Step right up and be the first on your block to read this

As a follow-up to my last diatribe on the called-for Food Gestapo I go back to my suggestion that if folks would actually sit down to a family meal on a regular basis our eating habits would improve vastly and junk-food related medical conditions would abate.

In that context I include as follows an excerpt on family meals from my recently completed (this morning) and still unpublished (see ‘this morning’) manuscript concerning my childhood and youth in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

I include this for two reasons 1) because it’s mine and so I can, and I want it to gain exposure so my words get comfortable in a public purview and 2) because it offers some insights on how different mealtime was when I was growing up. And we weren’t much different from any family of the era. So, I hope you enjoy.

Meals in the family home were basic in nature. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of money in most households of the day, but even so, there was even less inventiveness or sense-of-adventure. Meatloaf, sausages and mashed potatoes, repellent canned peas, pork chops, macaroni-and-cheese (which was served far too often, leaving me disliking it to this day), and then the big Sunday roast. Sometimes beef, but more usually pork or lamb because they were cheaper. Maybe a chicken on rare occasions and, for some odd reason, chicken was considered almost a gourmet treat.

I’ll give my mother credit in matters culinary. In the first place she was a good cook and secondly she honestly tried to educate our reluctant palates to dishes she’d either heard about, or had found in Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s or Family Circle, and she would attempt to foist the concoctions on her wary family, only to be greeted with:

“What’s this stuff?”

“It’s called Beef Stroganoff.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You haven’t even tried it.”

“I still know I don’t like it. It looks like dog-food and smells like puke.”

At which point my ultra-sensitive mother would often flee the room in tears, leaving the rest of us feeling like rats, but still disinclined to eat the stroganoff.  As an aside, I thoroughly enjoy stroganoff today, along with many others of her ‘experimental’ dishes like the aforementioned lasagne, or even boeuf bourguignon, which struck me as being suspiciously reminiscent of plain old beef stew.

We didn’t dine out much when I was a kid. We certainly never went to fancy restaurants and Burnaby did not offer a proliferation of dining options in those days. There were some basic places, a couple of Chinese joints (too foreign for Dad), and our mainstay. This was a place on Edmonds near Kingsway called Rob Roy. I doubt if there was a Scottish connection, somehow.

Anyway, I recall their slogan was “Coffee till the pot runs dry.” Not much of an enticement for me, since I didn’t consume coffee at that age. Anyway, if we were to go out en famille, it was generally to Rob Roy for some fare like the aforementioned meatloaf, porkchops, or maybe a ‘hot roast beef sandwich’ on white bread, smeared with gloppy cornstarch thickened gravy. Never a hamburger.

For some reason we never went for burgers when I was a kid. I didn’t even have my first one until I was about eight and was out with an aunt and uncle of youthful, bon vivant tastes.



7 responses to “Step right up and be the first on your block to read this

  1. I actually remember seeing the Rob Roy, but we never went there. My family occasionally went for take-out hamburgers at Harvey’s on Kingsway at about Earls, or Lion’s on Victoria Drive. This was obviously pre-McDonald’s. We used to order Chinese from the Dragon Inn on Kingsway at Willingdon, usually on a Saturday night to accompany “Hockey Night in Canada”. Once in a while we’d go down to Chinatown to the Marco Polo buffet – but never late enough to see the floor show, much to my pre-adolescent chagrin. (Ha! Like I even knew what a floor show WAS at ten years old!) Other than that, it was meat and potatoes, or else potatoes and meat. And homemade perogies. Lots of perogies and other Ukrainian dishes that were “boring” because we had them all the time, but to my friends, were as exotic as the pizza that their families ordered in sometimes. I never even tasted pizza till my mid-teens, and then it was Me ‘n’ Ed’s all the way!

  2. Chicken was for Easter and Christmas…out of this world expensive…and those that were raised on the farm were Grandmother’s pin money, so they went to market, not to us!
    Father had served in various odd places in his career and was fascinated by food and he would try to recreate things he had eaten abroad with post war U.K. ingredients, so we would eat while he explained that if only he had got a, or b or c the dish would have tasted as it did when he first tried it…..
    We only seemed to go out to eat when on holiday in Scotland and I still remember those high teas!

    Mr. Fly still rejoices in one of his mother’s recipes….onion diced and cooked in butter till soft, then chopped tomato added and stewed down, a little thyme added and then eggs beaten and poured over to cook like scrambled eggs.
    As a child, his mother served this and he said to his little sister..
    ‘Look, it’s ‘sick’ on a plate.’
    She howled and fled the room and I’m never quite sure whether it is the excellence of the recipe or the fond memory of upsetting his sister that sees it on our breakfast table so often…

  3. Although that was my stomping ground, I don’t recall the Rob Roy! Special outings were to the Dragon Inn on Kingsway. Loved that big neon dragon. Really special was dinner at the Bavarian Haus on 6th Street in New West. Yes, it’s still there.
    Childhood meals? There was always food. Milk with dinner. We mostly ate together. Mom did all her grocery shopping at Woodwards Food Floor in New West.

  4. Sonya: I’m sure the Rob Roy is long since gone, but I do remember the Dragon Inn and its neon. And yes, family shopping was always at New West Woodward’s on Friday evening. Remember the donut machine?
    Pinklea: Oh good, somebody else remembers the Rob Roy. Maybe we should have a Rob Roy alumni reunion. And you got perogies. Lucky you. I still love ’em. I had a Ukrainian friend in jr hi and we used to have perogies at this house.
    Fly: your ‘sick on a plate’ actually sounds quite good. Sounds better than ‘huevos rancheros’ which I have never developed a liking for.

  5. Oddly enough, macaroni and cheese was considered a special treat in my house. My mother was a good cook and made healthy meals, but raaaaarely anything more complicated than put in/on hot pot/pan, cook and serve. As a result I’m still crazy about it to this day.

  6. We had roast chicken all the time on Sundays. As for restaurants, there was a place we went once in a long long while called the Wagon Wheel. It had pictures of covered wagons on the walls as well as pseudo wagon wheels. This was in Nova Scotia mind you…

    Thankfully things have evolved – we went out for tapas last night for dinner.

  7. My family went to rather elegant restaurants in Manhattan from our home in the suburbs, and at four I ate my first lobster while several waiters ringed our table, watching. I think I finished my older brother’s, too. We went to Lindy’s for cheesecake and bought candy apples along Broadway after seeing shows which were called “musical comedies” in those days. But one memory that stands out is a meal at the local Chinese restaurant where my father demanded bread with his chow mein. The poor waiters scurried to a nearby market to buy him some, and even at 6 or 7, I was embarrassed to be in the party.

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