Comfort Food From the East

While speaking with my sister, this morning, she reminded me that today, January 15, is the anniversary of the day our brother, John, went into hospital.  It was from this date, onward, that our family was sucked into the vortex of the medical system and diagnostic testing.  As it would turn out, our brother would celebrate his last birthday in Peter Lougheed Hospital.

I begin this particular post, writing about my brother, because I’m thinking about comfort food and what happens when people gather with foods that are familiar and rooted in memory.  These foods will often vary depending on cultural context…sometimes an affordability context…regardless, if my readers look back into their journeys, they will find foods that mark various moments along their journeys.  Stories and narratives will endlessly surface of childhood and Mom or Grandma or Great Gramma’s cooking.

For example, if I type the words, FRIED BOLOGNA (Baloney) SANDWICH…what memories are evoked?

We brought foods to hospital and those we love, also fed us.  My brother enjoyed jello and Cozy Shack rice pudding during those end days.  He also enjoyed fresh ju-jubes for the duration of his hospital stay.  My sister-in-law sent loaves.  John shared birthday cake. Spaghetti was brought from home.  Things we create in the kitchen, we have control over (usually).  Sharing food creates a feeling of joy, constancy and being rooted.  I am grateful for how food brought some pleasure to my brother in his last months.  Now, the remainder of this blog post will explore one particular recipe that comes from my memory banks and my Acadian family’s tradition.

Our little Airforce family found itself in Quebec and New Brunswick for two of its postings.  These postings gave some proximity to my Great Grandparents, Mamie (Sugar Arsenault) and Papie (Gabriel Gallant) and my great uncles and aunties.

My Grandmother, in back and my mother, directly in front of her.  Jimmy Fardy, my Mom’s cousin is directly to her right.

My Mamie, with my mother in her arms.

Mamie and Papie.

I knew when I went to Prince Edward Island that I was among some of the dearest people who were in my mother’s life.  I knew, also, that when we traveled there, my mother was home.

Memories of that little Summerside house on Front Street are connected with wood stoves, home made rolled cigarettes, potatoes grated and cooked up into pancakes, horse drawn milk delivery wagons, coal chutes, seaside smells carried on the wind, bingo chips, coffee, bottles on the kitchen table, loud laughter and kitchen gatherings.

It was in 2015, when I attended a library program with my friend, Pat, that I first considered researching this childhood dish. The topic of the presentation was on foods as they relate to a cultural road trip across Canada.  The presenter was going to be Julie Van Rosendaal, but as it turned out, she required a replacement.  The session did not disappoint.

Shortly after the session, I sent my Mom’s youngest sister an e mail. “I was telling Dad about a cookbook that was mentioned at a Library program I attended last night.  It’s called Feast: An Edible Roadtrip.  I asked the speaker if the recipe for “Rapeur” (don’t know the spelling) was in it.  One Acadian lady sitting next to me said it was called Rappi Pie  hmmm…Dad told me that you make Mamie’s recipe and I was hoping you might send it to me.  I know it’s a big job to make and that it needs a special touch to turn out right, but I would like to share it with my daughters.  If you would be so kind…I’d really appreciate it.  Kath”

I sent that note in 2015 and received an expedient reply that included these steps.  I quickly learned that the spelling of the recipe was Rapure and that its translation is coming from the word grate in french.

[cheese, carrots] râper

to grate some cheese râper du fromage

This recipe was followed by one through the post…thank you, Auntie Pat.

Some time during the Christmas break, I decided to invite a small circle of friends to the house to share some Clam Chowder, also made in my mother’s east coast tradition.  Clam Chowder also varies depending on where you grew up in eastern Canada.

With the invitation to my friends, came an opportunity to try making my very first Rapure, without any of my matriarchs present for help.  My friend, Hollee, was visiting from Vancouver in order to attend her Auntie’s 100th birthday, so she became my cheerleader as I endeavored to bring my east coast traditions in comfort food, to life.  I remember, well, this dish being prepared by my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother and my Mom.  It is important to me that I share this, along the journey, with my children.  One thing I decided, after looking over the recipes and speaking with Hollee, I was going to borrow my daughter’s food processor!!

The Rapure brought back particular aromas in the little PEI kitchen of my memory, pork and onion fried up on the wood stove, along with a scoop of lard.  This dish, along with my mother’s Meat Pies, was very much a symbol of home for me.

Nervous, the night before, I spent a lot of time seeking out Youtube videos, learning for the most part, that the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were using chicken stock and chicken in recipes that they called Rappie Pie.

 

On the Arsenault Facebook group, I put out an all-call for recipes and these are some from the Rappie Pie tradition.

