The meals that memories are made of

One of the chefs from the event who has the last name Mavor. A rare occurrence in my life. He owns/runs a restaurant called Hanks on Douglas street in Victoria.

I went to an event on Monday night called The Best Thing I Ever Ate that was hosted at a restaurant called Northern Quarter in Victoria.

Six chefs and foodie types shared their stories. It was hosted by Eat Magazine and as I sat there listening to each of them telling their somewhat convoluted stories because, after all, they are chefs, not storytellers, it was clear that they couldn’t really describe the best thing they’d ever eaten. Because it wasn’t just about the food. What they were really describing was the experience that surrounded the food: who they were with, the ambiance of the place and the memories associated with the combinations of a whole bunch of elements that meshed together to create a kaleidoscope of a meal that was elevated to an experience to create a lasting memory.

Whether it was with a favourite grandmother or at a Michelin starred establishment that didn’t live up to expectations in spite of every technical preciseness on paper, the parameters around what actually goes into creating what might be worthy of the category, the best thing you’ve ever eaten, were about every aspect of sharing and intimacy and taste forming a moment that won’t ever come again in such a sublime way.

Maybe we’ve all been lucky enough to experience the moment of a special occasion. You can see it in your mind’s eye. The din of a restaurant engulfing us after we’ve enjoyed the delicious and aesthetically designed art on a plate that enlivened our palates. It’s almost always the coming together of ambiance, company, presentation and taste that makes a meal especially memorable it would seem.

Whenever anyone suggests that food is just fuel for the body, I am a little pained by that approach to eating because it tells me a lot about their overall approach to life. Utilitarian. Not a romantic bone in their body. Yes. Okay. I’ll concede. Sometimes food is just fuel for the body. Breakfast, perhaps. But that should be a mere side-note in a delicious life-long story.

Listening to these stories began to awaken some memories that I hadn’t thought about for quite some time.

I travelled back to 1979 when our high school basketball coach would treat the eight of us on the team to the kind of high end restaurant that most of us from where I grew up wouldn’t typically get taken to. We went to Hy’s encore in downtown Vancouver and a wonderfully cozy small restaurant in Gastown that I vaguely recall may have been named La Bourginon or Le Rendezvous or something like that. We would get all dressed up, trade in the locker room talk to attempt to mimic the young lady persona and for five years in the spring, after another successful season, we’d be decadently treated.  I hadn’t thought about that for such a long time until I pondered this storytelling evening.

I think back to the now no longer Baker Beach Resort on Salt Spring. A small dining room, all dark wood and elegance, a model of a sailing ship on the mantle of a wooden fireplace, and every aesthetic detail a fit, a classic, sophisticated, delicious, special meal shared by my live-in boyfriend after we’d cleaned up from a very hot, long cycle around the island.

I thought about being in Finland at 19 and my Finnish host family, wanting to be good neighbours by helping a nearby farm family to bale their hay. The women of the farmhouse toiled away in the kitchen all morning so that at lunch, those of us baling the hay were called into convene outside at a long table where thick slabs of  roast beef were doled onto plates, boiled potatoes were handed around, and steaming vegetables from their garden had been sauteed to a crunchy perfection. We took a break for an hour-long meal before grabbing our pitchforks and getting back to what was very hard labour. I didn’t know what was being said around that table because of the language barrier but can still feel the feelings of camaraderie of that long ago summer afternoon.

I recall in the early ’90s sitting down in an open field in Salmon Arm, the son and daughter-in-law of my landlady at that time hosting a wonderful Sunday dinner in their expansive backyard space. There was a long table covered in a white tablecloth and handpicked wild flowers in little vases that dotted the length of the table. As the warmth of a summer sun set, its golden light glinting of the wine glasses in the fresh air, the Fly mountains loomed in the distance to create a scene worthy of a film set.

There was that one perfectly seasoned tender rack of lamb encrusted with rosemary and breadcrumbs curated by Bob Watters, the husband of my friend Anne. I’ve had so many delicious meals at one of their many tables, replete with good company and conversation.

And another memory of being in Oxford and walking along the canal, the low slung canal boats bumping against their moorings as we made our way to a restaurant close to the pub where Morse, as in Inspector Morse, used to drink. What a treat to be taken to Brasserie Blanc, a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc. I recall that my new acquaintance had the fois gras. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what I ate – pork medallions pop to mind as a maybe – but that doesn’t surprise me given how awestruck I was by so many other aspects of that special evening.

Fancy, however, is but one way to impress. So many memories. as well, of sitting in a dilapidated float home on the Fraser River, the defining love of my life concocting on his two burner hotplate a wicked Chinese-styled meal of prawns, chow mein and bok choy, as the brown water gently rocked the boat and our conversation took hold. The most unlikely of romantic locations and yet…

I encourage you to take a while and just think about how you might answer that question. What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten, and why? Linger over your memories a while and see what you catch. Is it the exquisite scent of a four cheese Mac and cheese or the heaven of the scent of berries in a field ripe for picking, or that first taste of the best bread you’ve ever had oily with a fat slab of butter or cream cheese. Take a minute to dredge up some long forgotten exquisitely special time when the food and the company merged to create the sublime. And if you’re so inclined, I’ve love to hear about it.

