowly.

There are a lot of good reasons to eat more slowly. Two that are most important are that slow eating preps our digestive system for optimal functioning, and makes us well-positioned to receive the message our brain will send us about being full. (Before I continue, I must declare that I have no expertise in nutrition or biology, so I'm counting on you to correct me if I’ve misunderstood any of this…)

Many will say that digestion begins in the mouth, but let’s not overlook the phrase “mouth-watering”. We all want to cook / eat mouth-watering meals. Food that looks so delicious – with or without fancy plating – that our mouths literally “water”, filling with saliva. And guess what! Saliva is important – containing enzymes important to the digestion process. Fortunately, we produce an average of 1.5 litres of saliva per day! [Source]

Restaurant meals often encourage salivation by presenting us with an amuse bouche, and we may also order an appetizer – habits not often replicated in home dining. As such we are trampling the science of the first stage of digestion – the “cephalic stage” (which is followed by the gastric phase, and intestinal phase – taking from 24-72 hours in total.)

In the cephalic stage – before food hits our stomachs - we can ramp up our production of saliva – and slow down a meal – by chewing each mouthful longer. Many of us have heard this since we were kids and it turns out there is some science to support this. How many chews per mouthful? Some say 20, 30 – or chewing until the food is totally minced. [Read more here or here.]

Slowing down mealtime not only sets the stage for optimal sensory experiences and pleasant conversation, it buys the time we need to realize when we’re full. It can take 15-20 minutes for our brains to get the signal that we are full – a signal we miss if we eat a mountain of food in 10 minutes! Mind you, even at the best of times, we don’t always listen to our brain. Sadly, much of our eating is routine, maybe even mindless, and triggered by context and time of day. In fact, the goal of some diets is to put us back in touch with the sensations of hunger and satiation.

I’ll take a pass on attempting to summarize all the (sometimes conflicting) tips on how to optimize digestive processes – other than to say “ginger tea”. [Source]

No piece on slow eating would be complete without mentioning the Slow Food Movement – which began in 1986 partly as a counter-balance to fast food, which (despite some criticisms) aims to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life… (and has evolved) to embrace a comprehensive approach to food that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture.” [Source]

There is an even broader Slow Movement with many facets of culture and human activity focusing on slowing down the pace of life and change - there's even slow schooling! Busy, working parents of young children may yearn for “slow” while suffering in the fast lane of life. One of my favourite books is “In Praise of Slow” – by Canadian journalist Carl Honoré. His “slow” epiphany was linked to a story about one of his children and he followed up his first book by a second on “slow parenting”.

Since first reading that 2004 book, I am now retired and can more easily embrace “slow” – though in this life chapter there can be negative connotations to being “slow”. No matter – I have lots of time to slowly chuckle at that.

Readers who are fellow bloggers, may be surprised to know that there is a “slow blogging” movement. Averaging only one “story blog” entry per month I suppose I am an honorary member. This NYT article refers to BC’s Todd Sieling’s “Slow Blogging Manifesto” which can still be found at this site - and he's not the only blogger who has taken a stand. [Example]. I’ll share snippets from Kristen Doyle (visit her to site to see more):

"The Slow Blogging Movement is to Me...
Less about ambition, more about balance.
Less about page views, more about connection...
Less about quantity, more about quality.
Less about the hustle, more about happiness.
Less about social media, more about a social life.
Less about climbing to the top, more about rocking the middle.
Less about following the path of other bloggers, more about creating your own path."

Odd that I am writing about “slow” at a time when the “Instant Pot” is all the rage. One by one, I see fellow bloggers cave in to the temptation to acquire one – mind you, since it’s a Canadian invention, perhaps it is one’s civic duty to do so. I keep resisting – mainly because I have absolutely no place to store it – and… I am in no hurry.

I link every blog story to a recipe. What should it be this time?

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The “slowest” recipe I have posted so far is for Almost No-Knead Bread which has an 8-18 hour first rise. That gives you lots of time to get that saliva working!

Or try Afternoon Tea Scones – they don’t take long to make – but if you sit down with a friend, and pour a cup of tea and savour the scone and the cream and the jam… and the friendship... well, that’s a great way to slow down. 

Would love to hear your thoughts about “slow”. Click on the word "Comments" below. No rush, take your time – I will wait to hear from you!

Happy 3rd Birthday Kitchen Bliss!

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[If you have signed up for Kitchen Bliss updates, you have already seen this. Am sharing here for other visitors who are not yet "on the inside track".]

On February 7, 2015, the KB start-up turned out to be a great way to fight the February blahs, and since then it is the place I go for “Flow”. Kitchen Bliss has given me many hours of pleasure - writing, sharing stories and recipes – not to mention the cooking – and the eating! I have made new friends in the blogosphere and have had a few adventures. 

Interested in some KB Trivia?

  • 142 recipes posted (and more to come) 
  • 44 blog stories – always linked to a great recipe
  • the first recipe I posted was Gulyas Soup
  • the recipe that has had the most number of visits (136!) was added only recently – in January – Hungarian Cabbage Rolls. Not far behind is Rebar Granola and Festive Kale Slaw
  • your favourite blog post was Culture Clash – I guess it was hard to resist me in hot pants – haha. 

I am tickled to the bone when you tell me you have enjoyed a read – even better when you make something from the blog. Unless you tell me, I have no idea who is visiting the site – although a new blog analytics tool shows me the location of visitors. The thought of someone so far away on the planet visiting the site puts a smile on my face. (Unless they are copying the content onto their own site – sadly things like that do happen…) Check out some of my visitors! 

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New on the site is an entire section on Hungarian recipes. In response to a special request, I am planning to add more print-friendly versions of recipes. Do let me know if there’s anything that can improve your enjoyment of KB!