These were the posters’ connections with their recipes.

Judy Arsenault I recently made a Rapure from the cookbook Abram-Village Handcraft Co-Op Recipes (which I purchased from the Bottle House (PEI) that my cousin use to own) and it didn’t turn out. Has anyone used this recipe from this cookbook? How did it turn out for you

Thelma Arsenault Hack I have varying results with rapure, regardless of the recipe. Choice of potatoes makes a difference – I don’t think ‘baking potatoes’ work as well. And whether the grated potatoes are rinsed and dried well makes a difference. It’s a lot of work and very frustrating when the results are not good. I’ll be interested in what others comment. Good luck to you.

Jim N Wendy Spain This recipe was made by my great grandmother Catherine (Lefave) Doucette, from Nova Scotia. I recently typed it as shown, for a family reunion. 🙂

With great courage, Hollee and I peeled 10 lbs of potatoes and I chopped up the pork roast into 1 cm cubes, setting aside the pork fat to coat the roaster surface, keeping all chilled and prepared for the morning’s culinary adventure and the visit with my friends.  I decided to stick closely to my Auntie’s recipe.

At 7:00 am…I began my processing of the potatoes and put my pork to browning.

I’m going to log my notes here, for future reference.  I had my daughter’s food processor set for grating and tried both the medium grate and the fine grate.  In future, I would  use the fine grate setting.  Whoosh…out spewed the gratings of ten pounds of potatoes.  The kitchen smelled yummy and CBC radio was turned up, as the pork, onion, salt and pepper were bubbling in the 350 oven.  (use the roasting pan for this)

Once the potatoes were done, I quickly covered them with wrap so that oxidization wouldn’t happen. (green bowl) I cut up my cheese cloth and began the process of removing starch from the potatoes. (I will use my red bowl for this next time.)  I transferred my shrunken potatoes into my large soup pot.  Once finished the cheese cloth step, I added the yummy pork and onion to the big soup pot and mixed and mixed and mixed some more.

This is the step where I decided that in future I would use the fine grate.  I remembered my Great Grandmother’s Rapure being smoother in texture, but being coated with crunch.  This is what my kitchen looked like, right before beginning my Clam Chowder.

From the mixing stage, I pressed the mixture into my roasting pan…nicely greased with some cubes of pork fat (not all), and pulled from the oven.  (don’t burn your hands, here)  I roasted the Rapure at 275 for an hour and turned it up for three hours at 350.  Next time, two hours at 350 for me!

Thank goodness, Wendy brought a salad as it made the appearance of the square of Rapure look more appetizing, on the plate.  I began apologizing before we even sat down because I knew already that the topping was TOO crunchy.

My guests are such dear friends that I could tell them I expected them all to try a piece, as I was very much in the mood to share my PEI nostalgia.  They all carried on, without complaint.  I love them so much! Photo Credit below: Wendy Lees.

Later, I discovered that the crust softens with just a short wait after removing from the oven, so I would serve it a little differently next time, and definitely crust up instead of flipping it over (lol).  I have been happily nibbling on the leftover Rapure ever since and I am generally really happy with the flavours and it very much reminds me of Mom, my Grandmother and my Great Grandmother.

See the next post…the feast…for the treasured gathering.

When I remember my brother, I also remember the family meals that brought us together.  I remember celebrations and loud responses to the yummy-ness of food!  Much of the recollections of family come with the memory of food.  I am so grateful for this.

Thanks to Lauraine, who remembered that her mother made ‘Snowballs’, those red cherries wrapped up in coconut buttery sweetness and rolled in graham cracker crumbs.  Isn’t comfort food amazing?

 

Springtimes at Many Springs

Time passes and the rituals of our lives bond us with friends and family members and our communal narrative becomes something timeless and very very special.

Yesterday saw us on our flower walk, this time, missing Carla, Val and the boys.  Our most courageous friend, Wendy, has had some struggles with health this past year and so this spring, her funny and talented husband, Darren, also accompanied us on the trail.  Wendy is witty enough, but get these two together and it’s such a fun time.  Many Springs is always a blessing-time.

I wrote about this ritual in 2011.

I wrote about this ritual in 2012.

I wrote about this ritual in 2014.

In 2011, the water levels were like this.

IMG_8818This year…they were like this.

Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 073Past springs have seen the water levels change and so the scenery changes.

Copy of On EarthThis year…

Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 062Our group shots have seen Cameron as an infant and brought us up through his childhood.

And ME!Happiness!At the Bridge

Many Springs 2008 043Westhills Starbucks…our meeting place for car-pooling. Many Springs 2008 012

Cathy’s photo at our bridge…2015.

