Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oh Canada!

I recently ventured to West Hollywood for no good reason in order to go to a trendy bar with a group of my friends, who are mostly the kind of people who I love for not really caring about going to trendy bars. But alas, the air hockey table and long list of imported beers (including Danish beers) awaited. I quickly cut to the chase with my fellow bar-goers as I set out on a quest for some bakery blog material. That's right-- some go to bars to party and meet up with intriguing members of the opposite sex, but let's face it, I have a job to do. My priorities are in order.

After striking up a conversation/air hockey challenge with a group of visiting Canadian air force pilots, I started to think about what people eat in Canada and I had an unexpected flashback. Although I have never traveled to Canada, I once had a nice old Canadian neighbor who helped me with my fourth grade school report on Canada by giving me a cherished Canadian recipe.

As the conversation waned with the Canadian air force pilots, it was my golden opportunity to broach the subject of my most favorite Canadian baked treat: The Nanaimo Bar! It's actually quite a miracle that I remembered these Canadian delights. Had I not pounded on my Canadian neighbor's door, in the desperation of a fourth grader who needed two sources besides the encyclopedia, I might have never obtained the recipe.

One of the Canadians immediately smiled when I mentioned Nanaimo bars, saying that "Those are SO good!". Common ground. I still maintain that we could resolve countless international disputes if only we conversed just a little more about food together, if only we had transnational food appreciation conventions with open bars.

I get the impression that Nanaimo bars are quite the revered baked goods around Canada, and this is somewhat warranted. Canadian expatriate blogs wax on about Nanaimo bars being the much longed for treats of the Motherland. Apparently there is also a certain amount of mystery and lore surrounding the original recipe. All I can say for sure is that my neighbor's recipe was amazing, and it reminds me of my happy chubby fourth grade days eating sweets and feeling jolly.

I posed an important question for the Canadian: Is the Canadian Nanaimo bar tradition the equivalent of the America's love affair with the chocolate chip cookie? The Canadian answered firmly: "No. The Nanaimo bar is for special occasions. It is much more special than the chocolate chip cookie."

Putting my American pride aside, I acknowledged that Nanaimo bars were delicious. But in my head, I was defending the chocolate chip cookie like others might defend American football, freedom, or cheeseburger drive through joints (all logical choices, the cookie being the most under appreciated as far as I am concerned). The Canadian insulted my favorite cookie of choice, and this meant war, conflict, heartache. The chocolate chip cookie can be special, and often is special, but it has to be done right. And we all know that this rarely happens. How many times have you paid more than one hard-earned dollar on a rock hard, almost burnt "chocolate chip cookie in what is clearly a disgraceful representation of one of our most beloved national treats? Don't even get me started with Chips Ahoy.

For my new Canadian friends, I must state for the record that they are right, but only in one sense. Any old chocolate chip cookie (i.e. the Chips Ahoy variety) may not be the cherished dessert for special occasions and celebrations in America. But the truly satisfying chocolate chip cookie (slightly crispy edges, gooey slightly undercooked middle, warm from the oven with a chilled glass of milk), the chocolate chip cookie that is done right, can be cause for a celebration all its own.

I'm still going to dig up my Nanaimo bar recipe, and I'll always dig the fact that my old Canadian neighbor gave it to me. She was a sweet lady who shared her Canadian pride with the little waddling fourth grader neighbor child. And the jovial Canadians visiting West Hollywood shared the same sense of pride as I cunningly preyed upon them for blog material (We even got them to sing their anthem "Oh Canada" to the bar at one point). They told us sugary tales of Canadian forests, filled with maple trees with taps in them, and spoke highly of the local sweet shops which feature maple syrup products. Apparently they are sugar fiends over there in Canada. As one of my friends put it, when Americans hear this, we picture small Canadian children frolicking around in forests, running up to maple trees and licking them, out of control despite their parents' warnings not to spoil their dinner. Totally accurate? Perhaps not. Entertaining visual? Indeed.

Conveniently enough, our night ended across the street at IHOP, where American folks venture when they just simply "need" a stack of pancakes at 3 am, (or in WeHo perhaps also when they are having clandestine Hollywood affairs). As always, IHOP featured several selections of maple syrup to choose from. We asked the Canadians to rate the syrup, and it was just as we suspected: sub-par. "Too runny," one of them commented with a tone of Canadian authority. After one Canadian ordered bacon, we discussed other stimulating topics such as whether Canadian bacon was just bacon to them when they ordered it back home (To clarify, they identified Canadian bacon as "back bacon", and bacon bacon by its regular American title. Clearly, these are the burning questions of the American intellect).

As I reflected on the night of my maple-syrup induced coma, I caught a glimpse of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central when Colbert was "interviewing" comedian Martin Short. During his interview, Short stated if someone were putting a gun to his head, forcing him to choose between his Canadian and American citizenships, he would pick Canada. I would think him a traitor if not for the glory of Nanaimo bars, clearly a part of his unstated rationale for this decision, eh?
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