Happy New Year!

The Victoria Backyard in Winter

Hello all, I've missed you, but I had to take a break. The following little "essay" is something I just finished for my Writing Techniques class. I couldn't resist posting it, and since it's not for marks, there was very little pressure. Please! Feel free to comment on my writing. Apparently translators have to write REALLY well. Who would've thought? So these next few months are going to be dedicated to improving my writing. I'd especially like your help with pointing out any unclear recipe directions. And, I have to write a How To article at the end of the semester. Since food is a likely candidate for a topic, are there any delicious, rather complicated recipes you'd like me to tackle?

Here she is:

Why I keep moving to Montreal

I have moved to Montreal three times over the last five years. The first time for my first year of university at McGill, and then for a second time because I fell in love with a Quebecois one-summer tree planting. After both of these short sejours, neither longer than 8 months, I returned home to Victoria, B.C, where I finished my undergraduate degree in French studies. In January 2009, I came back to Montreal for a third time to study translation, and to establish myself in a place I can call home.

I find transition extremely difficult. Filled with uncertainty and worry, it takes an enormous amount of effort, especially when moving from place to place. Whenever I phone my family, usually rather panicked, during these times of change, my mom always tells me: “Well, you do like to know how things are going to turn out.” I do, but life is full of change, and you have to find a way to get comfortable when the earth trembles underneath and you slip a bit between the cracks. In my family, food is our middle ground. Cooking and eating together keeps us in check, even during the most difficult of times. Each time I’ve left home during these glorious early years of my twenties, I have scrambled to find the same ritual and comfort in the food I cook, or the people I share it with. However, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Cafeteria food was traumatizing. Now when I look back on my first year in Montreal living in residence, I can’t help but smile. But how I scoffed and scorned at the gummy lumps of pasta, cried over wilted salad, hung my head at the over-cooked broccoli, held my stomach and prayed it would stop aching between meals, hoarded the grocery stores for the foods I ate at home; I was searching for a common ground in this vibrant, windy city. I tried making muffins like dad did at home, but between mixing them in a sauce pan on top of my apartment fridge and carrying them around residence to and from the oven, it seemed like a lot of work for the tiny, hard, porous pucks I produced. For Thanksgiving, I shamelessly bought piecrust and pumpkin filling, added eggs and baked the thing. I brought the pie to a dinner I was invited to. Shocked by how much people loved it, I realized for the first time that it’s about sharing food as much as it is about the quality. A plain ole’ hot dog can go a long way when shared under the right circumstances. I was learning that if you cook, they’d come.

I tried this same approach when I moved in with Jean Simon after only three months of living together in the bush. I thought he was the one; it was a risk, and I took it. But I was so in love, it was hard to admit early on that it wasn’t working. He was starting his masters and had little time; I had too much time, working 15 hours a week at Petits Gateaux, a cupcake store on Mont Royal. To remedy the lack of communication and growing distance between us, I cooked good meals for us to eat together. This gave me enormous sense of purpose. He’d come home from school and lean over me at the stove. “Qu’est-ce que tu fais?” He’d ask. “I’m cooking up those moose steaks your parents gave us. There’s sweet potatoes in the oven and rice on the stove,” I’d reply. “Est-ce que tu vas faire une sauce pour la viande? As-tu la mariné? Ma mère fait ça.” I’d grit my teeth and mumble no, but maybe next time. Maybe I wasn’t cooking what he wanted to eat, but nothing seemed ever good enough. However, it was the bread that finally broke me. After Jean Simon left for school, I’d eat breakfast and then start to make bread. At home, I’d successfully made pizza dough, foccacia, sandwich bread, etc., but I couldn’t make it work in Montreal. The crumb was always too loose, or the bread undercooked, or the top burned. One day I opened the oven to see the bottom element sparking like a Halloween sparkler. The top of my bread was black. A burning smell filled the kitchen with a cloud of smoke. I took it out of the oven, unmolded it, and started crying over the uncooked (yet burned!) mass steaming steadily on the counter. Shortly after that, and several emotional phone calls home, I got on a plane.

