When you live in the United States, it is hard to realize that Canada is actually a different country. In fact, we Americans tend to see ourselves as the center of the universe, forgetting that Canada is a completely separate society, and I don’t just mean because they have universal health care and affordable college tuition (that’s just crazy — what were they thinking?). My husband grew up in Detroit, just across the river from Windsor, Canada. From the Detroit side, Windsor looks pretty much like any slightly-worse-for-the-wear midwestern city, but, once you’re there, you begin to feel the subtle differences.
For me, it began with homemade ketchup. Yup, I said homemade ketchup. I mean, who makes that? Nobody. We stopped for lunch several years ago in Windsor before taking a drive through the Ontario countryside. The restaurant was close to the Ambassador Bridge and the oversized casinos, in a renovated warehouse. The place looked upscale but was really inexpensive, and, yes, when I dipped my french fries (or are those Canadian fries?) into the ketchup, it was deliciously and undeniably homemade. I will tell you now that there is nothing like homemade ketchup, and once you have made it yourself, you will never be able to really enjoy Heinz again.
I find the Winter Olympics in Vancouver to be a great inspiration for my cooking. For the opening ceremonies last week, I tried really hard to come up with something Vancouverian for dinner, but I drew a blank. Finally, I just decided to go with Canadian-themed food and ended up making Canadian cheddar cheese scones, split open and topped with fried Canadian bacon (a meatless one for us, of course) and a poached egg and then smothered with a Canadian cheese and broccoli sauce. Perfect for a cold winter night, and even better when followed by maple syrup ice cream sundaes.
Much to my husband’s chagrin, I am not doing Canadian-themed meals for each night of the Olympics, but I will do a few here and there. Today, however, I was looking morosely at the two feet of snow stubbornly covering my front and back gardens and began dreaming of spring. Distant memories of warm air and soft breezes reminded me of picnicking on a grassy hillside, the clover tickling my bare toes and fat flies hovering hopefully near the leftovers.
So, tomorrow night, we’re having a picnic. I decided to check around on the internet and see if I could find any Canadian picnic recipes, and I actually came across quite a few, in celebration of Canada Day, which is on July 1st. It may be February, but tomorrow I will be stretching a blanket on the carpet in front of the television set so that we can watch the ice dancing, women’s skeleton, and men’s super-G while munching on the Canadian pressed picnic sandwich — and maybe even a few deviled eggs, because I am, after all, American.
Go Canada! Here’s a link to a few recipes that might give you a little inspiration when you need it most — and let me know what you make!
If you aren’t in a Canadian frame of mind, you might try making your own ketchup. I enjoy making it for my niece’s boyfriend, who insists on putting ketchup on everything — and I am actually not kidding about that. This particular recipe comes from epicurious.com; there are many others out there, although most recipes are pretty much the same. Personally, I also like to add just a bit of tabasco sauce to this — not enough to make it spicy, but just enough to give it just the teeniest kick as you swallow those fries.
- 1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in purée
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Purée tomatoes (with purée from can) in a blender until smooth.
Cook onion in oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add puréed tomatoes, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, and salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until very thick, about 1 hour (stir more frequently toward end of cooking to prevent scorching).
Purée ketchup in 2 batches in blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Chill, covered, at least 2 hours (for flavors to develop).
Update: February 20th
We had a lovely indoor picnic last night — I would highly recommend it as a great way to chase away those I-can’t-take-another-minute-of-winter blues! Here are a few pics: