Tag Archives: rant

An American’s Guide to Canadian Food: (or, Don’t)


So we’re back from a week-long vacation in Canada.

I could write about how different the culture is there (spoiler alert: not very, actually, outside of the average person being slightly more friendly than I’m used to. I could write about the absolutely beautiful country. (SO MUCH GREEN.)

But at the moment — maybe because I’m returning to home, and by extension to normality — I’m a little preoccupied with food. Partly because we had to visit the grocery store and buy food that we’d be preparing ourselves for the first time in a week. Partly because, since we hadn’t been preparing our own food for a week, that meant we’d been eating exclusively in restaurants — i.e. eating like garbage. But mostly because — to put it bluntly — food in Canada is weird.

To loosely quote John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, they have the same stuff over there that they have here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.

And look, I’m not a foodie or anything; even typing that word makes me feel like a pretentious tool. I have no doubt there are intricacies at play here that I am oblivious to. That’s okay. Like any good American, that won’t stop me from voicing my displeasure.

That’s right, displeasure, because just one week was enough for me to get sick of some of this stuff, so I can only imagine what it must be like living there full-time.

There are three primary offenders: Poutine, Donair (or donairs? I’m not even sure) and Dulse (which looks and sounds like it should be spelled with a “c” but it isn’t because this is Canada and they don’t care about such things — they can’t even decide on a national language for goodness’ sake).

Let’s start with the least offensive: Poutine.

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Poutine is actually delicious, even if it doesn’t sound like it would be at first: you take standard-issue French Fries, smother them with gravy, and melt a bunch of cheese over the top of the whole thing. Why this little treat hasn’t caught fire in America is beyond me. It’s salty and satisfying and indulgent and sits in your stomach like a brick after you’ve eaten it: comfort food of the highest order.

But it’s still annoying, because like anything good, it’s saturating the culture. Poutine is everywhere, from burger joints to fancy restaurants to food trucks and everything in between. Well, you might say, french fries are everywhere in America, isn’t that the same thing? Yeah, sure, if chihuahuas and Great Danes are the same thing. But you can’t compare poutine to french fries like that, because french fries are adaptable: you can put them on a plate, toss them in a cup, funnel them into a newspaper fan, whatever. Poutine comes exactly one way: on a plate, and anything else is a catastrophe.

Which means that the poutine you get at, say, McDonald’s, comes served pretty much the same way as it might at a classier joint, which has the effect of making you feel like a schlub for ordering it in a classier joint. Let’s also point out that having a runny, slimy food like this available at a fast food place totally defeats the purpose of eating at a fast food place, because poutine is not a food that can be eaten quickly or cleanly or when time is any sort of factor. Try and eat poutine with your lunch combo when you’re running late and you will arrive back to work doused in gravy (which, I dunno, maybe that’s your thing, in which case, Canada may be for you).

Also, nobody knows how to pronounce it, which may be an issue in your reading at this point. I’ve heard it as poo-TEEN, poo-TAN, poo-TEN, and that was all by family members living in the same household. (Again, to Canadians I say — get on one page when it comes to language.)

In short, delicious, but so ubiquitous you’ll be tired of it after a day.

Then, there’s donair, or donairs.

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Donair seems to be a concept as much as it is a thing. (By the way, it’s pronounced like “donut” except instead of a donut, you have donair — and that’s where the similarity ends.) Because you can go to places (usually sandwich shops, but often, strangely, pizza places) and order donairs, but you can also find “donair sauce” on store shelves and in recipe books, and in the same way, “donair meat”. “Donair meat”, by the way, is not the meat of a donair (some rare Canadian beast) but rather meat for a donair. What type of meat is it, then? This is the question that, when you ask it (and well, I think, you should ask it) a Canadian will look at you oddly and reiterate, “it’s meat that goes in a donair”. This happens to be a thing Canadians just do, on a lot of subjects, not just donairs. You ask them a question and get a circular answer. (“Where is the cave?” “It’s in Saint Martin.” “Where’s Saint Martin?” “It’s down by the caves.” When you look at them oddly, they just look at you oddly right back until one of you apologizes (usually the Canadian, because if there’s one thing they do well and fast, it’s say “sorry”).

