Wednesday, June 20, 2012


By Jackie Urbanovic

(Harper Collins, 2008)

This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.

I have to be honest.  I didn’t judge this book by the cover; I judged it by the title.  Duck Soup.  The term has special meaning to me.  No, I don’t salivate over visions of mallard bits bubbling in a pot of broth.  (I am a vegetarian.)  And, no, I didn’t realize until I was an adult that “Duck Soup” was the name of a movie by the Marx Brothers.  Instead, the title makes me think of my grandfather, a charismatic gentle giant who wasn’t so much a storyteller as a phrase felon.  He could take any expression, give it entirely new meaning—often something in the realm of absurdity—and make you believe these phrases were Grampy Originals.

Down the cellar behind the haxe
A fisherman from Stoney Creek
Grab a wing, asta
Duck soup

Yep, duck soup.  If you’d loaded up the oars, the life preservers and towels in the rowboat, duck soup.  If you’d cleared forty buckets of rocks to create a sandy path to wade into the river, duck soup.  Used your bread crusts to soak up every ort on your dinner plate?  Duck soup. 

Duck soup meant it was all good.  Forget excellent, awesome or groovy.  Duck soup was my praise of choice, particularly when accompanied by my grandfather’s goofy grin.

When I browsed a bookstore in the Vancouver airport terminal and eyed the title of Jackie Urbanovic’s book, I giggled like a child while a allowing a rogue tear to roll down my cheek.  I miss hearing that expression, seeing that grin.  I hugged the book as I carried it to the register for purchase.  No matter what the contents, the book would be a personal treasure.

Fortunately, the story is the kind of silly tale that my grandfather would have delighted in reading any young visitor at our family cottage.  Maxwell Duck loves to cook.  Seems soup’s his thing.  He’s served up all sorts—Fish Soup with Curry and Pickled Lemon anyone?—to the displeasure of his furry friends.  Max is done with following recipes.  He wants to concoct a recipe of his own.

I can’t relate to cooking demonstrations on The Food Network—all those prepped bowls of minced this, chopped that, ready to toss in a pot or pan, no trail of mess to wipe/scrub/toss.  By contrast, Maxwell Duck is a chef I can identify with,...even if my beak is a tad smaller.  As he loads the pot with veggies, stains splatter the stove, the counters and even the cook himself.  I approve.  (As my grandfather would say, “Now you’re cooking with the gas.”)

When Max tastes his creation (“SLURP, SLURP, SIP”), he decides it is missing a certain something so he waddles off to the herb garden in the back yard.  At that same moment, his friends Brody (the dog), Dakota (the cat) and Bebe (the bird), march through the front door and call out for Max.  No answer.  They see a simmering pot of soup and panic.  (Refer once again to the title of the book.)  I won’t reveal what happens next, but in the end the dinner consists of takeout pizza, not soup.  Yep, I can relate to that, too.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see Emeril, Rachel Ray or Jamie Oliver ending an episode chewing on a slice from Pizza Hut instead of oohing and aahing over a tastefully garnished entree served on a perfectly colored serving plate?  How odd that a picture book with a culinary duck is more realistic than a cooking show.

It seems that Duck Soup, whether the book or my grandfather’s expression, isn’t so goofy after all.

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