“Bread and Water”
by dee Hobsbawn-Smith
Published by University of Regina Press
$26.95 ISBN 9-780889-778115
I know dee Hobsbawn-Smith as a multi-genre writer, chef, yogi, runner, mother and, yes, as a friend. She and husband Dave Margoshes hosted me for a reading at their ancestral rural home (The Dogpatch) near Saskatoon years ago, and when dee was touring a poetry collection on Vancouver Island, I welcomed her at my place. “I’ll cook for you,” she said, “using whatever you have in the house.”
I’m was embarrassed by my uninspired inventory, yet she whipped a brilliant meal together from my mundane larder. One doesn’t forget that. So yes, I know this dexterous writer, and expected a great read in her essay collection, Bread & Water. The text behind the gorgeously apropos cover photograph — a chunk of homemade bread and a glass of water—is wide-ranging, provocative, and, like that heel of bread, hearty. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d admire these lyrical essays which took me back to the Dogpatch, but also to Vancouver, Comox and the waters off Vancouver Island; to dee’s Calgary home, restaurants and the 2013 flood in that city; to Fernie; and to France, where the author trained to be a chef. (Her upbringing in an RCAF family — “part of a gypsy air force brood” — prepared her for frequent moves in adulthood.)
And yes, these essays concern food, food culture, the restaurant industry, locavorism, gardens, farmers markets, preserving and even the import of using appropriate knives, but I’d argue they give equal space to Hobsbawn-Smith’s observance of and appreciation for the wondrous natural world.
The Dogpatch and surrounding property deserve mention, as where we write influences the what and how. When Hobsbawn-Smith arrived from Alberta, leaving her career as a chef and food writer behind in favour of literary endeavours, she found “Every building and field [was] crammed with broken and corroding evidence of three generations.” She wondered: “How does a writer find what lies within when the roof leaks?” Yet when she looked out her window, she saw “The red sun rising. Three deer scudding across the south pasture through the hay bales” and “Chickadees, snug in their little black bonnets. Words that sort themselves into a resonant voice.”
The land flooded and a spontaneous lake appeared. She writes: “A large part of my enjoyment is the auditory experience of life beside a lake: the thrumming of frogs; the lilting melody of chickadees and meadowlarks; the hummingbirds’ whirring wings” and “the geese honking as they arrive and leave like metronomes each spring and fall; coyotes carolling each evening.”
Here’s wisdom: “Food and cooking are complicated snapshots of our culture.” The author demonstrates this. And praises spring vegetables: “Asparagus was hope made tangible, spears spun from fragile ferns and sunshine after winter’s absolutist mineral-fed root vegetables.” She “carried home a bunch of living watercress like a bouquet.”
“In cooking, we express our deepest feelings about the nature of the universe, our deepest faith and connection to all that is primal and irresistible.” I’ll tell you what’s irresistible — this delicious book.
This book is available at your local bookstore or from www.skbooks.com