When I arrived in the middle of January 2009, one year after leaving Jean Simon, the wind was howling, it was – 30 C, and I was very unsure of what I would do. I had a couple of classes to finish by distance at the University of Victoria, but I had no job lined up and a lot of time before my translation program started in the spring at McGill. However, I moved in with one of my best friends, Libby. She was in school full time, and I became, very naturally, the in-house chef. Another one of our friends was living with us, and I cooked time-consuming vegetarian casseroles for weekly sustenance from the Moosewood Cookbook. I made baked fish with an avocado, red pepper sauce, and rich, moist chocolate cake served with dark coffee rum; I made Stollen, a German holiday bread for Easter, peanut butter cookies for late night movies and more pancakes and muffins than the three of us could eat. When Libby left for Toronto in April, I was on my own. I’d already started to write a food blog and spent most of my free time thinking about what to make, how I’d photograph it and where I could find ingredients. My obsession with food fueled me through a time when I was scraping to build a foundation for myself. I had finally come back to Montreal with the right intentions: to discover what I had to give, and how I wanted to give it.

Returning home from the Christmas holidays this year was hard. The future of my career is uncertain, the length of my stay in Montreal is uncertain, finding a potential partner is uncertain. I left the warmth of my family, and the damp, rainy West coast, to arrive in a city blanketed by snow, again. But leaving Victoria has always been a way to meet the harsh beauty of life’s uncertainties that is softened and less obvious at home. Uncertainty is like sitting on a prickly cactus, and I will always be learning how to navigate the murky waters of ambiguity. I like to think cooking helps teach me this. Because, no matter how good our recipe is, we measure wrong, or we don’t read the directions, and we have to pull ourselves up out of the mess. Botched meals can usually be salvaged, even enjoyed in the right company, or you can just have omelets; they’re always delicious, anywhere you are.


  1. Moist chocolate cake served with dark coffee rum = yes please.

    Nice to hear from you - Happy New Year.
    Graham x

  2. Horray for omelets - dinner in half a minute!

  3. How to:

    Turducken: How do you get the inside to cook and the outside not to dry out? These are the questions that have confounded our best and brightest.

    Glad to see you are keeping the awesomeness at its natural level.

  4. well written buddy! and very parallel to my own feelings about coming and going over the years..

  5. I too was met by harsh temperatures and obscene snow. I am so glad that we have this place to retreat to.


  6. Jude.
    Not only is the writing beautiful but I feel like all of your confusion and questions swirled so hard that they finally feel into place. Not that they won't start swirling again, but it's good to have a place where everything makes sense.

    Love you lots, this rainy place is always rainier when you're not here

  7. Oh how I miss those Moosewood casseroles à la Jude!!

    Go get 'em pal!

    Love Al

  8. All of you! Thank you for your lovely comments.

    Graham: Nice to hear from you my friend. Wish you could've been there for the cake. I however consumed too much coffee rum and spent days recovering.

    Alix: Julia rules.

    Scott: Turducken eh? Sounds like an expensive experiment.... Would you care to fund it?

    Rosanne: It's all rooted in your purpose. You know, who we are as humans, what we're doing.

    Kelse: This place! Like warm smooth chocolate sauce and steaming cups of tea and soft scrambled eggs. Thanks for sharing it with me.

    Little Bit: Fleetwood Mac dance party. Date: July 1, when I arrive home from the east. By train!

    Al: Good of you to stop in. I'm gettin' 'em. Oh yeah. Me and the walls are eating well.

  9. Murph,
    love your writing.
    I find most of life to be uncertain. Figuring out what I want to be when I grow up has been a constant challenge that at times can lead to a kind of counterproductive self doubt.
    My remedy is to consistently strive to do and be good, and let the rest fall into place.

  10. Wow Jude! That is wonderful piece to read. Oh how I miss our meals in twisty Montreal.




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