When I was a little girl, I often asked my mom why I had brown eyes when she had bright blue eyes. Surely if I was her daughter, I would also have the blue eyes that I so hankered after? She would always smile and patiently explain to me that things like the colour of your eyes or hair; or the shape of your hands and feet are things that you inherited from your parents, and that there was no way of telling which bit you’d get from which parent. So, she would say, my eyes must have come from my dad while my ridiculously tiny wrists with their prominent ulnar head must have come from her. A few years later at school, we did some basic genetics and I was mesmerised. I loved learning that the reason I had brown eyes was because my of my dad. Since my mom’s blue eyes were the result of a recessive gene, she must have had 2 blue genes from her parents – but my dad had to have at least 1 brown gene to make up his hazel eyes. And I loved even more learning that the reason I could roll my tongue and my mom could not was because this is a dominant gene from my dad (ditto being able to wiggle my ears!); or that the gap between my front teeth was the result of a dominant gene from my mom.
But of course, it’s not quite as cut and dried as high school biology would have you believe. There are 60,000 to 100,000 genes (made up of DNA) in a human being’s 46 chromosomes. A baby gets 23 chromosomes from their mother and 23 from their father. With all the possible gene combinations, one pair of parents has the potential to produce 64 trillion different children. The possibilities quite literally are endless. It is now thought that most human traits are actually polygenic, in other words the result of many genes acting together. If there were just one pair of genes involved in selecting eye color, there would be at maximum three shades of eye color: brown, blue and green. But human eyes come in a whole spectrum of different shades of these colors, because eye color is a polygenic trait.
Without going and doing a PhD’s worth of research on the topic, I’d say that personality is another polygenic trait, with a dose of environmental factors thrown in for good measure. Take me for example: most of the time, I would say my personality is closer to my mom’s. She had an abiding love of and interest in other people; she was a born and natural teacher, both of her own children and her many radiography students; and she was quick to anger but generally ridiculously optimistic. Even though she was the one who suffered from a devastating kidney disease he entire adult life, she was always a “glass half full” kind of person, always seeing opportunities for enjoyment even as her world shrank because of her disease. My father, on the other hand, lived a hale and hearty life to age 89 with a half empty glass all his life, disgruntled at the fact that nobody offered to fill it for him.
I am almost always in my mom’s camp. Looking at the way she lived her life taught me that happiness is a choice of how you choose to look at things; and that no matter how bad things are, there is always somebody worse off than you. Although by the end she was confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain, she was grateful every day for her computer and e-mail whch meant we could have rambling late-night chats despite the continent between us. I think about her every day as I swing my fully functional legs out of bed in the morning without a second thought and it reminds me to be happy and thankful because, really, there is nothing at all to complain about in my life.
My father, on the other hand, was a man given to melancholia and dwelling on the worst case scenario – and although mostly I steer well clear of these two, when autumn comes I feel the pull of his genes on my mood. Maybe it is the shortening of the days or having to say farewell to the green leaves of summer. Maybe it is just that after 30 years in temperate, almost seasonless Port Elizabeth, my psyche will never quite adjust to the sudden and dramatic seasonal changes that London experiences. Or maybe it’s just the general melancholic sense of things coming to an: the summer roses dying, the leaves falling from the trees, the rain dripping like tears from the eaves, and the calendar year drawing to a close. Today also marks nine long years since my mother’s death and is always filled with bittersweet memories for me. It’s the one time of year I feel justified in behaving like my father’s daughter.
But, unlike my father, I have many strategies for refilling my glass and bouncing back to being my mother’s daughter instead – the most common being cooking. When my mood turns a little gray, I need something quick, easy and simple to pick me up – and this recipe is perfect. Although I used mirabelle plums to make mine earlier in the summer, it is a dessert I often make in the Autumn when plums are plentiful. It’s great for a quick weeknight treat and also a good way to use up past-their-prime plums lurking in the back of the fridge. You’ll love how the fruit collapses a little during roasting and coats itself in the sticky glaze of butter and sugar – and of course you’ll love the taste. It’s a perfect blend between the sweetness of the caramel and the tang of the fruit, just like I am a perfect blend between my mother’s optimism and my father’s melancholy.
- about a dozen small plums (if you can find them - or 4 large)
- soft brown sugar
- good quality vanilla ice cream
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Halve and stone the plums and place them cut side up on an ovenproof dish. Add enough soft brown sugar to nearly fill the hollow of each plum, then add a small knob of butter to the top of the sugar in each plum. Sprinkle each lightly with ground cinnamon.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until the plums are starting to collapse slightly and the butter and sugar are caramelising. You can turn the grill on for a few minutes to get a nice caramel finish.
- Place one or two scoops of ice cream in each bowl and divide the hot plums between the bowls, making sure to spoon over the caramel juices too.
- NOTE: this recipe also works well with nectarines, peaches or apricots
And in other news…
My latest article to appear in Crush Magazine (p34-35) is all about visiting the Vaucluse region of Provence – have a look at the gorgeous layout of my words and pictures that they have produced!
Also – this week we mark another milestone in our Plate to Page story. We’ve been working on our sparkly new website behind the scenes and putting together a brand new workshop for 2013. We’ve worked hard and there were many frustrations, highs and lows but in the end we rocked it. The Plate to Page website is looking hot – isn’t it?
We’re absolutely thrilled about our fourth workshop taking place in May 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. Mark those calendars! From 10th – 13th May 2013 we’re taking the From Plate to Page workshop to the beautiful rolling green hills of County Meath, Ireland. You’ll find all the details to the workshop in our Ireland announcement page. And if you’re wondering whether the workshop is right for you, just read what our past participants have said about our workshops!