November 29th 2004
Pronounced : 'sü-shE
: cold rice dressed with vinegar, formed into any of various shapes, and garnished especially with bits of RAW fish or shellfish
If we weren't going into winter I would be inclined to think that there has been a collective outbreak of heatstroke in the various legislatures and Law courts around Ontario.
You will note from the description above that Sushi has as its base ingredient RAW fish. OK, as I will explain later Sashimi is in fact the true Japanese name for raw fish but as most of the public insists on calling anything with raw fish in it Sushi lets carry on with that premise.
Raw fish is called sashimi in Japan and is not the same as sushi. Sushi is food that uses rice seasoned with sweet rice-wine vinegar. Raw fish is the most popular ingredient in sushi, but the main element of sushi is Japanese sticky rice. There are many kinds of sushi, which don't include raw fish. Cooked fish, shellfish, and various other ingredients can be combined in sushi.
The origin of sushi is not Japanese. Sushi was introduced into Japan in the 7th century from China. People began making sushi to preserve fish by fermentation when there were no refrigerators. Since salt and rice were needed in order to ferment fish, sushi came to be closely related to rice in Japan. Over time it developed into the current sushi, which combines fish and rice. Sushi is low in fat and a very nutritious food. The fish in sushi provides protein and can be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
All of which means nothing at all when it comes to the health-nazi's of Ontario.
Drunk with power now that the Lieberals are inhibiting the hallowed halls of Government and clamping down or banning everything in sight (dogs, smoking, food in schools), this week provided one of the more sublime pieces of stupidity seen for a while.
They banned the use of raw fish in the making of Sushi!
Based on the possible chance that a parasite found in raw fish may make Canadians sick the Ontario Ministry of Health stood up and smugly announced that for the good of everyone Sushi would henceforth have to be made with flash-frozen fish or fish that had been refrigerated.
Here is the best part of that strange logic. There have to date been no reported cases of anyone on Canada getting the parasite from eating sushi.
Not that this stopped the ubermeisters-of-what-is-good-for-you from proudly announcing their intentions anyway.
I was a bit surprised that this took place but for a very different reason. I have come to expect the average knee jerk reaction to anything the Lieberals disagree with being to ban it, but this treads heavily on Cultural sensibilities. Something that the Lieberals bend over backwards to promote. So I didn't expect them to ban a food that has managed to transcend cultural barriers and become a favourite of all people.
Which just goes to show.
Right now the health nazi's are working on banning junk food in junior schools, pit-bulls and smoking within a million miles of Canada's borders.
Just recently the Ontario Government has in fact banned pit-bull ownership, banned junk food in junior schools and are currently negotiating a 100 kilometre no-smoking zone around Ontario (please throw your stompies in the United States. That will teach Bush to hurt our little lieberal sensibilities by winning again!)
The pit-bull ban was another hastily rushed piece of legislation after a spate of very public attacks that owed their visibility more to the news medias sense of what makes a good story than to reality.
Reality says that the dog that bites the most is one that is seen as “family friendly” and so not newsworthy, while the pit-bull is seen as a vicious killer and so every attack must be played up as such.
The Ontario Government though needs to be seen to be doing something for a change and so they rushed through the ban.
The trouble with all these bannings is that inside you a little voice says that something has to be done about smoking and junk food in schools and pit-bulls (not sushi though) but this reliance on Governments taking such action on all and sundry is very disturbing.
In the meantime when I take out that special someone to a Sushi bar will I be forced to go underground and dodge the sushi police? Have to stay at home and rely on my own skills at slicing up freshly caught fish? Even the three eyed Lake Ontario variety?
Just how many years in prison will I get if I get caught eating sushi? More important is whether I could claim refugee status in Japan on the premise that I am member of a repressed minority. (Apparently no one in the Health Department eats sushi in Ontario)
To date however I have not heard one mention of the word Sashimi in this whole debacle. Which you will note from my remarks earlier is the true raw fish food.
So my understanding is that I become a criminal if I eat sushi made with raw fish and can guzzle to my hearts content on sashimi for the time being.