Anyway, the meat is tangy and salty as meat should be, but the sauce that they pair with it is creamy and sweetish — almost like a tzatziki sauce, but way sweeter and not at all herby. Actually, it feels like it would go really well with a donut, so maybe I was wrong about donuts and donairs having nothing in common but the letters. (Canadians will insist that this clash of sweet-n’-salty is delightful, I will counterargue that it is confusing, but then I don’t understand “trendy” or “daring” food combinations like “jalapeno peppers with chocolate sauce” or “half-cooked mice with a spritz of maraschino cherry”, so I dunno, maybe I’m not hip enough to play this game.)

You slap the “meat” and the “sauce” together with some tomatoes or peppers into a toasted pita, and bam, that’s a donair. In other words, it’s basically a weird gyro sandwich. Except I didn’t know this, so the first donair I had was in pizza form, which might be adding to my overall confusion about the whole thing.

Sidenote: I think I can be forgiven, though, because the conversation went something like “hey you should try some donairs” and I was all like “what’s a donair” and they were like “Pizza Delight has good ones” and I said “okay but I still dunno what a donair is” and they said “let’s go.” (I’m not sure if that’s an all Canadians thing or just a my wife’s Canadian family thing.) When we got to the restaurant I ordered the first thing I saw that said “donair” which happened to be a donair pizza. I ate it. It was weird. Not bad, and not something I’d order again. Just weird. So when I asked them if donair is just a pizza topping they said “well no, that’s just a pizza with donair toppings,” and when I asked well what’s a donair they said “they don’t just serve donair here.”

Then, later in the week, one of our hosts brought home some donair fixings and made up basically a sauceless pizza topped with donair meat to dunk in donair sauce. This I ate, and it was slightly better than a “donair pizza”, but it did nothing to aid my confusion about donairs. I didn’t fully understand what a donair was supposed to be until I got back to America and googled it.

In short, when a Canadian tries to tell you about an exciting food they want you to try, do your research first.

Third, and most offensive, is Dulse. Do not make the mistake, as I did, of associating “dulse” with “dulce”, as they are not the same thing, and the fact that they seem to have the same root is a bug, not a feature, of language.

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Dulse is seaweed.

That’s all. It’s seaweed. They dry it out and salt it, and then they eat it. Like potato chips, but horrible. It’s somehow simultaneously crispy and chewy, tough and brittle, all at once. You put it in your mouth (your first mistake) and the edges of it immediately flake off and melt to the inside of your cheeks and gums, while you have to keep working the main “leaf” like a piece of jerky. It tastes like fermented fish urine, which it basically is, because it’s seaweed.

I pointed out to the Canadian who tricked me into eating dulse that it tasted, in fact, exactly as you would expect dried-out seaweed to taste, and she responded, “no, it tastes like dulse.” My inclination was to argue the point by asking her what, exactly, dulse was, but the donair incident was fresh in my mind so I just smiled and refused another piece.

To fully explain how bad it tastes, here’s a little anecdote:

My wife’s grandmother picked up a bag of it in Market Square in Saint John. Very excited about it, too, she was. As it turns out, Saint John is a tourism stop for cruise lines sailing in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, and a cruise ship happened to be in port that day — so the square was flooded with tourists. Mostly Americans, so I didn’t feel quite the fish out of water that I usually did.

Anyway, she was offering me a bit of dulse and I, not wanting to appear rude, was (tentatively) accepting it, when a pair of nearby Americans asked her, “what’s that?” (They looked sixty or so, with matching visors. Sweet little old ladies.) “Dulse,” my grandmother-in-law replied cheerily, around a mouthful of the stuff. “A Canadian delicacy. Want to try some?”

I was just working my way through my first (and only) piece, the fish-pee taste slowly spreading across my tongue. Apparently, the expression creeping across my face didn’t deter them, so they said “sure” and took a piece. Two seconds later, one of them said, and I quote, “nope, that’s coming out,” and spit it RIGHT ON THE FLOOR, while the other rushed to the nearest stall to purchase an overpriced Pepsi to wash the flavor out.

My grandmother-in-law watched this with a chuckle like she’d played some great prank on all of us, all the while stuffing the horrible purple stringy stuff into her mouth.

You can buy this stuff by the bag, if you want, but I also saw it in spice form: a tiny, roll-of-quarters-sized tube which you could sprinkle over your steak or your breakfast eggs. You know, for when your food has that “fine, but not enough fish-pee” quality about it.

To sum up: avoid.

At any rate, these are only three of the most visible food faux-pas on display during my week in Canada. I’m sure there are others, and possibly worse ones (though if there’s something out there worse than dulse, I want it caught and shot).

I will reiterate: if you’re going to try a new and exciting food while on vacation in Canada, do your research first.

