I Cook, Therefore I Am

Capture

One of the keys to staying alive, I’ve found, is that you have to eat occasionally.  I read somewhere that food is an important part of a healthy diet, and because someone bothered to write it down, it must be true.

I’m living proof that eating is very good for you – in fact my health is so good, it’s busting right through my waist-line!

Because I eat almost every day, I have to cook almost every day.

I’m not a natural at it – I’ve ruined a lot of what should have been great meals.  As a result, I figured out the hard way of what not to do when it comes to cooking.

Because I’m a ‘giver’, I thought that there’s probably a few other people out there who want to learn or share more about cooking, so I’ve started a new blog page, ‘Man, You Can Cook!’.

MAN 2

 https://helpmencook.wordpress.com/about/

It’s not just for men, but because I’m a man and I like to play with fire, you can probably expect to see a lot of content on meat and fire.

I also want your input – tell me horror stories about cooking, or cool ideas, or problems you keep having.  I don’t have all the answers, but you, my loyal followers do!  Let’s share, have some fun, and maybe – just maybe, we’ll learn together to make this eating thing more enjoyable.

Strap on the feedbag!

It’s all my fault

cropsI have a confession to make – I’m to blame for everything.

You see, when I shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, I want only the best, ripest, and freshest produce for my family.  Because I only pick the best, freshest and ripest, the rest of the fruit gets left behind and is eventually thrown out by the store.  I don’t want it, and I won’t pay for it, so they have to get rid of it.

Because this is how I shop, the store owners tell their suppliers not to give them any old, bruised, marked, or otherwise ‘unattractive’ product.  The suppliers comply.  It’s about me.  I’m paying, so they have to do what I want.

Now, the supplier is going to go back to the farmer.  He’s going to tell the farmer not to pick anything that has a mark on it, is bruised, or has signs of insects or other natural diseases.  The farmer has to comply, since the supplier won’t buy it from him otherwise.

The farmer, faced with fields of growing crops, needs to yield as much perfect produce as he can, or he’ll go broke.  I won’t buy anything sub-par for my family, so the grocery store won’t buy anything sub-par from the supplier, who won’t buy anything sub-par from the farmer….you get the idea.

Standing out in an open field, exposed to the elements, the farmer has few choices, since his crops are what feeds his family.  He needs to ensure that everything he grows can be sold, otherwise he’s growing nothing but debt.

With few options, the farmer employs the help of chemical sprays to ensure his crops look perfect.  It’s my fault.  I’m the guy standing at the road-side stands, checking each cob of corn for worms.  I’m not bringing those nasty bugs home to my family, so I guess I’m willing to have the corn sprayed, even if that’s not a conscious decision at the time.

McDonalds is my fault too.  Sorry.  Sometimes I’m in a hurry, or just too lazy to cook.  I asked for quickly prepared food – so quick in fact, that I can drive up to a window and have it handed to me, hot and salty within a minute.  I told McDonalds that this is how I want my food, so they complied.  I know it’s not healthy, but sometimes I just need to scarf down some grub while I’m on the run – and if pushed I’d say that I sometimes really crave the taste of a Big Mac.

The big-box stores?  You know it – me again.  I needed variety, long hours and cheap prices for all those toaster ovens, back massagers and iPhones. Sure, there were little stores that had them, but what a pain in the butt, having to drive from store to store.  And I didn’t know when they were open or if they had good prices.

I know, I should have supported the local business owner, but heck, who has time for that?  When I need a left-handed spindle crank, I can’t risk going to a store that doesn’t have it in stock and in 3 colours.  Nope – big box is the way to go.  I don’t know why that strip mall near my house looks so deserted though.  Must be the economy.

Although I’m not a photographer, I’m also responsible for the paparazzi attacks on celebrities.  I just can’t get enough of those tabloid magazines while standing in line at the grocery store.  A 3-headed baby that sings like Elvis?  Are you kidding?  Who’s got the latest ‘baby bump’, and who looks worse in a bathing suit? I crave this stuff.  Because I do, the photographers will do almost anything to get the picture that will entice me buy their magazine.

I was probably the one responsible for Princess Diana’s tragic death.  Can’t get enough of the Royals – I sent those photographers on motorcycles to capture an image of Lady Diana stepping out with her new beau.

See, the thing is, I would love to blame the farmers, or the fast-food places or the big box stores for how they’ve poisoned and cheapened our planet – they’re an easy target.  In the end though, it was me, the consumer, who decided to exercise the greatest power I had.  I gave them my business.  My money.  I told them, through my humble purchasing decisions what I wanted, and they complied.

So, I want to confess.  It’s my fault these things are the way they are.  I was the one making decisions that landed us where we are today.  I hope you can all forgive me.

Anything you’d like to get off your chest?

Canadian Thanksgiving – a vaguely historical account

This weekend, Canada will celebrate it’s 56th official Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.

Up here in the ‘Great White North’ we honour this event on the second Monday of October, not because our season is shorter, and we’ve harvested the crops already, but we really just wanted to beat the Americans at something.

