When I was a teenager, fresh and angry with newfound feminism, I did the strangest thing. I agreed to compete in the Harvest Queen Festival.
This was a yearly fundraiser for my church. A lineup of girls had to sell raffle tickets, compete in a talent competition, and attend the Harvest Ball wearing a hand-embroidered gown. It was the 1970’s. Feminism hadn’t yet hit the diaspora. As for me, I was making a last-ditch effort to win my ma’s elusive approval.
I didn’t win (I didn’t want to). Anna, with her unembarrassed poise, and her flawless dancing, won. My mom didn’t hide her disappointment. It was to be the last year of the festival. No girls could be convinced run after that year. Anna was stuck with the role and all of its duties for years to come.
Not long after that I found my way downtown to the women’s movement, and published an awkward poem about the oppression of the Ukrainian female, in a women’s paper named Upstream. Many, many years later I published my first book of poetry, Halfway to the East , with Lazara Press. Five books later, I can honestly say I’ve worked it through with the various identities I call home.
Some thirty years later, Anna is now executive chef at Frank, the flagship restaurant of the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. I took my mom and my sister there last week for lunch. I phoned ahead to leave a message for Anna we were coming. I thought seeing her might give my mom a thrill.
My ma ordered the potato fennel soup. I eat a lot of pureed soups when my ma’s around but I gotta say this one was stunning: rich but with an earthy licoricey tang. We ordered the potato-truffle and porcini mushroom perogies, we had to. The dough was flawless, the fillings extraordinary. My ma nodded her approval. Blood orange salad with sun-cured black olives, marinated red onions,marcona almonds and shaved manchego cheese was pretty damn fantastic.
The mussels were just ordinary, and both they and the frites were a tad oversalted. But oh, my, that house made apple-cherry ketchup made up the difference.
It was the dessert – Meyer . lemon cheesecake with rhubarb compote – that won the day. My mom loves fine food. With her limitations she doesn’t get to chow down like this very often. Even though Chef Anna wasn’t able to find the time to make it to our table, she (and the dessert chef) spoke through the food. That cake seriously rocked my mom’s world.
Funny, the way roads diverge and intersect, food narrating and illuminating the unexpected turns along the way.