Monthly Archives: February 2014

What makes a great marriage?

I was scanning some old photos recently and found this image, bent and crumpled a little like the characters are now. My parents signing the Marriage Register in London, Sid & Judy's wedding-signing registeraway from their Australian families whilst they studied and worked. Coincidentally yesterday was their 59th wedding anniversary.

Always generous, my father celebrated by taking my mother, a granddaughter and me to his favourite restaurant. Looking across the table at two very contented people prompted me to wonder what contributes towards making an enduring relationship.

Do examples in society around a young couple contribute to their attitude towards creating a strong and healthy marriage? Perhaps for my parents’ generation who wouldn’t have seen many of their parents being divorced but their example didn’t work for my sisters and me. What hope is there for my children when the average marriage lasts about 8.7 years?

The familiar saying that ‘differences attract’ might have some truth but only if those differences are not so strong that they prevent the couple from sharing experiences. How more different are the backgrounds of my father, whose parents emigrated from Italy in 1922 with very little money and limited English and my mother, a 5th generation Australian whose family was financially secure.

Yet they found their similarities to be so attractive that despite misgivings amongst their friends, ‘Marry him, but don’t drive with him,’ was proffered by a friend, they plunged into a marriage that has endured for 59 years. Neither of my parents can really define why it has worked so well, perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the time.

When I listen to their gentle bickering over a wrong bid at Bridge I wonder whether it is their competitive spirits that so attracted them? Perhaps when as in every relationship things were not working out, their determination to succeed made them persist with the marriage rather than give up on it. As my mother used to say, ‘You may not come first in every race you swim, but you can certainly try.’ Doing as well as you could at what you set out to do was an integral aspect of my parents’ lives whether it was marriage, academia or sport. Despite being in his late 80’s my father enjoys playing Golf with his mates and was hugely excited when he recently scored a Hole in One.

I remember my first husband refusing to make the children’s sandwiches because it was ‘women’s work’. Equity in marital roles wasn’t even considered when my parents married but despite quickly slipping into the traditional roles of major income earner for my father and Domestic CEO for my mother, rarely did they criticise the other’s intellect. Supremely self-confident, they become excited with new ideas, new products and places. Rather than sit on an Australian beach at Christmas they will go to Lamu in Kenya. Never have they considered that they cannot achieve what they set out to do. My father raised us with the philosophy, ‘Be anything other than boring’. Now he is constantly challenged by his iPad and how to do Internet banking overseas.

I have seen my father shake his head over the amount of money my mother spends and her reply that she makes him happy so just pay up. They have shouted and yelled at each other but never kept a grudge. They have looked after each other and laughed often. They don’t always share the other’s interest in sport or art but are willing to participate.

Sid & Judy 59 yrs_1 copy

Although sometimes critical of the other, it is not used as a destructive weapon. Irritation at the other’s independence that can seem like neglect has not been allowed to grow into an obstacle.

They can almost predict how the other will behave and think in most situations.

Over many decades they have managed to maintain pleasure in each other’s company and a joy in making the other one happy. Even after 59 years of marriage my father knows just what jewellery will delight my mother. What did she give him? Her smile.

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Papaya flower stir fry

As you can see in the photo the flowers are very pretty and complemented the broccolini beautifully both in colour and size but goodness they are very bitter.IMG_5923

First I rinsed the flowers under running water to get rid of the sap, then blanched them. I sautéed finely sliced shallots, then added one smashed garlic clove, a teaspoon of shrimp paste heated in the oven, and a green chili finely chopped. I fried these up quickly, added the broccolini stems then the broccolini flowers and the papaya flowers.

I sprinkled rich chicken stock over the vegetable mixture and cooked them for a minute. The mixture looked very pretty but it was so bitter that I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar over the mixture before serving it to make it more palatable.  Although it was tasty, the bitterness is certainly an acquired flavour.

Papaya plants

I love breakfast. I wake up hungry and look forward to munching on fruit and toast and fresh coffee every day. In fact, if I don’t eat breakfast I am not a happy person, as my husband will testify. I never tire of eating breakfast and I think my favourite dish would be papaya with its colour of a pink and gold sunrise, the sweet distinctive smell and then the delicious flavour enhanced with a touch of lime juice. Yumm! This treat I took for granted until living in Los Angeles where I was disappointed in the quality of the imported papaya. USA import regulations use a hot water treatment which requires the papaya to be immersed in hot water at 48°C for 20 minutes that although it might kill fruit fly, tends to cook the outer layer of flesh and skin of the fruit thus altering the taste and flavour of the papaya. The fruit end up looking wrinkled and unappetising and I am not going to tell you what they remind me of (just use your imagination).

So it was with great excitement after moving back to Brisbane and its sub-tropical climate that I have grown a couple of papaya trees in my backyard. Tim, my neighbour has a papaya tree which bears so many fruit that he puts them in a box outside his front gate for local walkers to take. I decided that if he could grow them so could I. Plant lore suggests using local trees when planting the same species as they have already adapted to the nearby environment, so after enjoying my breakfast I kept the seeds from one of his papayas. I left the seeds on a sheet of kitchen paper to dry out then rubbed them in a sieve to remove the papery coating. Then it was a simple matter of planting a couple of seeds in the garden and waiting for them to sprout. And sprout they did with enthusiasm. I also had to wait until the trees flowered to determine whether I had male or female trees, which bear the fruit. The problem being that you only need one male tree to about a dozen female trees but I seemed to get more males than female trees growing. Male flowers are carried on long stalks where as the female flowers are carried very close to the trunk of the tree.

Yesterday was culling day for the males and I approached the trees carrying my tree knife, with great sadness, as I hate destroying plants. As I watched the vigorous saplings fall I was thinking what a waste of the flowers so I broke off the flower stalks and put them into my watering can.

Papaya flowers in watering can

Papaya flowers in watering can

It was fun challenging visitors to determine what type of plant they had come from because I don’t think I have seen anyone use them as a decorative flower. I can understand why as sadly the flowers don’t last very long and soon fall all over the floor or table. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make the flowers last longer than a day or two?

I also wondered whether you could cook with them so did a bit of searching on Google and sure enough recipe posts started appearing. They are said to be bitter when used in Indonesian stir fries and the sap is caustic but if you rinse them well first then blanch the small flowers they can be delicious to western palates in stir fries. As my daughter has suggested she might cook a chicken satay tonight to celebrate Chinese New Year, I think I will contribute a new vegetable dish with stir fried papaya flowers and broccolini. I will let you know what it tastes like. Hopefully I will have found a use for the male of the species.