So many of the chefs I have watched on television or read about in their cookbooks have spent a good part of their lives traveling around the world. My niece has just finished spending several months studying in Italy and after a brief reunion with my brother and her siblings will be traveling back to Switzerland. She has had an opportunity to travel to various regions and tasted some amazing food. She has been exposed to sauces, soups, spices, and ingredients I probably have never heard of.
The extent of my world travel was to spend a year living in Ontario, Canada. Although the cooking there was not significantly different then I had experienced in the US, I was exposed to a few new delicacies. One of them was this thing called butter tarts and another was poutine. Living in Ontario, I learned that maple syrup goes with just about everything and had an opportunity to eat caribou stew and fiddlehead ferns, neither of which I have had since. We also discovered a wide diversity of flavored potato chips, much to my sons delight – his favorites was ketchup flavored. Thinking back there was also a party I went to where they served roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, something I have yet to replicate. I was exposed to peameal bacon, which I have not found an American equivalent for, during a trip to the Farmer’s market. Then there was Pate Chinois, which reminded me of a Shepherd’s Pie kind of dish. While definitely not for the diet conscious there was Tourtiere, which was a pie made of pork and lard.
One of the awesome things about living in Ontario was my being exposed to the Pierogi. How many different things can you fill them with and how many different ways can you prepare them. Eating the premade ones in the store pale in comparison to the ones we picked up at the Farmer’s Market in Thorold, Ontario. It was at this market that I was also exposed to cheese curds and Montreal smoked meats and Montreal bagels. Of course, Ontario was also the place I was exposed to Tim Horton’s, long before they crossed the border to the United States.
While I cannot get some of these things without traveling there, I can find some of the ingredients in my local grocery store and recreate some of these dishes with my personalized spin here at home. I remember the first time I was told I would be eating Pate Chinois how I felt a bit nervous, the name conjures up images quite unlike what I was served. When we sat down to eat, what I saw looked more familiar then the name suggested.
The basic ingredients I was told were ground beef, creamed corn and mashed potatoes. So now, if I want to serve four or two with leftovers for the next day, I brown about 1 lb. of ground beef with some shallots, place that in the bottom of my casserole dish, top with 2 cans of creamed corn, and about 4 cups of mashed potatoes (seasoned however, you like). So simple, three layers, baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
It is amazing what I have learned by simply traveling across the border. I have learned similar lessons spiritually by exposing myself to new ways of thinking, other sacred writings, other’s experiences and journeys to the Divine. While some spiritual writers and traditions have spoken to me more then others, being exposed to them has broadened my horizons in some of the same ways exposing myself to the food of other countries and cuisines has.