Canada is relatively new at this as an actual holiday, having made it official in 1957. I guess being the polite sorts we are, we didn’t want to offend anyone by being officially thankful without making sure everyone was okay with it.

The original conception for the Canadian Thanksgiving, by my recollection, actually started way back in the 1500’s, when an explorer named Martin Frobisher had loaded his boats with what some historians believe was maple syrup (some insist it was gold, but that would ruin the story – you’ll see what I mean).  He ran into the ice and the sailors had to be saved by the local indigenous people.  By some strange twist of fate, he hit the ice in Frobisher Bay.  Huh.

Most of the syrup was lost, but the kind and gentle natives who witnessed the accident, had a big supply of Canadian back bacon and decided to share it with the sweet-toothed explorers.  Of course, Canada hadn’t been invented yet, so it wasn’t called Canadian back bacon at the time.

Some of the maple syrup that leaked from the ships, froze into smallish disks on the ice and the locals would hit them with their hunting spears. The syrup ‘pucks’ would slide across the ice, giving birth to our greatest national pastime, hockey.  Others would eat the tasty frozen treat, which was delicious, but they had to be careful not to get hit with one of the spears.  This probably led to the hockey helmet being invented.

Hockey, another gift from our First Nations people, accidentally led to the expansion westward from Quebec City, when the natives and explores were playing hockey with frozen syrup on the St. Lawrence river.  One of the explorers got a breakaway, and because they hadn’t invented goalies or nets yet, skated all the way to what is now known as Kingston.

The explorers were so pleased and thankful for this discovery, that they decided to take all the land from the indigenous people, and throw a huge party for themselves.

Although this all happened in the middle of winter, the English and French settlers argued about when to hold this annual celebration.  The French wanted it in October, the time of year that they bamboozled the generous locals into giving up their bountiful harvest.  The English wanted it in the spring, because this is when the river thawed out, and they were able to paddle in-land and take over a significant part of the country.  Then, the English changed their minds, and decided November was a better time for this, since it’s when they officially pilfered the land.

For a long time, the celebration was held on different dates, until the English decided that they wanted a special day to mark the taking over of the country with a separate war-related holiday, thus giving in to the French.  As it turns out, this was the first (and maybe only) time that the French ever actually won anything.

In a weird twist of cultural irony, it is Quebec, our French-speaking province that does not view our modern Thanksgiving celebration as an official holiday.  This is because, when the rest of English Canada got on board with the October feast, Quebec immediately abandoned it, siting a need to be a distinct society.

The precursor to our Thanksgiving in October is another celebration brought over by the Germans, who oddly enough, had nothing to do with the take-over of this land.  Anyway, it was the October festival, known as ‘Oktoberfest’, celebrated in major cities, but primarily hosted in Kitchener, Ontario because of its large German population, that is considered one of our unofficial kick-offs to Thanksgiving.  I mean, what says ‘Let’s get this party started’ more than drinking too much beer while wearing leather shorts?

Today, our modern Thanksgiving is celebrated in a very similar fashion to that of our American cousins.  Families gather for the long weekend to dine, close the pools and cottages, rake leaves, and spend time together. They eat themselves into a tryptophan induced coma with turkey and ham, and all the usual fixings, like stale bread stuffed into the backside of a dead bird.  Sometimes, it defies explanation how these traditions came about.

Unlike our American counterparts, we may not have the big football game, or the official kick-off to the Christmas season, but we, in very Canadian style, reenact some of our unique history by watching English and French millionaire athletes chase a puck around the frozen pond. They don’t use syrup any more, and instead, in a back-handed, slightly racist tip of the hat to our First Nations people kind of way, use an ‘Indian rubber’ puck.

I can’t confirm that all of the historical points above are completely accurate – I slept through most of grade 9 Canadian History class.  I do know that I can’t wait to head up north where the air is crisp and clean, the leaves are blazing with colour, and we’ll give thanks for the awesome country we live in at a family cottage, while feasting on the above-mentioned turkey and stuffing.

Wherever or whenever, or even however you celebrate Thanksgiving, my wish to you is that you celebrate it with good friends and family, and that you take a moment to reflect not only on what you’re thankful for, but  who you’re thankful to.

Wishing all of you a happy and safe Canadian Thanksgiving, eh!

P.S. – for handy tips on how NOT to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving, see my Blog “Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions”   https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/folklore-flaming-turkeys-and-family-traditions/

P.P.S. – If you found this blog offensive, see my Blog, “The Perils Of Humor”  https://troypulchinski.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-perils-of-humor/

Folklore, Flaming Turkeys and Family Traditions

Welcome to my first blog.

Life is full of silly little events and happenings that we often dismiss or forget about over time.  Occasionally however, our normal everyday events can sometimes create the most memorable, lasting impressions on our families and friends.  I think this is how some of the greatest legends that long ago were retold around campfires and grew into supernatural or completely unbelievable folk-tales.  I have had the pleasure (although the jury is still out) of having several of these unique opportunities occur over the years.  I have one story, which is completely true (to the best of my recollection) that I have repeatedly been asked to retell – coincidentally, around above mentioned fires, usually after too many adult beverages, or on long car rides with the kids.

