Welcome to Eatin’s Canada from your hostess, Gayle.
I have been growing food since I was five, and cooking independently (somewhat, with adult supervision), since the age of eight when I began making pies. By the age of 10, I was making bread weekly from the Purity Flour Cookbook. By 13, I was cooking for the crews at my parent’s fish processing plant in Burnaby BC when we needed them for overtime.
When the catch is bigger than anticipated, you have to press through to get it processed while it is still fresh. On such days, they would choose some of the best sockeye salmon that were perfect but too large for commercial use, fillet them and send me upstairs to the lunchroom to cook.
The fragrance of frying salmon would fill the air and waft downstairs to entice and keep the crew motivated. It was a big job, cooking for as many as 130 hungry workers. We had giant rice cookers, a couple of old electric frying pans, and an ancient stove. Every pan that could hold hot oil had fish frying in it.
It would take the entire time from the normally last break of the day until dinner time, which was sometimes stretched until all the food was cooked. Occasionally, someone would help, but usually in these circumstances I was the only worker that could be spared. It was a big job that I loved being responsible for, and among my fondest memories.
The fish plant was not the only family food business, nor the only one I recall. I barely remember Uncle Gus, who died when I was about five, except that I loved him and eating prunes at his restaurant, Zorba The Greek on East Hastings in Vancouver. The Hurmuses side of the family was always in the food business, here and in Constantinople, which the family still called it through the 60s..
Uncle Jeff owned the very successful National Cafe in Vernon, and Papou owned grocery and candy stores in various towns, Kamloops, Victoria, and Vancouver, one of which was on Main Street, and one on Granville beside the original Birks, opening around the same time. He almost owned the first distillery in BC after the prohibition, but his champion for this project died in an untimely plane crash. I still have the architect’s plans for this.
My love of cooking is deep. Partly, it is about reveling in the sensual nature of food and the sense of accomplishment of a successfully executed culinary vision. Partly, it is an outcome of my training as a caregiver for my beloved Great-Uncle Jeff (Theo), my hero and mentor, who lived with us during my childhood. As a member of a family that has been in the food business for several generations on my Greek side, this love is part of my inheritance and my legacy.
As mentioned above, my first food garden was even earlier than my first pie. I planted my first rows of carrots and radishes (reddishes), of which few made it to maturity as I was obsessed with eating my own fresh harvest, and unwilling to wait. Carrots were fully enjoyed at 2” long with a ¼” diameter, and reddishes at about the same size.
I’ve learned a bit of patience since then, and a lot more about gardening, a pursuit that has no end. Every year brings new lessons, and for me the best way to retain knowledge is to document it and share. There is something in the sharing that solidifies knowledge. So, articles are written so that I remember lessons clearly, and shared because I love to teach almost as much as I love to cook and eat.
While I have a few childhood favourite packaged foods, most of what I make is ultra DIY. Among other things, I make my own vinegar and spice blends. Over time, I plan to write articles to bridge recipes that take advantage of the same common ingredients. I believe in a thrifty kitchen and try to make use of everything, so there is little waste. Paying the extra for organic oranges and lemons seems a lot more affordable if you are also candying the peels for a fruitcake, to coat with chocolate, or to dry for orange chicken.
I often make a dish over several days, with components serving as meals in earlier days. Essentially, leftovers with a strategic path. In many ways, my blog represents my “regular job” of freelance writing, specifically related to strategic and marketing plans.
I come by my love of food, thrift, entertaining, and DIY through both sides of my family.
On Mom’s side of the family, my heritage includes Scottish from Grandma, and Red River Metis, with both Cree and Blackfoot roots, and Danish, from Grampa. I grew up fully assimilated, but eating bannock and step-dancing. Sadly, while Grandma was a great baker, she cooked by handsful and wasn’t much for teaching, so her recipes weren’t written down. I used to watch with fascination though when visiting while she baked bread and bannock, as she did each Saturday, filling every loaf pan, cake pan, cookie tray, and coffee tin. Grandma may not have taught me her recipes, but she surely taught me how to cook.
Mom and Dad taught me how to organize a party and make it happen. Their parties were legends. Centred around seafood, the menu was always extensive. Baked salmon, oyster cocktail, shrimp, charcuterie, plaki, keftethes, dolmathes, spanakopita, tarama, saganaki…and on and on. The entire family cooked all day, and guests brought dishes. Once, the entire staff of a Greek dancing school attended a New Year’s Eve party, and led a hasapiko with over 100 people through the house. After they stopped having parties, we would go to music shows or Greek clubs. Still good food and good fun.
For 18 years I had a party on the first Saturday or Summer and the last. The garage was a former stable complete with hay loft, and being where the beer was kept, was also where the jam inevitably happened.
the party would be attended by as many as 150, and I would cook for weeks before to make sure there was food for all.
My Three Bean Chili was a consistent favourite as it had been during my university parties, and until my folks retired, there was always a salmon or two, baked whole.
The party?had certain traditions, such as an influx of musician friends after the bars closed. They wanted a bite and social fun before ending their evenings. Parties usually went until dawn, and food was staged to be fresh for the late arrivals as well as for those who were there early.
Sometimes, around two am, someone would be leaving and you could hear them being told: “You can’t leave now! It’s almost time for the Rice Krispies!
The spheres tradition was born the night my friend Dug arrived to an exceptionally large party at 3am after a show, and the food was gone! It is truly an embarrassment in a Greek household to run out of food before running out of guests. I cannot stress this too much.
Seeing a box of rice krispies on top of the refrigerator, I sprang into action! Searching the cupboards, I found enough marshmallows to make one large stricky ball of confection, which appeased Dug, and began a tradition.
I continue to grow my own food as much as possible, and have been building a small market garden for the past couple of?years.
Sometimes, it’s hard to put the connections between garden and recipe into articles, but they can be shown in real-time in a newsletter diary. I encourage you to sign up for this to watch seeds become salads, grow into delicious sustenance, and the remnants returned to compost to continue the cycle.
The newsletter will include travel through farm country in The Cowichan Valley, and the working pier at Cowichan Bay, as well as seasonal cooking tips and alerts to new recipes on the blog. There will be anecdotes about cooking in unusual places and circumstances, and there will be fun surprises throughout. The Garden of Eatin’s is a vendor in the Cow-op.ca collective, and this will also be part of the conversation.
Both the newsletter and the blog will include occasional contributions from and interactions with other cooks, chefs, farmers, and food producers. These will be in the form of articles, recipes, and interviews aimed at representing a full picture of food in Canada. All of it will be made with reverence for the land and the culinary gifts cultivated and stewarded by the First Nations of Turtle Island (North America).
We will also provide important information on safe food handling, the dangers of poor handling, and about food recalls.
Your feedback is welcomed on both the newsletter and the blog.
Huy tseep q’u / Miigwetch / Efcharisto / Thank you for visiting, and for reading this all the way to the end. 🙂