A canvas for new beginnings

As seen from my balcony, at a distance, at 8:00 am, New Year’s Eve Day. Taken with my 55-300.

CANVAS

I wake up every morning now,

only a short distance from

Emily Carr’s heritage home on Government Street,

and that makes me happier than it should

because of who she was and who she became

even though who is she to me, really?

Just another woman who struggled to live

how she wanted to live — no more, no less.

On canvas and across her days, an original.

Not as easy a feat as that might seem.

Love her or reject her still?

Settler that she was, that almost all of us now are.

So much to learn about this old city.

Peering down from my eighth floor concrete perch,

each day book-ended by

watercolour washes of lucky accidents

and in the distance, three deciduous.

I’ve named them The Triplets because

three tall tops poking above the rest is what I see.

Regal and stretching, their tippy-toe branches

resembling that delicate ancient art: Crewel embroidery

except, in this case, offered up to the gods.

All it takes is a little imagination to transform this morning’s vista:

blacks

blues

pinks

grays

into an orange horizon on a distant savanna.

The heat from a tanned land blurring the whirling dervish of far away hands.

Nowhere near, as I am and The Triplets are, to Mile Zero on the West Coast of Canada where Terry Fox runs, in stillness, towards eternity.

____________________________________________________________________

Wishing for you this year, as I do for most everyone who has touched my life, ever, good fortune, stellar health, memorable conversations, fulfilling friendships and as C.S. Lewis describes in his book of the same name, The Four Loves.

Use bright colours to decorate your canvas in the next 365 days. Happy 2018!

A happy introduction to Victoria’s literary community

Victoria Literary Festival at The Metro- (L-r)Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Esi Edugyan.

Last night I went to an event as part of Victoria Literary festival. I had never heard Gregory Scofield read and I have yet to read any of his books. Last night he gave a reading of his long poem, Muskrat Woman, about MMIW and it was really compelling. It’s such a great reminder that when writers can also read really well, the audience is silent and they are right there, present, in the belly of the delivery and changed in some slight way afterwards.

I was introduced to Zoe Whittall through her readings. She’s another writer who, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve never read or even heard of. I’m impressed that she can write for some of CBC’s really successful shows such as Baroness von SketchSchitt’s Creek and still have the ability to go back to her own personal writing. And of course, I’d seen/heard Patrick Lane read. The  last time was a long time ago when his book, There is a Season, came out. It was at the Sechelt Writer’s Festival. What year was that? 

I’d only seen Lorna Crozier read at the introductory Growing Room Festival last spring or whenever that was. But to see them together, and the banter between them, was pretty entertaining. I think I know who wears the pants in that family and it isn’t Patrick Lane. But I’m sure, in reality, it’s very give and take. They just seem like the kind of people you’d love to be able to linger around a dinner table with. The evening was quite wonderful.

As a newcomer to Victoria, I got a real sense of the strength of the writing community here just from attending that one event. And it was clear, even with Esi Edugyan facilitating the conversation, that this pair have had a hand in the careers of so many writers who have gone through the UVic Creative Writing program. It was like witnessing a family reunion or something. 

It also made me think that anyone ranting on about the history of CanLit and its white roots, should just get over themselves because these are the people who historically made things happen. Like anything, evolution is a part of that, and the transformation is happening right now as it should be. It’s because of that foundation that a Canadian literature even exists even if it isn’t yet as representative of all realties in the country as it needs to be.

As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, well, not really eavesdropping so much as not being able to avoid overhearing it. It was that somewhat excruciating navel-gazing about a personal writing process that as writers we’re all so familiar with, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of workshopping. I feel so done with that.  I just feel the need to find the time to focus on my own writing and it’s pretty clear to me that I just need to show up for that and there’s no need to discuss anything really. I know that might sound harsh but it feels like that phase is over. Let’s not get all precious about putting some words on a page or the process. As Patrick Lane so perfectly described it. “I’ll sometimes write a sentence that I really love  and get really excited about that, until I realize, Oh fuck, I need to write an entire paragraph.” And then keep doing that over and over. Again and again.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have just one person who I could rely on to be a reader of my stuff to give me feedback, someone whose opinion I trusted and who actually would give me feedback when they said they were going to. Someone who understood the process, especially when it comes to first drafts,  but that’s so hard to find unless you pay someone, or they’re in your life as a partner and into literary things or you just luck out. Not having that is a real lacking for me in so many ways, much more important ways, of course, than just writing feedback.

I also met a young woman who was working for a new self-assisted publishing company (I found that terminology interesting) called TellWell Talent. She is the digital media marketing person for them and we talked about how a lot of authors these days are choosing to self publish because of the control it gives them, the ability to get things done more quickly than traditional publishing and to market the book as effectively, if not more so.

In my books, that all counts as a very satisfying evening.