Monday 30 June 2014

Happy Birthday Canada

Happy Birthday Canada!!

July 1 is the day we wear red and white, paint a maple leaf on our face, wave a few flags around and have a fireworks display (a small one). We toss in a celebrity or two, but no one so famous that you’d actually recognize, although last year we did have William and Kate. For about two hours we celebrate our country and the great bounty we get from it--Nanaimo bars, butter tarts and so on. When it’s over, we return home, pack the flags away until the next year and turn on CNN. Oh Canada.


July 1 is  Canada Day north of the border--the longest unprotected border in the world, and the great divide between here and there.

Dear God, why is the border between here and there unprotected given the turbulent times we live in? It's because no one is risking life and limb trekking through the mosquito-infested bush of New Brunswick, or swimming across the Niagara gorge to get from here to there. (If we did, we'd probably apologize for causing such trouble before merrily skipping right back around.) But really, why are Canadians not risking it all to make it from here to there? The simple answer is: because it's better here than there. I debated sharing this information because, obviously, we don't want an influx from there to here, but decided it would be selfish to just keep it here.

So, voilà, merely, ten reasons why it's better here than there:

10. We’re Funny

This doesn't mean our streets are filled with clowns, because they are not, but we do take laughing seriously here. We mostly laugh at the weather, especially in the winter. Laughing circulates the blood and keeps us from becoming icicles stuck to a bus stop in the dead of winter. True to our style, we have a festival devoted to nothing but laughter. The yearly Just for Laughs Festival is held in Montreal and its website is, . That's funny!

9. Two Official Languages

English and French are our two official languages, and we don’t even care that there are millionss of people across this country who don’t speak either one well enough to ask, “Which way to Moose Jaw?” It doesn’t matter. The point is, there are options.

8. Niagara Falls

The view is better from the Canadian side. It just is. Period.

7. Year-long Maternity Leave

Have a baby, take a year off work, get paid while doing so, and have your job waiting for you when you return. We consider this protection for the future, as little Suzy is going to grow up to be the policy maker on, "Caring for the Elderly". We want her to be well adjusted. The bonding she achieves during the first year of her life, will be very important when she's developing policy that will impact the country's gerontological future. We're depending on all the little Suzys' out there. 

6. The Largest Non-Federal Currency in the World

It’s called Canadian Tire Money and we treat it like real currency, socking it away for years, then forgetting where we last left it. But not an Edmonton, Alberta man. No siree! He used his loot to buy his dream lawnmower. Never mind that it took him fifteen years to save up enough Canadian Tire funds. That's irrelevant. Thanks to his savvy savings, he was able to ride off on his new spiffy mower and he received national news coverage in the process. We have no bounds on what makes national news here.

5. We Apologize Like Nobody’s Business 


I'm sorry you may not like this piece, and I'm really sorry that you may not agree with me. It's all just in fun (see #10). There's nothing personal about it. Sorry. 

4. Our Head of State is a Monarch

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

She’s pretty cool and her grand kids are even cooler. She doesn’t ask a lot and keeps pretty much to herself. Occasionally she checks in on us or she sends an envoy over. They make certain we’re still saying ZED instead of ZEE, and that we haven’t dropped the letter U from words like neighbour, colour and humour (she wouldn’t be amused). When they come we have a street party. We wave a few flags again, clap, cheer, then go home and turn on CNN. Oh Canada.

3. We’re Open and Inclusive


Still debating gay marriage? (Yawn!) It’s been legal here for ten years plus. Why, just last week one hundred and ten same-sex couples were, for the sake of efficiency, all married at the same time in Toronto as part of World Pride week. We cheered them on and wished them well. Some of us even cried with joy. Ontario just elected an openly gay woman to run the province. Sexual orientation played no role in her election. It’s such a non-issue. We don’t care. Besides, the community throws one heck of a street party with lots of flags and everyone’s invited. And who doesn't want to be invited to the biggest party in town (with lots and lots of flags)?

2. We’re Generous

Jack Bauer.jpg
We give and give and ask nothing in return. We gave our best comedians (see #10) and we gave everyone's current favourite super hero—Jack Bauer. Maybe not the fictional character, but let me stake claim to Keifer Sutherland. He’s ours. Born to two proudly Canadian parents and the grandson of Canada’s Greatest Canadian (more on this in a bit), Jack Bauer is ours, or at least Kiefer is. Let’s not debate this.

1. Universal Health Care

This is our holy grail no matter what! See a doctor in Halifax, have a chest X-ray in Winnipeg, collapse in a hospital corridor in Vancouver and guess what? Pay nothing. Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific never have to worry about paying for such services. And who do we have to thank for this? Jack Bauer’s grandfather. Well, Keifer Sutherland’s anyway. His grandfather, Tommy Douglas, named Canada’s Greatest Canadian a few years back, started it all. Thanks to Mr. Douglas, no Canadian will ever have to re-mortgage their home to get the health care they need. And that’s a whole lot of stress gone by the wayside, which, right there, makes us healthy.  

