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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: Travel in Mexico without guacamole
Ross Robinson says guaca-no-please to guacamole. FILE

Reflecting on my peripatetic life, I realize I have often studiously avoided the local foods that define an area.

Recently, this meant 19 days in Mexico without tasting, seeing, or even smelling guacamole. I flat-out don’t like guacamole.

I returned in mid-January to Niagara-on-the-Lake during the annual and well-presented Icewine Festival.

The music was fun, the ice carvings fabulous, but I didn’t sip any icewine. Why? Because I just don’t enjoy it.

Over the years, the province of Quebec has been the scene of many great adventures for me and mes amis, but only once did I taste poutine. Cheese curds and my tastebuds don’t jive.

The most meaningful trip of my life, vacation or business, was to Israel over the Christmas period in 2015.

So much to learn and so much to think about, including man’s inhumanity to man and the Holocaust. A day at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, changed my life.

I also got in a good amount of tourism while living in downtown Jerusalem, and even a one-day course in making hummus. But not even one morsel of hummus crossed my lips.

I organized a wee choir to sing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” on Christmas Eve, in Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank, at midnight.

This was followed by an appropriate champagne toast, which was watched over by stern-looking soldiers carrying rifles. Still, no hummus for me.

During the mid-1970s, I lived, played and sailed in New Zealand and Australia.

I drank so many varieties of their beers, but only had one slice of toast lightly spread with Vegemite or Marmite. Yccch.

I have had lots of fun with friends in Nashville, but could never sprinkle even their coolest hot sauce on my plateful of BBQ ribs and grits.

Bourbon whiskey is not smooth going down my throat, so I drink Bud tallboys when south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Getting back to Mexico, or “May-hee-coe,” for a minute: on New Year’s Eve on the Chapala Malecon boardwalk with the locals, someone broke out a bottle of tequila for celebratory shots.

They didn’t force a shot on me, especially after I told them that shots sometimes make my trousers fall down. Corona and Modelo cervezas were just fine with me. Mexico without tequila?!

Speaking of beer, weren’t we? Please, brewmeisters, don’t mess with my beers.

Keep them simple: ales and lagers. Don’t get cute by adding pumpkin, grapefruit or peach notes.

Back now to an eventful and happy and more normal phase of my life, working in the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972.

Ah, the plates full of bratwurst and sauerkraut, with lots of spicy mustard, with beer drunk from large earthenware steins of strong Hofbrau and Löwenbräu.

Spicy chickens and potatoes, in never-ending quantities, served by pretty mädchens in their colourful dirndls.

Hot dogs at various baseball stadiums, overpriced beers and unsalted peanuts from the unique and colourful vendors. La Stade Olympique and Les Expos, could anything be more fun?

Now to the Canadian favourite, Tim Hortons. Not to drop a name, but to drop a name, my mother is from Cochrane in northern Ontario and for a year, while in her twenties and a schoolteacher, moonlighted as the go-to babysitter for the great future NHL All-Star defenceman and Donut King.

Even with this close connection, I have never drunk a cup of Tim Hortons coffee. I have scarfed innumerable Dutchies and muffins and hundreds of Timbits, but never has a double-double passed my lips.

Millions and millions of people can’t be wrong, but both coffee and tea have always seemed a bit weird to me.

And by the way, back in the day, Timbits were called doughnut holes and were just a clever way to use the dough left over after deep frying dozens and dozens of doughnuts.

To squeeze more dough out of the dough, as it were.

Just to prove I am not totally a food contrarian, my several trips to New Orleans, or “N’Awlins,” have included many many beignets, those unhealthy but tasty, icing sugar-coated delights served at numerous outdoor cafes in and around the French Quarter.

Rice stir-fries at Chinese restaurants, and soy sauce flavouring with steamed rice and pho soup at Vietnamese restaurants across Niagara: I love these tastes.

Fresh Beaujolais wines and Choucroute in Alsace Lorraine make for wonderful picnics along the Rhine River.

And I have devoured many steak and kidney pies and ploughman’s lunches in the old country.

I will wrap up by explaining why I have never eaten one forkful of potato salad. What a Canadian picnic favourite, eh?

In 1964 I worked the summer as a cook at Pioneer Camp up near Huntsville.

On a hot August day, I helped to make potato salad for some 200 campers and staff members. Apparently, our refrigeration protocols were weak, with the mayonnaise in the recipe.

Over half the campers and staff spent the night going back and forth to the KYBO (“Keep Your Bowels Open”) — that was the last time I was anywhere near potato salad.

On a much more positive ending note, let’s enjoy some butter tarts from Niagara Home Bakery.

My mom made the best butter tarts, but our local bakery comes a close second.

Add a glass of cold white milk, and life doesn’t get much better.

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