Breaking Bread: Kelowna’s Taste of Home

 

Breaking Bread.

According to the Urban Dictionary, “To break bread is to affirm trust, confidence, and comfort with an individual or group of people. Breaking bread has a notation of friendliness and informality, derived from the original meaning regarding sharing the loaf.”

Another, simpler definition of the term is, “To share a meal with someone.” This comes from Writing Explained, an online site for writing instruction. They go on to state:

This expression means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of brotherhood with someone or some group of people. It is a significant event that fosters some meaningful connection and cooperation.
Perhaps you are enemies; breaking bread with someone indicates a sense of forgiveness and moving forward to the affair.

Writing Explained (https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/break-bread-with-someone) states that the term breaking bread has Biblical origins, originating with the story of Jesus blessing, then breaking 5 loaves of bread — and feeding 5000 people. Then, according to Mathew 14:20, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Considering Jesus had twelve disciples, there seems to be a moral in this number. First they fed others, then there was a basket full left over for each. Later on in his life, Jesus would refer to broken bread as his own body. Famously known as the last supper, the instruction given that day was to “eat in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Food is about so much more than simply fueling the body. That’s why, every year at Christmas, I make the same cookie recipes — they remind me of the continuity of family celebrations.

Some of my recipes were taught to me by people no longer alive. I think of them every time I cook them. My English grandmother passed on roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, my Irish grandfather passed on potato pancakes, and my German Aunt (still with us – hi Auntie Marion!) passed on borscht and plotz — a white cake topped with fruit and butter and sugar crumbles. I still have Anne’s chicken wings and Lois’ chocolate chip cookies and Grandpa’s pastry written down in the little red notebook that I started in my early twenties, when I first moved away from my parent’s home.

I remember fondly the church potlucks of my youth, and Nellie Romeyn’s (my first boyfriend’s mom) Flying Saucer Cookies. I also remember the casseroles the church ladies brought our family when my grandmother died. I was thirteen at the time. And I remember Rie Beugelink, who had a tablecloth cross-stitched with all the names of her dinner guests on it. This inspired me, and when I bought my first home, I painted a patio bench and had it signed by all my house guests that first year.

Food reminds us of who we are, of our histories, our traditions, of relatives and homes which have gone before us. It bonds us. The smells and flavours of shared culinary creations take us back, and when shared, they build our united futures. All of which is why I was thrilled to receive the invitation to attend Kelowna’s Taste of Home event, and to stop in on my way home after work on Saturday night.

The event was held in the New Life church building on Harvey, which is an interesting choice considering the building’s original purpose after construction was as a farmer’s market. The main room of the building has two levels, and flags from around the world now hang from the top floor.

The Global Citizen’s event, which is in its fourteenth year, was packed. I had to park a block away, and almost let the blustering cold wind and my post-work lag change my mind about attending. Once inside, I was so glad to be there. It cost a dollar at the door to get inside, and then I handed over five dollars for food tickets ($1 each) and wove my way in through the crowd.

Vendors representing different countries were arrayed around the edges of the room, while the centre was set up with chairs where it was possible to sit and watch entertainers in traditional costume perform dances from their corners of the globe. It had been advertised that food items would cost between one and three tickets per item, and so my first goal was to do a full pass of all the vendors and decide which foods I would sample. I stopped halfway through, though, to film the Chinese dragon dance.

On my second pass, I purchased my first item. For one ticket, I received a dinner roll sized plate heaped high with pumpkin lentil stew (on a bed of rice) from Columbia. I’d never tried this dish before, and found it to be a delicious mild curry-flavoured meal. For a dollar, it was also quite filling.

Although I wanted to try the Venezuelan pastries and the Caribbean jerked chicken, I wandered past Thailand and Venezuela and Mexico, Japan and Taiwan and the Caribbean, mostly because the lineups were long, and there was easier places to wait.

