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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

The chicken "sits" upright in the oven.

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.2 of 16 weeks)
Week 34 of World Tour

1. Drunken Chicken

When it comes to travelling, one of my favourite experiences is trying out the local menu. But to be quite honest with you, I never expected to come across anything unusual in Canada. How naïve!

So what did I come across?

Well, first of all, there’s Tim Hortons. For the uninitiated, Tim Hortons is so big in Canada that it makes McDonalds look like an also-ran.

Tim Hortons is a drive-through coffee and donut franchise, and there are Tim Hortons outlets just a couple of minutes from anywhere! And Canadians have got to have their Tim Hortons fix at least once a day.

And they take their beer drinking very seriously too. They even have a beer store franchise called (wait for it), The Beer Store, which only sells beer. It’s like a factory outlet with long queues of people walking in and collecting their order off a conveyer belt. But for the beer connoisseur you have to go into a liquor store. In Australia we have 2 sizes of beer cans; 375ml and 473ml. But in Canada they have 2 more sizes; 750ml and 950ml.

So why was my attention drawn to beer cans? It had to do with a drunken chicken. Yes, you heard right, a DRUNKEN CHICKEN!

Obviously I’m trying to milk this a little more, but our drunken chicken was going to get drunk post-mortem (don’t you just love this?).

OK. That’s enough suspense. Now for the nitty-gritty. The Drunken Chicken is a recipe for cooking chicken with beer. But it’s got a unique little feature with the cooking process. It’s cooked upright in the oven. No, not on one of those vertical rotisseries. It’s placed in a shallow pan to catch all the dripping fat and it’s kept upright with a 750ml can of beer … shoved up its … er … cavity.

Yes, the can of Canadian beer stays for the entire cooking procedure!

(You can Google for the Drunken Chicken recipe )

It was quite a sight to see it standing at attention in the over, coming out only occasionally for basting. And the taste? It tasted like chicken soaked in beer (yum!), although I think I had a hangover the next morning!

And tonight I’m having spaghetti with bear mince! A friend of Kit’s is a game hunter and occasionally shoots bear, hence the bear meat in the freezer. I’m told it’s not a very tasty meat so it’ll have to be well-seasoned.

And I’ve also been told they have emu farms here! Can you believe it! They let emus, our sacred national icon, which also features on our national coat of arms, out of Australia for farming! In fact, it’s been confirmed on the internet and we’re going to visit an emu farm tomorrow. I remember eating an emu kebab in Australia, and the meat tasted like red meat, with a liver smell to it. But it was a finer texture, and quite delicious. Emu meat is occasional available in restaurants, but not the eggs. Did you know that one emu egg is like having 7 chicken eggs!

And a couple of other meats caught my attention too. First of all there’s baloney. I had it with fried with eggs for breakfast one morning, much like any other cold sausage meat. But when I asked what sort of meat it was, Kit explained it like this.

“It’s got chicken, pork and beef, etc. You know, all the parts they can’t sell separately go into one end and out the other end you get baloney.”

Although I’m not sure that’s exactly how they market it here in Canada.

The chicken stands upright in a deep drip tray.

And then there’s beef jerky. I’ve heard it used so many times by comedians. And it’s not cheap (bloody expensive!). We bought 2 tiny pieces in a shrink wrapped pack for CA$1.75. But I’ve been told it’s very salty and you can chew on it for hours. But rather than thinking this may make it sound like better value, it just sounded like I’d be chewing on leather. I’ll be having a taste test soon.

Oh, by the way, have you ever tried a hot chocolate with Baileys Irish Cream? If not, then you don’t know what you’re missing. An excellent nightcap.

There are many Emu farms in Canada where you can buy emu meat and eggs.

2. Emus In Canada

“We’ve got emu farms here”, was one of the first things I heard when I got to Canada.

“You mean ostrich farms, don’t you?” I said, trying to correct them. After all, Australian wildlife isn’t so well known in the rest of the world, so they must’ve been mistaken.

“No, they’re definitely emus”, they all insisted.

And so for weeks I was driven from farm to farm, only to be greeted by signs saying ‘Ostrich Farm’. We even came across one farm where the ostriches were outside their enclosures and walking in the snow.

“I told you so”, I told them so.

But then, once I got to Kitchener, my host, Kit, who’s a great researcher, did what we all should’ve done in the first place … Kit did a search for emu farms in Ontario, Canada, and came up with several successful responses. And there was no denying it, the photos were definitely those of emus.

