Sitting on the edge of summer with our national day of pride upon us, I am reminded of that phrase our neighbours to the south use: “As American as hot dogs and apple pie”. It doesn’t sound like much of a meal, and I am not sure where they cornered the market on apples being American, but let’s not get into that here. My point is, what food is quintessentially Canadian?
I have brought up previously the idea that across a country as vast as ours, it is quite the job to come up with a single ingredient or dish that would signal national pride for all. When I was in France as a teaching assistant and my students asked me to give examples of Canadian foods, I came up with butter tarts, maple syrup and peanut butter as things I considered more or less unique to Canada. We tried them all in class, with two out of three being winners. (French children cannot see why you would eat something like peanut butter on a perfectly respectable baguette, especially with something as horrid as cold milk.) I know Martin and I have discussed many times the differences between growing up on opposite sides of the country. Most of our favourite special things are different - for example, me enjoying more seafood and him with more pork!
I did do some research and discovered that rhubarb is something that is grown across Canada. That seems like a good representative ingredient, wouldn’t you say? It’s hearty, colourful, and very tasty when treated with just a bit of care. We are a nation that likes to take care, I think. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a bit of rhubarb compote, or a piece of pie, or even a bit of chutney, if it was offered. It’s far more original than apple pie (can you see me smirking between the lines?).
Of course, the Americans with their melting pot culture are more focused on making sure everyone has the same concept. Our cultural mosaic is more encouraging of the notion that everyone has their own twist on an idea. Both systems have their advantages, and disadvantages. I do think the Americans with their focus (okay, and a bigger budget) do put on a great show. Their fireworks are amazing. We would most often rather put on a series of little vignettes, each with its own expression. We are more discreet. Even as a kid I understood this. I remember one of the Muppets, those lovely American creatures from Sesame Street, saying “Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear!” If he was a Canadian bear he wouldn’t have been that forthcoming.
I was in the United States over the long weekend a few years ago, with our Girl Guide unit. We exchanged enthusiasm as the girls met with Girl Scouts from Spokane and celebrated their 4th of July. At twelve or thirteen years old, these girls didn't care too much about patriotism and national identity specifically, but I know they found differences between them and their American counterparts. That was the point, after all – we wanted them to appreciate both the similarities and the differences. When I was their age and attending basketball camp outside Spokane, things like Almond Joy and Dr. Pepper were not available here. I thought that was cool even if the US girls thought I lived in an igloo. Nowadays many more things have crossed over, but our girls still shared some funny misconceptions.
Here’s to enjoying your slice of pie with your neighbour, whether it be apple or rhubarb or anything else. Thankfully we live in a country, on a continent, where you can do that and not have to worry about repercussions.
Hip hip hooray!
Isn't it funny how Mother's Day and Father's Day differ? Everyone seems to think that Mother's Day is about paying Mom back for all the hard work she does, almost a guilt trip as often she is doing more than her share for the whole family. But Dad's Day is a quieter affair; get him something that fits with a hobby or maybe a new tool and you're good. Chances are Dad doesn't want too much recognition anyway, right? I was lucky to have two parents who both contributed a lot, and now that my Dad isn't around anymore I am especially grateful for all those father-daughter moments we shared. Some of them were even on Father's Day!
I remember the year we got Dad new lawn chairs for Father's Day. We had breakfast in the back yard (Mom helped my brother and I make Pilsbury croissants, a delicacy back then!). It got so hot the butter and cheese started to melt in the sun before we were finished eating!
I was my Dad's little helper, always wanting to learn what tools were for or how things worked or why they didn't.
I really got the best of both worlds: Mom and I hung out shopping or gardening or talking about books, and Daddy and I hung out watching basketball games or fixing bikes or sharing popcorn at the movies. I think he called me his princess not because I liked to dress up but rather because he was proud of how well-rounded my interests were, and that made me a "real lady".
My Dad took me out for a meal often over the years; he loved good food. It wasn't always fancy - sometimes we went for "an executive lunch" at Costco (his little joke, because it was a place for business shoppers). We tried great corned beef sandwiches at the local kosher deli, and awesome fried eggs at breakfast diners that served mostly longshoreman and float plane pilots.
