“Never cry over spilt milk,” my Nanna said as she stooped her round, cuddly body to clean up the blue diamond pattern linoleum on the kitchen floor after I’d dropped my glass. Nanna was full of platitudes like that and they embedded deep.
What does that saying mean, anyway? I didn’t think on that much at the time but took in the brisk way she did her business, the way she didn’t spend any time at all getting upset, the way she didn’t blame me for what happened but just cleaned it up. Nanna was sensible like that. I learned a lot from her.
Life is full of difficulties and challenges. It never seems to end. Even when you think you’ve managed to smoothe the wrinkles out and have developed routines that have made it comfy, something always crops up, somehow, to rattle us, to see how we’ll react. I sometimes wonder if the divine mind, having given us its brief focus, sees we are stagnating and decides to give the bag a shake.
My husband and I were talking about some younger friends, recently. I had made a pastry that he shared with his friend. He told his friend that it had been an experiment.
I often do that when I’m creating food. At the age I am, now, I have learned a lot about what tastes go with what, what elements work together, but there are still times I burn things, still times my experiments prove to be duds.
I made the pastry as a treat for my family on a day when the pantry was actually quite bare.
(That’s why I made it, because I had no packets to open…)
Anyway, looking at my staples, all I had was some puff pastry sheets. I thought about what I could do with them to create something sweet and found a can of mango puree in the pantry. It was something I bought at our local indian grocery store but hadn’t found a use for yet.
(I love ethnic grocery stores and often buy things I don’t have anything in mind for but think I might be able to use later, even if I have no idea how to use them).
When I opened the can, the puree was very runny, not thick. I realized that it wasn’t going to work in my pastry but now I had opened the can. I had to use it. So back to the pantry I went and found a can of mixed berries. I drained off the sweet liquid (and drank it) and added them to my bowl. Oh – well that was never going to get any thicker, was it? Plus, the fruit was just another wet item. What could I do?
I beat up a few eggs and added them in, thinking I will heat this up, the eggs will turn the fruit puree into a hard cream and all will be well.
It wasn’t. They didn’t. So I added more. Well, I discovered that a large can of mango puree and a can of berry mix needs a lot of eggs… Twelve eggs later it began to thicken but nowhere near enough to place into my pastry. What was I making, a baklava?
So back to the pantry I went, racking my brain. Maybe some custard powder? Then I spotted the banana powder I had bought from the same indian grocery store. (I hadn’t used that before, either).
I think when I first bought that powder, I thought I was going to get a nice banana milkshake but it wasn’t that sort of powder. It was actually a powdered starch made from bananas, (so I found out later). So I thought, maybe that would be better to make a custard with since it is bananas, and began working it into my mango mix.
Well, it didn’t work like normal custard powder. Normal custard powder would have taken a whole lot less to make a custard. When the heated mix would not thicken, I kept adding more. I nearly used up the whole container of that banana powder and it still looked like it wasn’t going to thicken…
It was then that the little voice in my head said, wait a bit longer, be patient, you’ll see… so I listened and I waited, and voila! The fruit custard actually began to thicken. It began to thicken very well, especially round the edges of the bowl. I had to get the whisk out and mix madly to get the lumps out… Didn’t want them in my pastry.
So I ended up with a lovely blob of thick fruity stuff and plonked it into my pastry pieces, rolled the edges up around it, dusted it all with cinnamon sugar and put them in the oven. Even then, things didn’t look so good for a while. The pastry took a lot longer to cook than normal. I wondered if the mix was still too wet – but in the end the pastry puffed and browned.
We ate one warm from the oven. The pastries were huge! The filling was deliciously fruity with that mushy custard.
The next day, we had them cold, only sliced them into more manageable pieces. The custard filling held nice and firm. I was quite impressed with myself!
When my husband shared a slice with his friend, the friend commented that his wife liked to bake but when things didn’t work out, she got discouraged.
I thought back on my earlier years of cooking. I burnt things, ruined dishes time and again. I remember feeling like that, too. When I was younger. I was more invested in what others thought of my cooking. I didn’t like it when things didn’t work out. It made me feel like I wasn’t as good a cook as I thought I was.