Thank goodness I’m back in the states, where we have NORMAL food.

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Happy Stuffing


I am moving rooms today for the second time since being at my current school.

Which is to say, as of next year, I will have been in a different location every year since I’ve taught here. (Future progressive verb tense is fun. English teachers, you feel me.) And that’s kind of a bummer. You get moved around every year, it’s tough to feel at home in your own classroom. Can’t put down roots. Can’t put your feet up too much. Like living in an apartment and never bothering to paint the walls because you’re gonna have to paint them taupe again when you move out, so why bother?

I didn’t make this connection for my first couple years. up went the posters (dozens of them). Decorative lamps in the corners. Personal pictures and bulletin board borders and all. I even hung stuff from the ceiling tiles. Deep roots sunk into the earth of the place.

Which takes forever to clean up and stirs up all kinds of emotions while you’re working for hours to do said cleaning.

So, I don’t put down roots anymore.

When I realized I could — and likely would — get moved at the end of the year, my personal touch became more of a tap. Just a couple of posters and only a few things in my own little corner of the room. The room writ large mostly blank or marked with a couple materials that we’re working with actively — to be pulled down again once we’re done.

Yet even without those personal imprints, I feel more at home teaching in this school than I have in any of my other schools.

The moving is frustrating, but it also serves as an opportunity for cleaning out and reflection, more perhaps than I would have had otherwise. Everything must be gone through, everything must be assessed, everything must be weighed and measured and either kept or discarded. Rather a lot like moving house, except instead of evaluating your memories and keepsakes, I’m evaluating practices and methods (will I teach that next year? Will this handout be useful again?)

So while the students are signing yearbooks and studying for finals (HAHA who studies for finals), I’ll be stuffing boxes.

Happily. Peacefully. I might even enjoy it.


Go Evolve Yourself


There’s a church near me —

No, wait.

At one of the churches near me —

Nope, that doesn’t help either.

Look, there are a lot of churches near me. Living in semi-suburban, semi-rural Georgia. I pass by no less than five on my way to work, and my commute is only about fifteen minutes. (That’s a church every three minutes; way more common than any golden arches ever dreamed of.)

And some of them get pretty clever with their marquee. Credit where it’s due, I’ve gotten more than a couple of chuckles driving past this one particular church.

But this is not chuckle-worthy.

It’s not even smirk-and-drive-on-worthy.

This is veins-popping-from-the-forehead-worthy.

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I get it, it’s a joke. Haw haw, evolution thinks it has all the answers. (It doesn’t, actually, only lots of answers.) Moms are overworked. (On that one, preach on.)

But it’s a joke that critically fails to understand the thing it’s poking fun at in addition to being just idiotically wrong. Because that isn’t the way evolution works. And evolution *is* true.

Does that make me triggered? Does that make me a snowflake? Well, break out the flannel caps and snowshoes, because I have no patience for this.

Claiming that evolution isn’t true — for laughs or for real — is freaking harmful to society. Empowering people who don’t know any better, who base their arguments off archaic books rather than science you can see with your own eyes, to disagree with the fundamental understanding of the way the world works is bloody anathema to the forward progress of our culture. (And sweet fancy Moses, we need some freaking forward progress right now.)

Claiming that evolution isn’t true is the sort of thing that really should carry a sociological cost, in this day and age. Like stepping into an NRA meeting and suggesting a government buyback on guns, or crashing an LGBTQIA support group and crowing that about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

Claiming that evolution isn’t true, and telling kids to resist it in schools (I’ve encountered this myself actually, it really does happen), is holding us back.

I’m not saying it should be illegal.

I’m saying anybody seriously representing the idea should be embarrassed.


Canine Curling


Your dog is smarter than my dog.

I know this because my dog is the dumbest dog living.

Our neighbors are having a yard sale this morning. Lots of cars coming and going, doors slamming, muffled voices from the driveway.

These are all signs our dog (naturally) associates with my wife and I coming home from work. And our dog is the quintessential Attention Whore Dog (AWD for brevity ahead). She has to be in the same room with us at all times. If we step out on the back porch, even just to take out the trash or hose out a litter box, so must she. Going to the bathroom? She’s coming with you (though thankfully she’ll dutifully stop before coming in, and wait with her nose on her paws for you to come out). Headed to the kitchen? She’s on your tail with hers wagging. Cleaning house? She’ll follow you from room to room, simultaneously keeping you in view while keeping her distance from the vacuum cleaner.

