My dad was pro-life for a period. He didn't talk about it.
Once, he came to Toronto with a group of catholic men — business-clad, plastic pen holders in white shirt pockets — to proselytize at Yonge and Dundas. Holding placards with graphic images. Sweaty palms pressing pamphlets into teenage hands.
Juicy-ripe girls and boys.
What I felt at the time. Still do.
I hitched a ride. A day in the city.
1978 or 79. Fifteen or sixteen years old.
I hated the church. And my father.
Telling me not to do stuff.
Which I did immediately.
Gold standard guarantee of fun.
A priest who got sick of watching me sit in the back row of youth group meetings told my dad to cut me free at thirteen.
The man of the cloth could see I didn’t think much of his culture.
Who can get past it?
The patriarchy. The absence of women. The omnipresent disapproving old white guy. Sex for procreation. The virgin birth. The sanctity of unborn life. The coat hanger deaths in back alleys. The denial of sexual identity. The corporal punishment, sexual abuse, and deaths of children. The commitment to the doctrine of discovery.
Every fucking year a new horror.
Cancer. On a global scale.
I went off to SAM’s. Might have bought this AC/DC album.
Got lost in the Eaton Centre. Ate at Mr. Greenjeans.
Then the sinner and saviour drove rural highways — corn lined up like alter boys at midnight mass — back to small-town Ontario.
Shortly after, my dad left the church. He didn't talk about that either.
The catholics have got that down.
Eternally grateful to my mother for putting me on birth control early.
"Because I wanted you to be free," she told me recently.
Wiser than her husband.
My parents knew I was changing in ways beyond them the first time I put this album on.
No stop signs
Nobody's gonna slow me down
Making crepes this week.
Standing at the stove. Soft heart.
Remembering twenty-five-year-old me.
In the kitchen of L’Escargot. Near Grange Park. In Hamilton, Ontario.
Working four pans. In a circular rotation.
The caramel smell of sugar, butter and toasted wheat.
Stacking them high on a plate. Crisp crinoline frill edges.
Cooking was everything. Anything was possible.
It felt like a dream.
Just out of McMaster University.
English literature major. Art history minor.
Taking third- and fourth-year classes.
Got two grade A papers. That year.
One on the painter Kandinsky. The other on Chaucer.
‘You are what you eat in the Canterbury Tales.’
I could have gone further. Academically.
But I couldn't see a future.
Working for Leslie at Bold Appetite catering. On weekends and at night.
She saw it first. Pointed straight at my talent.
Talked to me about taking another route. Closing the books.
Deep in me. It made perfect sense.
She held the door open. Sent me off into a French kitchen.
I'd like to hug her. Right now.
Two songs I heard twelve-hours apart.
Thirty years between them.
They work together. Maybe just for me.
But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light (light)
You feel your dreams are dying
You've got the music in you
Don't let go
You've got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don't give up
You've got a reason to live
We only get what we give
Kitchen hands. Is there a meme?
The worst mine ever were, was when I worked garde manger at Rundles in Stratford, Ontario (entremetier too). Peeling cases of artichokes — two, three or more at a time — for Neil Baxter's braised artichokes with sourdough stuffing and garlic aioli.
There was a conveyer belt running 24/7 from Castroville, California. Into his kitchen.
I had nightmares featuring the Ocean Mist Farms' logo.
My hands were a fucking mess.
They looked like I was a three-pack-a-day smoker who earned a living shovelling coal into the engine of a steam train.
I went to a wedding and sat on them — everyone around me with gorgeous manicures.
Me, nursing a bad case of nail envy.
I've got them again.
Now, I can't imagine it any other way.
Have done a lot of chopping.
My apprenticeship in garde manger was too long.
I had tits and an ass.
It's where the girls went. In the late 80s and early 90s.
I had little agency.
Worshiped in the temple of male authority.
For longer than I'd care to admit.
That's changed. For the better.
But all that time in garde manger. Gave me superpowers.
I taught Larder at the Stratford Chefs School. Loved it — butchery, fish and shellfish prep, cheese, preserving, pâtés and terrines, hors d'oeuvres, complex and simple salads and cold sauces.
Traditionally, the work in that department has depth. It's complex.
There's less respect for the station in North America. We've turned it into a kind of kindergarten. A place to pass through quickly on the way to saucier. A fucking shame.
The first act of a meal comes out of that corner of the kitchen.
It better be captivating.
"Certain times in our lives come to take up more space than others."
Harry was soft.
He knew. About the dark stuff.
He's the one who taught me.
When a man drops his guard. Gets soft. It's delicious.
Of course, he worked on lake boats. I've heard stories.
A young drunken sailor came onboard mouthing off after a trip to town. Harry laid him flat. One-shot.
Below decks, there are transients. Chief engineer's the overseer.
My father was locked down. It happened long before I came along.
I think I know why.
He built the fortress. For maximum protection.
Used booze and food.
To shield his heart.
Commit a slow suicide.
A long fucking ride.
For his stone-cold sober daughter.
Chuck loved Harry too.
You know when you get asked the question, "What's your favourite meal?"
Here's one of mine:
Sitting at the foot of Harry's bed. St. Catherine's General Hospital.
My dad feeding him lunch.
They're talking. Friendly and loving.
My heart. Like a dandelion puffball.
The last time I saw Harry.
Visiting the townhouse in Fonthill after he passed.
His cane in the corner. By the front door.
Left without it.
Me. A million glassy shards.
The chef I worked for didn't want me to go to Harry's funeral.
Out in the back alley negotiating the terms. Of my absence.
Me finally growing a backbone. Pushing back.
His second concession: Drive three hours back from Welland after the service. Alone.
Family coming in from all over North America. People I love. Hadn't been with some of them in years.
I went. Came back the next day. Too fucking soon.
The restaurant owner said to me after:
"I didn't realize you were close to your grandfather."
Anyways, forgive me if I idealize Harry.
It's just I can't imagine my life without him.
There he is rocking the rose-coloured caftan.
All the men in my family wore them.
Moonlight so right
Softening upon the shore
All that was will be no more
It's a misty morning, misty morning, misty morning rain
All is gone, then here, then gone, then here, then gone again
Here and gone again
Here and gone again
Here and gone again
The place to start.
Taste a strawberry.
While quiet. Open to the senses.
Because nature changes. Each year is different.
And on the palate.
The fruit's sweetness and acidity.
Tell you how much sugar. And how much citrus.
The flavour of the fruit is first. Always.
I'm a democrat about jam.
You do you.
Putting ripe fruit in bottles is too much pleasure.
The learning's progressive.
Jam making (without pectin) is an apprenticeship.
I make mistakes. Still.
Sometimes the lessons are painful. And costly.
It’s the only way.
There are moments of mastery.
Every season has a gem.
One batch that shoots a rainbow through my heart.
Those are the bottles I give away first.
There is great joy in making jam.
When I share it. The feeling doubles.
Why do I know about so many types of potatoes and peppers and nothing about strawberry varietals?
My preference is obvious in the photo above. I'd love to be introduced to Ontario's best strawberry grower. Please.
A perennial favourite:
Strawberries, by Ed Behr.
"To be perfectly delicious—sweet with a hint of sharpness, tender, full of the essential strawberry perfume, which often veers in the direction of pineapple—strawberries must be completely ripe."
The best recipe for strawberry jam (without pectin) is from this 2010 blog post from Cathy Barrow. Cathy is the chef who introduced me to La Grande-Dame of Jam, Christine Ferber. Her book, Mes Confitures, is a touchstone in my kitchen.
In my DMs this week:
Listening to this while I stir the maslin pan.