Many Springs 2015  2RotatedDarren promises me his photos from yesterday, but I DID manage to get a few.  Lilies were the predominate flower…more than we’ve seen on any other hike.  We found only one lady slipper on the entire circle and very few orchids.  The wild columbine was already done.  There were some beautiful wild violets on the far side of the route, but everyone was so focused on managing the chair up and around the incline and the tree roots, that we enjoyed them on the fly.

Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 069Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 005 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 016 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 037 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 040 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 046 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 051Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 058 Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 063

O frabjous day!  Callooh! Callay!

The Art of the Jack-o’-lantern

The last few years, the pumpkin has been transformed in ways that it really hadn’t ever been before.  I suppose it started with the sale of special carving tools that went beyond the basic carving knife utilized by our parents.

Just yesterday, I saw one of these contemporary carvings posted by friend, arts educator and artist, Jen Dunne, a depiction of Edgar Allan Poe.  Absolutely fantabulous!  I would guess that the carving happens, much like the process of batik, where you have to think ahead to what general forms you wish to read lightest in value all the way to darkest or black.  The light will glow through the various layers revealing a number of glowing orange values/greys….very coolio!

Photo Credit: Jen Dunne

Photo Credit: Jen Dunne

While the Tell Tale Heart is my favourite, Edgar Allan Poe is most known for his poem, The Raven.

Back to pumpkins.

When I was a child, it was Dad who gathered us around the kitchen table for the carving of the jack-o’-lantern.  Mom was always busy harvesting items in the house that we could use for our home made costumes.  She also salted and placed in the over, a tray of seeds once separated from the heap of yucky pulp.

2006 pumpkin

2006 pumpkin

I’ve carried on the tradition with my children all of these years, but consistently carving the same grinning face that my father carved out for us. I missed my Dad last night…I do every year on Halloween night.  He is and will always remain a part of my memory when I light up the candle in my jack-o’-lantern.

DSC_1053HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARY!

 

When One Does Not Keep Up

I suppose we all have something that we want to keep up.  It might be writing in a journal, doing a sketch each day or a painting each week.  For you, is it jogging? Yoga? Weeding the garden? Volunteering? Visiting your Gramma weekly?  ‘Keeping up’ with something/anything is an invented internal pressure; don’t you think? It’s a story we tell ourselves.  Does anyone else want us to keep up?

It’s possible that the concept of keeping up began with the coining of the term, Keeping Up With the Joneses, an idea that had more to do with a person trying to reach a different social status.  We’ve all heard of the t.v. series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians…something else, all together.  If a person scans the internet, they will find a huge number of references to ‘keeping up’ and so more and more I discover that children are over-scheduled during the school year, parents are over-committed, exercise programs lack variety, painting becomes work, diet programs become unhealthy and expensive and society, in general, loses focus on much of the magic that surrounds.

The wonder of minutia disappears because no one can see the ‘ordinary’ when life’s responsibilities get in the way.

What does one do when one does not keep up?

Most on my mind at this very moment is the idea of where to begin my writing after these months away.  I’ve been absent to my blog for the duration of my father’s visit.  It’s been a priority for me to soak up every minute of our time together and in doing so, there are many subjects that I hope, over the next long while, to write about.  Our visit has been a rich and important experience that I will always cherish.  So, where to begin?

Perhaps the idea is to simply begin to write, free of any/all expectations and not concerned with any particular order.  There is something about ‘ordering’ our thoughts, paintings, sketches and writings that makes ‘beginning again’ tricky. The next number of posts will be random explorations.  Each post will be a container, storing small pieces of memory. Why?  Hmmm…well, that’s another question.  I’ve tried to explain to family and friends the why-of-it, this obsession of mine, but with no luck.  For now, I am just following my bliss.

P1180334

 

Thursday Night at Folk Festival 2014

There are a whole number of rituals tied in with attending folk festival.  First of all, the required objects are pulled out from where they were stored last year; folk festival chair, tarp and cozy blanket.  Then for the practical stuff, another layer of clothes, a hat and an extra pair of socks.  I stopped at the corner store and picked up a booklet of 10 transit tickets because I park and then ride the train down to the core.  The walk to Princes Island Park each day doesn’t hold as much magic as the return trip after each night’s events. The ‘collective’ feels like a huge mass moving upstream at eleven o’clock; many groups, singing songs, laughing, chatting and comparing stages and stories…it’s a hoot.

Line up to pick up four day pass bracelets was long, but very fast-moving.  My daughter and I are not fond of the new plastic bands because they are not so forgiving as the paper bands.  I’m guessing that there is a good and very functional reason for the change.

