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.


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Fresh Eggs and Polenta Chips

The CHC’s Canada 150 Blog Challenge for the month of February is: doing without. Last week, Shelley sought advice on the matter from the redoubtable sisters of the backwoods, Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie. This week, Licia Canton has contributed another story of emigration: from sunny Cavarzere, in the province of Venice to Montreal- North. This is a story about missing home (and eggs fresh from the chicken coop).

by Licia Canton

I have always felt the need to go back “home” – to retrieve the tastes and smells I left behind in my hometown of Cavarzere, in the province of Venice. I was only four years old when my family moved to a basement apartment in Montreal-North. I missed the sunny, rural setting we left behind. I cried a lot that first year.

I cried on my fifth birthday in February 1968. There’s a silent film of me in front of a big cake. My father is encouraging me to blow out the five candles but all I can do is cry. Maybe it was the room full of people from our hometown, none of whom were related to me. Maybe I cried because the cake did not look like the one I had had on my fourth birthday. Maybe I was just unhappy after being uprooted and replanted in a foreign land at an early age.

They say I was a talkative and adventurous child in Italy. But in Canada I missed my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I missed a whole town full of people who knew who I was and who escorted me back home whenever I ventured to the piazza on my Graziella, the little white and blue bicycle I still have 50 years later. That bicycle was the symbol of my freedom. I could go anywhere, and I was safe. In Montreal, I was cooped up in a tiny, cold apartment. My parents wouldn’t let me go out to play. Big cars went by fast, even on des Récollets Street where we lived. I couldn’t play in the backyard because it was reserved for the owner of the duplex who lived upstairs.


I especially missed the foods that I was used to in Cavarzere, those my mother couldn’t replicate. The bananas purchased at Steinberg’s grocery store did not taste like the bananas in Italy. They were big and odourless. The oranges felt like plastic. They didn’t taste right either. Cherries were hard to come by. My mother purchased red and green candied cherries one time. I still recall my frustration at the sight of them. That’s not what I wanted. I did not say so because I was sure my mother had spent a pretty penny for them. She ended up making a cake with them.

Mostly, I missed my daily breakfast routine. I fed myself because my mother was busy with my baby sister, three years my junior. Every morning I went into the warm, smelly chicken coop. The rickety door alerted the chickens, and they all scattered about when I walked in. I looked into every nest before choosing my egg. It was always a little dirty but very warm in my hand. Tap, tap. I cracked it open and drank it on the spot. Yes, there were eggs at Steinberg’s and at the dépanneur at the corner of des Récollets and Prieur streets, just a short walk from our basement home. But they were cold and spotless. Not what I was used to. My mother appeased me by making sbattutino.

Back then, I also missed my grandmother’s polenta crusts: ƚe croste del paroƚo as we call them in Venetian dialect. Every day Nonna Gemma made a big pot (paroƚo) of polenta for her numerous family members. Once the huge polenta was laid out to be eaten, the residue dried up in the pot. She let me scrape the crusts. I liked the polenta chips more than the polenta itself. The chips were a treat for me.

My mother made polenta in Montreal, but she did not have my grandmother’s copper pot. There were no polenta chips to scrape off. I was disappointed whenever I saw the pot soaking in sink.

In the early years, every time I came back to Montreal after having vacationed in my hometown I had to get used to the fruit again. For a long time, that bowl of fruit at the centre of my mother’s table provoked a sense of loss in me.

That is no longer the case today. In recent years, I have seen similar bowls of fruit in the homes I’ve visited in Italy. Italians, too, buy fruit at the supermarket. They also buy ready-made polenta.

Even today, when I am sad or disappointed I crave my mother’s sbattutino. Of course, it is not the same colour as the sbattutino she made for me with eggs from the chicken coop. But I cannot complain about my parents’ decision to emigrate. I know now that it was the right decision: it gave us all a new beginning and many years of happiness. I have gotten over my sadness. And I am also grateful that my early childhood memories are so full.

Text and Photo by Licia Canton

Oysters: the raw and the cooked

We’ll be highlighting a range of dishes over the next few months as we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th year. Set sail with us as we plumb the depths of what is Canadian in Canadian Literary Fare.


Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Sea Things” from, The Armies of the Moon (1972) lends itself well to the theme of fish and seafood we’ve been exploring.

She’s interested in “shellfish and sponges and those/ half-plant half-animal things that go/ flump flump on the sea floor”.


She worries about the oysters, “about how they’re finding their food / or making love, or for that matter / if they have anything to make love with.”

I am less worried about their alimentary and sexual habits. I leave them to figure it out for themselves, self-sufficient creatures that they are.

These days I am more preoccupied with how to choose them, how to open them, how best to prepare and eat them.

“Raw with lemon juice” you will exclaim.


Some of you are of the mignonette persuasion: a little shallot, a little red wine vinegar perhaps?


And some of you cook them, or deep fry them.

In the spirit of diplomacy, I shall not take sides. Out of curiosity, however, I wondered what it would be like to cover them with breadcrumbs (with garlic and parsley, a little Parmesan, and a hint of sriracha) and broil them.

to be broiled

I am happy to report that the oysters cooperated beautifully with nary a word of complaint. All of the more squeamish members of my household were duly satisfied.


Here is an approximate recipe:

For 6 oysters on the half shell

  • 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh parmesan
  • ¼ teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Combine ingredients. Spoon over oysters and broil for 5 to 6 minutes.


MacEwen, Gwendolyn. The Armies of the Moon. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1972.

Photos and Text by Alexia Moyer

Steamed Whole Fish / Jing Yu

Janice Wong’s Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food + Family is both utilitarian (you can cook from it) and “chatty” to quote Nora Ephron’s Heartburn via Susan Leonardi of the oft cited PMLA article “Recipes for Reading”. Chow offers recipes for Dungeness Crab with Dow See or Black Bean Sauce and Chinese Style Barbequed Spareribs, punctuated by Wong’s stories of family life: migration, settlement, love, food. Chow has the look of a scrapbook with its photographs, hand written recipes, and photocopied menus.

Since we have devoted ourselves to the task of bringing you “fish food” over the next few months, I have selected Wong’s recipe for Steamed Whole Fish.

I was looking forward to the task of photographing a whole fish, as per Wong’s instructions.

“Whole fish: preferably white fish such as rock cod, pickerel, halibut or snapper”

Schooled (and thankfully not scolded) by my local fishmonger on the finer points of fish size and price per kilo, I elected to try my hand at rock cod . . . filleted.

If you do not have a bamboo steaming rack, Wong provides ample instruction on how to improvise one.

Marinate your fillets for two hours with the following:


That is to say . . .

2 teaspoons salt


1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil

sesame oil

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine or cooking sherry

rice wine or cooking sherry

4 large slices ginger root, peeled and cut into matchstick slivers


2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus ½ teaspoon sesame oil for topping fish

gently steam until cooked through


and then garnish with 3 green onions, finely diced, for sprinkling on top of fish and 2-3 cha gwa (preserved tea melons), finely sliced. You’ll note the omitted tea melons in this first attempt.

fish, steamed

fish, steamed II


Text and photographs by Alexia Moyer

Leonardi, Susan J. “Recipes for Reading: Summer Pasta, Lobster À La Riseholme, and Key Lime Pie ” Modern Language Association 104.3 (May) (1989): 340-47. Print.

Wong, Janice. Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food + Family. Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2005. Print.