Children of My Heart

“An apple for the teacher” is a timeworn cliché, so when the CHC Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge announced that “School Food” was September’s theme, we at Canadian Literary Fare agreed that it was time to go back to school and reconsider the significance of student-teacher food exchanges.

Apples

In particular, we wondered what it means when the direction of the food-gift is reversed, such as in the opening scene of Gabrielle Roy’s Children of My Heart. On the first day of school, the young teacher gives a terrified five-and-a-half-year-old boy a red apple, quieting his tears with the knowledge that school is “a treat” (10).

A Governor General’s award-winning novel and one-time nominee in the CBC Canada Reads Series, Children of My Heart is Gabrielle Roy’s fictionalized account of her own experiences working as a teacher in rural and urban Manitoba schools. Set in the 1930s, the novel is filled with gifts of food – edible tokens of affection that Roy’s character bestows upon her students. So why are Roy’s teacher-pupil relationships punctuated by these exchanges?

In her study of American cinema from 1909-1939, Heather Weaver sheds light on the fact that student-teacher relationships were often portrayed as romance narratives, many of which used food symbolism. This notion of teachers “winning students over was rather new to the twentieth century,” Weaver notes (9). Gone were the days of corporal punishment and harsh discipline. New educational theories suggested teachers should nourish “the emotional lives of children, or what pedagogist Jasper Bennett had in 1888 called the ‘heart culture’ of pupils” (Weaver 9).

Biographer François Ricard notes that as a young, modern teacher, Roy followed a similar practice of “light-handed discipline, affectionate relations with the children, a great deal of time for games, picnics, stories, and demonstration lessons” (113).

In keeping with her generous spirit as an educator, Roy-the-writer incorporates the romance genre with her storied memories. One sign of this literary re-construction is Roy’s modest self-presentation as the teacher-hero, a role that Weaver argues is especially prominent in North American film: “the teacher meets the student; the student is unsure what to think of the teacher; the student falls into peril or otherwise demonstrates a need; and the teacher saves the student, thereby winning the latter’s approval and affection” (10).

On her first day of work at a Saint-Boniface elementary school, Roy’s character gazes at 35 uneasy young faces and thinks, “We’re going to be friends” (11). As the novel unfolds, readers witness Roy’s character winning the affections of her students through gifts of food, such as wrapped Christmas cones filled with candies, walnuts, a Brazilian nut, an apple or orange, and a small toy (27-28).

As the teacher-hero, Roy’s character bolsters her students’ confidence and sense of belonging, a life lesson that is especially crucial since many are from immigrant families struggling financially and socially to build a new life in Canada. Her teacherly concern and its impact are communicated through the language of sweets. When Roy warmly greets the single mother of an impoverished student, the boy is “radiant . . . , the tip of his tongue emerging to taste – you could imagine – a touch of honey on his lip” (27). Later, when he appears on her doorstep with an unexpected gift of an old Irish handkerchief, Roy feeds him chocolate cake and milk. Her praise, gratitude, and food infuse the young student with the joy that comes from participating in meaningful relationships – a social and emotional experience that lies at the heart of learning.

Cake

Recipe Note: This week we opted for Anna Olson’s recipe for a French flourless chocolate torte. It’s rich yet surprisingly light, like a baked chocolate mousse. To be reserved for favourite students.

Cake_IV

 

Ricard, François. Gabrielle Roy: A Life. 1996. Trans. Patricia Claxton. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999

Roy, Gabrielle. Children of My Heart. 1977. Trans. Alan Brown. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000.

Weaver, Heather. “Beyond Apples and Ice Cream: The Teacher-Student Relationship as Cinematic Romance, 1909–1939.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. 39.1 (2009): 9-20. Project Muse. Web. 23 Sept. 2017.

 

Text Credit: Shelley Boyd

Photo Credit: Alexia Moyer (unless otherwise indicated).

Put up your green beans

In Carol Shields’s fictional worlds, dinner parties are transformational. People assume their “party selves,” she once wrote, that party-self being a more sociable, lighter version of your everyday personality. (“Parties” 45) Sadly, this positive renewal is not the experience of Dot Weller, wife of Stu Weller and mother to Larry Weller in Shields’s novel Larry’s Party.