All of which is to say that when we come home from leaving her alone all day, she’s a little keyed-up to see us. She greets us at the door, bounding all over the place, sniffing at our crotches, bashing her nose into our low-hanging hands. And she knows to do this when she hears the sounds that indicate we’re coming through the front door: cars grinding to a stop. Doors whumping shut. Muffled voices from the driveway.

And like I said, the neighbors are having a yard sale today — so she’s been hearing those sounds on repeat all morning. So she’s been in a perpetual state of getting revved up to see us without the payoff of actually seeing us so she can let it out and calm down.

But that’s understandable. She’s a dog. She doesn’t know the difference between strangers making those noises and us making them. Here’s why she’s dumb.

When she gets hyped up or stressed out, she doesn’t do typical dog things. She doesn’t chew up our shoes or shred couch cushions or pillows (and I guess we should be thankful for that). She just runs around. She darts from place to place, shoves herself into the tiniest spaces she can find (under the dresser, into the back of the closet, behind the toilet, etc), stays there for about five seconds, then finds a new place. And she forgets how big she is during these forays. So she’ll knock over chairs, rattle glassware on counters, upend lamps.

And for some reason, she’ll dig into her food bowl and just spread it all over the place.

I don’t understand this. It seems like it can only inconvenience her. But it happens every time she gets stressed — we find kibble all over the kitchen, and I do mean all over the kitchen. It’s like she’s playing puppy shuffleboard with it. Or canine curling. (Oh man, just picture it.)

So, needless to say, I found the kitchen just swamped with kibble when I got back to the house this morning.

Fortunately for her, she’s too cute to kill.

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What do you think? Is your dog dumber than mine? You’re wrong, but I’d love to hear about it.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


Sunburned Eggs (or, Atheists at Easter)


My son and I were in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart today.

Okay, so mistakes were made (never enter the toy aisle at Wal-Mart with your kid — better yet, never enter the toy aisle at ANY store with your kid — better still, never enter Wal-Mart) but it led to this interesting tidbit:

Me: Hey, bud, you like this one? Looks like he does magic.

Sprout: Magic isn’t real, daddy.

Me: Oh, really? It’s not?

Sprout: Well (he prefaces all his profundities with “well”), magic tricks are real, but real magic isn’t real.

(Whoa.)

Me: (the militant skeptic, hoping that this, right here, standing in the toy aisle, is the end of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and all manner of insufferable BS that parents pretend at for the “benefit” of their kids, but not wanting to come on too strong) oh, really?

Sprout: Yeah. Nobody has real magic.

Me: I see. Well — do you think the Easter Bunny is magic?

Sprout: Well, he only brings eggs filled with candy. That’s not magic.

So, you know. His skeptical instincts are apparently well-formed but still developing.

None of which kept me (a staunch atheist) and my wife (a wobbly atheist) from taking the kids to a local church for an Easter Egg Hunt (what gets capitalized there, really? Easter is the holiday, but Easter Eggs are specific things, and Hunts for Easter Eggs are certainly specific things too, though eggs and hunts are not typically specific things, and sometimes I hate the the fact that I taught English). This was not a purely cynical exercise, mind you. We were invited by one of my wife’s co-workers who, I think, thinks she can “snap us out of it.” And because we apparently think these kinds of things are good for the kids to take part in — as a cultural phenomenon, if not as a religious one — we went.

Anyway.

At said hunt, the organizers were dropping eggs from a helicopter, which is a thing that’s become more of a thing in recent years at your bigger Easter events. Of course, this is all flash without substance — it doesn’t change the intrinsic sugar-frenzy of the kids scrambling to get all the eggs before their peers, it just hypes them up and instills a good, solid bloodlust beforehand. But at this particular event (which was the first helo-drop), all the bugs had not yet been ironed out. So the helicopter circled the field once or twice, with the anticipation building, landed nearby to collect the eggs, then descended and dropped (apparently) thousands of eggs in a single spot on the field.

Thanks to all the rigmarole with the helicopter, the waiting for the “hunt” to begin (and the field in question was a literal soccer field, so it was less “hunt” and more “frenzied Thunderdome for all the clearly visible eggs in the grass”) took over an hour. Which resulted in a lot of cranky toddlers, frustrated parents, and at least one seriously sunburned bald atheist.

Which left my wife and I wondering why we went through it all.

Of course, the kids had a ball.

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I want you to note how really, thoroughly, unimpressed my kids are by all this.

So I guess there’s that.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


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