May all your joys be pure joys,
And all your pain champagne.
A New Year’s toast, from a card Ange gave me years ago.. I love it. Then again, I am partial to champagne. And joy. Joy and Champagne, Champagne and Joy, they go together.
On a more serious note is the following quote, a long lost one that I had been meaning to dig up since Thanksgiving.. still appropriate months later - timeless in fact. I figure that before we get to looking ahead, hoping and wishing, and making new year’s resolutions, or soon enough caught up in the business of life in 2009, we might as well hold on to a minute of holiday cheer to be thankful.
‘If the only prayer you ever say is Thank you, that will be enough’.
1260-1328 (Meister Johann Eckhart)*
It’s a good thing to remember all year don’t you think? A noble new year’s resolution of sorts on its own.
So yes, I start this year off feeling thankful. Even as the abundance of fresh and local ingredients has dwindled to nothing, I am thankful I still have so much to work with. Even as business slows, and the phone isn’t ringing off the wall, the reservation book so easy to navigate for a change, I feel thankful. Not only for days off like a normal person, but for all the food we put up, for the staff we’ve held on to, for all my friends and family, for the small, flexible nature of our business, for our simple life in the country, for nature’s beauty and bounty. Each season brings a different backdrop, a new playground and a breathtaking view; now with the river iced up and the trees snow laden, another spectrum of sights and smells is there to envelope and inspire us.
Even in the dead of winter, it seems easy here to keep plugging along, there's time to catch up and test out some tricks. Customers seem more joyous than ever. Cooking feels especially good in the winter somehow, so much more about hearth and restoration than ingredients, more primal, urgent and gratifying in the cold, with the hefty appetites, only the die-hards showing up - who knows, can't put my finger on it exactly.. I guess there are the slow braises, the welcome warmth of the stove and the steaming pots. I relish the alone time in the kitchen, the brainstorming, the puttsing -such luxury, and on the flipside, how clean my hands get doing my own dishes..
I just feel thankful for what we have, and that I can still do what I do. And I am optimistic that people will forever be looking for something fine to eat, for an occasional walk on the wild side.. If not, I’ve got a list of rainy day projects to attack, François has a lot of cross country skiing to do. No, I’m not worried about us, but I do worry, mainly about all the worrying knats polluting the atmosphere.
I despise all the naysayers, the rampant predictions I keep hearing about how many restaurants will bite the dust in 2009 - Shut up already. No doubt, some will fall, there are already too many restaurants in Montreal for the market, but these are hard-working people losing their shirts, shirts that are already worn thin. And there will be no bail out packages here. It makes me sad. But at the same time, I have faith in cooks and restaurant people in the long haul; we are a resilient type, we can deal with some rough times. And we generally don’t have a ton of stocks and bonds and savings to lose, just another job to find at worst. There is always honest work to be found, some niche to carve out for the determined ones that want it.
Nonetheless, I do hope that this economic doom and gloom doesn’t get the best of us as a whole. My tour of the annual ‘best of 2008’ and ‘top trends & predictions for 2009’ type foodie lists turned out to be less amusing and more depressing than usual, likely because the word ‘frugal’ came up far too often. Although I am hardly extravagant, I embrace ‘smart’ and ‘sensible’ and many ‘frugal’ type activities like home cooking, recycling and sustainable agriculture, I hate ‘frugal’. There is no fun in ‘frugal’. Certainly many of us, no matter how fortunate we are, will have to buckle down to some degree, at best less champagne or prime rib or shoes, at worst, real stress in providing basic needs .. Still, I wish the media would stop screaming wolf, telling us we should freeze and be frugal, that we should stop going out and eating good food and doing anything remotely frivolous or fun.
Pull out the crock pot and buy vegetables instead of TV dinners - yes, stop hanging out at the mall –yes.. But worry-worry, fret-fret, hibernate and forget about the lamb chop or the artisanal cheese, don’t dare smile in face of the monster around the corner –no way! Give me 100g of Tomme des Demoiselles – yes , a kg of Kraft Cheddar - no. Take me out to a fine restaurant once please, instead of 5 dinners at Cockadoodledoo Mega Chicken Chain, you know the one on every other corner. We can figure out what fat we can trim all by ourselves, and I know there is plenty there, but it’s largely not on the plate anyway. We spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than any country in the world. There are lots of ways to survive and even have a little fun, no need to panic.
We can buy less crap for one. Maybe we’ll even be forced to work less or for less, and consume less all around. I see that as a good thing, a chance to slow down, to reassess, to gain perspective, to value what we do have and can purchase, to appreciate a treat for a treat, to find joy in the simple things. We can always spend our money better, no matter how little we have. As the economy slows and businesses collapse, I am cheering for the good guys to survive - the small, unique, ingenious, authentic and earnest entrepreneurs, over the big, soulless, corporate purveyors of marketing imposed disposable junk. Quality over quantity. Less can be more. In times like this, when there is less than ever to go around, it seems even more important to vote with your dollar.
I’ve never been one to live in fear. I will always be a Babette, willing to spend my life’s savings on people, a good meal and a good time, for better or for worse. I might lose sleep over a lot of things in 2009, but I vow that the economy will not be one of them.
Whatever lies ahead for you, if and when you’re trimming the fat, don’t forget that fat makes us smile, fat keeps us warm in winter, that there is such a thing as good fat. A little fat goes along way, carries a lot of flavour and makes other fancy flourishes secondary.
Here’s to fat and champagne (Cava will do) and refusing to be afraid of the future,
Here’s to 2009!
*I need to double check this source; for some reason, I always thought it was Voltaire.. Regardless of the source, the message is a universal good one. I seem to remember it being tied to God and religion (or the lack thereof in the debate), which makes it even more meaningful and powerful, transcending all beliefs, a human crux.