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Wishing you Bliss in the Kitchen!

PS – we need a recipe to celebrate – makes some Hungarian Cheese Snacks (Sajtos Rúd) with a beverage of your choice (wink!)

PPS - right now that Birthday Cake pictured above - Gingerbread  Layer Cake - is top of the KB list for best cakes!!

A Book and a Bite: The Caliph's House

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This is the first (but not the last) time I’ll blog about a book and it’s links to food and recipes. Hope you like this idea!

The Caliph’s House (non-fiction) by Tahir Shah recounts the author’s move, with his young family, from London to an abandoned (fixer upper) mansion (Dar Khalifa) in Casablanca. Novels with the story arc - “move, buy house, restore/renovate, adjust, adapt, belong” are not uncommon, but this will surprise you with unique twists linked to a culture that may be foreign to some readers.

Indeed, even Shah, with his Afghan-Indian heritage is frequently surprised - sometimes dumb-founded - by the challenges he encounters - most notably “jinns” - aka "genies". In time, Shah learns that resistance is futile and he plays his part in placating the spirits with whom he shares his home. Google - Tahir Shah jinn - and you’ll see that in recent years Shah has uploaded playful(?) videos outlining tips on soothing jinns – for example Jinn in the Kitchen.

Let me hasten to add that this is not a "silly nonsense" novel - and indeed is more philosophical with these bits of (factual) whimsy that no honest observer of life and the living could omit. Now, just before you get all weird about this, keep in mind that some Brits absolutely believe in “fairies”. One survey reports that 44% claim to have seen one. Then there’s the Icelanders who believe in elves. Not long ago, some who were protesting a new road made interesting claims. "...it will displace certain supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble, and fear the potentially dark consequences that come with such a disturbance... (they) believe the field is highly populated by elves, huldufolk (hidden people), and dwarves, many of whom... have recently fled the area while the matter is settled." [Source]

Wikipedia describes Tahir Shah as a writer and documentary maker, with a focus on travel, exploration, the Arab World, and cross-cultural studies, but undoubtedly he'd describe himself as a story-teller, with an impressive pedigree, a family of story-tellers.

For a synopsis of the book, I cannot improve on the engaging article from The Guardian or from The Washington Post. If you read this book first, become enchanted with his writing, and continue with the sequel - "In Arabian Nights" - you will undoubtedly be startled, even shocked, to read the first sentence - “The torture room was ready for use.” What!!!??? Yes, he begins with the true story of his 2005 imprisonment in Pakistan along with his documentary crew. He soon returns to his beautiful story-telling, with a focus on his quest – the search for “the story in his heart”.

Casablanca. Marrakech. Tangier. Fez. All cities in Morocco. Centuries - that’s how long Morocco has existed, but when, how, and why does a country (actually, a kingdom) make an impression on someone from the other side of an ocean? How does one develop an awareness of another country and its cuisine? Sure we all knew about Casablanca from the movie made in the 1940s. Then there was the song "Marrakesh Express" - written by Graham Nash when he was a member of The Hollies, but performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1969. He wrote it after his own Moroccan journey - a favoured destination on the so-called Hippy Trail.

I’ve not found a source that precisely traces a global embrace of Moroccan cuisine, although a Moroccan-American cookbook (by Paula Wolfert) was published as early as 1973. On my blog I have a Moroccan Red Bean Dip adapted from a recipe first published in 1994. I suspect that labelling a recipe as “Moroccan” has less to do with authentic cuisine and more to do with the use of so-called Moroccan spices. These include cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, pepper, paprika, coriander, saffron, mace, cloves, fennel, anise, nutmeg, oregano, cayenne pepper, bay laurel, and fenugreek, and “27 spices are combined to form the ‘celebrated’ Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout. “[Source]

While many other cuisines use some of these spices, there was a time when a few seemed exotic to me, yet now are often used in combination in my kitchen, with delicious results. I jump at any opportunity to use turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, nutmeg in my cooking. Case in point - the recipe for Caramelized Cauliflower. Here are some links from Saveur on Moroccan Cuisine and some more authentic Moroccan recipes. You may also want to follow Nargisse Benkabbou from London, UK who blogs at My Moroccan Food.  She has 35,000 followers on social media which may in part explain why she has a book coming out in May 2018 called "Casablanca".

My last blog post was about Dinner Parties, and one of my often repeated menus is loaded with recipes that are supposedly “Moroccan” - Moroccan Chicken on Quinoa, (chicken enhanced with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander served on honey / cinnamon quinoa) and Moroccan Carrots (that great veggie made tasty using cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, currants and pistachio nuts). I do stray and accompany it with the more Greek / Indian Cucumbers in Yogurt. (Tomato & Cucumber might have been more authentic.)

You might be wondering if Tahir Shah has anything to say about food. Of course he does. Listen to him rhapsodize about Moroccan oranges. He offers tips if you are ever invited to dine in a Moroccan home. Can't top his memory of his father's prized Arabian Nights collection - "The volumes were bound in waxy black cloth, with bright gold lettering on the spines... They were so exquisite that I would caress my fingers over them, and stoop down to smell their scent. They smelled like cloves." (p. 14 in Shah's "In Arabian Nights" novel). What happens to those volumes is astounding - but you'll have to read the book to find out! (You can read the sequel first if you prefer.)

Would love to hear your tips about Moroccan food, a recommended cookbook or novel, or a restaurant. Do you have any stories about jinns, fairies, elves? Click on the word "Comments" below. Can't wait to hear from you!

Enjoy the book(s). Hope you enjoyed my first “A Book and A Bite”!