These days, I plonk the food in front of my family, for better or worse. If it’s no good and they don’t want to eat it, then there are always the dogs or the possums to feed. Luckily, I cook good meals more often than not. Time and practice has a way of making inroads on cooking skills…
There are plenty of things in life that can make your gut churn like that. Things you don’t always have control over. I think your gut churns over them because despite your best efforts you were unable to make any headway in those matters. Let’s face it, we all like it when things go well. When they don’t go so well, not all of us have a thick enough skin to stop things getting under it.
I had something like that happen to me in the past couple of years. Something extreme that took me by surprise, that I couldn’t do anything about even though I tried my hardest to make headway.
I even took a back step and tried to realign myself in spirit and philosophy, but that old gut kept churning. It was extreme. Possibly because the event had happened with people in my intimate circle and it was such a shock to have come from there. I didn’t know what to do with it and was so surprised that I couldn’t smooth myself out and put it aside.
Such things are so difficult to just live with, no matter how you align yourself. That’s the life process. That’s the human condition. Even if you are enlightened, you are still prone to what happens in the world you exist in. That’s why the Dalai Lama found it difficult to deal with the uprisings in Tibet some few years ago, when Chinese shopkeepers were getting killed. Despite his deeply ingrained truths, he was unsure for a while just how to deal with it. It must have churned his guts, too! Enlightened beings do get back on track, though, and he did, eventually.
Buddha had a better handle on things at the end of his life but he didn’t start out that way, either. For half his life he was in turmoil, trying to find answers, trying to help people who couldn’t really be helped. It wasn’t until he sat under the bodhi tree and became enlightened that things smoothed out for him.
What was his enlightenment? It was the realization that destiny has a great hand in the way things pan out in human existence. It was the understanding that, even though people do suffer in the world and tragedies can happen, the spirit is immortal and unaffected, and the life of the spirit is the most important. Bodies come and go, spirit is the constant. So he gave up trying so hard and got fat and happy. He stopped crying over the ‘spilt milk’.
I was unable to be so serene about what happened to me, though. At least, I thought so. Certainly, I couldn’t just sit back and meditate. The thoughts and feelings about what happened kept invading my deepest reaches, and working as usual did not divert them. I really did get myself slogging, but the more I did that the more those thoughts and feelings kept punctuating my day. I was so disturbed that I couldn’t get a handle on the matter.
The stair well in my home used to have lots of family photos all over the wall. A few years ago, our house was invaded by a serious infestation of termites. It was the worst that the inspectors had seen in a long time. A lot of our home had to be completely rebuilt and that was a terrible ordeal. (It did give me a chance to redecorate, though). At the end, we had been through so much that I decided not to put the photos back on the wall, at least in that place.
(One of the photos on our walls had its backing destroyed when the hungry termites came through and infested it, so maybe this had something to do with that decision).
Because it was a large blank wall, it irked me when I went up and down. Unlike my usual decisive self, I wasn’t sure what to do with the space – but one day as my gut was churning overtime I got some paint pens and began to draw on that wall. Every time my gut churned after that, I did some more. I let it all flow freely into the work. I had fun, and it did divert the bad feelings like nothing else.
The wall is still a work in process but there is enough on it now to see that something extraordinary happened. I’ve also glued mosaic tiles and tiny mirrors onto it.
I thought that with all that bad energy invested in the wall it might give that feeling off whenever I walked up and down the stairs. Instead, the patterns shimmer and dance, and make you feel wonderful and light. I realized that what had happened was a transformation.
In my belief system, all energy in the universe is just energy. There is no good or bad. It is how energy is used that makes it one or the other. So when I plied the negative energy churning in my gut to the artwork on my wall, I changed it into something else, something I consider beautiful…
My kids and grand-kids think it’s beautiful, too. So do our dogs. They all like to find themselves in the little mirrors, and the dogs put snot on the big round ones at the bottom regularly. Sometimes they just sit on the stair and stare at themselves…
My husband is more practical. When I showed him how it was going, the first thing he asked was – how are we going to paint that wall now with all that stuff on it?
(Who paints over an artwork?)
The photos I’ve uploaded here are a bit grainy, but you get the idea. I hope you like it, too.
Don’t cry over spilt milk. Don’t churn over impossible situations. Get on with living the most beautiful life you can.