For Dot, even casual family get-togethers cause copious perspiration and “jittery detachment”. (Larry’s 44) Her parties are haunted by “the poison of memory” (44)— a summer dinner that she hosted for her in-laws back in England and that sealed her fate and “exodus” to Canada. (52) Dot’s canned beans were to blame.

beans

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Granville Island Public Market

A short walk and one bridge away from my apartment is Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market. So when the Culinary Historians of Canada chose “markets” as this month’s topic for the Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge, I knew it was time to do some literary fare research on the surrounding neighbourhood of False Creek.

Whether it’s a weekend or weekday, the Granville Island Public Market is abuzz with summer tourists, foodie walking tours, and local shoppers relishing the sun after a rainy spring. Ranked as one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions, the public market is what I would describe as a “must see, must taste” place.

Wandering through the market, you’ll discover seasonal produce towering in the aisles. Everything is within reach: fresh halibut from Haida Gwaii, fine cheeses, and artisanal chocolates. If you’re ever nostalgic for Montreal (as I tend to be), there are authentic bagels served warm from a flame oven.

But when you peer beyond the cornucopia of today’s Granville Island Public Market, you encounter multiple histories in this space. Writers in Canada have played a significant role in giving voice to these realities.

Granville Island is located on the traditional Indigenous territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil Watuth, and Squamish First Nations.

In her narrative essay “Goodbye, Snauq”, writer Lee Maracle, a member of the Stó:lo Nation, recounts how the Squamish resided year round at Snauq (now called False Creek) since the early 1820s. For time immemorial, Snauq “was a common garden shared by all the friendly tribes in the area…. On the sandbar Musqueam, Tsleil Watuth, and Squamish women tilled oyster and clam beds…. Wild cabbage, mushrooms and other plants were tilled and hoed as well. Summer after summer the nations gathered to harvest” (119).

Looking west across False Creek from 7th Avenue and Birch Street [ca. 1890] Photograph shows a house at 1304 West Seventh Avenue, the Granville Street Bridge, C.P.R. Kitsilano Trestle Bridge and Squamish village of Snauq. Photo Credit: City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Van Sc P58. Photographer: W. Chapman

In 1913, the Squamish people who were living near the south end of today’s Burrard Street bridge were manipulated and forced out of their homes and off their land by settler society. (Barman) The Squamish people’s unjust removal precipitated the Island’s construction, since the sandbar, or Snauq, to which Lee Maracle refers, was eventually built up and turned into Granville Island.

Today, if you head west from Granville Island, walking along the seawall and underneath the Burrard Street bridge, you will pass one of Vancouver Public Library’s Literary Landmarks that pays tribute to Lee Maracle and to her story “Goodbye, Snauq”.

Lee Maracle makes clear that the “Snauq supermarket” of locally sourced and cultivated food was eventually destroyed by Vancouver’s industrial development and urban settlement. (121) The inlet known today as “False Creek” was reduced in size and polluted by garbage, toxic chemical waste, and human sewage. (118)

Granville Island, Vancouver, 1932. Credit: City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 20-67

Reminders of this industrial chapter of Granville Island’s colonial history are readily visible when you visit the market. Many of the original buildings remain but have been refurbished to house the food market, artists’ studios, community centres, and shops.

Next door to the Edible Canada restaurant is a small parkade that was once the Canada Chain & Forge Company (est. 1922). A large piece of chain is affixed inside the parkade wall, a leftover discovered after the company vacated the property.

Today, one of the last remaining heavy-industry tenants is Ocean Concrete, which has been operating on the island since 1917.

Ocean Concrete’s silos, titled “Giants”, were painted by Os Gemeos, two Brazilian street artists, in 2014.

If you’d like a sense of Granville Island’s industrial past, I’d recommend Al Purdy’s visceral poem “Piling Blood”, which recounts memories of strenuous manual labour. During the Depression, Ontario-born Purdy “rode the rails” to Vancouver in search of work. One of his jobs was at Arrow Transfer on Granville Island, piling 75-pound paper bags of “powdered blood” from butchered cattle.

Memorial statue of Alfred Purdy in Queen’s Park, Toronto, by Edwin and Veronica Dam de Nogales. Photo Credit: Photo by Shaun Merritt, Creative Commons

In the poem, Purdy remembers that the blood meal (used as fertilizer) tended to “belly out / from the bags in brown clouds” and “settle on your sweating face” (13). Purdy’s other job at the time was working at Burns’ slaughterhouse on East Hastings Street. So between the “blood smell” that clung to his clothes and the “screams / of dying cattle”, Purdy recalls a haunting time living in Vancouver in the 1930s, a time when he “wrote no poems” (15).

