The Secret Ingredient

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist Karen Haviland mines the rich memories of childhood for a compelling topic

Is it just me, or does it seem like every second post on Facebook is a recipe?

Don’t get me wrong, I love every aspect of food, from eating it, to reading cookbooks from front to back as if they were enticing novels.

But when one is fighting the epic Battle of the Bulge, it is an upward struggle, fueled by fantasies of consuming as much of whatever I want, whenever I want it, without gaining a single ounce. Yeah, dream on!

I’ve always loved food; in fact, one of my earliest and fondest childhood memories involves food.

The very first and fondest food memory was that of eating pancakes at my nanny’s home on Sunday mornings. Actually, it was more like mid-morning because we first had to attend church before we went back to nanny’s for pancakes.

Not that it matters, but I lived in Kitimat at the time and I can clearly remember being instructed to sit quietly at her overstuffed couch, then known as a chesterfield, complete with daintily crocheted doilies laying prettily on the armrests.

Do you know how hard it is for a three or four year-old child to sit quietly?

Mind you, we had been advised well in advance, and in fear of our lives, that we five children were not to speak unless we were spoken to first, and we must, no matter what, trot out all the manners we had been taught in our few short years. We knew what disobeying meant for us, and so we sat in our grandparents’ home, eerily quiet and eagerly anticipating those melt-in-your-mouth pancakes of which we dreamed about all week long.

The pancake meal was like most of the prior morning, eaten in silence which was only broken by the sound of hungry children happily shoveling pancakes into their mouths at an alarming rate, and for the occasional, “Please pass the syrup.”

Despite the enforced silence and the rigid rules, I still find that memory somewhat warm and comforting, except that nowadays I much prefer the more delicate crepe than a fluffy pancake.

The second food memory occurred when I must have been about seven-years-old. We had a live-in housekeeper then.

Mom worked outside the home and while they couldn’t afford to hire a housekeeper, they could afford to offer a home and a bit of cash to a downtrodden woman and (usually) her child to help care for us rambunctious five.

I think the housekeeper’s name was Grace. She and her young daughter, Brenda, came to us from the Salvation Army and I remember being in awe of the stern outfit and hat she wore everyday without fail. It was a wonderful time with Grace. She was kind, considerate and loving to all of us.

For the first time ever, since we had a housekeeper and since the school was close to home, I was allowed to come home for lunch.

In my young eyes, the food set before us was a feast. In reality, it was nothing more than tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But, you see, the magic in that lunch was that it was the first time I could do what many other children could do, and that was go home for a meal to a loving adult who had carefully prepared our lunch.

It makes me realize that most times it doesn’t actually matter what is on your table, whether it be mouthwatering steak or a simply prepared grilled cheese sandwich.

Food is about the secret ingredient, the love that is offered each and every time someone who cares about you sets it before you.

And maybe, that is what my Facebook friends are doing in a roundabout way, merely offering their love through the use of social media.