I was shocked. How could Australia export one of its feathered icons, and one which is also featured on its coat of arms, to Canada, to be farmed and slaughtered like any other common farm animal. So we made an appointment to visit Walkabout Acres, an emu farm run by Doug and Sylvia Roth, in the county of (wait for it) … PERTH, Ontario.

“There used to be 400 emu farms in Ontario. Now there’s only 10”, Doug said. “And we’re just keeping them as a hobby now. There’s not much money in it any more. I used to have 300 emus. Now I’ve only got 15.”

He explained that most of the money was in the emu oil, and people hadn’t got a taste for emu meat because it was too tricky to cook it right. The temptation was always to overcook it, and so it usually ended up with a very strong liver taste, which was exactly the same recollection I had from my only experience in eating emu meat (an emu shish-kebab) back in Australia.

Emu meat is a red meat which should taste like red meat, but with the consistency of chicken or turkey meat. And he recommended that the safest way to cook it was in a crock-pot which could be left to cook for 8-10 hours.

But I couldn’t wait to see the birds.

The emus were kept out of the snow and cold, in a large enclosure somewhat similar to a barn. They were all adult birds, as Doug hadn’t bred any for years.

We watched them as they quarreled with each other, and when I asked Doug if I could photograph them, he invited me to enter the enclosure with them. He could see I was a little wary because they looked a little aggressive, but then he assured me I’d be safe if I just raised by hand up high whenever an emu took a vicious look at me. Apparently, they always back-off from any creature which is taller than themselves. And I could easily tell when they were looking for a fight. The feathers on their necks would flare outwards and their heads would be raised as high as possible, so that they’d be looking down on me … and I’m 6 feet (180cm) tall!

“What do you do with the eggs?” I asked.

“We sell them”, he said. “We’ve always got some for sale.”

This egg was so fresh it was still warm ... so we bought it.

Just then I noticed an emu egg in the corner of the barn. It was a very dark green colour. Almost black. And had a stippled shell like an orange peel. In fact, it looked like a giant avocado. It must’ve just been laid, because we hadn’t noticed it when we first walked in. In fact, when Doug picked it up it was still a little warm.

“Can we buy that egg?” I asked.

“You can have it”, he said, happy to be giving his Australian visitor a little gift directly from the emus (ahem).

So for the next 15-20 minutes we walked amongst the emus, and watched them interact with each other, and us as well.

At one stage I was surrounded by about 4 emus who’d taken a fancy to the buttons on my jacket and were pecking at them hopefully.

“Watch they don’t peck your ears,” Doug said, “because it really hurts!”

So whenever an emu came up behind me I was sure to keep swiveling around so he, or his mates, couldn’t get a good shot at my ears. They also took a liking to my shoelaces, and pecked at them constantly. Luckily I had them in a double knot and my boots were pretty tough too, so I could just watch them in amusement. And all the while I was holding my emu egg. I didn’t want to drop it. It would’ve made such a big mess. Did you know that they’re about the size of 7 chicken eggs!

“How do the eggs taste?” I asked.

Apparently emu eggs have a very bland taste, so if you fried one, you wouldn’t enjoy it like a chicken egg. So Doug suggested we have it devilled, that is, boil it … mash it up … add some spices … then put it back into its egg shell.

“You’ll need to cut the egg shell in half, but lengthways”, Doug said. “It’s got a very thick shell, so it’ll take you a little while. We just use a small electric saw to cut them now. It’s much easier that way. We used to use serated bread knives, but they all got blunt.”

“So how long do you boil them for?” I asked. “Twenty minutes?”

Boy, was I off by a mile. If we wanted the egg to be hard boiled, we’d have to boil it for 2 hours!

Soon we were out of the barn and in amongst the cold snow again. Doug immediately began scraping the soles of his boots in the snow. Good idea, I thought, immediately mimicking him, and ridding the emu droppings from my footwear. We wanted some emu meat too. So Doug fetched a large piece from his freezer. It was pretty full, so goodness knows how long he’d had the meat there. But it was frozen, so it was OK. He weighed it and it came to $15 dollars (about AUD$15.50). Kit gave him $20 and told him to keep the change because he’d been so generous in sharing his time and experience with us.

And soon we were gone.

