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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 03.25.10
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The last bit of cheese

"Which food would be hardest to give up?"

"Is beer food?"

"No."

"Okay, well, that makes it a bit easier."

My wife answers this hypothetical question quickly: bread. It is, after all, the staff of life. It also makes eating a pizza much less messy.

I have a tough time with this one because, there being such a variety of foods, I think I could easily make up for whatever I lost. Sure, I'd miss that first juicy barbecued hamburger of the summer but there'd still be other conveniently butchered and packaged animals to eat.

I think I'd have to go with the onion. Imagine soup without onions. Onion-free stuffings, stews, and spaghetti sauce: so insipid. And whither the souvlaki pita?

Fortunately, relatively few of us ever have to give up a food. Occasionally people will test-drive self-imposed denial. It's called Lent.

For my youngest daughter, every day is denial. Although, for her, denial ain't nothing but a river. As readers may recall, Abby has a genetic condition that severely restricts her diet. That means she's never eaten meat, soy, nuts, ice cream... the list goes on. But she can't really miss these things because she's never had them. She has smelled them, though.

"Mmmm," she says, getting her nostrils way to close to my juicy early-summer burger. "That smells good."

"I know it does," I say, pushing her hot breath gently but forcefully away from my supper. "You know what else smells good? This frozen mushroom patty we've seared for you."

"Feh!" she says.

Apart from the smells and the sounds of us going "Mmmm! Sooooo goooood!" (sorry, we're just that kind of parents) Abby doesn't really know what she's missing. You can't miss something you've never had.

And thankfully, Abby's been able to make up for what she lacks with things she loves. French fries, for example. Or more recently, rice and potato in Patak curry paste. These favourites hopefully compensate for having to choke down her daily dose of liquid formula that tastes like forgotten laundry.

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One of those favourites was cheese. "Cheese" in quotation marks. It was cheese the way Cool Whip is whipped cream. It kind of looked like those blocks of plasticine you wrestled with in grade school. Actually, it was a whey loaf, my first exposure to whey outside of Miss Muffet.

Thanks to the Quebec government's great medical food distribution system (yes, I said "Quebec" and "great" in the same sentence), our cheese order would arrive at the local CLSC (God bless them), vacuum-sealed in foil, stamped with not so much an expiration date as a half-life.

Abby had her cheese for breakfast, on sandwiches, as a snack. Bread and cheese, bread and cheese, all the time. "You're going to turn into bread and cheese," we'd say. (And, like the cheese, we'd put the "bread" in quotation marks, since that was a specialty product as well. )

About a year ago, we learned that the manufacturer was stopping production of the cheese, both the "cheddar" variety (orange) and the "mozzarella" (less orange).

We ordered as large a quantity as we could (it was good, after all, until 2018) but first the cheddar, then the mozzarella stopped arriving.

I e-mailed the company. They replied that sales were too low to continue bothering with it. My daughter Katie wrote again, accusing the company of caring more about money than kids. They didn't write back.

And so, we rationed. A couple of weeks ago we got down to our last pack. "I don't want to eat it all at once," Abby fretted. "You might as well enjoy it," I said.

This past Saturday: the last cheese. Twenty grams. We took a picture to commemorate the milestone.

"It doesn't matter," Abby said. "It's only cheese."

I hope I'm as mature when they take away my onions. And my beer.

A quick thanks to the good folks at the St. Patrick Society in Richmond, QC for their warmth and hospitality at their annual banquet this past Saturday. I was the guest speaker for the evening, which served as a good reminder that I should stick to print. Thanks to Bob Dalton and his wife Kathleen for their gracious company. Thanks to Mark O'Donnell for buying my daughter a bag of chips. Thanks to Paul O'Donnell for carrying the heavy end of the table. And thanks to Joe Kelly for the hug. Sláinte!

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