The Griswolds eat grunt
If you were to ask my son Liam his favourite part of our Ontario vacation last week, he would probably say, “The grunt.”
Certainly there were other culinary highlights during our week-long RV excursion. There was the evening of hot dogs roasted on coat hangers at Santa’s Village. (We thought it was WallyWorld!) And then there were the frozen pizzas, chicken wings and the bags and bags of chips we consumed, with equally healthy dips.
But there we were, our first night on the road, fully prepared to plug-in for some authentic camping - with a microwave, of course - when we found ourselves in a quaint fishing village by Georgian Bay, at the doorstep of the Little Britt Inn, owned by Jordan’s cousin, and equally coincidental, written up in this year’s Where to Eat in Canada. Jim and his wife Teri, the chef, twisted our arms until we agreed to stay in one of their beautiful suites and then have dinner in their rustically funky dining room.
The meal was masterful; that’s the best way I can describe it. We shared a perfect Caesar salad and trout cakes to start. Both boys had venison for their first time, and became instant fans. The locally ranched elk filets were served on a bed of wilted greens over a crisp potato rosti. The boys may never be able to eat french fries again!
I was in heaven when I saw all the local freshwater fish on the menu. While I do enjoy ocean fish, there is something about a pan-fried fillet of pickerel that is so sweet and “laky” - is that a word? - that I could easily give up my favourite halibut for good.
It was surprising that any of us had room for dessert, but who could resist a grunt made with freshly picked wild blueberries. The boys were somewhat sceptical at first. “What the heck is a grunt?” they wanted to know. Frankly, at that moment I didn’t have a clue. I think I made something up that will probably mess them up for life, like the time my Dad told me men grow moustaches to sweep the crumbs off their toast. The grunt was divine, and despite the fact that I still couldn’t tell you the difference between a grunt and a cobbler (some say that a grunt should be stewed while a cobbler is baked) we definitely gave it grunts of satisfaction.
The next morning, back to life on the road, we drove through cottage country, where the boat houses are larger than many people’s homes. Every lake offered scenes straight off the covers of architectural magazines, and every dock had its compulsory array of multi-coloured Muskoka chairs. This is also an area where transients like us are obviously discouraged. There was not a picnic area anywhere. We had to drive further south to tourist country, home of the chip wagon, Santa’s Village, and tacky souvenir shops to finally stop for lunch.
My family reunion (the reason for this trip) was a blast, much like a bomb explosion. Having a few Maloneys in one spot is loud; 35 can cause permanent hearing loss. My youngest brother, who had volunteered his home for the affair, probably made a killing in bottle refunds. My sister did her water-balloons-in-the-bra thing again, a great Maloney tradition. We laughed until it hurt.
Our sons became reacquainted with first, second, and even some “removed” cousins. They discovered that people over the age of 60 can be just as much fun as those under 20. They even finagled two nights in Toronto with some cousins. I was worried that they wouldn’t make our flight home, but they did and are now helplessly in love with the city. There might be some hope for those boys yet.
On our own now, Jordan and I drove to the area on the Trent River where my mother grew up and where I spent almost every summer from the time I was born until I was in my 20s. At my aunt and uncle’s asparagus farm we were “forced” to stay for dinner, and then a cousin offered us use of his cottage which is next door to the same cottage I had spent so many summers. We opted to stay in the camper, but did accept the offer of the shower and power hook-up.
That evening, Jordan and I sipped cocktails, watching the sunset over the river, as I related many childhood memories: my Dad going fishing in a mauve rowboat, mauve because it had been my turn to pick the colour that year; getting locked in the outhouse by my brother and cousin; carving our initials in the big maple tree. I wondered if they were still there, but the most reachable climbing branches have been pruned off and besides, finding out that the initials had gown over would have been too sad.
In the morning, watching the mist slowly burn off the water as we drank our coffee, my sort-of aunt who lives in the cottage next door called out, “Good morning,” and offered us some freshly baked biscuits and homemade peach jam.
It gives me a great sense of well-being to know that no matter what the future has in store for me or my sons, we will always find a place to stay and a good meal in the homes of our family in Ontario.
I have a theory. I think I know why the foods we ate while growing up still seem the tastiest; the sunsets and the rivers the prettiest. It stands to reason that the molecules that nourished our bodies and souls in the womb have predisposed us to needing them. I think that the boys and I must have a set of Ontario genes. Maybe that is what “home sickness” is all about.