Poutine – Cultural Cuisine Or Misspelling?

We are just about to encounter Canada Day. It’s the 1960’s revision of the first of July –  Dominion Day – that allows Canadians to make slightly sad cultural asses of themselves throughout the world…or throughout the world that actually notices. This would be about 0.08% of humanity…

Shorn of its fun features – picnics on the shores of freezing lakes, fireworks, and a couple of months off school – Dominion …Oops…Canada day is a time of wild celebration for Canadians overseas. All through Kenya ice hockey and curling is breaking out. The mountains of Holland echo to the sound of gunshots as Canadians open fire on moose. The Indians dedicate another temple to Justin Trudeau and then flush it…

Just kidding. We go out a buy a carton of Molsons or a bottle of rye and some ginger ale and  scuff round the kitchen to see if that recipe for butter tarts has turned up. And we contemplate poutine.

I say contemplate, because I do not know any Canadian overseas who has eaten the stuff. Indeed, I passed a childhood and youth in the Dominion of Canada without ever seeing it, and I lived in Montreal and Chicoutimi for years. I did see strawberry pie in Quebec, but my parents were wise not to let any of it get on me.

Poitine would seem to be French fries with cheese and gravy. I should like to hear the Canadian Heart Association’s take on the dish, as it seems to be comprised of equal quantities of cholesterol, oxidants, and toxins. I am surprised it is not linked to Donald Trump. In an age that views anything other than salad as sin, how has poutine become a star dish? Is it because it is French Canadian, and is therefore excused from any goodness? Is it the culinary version of the Cirque du Soleil?

Well, for me, I shall celebrate Dominion Day with the aforementioned rye highball and something else Canadian enough to do the trick. I am going to get a pound of small fish, split them and roll them in cornmeal, and fry them in Crisco like Fraser River Smelt. Add some PEI potatoes and creamed corn and it will be as close to the True North Strong And Free as you can get in Western Australia. Unless I can gun down an elk on St Georges Terrace.

I may even put up a picture of the current Prime Minister, if I can find the dartboard, eh?

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” You’ll End Up Eating Beans “

” You’ll end up eating beans ” was always the go-to threat when I was at school – generally uttered by a teacher predicting a sad life of utter failure if I did not take an interest in whatever they were saying. It had the immediate effect of making me lose both  interest in what they were saying, and respect for them.

You see…I knew the Secret Of The Beans.

I had been initiated into the society of bean eaters early in life. Unlike some children, I was not raised on Heinz Baked Beans as a quick sop to just fill a gap. I did get Heinz, but when I got Heinz they had been supercharged, spiced, and done to perfection. My Heinz were superior beans, and they were just the start. You see, my mother was raised in New Mexico in hard times and beans were an art form.

Mexican beans, Texican beans, Boston Baked Beans, green beans, yellow beans, pinto beans, chickpeas…and there were as many variations of sauces and sides as there were beans. Fresh, canned, dried..we had ’em all and we loved ’em all.

The south of the bean border ones were so potent that the Army used them to clean out the receivers on machine guns. The Boston beans were proper. The green beans were always accompanied by bacon and onions. Beans and rice with cornbread filled all the requirements.

Mexican beans were always a meal that drew us home – the other favourites being sauerkraut or fried smelt. We rarely ate out and never missed it.*

And the Secret Of The Beans? The secret was we loved ’em! They nourished us and comforted us and gave us terrible gas. A long drive in a closed car with the Stein family was a risky proposition for the stranger. You could have a lot of fun guessing who dealt it.

But seriously – beans are a family food that scores high on most dietitian charts. Protein, fibre, taste, energy…you never feel like you have to snack halfway through the evening if dinner was a good bowl of beans.

But back to my teacher’s dire prediction. I have arrived at retirement age and am now rich enough to do as he says – I can afford to eat beans every week. I’m grateful to him for his insight.

*  Even now I eat out less often than my friends do. I like home cooking. Invite me to your house.

If You Don’t Have…

I’ve just seen one of those cooking sites that specifies extra virgin water grown on the slopes of the Gobi desert and kept under magical moonbeams for one of their ” signature ” dishes. I’m left with a number of questions…at least one of them pertinent:

a. What is a ” signature ” dish?