I found myself standing in Israel’s line waiting to be served a cheese Knish with berries, which also cost me $1, and tasted great — not tart, but not too sweet, either. Because Syria was located next door to Israel, I next purchased a skewer of Falafel for $2. I passed on the hummus, though, as that would have taken my last ticket. The food was delicious — far tastier than the falafel I’d purchased this summer at the Kelowna Fruit Market, although, I have to admit, my motivations for that purchase were entirely political sentimentality. Israel was next to Syria. That, to me, simply had to be honoured.

With one ticket remaining, my options were a bit limited. I could have purchased tea from Taiwan, or an energy ball from Venezuela or gone back for seconds in Columbia. Instead, I decided to support the home team, and bought two somewhat gooey maple tarts from the ladies who were looking a little bit lonely at the Canadian booth.

I’d filled my stomach – and I was, indeed, full — with an interesting assortment of cultures. I didn’t get to try the bannock from the First Nations Booth, and I’m not sure what was being sold from Greece, although I did see some Kalamata olives on one lady’s plate. I didn’t get any gelato from Italy, but I did see that the servings they were giving out were quite ample. You couldn’t get as large a dish for as small a price in an actual ice cream shop, I can vouch for that.

On one of my passes around the food booths, I ran into my boss and her husband. Ady is from France, her husband, a local chef, is from Australia. They are expecting their first child, and at work this week, she was mentioning that since their baby will be born in Canada, the child will be legally entitled to three different passport options. I am second generation Canadian — my English grandmother was one of the first war brides to arrive after World War 2. And yet, here we all were, sampling meals from other people’s homelands.

With my stomach full, I found a spot to watch and photograph the entertainment. Peru had taken the stage, followed by Ukraine, and then Japan. I heard that Mexico was dancing at 7:30, but I knew I wouldn’t be staying that long. I didn’t expect it to be tears which sent me running for the door, though.

The Ukrainian dancers were part of a local dance club, and as a result, they had sets of dancers of various ages performing. This extended their time on stage a bit, and at some point as I watched, my eyes strayed from the performers to the crowd. At New Life church, the stage is accessible by a set of carpeted stairs which run across the front of the podium, and my attention was suddenly captured by the scene there. Children with various skin and hair colours, with various ethnic backgrounds and in various different traditional costumes had stationed themselves in an undulating line along the staircase. Sitting together, seemingly oblivious to exterior differences, or historical animosities, or cultural variation, they watched the performers. This, I thought, as I felt myself choking up, is the world as it is meant to be. This is a picture of my country, of my global community.

And I am very proud to call myself Canadian, eh.

 

Kindness

At the start of 2019, I find myself in the position of needing to increase my income level. In October, the company I work for reduced the hours of everyone with my job description, and that same month my daughter, who had been paying rent, moved out. So, as of this week, I have begun the process of revamping my resume and shopping it out. Job hunting, as most would agree, is not the gentlest experience in life. Perhaps that is why I have had the concept of kindness so much on my mind this week.

kind·ness
[ˈkīn(d)nəs]

NOUN
the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
synonyms:
kindliness · kind-heartedness · warm-heartedness · tender-heartedness · goodwill · affectionateness · affection · warmth · gentleness · tenderness · concern · care · [more]
a kind act.
“it is a kindness I shall never forget”
synonyms:
kind act · good deed · act of kindness · good turn · favor · act of assistance · service · help · aid

When I was dating my now ex-husband, we once had a conversation where he suggested I might be ‘too nice’ to parent children. (Ha! I raised four of ’em). Although I never asked for clarification (something I’ve since learned is important to do), I understood him to mean I would not be able to discipline well, nor would I be able to stand up to protect them. Whether that was his actual message or not, I can’t say — and I no longer have any need to know — but I did carry his words with me for a long time. Although I have proven him wrong, I never forgot this conversation, and I pondered it at times as I went through life being ‘nice.’