When I was a kid Daddy didn't cook much, but he was the one who got up early to make me a fried egg sandwich before 6 AM basketball practice. We would also share snacks - he loved to shell peanuts, and he could shell sunflower seeds in his mouth (something I could never master). Later on though, he became a pretty good cook and quite a foodie. We would meet at his place on Friday nights and cook exotic appetizers to try. He used to say " we solved the problems of the world" with the conversations we had on those evenings.
I miss my Dad a lot, and think of him every day. Every time I have a fried egg sandwich I think of him, and every time I try a new dish I think, "Daddy would have loved this!"
My Dad pushed me to be my best self, and to use my fears to learn how to get through tough times. His love of life and every moment in it is something I strive to duplicate every day. Just like the food on the plate, life is meant to be savoured.
Hug your Dad this week, or call him. He might be gruff about it, but I bet he will treat it as a special memory, and those are something you don't want to miss out on. Store up as many as you can; someday you'll need to use them to remember.
I was very touched this week, feeling the power of Mother Nature in those times it can make us seem small and insignificant. It happened a few times; once I was left feeling overwhelmed with joy at being able to experience life, another time I felt helpless and ashamed to be representing our species. Have you ever had times like that?
One experience was an educational event hosted by Farm Folk City Folk and Slow Food Thompson Okanagan. We saw a documentary about bees called "Queen of the Sun", which discusses some of the possible dangers that can result from colony collapse disorder. What would our planet be like without bees? Not very prosperous from a garden perspective, I can tell you that much. I was crestfallen to see so many horrible illustrations of our disregard for nature. One of the examples they gave to illustrate the out-of-balance ecosystems we have created was the almond groves in California. Did you know that 600,000 acres of land is uniquely planted to almond trees? These trees bloom for about three weeks each year, and they need the blossoms to be pollinated for nuts to form. Bees do that, but they can't live where there is nothing to feed on for most of the year. So, in February (when almonds bloom - but bees are sleeping) there are truckloads of bees that are brought to the Central Coast in California. The bees have to be woken up, so they are fed high fructose corn syrup to get a buzz going (pun fully intended here of course). Need I point out the irony, of feeding corn syrup to the creatures that make honey? The bees do their job, but in mixing bees from across the continent together we expose them all to viruses and other detrimental forces that they might not see in their home region. It's like a large group of children in a daycare - once one gets sick, it's likely the others will too. How many ways does this not sound like a good solution to keeping almond farmers in business? Monoculture planting, where large tracts of land have only one variety of plant, are detrimental to the ecosystem in many ways, not the least of which is that bees often can't survive in this type of environment. There were other examples of challenges bees face, like the pesticides that affect their ability to remember their way so they can't get back to the hive and queens that are bred commercially and artificially inseminated and don't seem to live as long as the queens who used to exist and breed naturally. We left the evening feeling so terribly disappointed... humankind seems only to realize it can't squeeze every last drop of every resource out of the planet when things start to die off and jeopardize our own existence. Why must we always need to go to the brink of extinction before we back off?
My redemption came in my own garden, and in time spent with children. My sunny mornings at Rabbit Hollow spent watering the veggies and berries and edible flowers are wonderful therapy. Knowing that the birds and bugs and plants all exist happily together in our little corner of the world is great solace. The buzz of bees in the morning and the swish of swaying bachelor's buttons is beautiful music. Nothing makes me smile more than to see our dogs, Ella and Simon, poaching golden raspberries off the back branches. There is plenty for everyone to eat, and they are easily distracted away by the prospect of a passer-by who needs greeting or a bird that needs chasing. I am proud to know that the creatures and plants all have a purpose they can fulfil in our yard. I got that same feeling in the school classroom with our Growing Chefs group too, as we showed the children how the veggies they grew on their windowsill could become soup and stirfry. Some of the kids were amazed to taste pea soup made from peas they shelled, shouting out incredulously, "It tastes like peas!" Others had never tasted stirfry, and were suspicious of a dish with so many veggies but in tasting it they learned they liked it. They even wanted the recipe! There is hope if we can teach Grade 3 and 4 kids that broccoli, beans, mushrooms and onions are not as evil as they think.