Thursday night always takes some sorting as far as the fine-tuning of sound quality.  Last night, both the National and the Mainstage had their struggles.   Basia Bulat was first on our list and while nothing could match her enthusiasm, there were some serious glitches at the National Stage at this point.  Generally, the poor sound as related to the keyboard and percussion distracted from Basia’s vocals.  This lady is a definite ‘must hear’.

P1180152

Greek food was on the evening’s dinner menu.  Yummy!

I headed over to the Mainstage to hear Hey Rosetta! and a couple of numbers from Old Man Luedecke.  This went much better.  While I had heard that sound needed some tweeking with Valerie June’s set, the kinks seemed to be worked out.

I thought Hey Rosetta! created an elegant and many-layered sound.  From Wikipedia, Hey Rosetta! is a Canadian six-piece indie rock band from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and led by singer/songwriter Tim Baker. Known for its intimate songwriting and energized live shows, the band creates a massive, layered sound by incorporating piano, violin and cello into the traditional four-piece rock setup.

The best was yet to come for me.  I highly recommend Andrew Bird & the Hands of Glory.  Excellent!

The fam jam and friends gathered on our tarps for this set and had a ton of fun.  Little toddler, Zoe, pretend-fed us jugs of beer and strawberries, with a hand full of sticks.  We cuddled in and kept time to the music.  It was a beautiful night.  Friend, Dave, just arrived from London, England, was a tad cold and will come tonight, I’m certain, wearing layers.  Sorry, buddy.

P1180159 P1180160 P1180161

 

 

 

Love Notes

P1150418 P1150419 P1150420My cousin, Margy, received Love Note #11.

I sent off the last two Love Notes two days ago, apart from the one that I have kept for myself.

P1150403 P1150406 P1150408 P1150409 P1150411 P1150413 P1150414I painted the series in 2004.  It’s difficult to believe that already ten years have passed.  Their story follows.

Love Notes

A Series of 12 Paintings

2004

 

In 2004, I took up running along the ridge and down on to the lower trail along the Bow River.  I had stopped to take a break at a random point.  It was shady.  I was completely alone, and to the right of me, the river flowed a blue green.  I bent to tighten my laces, when at my toe, I saw a single rose.  Bewildered, I picked it up and held it in my hand, looking.  I spoke out loud at that time and said, “If this is some sort of a sign, Lord, thank you.”

I had lost at love again.  It had become a ritual with me in my life.  This time I was stumped and struggling to get back on track.  The rose was a gift for me, a gift of healing.

Just next to the path and under some trees, I found a bench.  I decided to sit and rest there for a time.  I didn’t notice them at first, but there, hung by ribbon from the trees, were eleven roses.  I gasped.  All of a sudden, I felt that the space, the landscape and the river were more sacred.  Something had happened at this location or someone special/an event had been remembered.  I sat quietly for the longest time.  Instead of continuing on a run, I turned for home, the rose still in my cupped hand.

I decided to paint a dozen roses…nostalgia, memory, love, symbols…

Eleven people have now received a Love Note…I have kept the one.  The process: I flipped the paintings over in a grid of twelve and I wrote out my own love note, left to right, from top to bottom.  Writing had, over the years, become an essential practice for me...this, along with exploring the visual world…objects…landscape…faces.

four by three

One to TwelveThe painting at the top left was titled Love Note #1, all the way to Love Note #12 in the bottom right.  If you received a Love Note, it was because something in you lit a spark in me.  This was a very random, but time-impacted process.  It would take an amazing moment in the gyre of life to bring the owners all together so that they might read the complete note on the back, something that connects all of you!

The original rose that I found at my toe remains in my studio, a reminder of the lessons taught in my favourite book, Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  If you received a Love Note, I would love to hear from you…and hear about the moment when you received a painting gift from me.  I would enjoy reading your love note to me.

P1150422 P1150423 As time passes, I lose friends.  I hold onto their memory in words and images.

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Saturday Morning Sketch

Baby skunk in nest.  Deemed a nuisance species, the skunk doesn’t have a great (as in positive) reputation for anything.  Regardless, I see all species as connected and requiring management.  The link I’ve provided gives sound advice, I think.

Just deliberating about how to paint a baby leather back turtle in a nest.  It seems to me that turtles make more sense in multiples, so I’m deciding if I’m going to paint more than one in a nest.  I’m suffering a bit of a back injury recently due to a hard fall on ice two weeks ago, so my days are quiet days, but very fulfilling.  My cousin Margy has headed south to Arizona, so this is a bit of a retreat…quiet…Rita Macneil Christmas music…toast in the toaster…hot coffee…and more quiet.

