It was a crazy menu: olive tapenade, oven-roasted tomatoes, grilled pineapple, chicken skewers, pork belly, and carrot cake.
The event was called “Savouries”, part of Litfest, Edmonton’s creative non-fiction writing festival. Their slogan this year was “Brain Food.” I had been invited to read that night, (and the day after, and the day after that), along with 3 other writers. I brought my mother, my girlfriend, and a couple of friends along. The place was packed, but my mother stood out from the crowd, with her fitted fuchsia jacket and matching scarf, and the vivid, appreciative way she savoured every single word. At one point, as one writer, Jennifer McLagen, floridly praised the virtues of fat, I’m pretty sure I saw my ma punch her fist in the air, like a dude at a football game.
The carrot cake was from my book, Comfort Food for Breakups: The Memoir of a Hungry Girl, the pineapple and the chicken from the delicately designed and written food/recipe book Chow: From China to Canada, Memories of Food & Family, by Janice Wong. Leanne Faulder, food columnist for The Edmonton Journal, told a hilarious story about her first experience of baking pie (the food didn’t always match the readings, but I’m sure there’s mention of oven roasted tomatoes somewhere in her writing!)
My mother’s brain is pretty much hardwired to The Food Channel. When I’m visiting her, we sit and talk and eat in the company of Rachel Ray, Christine Cushing, and Iron Chef. As I like to say, it’s our porn. It’s also an enduring language of communication among women.
A few days earlier, I’d gone (again) to see Julie and Julia with my mother and my dear friend The Ukrainian Foodie. Afterwards, as we ate salmon bisque in my mother’s kitchen, I watched the two of them debate their different borscht-making technique, for all the world like scholars discussing the nuances of an obscure but hugely important document. There was deep courtesy, and excited curiousity in the way they spoke. In a deeply feminine, and deeply familiar way, they were piecing together an oral history, updating and hybridizing it, and preserving their families’ and their peoples’ memories.
It was lovely to read to the crowd at Kids in the Hall Bistro that night. When an audience is that committed and onside, the reading and the listening overlap, blur. I could feel delight in the air; all my words had to do was emerge, where they became transformed into shared experience, no matter how different my history was from the the rest of the people in the room.