Thursday, October 27, 2011

Becoming a Quebecoise Cook

It's not that Quebec is different than any other region of say, North America, or anywhere for that matter.  There are these simple, traditional dishes that you can find almost everywhere, but in each region they are done just a little bit different.  For that matter, each household diverges from the "standard" recipe as well.  When I first moved to Quebec, I spent a lot of fruitless time looking for familiar ingredients to make meals I particularly liked from the southwest region of the U.S.  Some of those ingredients are here, but let's face it, Quebecois are about as likely to regularly cook Mexican food as a country village in China.  My mistake was in holding too tightly to my food memories.

I did manage to make the things I loved, but many had to be altered.  For instance, I cannot find soft taco shells made from corn (or Masa Harina) here.  They are all flour based.  So I bought Masa Harina and thought, I'll just make my own.  Oh how I laugh now.  Not only did I have a dickens of a time just getting the dough right, pounding out and flattening and then pre-frying each one before even being able to fry them up for the actual meal proved far too intensive.  My stomach wasn't that picky.  So I switched to flour and though I still think corn tortillas are the best, I'd rather have my tacos than be prissy.

I think the transitive day as a cook living here for me was the aha moment of realizing there were so many wonderful dishes here that would be categorized as comfort food at its finest, and I could get the recipes with one phone call.  Duh.  Shepherd's pie in the states, in my opinion holds no candle to Pâté Chinois. Roast beef? Huh uh. Try Bouilli aux Legumes.  Sloppy Joes?  Nope.  Pain a la Viande.  It's not that they are fancier.  On the contrary, many are far simpler.  But all sorts of things make them so good.  Pâté Chinois for example is supposed to be made in a very particular order (as taught to me by my Mother in Law - who incidentally taught me all of these recipes, so they are bent to the particular household I have connection with of course.)  Bouilli aux Legumes is all about the right vegetables, the browning of the meat, deglazing with dark red wine and the specific herbs used.  I could go on and on and on.

Then of course there are the dishes that are just French.  You haven't tasted love till you've had a great bowl of Boeuf Bourgignon or big slice of Tourtiere.  I'm starting to salivate, excuse me.

I used to love to try all sorts of exotic dishes.  Lately, I'm in my "Aliment-reconfort" phase.  Bring on the butter, the mashed potatoes and gravy and don't forget the wine!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

School with a Learning Disability

School has been in full sway for two months.  We are finally finding our rhythm about homework.  Our daughter who has the learning disability (dysphasia) has struggled tremendously.  We were not able to get her into the special school for her disability due to a lack of space and her young age.  Therefore we (the school and my husband and I) decided to graduate her up to first grade this year even though we knew it would be difficult for her.  We couldn't justify keeping her in maternelle/kindergarten because she is perfectly mature for her age.  We believed that would have been even more discouraging, seeing her twin brother move forward and so forth.

The first two weeks of school were filled with a lot of tears.  Every morning, every evening, "I don't want to go to school."  This was a total turn around from last year.  Even though most of the time she didn't understand what was going on in her class, she loved school and wanted to participate.  But first grade is more academic than kindergarten and she is more self-aware.  Imagine that you are in a class and you cannot understand the teacher, the other people around you and you cannot express yourself to even let them know this.  Now remember being a child and the inherent cruelty of teasing that every kid seems to possess no matter how nice they are.  Yeah, that's a scary, dark place to be in.

So I met with the school and we decided that finishing all of her homework is not necessary (thank god because it was taking us about an hour and a half a night - that is definitely not encouraging to anyone at the age of 6, and who has been struggling all day all ready).  That the most important goal right now is to keep her engaged and happy at school.  The lucky girl has a team of eight people working with her:  my husband and I, her teacher, a learning technician, a speech therapist, a school psychologist, the principal, and a student who has been paired with her to help her understand what is going on in class and to help her socialize more with the other kids.  Sometimes I marvel at the beauty of people, especially in the teaching profession.  As if their jobs weren't hard enough, they go out of their way to spend extra time helping children like my daughter.  I am wholeheartedly grateful.