For a long time, I despised the idea that I was ‘nice’ — it seems such a lukewarm, lame quality, the ultimate in blasé descriptors. At some point, though, I embraced the idea, because, quite frankly, I’m not actually always that nice (our little secret), and also I have observed that being nice, being kind, can so uplift a person. Living a life of demonstrated kindness, I have decided, is a beautiful way to live.

In 2010, I graduated from UBCO with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. I’d been in a car accident which had extended my post-secondary education by a year, and over the span of that extra year, my city entered a recession. For six weeks I handed out resumes without so much as a call back, while watching my savings dwindle. Finally, I was hired at Perkins Family Restaurant, where I would work for the next seven years of my life.

I still remember that first shift, standing in the kitchen pass through rolling napkins around cutlery and feeling both deja vu and a shell-shocked, disbelief-ridden kind of despair. How was it possible that after seven years of post-secondary education, I found myself back in the restaurant industry?

And not even back in the industry, but in a family restaurant. My pre-childbirth resume had waitressing experience, but the company names I’d worked for in my twenties were significantly more upscale.

I hated where I’d landed, and I blamed my ex (because, you know, it’s not kosher to blame the kids and not fun blaming your own lack of foresight), and those feelings showed up in the service I gave. Well, okay, maybe not to the customer’s face — I have been gifted with my parent’s dimples and I learned early in life that my smile can hide a multitude of sins — but back in the kitchen with the other servers? I bitched. That’s the truth of it.

I didn’t approach my work as anything more than a way to pay the bills. What I did, I did for the tips. I learned quickly to flirt with the children and the older men, to admire tattoos and hair styles and manicures, even if I was lying through my teeth on all accounts. Waitressing (allow me to enlighten any of you who have never done it) can be the highest form of insincerity; waitressing makes insincerity an art form.

While working at the restaurant, three things happened which changed me. One day while I was not at work, I engaged in a conversation with a woman for whom I have great respect. I was describing for her all the ways in which I hated my job. To my surprise, she told me she had also waitressed, and it had been one of her favourite jobs because she made it a personal challenge to make the crankiest of customers smile. Huh.

I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. What if, instead of ranting in the dish pit whenever someone rubbed me the wrong way, I reframed the interaction, turned defeating unhappiness into my own personal mission? What if, instead of checking what each table tipped, I refused to let myself check my tip tally until day’s end, eliminating payment from my immediate motivations when offering thoughtful care to my guests?

One afternoon, I served lunch to a group of ten businessmen. The check came to roughly $150, and when it was time to deliver it, the man with the Visa card asked me what he should tip.

“I can’t answer that for you,” I replied. “Most people tip around fifteen percent.”

“Is that all you think you are worth?” He asked, laughing, so I jived off his mood.

“Oh! What I’m worth? I’m worth one hundred percent!”

The table laughed, and I left then returned later to retrieve his signed credit slip. When I looked at my tip, I was floored to see he had matched the bill — he had left me a one hundred percent tip. I took the paper to my manager.

“Um,” I said, “Maybe you should go double check that this isn’t a mistake?” Instead, she instructed me to go clarify. I went back to the table. Continue reading “Kindness”

Buzzing Ellis Street

It’s Wednesday, and it’s my day off, and Christmas is around the bend, and life is hectic, and tonight is book club night!

We are reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which, I feel, can be succinctly summed up as, religion is foolish, and science is lethal. Also which, I tell the man who picked the book, may have us all going to hell for reading it — with its Bible-bashing meta-references  and allusions — over the Christmas season. When I say this, I think I am being funny. He looks mildly concerned.

Anyway, I started reading the book on Tuesday night, knowing I had the day off and intending to finish while I baked things. Except, it was like Grand Central Station at my house today, with people dropping in left and right. I love it when they do this, but on this particular occasion, these impromptu visits mean I didn’t quite get the book finished.

