It also describes, in some measure, the relationship between my sister and me. She is the good sister, kinder and sweeter than I, churchgoing and polite with a kind heart for all the downtrodden of the world, especially children. When I was growing up the nuns would always wail, "Why can't you be more like Nancy?" She married the boy next door (literally) and produced a really special son, one of my favorite people on earth, as well as giving a great start to several foster children.
When you follow the good sister in school and life, there are expectations for your behavior that are never quite met. I wasn't diligent, or punctual, or tidy. I argued with the nuns when in Doctrine class I was taught incongruent tenets - such as the all-good, all-loving, all-forgiving God who might send His people straight to hell for eternal torture. Somehow, that dichotomy never did compute for me. Anyway, you can see what an unpleasant surprise I was to the nuns who taught Nancy first.
Then, when I began dating, my parents rolled their eyes. I was always coming home late, dating the wrong kind of guy, and beginning to worry my folks that I would never find Mr. Right when I finally got engaged to a guy they liked. And even after I married him, we chose not to have children and, ultimately, I divorced him. Whew!
Why, then, have I always loved Canada? You'd think someone like me would not enjoy a country whose people are, as a rule, patient and polite, nonviolent and diligent. But, I love all the places I've visited in Canada, which includes all the provinces except the Northwest Territories, Labrador and Prince Edward Island (I think it's a province, isn't it?). I even enjoyed Newfoundland (although not Most Holy Rosary Catholic School in Freshwater) where we lived for a year when I was 13 years old.
Canada really does cities well. In addition to all the cities I've visited there (most of the larger ones except Ottawa), I lived for many years just across Lake Ontario from Toronto and went there frequently for the theater, the arts, and the food. It is easy to get around in Toronto, very cosmopolitan compared to Rochester, NY where I was living, and so wonderfully safe that I never felt threatened, even roaming around the city in the wee hours. There's a wonderful story about Toronto that, if true, is a fun snapshot of the place.
It seems an American film company was making a movie in Toronto (it was cheaper there), a gritty city drama for which they needed a nasty alley as a set. The scouts couldn't find a nasty alley in Toronto, which has excellent services, so they got a bunch of trash and stuff and scattered it around a clean alley to add atmosphere. They knocked off for the day, intending to come back and film the alley the next morning, but when they returned, it had been all cleaned up overnight.
Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario are less than a mile apart across a river. Detroit at this time was the murder capital of the U.S. with 60+ murders annually while Windsor, the same size city, had perhaps four murders that year. Is it any wonder I love Canada?
So, while we are watching the Olympic Games from Vancouver, it seemed only appropriate to make a Canadian dish for dinner. Yes, poutine. The idea of French fries slathered with beef gravy and topped with cheese curds sounds revolting at first. I have to admit that I approached this experiment with caution, but I thought it would be fun, after all, and my own small tribute to our big sister to the north.
I bought some nice russet potatoes and sliced them into thin lengths of uniform thickness, leaving the skin intact. I made oven fries (I don't have a deep fat fryer) by heating about 1/8" inch of canola oil in a wide baking pan in a 400 degree oven, then adding the potatoes once the oil was hot. I managed to get most of them in without splashing myself with hot oil but I learned quickly that it's not easy to do so. They baked for about 20 minutes until browned on one side, then were turned carefully and put back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until browned and crispy all around. Turned out onto paper towels to drain, I then salted them very lightly while they were still hot.
The gravy I made was from a jar dark brown goo called "Better Than Bouillon," beef flavor. I made a quick roux of butter and flour, cooked it for a few minutes, then added a dollop at a time the cup of beef stock made by dissolving a teaspoon of "BTB" in 8 ounces of boiling water. It was a little salty, but not bad, really, and quite beefy-tasting. They didn't have cheddar cheese curds at my market so I bought a brick of mild white cheddar and crumbled it over the top of the hot fries and gravy.
The resulting dish was a lot like Canada - mellow, mild and surprisingly charming. I can't say it's something I'll make frequently as all those separate steps are sort of a pain (I'm not patient like Canadians are) but both My Beloved and I enjoyed it very much. Probably should have had a Moosehead beer with which to toast our big sister to the north. We couldn't ask for a better neighbor, eh?