Pondering poutine and calling out rake thieves

Carl Hnatyshyn

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It’s an utterly unhealthy yet unquestionably delicious made-in-Canada concoction of cheese curds, french fries and gravy that – to borrow a phrase from noted philosopher, esteemed gourmand and guy-named-after-food Meatloaf – has risen in stature over the past 30 or so years like a bat out of hell to become one of, if not the defining culinary choice for millions of citizens who reside in the Great White North.

I am of course talking about that highly-addictive, steaming pile of grub we all know and love (well, at least ‘love’ while we’re eating it, not so much when we get on the scale the next day) called poutine. Or as Quebecers pronounce it, poo-tin.

Conceived of in a greasy spoon in rural Quebec back in the late Fifties, when rumour has it some tired-looking and obviously famished Quebec truck driver came into a restaurant named (not making this up) The Laughing Elf and asked for a bag of fries and cheese curds to go, poutine has steadily risen in popularity over the past several decades to overtake such longstanding staples of Canada’s culinary universe – back bacon, maple syrup, beaver tails and, um, ketchup chips – to become our de facto national dish.

Yet even though poutine has claimed the (unofficial) title of Canada’s culinary cat’s meow, the fact is that I had not even heard of poutine until I was pimply-faced teen living in Ottawa in the early Nineties.

While poutine as we know it today was developed, refined and eventually perfected in Quebec during the Sixties and Seventies by teams of dedicated and talented French-speaking chefs, cooks and – let’s be honest here – surly hash slingers, it was pretty much unheard of outside of La Belle Province until the late Eighties/early Nineties, when the stars aligned and a whole host of Quebec cultural touchstones – Celine Dion, hockey hair (aka mullets), Mitsou and poutine – exploded onto the national scene.

Almost overnight, Dion, bad hair, Mitsou and poutine became ‘da bomb’ as we used to say in the early Nineties (21st century translation: it became popular).

Where I was living at the time – Ottawa – poutine was served up to ravenous high school students via a battalion of colourful French fry trucks that roamed the national capital’s streets, preying on helpless, hopelessly poutine-addicted youth.
Later on in the decade, poutine started being introduced into fast food restaurant menus at such establishments as Burger King, McDonalds and Harvey’s (I distinctly remember ordering poutine in a Vancouver Burger King when I was a university student there and randomly shouting out ‘Freedom’ a la Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, so enamoured was I of poutine at the time).

Nowadays you can pretty much find waistline-destroying poutine on every street corner, in every conceivable establishment and mixed with an array of culturally diverse toppings, including a particularly wonderful one that combines butter chicken and poutine. It is to die for, folks. There are also a wide array of standalone poutine establishments from Bonavista to Vancouver Island as the old song goes, and the great thing about poutine is that it’s an all-seasons, all-setting type of food you can eat literally anywhere – whether freezing your toes off in -40 weather in rural Saskatchewan or during a Sarnia This Week office party, as I did just recently.

Unmatched utility, unparalleled taste and unbelievably unhealthy: poutine is truly the quintessential Canadian dish. That is until somebody comes up with ketchup chip syrup for pancakes. Then all bets are off.

Regular readers know that I try not to use this space to settle scores nor air personal grievances nor skewer others, unless of course those ‘others’ are squirrels, rats or political leaders who are under the mistaken belief that the laws of the lands that they govern don’t actually apply to them. They are fools who deserve all the contempt thrown at them. Especially those awful, awful squirrels.

But at this juncture just wanted to inform everyone that someone recently stole my rake and I am not happy about it.
Why in all that is holy would someone steal a rake, you might ask? Beats the living daylights out of me.

Long story short, after raking the many leaves in my back yard a few weeks ago, I accidentally left my completely normal, rather milquetoast, actually rake leaning against my shed in the backyard – completely unattended to and unlocked – with the belief that it would still be there a few weeks later after the snow melted to rake the remaining leaves in my front lawn.

How wrong I was.
At this point let me tell you, dear readers, that my rake was just a rake. It wasn’t an automated $2,000 Robo-Rake 3000 that instantly rakes your lawn and makes a martini for you while you lounge in a lawn chair. It was a simple rake with wood in a stick form and metal rake-y things on the bottom. I might have bought it two years ago at Canadian Tire. I’m actually unsure, that’s how utterly unimportant it was.
What makes me particularly angry is that the thief, whomever he or she is, not only stole my rake but replaced it with a much more inferior rake with a wooden handle and plastic thingies on the bottom. It was almost more insulting than just stealing my rake – the thief thought that I would be too dumb to discern between my rake and this cheap knockoff.

Now I might be mistaken about, but I’m assuming there is no underground black rake market where coveted rakes are sold for thousands of dollars apiece. So the person who stole my rake, I can confidently surmise, wasn’t stealing it to feed an addiction say, which I can sort of empathize with (I believe a big chunk of crimes committed come from desperate addicts trying to find money to feed their unfortunate addictions, which eventually ruin their lives. It’s a lose-lose, as they say).

Nope, the thief that took my rake was just being a donkey. They stole my rake, I can only assume, to ‘trade up’ in the rake world, impressing their friends and neighbours and relatives with their brand-new-actually-stolen metal thingy rake.

Rake thief, here is my message for you: I’m coming to get you! I am on to you and my eagle eyes will find my old rake and the wrath of the rake gods will fall upon you. I will leave no leaf unturned in my quest to find my old pal ‘Rakey’. Be forewarned!