Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Lean In Ladies! Actually... no, not so much?

What does a rainy Sunday at the end of May spell? 
Binge-watching reality TV! 
Blessing for my children - it's for you too!
In my defence, earlier this morning I cooked some seriously savoury organic home-grown stuffed peppers and experimented for the first time with my husband’s favourite Middle-Eastern treat “Mahalabia” with a perfect result!  

So, darlings, judge me all you want, but I sank onto my sofa in the afternoon to watch the finale of MasterChef Canada Season 2 one more time. And as a refresher, a few of the previous episodes. OK, I admit it -  I binge-watched people cook for about 5 hours!

To explain further, this has been an emotional season. 
"Serbian" stuffed peppers
After all, my sister - our family’s own kitchen maven - was a contestant herself! One day, for a few hours our family and friends and colleagues were guests on the set as she cooked for that coveted white apron. Star-struck by the familiar surroundings, the young producers running around with clip-boards, the cool camera crew following us around - never mind the three famous judges - this was a fun and unforgettable escape from my regular career of mostly serious, medical stuff.
Seriously sinful: Mahalabia
No surprise, the flourless chocolate cake, the staple of our many family celebrations won the palates of two out of three judges. White apron was awarded with our whole family sharing that moment, crowding the TV-kitchen space. Lights, Camera, Appetite, Adrenaline, Action! 

It took me a solid hour to tame my disappointment after the very first episode finally aired in early February. After reaching the top 25 home chefs, my sister was asked to surrender her white apron. 16 others moved into the cooking Coliseum, an insanely-equipped stainless-steel kitchen. My bitterness was somewhat soothed by the knowledge that, for our family, food is a thing of pure love - a meditation over the stovetop rather than a competitive sport. But it was easy for me to continue being glued to the TV -  feeling a pang of hunger - every Sunday at 7:00 PM because of two other amazingly talented and strong home chefs, Line and Tammy, who knew how to cook, decorate, cooperate and compete while clearly becoming good friends along the way.

And when Tammy - the incredible hunter-gatherer mother of six - was sent home mid-way through the competition, this mature female friendship made me root even harder for Line, a military veteran French-Canadian power mom, who single-handedly raised her daughters. Battling poverty yet learning the daring art of “chi-chi-foo-foo” cooking!
As a former single mother I nodded to myself: “Whoa! Line it is!”
The cooking show ended two weeks ago, together with a myriad of other reality shows, designed to catch our attention, our likes and re-tweets in the winter-to-spring timeline. Reality TV fame evaporates faster than alcohol in a flambé, right? So why talk about the #MCC Season Finale now?

For someone who is a volunteer life coach dedicated solely to assisting women in transition, the social media thread linked to a nation-wide opinion of who deserved to win MasterChef Canada Season 2 served as an incredible case-study. And amazingly enough - the comments are still coming in. Facebook seems to greatly extend the life of the show!

Here is an observation:

When a man cooks well (even though a major error was made deeming those sweetbreads impossible to serve at a fine-dining restaurant) other men are: "Whoa! Dude! Make the west coast proud! Go Dave Go!" They even call him “bro”.
Not a single word of criticism, let alone an offensive word.


I took the past two weeks to diligently comb through the MasterChef Canada’s Facebook page and capture an opposing phenomenon. 

When a woman cooks well - (although she served the steak rare rather than medium rare) it is the other women who are the ones to comment the most. And although there are certainly those who offer praise and encouragement, there is an  o v e r w h e l m i n g  number of women whose comments are derogatory, dumb in their menace yet intending to hurt. The range and ravage go from commenting on finalist’s Line’s strategy, to assaulting her looks, to hating her voice, to judging her personality. 


Actually - suffocatingly sad. 

In this mid-second decade of the 21st century women still have a lot to conquer and overcome: Equal pay. Rape culture. And in many places, the right to end pregnancy. The right to love another woman. Cat-calling. Fair employment opportunities and career advancement. Learning to Lean In is no small task.

With these we are only touching on our first world problems. What about Malala Yousafzai’s battle for girls’ right to education? Or the Nigerian girls being abducted by Boko Haram - some of whom are forced to wed, while others are raped and killed or forcibly used as suicide bombers?

We are talking Canadian women watching a Canadian cooking reality show, choosing to spend their on-line minutes to harass and bring the fellow woman down as hurtfully as they can.
What is it that makes women who live in one of the safest and most prosperous countries in the world want to pour malice onto a TV-show contestant? 
How does one know that what you see is not just a well-planned scenario (did someone say alternate ending?) of a savvy TV show producer who calculated: “In this corner a blue-collar dad who must provide better for his family”… “In this corner an ex-military single mom in high heels”. Let the kitchen gladiators take their knives out! The Truman show.

Clearly, it works, because we all watched. And cheered. And some of us even pimped up their kitchen skills due to the show, gaining some unnecessary gourmet pounds along the way. 