There's more. But we'll keep the rest to

Happy Canada Day 

Bonne fête du Canada


Wednesday 25 June 2014

Five Unusual Soups From Around the World

I love soup. I grew up on soup, and it's still my favourite comfort food.

Even on a warm summer day, a hearty bowl of soup fills the soul and  warms the cockles of your heart. But when you’ve had enough of chicken soup or carrot with ginger or even mulligatawny, what’s left? For those with more adventurous and exotic taste buds, here are five of the more unusual soups from around the world.

Chicken Testicle Soup – Taiwan


Didn’t know chickens had testicles? Well they do, and a tasty bowl of soup they make. This soup could almost pass for the chicken soup famous across North America, but look closer and rather than typical chicken meat, you will find white matzo-ball-looking rounds floating in your bowl. Creamy, with a Jell-O-like consistency on the inside, chicken testicles are believed to have good side effects—good skin for women, and virility for men. Such benefits make it hard to resist a bowl, or maybe a cup. A spoonful?

Iguana Soup – Aruba

Islanders love iguana

Tasting a bit like rabbit and a little like chicken, iguanas, also known as bamba chicken, are believed to be an aphrodisiac. It’s their two penises (really just one, split into two) that gives them this distinction. So it’s no wonder this soup is sought-after on the island. It’s a vegetable broth in combination with iguana meat, which is both bony and scaly, but really, what’s a few bones and scales when virility is at stake?

Snake Soup – Hong Kong


Found throughout Hong Kong, snake soup is a winter favourite. Visit one of the city’s live snake restaurants in Kowloon, where you can choose your snake from behind a cage. Then watch as your snake is taken away, and eventually re-appears at your table in your soup bowl. The soup itself is broth-based with shredded snake meat. And as with many exotic meats, it tastes like chicken.

Birds Nest Soup – China


One of the most expensive soups in the world, birds nest soup is made from the nests created by tiny swiflets. The soup is a delicacy that has been made in China for hundreds of years, with the best nests being reserved for the emperors and empresses who ruled China. The swiflet saliva-created nests are believed to hold powerful medicine, including providing lifelong immunity boosts for children and erasing wrinkles for mature matrons. This explains why a vast population is willing to pay large amounts of money for a small nest. And have I mentioned it’s believed to enhance sexual prowess for men?

Lanciao – Southern Philippines


In English, this soup can be called bull or ox gonad, as it’s made from bull testicles and phallus. In southern Philippines, it is called lanciao, and be warned, it is not for the faint-hearted. Once again, it is a soup believed to have very potent aphrodisiac benefits, although there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim. The “meat” is washed, cleaned and scalded with boiling water. Then it is cut into pieces and simmered until tender. Vegetables are added, making this an aromatic and healthy soup, with potentially positive side benefits. So, why not give it slurp next time you see it on the menu?

Thursday 19 June 2014

It's Always About the Food

                                                               Just picture a great big steak 
 Fried, roasted or stewed.

Oh, food,
Wonderful food,
Marvellous food,
Glorious food.

This won't come as a surprise, given the number of food-porn photos I have posted here, but I'll say it anyway, I love food. I won't say that I will try anything, because that would be a lie, but I am pretty adventurous in my quest to try new foods.

In our family, food represents a coming together of people. We gather around the table to celebrate happy times, and mourn the sad times. Together. We join to stuff sausages, grill meats and fish, fry large batches of chicken, then share the bounty around a table, filled with high-tone voices all fighting to be heard over one another. It's our way.

When I travel, the highlight of any trip is the food. I'm not a shopper, so please don't ask me to visit the local outlet mall, nor the newest and largest brand-name store with the fabulous discounts. That will not do. But take me to a food market or even a local grocery store, and I'm quite happy to lose myself for hours taking in the various local specialties.

It's those local specialties I'm after--conch fritters in the Caribbean; moose burgers in Newfoundland, alligator fingers in Florida, grilled octopus in Spain, oysters in Prince Edward Island.

Food and the people behind it are the reason for travelling. If you're not open to trying the local foods and meeting the people who are cooking it, then what is the reason for pulling yourself up from the the couch? There is none. That's the answer.

Last fall, I spent three glorious weeks in Lisbon. Everyday I meandered the cobblestone streets and back alleys, taking in the different neighbourhoods and plonking myself down in a local restaurant, with the goal of trying all 365 different codfish recipes, famous throughout Portugal. Of course, that was not possible, especially since my favourite is Bacalhau com Natas, and for which there are several recipes. I opted instead to try various versions of that particular dish. As with anything, some were better than others.