Is it a dish that has been signed? By whom? In what? Ketchup?

Would the bank accept a plate of ravioli at the bottom of a cheque?

Are there people who forge cutlets?

b. I get virgin. Not as often as I might like, but I do understand the concept. Something that has been previously untouched by human hands or any of the other parts. It’s a one-off thing.

But what is extra-virgin? Virgin on steroids? Virgin with attitude? The sort of virgin that marches in protests and yells at the police?

c. Water. It isn’t virgin now and hasn’t been for aeons. Every molecule going has been through something before: an animal gut, a pore, a plant tubule. Some molecules have been through every single Tom Cruise movie…but then you have to sort of admire that.

But all water is experienced. It knows its way around. It might appear in lite beer but not willingly.

It does appear in bullshit…and some cooking sites.

d. I’ve seen pictures of the Gobi desert. It looks like the Simpson desert or the Mojave. Without the taco stands. If you want water in the Gobi you need to order it waaaaay in advance. Like the Pleistocene era.

e. Magical moonbeams. Well thank God we’ve returned to sanity. I was starting to suspect a scam for a while there. No-one who has ever read J. K. Rowlings’ books …or for that matter her bank statement…could ever doubt the power of magic.

For my part, I prefer the recipes that allow some wiggle room in the pan. When they specify shrimp they will equally accept chicken or rat. I do draw a line at the medical advice columns that deal in substitutes, though. The one that said you could substitute wasabi for Murine wised me up.

The Little World – No, It’s The Sets

I have a confession. I build model dioramas. I build model stage sets. I build model photography layouts. I talk about them to other people, even if they patently do not want to listen. In short…

I’m a sets maniac. I setually harass people. I have a sets addiction. And I’m shameless.*

So are the Ardman people. The key to the success of all their productions may well be the milieu – the sets that surround the animated characters. And the key to the sets is the detail. The recent exhibition placed the actual layouts that had been used for production before us in plastic protective cases, but fortunately lit them well enough that the sets fiends amongst us could slaver and tremble as we looked them over.

And what a focus. As you can tell from study of the pictures, the model makers have seen a great deal of English kitchens – every detail in the thing is real. Perhaps a little rounder or a little exaggerated for effect, but the overall ensemble is completely authentic. Look at the British electricity plug – the AGA cooker – the cabinets. You could cook in this set.

You could also send out for Chinese, as the menu on the notice board indicates. You can wash up with the Furry Liquid detergent…though it looks as if there are a few things that would benefit from soaking first…and the whole ensemble is as uncomfortable and inefficient as a proper British kitchen should be.

The real pièce de resistance is the dirt and dilapidation – the whole set could have been made neater and tidier – the walls could have been flat and the door could have been freshly painted and the cooker could have been clean…and we would not have been able to connect half as much as we can to this kitchen. The great artists see the most and the greatest artists reproduce what they see remorselessly.

*Actually, I have a book of plans for small  suburban houses of the 1940’s that I only show to ” special ” visitors, and then only if the window shades are drawn. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…

 

The Health Inspector

I think if I were inclined to go to work again I should like to be a council health inspector. But with a difference – I would do domestic premises rather than commercial ones.

In case you are horrified by the thought of some jack-in-office barging into your kitchen and lifting up the lids on your pots, consider that there is probably adequate provision for this now in council by-laws. There certainly is when it comes to the garbage, as the current trial of recycling wastes is proving. We are told that the inspectors will be going about taking mobile-phone pictures of our bins ” to improve understanding ” but it is probably to give them a chance to scold us for putting the wrong things in the various containers. Or it might just be to frighten us into putting less in anyway – with no answer as to what to do with the extra garbage.

In my case I should like to extend the surveillance to linen closets, desk drawers, and round the back of sofas – the places where small change and unused postage stamps are likely to accumulate. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned, and a penny stolen is even better. And I should be incorruptible, at least until the stakes were high enough.