Almost as strange as the court case we had recently where a woman was acquitted of a traffic violation because the traffic sign wasn't in French.
The woman in question, a lawyer herself, was charged with making an illegal left turn against a posted traffic sign.
Her lawyer (who is an articled student, was arguing his third case in court and no doubt will make a brilliant lawyer one day) argued that because the sign did not have French on it was invalid and therefore his client shouldn't be fined. As he put it:
“ We don't dispute that she turned left. We don't dispute that she didn't see the sign. What we contend is that the sign itself is null and void.”
Which the Justice of the Peace agreed with and then tossed the case out of court.
The beauty of this case is that the woman in question doesn't even speak French! She does however have a smart lawyer to be and a judge with very little common sense.
Which goes a long way to explaining our Justice system in Ontario and why we have so many ludicrous judgments taking place.
Actually no it doesn't.
Too many drugs in the sixties is probably a better explanation.
Or maybe the only case in Ontario of a parasite ingested from eating sushi making its way to the brain and altering whatever common sense may have been there.
November 15th 2004
Yesterday I did something I haven't done for a long, long time.
I laughed so long and so hard that I thought I was about to have a heart attack. I even had the ultimate literary allusion: tears streaming down my face. I haven't had a laugh that reduced me to tears for ages. And tears of joy and laughter are so much more preferable to any other variety anyway.
I am not sure if it was a result of months, or years, of pent up stress that needed a release or whether what sparked off my mirth was justified. Perhaps I should explain.
My Daughter works for HMV as a buyer.
This means that she very often is able to bring home samples and demo music. Sometimes a song or two and on odd occasion a full CD.
I have actually discovered a few bands and singers that have proved impressive enough for me to want to hear more. (I was going to say that I have been inspired to download more of their music but we all know that no one would break the law this way. Including me. Right?)
Generally I am given an album with the comment “this is the sort of old f**t music you like right?” as if when it comes to anything that has rhythm, beat and lyrics I am the fundi. All other discordant cacophonies remain the exclusive pursuit of the youth.
This time however she came back with this mischievious look on her face and handed me a CD and said that she just HAD to get it for me. I HAD to listen to it. This was definitely something I would find a pleasure to listen too. Which is intriguing enough anyway.
Never make a cat curious!
Because when you realise that it is the latest CD from Captain Kirk there is this terrible, awful, inescapable compulsion to play it! There is something that draws you in. Black hole like!
“It's music Captain, but not as we know it!”
I had only that day read a full-page review of the CD and it had been reasonably nice about the musical merits of the songs contained therein.
Which only goes to show that Canadian critics will applaud anything that is made by a Canadian artist.
Which may explain Celine Dion.
William Shatner however has been trading off his fame as Captain Kirk for years now as well as the myriad comedians who have taken off his halting speech patterns. I am never quite sure whether he has a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous and therefore a strong self deprecating side that is mocking all those Trekkies out there or whether he is in fact sublimely oblivious to everything except his own perceived genius.
I mean his opening sentence in the album covers forward goes as such:
"The studio where we worked in is where Elvis waved his hips"
Think about that for a long time.
I note that the majority of songs on the album have been written by Shatner. Unfortunately they are the ones that are so excruciatingly bad they border on genius.
The one song that I keep listening too to see whether I can in fact get inside the head of Mr. Shatner and understand if this is indeed one huge leg pull is entitled “You'll Have Time”
I cannot begin to explain the vision it conjures up in my mind. I will however try of course.
Picture, if you will, Shatner sitting on a stool strumming his guitar, with the Monty Python organist sitting naked at an organ pounding away on the keys in the “chopsticks” school of play-the-organ-in-seven-days style. Behind him decked out in fifties beehive hairdo's are “the chorus”. Three, or more, bobby-soxers with their hands held up in front of them making circular movements and “ooohing” at appropriate moments.
Cue the organ.
