Today I’m excited to present a recipe that is not my own but is instead adapted from a wonderful cookbook by Rose Murray called A Taste of Canada. I decided to choose one of her recipes because 1) everything from this book has been fantastic so far and it gives great history about Canada and it’s resources and 2) I’ll be honest I was lacking a little inspiration.
And so, this morning was the morning to walk around St. Clair West gathering materials for today’s blog. While doing this I was thinking about what I could possibly write about that would be an interesting Canadian observation to go along with a wonderful Canadian recipe. (Note: although the broth is Thai inspired the mussels and bread are authentically Canadian). It wasn’t until I realized that I couldn’t get lemon grass anywhere on St. Clair that it hit me. In a span of one minute I had the woman at the small grocery be deeply apologetic for her lack of lemon grass, an asian woman just outside the grocery apologize for doing the back and forth dance with me as we tried to pass each other, and lastly a polite black man apologized for power washing the sidewalk in front of me as I was coming up to it. I mean I know “sorry” is a Canadian stereotype but it had never occurred to me that it was such a way of life here and I wondered what was at the heart of it.
Last year I had a US acting teacher tell me that we had to take all the “sorry’s” out of Canadian actors because it made them too fragile and apologetic for there own existence. He claimed that we had to carry as much self-confidence and strong-headedness as those actors in the States because they would eat us alive over there. I took this incredibly harshly and in no way could agree with him. It didn’t make sense to me that kindness was linked to fragility. Naivety maybe but kindness? No way. And even if it was linked, was it a quality I was willing to give up? I wasn’t prepared to harden myself in order to make it in the States. My Canadian identity, including all the sorries, is what I bring to the table. It wasn’t until today’s events that I’ve been able to put my finger on what is think is buried beneath the apologies.
My theory is that our “apologetic” attribute isn’t that of fragility but is instead one of ownership. As Canadian’s we are willing to take responsibility for faults that may not be our own in order to maintain peace. For us, on a subconscious level, there is no pride attached to being socially wrong. We don’t force our beliefs or actions when we’re backed into a corner, we instead listen to you speak and apologize for whatever has wronged you. That’s not to say that we don’t have a voice, and trust me downtown Toronto would make sure you knew that, but it means that we’re more willing to see and acknowledge those around us. I’ll apologize for accidentally getting in your way because I respect that you have places to be. And the woman in the small grocery will apologize for her lack of lemon grass because she wishes she was able to help my cause regardless of what it was. In essence I think it is a bravery that we carry in not being afraid to be wrong in order to ensure that those around us are content and satisfied.
I mean if you wanted to, you could be the jack-ass that doesn’t hold the door for anybody, bump people without apologizing and get places a lot quicker but I believe there’s more to the human being that takes stock of the little moments in life and approaches all interactions with kindness. It’s a stereotype because we do it but the root of it is not weakness, instead it’s understanding and ownership. We would rather keep the peace than be dominant over others and in my short snap shot of the acting industry in the States it’s probably a quality that they could use a little more of.
Mussels in Coconut Broth
2 Stalks lemon grass
1 small fresh chili pepper seeded
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger
Zest of one lime
1 cup of bottle clam juice
1 cup vegetable stalk
1 can of light coconut milk
4 lb Mussels (St. Clair West fish market sells 4lbs for $5.50!)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Rinse Mussels. Remove the outer layers of lemon grass and bottom and end bits. Chop coarsely. With a food processor, mortar and pestle, or the back of your knife chop/mush together the lemon grass, chili pepper, garlic, ginger and lime zest.
In a large saucepan add clam juice, vegetable stock, coconut milk and lemon grass paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the pan over the heat occasionally until the mussels have opened, 3 to 5 minutes. Throw out any that don’t open. Serve in a family bowl with lime wedges and crusty bread. Sprinkle cilantro and squeeze lime over top.
Hope you’re Feeling Peckish.