Health is one of those topics that we all agree is essential…without being able to actually put our fingers on what is healthy. Robust and shining in Ulan Bator looks like terminal disease in Coolangatta. Vermin in Violet Town are considered livestock in Venezuela. You should see the thundering herds of beefrats at round-up time. The gauchos mounted on Jack Russells can be a bit startling for the novice hand, but you get used to them.

I am a little unclear as to what the procedure is if I discover a violation of the health regulations. Do I ask for the envelope of cash before or after throwing the rat on the counter? Are cats actually edible? Is mould considered a religious sacrament in some cultures? I’ll need to consult the department on these matters.

Meanwhile business owners, private citizens, and hospitality industry members may slip as many fat envelopes as they wish under the departmental door – our concern for health is paramount 24 hrs a day, or at least as long as the bottle shop is open.

Use Before January, 2018

Or freeze and use before the turn of the 21st century.

Nearly everything can be frozen. Milk, bread, bank accounts. You can freeze lots of stuff that would otherwise go rotten and extend the period of time in which it can go rotten. Time shift your smelly garbage bin, if you will. This is not as sad as it seems.

Before Christmas, we bought two cooked chickens from Woolies for use in a party dish – the meat was picked off the bones and the carcasses put back into the heavy plastic bags in which they had been supplied by the store. That went into the freezer – which might seem a little odd. Freezing garbage?

No, freezing carcasses that will be rendered for soup a little while down the track. It’s all a matter of timing. Garbage collection is Thursday morning, no good tossing chicken bodies out on Monday in a hot climate – by Thursday morning the place would smell like State Parliament. So they will be defrosted and boiled one Wednesday afternoon, then the stock frozen in turn for use in winter soups. Then they go into the organic bin.

It becomes a case of frozen Tetris sometimes as one cycles the various components through the freezer in time for disposal or storage, but the actual effect is pretty good – the amount of waste that the family produces is slightly less, and we get home-made soup for our troubles. And soup is a variable equation – nearly anything can be factored in. The only no-no is poultry and split peas – there is a chemical reaction in there that makes the entire house smell like cat pee.

Do we deserve the contempt of gastronomic nations for our freezer habits? Well, if you want to go down to the open air when it is 42º in the water bag and buy a half cup of organic kale for your masterpiece, don’t let me stop you. We’ll take bets amongst us here on whether you’ll make it to the end of the street before slumping over…while we sit in the A/C and wait for dinner to defrost. Off you toddle.

I Think That I Shall Never See…

A poem lovely as a pea.

A pea that grows in gardens sweet and green –

That sits in soups with ham both fat and lean.

Casseroles are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a pea.

The ubiquitous little green seed that we all take for granted deserves better of us – it has been sidelined as a side dish far too long. The time for Pea Liberation has arrived. Take up your pods and follow me!

We all encountered peas at an early age and if we had any spirit in us at all, we spit them at our parents. Puréed, mashed, boiled, or split, they were an underlying theme in our infant nutrition. I think the government mandated that no child should grow up pea-less – they appeared in everything save milkshakes. Actually, in Quebec they probably did form part of the soft drinks. French-Canadians are like that…

I want to make it clear that I approve of peas. Whether they are stewed, souped, boiled, or fried with garlic, I can take ’em by the bushel. So can my family, though they do draw the line at Cocktail Hour. The attempt to introduce green peas instead of olives in the martinis was not successful. It probably would have been more nutritious, but spearing the little suckers with the toothpick was difficult.

I’ve received complaints from family members that peas produce flatulence. As the people who have complained about this cheerfully fart at any opportunity here at home, I can only surmise that their chief complaint is timing, not accumulated pressure. I should have looked upon the whole thing as an opportunity, myself. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good loud…

Be that as it may, I endeavour to introduce the pea into the diet as often as I can. You can get wasabi peas that will take the roof of your mouth off, you can get split peas that will produce a fragrant over pressure of 200 psi, and you can get candied peas that stick to every surface they touch. No-one need to be afraid to take a pea in public. It is a pulse, as opposed to a legume. It is also not a wild animal or a bucket of spark plugs – in fact the range of things that a dish of peas is not would make a long list. Those of you who are addicted to list-making may carry on and I will just put butter, salt, and pepper on the topic and you can talk to me in a half-hour. In 90 minutes I can talk back…