But, fellow woman, yes you who shamelessly (your first and last name fully displayed) took jabs at one of our own after her incredible kitchen stamina and success - are you done now? Did this virtual stoning make you feel better? Taller? More accomplished?
Do you feel safer in your own world now that you slung hurtful words and insults at a woman you don’t even know?
Let me tell you a secret - I don’t know Line either! 

But I have learned that there is nothing like cooperation if not the camaraderie of mature women who can empower, support and change the world. One kitchen, one classroom, one boardroom, one stage at the time.

As a life coach, I want you to feel the sweet and powerful ambrosia of that amazing bond. It will do you so much good - give it a try! 

Where to start?  I’m a pharmacist and a kitchen enthusiast - so here is the Rx or a simple 5-step recipe on how to move on from this bitter unfortunate phase to a graceful and more the real you life. (those comments on Facebook - that can’t be the real you! I refuse to believe that!). 

Here we go: 

Step 1 - Cleanse. Pledge not to eat fast food or drink pop or munch cheezies for the next 2 weeks. Not kidding. I don’t care if the pop is diet or made with splenda - it’s equally poisonous. Water with lemon and real food for 2 weeks, darling! 

Step 2 - Forgive. Your mother or step-mother or a mean aunt or a bitchy neighbour or that cruel nun who beat you with a stick in school. Forgive whoever it is who convinced you that women are no good. You might have been wronged at an early age. Seek help. And trust you can heal. 

Step 3 - Cook. Tie an apron on, get some fresh organic ingredients, blast your favourite music and cook your heart out. Use the best food. Bring out the fancy plates saved only for special occasions. Feed your family. Feed your friends. Feed a stranger. Today. Feel the joy that accompanies whole food and whole life. 

Step 4 - Watch Season 2 again. Find something you appreciate in every contestant you ever bitched about, focusing on women. Stay on task. Don’t go drooling over the handsome crooner again, the one who branded himself the sexy-food chef. If you want to support him, buy his music. Remember why you are here. To learn to be kind to women. Yourself first. Watch, breathe and repeat after me: It’s only TV. Breathe. It’s only TV. Breathe. 

Step 5 - Remember that one woman in your life - there must have been one - who stood out for you as someone strong. Or brave. Or wise. Or selfless. Or capable. Or kind. Or all of the above. Go talk to her. Call her and tell her how meaningful she is to you. And why. Send her a letter. Or write it all in a journal tonight if she happens to be in another realm. But take the time to recognize and honour the sacred feminine. It is your birthright. For your own sake. And your daughter’s sake. And your son’s sake. And the world’s sake. Now take a minute to realize that the person you have been slandering all along is that woman for someone else.

For me, that was my mother’s friend Sonja*. I observed her become a kick-ass engineer and then a bride (little girls remember beautiful brides!), compete and win in the men’s professional world, start her family. Then experience real hardships - divorce, life-threatening illness of a child, civil war. Through it all she stayed strong and focused and wise. You know what else I remember her doing? She would often call or come talk to my mom, who was over 15 years her senior, to harvest energy and kindness and a sense of support and relief and hope. All these decades later, that friendship still lasts. 

And when I had my own hardships to deal with, I looked for Sonja, 15+ years my senior. What I got from her was gold. Relief. Timeless wisdom. And two years ago, during my brief time in Belgrade, I knocked on her door. And hugged her. And told her how much strength I had received from her courage. Sharing that was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. 

I want that feeling for you. That’s all. Because being gracious tastes so good. Just like Line’s crème brûlée.

A few days ago, I ran into the MasterChef Season 1 finalist Marida Mohammed - where else than in the best roti place of the Greater Toronto Area! She was having lunch with her twin sister Narida and their very lucky and proud mother. I can’t say what struck me more - how warm and welcoming they were when I approached recognizing them or how passionate and personable their suggestions on what should I taste first from the restaurant’s incredible menu. How poised yet pumped when talking about the launch of their Twice de Spice adventures-in-food company!

Palachinka (Serbian for crepes)
So I decided to watch the finale of Season 1 of MasterChef Canada again. Got hungry again. Got angry again - Marida didn’t win (nothing against the young Eric Chong but I favourited Marida’s spice art quite a bit more throughout the whole season). But anger doesn’t feel good so I looked for a way out. My signature thin crepes with blueberries and crushed candied pecans. Phew - it worked! 

Then I remembered. It’s only TV. A producer sitting down and action-planning the business of the first 3 seasons of the Canadian franchise of the show. What will rake up the ratings? Attract the advertisers? Where will the top 8 home chefs cook in Season 3? Aprile’s Origin North and Bonacini’s Canoe have already done their turn. 
But of course: “Silly me - I now see - R&D**- it’s only TV!”

* her real name, XOXO!
** read the reviews then tried for myself - R for robbed, D for disappointed!

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