Memories of Canadian Beef*

*Or, This Is Not a President’s Choice Product**

*Or, See How Much I Want to Attend Eat, Write, Retreat  ?

[Voilà--homemade, veggie-based "beef" jerky.  Well, it looks like beef. . . ]

The other day, I was bemoaning the fact that there are a bunch of cool  blogger conferences coming up this spring—none of which I’m attending. Then I noticed a tweet for five (five!) scholarships to the upcoming Eat, Write, Retreat event. I was about to kick up my heels and dance a little jig when I noticed that the scholarships were sponsored by Canadian Beef.

Oops.

Pouting, I fired off a twitter retort: “Too bad you have to eat meat to qualify.” 

Well, couldn’t you have just knocked me over with a steak knife when I spied the following response: “not necessarily. . . . . Would love to see your entry !:)” 

I quickly re-read the contest rules and discovered that I could still enter by writing about a memory of Canadian Beef. And really, who better to write about “memories of beef” than the daughter of a butcher, someone who ate beef virtually every day of her childhood and adolescence—and who now lives with a meat-eater? Why, none other than moi, of course!

I just couldn’t resist. So here’s my “Best Memories of Beef from My Childhood” entry.

Hoping to see y’all at Eat, Write, Retreat! ;)

* * * * * * * * * * * *  

[My dad and me, circa 2000, when he was 78.]

When I was a child, there was never any doubt about who was the boss in our family. With one disappointed glance, my father could cause my heart to ache for days. Conversely, he could also spark days of elation, my heart soaring, when I knew he was pleased with something I’d done. 

More than anything, my father was defined by the work he did. He spent six days a week at his little butcher shop on Jean Talon West in the Park Extension area of Montreal, leaving for the store long before we children even woke for school and returning after the rest of the family had finished our dinners. On the odd morning when I couldn’t sleep and the clinking of his coffee mug drew me in the direction of the kitchen, I’d stumble onto a scene of my dad, his windbreaker already zipped up, hunched over the kitchen table sipping his tea and snapping at his toast before he grabbed the lunch bag my mother had prepared and rushed out the door. 

On Thursdays and Fridays, when the store was open until 8:00 PM, my younger sister and I were often already in bed when he finally returned home.  The other nights, he’d arrive between 6:30 and 8:00 PM, his pant legs smeared with dried blood and the smell of sweat on his shirt, sawdust still clinging to his shoes. He’d go straight to the kitchen table, where my mother dished out the remnants of whatever we’d already eaten for dinner—a dried-up hamburger, veal chops, salmon patties and “potato boats,” or, if his stomach were acting up (as it often did when he felt stress), a bowl of rice and warm milk with honey.

I began to resent that my father never seemed to have much time for us kids when he was home. I learned at a young age that if I wanted to interact with him any day but Sunday, I had to see him at work. Since his store was en route between our house in St. Laurent and the Jean Talon Metro (in those days, the gateway to downtown shopping), my best friends Gemini I, Gemini II and I often dropped in at dad’s store on the way home after a day spent browsing at Simpsons, Eatons, and Ogilvie’s.  As eleven or twelve year-olds in those days, the hour-long bus and subway ride was a huge adventure, one our parents allowed without any 21st-Century angst, and a short pit stop at the butcher shop made the trip even more palatable in our minds.

[Jerky in the making: about halfway there.]

As soon as we pushed open the heavy glass door and the bell suspended above it announced our arrival, my father would stop what he was doing, wipe his palms on his apron and point in my direction.  “Ah, it’s Rick!” he’d declare, like an emcee calling out the team captain skating onto the ice at the Forum.  Then he began to crow.  He would boast to whomever was around—Mrs. Lubov (one of the rich customers) as she placed her weekend order; or Vasili, the owner of the Greek bakery down the way; or Joe, the hobo who always seemed to be sitting on the plastic stool in the corner no matter the day or time, as if he were a permanent store mascot in the window. “This is my middle daughter,” my father would say, “she’s going to be a Professor.” The customers nodded and smiled, the way parents do when their three year-old proffers an imaginary teacup. 

Within seconds, my friends and I were ushered to the back of the store behind the counter, between the freezer and wooden cutting block where the floor was cushioned with sawdust to absorb drips, grease and bloodstains from the meat. We knew the drill: we sat quietly on the old kitchen chairs against the wall until the store emptied out, whether it took 5, 10 or 25 minutes for my father to finish up with any customers who were waiting. Then he turned his attention to us.