My story starts about 10 years ago, when my wife and I were hosting Christmas Dinner at our very small semi-detached house.  If you’ve ever hosted a family dinner, you know how stressful it can be.  Multiply that by a gazillion (that’s a real number – I looked it up!), and you get a sense of what Christmas Dinner hosting is like. The first step is an entire remodel of the house; painting, plastering, moving furniture, cleaning places that any self-respecting guy doesn’t even go, let alone sponge-mop.

We were really excited about our ‘turn’ at hosting my family this particular year.  Although my family isn’t huge by European standards, we usually run into the high-teens on head-count, and no one is what I’d call a light eater.  It’s also important to know that I have 3 brothers, all of whom are over-achievers, highly competitive, and sarcastic…..like dictionary definition sarcasm, not the pedestrian type.

Friends of ours had returned from a trip south of the border, and insisted that the best turkey they’ve ever eaten was a ‘deep-fried’ one.  WHAT??  Deep-fried turkey?  That was an insane thought – clearly an American tail-gate phenomenon that had no business on the respectable tables of a conservative Canadian table.  Of course, lacking all clear judgement, I borrowed their deep fryer for this years feast.  Now, I know what you’re thinking – recipe for disaster, right?  Wrong! I’m a responsible guy…

Using my talented food-service skills (and a few ‘Google’ searches), I found a great recipe for deep-fried turkey using a dry rub under the birds skin, and then soaking it in a bourbon mixture to pickle the bird for a few days before the big event.  Yum!

To be sure I wasn’t going to fail in front of my watchful, blood-thirsty family, I did a ‘test boil’ with the deep-fryer, using a chicken….smart, eh?  Well, it cooked perfectly in about 20 minutes and tasted great.  Excellent – man, I am GOOD!

Christmas day came – along with about a foot of fresh snow. I had set up an elaborate station in my backyard on a cement basketball pad, complete with overhead lighting, side walls to control the wind and snow, the soon-to-be infamous deep fryer, and a barbeque that played host to a ham (this might be a good place to tell you that my wife is a genius, thinking that some extra food might be a good backup plan.  Just in case).  Family arrived in stages, each one hoping they weren’t the last ones, since the disgrace of being the latest group is akin to being tarred and feathered and strutted through town.

Things were going great!  Liberal amounts of beverages were being consumed, the ladies were busy preparing vegetables and other stuff that for some reason should be on the table, but never gets any real credit.  The meat is the big show.  As it goes, so does the entire meal.  No one leaves the party saying ‘I must get that salad recipe from you’.

I had the deep-fryer chugging away in the back yard.  The ham was cooking slowly next to it on the barbeque.  It was time.  Like some sacred ceremony, I retrieved the beautiful bird from it’s bourbon bath and prepared to lower it into the peanut oil hot-tub at precisely the right temperature. I could almost hear a chorus of Angels as I lifted it out of the cooler it rested in. It would be a 40 minute oil bath, ending in a mouth-watering creation that Martha Stuart would be envious of.  How exciting!

Apparently, there is some chemical reaction between boiling oil and bourbon that I don’t recall hearing about in grade 10 science class.  Maybe I was off that day.  Anyway, as I lowered the fated bird into the oil, it seemed to reach up and grab the bourbon with a fury of anger and intent.  The oil shot upward, and over the side of the deep-fryer, spilling down and hitting the open flame below it.  Did I mention the open flame?  Anyway, apparently there is also some chemical reaction with fire and oil.  Another missed science class, I suppose.

As the oil hit the flames, the fire moved like lightning up the sides of the deep-fryer, igniting the entire contraption, down onto the oil that now covered the ground, and shot up, engulfing the doomed, bourbon-soaked bird that I was still holding.  There’s probably another lesson about fire and alcohol, but I’ll save that for another time.

As the fire covered the turkey, I panicked, and leaped backwards, quickly lifting the turkey out of harms way.  In doing so, my foot slipped on the oil-soaked ground, throwing me off-balance.  The turkey was now fully air-borne, looking like some Viking fire weapon or demon caber-toss thing, and it flew, fully on fire like a small meteorite across the yard, landing in a large snow-bank, making a perfect turkey-shaped hole like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.  There’s another science lesson here – snow puts out fires.

By now, I have a missing turkey, a good part of my backyard is on fire, and I’m laying in a small pool of burnt oil, slipping like Bambi on ice, trying to get my footing.   I do finally make it to my feet, and frantically grab handfuls of snow to put out the fire.  Eventually, the angry oil subsides, so I take the opportunity to dash back into the house, letting my concerned family know that we don’t need the fire-bombers after all.  Turns out that despite all of this fire and brimstone going on right outside the dining room window, not a single person noticed the carnage going on in the back yard.

As for the turkey, well, it looked like a bowling ball with wings, but we did manage to harvest a bit of breast meat….and everyone loved the ham.  I think I mentioned my wife the genius, right?  I also recall more than a few people asking for the yummy salad recipe that year as they left.