Friday, November 29, 2013

How Offal!

Warning to my vegetarian friends, this blog discusses organ meats!

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of all Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving. It took only a very quick internet search to find that data.

A report on how many people eat turkey giblets was harder to come by. I’ll bet it’s fewer than 88%. That’s a shame! In my opinion, the contents of that little bag tucked inside the turkey carcass are the best part of the bird.

What do you do with that bagful of innards? Maybe this is you: rubber gloves encasing your hands and eyes tightly squeezed shut you reach in, haul out the sac of guts and promptly hurl them in the trash. Many people shiver at the mention of liver. Some positively turn ashen at the thought of eating the heart, the neck and the stomach. But throw them out? That’s just an awful thing to do to offal! Bring ‘em on, I say!

My mother always cooked the neck, gizzard, heart and liver in the roasting pan alongside the bird. They got “done” long before the turkey was ready. She’d bring them out of the oven, lay them on a saucer and sprinkle them with salt. She and Dad would eat them as a snack before preparing the rest of the meal. Once I was considered mature enough to deserve a taste, I became hooked.  So tasty! So rich! So, well, hearty! After that, we fought over who got what.

Many years later, after having cooked many turkeys on my own, I attended a lecture at the University of British Columbia presented by Margaret Visser. Once referring to herself as “an anthropologist of everyday life,” she was a popular commentator on CBC Radio, delving into detail about how we came about doing many of the things we do.  I loved her books, “The Rituals of Dinner,” “The Way We Are,” and “Much Depends on Dinner.” Her topic that day was “Rites of Holiday Feasts.” I wish I could quote verbatim to tell you about it, but it was too long ago. I do recall her talking about the olden-days; medieval origins of holiday meals when large roasted fowls were served to large crowds. The privilege of eating heart of the bird, it seems, was reserved for the chieftain of the clan. Visser explained that this rite was passed along down until today mother and father, husband and wife, maintain the privilege of eating the heart and other giblets (cooked!)in the kitchen, privately, before guests arrive. Maybe Ken and I are the last ones on earth to do this, but I nearly shouted in that lecture hall, “YES! We do that!”

When Ken’s family first invited me to their turkey dinners, I discovered another use for giblets. Stock for the gravy! Ken’s mom plopped poultry neck, heart, stomach and liver in a pot along with chopped onions and let them simmer all day until the bird came out of the oven. The strained liquid was pure gold to add to the pan drippings for gravy. Why she added Bisto was a mystery to me. There was so much flavor from the giblets already.

Then as young adults we visited a Beni-hana-style restaurant – you know, one of those places where the chefs wield large Ginzu knifes deftly chopping morsels of food right in front of you and searing them on those giant grills. We were served an appetizer of chicken livers sizzled with scallions and set ablaze with soy sauce and sherry. Heaven on a plate!

Ever since, when cooking a Sunday or Thanksgiving fowl, I anxiously anticipate getting the chicken or turkey in the oven so I can chop up the liver, heart and gizzard and get them sautéing with onions and garlic. A splash of soy sauce and a swirl of butter to finish them off and we have an appetizer on crusty French bread fit for a chieftain.
Or who can resist chopped liver blended with chopped boiled eggs, onions, a smash of garlic and maybe a shot of whiskey? Yum.
And so I say to you, the lily-livered among you who toss out that bag of turkey parts: Have some guts! Honor ancient tradition and ritual and stir up those giblets in some savory way. Gobble, gobble!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rousing Words, Eh?

This week marks two solemn dates on the American calendar. One is the 50th anniversary on November 22nd of the assassination of John Firzgerald Kennedy. This is one of those few events in history that carries such significance that everyone of a certain age can remember where they were when it happened. Even a 10 year old school kid in Winnipeg. My teacher announced it with a grave voice that day in my classroom. All the adults were very sad for a long time.

The other noteworthy event this week is the 150thanniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which was on November 19th.. Did you learn to recite it off by heart when you were in school? I did. In my school, we were taught to memorize the Gettysburg Address and then raise our voices in unison with all the gravitas that grade four kids can muster.

This would not have been an unusual task for school kids in those days, except for the fact that we were little Canadian school kids. I’ve often wondered why we were taught such a quintessentially American speech. No doubt because it is a brilliant oratorical work – and when you’re in grade four you really do appreciate great oratory. Or perhaps our teacher took  an opportunity on the 100th anniversary of President Lincoln’s speech  to put President Kennedy’s death into some historical context for us. I really don’t recall. I just remember belting out, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth…….” with sincere 8-year-old solemnity. I think we even learned the Pledge of Allegiance.

That’s what it was like to be a kid in Canada in the olden days. We learned our Canadian history, sure. About Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain and all the explorers looking for the Northwest Passage and “discovering” Canada in the process. About early settlement in New France and important battles for sovereignty and Confederation in 1867. But we learned American and British history quite thoroughly and in those years we began to learn French as well. It was enough  to give a kid an identity crisis.

I mean, why didn’t we learn to recite any illustrious Canadian speeches? Hasn’t there ever been Canadian words of sufficient eminence to cross the border and be studied in American classrooms? This week, I determined to find out. So I googled, “Famous Canadian Speeches,”  and I’m thinking, “Please, please don’t let me find Rob Ford’s potty-mouthed outbursts. Good grief, I will shrivel and die if that base level of vulgarity is what will distinguish Canadian public speaking for years to come.

