Only in America
I am pretty sure I have mentioned this before, but I am a magazine-aholic. I currently subscribe to six magazines: Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Bon Appetit, The Walrus, Cottage Life, and Toronto Life. I also get the Report on Business every month via my Globe and Mail newspaper subscription, bonus issues of Fashion (useless) courtesy of Toronto Life, and snap up the LCBO’s glossy Food and Drink whenever it comes out. I have actually dialed down my obsession in recent years. I no longer subscribe to Oprah, Canadian Living,and Food Network magazine, but that doesn’t mean their back issues aren’t still languishing on my end tables many years past their publications dates. (Do not judge, lest you be judged.)
Anyhow, as you may have noticed from the titles of my favoured periodicals, many of my monthly arrivals include recipes. And some of these are decidedly American. You would think that, courtesy of our proximity, it would be easy for someone north of the border to find the ingredients specified in a particular recipe. You would be wrong. Sometimes this is because Americans have different words for everything and sometimes it’s because Canadian grocery shelves simply don’t stock them. The reason for this remains a mystery. Afterall, we introduced them to flavoured chips. Where is the quid pro quo?
At the top of my list of annoying ingredients is the Little Gem lettuce that shows up in just about every salad recipe in Bon Appetit. What. The. Heck. Is. It? It appears to be a “sturdy” lettuce, but its name kind of defies that notion. If it is little, one would think it is delicate. And “gem” implies to me that it is an adorable example of its species, like a miniature lettuce specimen, perhaps. The notes accompanying some of the recipes suggest you could substitute romaine. I think not. In fact, I think they may be trying to dupe Canadians, while sniggering away when we make our culturally incorrect and tasteless version of a Fourth of July salad, per se.
Another thing. Just about every fancy and even un-fancy American sandwich creation on offer tells me I need a Pullman loaf. This appears to be something like sandwich bread (the squarish kind), which would make sense because we are actually making sandwiches, so maybe it is just semantics that are confusing me. But when they show a picture of the sandwich, the bread holding it together looks nothing at all like the Wonderbread I use for grilled cheese. Could a Pullman loaf possibly be more like what we used to call “bakery bread,” the kind our mothers made fancy sandwiches from for bridge club? I will never know unless I shuffle off to Buffalo to do some grocery store research, which is not happening any time soon.
The biggest cross-border hurdle, though, is finding ingredients for Tex-Mex recipes, specifically hot peppers like Pasilla, Guajillo, and Morita. No grocery store above the southern shores of the great lakes has ever heard of them. However, I do concede it is a little easier to get the requisite corn tortillas for tacos these days (even if the taco filling components remain elusive). A few years ago when I was in Arizona on business, and mindful of the opportunity to shop American, I stashed a package of 30 (refrigerated) rounds-of-corn-goodness in my carry-on. When I got home, after a bunch of layover quality-time in the Chicago airport, I discovered they had gone moldy. My clothes smelled like a food truck that had failed its health inspection and the cute little drug-sniffing dog in the customs hall probably lost his lunch, or at the very least would not be auditioning for a Taco Bell commercial any time soon.
So instead of aspiring to American culinary feats that require inscrutable ingredients, I resolve to stick to butter tarts, poutine, Nanaimo bars, tortiere, and Hawaiian pizza. I will wash all of these down with a Bloody Caesar or two. Happy Canada Day.