Bacalhau com natas
There's a contest running through the Portuguese Food Travel Association (APTECE), which, if by some miraculous intervention, I were to win, I'd have another go at trying 365 codfish recipes. I'm not certain how that would play out, as there aren't enough days, but I'd give it a try. It's a 16-day food junket through Portugal--I'd take jeans with elasticized waistbands if I won.

Although my roots are deeply Portuguese, I am very much Canadian (sorry, not during the World Cup #ForçaPortugal). A foodie trip through a country I left behind as a child, and one that will remain in my heart forever, would be a gastronomical learning experience. Further educating myself on the food and culture of this wonderful country will perhaps make me little more Portuguese? I can try.  Promoting Portugal, its sights, food and its people, is something I engage in at every opportunity, and I would of course, be proud further do so, if indeed, a miracle were to occur. 

So, since I still do  believe in miracles, I'm entering the contest. And if by some wild and crazy chance I were to win, well: Have I died and gone to heaven in a velvety custard tart?

For more information on the food tour or just to view some stunning mouth-watering photos, take a peak at Nelson Carvalheiro's blog. It'll make you want to start packing your bags!

Wish me luck folks.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Summer Fun Canadian Activities and Festivals

Polar vortex be gone! Summer is at our doorstep.We can feel the heat, which means it's time to shed the winter fur and head for the great outdoors—from coast to coast, activities abound in this vast country of ours. 

But every year it may feel like just more of the same. Thankfully, if you’ve been to one too many rib fests, or have had enough family picnics, there are alternate options. Here are some of Canada’s not-so-usual activities.

Spock Days Festival, Vulcan, Alberta

If your town is named VULCAN, what is is there to do? Put on a Star Trek festival and invite the world. Boldly going for twenty two years, it's the ultimate trekkie gathering. Descend onto the Canadian Prairies to the official Star Trek Capital of Canada (who knew we had one?) for a weekend of extra-terrestrial family fun. This year it runs from June 13 - 15. The Town of Vulcan, Alberta is recognized around the solar system and throughout the alpha-quadrant for its coincidental relationship to Star Trek and Mr. Spock’s home planet. Vulcan has embraced the "space culture" with green aliens on road signs, and Star Trek tributes all down the main street. Fascinating.

Embrace your inner Viking at the 125th annual Islendingadagurinn festival taking place this year from August 1 to 4  in Gimli, 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg. This is possibly (absolute proof is not available) the second oldest festival in North America. Highlights include the selection of the Fjalkona (Maid of the Mountain), considered the female incarnation of Iceland. There is a Viking Encampment, Viking warfare tactics demonstration and, of course, no festival is complete without a parade.

Chocolate Festival, St. Stephen, New Brunswick

Festival & event, St. Stephen, New Brunswick Canada
St. Stephen is Canada’s chocolate headquarters—but this is not a Willy Wonka imaginary town. It is a real place, filled with real people who are blessed with whiffs of chocolate floating through the air. As the home of world-famous Ganong Brothers Chocolate, St. Stephen, naturally, hosts an annual Chocolate Festival. Its mascots, The Great Chocolate Moose and his lovely wife, Tiffany, play hosts to the thousands of participants who flock to to the festival each year for a chance at anything chocolate. Activities include Chocolate Cake Cutting and the Chocolate Run (which includes a children’s 1K run). This year the festival runs from August 2th to the 9th.

Edgewalk, Toronto, Ontario


This one isn’t a festival, but according to Guinness World Records, the CN Tower walk is the “Highest External Walk on a Building.” Known as the “Extreme Urban Adventure,” the walk is 356 meters above the ground, and takes about 30 minutes to complete—hands-free around the edge of the tower. At one point during the guided tour, participants can lean over the edge of the walkway, backwards. This activity takes place from May to October, and is only cancelled in the case of electrical storms or high winds.

Elvis Festival, Collingwood, Ontario


Elvis may have left the building, but he is alive and well in Collingwood, Ontario, from July 23 to 27, the date of the 2014 festival. The entire town gets all shook up to welcome Elvises from every era. You can  Dine with the King or see Elvis at the Movies; enjoy a Gospel Brunch, or Dance to the Legends. Suspicious minds may think there's not enough to keep everyone busy, but rest assured, there are plenty of events to keep all Elvis fans from crying in the chapel. You may have lost that lovin' feelin' for those old blue suede shoes, but put them back on your feet because this is one festival where you'll find a whole lotta shakin' goin' on. You'll want to be there.

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon

Sign post forest

This forest of signs in Watson Lake, Yukon, was started in 1942 by a homesick US army GI working on the Alaska Highway. He posted the first sign, which showed the name of his hometown and the mileage to it. Since then, travellers passing through the area have nailed thousands of signs, which today tops well over 70,000. While in the vicinity, pop into the Alaska Highway Interpretive Centre for information on the territory, along with history on the highway. And of course, leave your own hometown sign.