I suppose we have to take our experiences one at a time, and learn from them all. I hope I can do more good than harm to our planet, so that future children can enjoy it as much as I do. Maybe if we consider the long term effects our actions have, that will help us understand the impact we make on our planet.
On a much smaller scale, and far less ponderous note, I will close with something celebratory. Next weekend heralds the official beginning of summer, and to help ring in the outdoor season I will be with my partner, Chef Martin of The Chef Instead, serving up some southern style BBQ fare for all to enjoy. We will be at the Tree Brewing Beer Institute on Water Street in Kelowna for Barbecue "Meats" Beer (get it?) Come down for an affordable taste of some great summer food and drink. We start at noon, and keep going till we run out :)
The Chef Instead's award-winning BBQ fare, and local craft beer
Saturday, June 20th @ Tree Brewing Beer Institute
starting at noon
Hope to see you there!
This week my brain is mush, what with the start of the busy summer season and a ridiculous summer cold that I really don't need :) So, I'm regaling you with some water cooler talk, tidbits you can share around the dinner table that will amaze your guests with their banality! What the heck, we can't always be serious, right?
Did you know that peanut butter was first patented by a Canadian in 1884? He was a pharmacist who wanted to create something easy to eat for the many people in those days who had trouble chewing solid food. It has existed in many cultures of course; the Aztecs first ground peanuts into a paste. Nowadays, despite the fact that approximately 6% of the population has a peanut allergy there are still many products to enjoy with peanut butter; the peanut butter sandwich is not dead yet! I wish the ads today were as much fun as they used to be, though.
I love peanut butter on toast with sliced bananas, so I looked up the tropical snack. Chew on this: bananas are not a fruit, because the banana tree is an herb so that makes bananas the berry of said herb. And a banana tree will bear only one branch, or hand, in its life. That hand will hold 100-400 bananas though. Go figure.
* If you're looking for a recipe this week, check out the Peanut Butter Criss Cross Cookies on my blog :)
Here’s a good one if you believe it all: When the English colonist pilgrims sat down for their first Thanksgiving dinner in February of 1630, one of the offerings from an Indian Chief in attendance was popped corn. (I don’t know whether popcorn being around at an important food occasion is the cool part of this story, or if it is more interesting that we could have had Thanksgiving in February!)
Note: popcorn has actually been around for 6000 years. On September 19, 1995 a great popcorn celebrity died – Mr. Orville Redenbacher. Please have a moment of silence before you set your microwave to pop this weekend.
Something to try at a boring cocktail party: a raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continually on the bubbles. (If this doesn’t work, you can always just say you need a fresher glass!)
Okay, I am sure you can have fun with this: “In the Middle Ages, chicken soup was considered an aphrodisiac.” Is that what all that talk about Chicken Soup for the Soul really means? (wink wink) One wonders – does this mean they didn’t have much imagination when it came to setting a mood, or that they had plenty?
Lastly, here is one that begs the question, "Who got paid to figure this out and what were they trying to prove?" Talk about having an interesting job…
“If Jello is hooked up to an EKG (heart monitor), it registers movements virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult.”
I hope these little tidbits will give you some fun simple moments to share with a friend or loved one. Think of them as no-calorie ways to use food as a stress reliever!
Read more Happy Gourmand articles
- Time for dandelions May 30
- Eat your crusts! May 23
- Ready, set...go summer! May 16
- Give Mom a break May 9
- May Day! May Day! May 2
- A break, for hot or cold Apr 25
- Salt of the earth Apr 18
- Celebrate food! Apr 11
- Hippity hoppity Apr 4
- What is it about pickles? Mar 28
- Spring inspirations Mar 21
- There isn't much a cookie can't cure Mar 14
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