“Live life like you're gonna die because you're gonna”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you're gonna die”
It goes downhill from there. This includes the background singers bursting into full oratory every so often by singing “you're gonna die” in the Motown doo-wop style. At one stage crooning “dead” after every name that Shatner sing/reads out. By the end of the song they have returned to singing “die” as a background chorus. Spelling out in song “you're gonna die” before they have a further role to explore in the end they are asked to sing out a litany of disease and distress with which we will be terminated from our breathe:
“Lung cancer, heart attack, diabetes, drug overdose, Choke on a chicken bone, hit by a lightening bolt, spider bite, aero plane crash” and some other dastardly way that I can't make out that ends with a long drawn out “aaaayyyyyyeeeee”
The interesting thing about this song is that I have to agree with Shatner on its topic. Listen to this album often enough and you will die. From laughing.
Including at the title song
Done in the Spaghetti Western style of music. It starts with the line “You talkin' to me?” and I am pretty sure that this is a leg-pull. Although whether Shatner is aware of it is a moot point.
Interestingly he has managed to convince a pretty good bunch of musicians to accompany him. Joe Jackson, Ben Folds, Henry Rollins, Nick Hornsby and Aimee Mann to name a few. Which means that musically some of the songs are good. It is merely the way that Shatner delivers the lyrics that I find so amusing.
And the lyrics themselves.
Which means that if I don't stop listening to them, and they have a morbid fascination, which draws me in, I may just make his claim come true.
Which would make for a pretty lousy epitaph.
But at least I would die laughing. Which is a plus point.
November 1st 2004
Here is an important piece of advice for any judge at a food event.
If you can get a hefty portion of a particularly tasty dish put aside for you for later consumption, then forget any inhibitions and ask for it to be done.
There is nothing more frustrating than tasting, and having to mark, a drool-inducing dish and later, once finished, going back to find that there is nothing left.
Which is my only complaint about the Potjiekos Competition that was held down in the Windsor region recently.
Well, that and the fact that I enjoyed a cabbage potjie and had to drive for three hours back to Toronto later.
Perhaps I should explain.
For four years now a group of South Africans down in the Windsor area have held a potjie cooking competition. I think that this is the only one of its kind in Ontario and probably even Canada for that matter.
The shining light behind this gastronomic extravaganza is Antoinette Kruger who manages to get everything organized in time. Including Peet, her husband, his potjie and ingredients and the Judges. One of whom definitely needed organising.
For my sins I was asked to judge this year, arriving the night before with a bottle of wine, plenty of stories and the ability to distract both Peet and Antoinette from the job at hand.
Which was organizing the event as I said.
I am sure they gave a sigh of relief when I turned left to explore Windsor the next morning and they turned right to go to Belle River and the camping grounds where the event was to be held.
Although, considering my ability to go on a walkabout perhaps that relief was short lived.
For instance, if they didn't close down Windsor for the Sunday I might have been tempted to go to many of the attractions there and notably the Canadian Club factory. If only to find out if samples can be had during the tour. I think this needs to be revisited.
I might also add that there is no longer a “Quick pop over” to Detroit what with queues and tightened security. Although I must admit that it was the Canadian customs officer who eyed my t-shirt suspiciously.
Probably not wise to wear one with “Homeland Security - Fighting Terrorism since 1492” with a picture of four armed Red Indians on it!
Some interesting questions followed.
Anyway I managed to get to Belle River later after a very scenic and fairly slow drive along the riverside. Good old law abiding senior citizens all leading the way for me. A far cry from the 401 raceway to the south.
Belle River is on Lake St Clair, which is a lake in between the great lakes of Erie and Huron. It was quite a bustling little town with a large proportion of the local citizens doing their best to up the profits at the local Tim Hortons. Which was where I asked for directions to be told that I could basically spit to where I wanted to go. Small matter of a train line in between but nevertheless I was that close.
I was expecting a clearing in a forest actually and to suddenly find it was a beach area alongside a river was far more entertaining.
There under a few trees were what looked like a traveling tinkers camp, what with the gas braai's and potjies being set up and shielded from the wind. And tables' being decorated with whatever theme was prevalent at that cooking demonstration.