“Okay, so what do you want to eat?” he’d ask with audible delight, as our eyes lit up with anticipation. He’d grab two Kaiser rolls from under the counter. Gemini I always asked for something unassuming like sliced turkey, but I’d go for my favorite, Montreal Smoked meat (made from Canadian Beef, of course). My father would slice the hunk of preternaturally pink flesh, its outside sheathed in a coating of slick black peppercorns softened by the smoking process, the thin sheets sliding out from beneath the swirling blade and onto his outstretched palm. With the rhythm of a dancer, he’d turn his hand over and slap each slice onto the open roll until he’d achieved a pile almost as thick as one of my school textbooks.  Then he’d march into the freezer and pull out the jar of mustard he kept there for his own lunches, smear the meat with the yellow topping, and replace the rest of the roll over it. 

[My dad on his 89th birthday, last year.]

The sandwiches were always too big for our gaping mouths no matter how wide we tried to open them, so we’d withdraw a few slices and eat them plain before turning back to the rest of the meal.  When we were done, if we were still hungry (and even if we weren’t), my father would treat each of us to a piece of karnatzel, the long, cigar-shaped, spicy salami that hung suspended from hooks above the meat counter, drying out in the air and sweating drops of pink-tinged oil on the ground beneath them.  With one snap of the thin log, we were each handed a hunk of the stuff to savor for another few minutes. The meat was crunchy, chewy and spicy, and I loved it back then.

With thanks and a pat on the back of the head, we headed out to the bus and the long ride home.

What I didn’t realize in those days, of course, was that my father’s absence at home grew from his desire to provide for his family, and in the store, he was expressing his love for me in the only way he knew how—by giving me food, the spoils of his labor.  When I arrived for my occasional visits at the shop, I offered him the chance not only to show me off to his customers, but also to show me how he spent his days making a living. 

Even though I don’t eat meat any more, I miss the times when I could drop in on my dad and observe him in his element; where he felt confident, efficient, capable and strong.  These days, he struggles to regain his former vigor as his body ages even while his mind remains sharp and vibrant.  I watch my elderly dad slowly shuffling across the hallway from bedroom to kitchen, where he hunches over the same kitchen table of my childhood, slowly cutting his dinner into small, manageable pieces. 

These days, beef is scarce on his own plate, too.  But the memories of those idyllic afternoons in the shop, when my father was still the boss of our house and king of the butcher shop, will forever remain in my heart. And with that memory, it still soars. 

[Wouldn't you just love a bite?] 

** For all you non-Ontario residents out there, the popular President’s Choice brand offers a line of sauces called “Memories Of. . . “

Last Year at this Time: Audacious Celebrity Stalking, Free Cookbooks, and Truffles

Two Years Ago: Anti-Candida Breakfasts: What Do You Eat?

Three Years Ago: How I Spent My Spring Vacation

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Comments

  1. What lovely memories- even if they spring from beef!

    “What I didn’t realize in those days, of course, was that my father’s absence at home grew from his desire to provide for his family.”

    This is something which really struck me. I think I resented that my Dad wasn’t home a lot with us much but lately I’ve realized, like you, that this wasn’t down to a lack of love, in fact the very opposite, and he was simply showing his affection in a different way, by working hard to give us the best life possible.

    Thank you,
    And looks like another brilliant recipe!
    I meant to let you know I made your delicious quinoa, chickpea, olive, prune tagine a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it.

    • Thanks so much, Emma. I think there are far too many dads out there who choose work over time with family, sadly. And glad you like the “jerky”–and the tagine! :)

  2. This is so beautiful. What lovely memories.

    I had to wipe away a tear, thank you for sharing :)

  3. A lovely post Ricki. Thank you for sharing a great story of love and family – and another creative, healthy recipe.

    They need you at Eat, Write, Retreat.

  4. A touching story, Ricki. It made me smile to read about your life in Montreal. Your description of your relationship with your father warmed my heart, even though–I confess–I had to skip over some of the details about the butcher shop. I give you kudos and express my appreciation for your acknowledgement of the fact that being vegan doesn’t mean rejecting the comfort and good memories associated with our meat-related pasts. Thank you for sharing this story. Hugs!

    • Thanks, Christina. I do apologize about the imagery–but those memories are very strongly imprinted on my memory. Meat was a HUGE part of my childhood. It’s funny because it holds absolutely no interest for me now (and, strangely, my dad even tells me that he hardly ever eats it any more). It’s a very different head space, though, to think about those memories–as a kid, I was totally unaware and open to what I was eating, so what I remember about those meals is really mostly positive.

