The bathroom took my breath away. It was forest green, shiny brass and pine, the hottest combination of 1984. The toilet was forest green. So was the hot tub and the walk-in shower. The floor was carpeted, and guess what, it too was forest green. The whole effect lux ski lodge, and I never wanted to leave. Except for the fact that we were being called downstairs to dinner. Thick tenderloins were grilling on the BBQ, and a velvety pepper sauce was simmering on the stove. Her mother stood at the island, sipping a glass of red wine, watching the large screen television built into the bookshelf across the room. Yes, a kitchen island in 1984, a television with a remote the size of a book.
I was eleven years old and it was my first sleepover at my new friend’s house. She was an only child; this was her normal. I tried my best to blend in, to make it my normal too. So I flopped down on the (forest green) sofa and said yes to the offer of a glass of coca cola. I was in heaven.
My house was perfectly cozy. But there were sisters everywhere, and you had to change the television with a dial. Sometimes the dial wouldn’t stay in place, requiring us sisters to take turns holding it on channel 11 – anything to watch Three’s Company from start to finish. Meals were budgeted and ingredients came, once a week, from the grocery store – not the speciatly grocer where steaks came wrapped in brown paper. It would be ten years before my parents knocked down the walls between the dining room and kitchen.
This house with its carpeted bathroom and special meals, three times a day, wasn’t perfect. No house is. But that life, wrapped in brown paper and bathed in velvety pepper sauce, left an impression on me. Thinking back, I was tucking away these impressions into a file I kept in the dark recesses of my brain, a file I’d use to shape my life and work someday.
This file was cracked open recently when I was interviewed for the Nova Scotian Kitchens podcast. Host Sherrie Graham came by one wintry afternoon, turned on her mic and sat in my kitchen as I made miso soup with a touch of seaweed on top. At one point she asked about my path to food journalism. Listening back, I was surprised to hear that I began my (long winded) story by thanking all the mothers for sparking what I do. Every playdate, every sleepover, all the different styles of eating, all the aromas, traditions, (bathroom designs) high heels in the kitchens, manicured fingers and cigarettes … all of these memories cracked open my little world, paving the way for future stories shared through the lens of food.
Who knows what kids think when they come over to our house.
Where’s the meat in this chilli? (Anna Jones’s vegetarian version is so good, I promise)
Why haven’t they fixed that hole in the corner of the living room floor? You can see right down to the scary basement! (the cabinet almost covers the hole, and don’t worry, you won’t fall through)
Why don’t they have juice? (eat fruit instead)
Why does she put green stuff in the smoothies? (squeeze it in where you can!)
Is she napping on the living room sofa, lying in a pile of laundry? (sometimes five minutes is all you need)
What is that smell coming from the teenage boy’s room? (musty sweat, that’s what)
This is our story, my story, and heck, I’d be honoured for anyone to take from it what they choose.
You can listen to the episode and get the recipe for miso soup with a touch of seaweed HERE.
Thanks to Sherrie Graham for the above image captured that wintry day in February.