Eventually, “Industrial Island” was transformed into the Granville Island Public Market, which opened its doors to the public in 1979. Today, the market is a food lover’s paradise. More than anything, though, the storied memories are what give shape and meaning to Snauq and Granville Island, revealing the complex and troubling histories of Canada’s past 150 years and beyond.

Barman, Jean. “Erasing Indigenous Indigeneity in Vancouver.” BC Studies 155 (2007): 3-30. Canadian Business & Current Affaires Database. Web.

Maracle, Lee. “Goodbye, Snauq.” West Coast Line 42.2 (Summer 2008): 117-125. Print.

Purdy, Al. “Piling Blood.” Piling Blood. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984. 13-15. Print.

 

Text and Photo Credits (except where indicated): Shelley Boyd

Asha Jain’s Aloo Gobi

When the Culinary Historians of Canada announced that May’s topic for the Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge was “Food from Mother,” the timing was perfect. At the beginning of May, I was busy preparing a conference paper for an upcoming trip to Toronto, and at the same time shopping for ingredients at specialty grocery stores around Vancouver. The two activities were related, because I was both researching and cooking from a Canadian play: Asha and Ravi Jain’s A Brimful of Asha (2012).

A Brimful of Asha traces the story of the Jain family when Asha and her husband attempted to arrange a marriage for their son, Ravi. Originally produced by Ravi Jain’s Toronto theatre company, Why Not Theatre, A Brimful of Asha has toured across Canada and internationally with Asha and Ravi performing as themselves. You can see this mother-son duo on stage this summer if you happen to be planning a trip to New York City. A Brimful of Asha is part of Soulpepper Theatre’s 20th-anniversary tour of eight productions that are heading to New York’s Pershing Square Signature Centre from June 29 to July 29, 2017.  The tour nicely coincides with Canada’s 150th.

Back in 2014, I was lucky enough to attend a performance of A Brimful of Asha at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island. My Canadian drama students were captivated, particularly when Asha and Ravi welcomed the audience with a platter of warm samosas, and later graciously signed the students’ copies of the play when the performance ended. The published play extends this spirit of generosity by offering two recipes—for Aloo Gobi and Rajma— “from the Kitchen of Asha Jain”.

In the play, Asha relates her side of the story: how she very much wants her son Ravi to marry, to have a family, and to be happy. According to Asha, everything in life has “its charm at a certain time” (30). During the family’s original dispute, Ravi was single, in his late twenties, and nearing his “expiration date” for marriage. Time was of the essence, but Ravi only wanted to focus on his career. If you would like to know how this family conflict unfolds, I encourage you to see or read the play!

When you cook Asha’s recipes, you appreciate her motherly care. For Asha, timing is critical.  Adding spices is followed by waiting, and then stirring. Followed by more adding, waiting, and stirring. Attentive patience yields the best results, both in the kitchen and in life.  My hope is that in addition to her recent theatre career, Asha will consider a future role as cookbook author. Her Aloo Gobi and Rajma are stage-worthy.

Asha Jain’s Aloo Gobi (adapted from A Brimful of Asha):


Ingredients:

  • ½ head of cauliflower
  • 1 potato
  • ¼ cup of canola oil or ghee
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp. cilantro powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. mango powder (or lime juice — please see note below)
  • ½ tsp. garam masala
  • fresh cilantro (garnish)

Steps:

  1. Heat ghee on low heat. Add cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds.
  2. Add cauliflower and potato (both chopped into bite-sized pieces) and stir until mixed and coated. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle cilantro powder, paprika, salt, and turmeric on top, but do not stir! Cover and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.
  4. Stir in spices until combined. Then cover and cook until cauliflower and potato are cooked through, stirring now and then.
  5. Sprinkle mango powder or lime juice* (*read note below) and garam masala on top, but do not stir! Cover and cook for 2 minutes on low heat and then combine.
  6. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

*NOTE: After trying 4 different Vancouver grocers, I had no luck finding mango powder, so I substituted with 1 tbsp. lime juice. My search for mango powder continues, as I will definitely be making this dish again.

Jain, Asha and Ravi Jain. A Brimful of Asha. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2012.

Text and Photographs: Shelley Boyd