Whew! Toronto’s mayor was not represented on what I found. However, here is what I did find:

·         A speech by French President, Charles de Gaulle, who in the summer of 1967 in Montreal, fanned the fires of Quebec separatism with the words, “Vive le Quebec libre!” (say it like this: VEEE-VA, le Quebec LEEEEEEE-bra)

·         Throne Speeches by various Governors General representing Her Majesty at various openings of Parliament over the years. Important, but yawny.

·         Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau’s remarks during an impromptu television interview in October 1970 after he had imposed the War Measures Act to quell the separatists, when asked how far he would go, replied, “Just watch me.”

·         And a Molson beer ad called, “I am Canadian!”

OK, this was discouraging. Nothing on the scale of the Gettysburg Address? Canadian history buffs please prove me wrong! What have we got that compares to "Four score...." or "Ask NOT what your country can do for you..." or "I have a dream today...."?

In the meantime, my money’s on the Molson’s ad, because it really is quite stirring!

Or, you might enjoy the Willam Shatner version. He is Canadian.
I am Canadian by William Shatner

Since the first publication of this blog, my friend Sandy found this beautiful speech by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson made on the occasion of dedicating Canada's new maple leaf flag:. The language reflects the times, the 1960s:

“May the land over which this new Flag flies remain united in freedom and justice; a land of decent God-fearing people; fair and generous in all its dealings; sensitive, tolerant and compassionate towards all men; industrious, energetic, resolute; wise, and just in the giving of security and opportunity equally to all its cultures; and strong in its adherence to those moral principles which are the only sure guide to greatness.”
Lester B. Pearson




Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day

I am writing this today, November 11th. It is Veteran’s Day here in the US. In Canada, it is Remembrance Day. Both of these national holidays coincide with others around the world, such as Armistice Day in the UK, that mark the anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the First World War officially ended.

Neighbours on our street have placed small American flags all along the sidewalk up and down; and in front of our house as well. I added one small Canadian flag just right beside our front steps. For some reason, maybe because of our flag’s scarlet colour, the old poem we learned to recite in school popped into my head. I can only remember the first two lines off by heart: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.”

A Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae from Guelph, Ontario wrote this poem on May 3, 1915, after the funeral of a friend who had died in battle in France. It was published later that year in London. It refers to the red poppies that grew among the graves of fallen soldiers.

I was a bit ambivalent about Remembrance Day when I was a kid. It meant an afternoon off school and that snow was usually on the ground. In the morning, classes were suspended so we could attend a memorial service. I think I remember a minister or maybe representatives from a couple of religious denominations coming to school to lead us in prayer and hymns, such as “Our God, Our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come.” A bugler would play “Taps.” We were expected to wear Sunday best and pin velvety red poppies to our coat collars. And the poem “In Flanders Fields” would be delivered by someone chosen especially for the honour.

One year, a girl named Juliana recited the poem. Her family had recently immigrated to Canada from Germany. I found that curious even at my age which would have been 8 or 9 at the time. I wondered if the school was punishing her for being German or if it was a gesture of forgiveness and welcome. Or maybe she was picked because she was quite simply a good reader. She stood in front of the entire school assembly, with her hair in long braids, wearing a pleated skirt and a home-made Bavarian-style wool sweater, speaking the verses as clear as a bell.

My Dad had not gone overseas as he had ulcers and was not classified fit for combat, but he did join the Army Reserves and did basic training. I vaguely remember his brother, my Uncle Bob, being in the RAF, not the RCAF as one might have thought, and I think he was stationed in England, but I never heard stories about it. Dad’s sister Anne’s husband fought in Europe and had been taken prisoner of war and never returned home. A family friend was a pilot who had been terribly burned in a plane crash. He came over to our house a few times and I got used to seeing his scarred face. Along with the Great Depression, World War II shaped my parents’ sensibilities to a huge degree and I grew up in its shadow because of their memories.

Not much was said in our family about World War I, although my grandparents would have been young adults at the time. My Dad’s family came to Canada from Scotland sometime around 1910. I do remember my mom saying that my Granny used to sell poppies outside Eaton’s department store in Winnipeg. I wondered if she was honouring young men, maybe someone she knew in Canada or back home in Scotland, who had died in that war.

By the time I was a teen, anti-war sentiment in the 1960s and early 70s fueled my rebellion about Remembrance Day. In my witlessness I believed that the holiday and the blood-red poppies were glorifying war. Apparently some students at Ottawa University have had this same idea very recently. Here’s a passage from yesterday’s “Globe and Mail”:

When Canadian veterans gather at the National War Memorial to honour those who served and those who died in this country’s wars, there may be unwelcome guests: activists distributing white poppies, which they say symbolize peace, claiming the red ones celebrate war.

Their stunt threatens to disrupt a sombre moment with a manufactured controversy. Remembrance Day has never been about glorifying war. Rather, it’s about reflecting upon its horrors and its sacrifices, which Canadians have been forced to endure over the past century.

Age has softened the edges of my youthful ignorance. Perhaps it will do the same for the protesters and maybe one day some of them will be ashamed of their actions today.

As for me, I am in awe of the courage that it takes to fight for one’s country. The least I can do is put out a small flag on November 11 and wear a red poppy. I can pause to be grateful to those who are defending our peace and honour those whose lives have been lost. Lest we forget.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.