Luckily for me I bumped into Peet and his son putting up the obligatory volleyball net. They then set off to get me introduced to the various competitors.
Which involved being given various reasons why the other competitors hadn't got a chance this year. Which revolved around secret recipes and monetary bribes. The odd beer bribe being the favourite but probably the least effective.
So I wandered around chatting to various people and eying the soon to be sampled merchandise.
I enjoyed the suspicion that first greeted me as I strolled around saying hello and then the slow realization that I was a judge and then the smiles that suddenly appeared. Most encouraging. Especially the way my appalling Afrikaans was forgiven!
Mind you as everyone there seemed to have come from Amanzimtoti and, more specifically, Toyota's factory there I think that there was already a degree of friendship amongst the participants anyway which a Toronto Soutie had to overcome. I wanted to take them all off to view my Sharks sticker on the van but other things intruded. Which is a pity because there was ample evidence that The Sharks was the team of choice there. “We are Black…We are White .. we are %$^%^%$ dynamite”. Even in Canada eh?!
The really interesting part of chatting though was being introduced to the brother of one of the contestants. Paul Gersok had flown in to Canada for a holiday. From Dubai.
We were chatting about different things like why an Arab company would be called Kanoo, when it came out that not only had both of us sailed for the same shipping company (Unicorn) but that we were Bothy Boys as well.
That is the South African Merchant Navy Academy General Botha down in Cape Town to give it its full and distinguished name. Considering how few of us were students there the odds of that happening without being planned seem slim. Although I must admit that there are three of us in Canada from my years there. So maybe not so slim after all.
This certainly helped me pass a few minutes while waiting for the food to be finished and served.
Which started to happen at roughly two in the afternoon.
The first potjie being beer based. And pretty delicious at that. This was where I made the stupid mistake of trying to pretend I knew what I was doing and only taking small pieces of the food to taste and savour. While you get to do a good job of actually doing the judging it doesn't do justice to the concept of a hearty portion to make a valid judgement. OK that is my rationale for being greedy I must admit.
But when you have savoured a range of delights in such small portions how can you not want to return for more?
Anyway about an hour later we three judges had managed to get through 13 different potjies and it was time to tot up the marks and find the winner. Which was when we discovered an interesting phenomenon. Not only was there a tie for first place but there was a tie for the fourth place as well. I noticed that our scoring was pretty similar in all cases. I think the difference was that I like spicy food while the Canadian Judge seemed to prefer a more bland variety. Which left the other South African Judge to balance our palates out. Hence no doubt the tie. And a serious hint if I ever get asked to judge any other or indeed this contest again!
So we had to go back and deliberate some more. This was becoming quite interesting and probably nerve wracking for the contestants. Probably just as well Canada is a gun fearing nation and South Africans have to surrender their cultural weapons on arrival! This time we relooked at our scores and had to decide between the two tied meals. Which finally turned out as follows:
1st: Piero & Monica De Campo from Corunna (Oxtail)
2nd: Shaun & Lisa Pinnock from Amherstburg (Mexican Chilly)
3rd: Peet & Antionette Kruger from Amherstburg (Mince in Cabbage)
And well-deserved winners they all were I might add.
I will admit that I hated actually having to make a choice as to a winner (must be becoming a true Canadian at last!!) but as there were so few points difference between first and last place I am very comfortable with the choices we made and I think that everyone should be proud of their ability to cook such superb food.
Which raises an interesting question.
How come an enclave of South Coast Natal refugees are keeping the art of Potjie alive and well down in a place like Windsor and there appears to be no other event such as this anywhere else in Canada?
Am I wrong?
Well I would be more than happy to hear otherwise. I would be more than happy to bet that the Windsor people are probably the best Potjie cookers in this country as well. In fact it would be interesting to see whether anyone else has the courage to take them on.
Is there any other area that would look at hosting their own event?
Maybe a group of ardent cooks could attend next year's event in Windsor.
I would prefer to see a few cook offs around the Province and a final Provincial championship but perhaps baby steps are what are needed.
In the meantime the Windsor group remains supreme in my eyes for first class Potjie!