Monday, August 24, 2015

Poutine & Crazy Canadians

Along the shore of Lake Superior
 Let me preface this post by saying that I don't think Canadians are crazy, at least not all of them and had I done the proper amount of research, I could have found something more representative than poutine. Now lets start at the beginning.

I have been all over the world and yet I've never been to Canada. I've been close a time or two and have flown over it more times than I can count, but I've never set foot on Canadian soil. So we decided the time was right to remedy that error and set out one day for a day in Canada, specifically in the Thunder Bay area. I have never driven across a border of a country before so I didn't know what to expect. Being that this was Canada and in a fairly isolated part of the country, I envisioned a much scaled down version to what I see on television between California and Mexico. As we approached the border, the U.S. customs cops had a semi pulled over with cop cars blocking two of the four approach lanes. Perhaps a 100 yards out, a cop looked up, walked out between the cars and started pointing at a spot in the lane next to the car. I naturally assumed that he wanted to question us, perhaps let a dog sniff our car, etc. I pulled to a stop where he was pointing, still 50 yards short of the physical border and rolled down the window to hear what he wanted. He proceeded to lecture me about my stupidity for not giving him a full lane of buffer around his car as required by state law and how he could ticket me if he wanted too. Now I could have pointed out that I hadn't actually yet gone by him and thus could still give the one lane buffer as required by law. I could have pointed out that his pointing for me to switch lanes looked really similar to pointing to spot where I should stop for questioning. I could have suggested he be more polite to others who might be coming into our country for the first time instead of acting like a d$#k. Instead I just apologized every pause in the conversation until he finally let me go to proceed to the border and a very nice Canadian lady.

Poutine (half gone already)

We proceeded into Canada for the how every many kilometer drive to Thunder Bay making sure to obey the speed limit for fear the American cop would come throw my ass in some Canadian jail just for sport. Not having any maps or computer aided device that worked in Canada, we didn't drive all over Thunder Bay which turned out to be much much larger than I expected. We found the actual bay and though we didn't hear any thunder, we did enjoy a nice walk along it for awhile. Getting hungry we decided to get some grub and since my motto has always been, when in Rome, eat like the Romans, we set off in search of something Canadian. We found a hole in the wall called Nippy's that seemed to be getting a lot of local traffic and stopped.

Two young Canadian guys sold us some food which included Poutine, seen below. It consists of french fries topped with cheese and hot gravy. It was delicious even though I could feel my arteries hardening as I ate the stuff. That is why I insist that if this is a delicacy in this part of Canada, then whomever eats this on a regular basis must be crazy... and extremely satisfied after such a delicious treat. I'm sure Kymber, the only Canadian I know who reads my blog, could have pointed me towards something a little more healthy and uniquely Canadian but I hadn't thought to ask before my excursion. Let me know Kymber and I will get some next time!

Wood fired pottery kiln
Our journey back across the border was routine and there were no cops... or mounties that gave me a hard time or confused me with hand gestures. We did stop once to turn the kids loose along the shores of Lake Superior to burn off some of the chicken fingers and french fries (they don't eat like Romans when in Rome unfortunately) by playing in the rocks and cold water. One item of note is that just before crossing back to the States, we saw a simply hand painted sign that said pottery pointing up a winding two track lane that disappeared into a stand of trees. Who could resist?

At the end of the lane we found a hand built house and a man named Fritz who made wood fired pottery. Fritz was a very interesting guy and showed us not only his wares for sale but also his kiln tucked away in the barn and showed us how he fired his stuff, twice a year. Each time went through nearly a cord of finger sizes split wood and took 22 hours of continuous monitoring. The results, though not like the pristine stuff you get in modern gas and electric kilns, was beautiful in its own right. The fire and ash provided all the coloring in the glaze and every pot had rough spots where ash had fused to the clay during the process. We ended up buying a little vase because we liked the rustic nature of how it looked and mostly just because of the story that went with it. The next time I'm in the area, I will definitely stop in and say hello to Fritz and perhaps relieve him of some more of his pottery.

Wood fired vase


sage said...

I've been to Canada many times, but never to Thunder Bay even though I love the name. I have been on Isle Royale (considered part of Michigan even though closer to Minnesota and Canada than Michigan), from which you can see Thunder Bay. Nice pottery.

Ed said...

Sage - I don't know why this was my first time especially considering that I lived in central Minnesota for seven years earlier in my life. I guess my only excuse was that back then, I didn't have a passport and wasn't experienced in world traveling, at least not as much as I am these days.

kymber said...

Ed - poutine is canada's national food! why do you think we are sooo happy and crazy! but you didn't get the real deal. proper poutine is french fries with gravy and cheese curds, not mozzarrella! i am sorry that some canadians ripped you off - bahahahah! but really, next time you are in canada drive around and ask different restaurants/french fry trucks if they serve their poutine with curds and keep driving until you find a proper one. it really makes all of the difference!

maybe one of these days you'll come back to canada, to my island, and i can make you the best lobster roll known to man! and take you and your family down to the beach and get mussels, clams and snails. and i'll steam them perfectly!

i am glad you had a nice trip (minus the d*cky cop) - please come back often. we like nice americans!

your friend,

Ed said...

Kymber - Well I guess I was on the right track with poutine, I just didn't stop at the right place. It was very delicious with mozzarella so I can only imagine how much better it gets with curds. When, not if, I get to your place on the island, I will definitely take you up on the fresh seafood! And don't worry about the d*cky cop, he was American. The Canadians we met that day were all very nice, as I expected!

Vince said...

Those pots are truly beloved in Japan. I like them myself but the sheer numbers that're lost in the process means they are well outside my budget.
That gloop is here too. At least a version of it is anyway. Curry chips they're called here. You make a paste from the can of currypowder and pour over the chips.

ErinFromIowa said...

What an adventure of the best kind! I think I would enjoy poutine very much. The pottery side trip and your memento.... perfect.

Ed said...

Vince - While touring his kiln barn, there were racks of pots that didn't get hot enough to melt the glaze completely and he was saving them for the next time he fired.

Erin - It was. I really like talking with the locals whenever I'm off and about. I like hearing other perspectives.

warren said...

What a fantastic trip! The scenery is awesome and the waterfalls from the previous post are excellent!

edifice rex said...

I always wanted to build a small wood-fired kiln here but might not be the best idea anymore! lol! the university that I attended south of Birmingham built their own anagama kiln (long, tunnel type wood-fired kiln) a few years back. Supposed to be only one of like 5 in the U.S. I think the whole process of firing that thing takes 3-4 days.

Ed said...

Warren - This area is known for all their waterfalls which was part of the reason we went there.

Edifice Rex - Fritz told me that his kiln could get up to 1300 C, which seems way hot for anything fueled by wood, but then I'm not a potter and I don't have 18 inch this walls made of brick and plaster full of burning wood. With as much work that goes into firing just one batch, I'm not surprised that there aren't too many of them left.