  5. what a beautiful post Ricki. Dads are awesome. This makes me want to go give my dad a big hug… :)

  6. This is a beautiful memory, Ricki. Good luck with the scholarship! I hope you get to go to the conference :)

  7. lovely photos – you look like your dad – and what wonderful memories – I hope he gets to read this post. Though I don’t eat meat, your story of his butchers shop makes me sad that such small businesses are being replaced by the large supermarkets – little stores like his had so much soul.

    • Thanks, Johanna. Interestingly, most people say I look more like my mom! And I agree about small biz vs. big supermarket–his store really did have its own ambience and personality.

  8. Fingers crossed!! This is so, so inventive, I really can’t imagine they wouldn’t award you a scholarship! And thank you for sharing the wonderful memories :)

    • Hannah, thanks, but the scholarships are awarded by random draw, not based on the content of the entries (darn!). I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, too, though. :)

  9. What a beautiful memory and picture of you and your Dad. It made me quite nostalgic for my own. My Dad worked in aviation and had a complete metal and woodworking shop in our garage. One of his four workbench tops was given over to my chemistry set. We spent a lot of hours there.

    Good luck on your entry!

    • Your dad sounds like a gem, Gretchen, and what great memories you must have of time spent with him in the workshop! And thanks so much for the good wishes. :)

  10. Outstanding, Ricki! This one’s a winner to me. I can’t imagine a more compelling essay. I love the photos, especially the one of you and your dad. Butchers are such hard workers and keep such long hours. What a treat it was for you and your friends to have that time with your dad in his shop. Although this vegan jerky sounds and looks pretty good, too. :-) It’s not soy free if you use the Bragg’s aminos, tamari, or soy sauce, right? I’m thinking the coconut aminos would work though. Now you know if you win and get to go to EWR, I may have to change my plans and attend because I want to meet you soooo much. You should have added that note to your essay. “x number of additional people will be attending EWR just to meet me if I win!” ;-) But, seriously. Off to refresh my memory on the dates.

    xoxo,
    Shirley

    • Thanks, Shirley. :) My dad really did work long hours, mostly because I think the shop was pretty small and the income very modest. And thanks for pointing out my error re: soy–for some reason, Bragg’s never registers in my mind as soy! Corrected now. ;)

      You are one of the people I’d love to meet, too–hoping we will cross paths ONE day at one of the upcoming events!! I keep hoping for one in Toronto. . .

  11. What a lovely post, Ricki! I know you and I were conversing about beef jerky a while back. So glad to see you’ve made a version you can enjoy again! It sounds really delightful. I think I should try!

  12. What beautiful memories! Thank you for sharing. :)

  13. wow, i’m so intrigued. can i try a piece? :)

  14. Ricki what a timely and beautiful post. I loved reading it. This recipe looks pretty darn tasty too. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Good luck! xo

  15. I was really touched by your essay, Ricki. It’s interesting how perspective changes our view of events — even fatherly love. It seems your father was proud of you, and proud of his livelihood. I wish him well with his current health challenges.

    • Thanks so much, Andrea. He’s coming along well, apparently, but I guess after being used to almost 90 years of perfect health, even a little setback is a bit of a shock!

  16. Your old friend says:

    Wow, another brilliantly written piece….
    Although I never had the privilege of accompanying you on these amazing adventures,
    I could visualize them completely, and even taste the delicious flavors from your thorough
    description.

    He was right, he knew that you were going to be a professor–in so many different ways!
    I take off my hat to you, my dear friend! You are the best!

    Continue to take care of each other!

    xxxooo

  17. i was completely expecting this to go into a dehydrator! can’t quite wrap my mind around how this will take on the texture of jerky, but willing to give it a shot! :) saving this until i’m feeling brave. lol

  18. What wonderful memories about your dad. :) I hope you won one of the scholarships!! They jerky looks really good too of course.

  19. How incredibly creative of you Ricki!! You’re sure to win a scholarship with your recipe, history and story. Best of luck!

  20. This looks so interesting! I have pinned it to try!

  21. Great story! Great recipe! I had a question though… In the description you say once it’s dehydrated they keep for a long time but at the end of the recipe you say will stay up to 3 days in fridge. Which is it? I want to take these delicious looking bad boys on a camping trip with me but won’t have a fridge and may need them to last longer than 3 days.

    • Thanks so much, Sarah! :) I should revise that description, because it depends on whether you dehydrate them all the way to chewiness without being moist inside. If they are truly dehydrated, they’ll keep on the counter (room temp) at least a week. But I found that some of the ones that were still really moist and soft inside needed to be refrigerated or they began to spoil (ie, go moldy). So if you dehydrate the heck out of them (the way you would fruit leather), you should be fine! Let me know how they turn out for you! :)

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