P1140508 P1140509For those of you who are watching for these wee guys…this.

skunktracks

Spending Time With Jeffrey Gibson at Esker Foundation

I didn’t even bring my camera…so, no images except  the scratches I made into my journal.  I attended an artist talk by Jeffrey Gibson at the Esker Foundation yesterday afternoon and learned so much about the context of his work/beliefs.  I am so grateful for having the time in such a magical environment, to hear Jeffrey speak.  Thank you.

The exhibit Fiction/ Non-fiction is shouting out for your attendance.  My readers will be floored!  I am consistently amazed by the arts events happening in Calgary, but this particular collection breaths a different sort of air into our city.

P1130207 P1130209 P1130211Of identifying with a cultural identity, Jeffrey summarizes, as he did yesterday, in this New York Time’s article written by Carol Kino…

“If you’d told me five years ago that this was where my work was going to lead,” said Mr. Gibson, gesturing to other pieces, including two beaded punching bags and a cluster of painted drums, “I never would have believed it.” Now 41, he is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half-Cherokee. But for years, he said, he resisted the impulse to quote traditional Indian art, just as he had rejected the pressure he’d felt in art school to make work that reflected his so-called identity.

“The way we describe identity here is so reductive,” Mr. Gibson said. “It never bleeds into seeing you as a more multifaceted person.” But now “I’m finally at the point where I can feel comfortable being your introduction” to American Indian culture, he added. “It’s just a huge acceptance of self.”

On exhibit at the Esker Foundation, a fascinating and challenging exhibit of installation work and paintings, a show co-produced with the Illingworth Kerr Gallery of ACAD.  The curators are Wayne Baerwaldt, Steven Loft and Naomi Potter.

In brief, the Esker website describes this collection...

“The thirteen artists in Fiction/Non-fiction challenge mainstream cultural and political narratives by offering transcultural critique through works that propose counterpoints, rhetorical questions, and revisionist statements (often as increasingly abstract forms of representation) to official historical records or archives.”

Several different programs, both hands-on and curatorial talks/tours, will be given up until the end of December.  These programs, based on my experience, are consistently engaging and a source for new questions and knowledge.

Not to confuse my readers, but this painting by Brenda Draney caught my gaze and held it…so I wanted to post it here.

Brenda Draney. Tent, 2013, oil on canvas, 3′ x 4′. Photo credit Sarah Fuller.

Brenda Draney. Tent, 2013, oil on canvas, 3′ x 4′. Photo credit Sarah Fuller.

“Her paintings are drawn from stories, memories, and family photos, and consider how narratives are constructed and how they, in turn, construct our identities.”

 

Morning Sketch #5: Rien Poortvliet

This sketch was about texture.  Given that I own the Dutch version of the book, Noah’s Ark, I can’t translate what is written on the next couple of pages.  I thought it would be just a tad overwhelming to paint the studio image.  I would assume that this is Poortvliet’s studio.

Instead, I painted from one of the artist’s sketches of two wild boars.  I’m going to assume that on the lower image, he had decided to compose by moving the boars to the middle background instead of in the far right of the painting.  Is that why my readers suppose he has circled that section of his visual journal?  So fun.

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Morning Sketching: Rien Poortvliet

The last book I purchased at the second hand shop before leaving Belleville, Ontario was the dutch version of Rien Poortvliet’s Noah’s Ark.  It was an absolute treasure at $10.00. As I perused this comprehensive collection of animal and bird illustrations, I thought about how much I could learn by imitating the works contained, as a way of practicing.  It is a controversial thing…using another artist’s work as reference, but I think the important thing is to identify the intention and to be upfront about the practice.  Appropriation in art is a notion that needs to always be given great consideration.

P1120606 P1120607 P1120608 P1120609 P1120610I’ve decided that sharing my morning coffee with an art board is likely a healthy thing and will get me into the discipline of seeing…analyzing…exploring technique…and painting.  I will think of these as quick visual responses to Poortvliet’s works and in no way intend to create accurate renderings.  Beginning with the inside front cover, this morning I looked at these two elephants heading for the ark.  I’ve decided not to go beyond two hours and began this sketch at 6:00 a.m.  I don’t know if I will be able to sustain this practice, but I’m giving it a go.

I would love to hear from other artists about their thoughts on this exercise.  To learn more about Rien Poortvliet, known best for his Gnome illustrations, there are several bloggers who have collected various references about his life.  Look here and here, as a start.  I may just begin another page under the menu heading, ARTIST, where I will publish Poortvliet’s paintings followed by my sketches, but first I’ll see if I can make this a ritual.

A ritual “is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’ goals and interests.