Well, okay, to be honest, I likely could have, except, every day when I drive into downtown Kelowna for work I think, “Today I am going to stay late and explore all the businesses down here!” And every day, I go directly to my car, and I drive away home. So, I thought to myself, I could stay here and read the last quarter of this tale, or, I could skip ahead to the last few pages to ensure my perspective of Vonnegut’s message isn’t changed and then traipse into town early in order to window shop my afternoon away.

I went with option B. Continue reading “Buzzing Ellis Street”

Christmas in Kelowna

 

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I spent my evening last night at a Christmas party with some writer friends. Since we are all people who tell stories, we gathered around and told the stories of our personal Christmas traditions.

My traditions paled in comparison to the stories of shoe-shining in Hungary and pinatas in Mexico and buckets — yes, you read that right — of wine in Romania, so I didn’t regale everyone with the fact that my December 3rd birthday is historically the day we decorate our tree and my mother’s December 24th birthday sees the entire family — believers and non — at church. Christmas day itself is a free-for-all of sanctioned gluttony and gift-giving and playing with new toys / reading new books / watching new videos.

My fondest memories of Christmas, however, happen in the weeks leading up to the main event, when as a child my grandfather taught me to bake. This is a tradition which continues on, as annually I re-create his recipes for the hordes to devour between breakfast and turkey.

Beyond the gatherings of family and friends, the maxing out of plastic at malls, the gorging on feasts, and the celebration of faith traditions, Christmas is a season full of many fun events. Here are some I recommend: Continue reading “Christmas in Kelowna”

Peter Pan Journeys

 

 

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It started to hit home last night, when she told me of her plans to move her bed into my living room. She continued speaking, wondering aloud about types of screwdrivers, and worrying in a minor way about the potential for losing components of her bed frame. I’d stopped actively listening, though. Unable any longer to ignore the fact of my eldest daughter’s imminent departure, my brain had stuttered to a halt.

Time waits for no man, someone said. At least, I think that’s the quote. Possibly, though, it’s death waits for no man. Both, I’ve noticed, are true.

I’d had an early miscarriage the month prior to Alison’s conception. That baby would have been due near my own birthday, and of course, from the moment you know there’s a baby in your future, your imagination fires. So, the loss is real. The doctor told us we could start trying to conceive again immediately, and that is how Alison became the only one of my four children who was planned.

When, at approximately the same stage of pregnancy that the miscarriage had happened I once again started to spot, I was terrified. I hit my knees. As I was down there, anyway, I told God that since we were talking, not only did I want a healthy child, I also wanted that child to be a red head baby girl. Which is exactly what we got.

See, there is a God. IMG_8210 (1)

 

 

Quite frankly, the entire pregnancy with Alison sucked. First, there was the spotting and doctor ordered lying on my left-hand side — difficult since at that time I was also raising a one year-old son. Next came the intensely itchy rash which covered my torso and extremities and lasted until I ran out of maternal vitamins two weeks before giving birth. (Apparently, I’d been having an allergic reaction.) Finally, during my last trimester, came the undiagnosed gall bladder attacks. Pain would grip me, so intense I’d throw up, and I’d end up in bed in a cold sweat, thrashing until the worst of the pain dulled enough for me to pass out and sleep the rest away.

And yet, out of a pregnancy which was an ordeal came this human being who is an absolute delight. A human being who, tomorrow, is moving out of my home for the first time.

A mother carries a thousand memories, moments snapped like photographs which spool on a loop, inside the recesses of her mind. There was the way, as a toddler, she’d put her hand to my lips and tell me, “Mommy, don’t sing.” The year she was a tiger, a cat, a ghost at Halloween. That time — and I think she’d proud of this one — when she bit the family dentist. The way she laced up her first pair of ice skates then hit the rink as if she’d been born wearing blades. Continue reading “Peter Pan Journeys”

On the 400th Anniversary of his Death, Maximillian III

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He captured me, that first day, with the enigmatic expression on his face. It seemed fathomless to me, a different mood depending on the part of the room I was standing in, and that, of course made me have to understand.