That Saturday night, Kit had invited two neighbours, Helen and Glen, over for dinner. So we prepared the emu egg as an appetiser for that meal. We would’ve also had the emu meat as the main meal, but both Helen and Glen are vegetarians, so we had the emu meat (cooked in a crock-pot with saukraut) for dinner on another night.

And both meals were delicious, thanks to Doug’s helpful cooking tips.

Unbelievable! An ATM machine offering Toronto Dollars!

3. Toronto Dollars

“We have a local currency called Toronto Dollars which is very popular in the St.Lawrence South Market”, David Burman told me.

And he wasn’t kidding!

We went there on Saturday morning and it was packed with shoppers. And no-one could walk very far without seeing something which promoted the local Toronto Dollars.

At the market entrance, we were faced by an A-board promoting Toronto Dollars. The attendant, seeing our interest in the sign, immediately began to promote the virtues of using Toronto Dollars for all our shopping needs. I could’ve let him preach to me for ages, but I thought it more appropriate to introduce myself, and explain that my sole interest in visiting the market was to see the Toronto Dollars in action, so he was actually preaching to the already converted.

On the opposite wall was a 2metre (7 foot) wall chart which graphed the total amount of community funds raised through Toronto Dollars for a Free Youth Programme. T$11,000 had already been raised towards their target of T$20,000.

And in the same area was an ATM (automatic banking machine) and the first option you were given was to receive your funds in Toronto Dollars!

Then, inside the market was the Toronto Dollars booth. It was manned by a couple of people who were distributing literature on Toronto Dollars and answering queries about their use. But then David explained, “You can also buy Toronto Dollars here”.

Buy them? Why would I buy a local currency for cash? Isn’t the whole point of local currencies to not have to rely solely on cash?

But this was the only way the public could get Toronto Dollars. They had to buy them for the equivalent amount in cash! That’s no help to me or anyone else who’s run out of cash, because my lifestyle is still limited by the amount of cash in my pocket.

And this is when I realized that some community currencies have a different goal in mind. The purpose of the Toronto Dollar isn’t to help the general public directly. Its focus is in raising funds for local charities which then help the needy in the community. So the Toronto Dollars help the community indirectly. A controlled use of the benefits of the Toronto Dollar, rather than giving individuals an opportunity to gain as much help as they can by trading their skills, just as LETS systems do all around the world.

Then David spotted someone in the crowd.

“That’s John Flanders”, he said. “He’s one of the founders of the Toronto Dollar. I’ll introduce you to him.”

John seemed to be in a hurry and was caught a little by surprise. But once David told him I was the Globe-Trotting LETSaholic, he relaxed a little and shared some time with me. One of the things he shared was that even though the Toronto Dollars seemed to be relatively well accepted, he thought they had more scope and hadn’t gone far enough.

And my thoughts?

Well, my interest in local currencies is due to the fact that we can supplement our meager income by creating additional value through sharing our skills. But the only people able to do this with the Toronto Dollar are the merchants in the market, who have no real need to supplement their incomes, and in fact, sometimes resent having to accept the Toronto Dollars in lieu of Canadian Dollars.

David Burman, from Toronto LETS, makes a purchase using Toronto Dollars.

“Can I take a photo of you buying something with Toronto Dollars?” I asked David.

So David went up to a merchant selling rice and bought a packet. He then took his Toronto Dollars out to pay for it.

“Could you both look this way and smile?” I asked. Snap! A happy transaction had just been captured on film.

“I’ll get some rice too”, Kit said. But she didn’t have any Toronto Dollars, and seeing this was only a very small purchase, and she wouldn’t be shopping in Toronto again, she paid for it in cash, this time to the owner of the stall.

“Purple rice?” David noticed. “I think I’ll try that too.” So he took his Toronto Dollars out again to pay.

But the owner wouldn’t accept it!

“Toronto Dollars are a real nuisance”, he said. “We lose 10 per cent on every Toronto Dollar we cash in, and you can only cash them in on Tuesdays between 12 and 1pm. So it’s very inconvenient.”

I guess David could’ve argued that his staff had just accepted his previous Toronto Dollars purchase quite happily, but David was too much of a gentleman to get into an argument. And I think that the real reason the owner had rejected David’s Toronto Dollars was because Kit had just paid cash for a purchase and he figured that David should too.

So this experience just showed me how important it was for people to feel they would be making a gain, not a loss, if they traded with local currencies.

But after all is said and done, for every Toronto Dollar cashed in, 10 per cent goes towards local charity funds, so at least there is some benefit gained.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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