In that delightful 1968 movie by the same name, Oliver Twist and his perpetually hungry workhouse friends sing rapturously about all those glorious meals they were enjoying, albeit only in their imagination. The boys’ daily fare was a more mundane serving of porridge. Over my many decades of mealtimes, I have experienced a much more nuanced relationship with food. Unlike those who live mostly to eat— “When I am sad, I go to my happy place, the fridge.” (The Do It Program-google) I eat mostly in order to live. But I hasten to add that I do enjoy some food groups.
Tomorrow is National Waffle Day in the USA, a festive occasion to celebrate the invention of the waffle iron in 1869—and blissfully consume waffles. (Our American neighbours certainly deserve to celebrate something sweet for a change.) My own waffle memories take me back to boyhood and the annual late-August opening of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. As I once again imagine strolling the crowded, cacophonous midway, I can easily resurrect the fragrance of its popular Belgian-style treat— a waffle sandwich with a generous slab of vanilla ice cream in the middle. Its seductive smell always competed with cotton candy for my nasal attention.
Other happy childhood meal memories include eagerly consuming Aunt Mae’s sliced fresh beet sandwiches with white bread and mayonnaise while on the summer ferry to Centre Island. Perhaps not the most nutritionally balanced lunch was my favorite brown sugar and butter sandwich on school days or the huge slab of September watermelon sprinkled with salt. Velveeta Cheese on toast was another go-to luncheon standby. Campbell’s soothing tomato soup was administered as a reliable panacea for whatever stomach ailments I might complain about.
My grandmother Mamie lived next door with her second husband, whom we called Uncle Joe. Reflecting his British roots, Joe was a diehard monarchist. His tiny bungalow was cluttered with china cups and saucers with painted images of the Royal Family. I did feel a bit cheekily irreverent one day when I was invited for a meal and found myself staring down at Her Majesty’s serene, regal visage on my plate, soon to be covered in roast beef and gravy.
In contrast to these pleasant gastronomical memories was the ongoing showdown between my stubborn nature and my mother’s Scottish mince. Too often she would create this admittedly nourishing family supper, based on her own mother’s Glaswegian recipe—boiled and mashed potatoes, grey-coloured ground beef over-boiled in water, boiled carrots and onions, all thrown together into a kind of stew. Dinner time soon stretched into two or even three hours as I refused to consume what was on my plate.
“You are not excused from the table I until you finish your mince. I worked hard to make this good food.” She speaks to my better nature.
“Then I will sit here all night and be too tired to go to school tomorrow!” I am now pouting.
“Many children in China are starving and you are simply being very ungrateful.” She is now appealing to my conscience.
“Fine, then they can have my mince.” I am watching the liquidy grease starting to congeal.
“Go to your room with no dessert!” She is growing tired of our prolonged standoff.
At next day’s dinner time, if my worst nightmare came true, that warmed-over stew would be waiting to greet me with a beefy smirk. A few years later, my adolescent dream of joining the Metro Toronto Police Force was shattered. The Scots-born recruiting sergeant judged me as being too thin. I could almost hear him muttering under his breath: “The laddie just needs more good mince to fatten him up.”
My body eventually grew into adulthood but my attitude toward food remained very immaturely selective. More caloric confessions next time but now I must prepare for National Waffle Day. If only the good old CNE were open this year.