The portrait, Maximillian III, Archduke of Austria, is part of the Herman H Levy art collection which has been on loan to the Kelowna Art Gallery — where I work — for several months. Part of the loan agreement stipulated that someone be in the gallery with the art at all times, ensuring the safety of these priceless works from the over-exuberance of the viewers. Since this became my task, I was fortunate to spend a portion of each shift in the presence of these masterworks. I was fortunate to spend a portion of each day with Max.

Within the art community, who hasn’t heard of Peter Paul Rubens? It is a famous name. Rubens painted in the Flemish Baroque tradition, and although he had a studio full of apprentice artists painting with him, he was known to have reserved the most important portraits for his own completion. Therefore, though there is no way of guaranteeing that Rubens himself painted the portrait of Maximillian III, Archduke of Austria, it seems plausible.

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Whomever the artist, he did a masterful job, and the attention to detail astounds me. From the lip churl to the vein throbbing in his forehead and the long eyelashes framing his intelligent brown eyes, the artist captured this man’s likeness in exquisite detail. And, since I’ve always had a thing for brown eyes, I decided to google Maximillian, and learn about his life.

Maximillian was a member of the House of Habsburg, which originated in 1438 and was one of the most influential dynasties of Europe until 1740, when they failed to produce a male heir. Queen Elizabeth II descends from their line, but their ethnicity is Austrian with Spanish, Italian and French influence. Maximillian’s great grandfather, Maximillian 1 became Holy Roman Emperor in 1508, but due to the dangers of travelling from Austria to Rome, he broke a longstanding tradition of papal coronation, and instead was declared Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Julius II at Trent. Once broken, this tradition was never reinstated. Maximillian I struggled with the French, and was plagued by financial issues throughout his life, and therefore became obsessed with arranging marriages for both his children and himself which would increase his fortune and power. He also, in 1496, banned all Jews from Styria and Wiener Neustadt and later ordered the destruction of all Jewish literature, with the exception of the Bible.

Maximillian II was born in Vienna, Austria, but spent his formative years at Innsbruck, Tyrol, meaning he was primarily educated in Italy by humanist scholars. He also came into contact with Lutheran teachings and corresponded with the protestant Prince Augustus of Saxony. None of this went over well with his strongly Catholic family, or with his extremely devout wife, whom his uncle arranged for him to marry to strengthen his ties with Spain and with Catholicism. The relationship between branches of the Habsburg family grew strained, and in 1553, Maximillian II is believed to have been poisoned on behalf of a cousin. He survived, and went on to father 16 children with his wife (9 surviving) and to become Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Bohemia, King of the Romans, King of Hungary and Croatia. All of this despite only living to the age of 49.

Maximillian III was 18 when his father died. Since he was the fourth surviving son, he did not inherit his father’s many titles, despite being his namesake. His eldest brother, Rudolf II, would succeed their father. Rudolf was educated in Spain and returned home quite aloof and stiff. This concerned their father, who was disdainful of the Spanish, but pleased his Spanish mother, who saw his new traits as courtly and refined. Either way, Rudolf would for the rest of his life be somewhat elusive and a homebody who ruled ineffectively. Continue reading “On the 400th Anniversary of his Death, Maximillian III”

Falling

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** I wrote this years ago as part of a lyric essay class at UBCO.                                                        Posting now in honour of Halloween.

You took me to your beach lot that night last summer when it rained and thundered, and the orange and red spokes of the bonfire hissed and sizzled and smoked and spat at us from where we sat in the lawn chairs underneath the trailer’s awning. I got soaked, anyway, because I never have been able to resist the rain. I got drunk, too, because I never have had a head for beer. And when the clouds finally parted, and the moon was full, I could have sworn that perfect round orb of wonder was hung in the sky deliberately, just for me and you. I felt the heat of your body standing behind me in mute observation. If I had closed my eyes I imagine I would have felt your breath skimming down the back of my neck.

I didn’t want to go, that night in September at your house, but I left. I left that night when the sky exploded around us as we stood on your patio beside the scent of the gardenias in your hanging baskets. That night when flicking off the outdoor lights meant flicking on the show in billions of tiny twinkling stars. I left. I just didn’t leave in time. My hands gripped the balcony railing as you stood there beside me, but even so, with my neck cricked upwards to see the show and with my brain tilting heavy like rocks away from the centre of my skull, my heart swayed.

“I remember what I wanted to tell you,” you said to me Halloween night, when we were trick-or-treating together, one big happy family. “I wanted to tell you I watched a program and it said there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world.” Continue reading “Falling”

Batty about Bats at Peachland’s BEEPS

 

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There were really only three things I knew about bats prior to my visit to Peachland’s Visitor Centre and my chat with Doris Muhs of BEEPS (Bat Education and Ecological Protection Society). First, bats travel by echolocation, second they eat mosquitos, and third, they turn into vampires. th63IIOWWO

 

 

Okay, maybe only two out of three of those are scientifically verifiable.

 

 

 

I walked into Peachland’s Visitor Centre looking for the Art Gallery — housed in the same building — but before heading to the gallery, Doris gave me a tour. A former history teacher, Doris really knows her stuff, and we had a fascinating conversation about fur trader routes, and early irrigation systems, and bats.

In Peachland, the visitor centre and art gallery are homed in a building which was once the town’s elementary school. It stood empty for years before being repurposed as a visitor’s centre, and when the new group began the process of renovating, they discovered buckets of bat guano in the attic. They were quickly informed that bats are a protected species and could not be removed. They rolled with it. BEEPS was born.

According to the BEEPS website, their mission is, “to promote the protection and preservation of bat species in Peachland, and to educate the public as a means of achieving these goals.” With nominal funding during their renovation, the society built bat houses in the building’s attic and also inserted cameras which they connected to viewing terminals in the lower levels of the building. Now, when people visit BEEPS they can actually watch a live feed of the bats and their pups on monitors.

That’s right, bat babies are called pups. I didn’t know that. Also, bats are mammals. In fact, bats are the only true flying mammals. I wasn’t aware. Bats also hibernate, which is one reason the Peachland Visitor Centre could not evict their tenants. Every year Peachland’s bats hibernate in caves for the winter, then return to the attic to roost and have babies. They remain in the attic from April through the summer with BEEPS volunteers performing regular counts of colony numbers. The fact that these bats can eat 2/3’s of their weight in insects nightly combined with the fact that their favourite meal is the mosquito is likely why so few mosquitos survive in Peachland. As well, Doris tells me, bat guano (poop) is extremely nitrate rich and makes excellent fertilizer — which can be purchased in buckets at the Visitor Centre Gift Shop.
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According to Josy O’Donnel, bats have been around since the days of the dinosaurs (https://www.conservationinstitute.org/10-animals-that-hibernate). In recent years bat populations have been on the decline due largely to loss of habitat as human settlement encroaches on their territory. As well, bats are susceptible to a disease known as white nose syndrome, which is caused by a fungus which grows around the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats, sometimes spreading through and wiping out entire colonies. This has rapidly decimated world-wide bat populations. White nose syndrome has not yet been recorded in BC, but it has been discovered in Washington, and environmentalists are gearing up to combat the disease.

At BEEPS, a large part of the conservation effort comes through education. Through BEEPS people can join the adopt-a-bat program, can learn to build bat houses, can hike the local bat house interpretive trail, throw bat parties and more. BEEPS also offers school tours and bat chats — which take several forms depending on the season and the age group involved.

October 24 – 31 is Bat Week, which makes this the perfect week to pop in for a visit and a chat at BEEPS. Located at 5684 Beach in Peachland, the society is open to visitors Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm weekly. All staff at BEEPS are volunteers, and in my experience, they are both friendly and exceptionally well-informed. I highly recommend checking them out.

For more information on BEEPS, see their website at https://www.beepspeachland.com.
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